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End Times Gospels And The Performative Agony Of Children: Climate Change Edition
On the despair of the denatured
Whether the weather is warm, or whether the weather is hot, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.
Earth, it turns out, is not a perfected, self-sustaining Eden after all, but a complex biosphere in which subtle climate balances, and shifts in those balances, have always limited or driven human expansion. Homo sapiens left Africa, primarily by watercraft and along the Indian Ocean shore, to spread across the planet, because global sea levels rose. Mesolithic hunter-gatherer practices flourished in the Neolithic because of the Younger Dryas event. The Sahara has flourished with humanity and then dried up again, over and over, many times.
What we are doing as a species right now will be at least as transformative. We are making a world for our children’s children. Nuclear or renewables or both? Is growth sustainable? Should we switch to electric cars? What about plastic straws? Transformation is coming, we can be sure. But transformation into what? This is the basic argument which defines the politics of climate and ecology now.
A totalizing denial — “no, this is not happening” — is no longer tenable, according to the climate consensus. It seems the world has decided to get hotter, and moved on to that next argument about the end-state of our transformation.
We have to do that. For the kids. Right?
This point deserves stress at the outset: if the reader disagrees with the climate consensus, fine. Whatever! I accept that you, dear reader, have formed an opinion about that climate consensus, and that you really are convinced of that opinion, whatever it is. In academic history, we use the term “phenomenological essentialism” to describe this approach to studying sources. I am not Hitler for believing climate change is real. The reader is not Hitler if they disagree. Historians should focus on the results of that disagreement, and if the world has moved on from debate over whether climate is changing, and whether it is the fault of humans, then historians must observe what changes with the new consensus, or stays the same.
The climate consensus really does believe in itself. People have any number of possible reactions to that consensus, and a debate follows in which wonky policy discussions might matter. Climatism, on the other hand, is a fervent belief, a faith-reaction to the consensus, which feels as real to the Climate believer as belief in Revelations feels to any fundamentalist Christian End Times believer. Ecological movements are old and diverse, but Climatism is a hollow imitation of a Judeo-Christian, revelatory, prophetic faith movement.
An all-American mixed whiskey, full of flavors, as sweet and intoxicating as the peach moonshine in a West Virginia holler.
Speaking of which. I have seen this phenomenon up close. During the Appalachia Rising protest against mountaintop removal mining in 2010, I observed hundreds of college students, almost all of them bussed to Washington, DC from Protestant campuses hundreds of miles away, hold a rally and march to the White House, where over one hundred people were arrested for refusing to leave Pennsylvania Avenue. Agitating against the inaction of the Obama administration, which left Bush-era rule changes in place that acellerated the destruction of Appalachia, the event was defined by prayer and ritual: Native American drums and singing. Pastors and preachers. Poetry and proverbs. Also songs about nature, invocations of Mother Nature, and leaving nature alone. Moonshine culture requires clean water, whereas coal runoff and seepage can render a family’s well water into toxic sludge that looks like tomato paste and smells like a gas station.
The emcee of the event was a young Black woman, a talented environmentalist community organizer. While the crowd was quite diverse, and also the performances during the rally, the residents of coal country affected by mining practices that leave moonscape in place of mountains — the ones who spoke, and some of whom were later arrested for civil disobedience — were white. For the residents of the hills and hollers of West Virginia, a legacy of ecological catastrophe is real enough. It looms over some communities as toxic sludge pools held back by leaky dirt ramparts, for example. Union halls are long-abandoned because the wealth has been extracted along with the coal. You can see why the idea of a “green new deal” appeals to some people in such a place.
I am also certain that I first heard the words “climate justice” uttered at the event. As you can also see from Google’s Ngram Viewer, the latter term was already eclipsing the former. Speaking of which. Did you hear that Greta Thunberg is protesting windfarms now? Turns out that her concern for clean energy has its limits at the reindeer, and the traditional Sámi way of life, which are having their land “stolen,” according to the god-child of Climatism. In 2010, countless signs and speeches at Appalachia Rising implored President Obama to build wind turbines on their mountaintops so no one would blow them to smithereens, cart away the coal, and leave poisoned moonscapes behind anymore. How times have changed.
In The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, historian Norman Cohn offers a broad survey of revolutionary eschatology, in which “the world is dominated by an evil, tyrannous power of boundless destructiveness — a power moreover which is imagined not as simply human but as demonic.” Divine intervention follows. the Saints inherit the earth, and history ends either before or after one thousand years (the “millennium”) have passed. This totalizing, miraculous transformation of reality is imminent, meaning that it could happen at any moment. Like many people living in West Virginia, the ancient Jews felt beaten down by a larger world of more powerful states, and escapist fantasies of final triumph were a way of coping with defeat. Why did God’s chosen people suffer so much? Surely it was to purify them for His future kingdom on earth. Yahweh was a god who could not fail. He could only be failed.
Cohn was focused on the “rootless poor” movements of Western Europe from the 11th century to the 16th. Nevertheless, he noted that the most rigorous ascetics of the period came from the noble families of Italy, whereas the mass movements he prefers to study were anarchic, violent, and revolutionary. To be an environmentalist in the Third World is difficult and often dangerous; the Climatist is a First World resident, however, and conscious of their “privilege.” They expiate that sin through the ritual magic of recycling and plastic straw bans.
“Millenarian sects and movements have varied in attitude from the most violent aggressiveness to the mildest pacifism and from the most ethereal spirituality to the most earthbound materialism,” Cohn writes. “And they have also varied greatly in social composition and social function.” Eschatology — the theological study of death, judgment, and human destiny — has always been apocalyptic. Apocalyptic theologians have always responded to their own world, in their own time. “Again and again, in situations of mass disorientation and anxiety, traditional beliefs about a future golden age or messianic kingdom came to serve as vehicles for social aspirations and animosities,” Cohn writes.
Climate justice is trans justice.
Climate justice is racial justice.
Climate justice is indigenous justice.
Climate justice is decolonization justice.
And so on, until god-child Greta is far afield of any solution for climate change, because her mission is no longer about saving the planet but seeing “justice” reign.
Expectationalism has driven a fair amount of history this way. Puritans preaching “curse ye Meroz” against King Charles thought Judgment Day would unfold in their time, founded colonies in the Americas to serve as refuges, and started a revolution in London. The sons of the prophet rode out of Medina convinced that Judgment Day was at hand. We should not be surprised if historical parallels to Climatism emerge. Climate Judgment Day is nigh, so we should only be surprised if that didn’t happen. I choose these two particular and very diverse examples because of my familiarity with the historiography, and because they are both case studies of Millenarian movements arising out of cities where the very rich lorded over the very, very poor. More than economic inequality, though, unequal status created resentments and violence in a weak state that could not resolve social tensions.
As an expectationalist movement, Climatism proposes to build a stronghold of countervailing values to the culture which created the climate emergency, a Climate Zion. Here, they will raise the next generation to value their planet more than the wicked prosperity which made their parents’ lives too easy, and made the world so sick with greed and exploitation. A global green revolution will end war, end poverty, and usher in the age of universal justice. You know. Heaven on earth. With electric cars and bugs for dinner.
Like any other totalizing idea, this “climate revolution” brings new manifestations of totalitarianism. Though to be sure, the movement has meant well. Best of intentions, etc. As political scientist Ruy Teixeira wrote of the “climate agenda” in a recent essay, “the intent was to promote a rapid transition to renewables via a Green New Deal that would simultaneously accomplish this transition and turn the US into a social democratic paradise with great jobs and health care for everybody.” Solve all the problems!
Millenialism — the expectation of imminent return — is still a Protestant American obsession. Just ask the sales figures for the Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, or check out the 2014 film based on the first novel, which still has a screening at my local theater every so often to bring in the church crowd. Everyone loves a good disaster. “Doomsday preppers” are indulging a fetish for disaster. Everyone likes to imagine they could survive the thrill of apocalypse, but only some of us call it faith.
Expectationalism can have weird manifestations. Right before she read my recent essay on the ‘gender identity’ movement as a new gnostic gospel, Ophelia Benson of Butterflies and Wheels was “thinking about weather and climate and the planet and doom, and thought (not for the first time) that it’s bizarre yet not bizarre that now that we know we’ve broken the planet and are pushing it steadily over a cliff is when a surprising number of us start thinking humans can magically change sex.” Indeed:
You’d think we’d be intensely focused on the real, the physical, the material, the truth about actions and consequences and outcomes. You’d think we would, but instead lots and lots of us are lost in a dream of magic identity that transcends mere bodies and carries us off into a heaven of…I don’t know, Eddie Izzards and India Willoughbys I guess.
Linking her readers to my post, Benson asked a good question: why, with the planet seemingly tilting towards doom, are humans seemingly mad for a cult of “gender”? The answer, this writer humbly submits, is that so many people are so mad for the cult of gender because they see the planet tilting towards doom. Climate anxiety is expressing as self-harm, like a medieval flagellant cult. Kids are extirpating the sin of being the humans responsible for climate change by scorching their bodies with hormones and flaying their genitals. Population control has always been an environmentalist concern and anti-natalism is an easy sell with young people living in comfortable societies, born to parents intent on alleviating their every distress.
“The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” Revelations 20:6
In Climatism, the most visible leaders are often the most discouraging, for optimism is deemed problematic. Abnegation and asceticism — travelling less, eating bugs, carrying metal straws to restaurants — offer ritual purity and salve the consciences of people wealthy enough to buy electric vehicles. At some point, many people in that world will notice they are in an unhealthy environment.
Zion Lights was a sincere environmental activist for sixteen years until she saw the cult-like behavior of Extinction Rebellion (XR) leaders, Roger Hallam in particular, for what it is. “I noticed he didn’t pay attention to people when they talked,” she says. “That we were facing certain death was his justification (or rationalization) for being rude to everyone.”
Members called him a hero, and fell for his constant self-comparisons to MLK and Gandhi. He referred to himself as a prophet, and “proved” he was a martyr through regular arrests and stints in jail.
“He’s a genius,” Joel Scott-Halkes, another spokesperson, told me. Another common refrain: “He’s the only chance we’ve got.”
Despite his poor grooming and evident narcissim, “people, especially women, clamored over” Hallam, for he had all the answers to the coming apocalypse.
Roger knows his followers—mostly young men and women—feel immense guilt about their carbon-heavy lifestyles. He preys on their guilt and their anxiety about the future. You could almost describe Roger as the leader of a cult.
For any cult to work it needs to offer salvation. Roger offers that, plus a sense of purpose and belonging to the young people who flock to him.
“I won’t live to be thirty,” youth members would tell me. I tried to convince them they would live, but they were already under Roger’s spell.
“Climate guilt” is a First World problem. The world is doomed; it is my fault; how can I expiate this sin?
The question pushes aside any conversation about potential solutions. Instead of, say, discussing the relative merits of nuclear power as a low-carbon source of energy, the Roger Hallams of the “climate justice” movement demand a total transformation of human civilization and consciousness. It’s all very Aquarian, sure, but also very St. John the Divine.
Followers are encouraged to take part in protest actions and get arrested — “fill the jails” — to get attention with increasingly bizarre and unhinged tactics. Freedom matters little if the world is ending. Because even if the world isn’t ending in our lifetime, what kind of world are we leaving for our children, or our children’s children?
At my first XR media training, I was instructed to cry on television. “People need to see crying mothers,” Jamie Kelsey-Fry, the trainer and longtime XR activist, told me. “They need to be woken up to what they should really care about.” They asked if I’d bring my children to climate marches for the same reason. The whole thing was a masterclass on how to manipulate emotions. We were instructed to bring everything back to the climate emergency and how politicians were failing us. Nothing about solutions or science.
Children are raised to be leaders in this movement. Greta Thunberg, child-prophetess of doom, wants the world “to panic.” Those stern, Scandinavian jeremiads made Lights wonder if she was really on the right side. “When a movement that bills itself as compassionate and democratic seems to rely so heavily on messianic figures trading in doom and gloom, you have to ask yourself: Is this really the most ethical way to change the world?” We might ask the Jewish residents of Medina, killed or forced to relocate when they refused to adopt the curious new rituals of the prophet, about the ethics of changing a world.
Since Lights left XR, Hallam has only gotten more extreme. Consider this quote from a pamphlet he wrote in 2019 aimed at his youth audience. Climate change, Hallam says, means that “[gangs] will see your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, and they will gang rape her on the kitchen table … they will take a cigarette lighter and burn your eyes out with it.” The climate catastrophe creeps into everything.
Climate change is injustice.
Climate change is racism.
Climate change is murder.
Climate change is rape.
A gnosis is taking place. All of these climate sins can be absolved through global transformation. To bring it on, the kids must “throw themselves into the gears of the machine,” as the progressive activists like to say. Martyrdom saves the world in the eschatology of Climatism, but it expresses as negative emotionality, characterized by “antagonism, scorn, narcissism, derision, histrionics, & a host of other personality psychopathology symptoms,” according to evolutionary psychologist J.D. Haltigan. Climate protests are prominent examples of this “performative resistance art.” Moreover, the “symptoms and signs associated with common clinical and personality disorders spanning internalizing and Cluster B personality disorders are disproportionately reflected in (radical) leftist activism and the political attitudes and beliefs associated with them,” Haltigan writes, and anyone who has spent time in progressive activism will know the truth of it.
But Haltigan could say the same thing about lots of faith movements in history, too, and politics cannot explain the deteriorating mental health trends among American youth since 2012.
As psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains, this crisis correlates with the arrival of smart phones, Facebook buying Instagram, and the word “selfie” entering our lexicon. “We are now 11 years into the largest epidemic of adolescent mental illness ever recorded,” he says. Safety parenting has kept the kids indoors. Social media has made them anxious, prone to ruminate and become depressed — not about the climate, or injustice, but themselves. Fragile, they have fractured, becoming easy marks for the ascetic cult of transition. TikTokers coach children in how to say the right things to get puberty blockers and begin their glorious gender journey into iatrogenic harm: osteoporosis, cancer, heart failure, diabetes, and the manifold health risks of treating puberty as a disease. Jeffrey Marsh tells them to try “going no contact” with family and join the glitter family.
Now accepting his natal sex, Steven A. Richards transitioned as a teenager because “the world of adulthood in the 21st century seemed to me to be a black hole of despair and meaninglessness.” With the world seemingly doomed, why think about the future at all?
I didn’t want to bring kids into the world I saw coming. I didn’t want to become a functional member of a society upholding the system which caused so much destruction and injustice, the system which was going to bring about the end of the world.
Looked at from this angle, puberty blockers are a powerful symbol: they’re the physical embodiment of an ideological rejection of the future. They’re a promise: you won’t grow up and become one of those bad people—those fascists—those capitalists—those racist homophobes—those adults.
Children are the future, we say, but right now the kids are terrified of the future, and we have given them a convenient way to self-harm, to flagellate, to join the revolution against the white supremacist cisheteropatriarchy that made such an evil world, rather than build their own futures. And with such darkness imminent, who can blame them for feeling that way?
To win the long game of American politics, the left set out to capitalize on a progressive generation.
Sustainability is not just a climate buzzword. It is the key challenge for all revolutionary faith movements. Put simply, kids grow up, stop believing in Santa Claus, learn about the world, and their religious views develop accordingly. Shakers are almost extinct today because marriage and the resulting children are frowned upon in the cult, while the state eventually took over the business of raising the orphans the Shakers had adopted. Every faith movement in history has created its own systems of child development to avoid the fate of extinction and Climatism is no different.
To understand why “gender” has blown up in the era of climate, and answer Dr. Benson’s question, it helps to look at the texts that progressive political activists were using before that happened. For example, here is a book that was given to me at Netroots Nation, the largest conference of online progressive activists and organizers in the world, in 2009, one year after publication. Retailing for $20 on Amazon, Generation We was provided for free in my souvenir tote bag. The authors had completed a detailed survey of the “Millennial generation” and concluded that a “green new deal” style agenda would forever attach this new cohort to the political party and movement which championed said agenda. (HINT: THEY MEANT DEMOCRATS.)
Holding this volume, I recalled the science fiction novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Suppressed in the Soviet Union and considered a dystopian classic today, Zamyatin’s novel is set 1,000 years in the future, subtly identifying communist totalitarianism as a species of Millenarianism.
On page 38 of Generation We. the reader will find ‘gender’ issues barely addressed under the heading of “A Tolerant Generation.” These new youth are “more accepting of gender equality, gay rights, racial blending, and immigration than any other generation,” they write. Referring to a study of the 2004 national elections, Eric Greenberg and Karl Weber note that “Millennials” reject mandatory traditional sex roles and stereotypes, preferring that government actively ensure equal treatment for “women” on the job. Women already outperform men in academia and outnumber them in critical fields, such as law and medicine and education, the authors announce. “But it is their views on sexual preference issues that are perhaps the most strikingly liberal.”
On homosexuality, the views of “Generation We” (“Millennials”) are far more liberal than that of their elders. For example, in a 2007 Pew survey, an outright majority (56 percent) of 18- to 29-year-olds supported allowing gays and lesbians to marry, while the public as a whole opposed gay marriage by a 55-to-37 majority.
Millennials are also concerned about political trends that put tolerance at risk. In an April 2005 GQR poll of 18- to 25-year-olds, 64 percent believed that religious conservatives had gone too far in invading people’s personal lives, and 58 percent thought the country needs to work harder at accepting and tolerating gays, rather than work harder at upholding traditional values.
The reader will note there is no mention of transgender people or puberty blockers here, nor are they mentioned in the text. Instead, the authors write that “Millennials are ready to consider themselves a part of a planetary humankind not divided by race, religion, or national boundaries, but ready to accept differences in beliefs and values in exchange for progress, peace, and a better life for all.” They are the future Utopia, in this Climatist gospel.
However, in the sense that America did ”work harder at accepting and tolerating gays,” most notably in the 2015 Obergefell decision, the authors’ prophecy was fulfilled without quite bringing on that progressive Democratic majority in American politics. And in the meantime, a financial crisis had shifted American priorities away from climate change.
A few weeks before Appalachia Rising — which, to repeat, saw more than 100 arrests for civil disobedience — the Waxman-Markey “cap and trade” bill died in the United States Senate. At the Netroots Nation confab in Las Vegas the next day, climate journalist David Roberts declared that “there will be no 1960s-style environmental activism movement in our time.” I know because I was there, and I was trying to figure out why the conference schedule was so devoid of panels on climate issues, unlike the Pittsburg gathering a year before, when I had been gifted my copy of Generation We.
Bear in mind that as all of this was happening, Glenn Beck was still drawing those incredible chalkboard pictures of his own confusion about the Tides Foundation and George Soros. In Las Vegas, I interviewed dozens of attendees, vendors, and organizers, letting each of them describe their work and then asking if they had ever received a check from a Soros foundation. Just two organizations, both well-known and long-established, said yes — and they both indicated that the checks ought to be much larger.
The day after I recorded those arrests in Washington, DC, during the same September, the organizers were holding their after-action meeting when a check arrived from a George Soros-funded civil society organization. It was just large enough to pay for the meeting room.
Contrarily, “transgender” took progressive politics by storm during 2015 and 2016, and never lacked for funding. My sources still in the Netroots world will not go on the record, but they agree the funding of transgender politics has been unusually generous.
At the 2018 conference in New Orleans, a Thursday morning reproductive rights panel featured two women announcing that pronouns and “gender-affirming care” would be the savior of abortion rights, if only we stopped saying transphobic things like no uterus, no opinion. Youth were particularly important in this project, because their rejection of gender norms would usher in a new age free of war, poverty, disease, and unwanted pregnancies.
Then a six foot black man in a wig and lipstick launched into his own Sojourner Truth “Ain’t I a Woman” routine, a transhumanist prophet giving witness that stem cells and uterus transplants herald a future in which he might need an abortion, too.
I got up and walked out of the conference center to the margarita bar in the adjacent mall, where I ordered the largest, hardest drink they served, and consumed the entire beverage while I planned my career change from political operative to historian. I left Climatism and utopian progressive causes and even Roe v Wade behind, for I am old enough to remember Jonestown, so I recognize a doomsday cult when I see one. The young are always first to go into a meat grinder whenever zealots for the Millennium have authority. Jim Jones mentioned children 43 times as he organized the adults under his sway to annihilate themselves. Judgment Day had failed to materialize and he could not stay in Zion any longer. “Without me,” he said, “life has no meaning.”
The most catastrophic climate change of our time is happening inside the brains of our children.
The kids are not all right. This has nothing to do with policy questions about climate change, and partisan politics are not the solution for it. On the contrary, partisan identification conceals more than it reveals. As Jonathan Haidt observes, the kids with liberal views are getting worse faster than the kids with conservative views, but they are all getting worse. “Gen Z has become more external in its locus of control,” Haidt writes, and not just more liberal in their views, but also “more self-derogating. They are more likely to agree that they ‘can’t do anything right.’” Haidt identifies three “Great Untruths” they have absorbed.
They came to believe that they were fragile and would be harmed by books, speakers, and words, which they learned were forms of violence (Great Untruth #1).
They came to believe that their emotions—especially their anxieties—were reliable guides to reality (Great Untruth #2).
They came to see society as comprised of victims and oppressors—good people and bad people (Great Untruth #3).
Democratic policymakers and progressive education leaders had created a new campus culture of fragility that works exactly opposite to the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. With the Millennial imminence of climate change diminished for a time, altering the public opinion climate, in 2014-2015 there were two important developments: the explosion of Tumblr, and its mirror in the 4chan memes of howling, agitated college students. The harms of social media use are greatest in puberty, and their effects were on full display, Haidt says.
As Greg and I showed in The Coddling of the American Mind, most of the programs put in place after the campus protests of 2015 are based on one or more of the three Great Untruths, and these programs have been imported into many K-12 schools. From mandatory diversity training to bias response teams and trigger warnings, there is little evidence that these programs do what they say they do, and there are some findings that they backfire. In any case, there are reasons, as I have shown, to worry that they teach children and adolescents to embrace harmful, depressogenic cognitive distortions.
[…] The irony here is that it may be these very programs that are causing liberal students to feel disempowered, as if they are floating in a sea of harmful words and people when, in reality, they are living in some of the most welcoming and safe environments ever created.
One anti-coal activist and Climatist, a tireless podcaster I will call “Robert,” was my host and a patron during the Appalachia Rising event, as well as a sponsor at Netroots Nation in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Almost 60 now, and very online, he too was altered by the decade that warped Generation Z. Robert is now “Roberta.” A victim of childhood rape by his older brother, Robert internalized his trauma through pornography. The incentives of progressive politics also played a role, for gender pays better than climate. Always obliged to fundraise, he is doing far better now as Roberta than he ever did as Robert. His values have not changed, really. He is still saving the world for the children. He is still working for climate justice, and peace on earth.
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