The Martyrdom of Saint Greta of Sweden

So Meat Loaf caused a little kerfuffle this weekend by saying he thought Greta Thunberg had been “brainwashed.”

I don’t know why that should be a surprise, but it got me thinking about her again. I have a lot of sympathy for the kid.


For me, it started with seeing her picture. She’s small, slight, even scrawny; her head looks out of proportion to her body. She’s now 17 (as of 3 January) but she still looks childlike, prepubertal, younger than her 14-year-old sister. Frankly, she looks like she’s been in a concentration camp: malnourished over the long term.

By Frankie Fouganthin – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Sure enough, reading a little about her, we find that she’s an Asperger’s child (I guess this month that’s now called “high-functioning autism”), she has obsessive-compulsive disorder, she stopped eating for months and still refuses to eat anything but certain specific things, in particular, a dish of pancakes filled with rice — but her OCD keeps her from eating if there’s a sticker or label on the package. She suffers from “selective mutism,” which means basically that there are situations in which she’s unable to speak.

She’s said that this means she only “speaks when she thinks it’s necessary.” This includes speaking to the UN General Assembly, but in interviews, her mother often speaks for her.


Her public career started when she took Fridays off from school to hold up a sign outside the Swedish Parliament; this grew into a movement that spread throughout Europe.

Through it all, things keep striking me as odd. I don’t know what it’s like in Sweden, but cutting classes one day a week isn’t normally feted as heroic in the United States. And she hasn’t been attending school for months as she’s traveling. In the U.S., that’s called “dropping out”

So, this is what we’re being asked to believe: that an autistic kid with OCD who often can’t speak on her own has:

  • organized a worldwide movement
  • given TED talks, spoken to the UN General Assembly, and been named Person of the Year by Time magazine
  • managed to get a ride on a multimillion-dollar racing yacht so she wouldn’t have to fly (and bragged on how she wasn’t releasing CO2 on the trip, although it required seven plane tickets for the crew for the boat)

There’s a bucolic barnyard term for that — actually, several, depending on your choice of equine, bovine, or galline.


This isn’t a neurologically atypical high school kid arranging this: there are adults, and probably a lot of adults, using her as a front. Some of them are surely her parents, but while they’ve been reasonably successful in music and the arts, I don’t think they have the money that’s obviously behind this.

Frankly, that’s a tragedy. Instead of getting the treatment she needs, she’s become a climate-change muppet.

It’s hardly the first time a teenage girl has become the symbol of a movement. Of course, Joan of Arc was eventually burned at the stake.

I don’t think that is in Greta’s future. But what’s happening to her looks to me like another martyrdom in pursuit of a political cause.


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