Just when I think I should lie fallow and do some real work, I am stunned by something in the press. More fool me. Instead of praying for deliverance, I check the newspaper, like one of Hegel’s bourgeois at breakfast, and find myself reading about what Macron, Sunak and friends call ‘delivery’ in a letter ‘released’ (what is this, the Beatles new LP?) today. But ‘delivery’ is certainly not deliverance, and so it seems as if criticism might be necessary.
Literary criticism is out of fashion. Film and television threatened literature, social media put it on life support, and it is now about to be hanged, drawn and quartered by artificial intelligence. So literary criticism may seem to have nothing to live for. But it is a great weapon in the hands of the sceptic. It can still be practised on the utterances of our overlords.
I have no idea who wrote the following. But as it appears in the Guardian it was obviously finessed by a Sunakian, since it has an English tonality amidst all the Goldman Sachs click-track wiffle-waffle. A fondness for the word ‘which’, for instance. However, let us look at it. I shall comment on the entire letter.
We are urgently working to deliver more for people and the planet.
That is the first sentence. And there are already warning signals. “Urgently”? Work shouldn’t be urgent. “Deliver”? Are Biden, Von Der Leyen, Sunak et al. postmen? – pardon me, posthumans? And then there is the strange conjunction of “people and the planet”. We can let people pass for now. But planet? A planet, we are told, is a ball of molten rock, or sometimes gas. So obviously they do not mean ‘planet’ literally. What they mean is ‘our human system’: what formerly was known as the ‘world’. If one speculates as to why the word ‘world’ is out of fashion, I suppose it is because it inadequately recognises the push of the last 30 years to worry about things-not-human: oceans, forests, rivers, etc. So the phrase ‘the planet’ stands for a strange mish-mash of concerns about climate change, pollution, extraction of resources, but also inequality, exclusion, etc., between, across and within states. What does all this mean? Well, it means our world leaders are setting the bar very high. One suspects they may be overestimating their own powers.
Multiple, overlapping shocks have strained countries’ ability to address hunger, poverty, and inequality, build resilience and invest in their futures. Debt vulnerabilities in low- and middle-income countries present a major hurdle to their economic recovery, and to their ability to make critical long-term investments.
“Hunger, poverty and inequality”: these are three different things. ‘Hunger’, I now understand, means what poverty used to mean. ‘Poverty’, nowadays, is the ability to survive comfortably in the ‘developed’ world. ‘Inequality’ is envy of those who survive more than comfortably. The next word I notice is ‘futures’. This is a sign that a Sunakian has written the text. The future is the future. But futures are something else entirely. Is it not odd that they write ‘futures’ and not ‘the future’? This is a false note. Returns on investment should not be the point here. But of course it is: for this document is not meant to be an appeal to the impoverished: it is far more likely to be an appeal to the comfortable, to encourage everyone to join together in an orgy of ideological genuflection to accompany their coming technological and spread-sheeted rape of the world.
Raping the world while ostentatiously claiming not to rape it: the mark of the ideology of modern world leaders.
We are urgently working to fight poverty and inequalities. An estimated 120 million people have been pushed into extreme poverty in the last three years and we are still far from achieving our United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030. We should thus place people at the centre of our strategy to increase human welfare everywhere on the globe.
Urgent work again. Mention of SDGs, but also a sweet acknowledgement that not everyone yet knows what that acronym stands for. The logic is odd. “We should thus place people at the centre of our strategy”, as if that was somehow not obvious to our world leaders that this is not only their absolute duty but also their postulate in this letter. I am not sure how one should have a “strategy to increase human welfare” without putting ‘people’ at the centre of it. But perhaps in our incipient transhumanist, posthuman world it has to be stated explicitly.
We want a system that better addresses development needs and vulnerabilities, now heightened by climate risks, which could further weaken countries’ ability to eliminate poverty and achieve inclusive economic growth. Climate change will generate larger and more frequent disasters, and disproportionately affect the poorest, most vulnerable populations around the world. These challenges cross borders and pose existential risks to societies and economies.
“System” is an alarming world. Shades of totalitarianism and a world state. “Addresses” is odd. It comes from the same post office as ‘delivery’: but it also suggests that our world leaders are not going to deal with problems so much as apostrophise them, talk to them very sternly, perhaps in a four-hour Gladstonian speech, or perhaps in a brisk tweet. “Climate risks”: here is the voodoo, and a very ambiguous voodoo at that. “Inclusive economic growth” is also strange wish-fulfilment: as if we can all embrace or meditate together in an ashram and also find our economy remarkably grown. It sounds like Eloi-speak: and our Eloi actually want to pretend that they are including the Morlocks in their paradisal lives. (Note also how they refer to “countries” not ‘states’ as the actors of all this: it is as if the sheep and dry stone walls and the Constable paintings will eliminate poverty.)
We want our system to deliver more for the planet. The transition to a Net Zero world and the goals of the Paris agreement present an opportunity for this generation to unlock a new era of sustainable global economic growth. We believe that just ecological transitions that leave no one behind can be a powerful force for alleviating poverty and supporting inclusive and sustainable development. This requires long-term investment everywhere to ensure that all countries are able to seize this opportunity. Inspired by the historic Kumming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, we also need new economic models which recognise the immense value of nature for humanity.
This exercise in literary criticism will become tedious if I repeat myself. But consider the series of clichés here: “transition to a Net Zero world”, “sustainable growth”, “inclusive and sustainable development”, and the staggering platitude that we have to notice how important nature is for us, as if this had never occurred to anyone ever before. Nay, it can only come as something of a shock to citizens of tarmacadamed imagination. “Zero” is, of course, the great negatively tyrannical word of our time.
We are convinced that poverty reduction and protection of the planet are converging objectives. We must prioritise just and inclusive transitions to ensure that the poor and most vulnerable can fully reap the benefits of this opportunity, rather than disproportionally bearing the cost. We recognise that countries may need to pursue diverse transition paths in line with the 1.5°C limit depending on their national circumstances. There will be no transition if there is no solidarity, economic opportunities, or sustainable growth to finance it.
Here we have the beginning of the bad logic, the intersectional logic whereby objectives ‘converge’. People and planet: and these are compatible. We can solve what we suppose is every natural problem, we can solve what anyone supposes is a social problem, and we can do it, or at least say we are doing it, while continuing to survive more than comfortably and keep the old Eloi world rotating on its axis. (Does this letter have enough genuflections to the interests of the Morlocks to pass muster?)
We, leaders of diverse economies from every corner of the world, are united in our determination to forge a new global consensus. We will use the Paris Summit for a New Global Financing Pact on June 22nd-23rd as a decisive political moment to recover development gains lost in recent years and to accelerate progress towards the SDGs, including just transitions. We are clear on our strategy: development and climate commitments should be fulfilled and, in line with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, we recognise that we need to leverage all sources of finance, including official development assistance, domestic resources and private investment.
I was going to address the business of who has signed this letter later, but here they are, the “leaders”. We should dislike the word ‘leader’. George Dumézil and others like Bertrand de Jouvenel 70 or so years ago drew attention to Tacitus’s old distinction between the Latin words dux and rex. A rex is a king, in the sense of a lawgiver, regulator, a religious figure who maintains stability and order. A dux, on the other hand, is a ‘leader’, a warrior, someone who leads us into battle, and is not above a bit of rapine and murder when necessary. A rex brings order, a dux brings (hopefully necessary) chaos. Mussolini was il Duce. Hitler was der Führer. This whole language of ‘leadership’ mistakenly (capital letters necessary) suggests that politics is the business of treating everything as a military operation. I would suggest that all these ‘leaders’ ask themselves whether they wouldn’t be a lot better at ‘sustainable’ politics if they dropped all the military rhetoric and the Napoleonic strut. Part of the reason why we have no faith in politicians is that they talk such a lot about action that we begin to notice how much talk there is and how little effective or proportionate or sensible or appropriate action.
“Consensus” is an alarming word. It is a sign that our leaders want to eliminate disagreement. There is no sign in the letter of any exultation in adversarial politics, open debate, criticism which is more than in-house gate-kept persiflage. Let us skip the other drivel (“commitments” etc) and move on, for, alas, there is much more.
Delivering on that consensus should start with existing financial commitments. Collective climate-finance goals must be met in 2023. Our total global ambition of $100bn (£78bn) of voluntary contributions for countries most in need, through a rechannelling of special drawing rights or equivalent budget contributions, should also be reached.