Dalrymple was recently annoyed by a letter with the leading question, “Do you care about the health of our planet?”
Frankly, the answer is that I don’t. Planets, unlike dogs, are not the kind of thing I can feel affection or concern for. My bank account occupies my mind more than the health of the planet. I am not even sure that planets can be healthy or unhealthy, any more than they can be witty or self-effacing. To call a planet healthy is to make what philosophers used to call a category mistake. This is not to say that I wish the earth any harm; on the contrary. Indeed, in a multiple-choice examination, I might even tick the box for wishing the world well rather than ill, at least if I had any reason for wanting to pass.
But of course that’s not in keeping with the zeitgeist:
…the expression of high-flown sentiment is now taken by many as the major part or even the whole of virtue. The most virtuous person is he who expresses the most all-encompassing benevolence at the highest level of abstraction. I felt like writing back to the editor of the Lancet (only he wouldn’t read it) that I disagreed with his discriminatory planetism: that I cared only for the health of the universe…