Wednesday, 29 July 2009
Don't you worry 'bout a thing.
A flu pandemic will be no laughing matter of course, and even if the death toll remains relatively small every fatality will be a personal tragedy. No one who has lost someone close to them wants to hear a lot of cod philosophy about life and death but the truth is that living is actually quite a dangerous undertaking; and is likely to remain so. I mention this because, and again I don't underestimate the misery that a flu pandemic will bring, because as a society we seem to be in the grip of an outbreak, not of influenza, but of anxiety. Never has a culture been so cushioned against misfortune, and never has a people been so worried about what might go wrong. Children are driven to school, to see friends, to take part in sport and other activities. Never allowed to just wander off and explore the world for fear of abduction, life is portrayed by parents, not as an adventure but as one long anxiety ridden quest for security.
A certain level of concern, as opposed to anxiety, is of course vital for our survival. If we aren't concerned about our kids getting run over we won't bother to teach them how to safely cross the road. If we aren't concerned about eating next year we won't save the seed corn and so on but increasingly we are seeing a rational precautionary principle being overtaken by levels of anxiety bordering on the clinical. It's no good sticking our heads in the sand regarding the threat from radical Islam, but the chances of a terrorist outrage bear no relation to the amount of time devoted to the threat in the media and the levels of anxiety generated. From knife crime to credit crunch to obesity, the list of things to worry about seems endless.
Politically all this has relevance because the more anxious we are the more we turn to strong leaders to look after us. The roots of fascism lie deep in our psyche and I am convinced that the rise of authoritarian government and the levels of anxiety in society are closely related. I am not adding to the levels of anxiety by suggesting that one moment people are wearing face-masks and washing their hands every five minutes and before you know it storm troopers are marching down the High Street, it's just that I think that a bit of collective bucking up and chilling out might not go amiss.