to pool safety expert Stephen Tate, there are 27 ways that you can
be killed or injured in a swimming pool. An interesting, although
somewhat irrelevant, fact I learnt the other night while watching
'So You Think You're Safe?' on television. The programme claims
to explore 'the hidden dangers of going about your daily routine,
and offers advice on how to avoid those dangers'.
show focused on the terrible things that can happen to you while
on holiday. It offered essential advice. It issued warnings such
as do not swim in crowded swimming pools, avoid pools if floating
faeces are present and try not to make yourself into a human antenna
by carrying an umbrella with a metal spike on top in a thunderstorm.
programmes, besides offering invaluable and practical advice for
the desperately stupid, highlight the obsession there is the West
with personal safety.
year a school in England banned parents from bringing homemade cakes
to the school cake sale. The school requested that parents bring
only shop-bought cakes, as it could not be guaranteed that homemade
cakes would be produced in accordance with health and safety regulations.
second advert tells us that our houses are germ infested. We are
urged, in the interests of our families, to buy new products to
destroy them. A different food scare hits the media every month
from radioactive salmon through to toxins in animal feed.
used to be a Red under every bed - now there are microscopic organisms
bent on wiping us out.
course there are things to fear in this world. If you live in South
Africa it is healthy to have a consciousness about crime. If you
live in the UK it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out
that hanging out outside of pubs at closing time can be hazardous
to your health. We do not live in a risk-free society.
are, of course, those who live in desperately insecure environments,
notably the poor. But my gripe is with those who are largely secure
but feel they are not.
is striking that never before in the history of world have particular
populations, certainly those in the West, been more secure in terms
of shelter, food and basic safety, yet fear of germs, crime, foreigners
and terrorists is increasing.
relative security make people lose all perspective?
in the Western world can someone have the luxury to be preoccupied
by the potential for food poisoning from a homemade cake or have
the time to count how many ways you can be injured in a swimming
pool. Or find the mental energy to worry that their detergent only
kills the germs on the surface of the toilet and not those under
you know you can sign up to get SMS messages from the Food Standards
Agency (FSA) in the UK to get instantly notified next time there
is a food scare?
not have problem with the FSA. It is right that they inform the
unsuspecting public if something dangerous is out there. But their
SMS system tells us more about those that subscribe to it than those
offering the service.
really wants to walk around with what amounts to a mobile-Grim Reaper
in their pocket? The last thing I want is my mobile phone reminding
me that a killer bag of crisps is on the loose. Next people will
be checking for FSA messages while shopping, just in case.
sick of being told I should be scared. I am tired of companies marketing
their products using threat and panic. But what I am most worried
about is that advertisers and the media soften us up for the politicians
who use the same tactics to frighten people into voting for them.
alert us that there are germs out there. Politicians tell us our
enemies are breeding them and waiting to unleash them on us as soon
as they get the chance. It is part of the same cycle of scaremongering.
the media to stop telling me about the dozens of ways I can die
and instead focus on all the ways I can live life more fully. A
little bit of risk is part of the human condition and should be
celebrated, not exaggerated. Let's fight back against fear.
Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis
of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its
relevance to South Africa on Polity, see http://www.polity.co.za/pol/opinion/brandon/.
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