Simon Collins

Fear itself

15 February 2020

9:00 AM

15 February 2020

9:00 AM

‘A very merry Christmas,’ sang John Lennon in 1971, ‘and a Happy New Year; let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.’ Since most of Lennon’s fears would have been tax related by then we can assume that the ones he was referring to are the sort which affect people from a different income bracket and specifically, people living in places ravaged by warfare, famine and disease. Which excludes just about everybody who bought the record.

By 1971 the only warfare I’d been exposed to was in the pages of comic books, the worst health problem I’d faced was tonsillitis, and the closest I’d come to starvation was the emaciated Biafrans who gazed at me from the Oxfam ads my mother used hoping to shame me into eating vegetables. The only sustained childhood fear I can remember concerned a Jack Russell which lived on our cul-de-sac and bit me whenever it saw me. Given its size, I was too ashamed to report this dog to my parents, but they would have been horrified to know how large it loomed in my life.


My parents weren’t short of reasons to fear for our collective safety, though. They remembered the Blitz, they’d lived through Suez and the Korean conflict and in 1971 the Cuban Missile Crisis still had reverberations. But if the possibility of nuclear Armageddon kept them awake they didn’t feel it incumbent to tell me or my siblings – and neither did our teachers. So until we saw films or read books about these events we remained blissfully ignorant of the post-war Soviet threat. In this respect we were luckier than American schoolchildren, who were regularly drilled on ‘duck and cover’ nuclear attack protocols. The US government also ran a national campaign, but the most impressive thing about the ads, which you can still see on Youtube, is not the soundness of their advice (sit under a table), but the reassuring tone in which it’s offered: ‘Yes, those pesky missiles may well be on their way, but follow these simple instructions and everything will be fine. Now get on with your homework’.

The chances of the United States,  the United Kingdom or Australia succumbing to war, famine or disease today are dramatically lower than they were in 1971. And according to every government report, the life expectancy of a child born in any of those countries is dramatically longer than it was even 20 years ago. But how many kids would rather read a government report than watch a Youtube video? And if you thought Greta Thunberg sounded upset, watch a few of the thousands of posts which her tantrums have inspired. Wherever you stand on anthropogenic global warming you cannot deny that the fear expressed by these children is genuine and it would be naive to hope that for every child who vents his or her eco-anxiety into an iPhone there are not many more waiting to share it. In the last two years psychologists everywhere have reported a surge in clinical depression directly related to the environment and increasingly are giving children psychiatric drugs which they would normally prescribe to adults facing problems like bereavement and long-term unemployment.

But we should not be surprised that programs and articles about climate change are now often accompanied by suicide help line numbers. These are children, after all, who are being told that the world as they know it is quite literally coming to an end. This wouldn’t matter so much if it was just the opinion of, say, Justin Beiber. But it’s a view that’s echoed loudly by many of their parents and pretty much all their teachers.

For much of the second half of the last century the grandparents of our children had better reasons to believe the world might be coming to an end, and a much more abrupt one. But they chose not to frighten and depress us with their beliefs. Climate alarmists and the media which trades off them would do well to remember the words of the man charged with finding a cure for the most devastating form of depression of the modern era. In 1933, FDR had seen how paralysed his nation was by the prospect of another Wall St Crash and the misery and hardship which it would perpetuate. That’s why his inaugural address included the timeless observation that ‘The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.’

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