At first, it was unbearable. But now I beg for it.
The misery, I mean.
The intense sense of shame and flagellation. We’ve been very bad. VERY BAD INDEED. And we must be punished.
My weekend hobbies aside, I am of course referring to what has recently become a Sunday night tradition – the ‘People = Shit’ segment at the end of every Blue Planet II episode. (With apologies to Slipknot.)
Having shown us the wonders of the beautiful briny, David Attenborough’s narration gains a solemn tone as he tells us how we are destroying this same wondrous place with our greed and stupidity. It happens with such regularity that it verges on the absurd. But then, when you see the pathetic sight of a grieving Pilot Whale mother still carrying her dead calf in her mouth, days after it died, you’ve either got to be a psychopath or just an oaf not to feel… affected. They’re very intelligent animals, you see, and form deep family bonds. We’re pumping them full of toxins and fragments of plastic, which we pour into the sea with some vigour. It’s poisoning the milk.
Now, you could strike a pose here and indulge your inner Daily Express reader or online Edgelord. “It’s nothing to do with me!” you say as you bin yet more plastic and flush even more microbeads down the bog. Yes, your conscience is indeed clear, even as you chuck away tonnes of packaging and pour liquid fat down the sink and towards your local, friendly fatberg, lurking in the sewer like a pasty, salad-dodging shoggoth.
Naturally, if you find yourself in a system where, by default, you find yourself made complicit, that can’t be helped. But what can be helped is whether you acknowledge this. The passive aggressive response that it’s not your fault doesn’t cut it. It is your fault when you can’t face up to the system you’re part of. Next to nothing is always better than nothing. It’s a start. Maybe it’s a token gesture. But it’s still some kind of response for the better. But yeah, none of it’s your fault. Let’s throw out some more plastic bottles.
Yet the truth of the matter is that we need this. We need to see dead baby pilot whales because that is the only way to elicit something approaching decency. We like to think we’re good people. We’re not. Oh, we mouth the pleasantries, like a dodgy feudal lord paying lip service to chivalry or bushido while shafting his peasants in just about every way imaginable. But deep down, we’re all like Lena Dunham – roiling in poison, and full of shit.
We are a deeply pig-headed species that can somehow invent antibiotics, space travel and electric cars, but still act like utter morons. We let our cousin-kissing, forest-burning, baby seal-clubbing Ids run the show, but put a lot of effort into making our egos feel good by posturing in the right ways.
The truth is, you’re probably not a good person. You don’t even acknowledge homeless people when they ask for change. You don’t even know – or care – where Yemen is, or what the Rohingya are. Like the Tories, you are more than willing to kick the crutches away from a cripple or let a single mother’s kids starve because scroungers, or something. You’re a snide, two-faced creep who can’t be decent, but won’t countenance ever wondering if you are in fact one of the bad guys.
Yes, that weekly telling off by Attenborough and the BBC Natural History crew down in Bristol is absurd. But that’s only because it takes absurdity to provide a public service. We need, periodically, to be reminded what utter swine we are. Rather than use our reason and the vast amount of information at our disposal simply by swiping a touch screen or clicking a mouse, or just picking up a book, we need to have our stupidity rammed hard into our faces once a week, just to make the point clear. About 30% of any given population are bloody awful at all times, but the other 70% don’t have to be. We’re here through choice, through our own culpability.
So take a long, hard look at the dead baby whale, you bastards. It might not change much, but at least it does something. Even if it’s a poor excuse for a poor man’s equivalent of a watered down conscience. So, see you all next Sunday night.
I’ll bring the whips.
Alexander Hay is a writer and polemicist based online and in print.