President Macron has just lost his second Minister of Ecology in under a year. In a normal government this wouldn’t matter, but in France the Ecology Minister is the number two in the government, after the Prime Minister. François de Rugy had to go when it was revealed that, under the guise of “working dinners” he was providing lobster suppers washed down with 500 euro bottles of Bordeaux from the Parliament’s cellars to his wife’s friends. There was also the small matter of a gold-plated hairdryer bought by his wife with taxpayers’ money, and thousands of euros for “un dressing” (wardrobe) for the minister to hang his hair shirts in.
Two speedy parliamentary enquiries have cleared him from any wrongdoing, and the unsinkable green crustacean may soon be back on the job. Though the story has been headline news for two weeks, no major paper has been so indiscreet as to conduct a poll on what the public thinks. Quite rightly, since “the public” thinks what it’s told to think. France may be the freest country in the world in terms of the information which circulates on the misdoings of our élites, but this hardly matters in a country where less than 10% of the population reads a national newspaper. The last ecology minister, Nicolas Hulot, resigned in tears on national radio, and went back to running his million euro franchise in eco-perfumes made from gonads of rare Amazonian rodents, while hopping between his holiday homes in Brittany and Corsica in one of his seven fossil fuel-powered vehicles. All this is public knowledge, and he’s still the most popular political figure in the country. What do you have to do to make yourself disliked in this land of supposedly ecologically concerned sheep?
One sure way would be to say anything unkind about Saint Greta Thunberg, who has been all over the media since addressing the French parliament. While journalists have treated her with the respect due to a prophet sent by Gaia to save us from ourselves as happened in Britain) a number of right wing deputies have expressed their disagreement by boycotting her speech. The reasons given (“listen to the scientists, not to some juvenile Swedish activist”) hardly manifest a sceptical spirit worthy of the great rationalists of the French Enlightenment, but it’s a start.
More hopeful is the response by a well known philosopher, Michel Onfray, whose speciality is saying outrageous things in order to get himself invited on to TV talk shows, which is where the book sales happen. Philosophers in France do the gadfly job done in Britain by inyerface journalists like Rod Liddle and Julie Burchill. You need a philosophy degree and a special permit from the Prefect of Police to do trenchant criticism in France. If a humorist tries the same thing, he’s liable to find himself prosecuted for hate crimes – or the victim of an unfortunate road accident.
On his blog, Onfray takes on la Thunberg in a way that would be difficult to imagine in Britain, alas. It would be nice to think this is a sign of an awareness of the weakness of the scientific argument for catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, and not just the desire to create a buzz during the dead season for media intellectuals. Still, revolutions are rarely conducted by nice people making sensible arguments. (Anything particular happening back in Blighty at the moment? I thought not.) Here is my loose translation of the gist:
François de Rugy, caught by his lobsters marinaded in Chateau Yquem, has resigned as Minister of Ecology. Let’s hope he’s replaced by the vegan Greta Thunberg… This young lady – vegan and no doubt teetotaller – whose unsmiling countenance bears such a striking resemblance to that of Buster Keaton, would never raid the taxpayer-funded parliamentary wine cellar.
She has the face of a cyborg which experiences no emotion – neither laughter, surprise, suffering nor joy. She reminds one of those silicon puppets which announce the onset of a post-human epoch. She has the face, the age, the sex and the body of a third millennium cyborg. Her form is neuter. She points the direction, alas, in which humanity is heading.
Journalists inform us – oh so carefully – that she is autistic. It has to be said, without saying it, while still saying it. OK. Political correctness requires that the word cannot be uttered in its metaphorical sense. But not in its literal sense either. So it’s said, while at the same time remaining unsaid.
What soul inhabits this fleshless body? Difficult to tell.. She skips school every Friday while offering a holocaust* of everything she could have learned at school about saving the planet. Is it enough? Given the modest nature of her offering, I fear not.
*He’s using “holocaust” in its original Greek sense. When you read articles by French philosophers, you’re expected to get this stuff, or else look it up.
Only too pleased to have a pretext for not going to school, a herd of sheep of her generation which believes itself free while bleating the catechism with which it’s been brainwashed by adults, follows her example and offers up on the sacrificial altar the culture which it hasn’t got, but which it could have, perhaps, if it bothered to go to school (although, if it’s only to learn Greta-esque idiocies…)
The Swedish cyborg has even declared that she’s going to take a sabbatical in order to save the planet. For why learn stuff at school when you already know everything about everything? Every evening, in bed, she peruses the voluminous reports of the IPCC and spouts statistics** (i.e. science) in a razor sharp voice. In our days, it was Rimbaud and Verlaine that one quoted at sixteen.
**Onfray is wrong. Thunberg never quotes statistics. Nor, for that matter, does the IPCC in their latest oeuvre (IPCC SR15) if they can better disguise the facts with a multicolour graph. It’s this kind of carelessness about detail which caused an earlier generation of French philosophers to ignore a few million dead in the Soviet gulags. A pity, because the French philosophers are a bright lot, on the whole.
What is the intelligence of this cyborg? Who knows? What she utters is not being freely expressed; it wasn’t written by a girl of her age. The writing is too technical. She is reading a text written by others.*** Her intelligence is really artificial, in the etymological sense. It’s a manufactured product. The question is: manufactured by whom? The answer is simple. You only have to ask: “cui bono?” The answer is probably in the roots of the IPCC – the Bible of this silicon thought process.
***I think Onfray is wrong here too. The checking I’ve done suggests precisely the kind of “artificial” intelligence that an intelligent 16-yer-old could acquire from Wikipaedia and TED talks.
What does it say, this body which is an antibody, this immaterial flesh, this soul which cuts classes, this mind of a ventriloquist’s dummy? What right-thinking progressive parents have been spouting for decades.
This post-capitalist cyborg speaks in the name of The Science. But at sixteen, what does she know of astrophysics, of cosmic cycles, of solar storms and their cycles? – subjects which are also scientific, but which she and her like never mention when discussing global warming…
For Greta, it seems that The Science consists of a compendium of slogans to recite, a hieratic pronouncement from the Planetary Papal Palace, made up of phrases authenticated by the reports of the IPCC.
At the Assemblée Nationale, invited by a certain Mr Orphelin, still with her Buster Keaton mask, she icily scolded and insulted the adults, who applauded conscientiously. It would be interesting one day to examine the role played in politics by the desire to be humiliated, which leads certain people in power to take pleasure in various forms of submission, whether fascist, brown, red, black, islamist or green.
This time the Master is a Mistress, a young girl with a sexless body and a martial discourse. At the podium, she’s Mélenchon (read: Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders) in the body of Alice in Wonderland. A terrifying impression of a revolutionary tribunal expressing itself in a pre-pubescent voice as pale as death… you’d think you were in a Manga. Icily, she hits out at politicians and businessmen; she slaps adults, bullies journalists, and the public applauds as if she were a new St. Theresa of Lourdes. […]
There’s nothing strange about a child wanting to see how far it can go in forcing adults to bow to its will. That’s the normal order of things. The problem is not with her – she’s doing what all kids of her age do. The problem is with the adults who adore being humiliated by the creature they’ve created… This is something to reflect on, and to make us wonder if we haven’t reached the final stage of nihilism…
And so on. I’m not pinning my hopes on this kind of diatribe, but it’s a straw in the wind. The repetition of certain expressions (“neuter,” “silicon,” “latex..”) is of course quite disgusting in the context, and reveals more about Mr Onfray’s fantasies than about the weakness of Thunberg’s arguments. But the refusal of sane people in politics, the media, and above all academia to apply rational thought to the climate question (it’s not rocket science for Gaia’s sake – in fact most of it’s not any kind of science) means that the backlash is likely to be led by people who are not necessarily very nice.
And serves them sodding right.