Without public debate and the liberty to disseminate differing opinions, there is simply no future for democractic societies.
I must say I didn’t think it would come to this. I really believed that the leadership of this mob had more political nous than to try to shut down the press. Arrogance and purblind narcissism have always been a feature of professional activism but there has generally been a recognition of the parameters within which public debate is conducted in a free society.
But I suppose we should have seen it coming. The move from thinking that your opponents are not just wrong but wilfully wicked to believing that they must be eliminated is a very short leap. Eventually, carried to its logical conclusion, it ends in the terrible ideological crimes of the twentieth century when it becomes permissible not just to prohibit the dissenting opinions but to eliminate the dissenters themselves.
Yes boys and girls, this is the real thing: the tyrannical impulse that, given its way, would prohibit the expression not just of disagreement with the prevailing orthodoxy but even of a considered and careful critique of it – which is pretty much all that the newspapers which are now being blockaded were engaged in. Welcome to the new Dark Age.
Presumably the next step would be for all proposed newspaper copy on the subject of climate change to be submitted for prior approval to – whom? The keepers of the Accepted Doctrine? And to whom will they be responsible? Themselves? And what happens when they – as radical movements always do – have schisms and splits over points of doctrine? Will they appeal to a higher authority – as the medieval papacy believed it could – and resolve their differences behind closed doors while we all await their judgement?
Of course, the press could easily adopt the opposite solution. Perhaps it has not occurred to these thugs that the easiest way to avoid their totalitarian diktat is simply never to cover the subject at all. If every word that is published on climate change must be submitted to the censors, then we can undermine their power quite easily – by not printing anything about it. That would mean the end of climate change as a public issue of course (which is precisely what the XR protesters claim they are promoting). This is not something most newspapers would wish to bring about. But given the choice between silence and submission to tyranny…
And what a revenge that would be – because publicity is what this is all about. Extinction Rebellion has lost out big time in the race for front page headlines since the Covid epidemic. Hence this desperate, stupid move against the press with which newspapers will have to engage in a very publicity-worthy fight.
In fact, XR has not only lost the star role on the public stage for the duration of the present emergency – it has actually lost some credibility. Many commentators have pointed out that even the drastic decline in air travel – severe enough to bring about the collapse of the airline industry and all the employment that it entails – has not made much of a dent in the level of carbon emissions. So what exactly would it take to produce the falls that XR is demanding? A return to pre-industrialisation with all the poverty and social backwardness that went with it? An end to the social and geographical mobility that modern economic freedom has enabled?
Given what even this tiny reduction in pollution has cost – socially and economically – the prospect of what XR proposes is devastating. Yes indeed, it’s been a bad six months for the eco warriors who once looked as if they could take over the world with their child saints and their apocalyptic warnings. And, of course, as the demonstrators have made clear, this is not just about climate anymore: they are blockading the distribution of newspapers with which they disagree on a whole range of subjects: the usual litany of causes – immigration, wealth distribution, capitalism, blah-blah. In other words, they will shut down any form of public platform that does not agree with their views.