Artillery Row

Beware the crisis crisis

Constant catastrophism is destroying our brains

We live in a crisis culture. Everything, we are told, is in crisis. Climate crisis. Covid crisis. NHS crisis. Economic crisis, obesity crisis, housing crisis. Education crisis. Energy crisis, population crisis. Cost of living crisis. Prison crisis. Migration crisis. Constitutional crisis. No wonder there’s a mental health crisis. The alcohol crisis is just people trying to stay sane.

Of course there are elements of truth in some of the lamentations that constantly echo across our public sphere. But as a frenzied lump they make little sense. One of the advantages of being a “minute to midnight” on the environment, for instance, is that the 24 hours we have left of the NHS will be more than enough.

It is a substitute for action

The problem with all this is that the hysteria — whilst ephemerally useful for politicians and activists — shrouds and confuses, rather than highlights and clarifies, our real problems. It is a substitute for action: the 21st Century equivalent of walking around Soho in a sandwich board saying The End is Nigh. Impotent but loud, it reduces us all to the apparently named Steve Bray.

This beast is a child of the rapacious demands of the modern news cycle and Twitter discourse. Both must be fed — and constantly. When a broadcast journalist is not on camera, they are online: speculating, pontificating, stirring the pot. Politicians and their teams are similarly absorbed: profile-boosting, sledging, tweaking the narrative. Saying things they know to be untrue — but so what? Serious politics requires consideration, wisdom even; manufacturing hysteria is, bluntly, a lot easier. But also a lot more dangerous.

Journalists and politicians might be initiators of this madness, but they are victims of it, too. They, along with the rest of us, sit like spectators in Roman amphitheatres, guzzling booze and baying for blood — caught in a world which encourages anger and catastrophisation to keep the wheels of its consciousness spinning.

Twitter users are rewarded with a dopamine hit every time somebody likes or retweets their tweet. The tweets that gain the most traction are those which are the most unreasonable. Thus, cold, destructive tendrils wrap themselves around our feeble monkey brains and drag us — seductively, somehow; without us even realising — into the dark, polluted realms of delusion and rage. And deluded rage, under such circumstances, is not only simpler but actively more rewarding than being rational or funny. Check out the many tiresome, middle-aged, painfully establishment comedians who spend their days tweeting invective about the “EEVUL FASCIST TORIES” if you don’t believe me.

I log in, like a desperate addict

It is, all of it, seriously bad for us. I speak from personal experience. I, like so many others, have found myself glued to Twitter, scrolling endlessly through the frenetic psycho-gunk, unable to resist saying something inflammatory. Back when I used to drink like a sailor, or a Tory SpAd, the urge to engage became almost uncontrollable. These days I try to ignore the platform, but it still pulls me back. I log in, like a desperate addict seeking one last fix, and soon find myself sucked into its vortex of self-generated crisis and despair.

Not that there isn’t a funny side. Little amuses me more than a string of social media posts, from some minor public figure, issued after cocktail hour — followed in the morning by inevitable claims of being hacked. For the most part, however, people on Twitter are far more reasonable in real life than they are online: even on television or radio, they are several notches less horrible. (Well, apart from Alastair Campbell. Only in 2022 could a man who takes such glee in dehumanising everyone he dislikes be able to moonlight as a mental health campaigner.)

Our country faces many problems — as does the world, particularly the Western World, which seems to be suffering from a real crisis of confidence at the minute (uh-oh: here we go, another crisis). The United Kingdom is currently in need of a new Prime Minister. 

It is notable, I think, that as the Conservative Party whittles its way through the largely uninspiring options, the obvious stand-out candidate, Kemi Badenoch, is the least active on social media, and the least inclined to use catastrophic language. I hope, as this process unfolds, enough Conservative MPs can take a step back from the unctuous me-me-melee and see what is painfully obvious. Kemi versus Keir is the election they should want.

The end of the world isn’t nigh

Yes, there is the economy, and law and order, and the health service to deal with.To do so, clarity and realism, not hysteria, are required. Catastrophism can only exacerbate problems, as hysteria and opportunism throw oil onto their fires. The End of the World isn’t nigh — if only it were, frankly. But we are in the midst of a Crisis crisis. And that, dear Reader, is the most pressing crisis of all.

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