It’s not something you hear so often nowadays, probably because the people old enough to say it are slowly ceasing to be merely old and beginning to be more dead, but the phrase “We left our doors unlocked all year round without having to worry about getting robbed/murdered/raped” isn’t something the current generation is going to be saying in their old age
But is it because we really have become that untrustworthy and nefarious, or is it just the skewed perception of ourselves, viewed through the blurry lens of paranoia focused on society by the mass media?
After all, if papers like the Daily Excess and the Daily Fail are to be believed, most of the problems facing the modern world are the fault of illegal immigrants and single mothers (at least some of whom are probably to blame for the death of Princess Diana and the abduction of Madeleine McCann as far as those papers are concerned) and if we take their word for it the country is positively overrun with both.
Obviously this sort of bilge makes for circulation-boosting headlines, but it must also have a negative effect on the way we interact with each other and on the opinions we hold about society as a whole.
Because no matter how patently malign and mean-spirited some of this alleged reporting is, eventually enough people will believe it that it becomes that most dangerous form of bigotry,“conventional wisdom”.
There have been several studies carried out designed to prove that we are in fact more honest than some would have us think, possibly the most well known being the Dropped Wallet Experiment which has been conducted many times in locations as diverse as New York and Edinburgh.
In the Edinburgh version, carried out in 2008, 240 wallets, all containing return addresses, were dropped all over the city, the only difference between them being the copies of photographs inserted into the internal clear plastic window.
The four different types of photograph were distributed evenly across 80% of the wallets, with the remainder having no pictures inserted at all.
Of the four types, one photo showed a baby, another a puppy, one pictured a family group, and the final shot was of an elderly couple.
Interestingly, of all the wallets returned, (42% of the total number dropped) by far the highest percentage were ones containing the baby photo – 88% of wallets with that picture made it back.
The puppy was next – 53%
Then the family – 48%
The elderly couple fared much worse – 28%
Of the rest that were dropped without any photo (which along with the address also included a card indicating the owner had recently donated to charity) only 15% were returned.
Apparently the psychology behind these results indicates our subconscious desire to protect vulnerable infants, thereby ensuring the survival of the human race.
Although conversely, presumably it also means we subconsciously don’t give a toss about the soon-to-be-dead for similar, selfishly evolutionary reasons.
Doesn’t explain the puppy though.
I witnessed another fine example of public honesty just last weekend at Chagstock.
On Saturday afternoon, festival organiser, Si Ford, came onstage to thank everyone for making the event such a success and to inform us that over the course of the weekend several crew members had misplaced Zippo lighters, and half a dozen mobile phones, a couple of i-Pads, and £500 in cash had been lost by absent-minded/overly-refreshed punters.
Every single lost item had been handed in to festival staff.
This announcement drew a spontaneous round of applause from the crowd. But should we really need to treat this sort of socially responsible behaviour as something worthy of a special announcement, laudable or not?
Shouldn’t it be considered the norm?
There seems to be a fascination in recent years for inventing new terms for perfectly normal behaviour that some jobsworth has deemed to be “bad” in some way.
I don’t know about you, but when I first gained independence through gainful employment, there wasn’t anything I looked forward to more than the weekend.
Most people got paid in cash every Friday, so that was when everyone got together for the first time that week.
And yes, it did occasionally (oh alright, usually) get a bit (Ok, ok, a lot) messy.
Because you’d had a tough week at work and you wanted to go out and have fun and let off some steam.
So, to recap; you’ve not indulged in any debauched behaviour during the week because you’re being responsible and holding down a job to avoid being a drain on society.
And on Friday night you go out and get wankered to reward yourself for all your hard work.
Hang on, that sounds a bit like binge drinking doesn’t it?
There seem to be a few variations in the definition of this modern social evil, but they’re all along the lines of; “Binge drinking is the modern definition of drinking alcoholic beverages with the primary intention of becoming
intoxicated by heavy consumption”
And the NHS website quotes research that specifies binge drinking as consuming 8 or more units of alcohol in a single session for men, and 6 units for women.
Going on current UK unit measures, that equates to less than four pints of 5% alc/vol beer or cider if you’re a bloke, and a little over two if you’re a delicate lady.
Now, hands up those of you who would have considered three and a half pints of Carlsberg a heavy Friday night session when you were younger?
No, thought not.
So when did the transition occur, from Going Out On Friday Night to Blight On Society?
Simple, it didn’t.
More young people with disposable income just started doing the same thing the rest of us did years ago, only with better press coverage and more CCTV.
Oh, and nowadays more women do it too.
Well, we were always told equality was a good thing.
And of course where would we be without that savour of life and limb that is Health and Safety?
Or as it used to be called, Common Sense.
Take all those lives that were saved by diligent councils that were only thinking of your welfare when they cut down all those beautiful old Horse Chestnut trees to prevent you from slipping on the thousands of deadly conkers lurking on the pavement, waiting to ambush you, or the terrible injuries that could’ve been sustained by children, struck by falling sticks, thrown to dislodge the aforementioned homicidal seeds from their lethal branches.
A narrow escape indeed.
And goodness knows what we’d do without the other invaluable pearls of wisdom these faceless bureaucrats spew out.
From Humberside fire fighters being prevented from using step ladders to fit smoke alarms because they exceeded the safe working height limit…
..to a Cambridge university’s graduate students being banned from performing the traditional “mortar board throw” photo shoot in case they took someone’s eye out…
..to a Suffolk church having to shell out £1300 a time for the hire of scaffolding to enable the vicar to change a light bulb…
..and the Gloucestershire meals on wheels service that stopped providing napkins with dinners, in case their epicuraly befuddled customers thought the paper serviettes were edible and choked on them.
And tragically, lives have even been lost due to this idiocy. Officers of a fire service in Hampshire were prevented from rescuing a drowning epileptic man from having a fit, facedown in 4 inch deep boating lake because it was over the regulation “ankle depth” they were allowed to wade through.
All of the above would easily be solved with the very minimum of cerebral exercise, but if we’re not careful we’ll soon find we won’t be permitted to use common sense in any area of our lives without the Fun Police or the Ministry Of Bubblewrap swooping down and safely whisking us away.
And while I’m on the subject of being told how to look after ourselves, even the most sacrosanct of British conversational staples, the weather, has had a Panic Police makeover from the press over the years.
If it’s not the annual farce that constitutes Britain’s battle with seemingly unexpected wintry weather in winter, then it’s the increasingly hysterical reports of heat waves hotter than anything on record, and stories of roads melting onto car tyres.
And yes, I know there is a proper definition of a heat wave –
“A heat wave is a prolonged period of excessively hot weather, which may be accompanied by high humidity”
Which would be fine if the extreme heat and humidity were in, say, October.
But in July?
That’s just summer isn’t it?
We’ve just got used to having such crappy weather pretty much all year round in the UK that the fact that we all look like lobsters for six weeks is unusual.
And if it’s unusual, it must have a name.
So we call it a heat wave.
It occurs to me that whatever the point of this post was to start with, it has become somewhat obscured by my tendency to follow tangents instead of directions, so to avoid further diversions I shall end on a song.
Ladies and gentlemen, Martha and the Vandellas with Heatwave