Clive James Feasts with Threatened Species

The Guardian has started printing articles by climate deniers – well, one climate denier – Clive James. He’s not only an elderly white man, but dying of leukaemia, so that’s all right then.

In his latest article he doesn’t actually discuss climate change, but simply demands the right to be frivolous about it in the face of what he sees as an attempt by the U.S. attorney general, Loretta Lynch, to suppress dissent.

Clive James’s position is rare among humourists. I can think of only one other example of a comedian being frivolous about the Greatest Catastrophe Mankind Has Ever Faced. It’s in this sketch in which Alan Bennett is extolling the joys of sex with strangers in a public lavatory in one of the more sordid quarters of London. (Ladbroke Grove used to be known as a den of whores and drug dealers when I lived there. I expect it’s inhabited by government ministers and hedge fund managers now. Some things never change.)

At 5’ 10” Bennett says:

… Anyway, I’m stood there, and meanwhile various good citizens come and go, having emptied their honest bladders … then suddenly, the doorway is darkened by the massive form of Mr. Right – six foot tall, bronzed, blond, crisp hyacinthine curls, built like a brick shithouse, and, biggest plus of all, never says a word. You see, the beauty of which is, it allows me free play with all my fantasies. And I thought: Is he a Hungarian truck driver, fresh from driving his juggernaut across the motorways of Europe and to hell with the environment? Is he a member of the SAS with his balaclava dangling nonchalantly from his back pocket? Ah, is he…?

The joke is the fact, understood by everyone, that whereas other people’s sex lives are always good for a laugh, cottage queening would not so long ago be considered a subject too daring for public comment. It no longer is. The taboo subject, the Emission that Dare not Speak its Name, is something else.

And this is where Clive James’s frivolousness meets Alan Bennett’s. Some people fantasise about having sex in public lavatories with long distance truck drivers. Others fantasise about having them arrested – for diverse reasons, but all to do with reducing unhealthy emissions.

Oscar Wilde described such unorthodox sex as “feasting with tigers”, which well expresses the danger inherent in it, and the unconscious link between sex and death. Bennett makes the same link with his reference to the SAS, and of course his indirect reference to climate catastrophe. Clive James doesn’t have to. His articles are quite openly all about his own mortality. Clive has been one of the great journalists of the past fifty years, and that fact, plus his leukaemia, gives him the right to go where no-one else dares, even in the Guardian.

Most of the commenters at the Guardian don’t want to accord him that right. That’s a subject that would be worth exploring in itself, if anyone can be bothered. I’m finding more and more that I’m in agreement with Professor Lewandowsky that there’s no point in discussing with people you don’t agree with. I know my argument is scientifically unsound and even morally contemptible, but, like Professor Lewandowsky, I can’t help myself.

Meanwhile it would be interesting to consider in detail the relation between the obsession with climate catastrophe and unconscious fears of death. I suspect that the link is the rise, quite recent in historical terms, of mass atheism. There have always been those who refuse to believe in an afterlife, but as long as discussion was limited to a tiny number of intellectuals it had no perceptible social consequences.

In theory I’d like to explore this further, but – as with saving the planet – in practice I hope someone else will do it, because I really can’t be bothered.


  1. Good joke about the government ministers and hedge fund managers!

    It’s ironic that his short, frivolous article about the right to make frivolous remarks, such as the idea that a coal tit should be renamed a renewables tit, is met with 489 mostly earnest and angry comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I’m finding more and more that I’m in agreement with Professor Lewandowsky that there’s no point in discussing with people you don’t agree with.”

    I wonder what exactly is the point of discussing anything with your sycophants?

    It is a test of your own resolve, a way to knock off some fluffy bits of lint, to find an intelligent opponent and then discuss something about which agreement is impossible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. He’s a clever man is Clive James. On the one hand he is exercising his right to be frivolous about something which he probably thinks is nowhere near as serious as the merchants of Climate Doom would want us to believe. That’s an understandable impulse for a satirist. But he is also exercising his right to be frivolous also about what he perceives to be a rather more sinister threat to free speech in the emerging form of the state led Climate Inquisition against science deniers. You can tell he really cares about the latter because the light-hearted tone of his frivolity re. coal tits turns rather darker as he satirises the attempts in the US to silence climate dissent. Clive James deserves to see these Inquisitors thwarted significantly before he dies. I hope he does get that opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve always thought of Clive James as one of the most likable human beings I have ever heard speak.
    Regardless of the topic, he just makes me smile. Inwardly, and outwardly. Not many humans could claim that. Top bloke.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. “Most of the commenters at the Guardian don’t want to accord him that right”

    Most of the commenters at the Guardian are bien pensant “Liberal intellectuals” or Islington Chardonnay Socialists.

    And that’s just the nicer ones.


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