On playing the victim

Rwanda. Radio Four has conducted me through a range of emotional challenges this morning. Woman’s Hour opened with domestic abuse and moved on to stillbirth, taking me on a whistle stop tour of 1973 to 2009, with an enforced stopover at 1992, in a matter of fifteen minutes. Now I’m listening to a programme about Rwandan artists and I’ve settled in 1994. I’m watching a bouncy castle expand slowly across a church lawn, whilst choosing a name for a knitted bear.

I sometimes feel I’ve lived more lives than I ever expected. Today’s memory trip had its roots in the longest and toughest of them. The bouncy castle itself came from a fundraising fete, organised by my children and their friends, after they’d watched news of the genocide in Rwanda. It’s no good doing it in August. Everyone’s on holiday, we were told. We raised £495, which was probably more than any previous fundraiser on the same premises. Now I’m listening to Rwandan artists talking about how you make sense of a bloodbath and move on, and wondering whether this once-united kingdom I live in might need to take a leaf from their book before much longer.

Another life, and I cower as Charlie towers, anger throbbing through that vein on his forehead. He’s stalking like a drill sergeant in front of an insubordinate parade, turning on his heel every time he reaches the limit of the room.
And stop playing the fucking victim. It’s always the same with you
It takes one to know one isn’t the wisest reply, but it escapes before I can stop it, and oddly it silences him. Charlie may be all kinds of control freak, but he knows when he’s beat and he doesn’t want a fight over his favourite security blanket. In a few weeks he’ll tell me he really is a victim, whereas I only think I am, but for today he pulls the plug.

Everyone loves a victim. And ain’t it so much nicer to be one than to take responsibility? Helplessness entitles me to sympathy, and to demand from others privileges I’d never dream of giving them. Politicians thrive this way too. Was ever a President so persecuted as Donald? How on earth is poor Nigel to survive on the pittance from the European Parliament? And look at those nasty MPs, thwarting Boris and Dominic as they battle to Get Brexit Done. It’s enough to bring tears to any eye. And it works. These men have money, prestige and privilege in spades, yet they cast themselves as victims-against-the-odds and their followers lap it up. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is neither a victim, nor ‘anti-establishment’. Eton educated, Balliol College, he’s the establishment on steroids. Born with silver cutlery in his orifice, he’s played wives and sired children with abandon that would’ve got him booed off the Jeremy Kyle Show. As a young journalist in Brussels, he fed Telegraph readers a diet of ‘alternative facts’ between 1989 and 1994 that set the foundations for Brexit. Nonetheless, he’s feted as a hapless victim, a hero pitted for ‘the people’ against overwhelming odds.

Another day, another demo. I swore I’d never do it again, after a million and more of us trudged through London in freezing February weather, only to be ignored by Tony Blair. Nonetheless, here I am, one of seven thousand or so tree-hugging soap dodgers of all ages, gathered in support of the Student Strike for Climate. It’s an idea whose time has come around forty years later than I’d hoped. Here we are on the brink of irreversible climate collapse, and it’s taken the initiative of an autistic teenager from Sweden to get the young people whose lives are going to be irreversibly damaged out on the streets.

With 97% of climate scientists agreeing that we need to change our lives radically, you’d think Greta Thunberg would be everyone’s hero, so at first I was baffled by the antagonism she seems to inspire. I get why Jeremy Clarkson calls her a ‘spoilt brat‘. After all, a man who’ll punch someone for getting his lunch order wrong isn’t likely to take kindly to being asked to clean up his act. Likewise, Donald Trump has mocked her and retweeted accusations that she is an actress. No surprise there. However, I’m more disturbed by reactions such as those of some older male intellectuals in France who think she’s not ‘sexy’ enough. She’s barely sixteen, for God’s sake.

The truth is, we only love a victim when they play the game our way, and Greta doesn’t do that. Donald, Boris and Nigel tell their followers they can have cake and eat it. Greta tells the United Nations
You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. And the saddest thing is that most children are not even aware of the fate that awaits us. We will not understand it until it’s too late
None of us wants is to be told the polar ice is melting, sea levels are rising, rainforests are burning, mountains are crumbling, the oceans are full of plastic, and it’s all because of us. That’s not playing nicely.

Thus recent weeks have seen a tide of criticism on social media that’s risen far faster than the sea. These young people and their climate marches. They’re monsters. Hypocrites of the first order. They wear shoes and clothes for heaven’s sake. They watch TV and use mobile phones, Xboxes and iPads. They travel in cars and go on family holidays abroad. Some of them even wear make-up. How dare they tell the rest of us what to do?

The truth is they’re simply not playing the game we’re used to. They won’t march to the populist drum that says we can have jam tomorrow, because they know there won’t be any jam. Yes, they can’t imagine a world without cars and mobile phones yet, and it’s going to take a while for them to grasp the extent of the battle they’ve taken on. But they’re young and strong, and their cause is just. My generation has plundered our Earth like no other. I’ve lived sixty-five years in luxury my ancestors never dreamed would exist, yet there are those of my peers willing to attack their own children and grandchildren for wanting no more than a planet fit to live on. It’s time for us to stop playing victim, accept responsibility, rise up and rebel in solidarity with our children’s children, who will be the real victims of the coming catastrophe.

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