The initial, and certainly correct, reaction to 16-year-old climate change advocate Greta Thunberg’s screed at a United Nations event the other day: disgust at the way her parents and other adults are shamelessly using her, as colorfully articulated on these pages, as “a human shield for global warming alarmists.”
But there’s another aspect of her performance (and it was indeed a performance, both highly staged, scripted and rehearsed, and stuffed chockfull of media soundbites and ready-made headlines) that is equally acceptable to assert.
Miss Thunberg is, in her own right, a spoiled brat.
Despite her youth and reported autism diagnosis, the demand for hands-off treatment of Greta and — let’s call it what it is — the outright, downright rudeness and insolence she displayed in New York is yet another highly public exhibit in the downward spiral of manners and protocol that plagues society today.
There was a darn good reason your parents told you when you were growing up to “respect your elders.” To give deference to people in authority. And to honor the office even if you didn’t care for or agree with the man or woman who held it.
Those lessons were not only questions of proper comportment. They reflected basic common sense.
As dazzlingly smart and well-read and charismatically articulate as you might be at 16, until you’ve lived a bit you don’t know what you don’t know. Even if you have consorted with the world’s high and mighty, are celebrated as a savant, and have been nominated for a Nobel Prize.
Having graduated from the School of Hard Knocks and/or been “mugged by reality” does a lot to soften perspectives. And also helps the literal “adults in the room,” if not to fully separate fact from fiction, at least to apply a healthy dose of cynicism to the utter certainties of straight-up Kool-Aid gulpers.
Moreover, complete disdain for authority and for the ordered institutions of society is a recipe for chaos and breakdown.
“Speak truth to power?” Perfectly cool. It’s 100% appropriate to call leaders’ actions or behavior into question when their actions are wrongheaded or corrupt. And even to write biting and satirical opinion about them, as it is rumored that some are wont to do.
Unquestioned abuse? Not so much.
In a free society at least, leaders have at a minimum the patina of legitimacy from the consent of the governed. It’s decidedly not OK to raise oneself up as a form of higher authority, with neither qualification nor public assent, condescending to duly empowered officials.
Someone has to run things, and assenting to having public servants, no matter how seemingly unworthy, subjected to open, public contempt — by children, no less — can only sap their ability to do so.
There’s a line. And Mamsell Greta hurdled over it.
The adolescent’s substance, of course, was laughable, especially coming from a high schooler who admitted she should be back in school in her homeland.
“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction….” Oh, yeah? Which “people?” Which “ecosystems?” Who or what is going massively extinct?
“The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.” No kidding? And where’s the peer-reviewed research you did on the subject in, say middle school?
By a kid.
In the day, if a youngster had sassed her parents or a teacher the way this little whippersnapper dissed global dignitaries, she would have been grounded for a month or sent straight to the principal’s office. (If not introduced to the business end of a paddle or, in personal experience, wooden spoon.)
The Swedish teen’s behavior surely wouldn’t have been indulged, much less celebrated. And even though she is being exploited as a tool of the global green monster, it shouldn’t be excused either. She’s a child, and yes, said to be on the autism spectrum — but still old enough, and clearly functional enough, to know better and be held responsible for her own actions.
She should hardly be — again, to quote the brethren here — lifted upon a pedestal, green or otherwise. More like taken over someone’s knee.
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