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.
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.