‘The world is in a mess, politics and taxes and people grinding axes, no happiness; zoom, zoom, zoom.’ Slap That Bass, performed by Fred Astaire in the 1937 film, Shall We Dance.
Like most people I’ve been zooming about like a rocket; on screen life-drawing, portrait painting, church and neighbour meetings, and as like many middle-class women I’d like to save the rainforest, when I saw a local group offering discussion on how to ’make a difference’ to the planet, I decided to join in. The host was woman about to get her PhD from a respectable university with a thesis on, ‘The effect of Climate Change on the emotions.’
In a nearly half hour peroration she didn’t offer a single fact, not on green-house gasses or dying coral, instead asserted that the public are not involved with fighting climate change, ‘because of their grief.’
‘Yeh,’ she said, frequently, ‘Yeh, grief about climate change reminds them of other griefs, so they can’t face it.’
Based on her research with ‘Green’ groups she aims to create, ‘mindfulness-based interventions,’ and ‘Grief tending,’ through ‘co-counselling and ‘Buddhist and mindfulness practises.’
The Buddhism was described with the old platitude of changing oneself to change the world. Using the wonders of new technology, we broke up into small groups to consider our, ‘Gratitude,’ and for, ‘owning and honouring the pain of the world,’ so that we could all, ‘Alchemise that sense of loss into passion and deep determination.’
We were also warned against the perils of ‘burn out.’ This is something terrible that happens if you get too determined or too hurt by your commitment to, ‘Trauma informed practices,’ such as climate action.
‘Yeh, there is a really need for safety when you explore Climate Change,’ she told us, nothing to do with the Yanomami tribe being murdered by the Brazilian government in its drive to tear up the rainforest for mining and cattle farming, but about ‘being kind to yourself,’ by not getting too upset by the emotions you may feel in your ‘group research’ into how thinking about climate change makes you feel.
‘You must pull back from even inklings of burn out,’ she warned.
Was this discipline sociology, psychology, surprisingly she said it was, ‘Human Geography.’ Boring old geog, where we learned about rivers, towns and coastal erosion, once taught by men with leather arm-patches and egg stained ties, has been transformed.
In school and university regional geography has been replaced by emotive, ‘critical’ or ‘radical geography,’ even ‘feminist’ or ‘cultural geography’ aiming to provide explanations rather than factual description, studied without detachment and objectivity, which have been called ‘a tool of capital.’
Touchy, feely and kind they may be, but these geographers have an agenda. The soon to be doctor believes that there are not a lot of Greta Thunbergs about, not because of economic deprivation, poor education, or different political views, but because ‘no one has enough collective agency.’
Our Zoom group agreed that ‘our whole system’ has to change, firstly to end the unpleasant confrontational nature of parliamentary debate. No more shouting. She wants ‘Members of Parliament using ‘Mindfulness’ in the chamber instead.
Considering the economic forces now busy destroying the planet, these ideas seemed as useful to me as putting on a cardigan for world peace. But it’s sadly the campaign to save the planet is dominated by the Left and the new culture where objectivity has been replaced by emotion.
‘This is a very dangerous situation,’ said a young woman on BBC Radio 4 this week. Was she speaking about the virus in UK care-homes, the imminent collapse of the economy, the North Pole moving four times faster than it ever has before, or the burning of the Brazilian rain-forest? No.
‘People can no longer hug each other,’ she warned grimly, believing that an essential mechanism for our survival has been stripped away by ‘social distancing.’
This was followed by another report about the soothing hymn, Abide with Me. We were told that it’s very important at cup finals because singing has always been, ‘The only way that working class men could show emotion, hug and touch each other,’ as they were obviously desperate to do.
Showing emotion as an act of respectability even mental health, first emerged with the death of Princess Diana. Suddenly it was not just good to blub, it was obligatory if you were a decent ‘feeling’ person. It’s now de rigueur to well up. Interviews with public figures usually have that little pause where the interviewee almost breaks down and says, ‘excuse me. Sorry,’ before pressing on through tears. Even blasé, Humbug hating Boris did this recently describing his struggle against the virus. In public life only the Queen has held onto her stiff-upper lip, only letting it wobble in 1994, on seeing her holiday home, the Royal yacht Britannia being put out of action.
To object to any of this is as taboo as calling someone a foreigner; it just ain’t done anymore. Belief in the morality of showing emotion has now invaded almost every area of our lives and must be one of the biggest cultural changes in the last fifty years. We now have a drug culture and the hug culture; if people are not weeping, clapping or singing together there must be something wrong with them. The BBC has just set up a national movement, with over a hundred musicians to encourage people to ‘Get creative,’ not to perform exquisite music but to get everyone in the country to sing ‘You Got the Love,’ a 1986 disco hit.
There is no area now free of this. In the arts it’s called inclusiveness and collaboration, both widely seen as female characteristics. There are no more lonely artists in garrets pursuing an individual vision, their work will only win applause and funding if it’s seen to be collaborative; one of the virtues cited for sending Sonia Boyce to last year’s Venice Biennale. Anyone entering art school must show the collaborative nature of their work. Rodin used to hug his models, these days he’d be restricted to kissing other sculptors.
Ironically the true leader of all this touchy-feely radicalism is Donald Trump who has set up an economic model based on emotionalism and spontaneity; short term, trigger reactions that feel good and right at the moment of feeling without any analysis based on fact. His emotions and impulses based largely on greed, may not please middle-class tree huggers but are literally meat and drink to the people who want ready meals in buckets and corn-syrup with everything. The kind of people that the soon to be doctor and her followers never meet.
That’s the trouble with the emotions, everyone has them, even people you don’t like. People who ditch objectivity and reason may see ugly emotion spiralling out of control, and perhaps one day there may be a national crisis when we will need rational, incisive, organised minds to help us all stay alive; let’s just hope that never happens.