My ethical ‘heroes’ of 2007

Our ethical columnist nominates the ‘heroes’ of 2007

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

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Some ditzy Roman playwright, probably drugged up on venenum or one of the other ‘love potions’ those crazy Romans ingested, once wrote: ‘Nothing that is human is alien to me.’

Regular readers will know that everything that is human is alien to me. Which isn’t surprising, considering we’re an alien species on the planet. (Grrr – even the phrase ‘the planet’, with its definitive article, betrays man-unkind’s planet-ist arrogance. Reality check, people: Earth isn’t the only planet in existence! There are millions of others, and some of them probably have more intelligent life forms than ‘our’ planet. For example, it’s believed there are sand worms on Mars, and the sand worm lives in far greater harmony with his/her surroundings than we Homo sapping the good out of everything have ever managed to do.)

Now, I don’t mean we’re an alien species in the psychotic John Travolta/Scientologist sense, where it’s thought we came here in spaceships a few thousand years ago and instantly set about building churches for celebrities in sunny Los Angeles (though I wouldn’t put such a polluting inter-planetary expedition past us). No, we’re alien in the sense that we don’t really belong here. We’re a plague on the planet, a virus in Gaia’s nostrils, and no matter how many floods and hurricanes She conjures up – Her version of antibodies designed to expel the human bacteria from Her system – She just can’t get rid of us.

For me, the most alien human concept of all (and I can barely bring myself to type this word…) is the ‘hero’. Nothing better captures the elitist, speciesist, navel-gazing, aren’t-we-wonderful streak in humanity than our hero worship. Have you noticed that animals are hardly ever hero-ised? Yes, there’s the London monument to animals who died in the Second World War, but all my letters to the Queen, the PM and the London mayor demanding a Tomb for the Unknown Glow-Worm to be erected in Westminster Cathedral have been IGNORED, despite the fact that glow-worms were used by soldiers in the First World War to read maps in the dark. Did those poor beasts – who, unlike us, have managed to create light without emitting carbon – sacrifice themselves in vain?

This year, however, I have decided to put a renewable-wood peg on my nose, and nominate my ethical ‘heroes’, if only to show up the folly of normal human hero worship. Forget the 4×4-driving, foul-mouthed footballers married to women with big hair and even bigger carbon footprints, and the other eco-criminals who are put on a pedestal these days; here are the real heroes of 2007…

The Breastfeeding Café in Attleborough, Norfolk: for taking the brave decision to turn away a mum who was bottlefeeding (!!!) her four-month-old son. This is precisely the kind of direct action we need in order to encourage more mums to breastfeed; I mean, if you have taken the monumentally ill-informed decision to procreate then the least you can do is raise your children ethically – and that means feeding them with naturally produced mother’s milk rather than the toxic powder churned out by evil conglomerates whose factories emit tonnes of smog and poison thousands of rivers every day of every week of every year.

The NHS says babies should be breastfed for the first six months. WRONG, they should be breastfed for the first six years. Adverts for all forms of infant formula should be banned, and we should think seriously about banning infant formula itself; let’s see how Jordan, the permatanned, plastic-boobed Queen of the Consumer Culture, and other unethical mums cope when they have to get their babies’ fix of formula on the black market. Society should learn from the Breastfeeding Café in Norfolk and ban mums from bottlefeeding in all places of work, which should include (as the sensible smoking ban does) public buildings, pubs, restaurants, bus-stops, taxis, airports and the home itself whenever doctors, nurses or social workers visit (and let’s face it, bottlefeeding mums are the kind who get frequent visits from social workers…)

George Monbiot: for calling for a recession. Yes, I know, Monbiot could be nominated as an ethical hero every year. For example, he would have won hands down in 1999 when he gave voice to a forbidden truth, which is only understood by we few ethical warriors: that it is unethical to laugh. Back then he argued: ‘The world is dying, and people are killing themselves with laughter.’ He wrote: ‘Stand in Liverpool Street station on a Friday evening, while some of Britain’s richest people are going home to enjoy the fruits of their labours… Stress oozes from them like sweat, anger shudders beneath their skin. [They’re suffering from] a species of mental illness.’ I used to do this, stand in the local train station and gawp in horror at the rushing commuters and plead with them to stop laughing, until I was served with an ASBO forbidding me from going within a 50-metre radius of any station in Kent or South-East England.

This year, even more bravely, Monbiot said ‘Bring on the recession’. Yes, yes, ‘it would cause some people to lose their jobs and homes’, he said, but that is a small price to pay for stopping ‘the destructive effects of economic growth’. I agree: to save the planet from wicked economic expansion and industrialisation (eeurgh!) we need a recession NOW, and the more painful it is – the more people it forces into the dole queues and throws out on to the streets – the better.

Bill Winton of Edinburgh: for refusing to wear ‘fat padding’ under his Santa suit because he thought it would set a bad example to the nation’s increasingly obese children. Mr Winton will hand out presents in the Westside Plaza shopping centre in Edinburgh as his fit and slim self. As the manager of the shopping centre said: ‘Santa is a role model for children, [and] his body shape is where it should start.’ So true. For too long Santa has been a symbol of consumerism run riot (all those presents), gluttony (that fat belly), slovenliness (unshaven face and undyed hair), and capitalist conspiracism (advertising deals with Coca-Cola). I’m very pleased that Mr Winton – who’s just an ordinary working-class bloke, amazingly – is taking a stand against our culture of overeating (after all, fat people leave heavier carbon footprints), but I hope next year he ditches the beard, the Coke-inspired red suit and the gadgety gifts, too.

Barry Waters of the University of Western Australia: for proposing a carbon tax on newborn babies. Waters suggests a ‘baby levy’ of $5,000 on third and subsequent children, plus an annual tax of $400 to $800 for the entire life of the child, which will be used to purchase and maintain the four hectares of trees needed to sequester 17 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (which is what each new mouth to feed and bottom to wipe uses up). What makes this such an INSPIRED idea is that it will force less ethically aware people – who, let’s not beat around the bush, tend to be concentrated in Social Classes D, E and F – to have fewer children, or perhaps none at all. Only those with money, who are likely to be quite well-educated, morally responsible and to shop at places like Waitrose rather than Iceland, will be able to procreate as they see fit.

Unfortunately, Waters’ proposal doesn’t go far enough. As a contributor to the Guardian’s Comment Is Free website said this year, babies are ‘screaming shit machines’, which ‘increase the carbon footprint’. Isn’t it time we seriously considered enforcing China’s rather wishy-washy one-child policy across the West, or even better, a no-child, Zero Toddler-ance policy?

Auckland Regional Council: for demanding that the inventor of a worm-driven composting toilet get professional confirmation that his contraption does not cause stress or trauma to the worms. An Auckland official expressed concern that the worms were being ‘unfairly treated, being expected to deal with human faeces, and that it could affect them in a psychological way’. The official demanded that someone with the ‘necessary qualifications’ check that the ‘worms are happy’. At last! Someone speaks up for the put-upon worm, which alongside the lemming, the Great White Shark and the tarantula is one of the most maligned creatures on Gaia’s good earth. Some people have suggested that this story from Auckland is so far out it must be a hoax, some kind of silly-season joke. I hope not. Worms’ happiness levels are no laughing matter; if we expect them to live and work in our shit, we should at least ensure that their pay and working conditions aren’t shit.

So, bow down, dear reader, before the brave men and women who have taken a stand against the catastrophist tyranny and industrial terrorism of the twenty-first century. And remember to continue living ethically in 2008… who knows, maybe even you will make an appearance in my list of ethical ‘heroes’ next December.

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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