Do you have the heating on? Using up my natural resources?
It must be fairly obvious to anyone paying attention that there is a pattern to the more ludicrous aspects of political life. At the centre is an old bogey – a kind of supercilious Malthusian anxiety. We see it everywhere and to my mind this central point is where the dots join up. The trouble is, whenever we join up the dots we seem to end up with a conspiracy theory.
Yet real conspiracies do not have to be conducted via furtive assignations in locked rooms with drawn curtains – merely via a conspiratorial culture which is mostly open if we actually look. This is what we have now, but to claim that we have a conspiratorial culture is not a conspiracy theory. We have always had a conspiratorial culture.
People talk, gossip, discuss and speculate, usually within their own social class. Some social classes have the power to change things and in the end, their consensus around shared anxieties does change things. That is all there is to it.
We may assume that the upper middle classes have their Malthusian anxieties and the disdain which goes with it because why would we assume those anxieties have disappeared? They run deep. Simple observation suggests they never did disappear – the dots do join up.
Imagine a diffuse mix of fears, accusations, virtue signalling, vague social contempt and a definite touch of social and political aggression. Anxiety about the future… excessive consumption… too many people… the wrong kind of people… they don’t deserve… bourgeois… ugly… feckless… wasted on them… squandering resources… not sustainable… too many cars… unhealthy… crude… too much money… out of control… out of control… out of control…
A upper middle class conspiratorial culture diffused with supercilious Malthusian anxieties has embedded itself in our wider culture simply because that is the way things are and always have been. It seems to be a legitimate part of our wider culture because it is. It looks nothing like a locked room full of furtive conspirators with secret plans, but diffused through an entire society it is far more powerful in its effects.
We see it most clearly as political parties on the traditional left lose interest in ordinary working people because ordinary working people are the Malthusian threat. Supposedly consuming too much, with too much power over their own lives, sucking up what are believed to be finite resources. Finite resources do not belong to those dreadful people goes the covert corollary.
Hence that strange yet explicable tendency to damage and mismanage the lives of ordinary people. A tendency to create welfare dependencies which ultimately do no good but cannot be escaped. From housing to education, from mass immigration to bungled energy policies, from corrupt science and corrupt academia to a suspiciously incompetent and draconian response to a relatively unimportant pandemic. It doesn’t feel accidental because it isn’t.
It is a pattern of behaviour exhibited by the upper middle classes, those with plenty of money, good social connections, good social skills. Add to that an old Malthusian anxiety which never went away. Add an imaginary future where natural resources which go to make their lives so comfortable have been irreversibly depleted. By us.
And how long has that imaginary future been promoted? I can’t recall a time when it wasn’t a source of endless and distinctly aggressive hand-wringing anxiety. The Guardian never let go of it. The BBC never lets go of it. The government never lets go of it. That imaginary future is my fault and yours. It always was. The dots do join up.
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