Human beings have an astonishing capacity for
five four five things:
1) Double standards;
2) Inability to understand relative risks;
3) Taking things personally;
5) … that’s it.
Item 1: I spent my teenage years at a Rudolf Steiner school. While my time there was very happy and I emerged almost normal from the experience, I was surrounded by a great deal of self-delusion and general woo. We’re talking serious homeopathic antivaxery here, from a lot of seriously Germanic hippies who take their Goethe neat. They would pull up at school in badly-tuned VW beetles, rattling exhausts belching particulates and who knows what else into the atmosphere, and disgorge far more children than safety would allow – and yet prominent on the paintwork were decals the size of dinnerplates saying ATOMKRAFT – NEIN DANKE*
A decal, recently (not to scale)
Item 2: I was once told a story by a Dr L. J. of Pasadena of a TV interview she saw with a schoolmom who had seen Little Johnny (Not His Real Name) onto the school bus. After he’d gone she realized he had an apple in his lunch box which – heavens to betsy – might have been sprayed with a chemical called alar. Thus alarumed, she got in her car and gave chase, flagged down the school bus, and heroically removed the offending apple from within her child’s comestibles. ‘And the entire time she was telling this tale’, spake Dr L. J., ‘the woman was smoking a cigarette’.
Which brings me to Item 3, a magisterial essay in today’s Torygraph by Boris Johnson, whom posterity will show to have been the greatest statesman of this or any other age. Mr Johnson draws our attention to the age-old connection that humans make between their actions and the occurrence of natural disasters.
Now, in the Old Days of Amoteinu v’Imoteinu, when God made a habit of manifesting himself in front of people disguised as pillars of cloud or burning bushes (God, that is, who was disguised – the people had comedy beards made out of cotton wool and shepherds’ crooks made out of old coathangers), it was quite normal for people to imagine that natural disasters had, at root, some supernatural agency, and that their occurrence might be related to human misdeeds. Offend the Gods, and you’d be struck down by lightning, or earthquakes, a plague of lawnmowers, or an outbreak of Big Rock Candy Mountain Spotted Fever, or something.
Nowadays, as St Paul once wrote to the Effluvians, you’d think that we’d have put away such childish things; accepted that natural disasters such as the recent earthquakes in Japan, Chile and other places happen for reasons of plate tectonics; that any reference to ‘Acts of God’ in insurance documents are no more statements of causation than charming antiquities of usage; and that such Signs and Portents are no more signals of Rapture or the End Times than the discovery that some of the chickens in the Jardin Des Girrafes lay double-yolked eggs occasionally.
Ah! What portendeth This Prodigie?
But no – the peg for Mr Johnson’s article was hearing some ill-informed opinion that the Sendai earthquake, the tsunami, the explosion at a nuclear power plant and all such related tzores were caused by the audacity of humans drilling for natural resources, and the ‘quake was the reaction by an irritated Mother Earth. Mr Johnson was naturally worried that such hubristic ignorance might colour future debate on the absolute necessity for us to build more nuclear power stations; and that we might see the recrudescence of the Atomkraft Nein Danke brigade, whose view of things is coloured more by hippiedome than logic.
One might worry, of course, that Mr Johnson’s argument might be taken up by climate-change deniers. He mentioned no such thing in his article – however, here we do have scientific evidence that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased in recent decades and centuries to concentrations not seen for millennia; that this increase can be attributed to human activity; and that having so much of the stuff in the atmosphere will have consequences. Consequences that follow from science – not from the wrath of the capricious Gods.
* Translation: I should decline your kind offer of very small portions of processed cheese.