Last Tuesday evening, I tweeted the following: ‘Can the Beeb arrange for Andrew Neil to interview this Greta Thunberg character? Because afterwards I guarantee we’ll never hear from her again. She may even have a meltdown on national telly into the bargain.’
It was, fairly obviously, a joke. But the fallout was… extraordinary.
The gag split people politically. All the righties thought the idea of Greta doing the watusi on Broadcasting House’s carpet was hilarious, while all the lefties thought I wanted to kill disabled people. They then proceeded to fight interminably in my mentions for a week. Twitter could no longer cope and — to use its argot — I muted the thread and deleted the app before it destroyed my phone.
Those who hated me also set about reporting me with a view to getting me banned, as though I were some latter-day Milo Yiannopoulos. This of course is pointless because I am too polite, from the wrong social class, and a ‘blue tick’. I would have to start spitting multiple bomb threats at named targets to be removed from the platform. That, of course, is a story in itself. As I discussed in my interview with popular YouTuber Carl Benjamin (‘Sargon of Akkad’), the only way for conservatives and classical liberals to stay on Twitter is to be polite and well-spoken — in the UK, a proxy for class and education.
The contretemps also mapped onto ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ — so poisonous has our politics become — Leavers all saying versions of ‘it’s a cult’ and ‘she’s a two-bit messiah’ and Remainers all saying versions of ‘you can’t pick on a disabled kid’ or ‘saviour’ and (to me) ‘I hope you get cancer’.
For what it’s worth — and, quite literally, jokes aside — I think Greta’s parents are exploiting her, as is Extinction Rebellion; the group responsible for the recent London climate change protests she led. Any blame for her being used as a human shield (to protect policy proposals, natch) in this way attaches to them. She’s far more effective as a youthful, messianic token than the double-barrel character Sky busted going on all those skiing holidays. For those who missed it, Robin Boardman-Pattison stormed out of Sky’s London studios after being confronted with his £17,500 a year public school and jet-setting lifestyle.
This stems from a desire to find someone who must be believed and never scrutinised. First it was women and minorities we were expected, uncritically, to believe. Then — multiple collapsed trials later, Liam Allan and Jussie Smollett and Operation Midland — we discovered we couldn’t. So now we’re presented with a child – and, even more compellingly, a disabled child whose disability blends high intellect with a strange, robotic delivery and an inability to appreciate nuance.
A great deal has been written about environmentalism being a millenarian cult, especially in the extreme form Extinction Rebellion advocates, but while true, it’s not particularly interesting. Classical paganism of both the Greek and Roman sort — along with Japan’s Shinto and Chinese folk religion — is immanent, not transcendent. That is, it locates the sacred within the world. Christianity and Islam, by contrast, locate the sacred outside the world. It’s a bit ripe taking a pop at environmentalists for worshipping Gaia when four great civilisations have done likewise. You cannot get rid of religion altogether, much as you may wish it gone. It turns up everywhere, a sort of cosmic bad penny. ‘Gaia’, incidentally, was a popular Roman girl’s name.
That a political movement requires a disabled child who cannot be scrutinised to lead it is what speaks volumes to me. Thunberg is properly autistic. Unlike most of the people who throw the phrase ‘I’m on the spectrum’ about, she has a genuine diagnosis. This is why — by facing their campaign with an autistic kid who would throw a wobbly on the carpet at Broadcasting House if subjected to scrutiny — the activists using her have revealed themselves to be complete and utter gobshites.
Extinction Rebellion want to play up Thunberg’s disability as a special godly insight, but then turn around and say it’s an ‘oppression’ when anyone criticises how she’s being used, or dares to suggest that if she makes policy proposals she has to be exposed to scrutiny, child or not. This is why people accusing her of being a shill for her mother have it exactly backwards. While it is true her school strike coincided with the launch of her mother’s book on climate change and is being promoted by the same PR outfit, always remember that Thunberg is a minor with a classic ‘stage mother’ who represented Sweden in Eurovision. The notion that Greta is in control of any of this is fanciful.
And, for the avoidance of doubt, using teenagers to front political movements is to be discouraged regardless of who tries it on. In 1977, 16-year-old William Hague spoke at the Conservative Party Conference. Like Thunburg, he was criticised for his voice (‘too Yorkshire’), but the audience response was nonetheless rapturous. When, however, Nigel Lawson tried to appoint the boy wonder as a special adviser to Treasury, Margaret Thatcher came down like a tonne of bricks against it. ‘This is an embarrassing gimmick and would be deeply resented by many who have financial economic experience,’ she said.
Meanwhile, across the pond, there’s a history of child preachers going back decades, with concomitant levels of child exploitation and hucksterism. Tent revivalist Marjoe Gortner’s parents made so much money from their preacher son they gave form and substance to the famous quip that ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’. For what it’s worth, I’m grateful for parents who — when I was 16 years old and thought I knew everything — told me to put a sock in it.
Children are not public policy talismans. They cannot ‘lead’ us. Children are a responsibility to foster, not mini-messiahs. When people criticise the cult surrounding a child advocate, they’re not criticising the child. They’re criticising the narcissistic adults who are using the child as an avatar for their own desires.
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