Apocalyptic heroes and villains

I’ve written about four “apocalyptic” scenarios last year, in posts titled war, pestilence, famine and the end is nigh (which, in context, should probably have been titled “death”).We still have the war in Ukraine and, both here and in the US, political situations which could turn very unpleasant. And, of course, nothing much has been done about climate change, with indications of a tipping point of 1.5 degrees centigrade by the early 2030s. Covid, our pestilence, however, has largely vanished from the media. It’s still killing a fair number of people – on 20th March there were over 500 Covid-related deaths worldwide – but we aren’t terribly interested any more in what has gone from pandemic to endemic.

One thing I haven’t mentioned in connection with these is the phenomenon of a few people predicting the disasters, our modern day prophets, or that of our finding heroes. Ukraine doesn’t really have any prominent prophet associated with it (though various people did predict something of this kind), but does have President Zelensky as its hero, at least from where I sit (the hero of the situation from a Russian perspective may be Putin, and if it’s a Russian perspective there are probably other places which share the view; any “hero” is likely to be someone else’s villain). Among the various apocalypses I’n talking about, Zelensky is the one who best fits the image of a hero popularised by media, that of some courageous individual who fights against the odds. It remains to be seen whether he’s going to be the ever-victorious Hollywood hero or the tragic hero, who dies in the struggle…

Covid had a number of people who predicted a global pandemic, none widely hailed as prophets, some of whom were engaged by the UK government to write a plan to deal with such events (something close to my heart, as I was for some years involved in emergency planning locally). Sadly, our government of the time didn’t follow the plan they had (though Vietnam did follow it, and had a far lower death rate than we did). Global pandemics were also predicted by Bill Gates, whose foundation had put some money into combatting similar infections, but curiously rather than being hailed as a prophet, he has been condemned by much of the American right as, somehow, being responsible. The same impulse, it seems to me, may lie behind the popular blaming of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, set up to study and combat just this kind of virus, and from which much of the information which was used to create vaccines emanated. It’s very unlikely, though marginally possible, that a lab leak was responsible. If there’s an individual hero of Covid, it’s probably Jacinta Ardern in New Zealand, who took the kind of drastic action which our own government didn’t have the nerve to do, and similarly produced a much lower death toll. Curiously, however, for a prief period, Big Pharma was the hero of the day in producing vaccines. It may still be something of a hero with continuing vaccine programmes and various forms of treatment which have massively lessened the lethality of the virus.

Our erstwhile Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has attempted to present himself as the hero of both Covid and Brexit through claiming to have been responsible for a faster roll-out of vaccines than elsewhere and that this could not have been achieved without Brexit. The second is an outright lie – it was achieved while EU rules still applied. He did spend a very large amount of money persuading pharmaceutical companies to supply us rather than other countries – whether that qualifies him as a local hero I beg to question, though it certainly qualifies him as a villain from the point of view of those countries priced out of the vaccine market. Is he a hero as the man who “got Brexit done”? He’d like to claim that too. The snag is, not only does it appear to have no pluses and very many minuses, but it isn’t actually “done”. Parliament has just given the OK to an amendment of the Northern Ireland protocol, but the Democratic Unionist party has voted 100% against it and refused to re-enter power sharing in NI, we still haven’t instituted proper customs checks on goods coming into the country (which the EU managed from day 1) and the absence of various vegetables and fruits from our supermarket shelves rather gives the lie to any claim of success. But then, Brexit hasn’t really generated any heroes, just a sizeable crop of villains. Although, for some Conservatives, maybe those are actually heroes?

Onward to climate change, which has produced (at least here in the UK) two prophet-heroes in the shape of Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough. Thunberg might yet just possibly manage to mobilise enough very embarrassed politicians to do something about the root problem of excess CO2 emissions and thus be a fully-fledged hero, but it’s looking unlikely that she will prove to have been successful. She has also been the victim of a large amount of rage from some conservatives, and may be a villain of the piece from their point of view – how DARE a youngster, and a girl at that, point out that we have been fouling our own nest for years? Clearly she is just a mouthpiece for forces which want to destroy free market capitalism as we know it, probably in favour of those nations which have not made a success of it… (the fact that they haven’t “made a success of it” due to massive exploitation by the “developed world” seems not to register).

It’s in the field of climate change where we see most prominently the belief in a “deus ex machina”, the supernatural force which will turn up and save the day at the last moment. The deus ex machina in that case is generally expected to be science, at least where I live (there may be places where divine intervention is the dominant hope, of course). I’m not a great fan of the deus ex machina.; For one thing, I don’t really believe in them. I don’t believe in a supernatural interventionist God, and I don’t see the moves in the scientific community which would be needed for them to come up with a wonderful solution. Science takes time, and we don’t have much of it at this point. In addition, to move to the kind of world which could reduce carbon emissions to manageable levels would probably mean the end of our current globalised, financialised, state-subsidised market economy. I don’t say “free market” because in most of the developed world, big business has captured government and turned it into a source of funding – consider, for instance, the various bank bail-outs which have happened since 2008, or the vast sums being poured into “green energy” by the USA at the moment to the consternation of green energy companies elsewhere, all alongside the fact that oil and gas production is still subsidised in many places. OK, going back to what I said earlier, the conservatives who see Thunberg as attacking capitalism are probably ultimately correct. And, as Mark Fisher (or possibly Jameson or Zizek) has said, it is easier to contemplate the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

So that’s probably what we’re going to see happen…


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