It's Not My Fault
I have removed my cochlear processor to be able to write without distraction this morning. There are not many advantages to being deaf and in particular to being a cochlear implant wearer but one that can be useful is the ability to eliminate noise distraction instantly. As soon as I remove the device from the side of my head, I become even more aware how noisy an environment I have been sitting in – how loudly people speak to one another in order to overcome the impact of the hubbub created by their own raised voices.
And herein lies an interesting lesson: that which we do individually for innocent enough reasons, when aggregated to the collective level, can have an unintended and disproportionate impact. One person tearing a wrapper from a sandwich looks around and sees no bin, so drops the waste on the ground. It might be irritating to watch, but as an individual act it has little impact. But if 10,000 do the same thing in Wembley Stadium it takes an army of litter pickers and a convoy of refuse trucks to carry away the discarded waste after a game. And if 10 million do it across the country or a billion do it across the world, it fills landfill sites, clogs the waterways, destroys the environment and kills species.
When I was a child, I was taught to put my litter in the bin or take it home with me. Now, if I visit the local recreation ground on a Sunday morning after a sunny Saturday afternoon, the skate park is covered with discarded drink containers and food wrappers, not to mention the occasional bent bike wheel or broken skateboard. I look up at the observation cameras that stare down from the top of 10 meter poles, wondering who in the control room observes the action and chooses to do nothing about it.
Along comes the street cleaner with brush and shovel and in an hour the park is back to its pristine state. It is his job to clear up the mess and my job to pay his wages through my council tax. But is seemingly is no one’s job to prevent it happening in the first place – not the teenager dropping the litter (and yes I know older people sometimes do the same thing),not the parents who failed to teach their child social responsibility, not the police who have more important tasks overwhelming them.
At the collective level, we commonly fail to take responsibility for the perpetration of acts, preferring to take responsibility for the consequences acts. The same principle applies to retail, where only relatively recently has attention begun to be paid to the recycling of packaging. And even now, as I unpack my shopping at home, I marvel at how little of the packaging can actually be placed in the recycling bag.
The same principle also applies to unhealthy lifestyles. As a society we have failed to control the unending rollout of fast food outlets, until every High Street is garishly dominated by burger joints, pizza houses, fried chicken retailers and high calorie drink sellers. Almost all of us have failed to see the expansion of our collective waistline, preferring to worship at the shrine of consumer choice.
All of us, that is, except for the medical fraternity, whose job it is mop up the consequences of those so-called choices – in particular the obesity epidemic that threatens to devastate our already overwhelmed public health service. And still we insist on our right to make unwise choices, to act with impunity, to ignore the collective consequences of our planet-wide enslavement to the claims of unnamed addictions that suit the preferences of the manufacturers of addictive food and non-food products.
What will it take to bring change? In the next 10 or 20 years the chorus of demand for solutions will rise to a deafening crescendo - save us from our fat. Save us from our clogged lungs, our clogged arteries, our clogged waterways. It’s not my fault I have become like this. It’s someone else’s fault and anyway, it’s my right to live as I choose. It’s your obligation to set me free of the consequences of my choices. And if you don’t agree, come the election some other politician will agree – or at least will pretend to agree and promise a solution, until the next crisis of the immediate has driven the worry from our collective mind.
Save us from ourselves and the consequences of our actions but on no account tell us we are responsible. And never, never tell us that we need to change our behaviour. Don’t remind us not to drop litter. Don’t confront us with what vaping is doing to our lungs. Don’t keep telling us what excess calories are doing to our hearts and other organs. Because that’s just uncomfortable noise and all we have to do when we are distracted by it is to take off our collective hearing device and luxuriate in the joy of self-delusional silence.