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November 15, 2004

"Get your filthy hands off my future": Bloated Plutocrats and Friends of the Earth

Posted by Anthony Daniels

The other day, one of my newspapers contained a flyer from the charity, Friends of the Earth. On both its front and back was a slogan, "Get your filthy hands off my future". This was accompanied by an artistic representation of a small and bright globe, held in a pair of fat hands, with a cigar in one of them, and a hint of a gold, presumably Rolex watch, peeping out from under the cuffs of a white shirt and the sleeves of a chalk-stripe suit.

How hard crude stereotypes die! Had the artist given us a full figure instead of just the hands, I am sure it would have had a figure and a face straight out of Der Sturmer. The hands belonged to those of what used to be known as a bloated plutocrat, but which for some reason always comes to my lips as a pluted bloatocrat. If I remember rightly, these were the people who, in the propaganda posters immediately following the Russian Revolution, were going to be swept off the face of the world once and for all.

I am far from suggesting, of course, that all big businessmen are heroes, that they are never greedy, dishonest, conniving and so forth. Big companies often seem to me to have more in common with government departments than with, say, the friendly corner shop.

What alarms me about the implicit world view of the flyer is that it divides the world into two clearly-defined camps, the guilty and the innocent. The guilty of the gold Rolex wearing class are obviously very few, but what they lack in numbers they make up for in power. The innocent are very many, but unfortunately powerless (were it not for advocacy groups such as Friends of the Earth). And everyone who does not wear a chalk-stripe suit, wear a Rolex watch or smoke cigars is, of course, ex officio innocent.

I suppose you can't expect a caricature to capture the complexity of the world and its history: that is not, after all, the function of caricatures. But then the question arises as to whether a registered charity has any business in employing them, especially in so tendentious a manner.

The worst pollution I have ever seen was in the Soviet Union. In fact, the horrible ferro-concrete Soviet mess extends over several million square miles. And I visited factories in Albania that, as far as I could tell, produced nothing except pollution. In Elbasan there was a factory that emitted smoke of many colours (ranging from black to violet and pink) that settled on the countryside for miles around and stunted everything. In communist iconography, be it remembered, pollution was a sign of progress. No landscape was really complete without its factory in the background belching black smoke. So it isn't necessary to have bloated plutocrats for there to be pollution. Governmental bureaucracies are capable of producing it, probably on an even larger scale, and with much less to show for it.

Then there is the idea of the innocent small man, like you and me. Because we are of no importance, we are victims, not perpetrators. Unlike the big men, we care for the environment (in fact, that is why we remain small men, we disdain to aggrandise ourselves to the detriment of the biosphere.) Well, if we all care so deeply about the environment, in that case why is Britain the most littered country in Europe? Is it that at night the bloated plutocrats go round littering our public places? If so, to what end? Or do they merely pay someone to do it for them?

Of course, you might say that litter in streets and parks and green verges and almost everywhere it is possible to drop it is not the real problem: it is greenhouse gases, etc. It is not litter in the street that is causing the depletion of the ozone layer, but gases pumped into the atmosphere by bloated plutocrats.

However, it seems to me likely that people who do not care very much about the appearance of their immediate surroundings, at least not enough to avoid disembarrassing themselves of their litter until they can find a more secluded place for it, are unlikely to care about anything very much except their immediate comfort. They may not pump toxic gases into the atmosphere, at least more than the next person, but that is because they are not in a position to do so.

A very large percentage of the small people who are by definition innocent will spend much of their free time in search of goods to consume that are quite superfluous. How do they think that plutocrats get so bloated? Generally by selling them the things they want, or that they think they want.

Is greed a human vice confined to plutocrats? Surely avarice would not be considered one of the seven deadly sins if it affected only that tiny proportion of the world's population destined to become plutocrats? I am sorry to say that my observations of humanity for which I claim no originality have led me to the conclusion that greed is pretty widespread in the human race. Why, I even have a touch of it myself.

Does it matter that anyone should perpetuate the myth of an innocent us and a guilty them? I think it does matter, because it infantilises us, and actually absolves us of our own sins. It suggests that we are not full human agents, unlike the clique of fat, powerful men who rule the world. What does it matter how we behave when we are so powerless against the powerful?

It also suggests that the only way we can affect things is political, by aggregating together and agitating for or against something. I am not saying that this is never the right thing to do; but I deny that it is always the crucial or the only thing to do. The crude view of the Friends of the Earth, by suggesting that we, as innocents, should gang up against the guilty (easily identifiable by their suits, cigars, etc.), has a record of exceptional brutality, as anyone who experienced Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union will tell you.

Anthony Daniels is a doctor and writer.


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Of course this is precisely the foul stereotype being used by Christian Aid in their current economically ignorant, poverty creating campaign.

Posted by: Robert Dammers at November 15, 2004 04:00 PM
•••

Wow, Robert, you're bang on target there.

I can remember seeing those Der Stuermer type cartoons on postcards stuck to the Sunday Telegraph magazine. We were supposed to mail them to Tony Blair. Free Trade was apparently the problem. I'm not clear why "Christiain" Aid thinks tarriff barriers will help the Third World: don't rich nations erect them to shut out those who can produce more cheaply? Or did Adam Smith misunderstand the position?

I just checked out their site. This page -

http://www.christian-aid.org.uk/campaign/action/0410_epa.htm

- generates an agitprop message for one to send to the government AUTOMATICALLY but kindly adds, "You can edit this message if you like". Gee thanks.

My conclusion: I always give when they come to the door, but I'm, not sure I should now. Why should I give money for political propoganda. I think I'lll give it to Scope:

http://www.scope.org.uk/

or John Grooms:

http://www.johngrooms.org.uk/

Posted by: Michael at November 15, 2004 08:51 PM
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Quite right, the poor in their majority are unsuccessful potential rich people, if they became rich overnight they would behave just like any other rich persons only worse because they have little experience of it...I am saying that as a very poor person, I have no envy at all because I do not believe that I am poor because other people are richer, on the contrary, I believe that should the bloated classes disappear, I would be even poorer myself. Oh, God, how I hate this roccocco of lefty subcultures which are a thin disguise for an infringement of the most ignored of the 10 Commandments: "Thou shall not covet". I remember another inanity disguised as "Christian": church in London advocating that just by giving up chocolate we can feed so many Africans, it gave me shivers and visions of Ghanaian cocoa farmers being fed in famine camps like Ethiopians. LONG LIVE BLOATED CAPITALISTS THEIR GREED THEIR BAD TASTE AND CIGAR CHOMPING CREATES EMPLOYMENT AND DIVERSITY.

Mariana

Posted by: Mariana Bell at November 23, 2004 08:18 PM
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This galvanised me into doing something I'd been contemplating for some time: cancelling my direct debit to Christian Aid. I think they have joined the ranks of the positively damaging.

Instead, I'm supporting the microloan foundation (http://www.microloanfoundation.org.uk) which makes small loans to people in Malawi and the Philippines to help them set up their own small businesses. Helping people to help themselves is a much better cause than that of trapping them in dependency to aid organisations and kleptocratic, protectionist giovernments.

Posted by: Peter Risdon at November 27, 2005 02:21 PM
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