Am I turning into an RCP’er? I’ve been getting seriously concerned about the above point lately, because of my increasing agreement with uncle Frank and company about a particular political point. There’s an article this week in the New Statesman by one Lois Rogers (who I should make clear is not an RCP’er to the best of my knowledge), called “The End of Risk”. Without going into too much detail, it describes a very real malaise that nowadays seems to infest our political culture in the UK – that of having become driven to legislate the risk out of our everyday lives. It’s an imperative that seems to hide an underlying wish to become immortal on the part of a populace fattened on affluence, lack of war and a general decline in want, coupled with an increase in material aspirations on the part of those who do not have that affluence in all its fullness.
Now how does this all relate to the contrarians so beloved of the theory of the lizard fart which provoketh global warming more than the car? Obviously I’m not someone who is inclined to agree with everything they’ve ever said; the gross lies that they told (and were sued for) over Srebrenica being an obvious example of where they and I parted company. However, where they do have a point is when it comes to the extraordinary willingness of people within today’s society to unquestioningly accept a certain bounded consensus. Funnily enough, both sides of the debate on the Iraq War accuse each other of being the representatives of that consensus, whereas in fact it’s perfectly possible to get either a pro- or anti-war opinion into the national press, as even a cursory examination of the national press shows quite clearly. But when it comes to minmisation of risk to ourselves, it touches something more primal. What could possibly mitigate against lifestyle choices that make us less “at risk” than we otherwise would be? Why not have a salad instead of an egg sandwich? Why not have a J2O instead of a beer? Isn’t it just common sense?
There’ve been several articles by people in the RCP’s online journal “Spiked” around this subject, many of which I’ve been very surprised to find myself in agreement with. But the most recent of these is by Emily Hill, on the subject of sanitising celebrities. There’s one quote in it (concerning the percieved foibles of artists such as Amy Winehouse) which I found particularly poignant and true:
“Nowadays, no one is allowed to be miserable. Or very thin. Or very fat. Or very different. They should all be balanced, happy, nourished by Omega-3 supplements. Rage, drunkenness, crying, screaming, feelings of misery, tears of longing – all are now pathologised, to the extent that even creativity (which often springs from all of these things) has come to be seen as a disease.”
Hence, for instance, we get a massive popular upsurge in relief (fuelled of course by a media panic about passive smoking) which can be heard in general conversation, at the introduction of a smoking ban in public places. After all, if we can just sanitise our immediate personal environment a little more, we can perhaps convince ourselves just that little bit further that maybe our bodies can stave off their natural decline and death for a few years more. Maybe if we sterilised the ground at every step we took, shot dogs that crapped on street corners and shut down every greasy spoon takeaway in the country that didn’t obey an asparagus quota, we’d be able to force even more people to take sensible lifestyle choices which don’t “impact on the rest of us”. God forbid that we should be in a smelly room, or confronted with fat or inebriated people on the streets – they might become sick, and the one thing that we enlightened liberals cannot cope with is to be reminded of our own vulnerabilities. Far better to sanitise them out, slap conditions on their health care (or deny it to them, you know it’s coming), but however we do it, remove them from sight. After all it’s their fault, they could drink acai berry smoothies and shop at farmers’ markets like we do, right? And they could afford it too, if they didn’t insist on spending their benefits money on nights in the pub rather than on organic duck eggs…
It seems to me that all of the usual civil libertarian versus authoritarian/statist arguments around these issues rather miss the point. Isn’t the simple reality that we’re averse to understanding a universal truth, which is that I, you, gentle reader, and everyone else in the world will die, and that the great likelihood is that it will be of something deeply unpleasant, whether that something is neurological, physical, psychological, whether it’s genetic, accidental or self-inflicted? It won’t be nice, no matter whether you live off beansprouts or fried bacon. So move on, and stop asking governments to make laws to keep you alive forever. Pay some taxes and maybe the NHS will take care of you when you get ill. That’s what you get to ask for.
It’s time to pull yourselves together. And for God’s sake have that kebab if you want it. You might get run over by a bus on the way home anyway.