Eric Worrall is not impressed that Greta Thunberg is Time’s “Person of the Year”. Indeed, in addition to calling her “Angry, Whiny” and “Self-righteous” he dismisses her as a “High-school Dropout”. But of course to say a person is important is not to say they are good. Time previously picked Nixon and Khomeini, to say nothing of Hitler once and Stalin twice. And surely it is a sign of the times that Thunberg is as important as she is. At least Al Gore was a grownup, however annoying and ignorant.
It’s easy to pick holes in such lists. Indeed, Time got a lot of blowback for picking Khomeini and has been more timid since. Also, it’s hardly surprising that it has put every Democratic president on the cover since the list began, including FDR three times, while skipping three Republicans altogether (Coolidge, Hoover and poor Gerald Ford), just as the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to a member of every Democratic presidential administration since the end of the Vietnam War, and no Republicans. But if you look carefully at the Time’s list, including its non-individual choices from “The American fighting-man” (1950) to “American women” (1975) to “The Computer” (1982) it is for all these failings a pretty accurate reflection of the Zeitgeist.
So alas is Thunberg. To her supporters she can do no wrong, and when she boasts of having Asperger because “For those of us who are on the spectrum, almost everything is black or white. We aren't very good at lying, and we usually don't enjoy participating in this social game that the rest of you seem so fond of. I think in many ways that we autistic are the normal ones, and the rest of the people are pretty strange” the TED audience laughs. That these qualities might be undesirable in discussing and tackling complex problems seems lost on adults who, for whatever reason, also see the world in black and white, shun social niceties, and think they never lie.
So instead of urging Ms. Thunberg to go back to school and let grown-ups with experience of life’s complexities deal with weighty adult issues, they tell us the children’s crusade has begun and to get out of the way. According to Time, this visionary giant delivers “simple truth… This is not fearmongering; this is science…. She has offered a moral clarion call to those who are willing to act, and hurled shame on those who are not. She has persuaded leaders, from mayors to Presidents, to make commitments where they had previously fumbled: after she spoke to Parliament and demonstrated with the British environmental group Extinction Rebellion, the U.K. passed a law requiring that the country eliminate its carbon footprint.” Well yes, but will it happen?
No matter. Greta is pure and noble. “She dislikes crowds; ignores small talk; and speaks in direct, uncomplicated sentences. She cannot be flattered or distracted. She is not impressed by other people’s celebrity, nor does she seem to have interest in her own growing fame.” And she is a scientist, or somehow channels science without knowing it: “Where others speak the language of hope, Thunberg repeats the unassailable science: Oceans will rise. Cities will flood. Millions of people will suffer.”
So away with you silly adults. Here come the youth of today. It’s 1968 out there or something. “It’s hard to quantify the so-called Greta effect partly because it’s mostly been manifest in promises and goals. But commitments count as progress when the climate conversation has been stuck in stasis for so long…. From where she stands [on the stage at a Dec. 6 demonstration in Madrid], she can see in every direction. The view is of a vast sea of young people from nations all over the world, the great force of them surging and cresting, ready to rise.”
It was that kind of year. Unfortunately.