The end is nigh: the rise of middle-class apocalypticism

29 June 2019

9:00 AM

29 June 2019

9:00 AM

There’s a lot of anger about — and it’s not pleasant. But at least it means people are engaged as well as enraged. What’s more worrying and increasingly irritating is the negativity, the drip-drip of despondency that’s been allowed to seep into so much of daily life.

Everything is broken! All is lost! The end is nigh! Which is fine if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness or believe that the eschatological prophecies of the Bible have pretty much all come to pass.

Every day we are told repeatedly that ‘catastrophe’ awaits. It will be ‘-catastrophic’ if we leave the EU without a deal, ‘catastrophic’ if America withdraws from the Paris Agreement on climate change, ‘catastrophic’ if we push ahead with fracking, ‘catastrophic’ if Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister and so on.

The whingeing middle classes have convinced themselves that the game’s up to such an extent that it seems almost rude not to join them in their grumbling. It used to be only fogeyish Tories who thought the world was ‘going to the dogs’. Now everybody does.

Whether it’s the end of democracy, the destruction of the environment, the rise of populism, impending famine in Africa, fears over nuclear warfare, the pollution of our oceans, the threat of terrorism, worries about how the young will become homeowners, the increase in the cost of private education, the lack of decent avocados in Waitrose, the endless roadworks on the M4 — whatever your gripe, the bourgeois apocalypse is upon us. All that seems to unite Britain now is the idea that we are hopelessly divided. According to a poll, more than two-thirds of us feel pessimistic about the state of the economy.

My wife and I don’t get invited to dinner parties often, but a friend who does says he comes away from them not so much with a headache of disappointment as a migraine of despair. Which makes me think (to borrow that awful phrase from politicians under pressure) we need to get things in context.

This is not, thank heavens, the summer of 1939 when people huddled around the family wireless waiting to find out if the proverbial balloon had gone up and their young menfolk were about to be pressed into armed conflict.

We are not nearly in such a parlous state as we were in 1956 when Egypt’s president Nasser took control of the Suez Canal, or in 1962 when the Cuban missile crisis brought us to the brink of the mother of all wars with the Soviet Union.

Yes, of course we’re in a dreadful mess, and yes, a lot of people have zero confidence in Westminster, but where is our resolve? Don’t we trade (when it suits us) and take pride in our ability to look adversity in the eye? Aren’t we a people who eat fish and chips in the rain? Surely, as that feel-good ad for Hattingley Valley English wine puts it, ‘we’re a nation who won’t be deterred from any endeavour… we reward courage and encourage eccentricity… we go out in the midday sun and take our mad dogs with us’.

Perhaps it’s no bad thing that the political landscape is changing. Both the Conservatives and Labour have been running on empty for years. No one believes a word they say. Could it be that a dramatic shift is long overdue?

In the aftermath of Michael Gove’s drug confession, Peter Hitchens — with whom I agree on most matters — said people ‘will never be able to get the picture out of their head of him snorting cocaine up his nostrils’.

They will, actually. But then, the glass half empty brigade have always tended to see young people (and Gove was once a young person) as dope-smoking lefties with dubious morals — when actually, from my experience, the young are largely hard–working, conscientious, kind and thoughtful.

Hardly any of them smoke and a recent report revealed that more than a fifth of those aged 25 to 44 are teetotal, which is probably a good thing for their individual futures, while more of them than ever seem to believe in marriage, which is undeniably a good thing for our wider society. According to the Marriage Foundation, newlyweds are at the lowest risk of divorcing than has been the case for 50 years. Just 35 per cent of couples who marry this year are likely to file for divorce in their lifetime. If that turns out to be true, it means the rate of divorce will be the lowest since 1969, the year that laws were changed to make it easier for couples to split up. And while we’re at it, let’s not forget the extraordinary breakthroughs there have been in drugs that treat cancers. Four weeks ago, medical experts convened in Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology, where Dr Harold Burstein, from the renowned Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, was heard to say: ‘We are in a golden age of cancer treatment.’

It’s the gloomy middle classes who swell the ranks of the so-called snowflake generation. Their persistent foreboding fails to recognise that we are in a golden age in so many ways — communication, technology, travel, nutrition, health.

I was in Portugal recently to watch the England football team commit kamikaze in their match against Holland. What struck me, apart from the ineptitude of our central defenders, was the ebullience of the English fans, who in the main assuaged defeat with an unshakable sense of humour. My friend and I offered two twentysomethings a lift back to Porto from Guimaraes, where the match was played. They had only just made kick-off after flying into Lisbon, hiring a car at great expense, driving three hours in torrential rain and finding their Airbnb had not been cleaned. ‘We’re probably going to have one of the worst weekends of our lives,’ they said, laughing not complaining.

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