Enemy of the People

George Monbiot's column captures my feelings exactly. I wasn't previously familiar with Ibsen's play An Enemy of the People, which Monbiot summarises and relates to attitudes about climate change.
Thomas Stockmann is a doctor in a small Norwegian town, and medical officer at the public baths whose construction has been overseen by his brother, the mayor. The baths, the mayor boasts, "will become the focus of our municipal life! … Houses and landed property are rising in value every day."
But Stockmann discovers that the pipes have been built in the wrong place, and the water feeding the baths is contaminated. "The source is poisoned … We are making our living by retailing filth and corruption! The whole of our flourishing municipal life derives its sustenance from a lie!" People bathing in the water to improve their health are instead falling ill.
Stockmann expects to be treated as a hero for exposing this deadly threat. After the mayor discovers that re-laying the pipes would cost a fortune and probably sink the whole project, he decides that his brother's report "has not convinced me that the condition of the water at the baths is as bad as you represent it to be".
The mayor proposes to ignore the problem, make some cosmetic adjustments and carry on as before. After all, "the matter in hand is not simply a scientific one. It is a complicated matter, and has its economic as well as its technical side." The local paper, the baths committee and the business people side with the mayor against the doctor's "unreliable and exaggerated accounts".
Astonished and enraged, Stockmann lashes out madly at everyone. He attacks the town as a nest of imbeciles, and finds himself, in turn, denounced as an enemy of the people. His windows are broken, his clothes are torn, he's evicted and ruined.
Today's editorial in the Daily Telegraph, which was by no means the worst of the recent commentary on this issue, follows the first three acts of the play. Marking the new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Telegraph sides with the mayor. First it suggests that the panel cannot be trusted, partly because its accounts are unreliable and exaggerated and partly because it uses "model-driven assumptions" to forecast future trends. (What would the Telegraph prefer? Tea leaves? Entrails?). Then it suggests that trying to stop manmade climate change would be too expensive. Then it proposes making some cosmetic adjustments and carrying on as before. ("Perhaps instead of continued doom-mongering, however, greater thought needs to be given to how mankind might adapt to the climatic realities.")
(Image above shows Marilyn Monroe reading her husband, Arthur Miller's, translation of Ibsen's play.)

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