A new, thoroughly 21st-century threat to domestic harmony is emerging. In some relationships, it is said to be causing as much discord as those age-old battlegrounds, sex and money. The problem is environmental incompatibility.
According to an urgent report in the New York Times, therapists across America are reporting a sharp increase in what they call "green disputes". Couples are finding it increasingly difficult to agree about how much their little unit should contribute to that great cause of our age, the saving of the planet.
A computer executive from California is taken as an example of a green dispute in action. The man is environmentally aware: he cycles to work, avoids plastic bags, recycles wherever possible. With his girlfriend, he rears free-range chickens.
None of that, for her, is enough. She complains that he uses too much water while shaving and taking a shower. As a couple they had agreed on a less materialistic lifestyle, and yet he is sometimes to be found buying things online. They no longer go to fish restaurants – her heated wrangles with waiters as to whether their food is sustainable, local or ecologically acceptable have become too much for him to bear.
Poor guy. One can just imagine the green disputes in their agreeable Californian residence. There would be the tissue-found-in-the-rubbish dispute, the leaving-appliances-on-standby dispute, perhaps the disposable-nappy dispute. With a wild and reckless courage, the man has defended himself, speaking up on behalf of those who like to relax in the shower, who have decided not to allow the state of the planet to reduce their private life to a state of crazed, guilt-ridden masochism. He has daringly criticised what he calls his girlfriend's "high priestess phase".
There is surely no bore quite like a green bore. Most sensible people now try to moderate their lives in order to waste less, conserve more, have an awareness as to the environmental cost of what we do and buy, but none of that will satisfy the high-priestesses, or the rather fewer high priests, of greenery.
For them, it is not enough to lead a responsible life; others must follow. For an eco-nag, it is a living insult to Gaia that someone should stand under a shower, not even washing, while the planet's most precious resource gurgles wastefully down the plughole. If tissues all around the world were recycled rather than thrown in the kitchen waste, they believe, then the poor wounded Mother Earth would stand a greater chance of survival.
There are serious problems with the high priestess approach. It spreads a restless unhappiness and discontent because its ultimate goal is unreachable. However great a family's sacrifice, however radical the change to daily domestic life, its carbon footprint will still be a shaming 20 times greater – probably more – than that of someone living in Africa.
It is also essentially miserabilist. Those who are most militant in their concern for planet Earth often seem to be least alive to the pleasures it offers. So obsessed are they with the threats to the natural order that they are no longer able to appreciate its joys. For them every tree, flower, bird, field is merely a reminder of the tragedy they believe lies ahead.
The high priests and priestesses should, for the sake of their case, give the rest of us a break. All this scolding, bossiness and moral superiority is not only bad for relationships, but it does more harm than good to the planet. Spreading guilt is never a good way to convert souls, even to the great secular faith of our times.
The hellraiser's hellraiser – dying as he lived
There are various ways of describing, in the knowing code of an obituarist, a person who has been a universal pain to those around them. One is to describe him as a "perfectionist". Another is to call him a "larger-than-life character" who would "not suffer fools gladly". The surest indicator of someone any sane person would avoid at all costs is when they are characterised as "a hellraiser".
Dennis Hopper, whose impending divorce has just been announced, is the hellraiser's hellraiser. The wild, woozy, self-destructive egotism which makes him so mesmerising on screen, notably in Blue Velvet and Apocalypse Now, have, by all reports, made his life an assault course of excess, fury and confrontation.
What makes Hopper's latest matrimonial difficulties unusual is that he is terminally ill with prostate cancer. As he faces the ultimate heavy trip, he has let it be reported that he and Victoria, his wife of 14 years, are "having difficulties". He is said to be revising his will and to have asked her to leave the marital home.
Most people preparing for the end are in a mellow, forgiving mood towards those who have been through tough times with them, but not Hopper. There is something admirable about a man who, fuelled by rage to the last, is dying as he lived.
He's not Christ, he's a very shrewd businessman
Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981, has emerged from prison with a business plan. Step 1: announce to the world that you have a message from God. Step 2: reveal that the message is that you are the new Christ. Step 3: get in touch with leading literary agents and publishers with a view to exploiting the current craze for religious mysteries. It is said that Agca suffers from "severe personality disorders". To me he sounds as if he has an unusually shrewd grasp of the way modern publishing works.
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