Of fake fire-starters and real panic-mongers

As the Paris Commune was ending, there was a great fear that the city was filled with crazed women who, out of pure bitterness and spite, were roaming the streets, and setting buildings alight- the so called Pétroleuses.

Modern historians regard this as a fabrication, but at the time, France was gripped with the idea of such people, who represented fears of political excess, the lower classes, and of course, women. The nature of fire itself encourages such paranoia- its effects are much more visible than is causes, allowing great room for speculation. The history of attributing arson to political enemies is well documented and most famously includes the Reichstag fire.

In Australia during the 2019/2020 fire season things have gotten bad. Vast tracts of land have been burnt, more so than in any single previous fire season. The overwhelming consensus among scientists ranging from meteorologists to fire behaviourists is that this is, in large part, a result of climate change.

Naturally this is awkward for those who passionately reject the existence of climate change. For the terrible injustice of being required to explain something inconvenient to their world view, many denialists decided it would not be enough to simply refute the claims, rather, they must find some way in which the fires were caused by their mortal enemies, the environmentalists.

Deniers first tried to argue that the Greens had caused the fires by opposing hazard reduction burning. This was shown to be an obvious lie- the Greens have never held government anywhere, people involved in hazard reduction burns say it isn’t true, and so on.

Their next narrative, now emerging, also conveniently places the blame on their enemies. Enviromentalists arsonists are deliberately lighting fires in order to create fear of global warming.

As global warming gets worse, we should expect to see more attempts by the right to shift the blame for the effects of warming onto the left, and other enemies of the right such as ethnic minorities. Fires will be blamed on environmentalists and Islamic terrorism. Food shortages will be blamed on left-wing conspiracies. Power outages will be blamed either on progressive policies, or on sabotage. Steel yourself for it now.

Because conspiracies and denialism are unaccountable to reality, they can turn any  event into an expression of lurid fears or dreams, a political weapon, or all of these. As it becomes more and more unmoored from evidence, denialism becomes a mental playground for petty hatreds in which the believer can play out fantasies about the wretched evil of their enemies. Various frustrations and fears- whether about ongoing catastrophes, or just about the life of the fantasist, can be displaced onto the hated foe.

In this fantasy world, we see an inversion. Minorities and the politically disenfranchised are no longer weak- rather they are strong, strong enough to carry out malicious and global schemes. This inversion enables hatred- only a handful of utter psychopaths will admit, even to themselves, that they hate the weak, so it is necessary to paint the weak as strong. It’s an upside down ghost-world, but its popularity shows it must make a kind of emotional sense.

What strange creatures we are, to find pleasure in hate.

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