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Breaking promises made to children

January 17, 2010

In the continuous struggle to separate cause from effect, I have often wondered about the demographics of climate change denialism, particularly in respect of CiF, where the proportion of curmudgeonly contrarianism seems to suggest most posters once voted during elections in which Gladstone was standing.

But there are two societal factors that may bear on this issue rather more than age alone. The first was mentioned in an earlier post where a comment was made about ‘juvenilism’. I have lived long enough to witness a remarkable transformation of what adulthood means. When I was young, the world was full of dour, stolid, no-nonsense men and women who, having survived one world war (and in some cases two) had no time for childishness. For them, the sacrifices made needed to make sense and being foolish and irresponsible was deeply offensive, hence the disdain for long hair and pop music and what they saw as shallow youth culture.

But the intervening years have produced a massive shift away from personal responsibility, towards a culture of self-indulgence and frivolity, debt without honour and a line of credit that extends beyond the grave, where adults put on the same clothing as their children to retain intact that which grace and age should temper, as if death would somehow be taken in by the disguise. Everything now is the fault of the ‘faux-adults’ – politicians, police, teachers, doctors, and of course scientists. It’s all the fault of the establishment. Nothing is our fault, nothing is our responsibility; if the world is in a mess, someone else made that mess and yet another anonymous grouping must clear up after us. While we behave like children, governments treat us accordingly but our ability to engage in mature discourse is limited by the diminished attention span of the cheap thrill, transient media and retail therapy.

But perhaps there is a more fundamental issue here, which is easily characterised by failing pension schemes. Capitalism has alway made an implicit promise: do your homework, get qualifications or skills, work hard and honestly, raise a family and finally, enjoy the deferred gratification of a luxurious, if indulgent, retirement in good health. Climate change, the end of cheap energy, the diminished resources that must be shared more appropriately with that greater part of the world whose demands for a fair share we can no longer suppress with violence and intimidation, the constant boom and bust that shreds our savings and pensions: these are the symbols of that promise being broken, with little hope that it can be made good now or in the future. Climate change is just one aspect of a disillusionment that seems endemic now. How can we believe in anything at all, any promise or agenda, any administration or movement, when it is clear that for all the money we might make, there will be little to spend it on that we value, because we have emptied the very pot in which we expected to find the happiness we waited all our lives to enjoy?

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