Howard Jacobson: Someone should make a final stand for humankind before it's too late

Those who say we misplace the threat of terror are committing us all to suicide

Share
Related Topics

Been trying all week to decide whether I think the world is coming to an end or not. Polar bears are shrinking – that's not a good sign. Salamanders are disappearing faster than jobs. There are no returns to be had on our modest savings. Vigilantes are stoning the windows of bankers, which people of greater moral clarity than I possess say is not to be commended. Civil unrest, followed by revolution, is just around the corner. The Government has unveiled new anti-terror measures, warning that the likelihood of someone dropping a dirty bomb on us has never been greater. And even erstwhile fans of The Apprentice are wondering if the spectacle of a very rich man with no sense of the ridiculous bragging about how much he's worth is appropriate entertainment at a time when the Prime Minister is in Wall Street inveighing against avarice. Could this be the beginning of the end of television's heroisation of the fatuously wealthy? Will the dragons go the way of the salamander? Reader, look at it how you will, we're finished.

But oughtn't we at least to put up a fight? Not me, I'm beyond a fight. I'm steeped in the literature of luxuriating defeatism. Keats's "Now more than ever seems it rich to die" struck a chord with me the minute our third form English teacher recited it.

I'd just been rejected by a strapping girl with blond pigtails I'd met outside Lapidus's chip shop; and lost in the final of the Burnley and Accrington Boys Open Table Tennis Championships to a player with not a 10th of my natural ability, just the same insane will to win as the person who, with a bigger bag of chips, had enticed away the girl in the pigtails; so the idea of ceasing upon the midnight with no pain while the nightingale was pouring forth its soul in ecstasy was extremely attractive to me, no matter that I didn't know a nightingale from a nuthatch.

I have always been susceptible, too, to D H Lawrence's wistful evocation of a world without men and women, just uninterrupted grass and a hare sitting up. "If humanity ran into a cul-de-sac and expended itself, the timeless creative mystery would bring forth some other being, finer, more wonderful ..." That's me. I'm a timeless creative mystery man. Let's all go and leave it to the next species, so long as I don't have to go first.

Other, stronger and more verdant souls, though, owe it to humanity to make a final stand. But wherever you look it's all nay-saying. Take the greens. Every time someone offers a solution the greens didn't think of first they dump on it. I've just been reading about those marine biologists who have been doing something or other with regard to algae somewhere in some sea near the Falkland Islands – don't ask me to explain the science, readers don't come to this column for the science – but I think essentially the biologists are dropping tons of iron sulphate into the sea in order to stimulate a synthetic bloom of algae which will then absorb (or something) carbon emissions. Well, wouldn't you call this an initiative to be welcomed? Apparently not. All this will do, Greenpeace has warned, is create giant algae that will eat the planet. Think the Triffids. Science fiction, you see – ever the first recourse of those who fear an innovation that isn't of their own designing. For my part I'd rather be eaten by algae than burnt alive by the sun, or bombed.

And then there's the revulsion from wind farms. Wind farms were to be our salvation; now they're considered ugly, uneconomic, and assume a wind we don't have. Where I live in Central London it's been blowing like the Antarctic since November, but on Snowdonia it's apparently as still as a monastery in Lent. Besides which, critics of wind farms maintain, they deface the countryside. Well, that's tough. It's a defaced countryside or it's no countryside unless you want to leave it to the hare. The architecture critic Jonathan Glancey was on the Today programme last week, waxing lyrical about pylons. Since we need them we might as well learn to love them, he said, as the Victorians learnt at last to love the railways. And need apart, pylons are "hauntingly beautiful" in themselves, "the church spires of the electrical age".

Bravo! What we must have, we might as well find beautiful. I am not the only one who is deathful: aesthetics teach that beauty inheres in mortal threat – femmes fatales, tigers, loose-limbed boys on the Venice Lido. Why not, for once, balance the swooning loveliness of fatality with the more angular elegance of usefulness? So love the wind farms, too. Myself, I find exhilaration in a hill top of those extruded towers – not on every hill I grant you, but we have hills to spare – which evoke not only the windmills at which Don Quixote tilted but, in their gaunt innocence, Don Quixote himself.

As for the dirty bomb which is coming our way, those you'd expect to be pooh-poohing the idea are pooh-poohing the idea, and those who think the Government is looking in the wrong places for the causes of murderous extremism are finding it where they usually find it. No need to remind you where that is. As though a rational grievance could ever explain whysomeone would build a dirty bomb. As though the gullible malignancy of man, propagandised into fury, isn't explanation enough. But we want to go on rubbing at the itch of our ideologies and never mind the consequences. Where terrorism is concerned we are in the grip of a suicidal impulse far more irrational than Keats's. And far more irresponsible, since Keats imagined dying only for himself. Whereas those who say we exaggerate or misplace the threat of terror are committing us all to suicide.

We should look on terrorism as Pascal said we should look on God. We should take a wager on it. Assume it's there, if only for safety's sake. The assumption won't hurt us and, if it turns out to be well founded, so much the better. And if we're wrong, what has it cost? A few millions pounds – which would only be going to bankers anyway – and some sleepless nights. But then who's sleeping?

There is always running away. Let's do it. You and I. Blow our worthless savings on a yacht and go sailing off the coast of Thailand. Soft breezes. Perfumed air. Beautiful seabirds. We might even get to hear a nightingale. Just a shame about the pirates.

But there you are. There is no hiding place from our own species.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

£17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

Recruitment Genius: Ad Ops Manager - Up to £55K + great benefits

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a digital speci...

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Recruitment Genius: Implementation Consultant

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: How much difference does the wording of a referendum question make?

John Rentoul
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent