Green and unpleasant land

by Nathaniel Tapley 

Prince Philip left hospital last week, looking like a shadow of his former self. Or, at least, like the creature who dwells in the shadow of his former self, waiting for unsuspecting children to pass by so he can drain them of their essence. He’d been in hospital for a month for a procedure on his heart (one day operating on it, and the previous 29 trying to find the damned thing).

As he was exhumed from the King Edward VII Hospital, like a Lowry-figure wrought in cobwebs and skin flakes, it was difficult not to remember an interview he gave to Deutsche Presse-Agentur in 1988: “In the event that I am reincarnated,” he said, rather than just being mummified and kept alive through secret incantations as is the current protocol, “I would like to return as a deadly virus to contribute something to solve overpopulation.”

In many ways, of course, Prince Philip is much like the coronavirus: the Government is useless at restraining either of them and both are particularly dangerous to people of colour.

Concerns about overpopulation are, of course, racism dressed up as ecology. When half the world’s population is responsible for just ten per cent of the world’s emissions, the problem isn’t that there are too many people, but that some of the people are using too many things. Overpopulation is just a polite way of blaming the very poorest for the calamities caused by the very wealthiest.

One of the first popular books about overpopulation, Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 polemic The Population Explosion begins with him sitting “one stinking hot night in Delhi” bemoaning, “People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing and screaming… People defecating and urinating.”

In terms of area, Delhi’s about the same size as London. In 1968, Delhi had a population of 3,239,000 people. At the time, London’s was 7,651,000, so it was populated about twice as densely as Delhi. Why then, did Paul Ehrlich feel the need to go all the way to India to see overpopulation? Did Londoners not defecate, urinate, or wash? Did they not visit or argue? One would think that if they weren’t urinating or defecating they would argue a lot more. Maybe the London of the Swinging Sixties was full of silent, dirty, constipated people who stood far enough apart from each other to satisfy Paul Ehrlich.

“Overpopulation” is an invitation for the first world to interfere in the bedrooms of the third. We know that the best ways of reducing birth rates are: empowering women to have control over pregnancies and elevating living standards. However, those things sound more difficult than just standing in the corner, tutting, or developing the technology to turn people into viruses and letting Prince Philip live
out his dream.

Prince Philip is much like the coronavirus: the Government is useless at restraining either of them and both are particularly dangerous to people of colour

You don’t have to scratch much of the veneer off a certain stripe of ecologist to find the fascist underneath; someone who doesn’t so much love animals as hate humans. This is true of many seemingly alternative pursuits. I researched folk musicians for a character many years ago, and was surprised at how many of the songs I found were delightful anti-immigration metaphors. I can confirm that the line between a person who enjoys nostalgic songs of a nation from a less-racially-diverse-time and a racist is startlingly thin at times.

The same has happened in the last year with huge swathes of the New Age wellness industry repeating far-right memes wholesale as the anti-lockdown movement spreads. John Aspinall sincerely wanted to save gorillas, but would also plot far-right coups in his spare time with Lord Lucan and Jimmy Goldsmith.

Jimmy Goldsmith, of course, started the Referendum Party with two policies: a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU and lifting all restrictions on gun ownership. Who stood as a candidate for the Referendum Party in the 1997 general election? Britain’s favourite, hirsute, miniature ecologist: David Bellamy. It’s reached the point where we should probably be very suspicious of anyone who professes to love the countryside.

The links between conservation and the hard right are probably best exemplified by Savitri Devi. She was an animal rights activist, a Hindu, a vegetarian, and a Nazi all the way up to the 1970s. She managed to find time to oppose fur, slaughterhouses, circuses, and vivisection while staying at Christian Dior’s niece’s house planning race wars. They eventually kicked her out because she refused to bathe (perhaps just to keep Paul Ehrlich happy) and she died in Essex.

Much the same trajectory was taken by Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. He destroyed targets that he felt were advancing modern technology, preferring that we go back to a simpler way of life. His 35,000-word manifesto railed against “socialists, collectivists, ‘politically correct’ types, feminists, gay and disability activists, animal rights activists and the like.” So, if he ever gets out of the Supermax ADX prison in Florence, Colorado, he will fit right in at GB News.

Is it inevitable that respect for traditions and a wish to conserve means our most beloved institutions tend towards the fascist? Let us return to King Edward VII. Not the hospital, the king. You can tell the difference because the hospital is slightly less fat. In 1904 there was an Anglo-German meeting about the Russo-Japanese War. Kaiser Wilhelm railed against the “yellow peril”, threatening that “the yellow race” would soon be in Moscow and Posen and claiming British support for the Japanese was “race treason”. King Edward VII stood up and very publicly disagreed with his nephew, saying that the “Japanese were an intelligent, brave, and chivalrous nation, quite as civilised as the Europeans, from whom they differed only in the pigmentation of their skin.”

This is something his great-granddaughter’s husband might remember. The only difference between us – any of us – and Prince Philip is the pigmentation of our skins. And the fact that we don’t shed ours before we slip out into the night to hunt.


 

Nathaniel Tapley is a comedy writer and performer on the TV shows you hate

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