The Mis-anthropocene

Calls for a ‘no growth’ future reveal the limits and misanthropy of today’s radicals.

James Heartfield

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The coronavirus pandemic has done terrible damage to Britain. The estimates of those who have died with the disease are, at the time of writing, just over 34,000. On top of the misery of lost friends and loved ones, the knock-on effects on people’s lives, their jobs and hopes are terrible. The government and the NHS have rightly come under sharp criticism for their handling of the crisis.

In his address to the nation, the opposition leader Keir Starmer said he wanted to support the government in its fight against the coronavirus, but we ‘can’t return to the old ways’. Starmer argues that the country needs to better reward health and other key workers and to better fund the healthcare system and the care sector. This has chimed with a lot of people’s thinking. Indeed, the Conservative Party’s election manifesto already promised a £34 billion increase in health spending by 2023. In mid-April, chancellor Rishi Sunak brought forward £6 billion of health spending specifically to fight the coronavirus.

But there have been more forthright criticisms not just of the Conservative government but of capitalism more generally, and, in particular, of the ‘growth model’ of the economy. To some critics, the epidemic itself is symptomatic of a more fundamental crisis of modern society – and also an opportunity to systematically transform the country and the world. These critics mix anger at the death toll with a determination to use the crisis to forward a new agenda.

‘Revolutionary times need revolutionary measures’, left activist Owen Jones told a Novara Media webcast. He summoned the historical comparison of Keir Starmer as Clement Attlee to Boris Johnson’s would-be Winston Churchill, recalling that Attlee won the postwar election to build the welfare state.

Writing in the Guardian, Adam Tooze puts the epidemic in an even more momentous time-frame, arguing that we are in the first ‘crisis of the Anthropocene’. ‘This is the era in which humanity’s impact on nature has begun to blow back on us in unpredictable and disastrous ways’, he says. Veteran labour analyst Kim Moody argues that ‘capitalism has accelerated the transmission of diseases’ and that ‘this virus has moved through the circuits of capital and the humans that labour in them’.

‘To protect human wellbeing and avoid environmental disaster, we must escape the growth paradigm once and for all’, write David Barmes and Fran Boait in a report called The Tragedy of Growth. The report has been backed by Green MP Caroline Lucas and Labour’s Clive Lewis. Among its proposals is a Universal Basic Income. Its main contention is that ‘the climate and ecological emergencies necessitate that we end our pursuit of GDP growth’.

What a shame there aren’t any more ambitious ideas about how to change society. The flaw in the arguments about ‘we can’t go back to the old ways’ is two-fold. The first is that too many of the ideas for change are wrong and destructive, and if put into practice would sabotage our ability to recover. The second is that they are intuitive appeals to a common ground that has not yet been argued for.

The case that the growth of mass societies across the globe has created a vector for viral infection is undeniable. No other species than man is as mobile or as ubiquitous across the globe. It is clear, too, that globalisation really comes when people give up subsistence farming to work for wages, which is to say, under capitalism.

Scientists in the Soviet Union first mooted the idea that we were in a new age, the ‘anthropocene’, in which human intervention in nature was the defining characteristic of the age. The claim is that the Anthropocene is analogous to the Holocene (the time since the last Ice Age), the Pleistocene (the Ice Age itself) or the Eocene (up to the great extinction 34million years ago). Except, of course, the defining characteristic of the Anthropocene is human intervention, rather than natural or climatic changes. Whether this really is a new age, Adam Tooze and other theorists of the Anthropocene are right to say that the deeper engagement with nature that modern industry and agriculture creates also opens up a greater possibility of cross-species viral infection, which would appear to be the source of human Covid-19.

But where the Jeremiahs of the Anthropocene get things wrong is in their argument that a deeper relationship with nature is harming humanity more broadly. While it is true that modern industry and agriculture have increased the vectors of viral infection, they have also hugely increased our ability to cope with diseases and other natural impacts on human society.

Historically, influenza epidemics spreading from developed Western societies to those in the Pacific and the Americas, which were only just beginning to open up to modern commercial society, were devastating. The 16th-century smallpox epidemic, in what is today Mexico, wiped out nearly 20million – reducing the population to one tenth of its previous size. Measles killed vast swathes through the Melanesian Pacific in the 19th century.

Today smallpox is no longer with us, having been finally eradicated by vaccination in 1980. Measles, though a significant killer still – and in resurgence in 2018 – can be controlled by vaccination. Influenza killed as many as 50million in the 1919 Spanish Flu pandemic, putting even coronavirus into the shade. Overall, modern medicine has significantly improved life chances across the globe.

And it is not just medicine that improves lives. Industry generally has had a dramatic impact upon the longevity and the quality of human life. It turns out that a deeper and more extensive interaction with nature actually protects us against natural disaster. Far from being more precarious, life in this age is more secure and richer than it has ever been.

The Tragedy of Growth report dismisses the importance of industrial growth for increased life expectancy, claiming instead that industry is bad for us. But since the Industrial Revolution, British life expectancy has doubled from an average of 41 years in 1841 to 81 years in 2018. People’s lives have gained an extra decade since 1960. Even the terrible losses of coronavirus will not leave Britain’s population smaller in 2021 than in 2019, given the average natural population growth of around 200,000.

It is curious that in their preoccupation with the negative impacts of human intervention in nature, the critics of growth and humanity fail to register the positive impact that human intervention has in making nature more amenable to human needs.

The Anthropocene, as the argument goes, would run from the agricultural revolution 12,000 years ago, or perhaps from the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago. But perhaps what we are really looking at is the emergence of the misanthropocene – an era marked by pessimism about man’s future. Such misanthropy has taken hold over the past 30 years, with the growth of green parties across the world, the declaration of the ‘End of History’ and other postmodern philosophies. The underlying argument of the misanthropocene diminishes human achievements and enjoins us to bow down before nature – including the mighty coronavirus.

In the misanthropocene, the difference between a left-wing, radical critique of the social order and the environmental critique of growth has collapsed. It is interesting that today Adam Tooze looks back on the publication of the The Limits to Growth as a seminal moment. The report was produced in 1972 by the Club of Rome, a think-tank founded by a wealthy industrialist. In it, we were warned about the ‘natural forces that could interrupt the triumphant path of economic growth’.

When The Limits to Growth was first published, it was attacked by leftists who argued that it displaced social critique for Malthusian Jeremiads about overpopulation. Radicals of that era insisted that growth was the key to overcoming scarcity. But today, Labour’s Clive Lewis and the Greens’ Caroline Lucas are jointly launching a ‘no growth’ economic plan.

The proposition that we should aspire to a ‘no growth’ economy cannot be squared with the commitments to increase spending on the health service or to continue paying 80 per cent of workers’ wages while they are furloughed at home.

This problem has been waved aside by some radical economists who say that there is no limit on the amount of cash that the Bank of England can print. Economists like Mariana Mazzucato and James Meadway argue that the additional costs of the coronavirus do not have to be paid back, and that the government ought to go on spending to avoid a crisis. The school of Modern Monetary Theory goes even further, arguing that there are no limits at all to governments printing money to pay for welfare services.

The radical economists are not wrong to say that it would be a big mistake to try to reduce the deficit by austerity measures. On the other hand, printing money cannot be a substitute for real economic activity. The furlough scheme and other rescue packages can put off our economic problems but cannot solve them. If the money the government issues does not correspond to real goods and services, it will not magically bring those things into being. As the bottleneck shortage of personal protective equipment has shown us, goods have to be made before they can be bought and used.

We are only able to fund the health service now because the government can borrow money on the expectation that the economy will return to productive growth. Those who imagine that the ‘money printer go BRRR’ and everything will be solved are deluding themselves. (If governments really could just print money to pay for welfare services in perpetuity, they could stop taxing businesses altogether. But one suspects that is not a conclusion that Modern Monetary Theorists would support.)

Similarly, the appeal of the proposal for Universal Basic Income, to be paid to each of us regardless of any work we do, is that it creates an imaginary release from the necessity of making a living. The hope that a wise and beneficent government might pay us all to stay at home does not seem so strange when that is what is happening right now. But as Karl Marx pointed out, even a ‘child knows that any nation that stopped working, not for a year, but let us say, just for a few weeks, would perish’. That is not just true of capitalism, but of all societies, even socialist ones.

It is a feature of the lockdown that the political process has been largely suspended. A lot of people are daydreaming about the future without really testing those ideas in public debate. ‘We can’t go back to the old ways’ seems intuitively true. Say it and people will nod sagely as if in agreement with you.

In the closing scene of Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, standing on the shattered steps of the White House after the alien invasion has been fortuitously defeated, accidental saviour Richie Norris says, ‘We will rebuild’. He then adds: ‘But instead of houses, we could live in teepees, which are much better in a lot of ways.’ Burton’s joke is that mankind has only saved itself by accident and has not actually worked out how things could be any better. After the denouement of the world’s near destruction, living in teepees seems as good an idea as any.

Many people have looked at the unpolluted skies or walked the empty streets and thought ‘We can’t go back to how it was’. But tunnel down further into those sentiments, and you will find that they mask clashing ideas of how things ought to be. Though people are happy to come out and clap for the NHS, that does not mean they are in agreement about how to fund it. The coronavirus epidemic has indeed been momentous, but it will not resolve the arguments about how we should go forward.

The measures that the government has taken to stabilise the economy under the lockdown are indeed revolutionary, but they have only been taken in order to sustain the capitalist system. Far from being a moment of great social solidarity, the lockdown is one of enforced isolation and atomisation. So far, the epidemic has only enhanced the Conservative government’s position in the opinion polls.

No doubt there are many people who see the epidemic as evidence that the modern world has gone wrong. Maybe there are even some who think that growth ought to be done away with altogether. But a great many more think that the economy must eventually get back into gear to make good the losses caused by the epidemic and the lockdown. Some people who say they do not want to go back to the old ways want to pull up the drawbridge and isolate the country from overseas dangers. Others want to see more cooperation with allies and partners around the world to meet the new challenges.

Without a political process to test out the different proposals of how the country ought to change, the sentiment will only tend to mask the debate. The proposal of a post-growth future is no more realistic than the idea that we should all live in teepees.

James Heartfield is author of The Equal Opportunities Revolution, published by Repeater.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

fret slider

20th May 2020 at 10:55 am

“the Anthropocene” is completely imaginary, like the climate crisis.

“…a push from some scientists to formally designate today’s human geological epoch as the “Anthropocene”. Editors of the journal Nature argue that the name “provides a powerful framework for considering global change and how to manage it.” https://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/03/30/anthropocene-the-new-pop-religion/

Any serious geologist will tell you we’re in the Meghalayan (4200 years ago to the present).

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

19th May 2020 at 10:23 pm

‘But since the Industrial Revolution, British life expectancy has doubled from an average of 41 years in 1841 to 81 years in 2018.’ —

Incredibly naive to think that was purely the result of uncontrolled laissez-faire capitalism. Increases in life expectancy and improvements in health and general well-being are equally a consequence of such socialist innovations as paid holidays, the NHS and the welfare state. Except for socialist resistance, capitalist extremists would have imposed ever more draconian and oppressive working conditions on the working classes. The working class gains owe more to the Tolpuddle Martyrs than the Tory obsession with capital.

T Zazoo

20th May 2020 at 2:22 am

But ‘socialist resistance’ could only pull back a slice of that wealth because capitalism created it in the first place.

There was socialist resistance prior to capitalism. It never ended well. The Peasants Revolt is one example.

Jerry Owen

20th May 2020 at 8:18 am

ZP
Economics not your strong point then?
Taxes pay for welfare and the NHS. Taxes that are earned by people working in a capitalist system. All socialist societies end up poor as peasants.
Do you prefer we become hunter gatherers again?
Your dimwittedness is a joy to behold.

Jerry Owen

20th May 2020 at 8:21 am

Oh ZP
The creation of NHS was a cross party alliance to help the war wounded, nothing more nothing less. Your blurry eyed NHS=socialist dream is bunkum.

fret slider

20th May 2020 at 10:58 am

“life expectancy has doubled”

That progress was made possible by fossil fuels. Remember most medical products and supplies – especially sterile items – come in plastic.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

19th May 2020 at 10:18 pm

You know where you can shove your beard.

christopher barnard

19th May 2020 at 5:58 pm

I’ve noticed that people who want no more growth are nearly always middle class and more financially secure than most of us.

I suspect they just want to freeze things as they are, with them continuing to enjoy comfortable, high consumption lives and the rest of us never catching up.

Warren Alexander

19th May 2020 at 5:29 pm

I had intended to make an intelligent, thoughtful and informed comment on this article, instead I decided to go outside and scream at the top of my voice “We are all doomed. We are all doomed’, a much more effective and reasoned response to Covid 19

Gerard Barry

19th May 2020 at 3:32 pm

I didn’t think I could ever be more angry at world governments than I am right now. I live in Germany where, thankfully, the lockdown wasn’t as severe as in the UK. Nevertheless, my social life was severely restricted for two months, leaving me depressed and anxious. (Before anyone calls me selfish, I live here alone in a small one-room apartment.) When I saw last Friday evening that pubs and bars were open here again, I could have cried with joy. Next obstacle for me: my employer will force me to work two days a week from home. (So far, I’ve been coming into the office every day as most of my colleagues are working from home so I had the office to myself.) These measures are frighteningly authoritarian, and good on Spiked and some other media for questioning them.

James Knight

19th May 2020 at 1:53 pm

That is the green vision: everyone sat at home dependent on the state, and therefore subject unending state officiousness. Zero growth and an extra 36million unemployed in the US, but you can hear the birds singing. They are not they slightest bit concerned on the devastating effect this has had on working people, while those in the developing world who will suffer the most do not amount to a footnote. How does MMT help the Bangladeshi garment worker? This is a much bigger and real “emergency” than CO2 and the climate.

We are heading for a hypernormalised green dystopia.

Christopher Tyson

19th May 2020 at 1:03 pm

Tony Blair was interviewed on Newsnight last night and given the ‘Great Man’ treatment as usual.
Blair was asked whether he had spoken to the new Labour (New Labour?) leader Kier Starmer, he assented. Blair still believes that it is folly to leave the EU, but for the time being there is nothing to be gained by continually making the point, he believes that Starmer shares this view.
Where am I going with this? Diehard remainers believed and believe that leaving the EU would be detrimental, if not, suicidal for the British economy. For Blair Coronavirus is one crisis on top of another crisis (which still can be averted) leaving the EU.
We can look at it another way. If the political establishment had got behind Brexit to begin with we could have saved three years of wrangles, Coronavirus has shown that when they put their minds to it, the clever folk at the treasury are capable of finding funds from all manner of previously unimagined places.
My point is really about economic interests. The demise of capitalism has been heralded from the left and feared from the right for centuries. Capitalism has shown that it can stagger on endlessly, albeit with the occasional slump. So how has it happened that spiked’s Phil Mullan is one of the few writers on economics who actively continues to make the case for the potential of capitalism?
Mullan can answer for himself. But we only need to look at the consequences of the lockdown to see that those at the bottom of society are facing the most severe consequences. It would be all very well celebrating the demise of capitalism from your position buried underneath the rubble of the collapsed edifice. It would be folly to destroy an economic system with no alternative in place.
On the contrary, the EU is not an economic system, it is a trading bloc, and some will lose out from it’s demise, but these are people who universalise their own vested interests.
If you are a serf, do you oppose the abolition of serfdom because you will lose your tied-cottage? I’ll leave that hanging.
I do support Phil Mullan’s approach, given the choice between a sluggish or a dynamic capitalism.
But there remain questions about access to capital and decision making, and what happens to those without access, power or resources? By definition we cannot all be capitalists. We find ourselves in the realms of culture and morality, with question about the inherent value and dignity of work, and the inherent value and dignity of human beings.

D G

19th May 2020 at 11:51 am

In the UK the population grows by about a million every three years. Anyone who proposes a halt to immigration is labelled racist. Anyone who proposes a limit on family size is labelled fascist.

So, an extra million it is.

We therefore need more houses, schools and hospitals. More transport and energy. More imported food. We can’t not have growth. If we are wedded to an ever-growing population then we have to grow everything else just to keep up.

James Williams

20th May 2020 at 12:30 am

This is where the positive economic benefit of immigrants over the last 12 years was lost to austerity and when waiting times increased and transport services became overcrowded it was easy to blame an influx of foreigners. I hope in the future we have a more positive and strategic approach to public spending in line with the economic benefits of migrants.

Korina Wood

19th May 2020 at 11:05 am

On the subject of money, Lucas is just another Statist who thinks, and believes, that she knows better than I do how the money I earn should be spent. She wants to steal my money when I am dead, so lets encourage everyone to pee their money up the wall and let the Statists pay for all of us. But even the Blind Statist knows that it will not work.

Yes it is time to change and this is an opportunity for all of us. Lets get back to basics, because that is all we can afford. 650 Snouts in the trough is too much, in fact 200 is too much but lets not be greedy. 100 in the Lords (elected) and the role of the State is defined as ” To protect its citizens” so Civil service cut by 50%. Defence downsized to support a small island, we are no longer a world force and cannot afford to project that image. People will be responsible for their life choices, the state (taxpayers)will no longer pick up the cost. The State will provide a good education to give you the best start possible. So lets take this opportunity, if not we never will change.

Jerry Owen

19th May 2020 at 2:06 pm

Well said Korina.

Mor Vir

19th May 2020 at 10:01 am

Any network of production and exchange will provide vectors for the spread of disease. The black death did pretty well spreading through feudal Europe in the late Middle Ages, and it killed between 30% and 60% of the population of Europe.

True, heightened, faster movement of goods and people will spread disease quicker but that would be true of any economic system, including socialism.

And of course advanced technology helps us to overcome diseases. A lot fewer will die, at least in developed countries, from c 19. Nothing like a third of Europe will die, like with the black death.

The alternative to globalisation would be economic nationalism and an end to the movement of people and goods, which tends to be associated with sections of the far right rather than the left.

The idea that we are going to deliberately end growth, and reduce consumption, because otherwise we might get a viral outbreak once a century, is pretty daft. Yes it is awful that 35,000 have died, but it has to be kept in perspective, and a massive over-reaction has to be avoided.

We have reduced the death toll from the once-a-century outbreak from 50 million in 1919 to maybe a few hundred thousand this time, so we are getting better at this stuff. Now is the time to press on with economic development, not to baulk at it.

The real danger is going to be some magical linking of c 19 with environmentalism, and the promotion of anti-growth policies for the sake of the environment, with no real, demonstrated connection to viral spreads.

‘The planet is striking back, it is giving us a ‘sign’, we are being punished for our ways, read the signs of times, red sky at night.’

That is basically medieval thinking.

Mor Vir

19th May 2020 at 9:31 am

Nice article.

The proposition that we could just print money and let printer go brmmmmm, is worthy of some mockery. Maybe they imagine that we could swap those little art works, pound notes, with people abroad in exchange for goods and services. And that people would want those little art works for their own sake. That is not really how money works. How else could they be turned into actual wealth? (These days, it would be digits held on computers to be swapped.) I cannot see the world being such mugs as to go for that, more likely they would have a lol at us if we tried that one on. Obviously it would just cause inflation, wheelbarrows of notes for a loaf of bread.

I may as well combine that mockery with some blasphemy while I am at it, while everyone is in the mood for a take. The idea that we could just print money without the actual toil of work, the production of goods, as if they are going to magically appear, is akin to the complete insanity of the lunatic Jesus. He was completely detached from reality and from how the world works. In his view, the world is fundamentally immoral and it was about to end, with all those who believed in him magicked into an alternative dimension where wicked stuff like work is not necessary in heaven. We have been cast out of a pleasant, leisurely garden because Eve got chatted up by a talking snake and Adam had a try on Satan’s apple.

According to Jesus, workers have got it completely wrong by serving mammon (money) by working. They are headed for damnation because work is entirely incompatible with being right with God, who will not stand for any of that evil mammonific work stuff. Work is simply a mistake in his view, not only is it sinful, worldly and ungodly, it is also totally unnecessary. Instead of toiling, we should rather contemplate the flowers , far out, man’. The flowers grow because they are made to do so by God, not because they toil, and that is how people should be. People should trust in God to provide them with all that they need, and the unwillingness to stand about like a proper flower and to wait on God, shows that one serves mammon (money), does not trust God and does not serve God.

Jesus may seem like a lunatic, and he was on the Bible account, but it is no more lunatic than supposing that we could just print money to get by. Money without work is about as good for a society as standing about looking at the flowers in the fields. It has always been lunacy to suppose that society could function without toil, and amusingly it remains necessary to guard against that nonsense. They might be termed ‘Jesus economists’ or ‘flower contemplatives’, nothing should be produced and all should be distributed to the poor. Exactly what there would be to distribute to anyone is presumably a matter that should be taken up with the flowers. ‘Oi, flowers, we are still waiting’.

Matthew 6

24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon [money].
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

jamie murray

19th May 2020 at 11:38 am

The bible emphatically does not say work is evil or bad or contrary to Gods will. The message regarding serving God or Mammon is clearly a warning against spending our lives storing up material goods and worrying about the future, which we can’t control. It is a plea from God to put our trust in Him to provide for our needs rather as he provides for the flowers of the field etc and not trust in the worlds temporary systems of wealth accumulation which wont ultimately provide eternal security. Indeed the bible states that if a man won’t work he wont eat and of course after Adams sin God said he would have to sweat and toil in order to make a living. As for Jesus being disconnected from reality? He was and is the supreme example of reality, the historical records of his life and deeds far outweighing those of any other figure in history and attesting to his Deity and incarnation of God in human form. No amount of hating that reality will change it from being so.
P.s I am not a credulous person who just believes without consideration. I am a Christian of a thinking and serious outlook who has looked at all the difficult issues/doctrines/questions [name one, trust me, i’ve thought about it, questioned it, agonised over it, hated it, wrestled with it and then put my pride aside and realised that i, a finite human that doesn’t know everything was wrong and that the infinite God of the bible who knows all was right] and come to the conclusion that pride is the main stumbling block to trusting God and i know because i have been there.
I am aware you can come back and rebut this but i’m not looking for a debate as such, just maybe giving you some food for thought?

Mor Vir

19th May 2020 at 12:49 pm

Jesus did actually say exactly what I described. He is not saying that people should not become obsessed with money or with the means of life but that they should ‘take no thought of it’, and he recommended the lifestyle of the flowers, and that people should just trust in God to provide them with what they need. That is what he said, but you are assuming that is not what he meant, because you are assuming that he was not a complete lunatic.

But he clearly was a lunatic: he claimed to be God, he preached that people can attain eternal life by believing in him, he promised that the end of the world would come during the lifetime of his followers and that they would be magicked up into heaven through him. There were people like that before Jesus and there are still people like that. Some of them become cult leaders and they milk their followers for money, or they lead them into group suicide pacts; and some of them are confined in mental hospitals, the ones who really believe what they say.

Jesus would now be considered delusional, a paranoid schizophrenic, and he would definitely be interned against his will. He was a danger not only to himself, and he got himself killed by mouthing off at the religious leaders, but he was also a danger to his followers and he told them to do the same, to ‘take up their cross and follow him.’ And they did, millions of Christians got killed by the Romans for undermining the adult society of the day, with their abstention from politics, their pacifism, their religious heterodoxy. Jesus got literally millions of his followers killed.

So, you are assuming that Jesus did not mean what he said about toil and flowers and that he has to be reinterpreted because he was not a lunatic – but he was a lunatic and he would be diagnosed as such today and committed to a mental institution for his own safety and for that of others. So there really is no reason not to assume that he meant exactly what he said, just because it was insane. In fact the insanity of his preaching about toil is entirely congruent with his own evident insanity. Thus the obvious hermeneutic is to accept that he was insane, and so was his message.

By the way, the passage about those who do not work, not eating, is from Paul, decades later, when it would have been noted that Jesus was not coming back any time soon. Like yourself, Christians toned down the message of Jesus into something more sustainable. 2000 years later and he has still not come back. There are always going to be followers who will tinker with the religion to try to make it something more palatable. But that does not change who Jesus was or his lunatic religion.

Claire D

19th May 2020 at 2:40 pm

Thank you Jamie.

Mor Vir

19th May 2020 at 4:23 pm

“I am not a credulous person who just believes without consideration… and then I put my pride aside and realised that I, a finite human that doesn’t know everything, was wrong, and that the infinite God of the Bible, who knows all was right, and I come to the conclusion that pride is the main stumbling block to trusting God”

You seem to contradict yourself there.

On the one hand you admit that it does not do for an adult to be credulous, and to believe things without good reason. That is excellent, because otherwise a person could end up believing any nonsense, without any good reason, and that really does not do. Reason is the entire basis of our successful interaction with the world; it is how we discern truth from error, facts from fiction. Where would we be as a society if people did not use their reason in a discerning way, they were credulous, they did not separate reality from unreality, and social policies were based on that sort of thing?

And then on the other hand, you say that you gave up any attempt at a rational evaluation of the claims of the Bible. First you anguished over the insurmountable difficulties, and wrestled with them; that is all good, it is exactly what you should do. But then you copped out of the rational process. And on what basis? You assumed that your reason, as a human, is insufficient to rationally evaluate claims. You assumed that you, as a human, are simply wrong, and that God is right. You are finite and he is infinite.

That is total credulity. That is credulity spelt out. You are proclaiming credulity. So how can you say that you are not a credulous person? You are totally credulous and you must be fully aware of that. It is not ‘pride’ for a human to use his reason and to reject nonsense claims. That is part and parcel of what it means to be human – to be an adult. That is to take responsibility for one’s life and for the good of society. We do that by rationally evaluating claims regarding what is true, and what is for the best of society.

You were claiming yesterday that Christianity is not childish. Your approach to Christianity, and to truth, is totally childish. You say that you simply ‘trust in God’. That is the behaviour of a child, who does not take adult responsibility and use his faculty of discernment, but relies on others to do that for them. It is a subjected, dependent state to be in. And worse, you are not trusting in other humans, and their faculty of reason, but in an imaginary being. It is a total cop out from what it means to be an adult human who acts responsibly in society.

So, to come back to the subject of the article. Where would we be if economists copped out of reason, and started saying that we can feed and clothe ourselves, that we can maintain society and fund an NHS, simply by printing money? We are then back to the lilies of the field, where no toil is necessary. You say that you believe Jesus, so why do you not accept it, when Jesus says that you must become like a child, give everything away, and wait for God to provide you with what you need? You want it both ways, you want to be a credulous believer, and you also reject the explicit teachings of Jesus, and you say that cannot possibly be what he meant even though he said it.

Quite alarmingly, it seems that the doctrines of the ‘radical economists’ are actually closer to the teachings of Jesus than those of your self-professedly credulous self. In that circumstance, one can only appeal for a critical, adult approach to these matters, while highlighting the tendencies of people to basically believe whatever they want. It is a very serious tendency manifest in otherwise apparently adult people. The re-emergence of ‘Jesus economics’ needs to be called out for what it is, and any lingering credulity on those serious matters needs to be called out too. We need adults to rationally plot a course forward, and there is no place for credulity, self-deception or virtue-signalling.

Jerry Owen

19th May 2020 at 5:16 pm

Jamie
I avoid religion but your post is sound.

Philip St. John Lewis Davies

19th May 2020 at 5:37 pm

You amusingly characterise Jesus as an early Hippie, an idle dosser drop-out.

St Augustine’s commentary on the Sermon on the Mount interprets this great man’s intensely spiritual words as meaning something more like: We should do what is necessary to survive in this world, but not allow it a greater place in our lives than that.

Jesus is simply reminding people that we miss something important and necessary to a full life if we allow ourselves to become slaves to our material concerns. Sounds like a sensible work/life balance to me. And you don’t have to believe in the supernatural inspiration of the Bible to appreciate what Jesus is saying.

In his well-known poem ‘Leisure’ W.H. Davies’s counsels pretty much the same healthy attitude. People still find his words consoling and inspiring amidst their busy lives. Who doesn’t recall with pleasure these wonderful lines?

‘What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.’

At least you had the good taste to choose the beautiful King James Bible translation of the Sermon. I can’t believe you think the life of Jesus was just a waste of time. It is just such a crass attitude.

Philip St. John Lewis Davies

19th May 2020 at 5:45 pm

[‘W.H. Davies counsels’ – I wish they had an Edit function]

Mor Vir

21st May 2020 at 11:53 am

Jesus was very much a drop out and mentally ill. We know little about his life up to the age of 30. Joseph was a carpenter but he is out of the picture, either dead, divorced or separated, we do not know. There is no mention of a family home, let alone a family businesses.

Jesus is long-term homeless, “And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” As we know, the homeless have very high rates of mental illness.

“In 2014, 80% of homeless people in England reported that they had mental health issues, with 45% having been diagnosed with a mental health condition.” – Mental Health UK.

Jesus is described as hallucinating imaginary characters, and hearing voices, “And when the tempter [Satan] came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” He was without a doubt mentally ill.

Anyway, to summarise, Jesus is preaching a rejection of adulthood and of adult society, and a reversion to a childlike state. That state includes not only credulity or ‘trust’, but also financial and economic dependence. He would have you wait on God, like the lilies of the field, much as children wait on their parents to provide them with what they need. And you cannot be ‘saved’ from this world unless you do that.

Jesus was not merely a total drop but mentally ill. It is one of the jokes of history that his religion got adopted as state religions in Europe. Religion is fundamentally dishonest, with people ‘believing’ whatever they want, so it is not that surprising that his religion gets distorted into whatever people want it to be. But that does not change who Jesus was or his lunatic religion.

It is often helpful to be aware of historical religion in order to clearly recognise tendencies that reappear today, and so it is with nannyism, rainbows, and ‘radical economists’ – not to mention trust and credulity.

Philip St. John Lewis Davies

21st May 2020 at 2:31 pm

[In reply to your latest, addressed to Philip Davies]
Thank-you for your interesting response to my simple reaction against your – as I think – unduly dismissive judgement on the spiritual value of the words of Jesus.

I don’t think you have addressed my particular point concerning the interpretation of heightened language, which does not require any medical diagnosis of neuropathology to explain: You might as well accuse a ‘Human Resources’ management guru of being a lunatic because he is a proponent of ‘the work/life balance.’

However, concerning your larger point, which is what you see as being the dubious moral authority Christians (in particular, and presumably also the religious in general) lay claim to on the, to you, suspect basis of intuitions. The neuropsychiatric bases for the various belief-systems arising throughout human history are the subject of extremely interesting scholarly speculation. I can recommend ‘The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered’ Evan D. Murray, M.D., Miles G. Cunningham, M.D., Ph.D., and Bruce H. Price, M.D. (published in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences Vol. 24 Iss. 4 October 2012)

I am sure that your somewhat dogmatic dismissal of the religious experience (and, come to that, the poetic one) would be considerably moderated by the balanced and entirely respectful tone of this learned article, which is at pains not to exceed it’s scientific brief.

The authors have carefully viewed the variously historical and legendary religious personalities Abraham, Moses, Paul and Jesus, according to their psychiatric discipline, and in doing so have remained fully aware of the limitations of such an analysis, in making due allowance for the absence of the actual persons, the uniqueness historically of religious belief, and the possible social and personal benefits of such belief-systems. They end their fascinating discussion with this eminently sensible and fair-minded rider:

‘Herein, neuropsychiatric mechanisms have been proposed through which behaviors and actions might be understood. For those who believe in omnipotent and omniscient supernatural forces, this should pose no obstacle, but might rather serve as a mechanistic explanation of how events may have happened. No disrespect is intended toward anyone’s beliefs or these venerable figures’.

I am sure that any sane and normal person will agree that calm scholarship is the surest preventative of extreme and irrational prejudice.

Mor Vir

21st May 2020 at 4:27 pm

Yep, Jesus was mentally ill, he heard voices and he hallucinated that he was visited by imaginary characters. He thought that he was God. He was a deluded lunatic and his religion was lunatic too. Do not cry about it.

Philip St. John Lewis Davies

21st May 2020 at 7:50 pm

[Philip Davies to your last]
Why should I cry? You don’t seem up to proper debate, never mind savage invective. But it does depress me to see that such arrant stupidity can be given free rein in a supposedly intellectual journal. You really are a disgrace, and not fit for decent company!

Mor Vir

21st May 2020 at 8:49 pm

Go and worship your nutter, nutter.

Gareth Edward KING

19th May 2020 at 9:26 am

It is extremely telling that those commentators who say we should ‘re-think our way of living’ correlate well with those receiving a pay cheque meanwhile. They should indeed go and live in ‘teepees’-and good luck to them! Latterday ‘teepee’ dwellers are those environmental misanthropes that already live off grid in Wales but most normal people don’t want anything to do with these hare-brained ‘schemes’. Caroline Lewis has but one seat in the Commons and so it has ever been thus for the Greens despite the apparent widespread ‘appeal’ of environmental policies. In yesterday’s ‘El Mundo’ there was an interview with that well-known ‘teepee’ dweller: Jane Goodall in her ‘teepee’ from Bournemouth hugging her Mr H. much as she’s ever done. I’m not sure which is worse: Goodall and her green codswallop or a conservative rag deciding to interview this has-been! I don’t think she’s ever let on her ‘living with’ Mountain Gorillas in the 1970s and what exotic zoonotic diseases she actually picked up from those disgusting primates! (and I’m a biologist who much as I love animals would never get THAT close to the things!).

David George

19th May 2020 at 7:04 pm

Capitalism is predicated on the value of sacrifice for, and faith in, the future.
The often childless, financially secure and educated (?), the Owen Joneses, lecturing the world about the need for the end of growth (and therefore capitalism itself) end are hypocritically ensconced in their own “luxurious extinction”.

T Zazoo

20th May 2020 at 2:33 am

Jane Goodall is chimpanzees. I don’t think she did a lot with Mountain Gorillas. Wasn’t that Diane Fossey?

Gorillas are nice. Chimps not so much.

Steve Roberts

19th May 2020 at 9:22 am

Excellent article raising the question of how we are to approach so many issues that need resolving beyond this created catastrophic crisis.
Heartfield writes that “It is a feature of the lockdown that the political process has been largely suspended” indeed it has and yet the decisions taken by the government have been entirely of a political nature and even now as the lockdown becomes eased the decisions they are taking are purely political ones, unjustifiable in terms of any understanding of the immunological reasoning, they are simply trying to find a way out of the huge hole they have dug society into without admitting their severe errors and irrationality.
Political contestation, if one considers what passes for it today, has also been suspended,there has been entirely cross party support for the path taken by the establishment, where has the opposition been and this includes from critics, radicals, progressives etc ? Few and far between.
And here is the real problem looking forward, how is the new normal to be contested, because there will be a very serious reordering of society in all aspects, will there be a society wide debate about which direction society is to take, or will the old normal dominate in that the public will be possibly “consulted” and “appeased” but the old established order will ensure their chosen paths are the ones taken. They will impose their will once again we will not have taken back control and it will all be done under the guise of “democracy”.
Heartfield mentions “…a political process to test out the different proposals of how the country ought to change…”
Yes it exists, we will at some point have a chance, maybe, in the next 5 years to express our opinion on the political class, they may even accept the result, but in the light of the denial of the referendum result for 4 years and now this imposed crisis and authoritarian response we need to have some realistic context.
We have an established order of parties, media and establishment institutions that are effectively the same, with minute differences of opinion, they have proven their collective determination to ride roughshod over democratic rights and freedoms, even prepared to take the nation down this irrational path of total madness, this is dangerous .
And despite the situation facing them they also are aware that they are relatively unchallenged,the public have become more estranged in this crisis from the levers of power of taking back control than ever before, as Heartfield writes” Far from being a moment of great social solidarity, the lockdown is one of enforced isolation and atomization”
The elites will be considering all this, they have, up to now, found ways to manage a democratic crisis and also now maintain social peace while destroying the fabric of society in this crisis, they may even be emboldened by this.
If we the public are not to be made to pay, in so many ways for the ineptitude of the established order we will have to find ways to build an opposition, for the reality is there isn’t one at present, we will have to coalesce around outlying groupings like Spiked that can offer a voice and further opportunities to resist what will be coming our way. To not do so will leave us open to perhaps unprecedented austerity and denial of freedoms that generations have not faced but only read about in historical narratives, this is very real.

Chris Hanley

19th May 2020 at 9:19 am

” …since the Industrial Revolution, British life expectancy has doubled from an average of 41 years in 1841 to 81 years in 2018… “.
Although statistically true it is at least partly due to past high infant and early childhood mortality rates:
https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/320/cpsprodpb/16897/production/_105911329_deaths_child_mortality_rate_3_-3×640-nc.png

“… printing money cannot be a substitute for real economic activity …”.
Indeed printing money by government to overcome budgetary problems has been tried in the past resulting in hyperinflation, wiping out savings and causing great distress and social unrest; maybe radical economists Mariana Mazzucato and James Meadway know something mainstream economists don’t.

Stephen J

19th May 2020 at 8:41 am

It seems to me that the real villain of the piece is the fastest growing sector of our worlds.

The idea that top down statist government has anything of value to offer.

It just takes our effort and either lets it whither through inflation, or it spends it on itself, entirely for the gratification of the current generation of inmates.

As I suggested the other day in Mr. O’Neil’s piece on fear, while we ordinary folk who appreciate the environment in which we live, have been subjected to the “covid-19” virus, the reaction of our top down governments has been more akin to “Corvid-ae” actively picking over the remnants.

What is it that they call that form of collective?

Oh yes… A “murder” of crows.

Jerry Owen

19th May 2020 at 8:21 am

The Corona virus is not much worse than flu. The author fails to mention the elephant in the room.. Communist China, this is where the virus came from. If China wasn’t such a closed totalitarian society none of this would have happened ( mostly of course the damage has been caused by western government’s) and we’d be carrying on as normal.
The world’s poor would be getting richer and healthier, and be able to clean their economies up. Capitalism is the only system that builds for the future, invests for the future and plans for the continuation of itself.
Nature is not reaping any revenge, nature does not think it does not plan, it just ‘is’.
The greens haven’t got a sustainable plan for next year let alone the next decade.
The human species has ‘grown’ and become wealthier and healthier for millenia, there is no evidence or justification for any detrimental change.
Keep calm and carry on.

Stephen J

19th May 2020 at 8:58 am

Exactly, and what is more, the “greenest” way to behave is to live within one’s chosen environment.

It does not matter where you come from, whether you can trace your ancestry back thousands of years within the locale, or whether you have recently arrived… If you treat it as home and adopt (in public) the local ways and mechanisms for dealing with the local challenges… The world will look after itself.

The reaction of the Lucas’s and the Lewis’s of this world, seems to be that because a bad thing has happened, all can be explained/blamed on our historic traditions, and that everything needs to be changed now… for the sake of us, and us alone.

Claire D

19th May 2020 at 11:48 am

Completely agree with you Stephen.

Highland Fleet Lute

19th May 2020 at 5:22 am

“The coronavirus pandemic has done terrible damage to Britain.”

What coronoavirus pandemic?

The flu season is no worse this year than it was two years ago.

The terrible damage being done to Britain by an insane media class that, groundhog day upon groundhog day, like a dog scratching at an itchy wound, is unable to stop insisting there’s a coronavirus pandemic despite sufficient evidence to the contrary, looks yet to abate.

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