Speaking of cynics...
A cynic, as we deploy the term nowadays, is someone whose highest regard is for his own self-interest, who considers himself too cool for rules, who mocks and scorns the public and its problems. But he may also, simultaneously, be a gifted and charismatic self-promoter, skilled in the arts of public relations and image-polishing, a lively fellow well-met and fun to be with, widely admired and envied, welcome on all the chat shows, followed by millions in social media, an opinion-leader and trend-setter whose influence and largesse politicians lust for.
Meet Richard Branson. He's no Diogenes, with the original Cynics "ardent passion for 'virtue' but little interest in material wealth or the standard conventions and 'amenities of civilization'." But he is a bit of a dog, it turns out, not necessarily with respect to our best friends' qualities of love and loyalty but displaying their inconstant tendency, their swerving and meandering sense of direction guided by their latest sniff in the wind.
That, at any rate, is the picture of Sir Richard that emerges from Naomi Klein's "No Messiahs" chapter. His pledge a decade ago to spend $3 billion battling climate change and developing alternatives to fossil fuels has withered, his $25 million dollar Earth Prize has disappeared, his fleet of carbon-spewing Virgin flyers has expanded considerably and they're "burning significantly more carbon than when the pledge period began." A Friend of the Earth naturally concludes: "Branson's reinvention as a guilt-ridden planet-wrecker volunteering to use his carbon profits to solve the climate crisis was little more than a cynical ploy."
So sad. He's really not the messiah. Nor is Warren Buffett or Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg or C. Boone Pickens. Or Brian Cohen. There's still no sign that help will come to save us and our pale blue dot from ourselves and our false messiahs.
But we didn't have to follow Brian, and we don't have to follow Richard. We just have to keep on swelling the ground with a canine kind of loyalty to our home the earth, and the cynics will be forced to follow us.
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