Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Inadequate fervour offends

Tony Blair when questioned on his 'carbon footprint', his holiday in Florida, and making people better.

"So we've got to be realistic about how much obligation we've got to put on ourselves. The danger, for example, if you say to people 'Right, in Britain ... you're not going to have any more cheap air travel,' everybody else is going to be having it. So you've got to do this together in a way that doesn't end up actually putting people off the green agenda by saying you must not have a good time any more and can't consume. All the evidence is that if you use the science and technology constructively, your economy can grow, people can have a good time, but do so more responsibly."
He's right. People are not going to change substantially. Make flying expensive, and the same sort of people who complain now about cheap flights will complain about the inequality of travel. Same with cars, which have probably done more to inculcate the sense of freedom than any legislation. Stopping people moving would do more to undermine the capitalist economy, the most successful economy in history, than the Soviet Union ever managed. I suspect that this is actually the motivation behind much of the passion for draconian environmental policies.

There's something else as well, which Blair nods at with that phrase "you must not have a good time any more". It is the eternal spirit of the Puritan, present in all self-respecting revolutionary movements, always striving to change not just what people do, but how they think, what they say. The Puritan would pierce the walls of our houses and mount guard on every room to regulate and improve our behaviour, to make us better. For the Puritan is anguished by the mere suspicion that somewhere someone is having a good time; that millions are doing so before his eyes is unendurable.

There are other satisfactions to be gained by transforming a practical issue into a moral one - the invigorating air of the High Moral Ground; the warm furry security of moral superiority; the easy, quick-reference ranking of sinful actions and words allowing for on-the-spot verbal fines and, last but never least, a handy lexicon of anathema to be used loudly, repeatedly and as if spitting. Righteousness is irresistible, indignation addictive; lack of fervour unforgivable.

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