Saturday, May 4, 2019


Spectator columnist Theodore Dalrymple  crosses paths with the London Climate March:

There are several public figures from whose faces I feel compelled to avert my gaze, so irritating do I find them... by far the ghastliest of contemporary visages imperative to avoid for the sake of my peace of mind is that of the Swedish pigtailed prig Greta Thunberg. If there were a Nobel Prize for self-satisfaction she would be without competitor. She is the very Mozart of self-righteousness...

Youth, contrary to the common misconception, is not a time of idealism, at least in the Western world, but of the utmost and uncompromising egotism. This egotism has two poles, so to speak, like magnetic north and magnetic south: libertinism and priggery. They are both self-indulgent, but in slightly different ways, the libertines and the prigs. Neither pole is very attractive, but perhaps priggery (to which I regret to say that I was inclined when young, and still have to control a natural tendency to censoriousness) is the worse. Rather Falstaff than Malvolio...

The attention and deference accorded to the pigtailed prodigy (who surely, in mitigation of her ghastliness, must have been manipulated by people older than she) is not her fault, nor is it surprising that at her age she has little idea of the complexities and intractability of the world, or of the ironies of life, let alone of its tragic dimension. But she is protected by her age from attack: I mean, of course, public counterargument or vigorous cross-questioning, not the death threats to which her parents have been subjected, a testimony to the temper of our times. Instead, she has been treated almost obsequiously, as an oracle... anyone who questioned her in a searching, let alone an aggressive, way would be regarded as a kind of child-abuser,

... she is far from alone. Two days ago, for example, I was traveling on a bus to take the train to the airport. A young man and woman, both about 19 or 20, got on.

She told her companion... that she had joined in the climate-change demonstrations in London, which had caused a fair degree of chaos and inconvenienced many thousands of people. She said that she had gone to the demonstration to stand up and be counted, as if she had done something terribly brave like being a conscientious objector during the First World War.

Her companion was skeptical: What about the suffering she and her fellow demonstrators inflicted on thousands of people going about their ordinary business? I warmed to the decent young man.

She said, predictably, that while she regretted any inconvenience to others, the only way to make the government listen was to create chaos. She was certain that the end justified the means because the end was as real and tangible to her as the hand before her face—she allowed not a hint of doubt to enter her mind.

The two of them passed on to other subjects. For some reason, the young man mentioned someone who had been to a pawnshop.

“What’s a pawnshop?” asked the young woman.

He tried to explain it to her. She had never even heard of such an institution.

"I don’t know everything yet,” she said with a kind of disarming naivete. She said there were lots of words she didn’t know. She thought that with age she would become more and more omniscient instead of ever more aware of the scale of her own ignorance. Then the two of them began to compare their knowledge of German (his) and Spanish (hers) that they were learning by counting up to ten in their respective languages. There was now a kind of childlike innocence to their conversation, and when they alighted the bus they hopped about like spring lambs.