Thursday, 1 December 2011

Time to chill

You have nothing to fear but fear itself Franklin Roosevelt told us. And in that spirit I have to say that little frightens me quite as much as how frightened we seem to be these days.

It’s doing us a huge amount of damage. We’re all worried sick about the Italian economy, so the fearful people with enough money to make a difference start trying to unload Italian bonds, so the yield rises, so it becomes more expensive for the Italian state to service its debts, so the economy gets worse. And yet, at root, the problem is only fear. If we all just said, ‘hey, it’s the Italians, it’s part of their charm,’ and had another glass of Barolo, the problem would be well on the way to resolution.

Exactly the same is true of terrorism. There was lots of fear last week about the fact that the passport officers would be on strike on Wednesday, opening our borders, or so it was claimed, to all sorts of sinister characters. There were calls for passport officers to lose the right to strike.

The 9/11 bombers got into the US through fully-staffed passport control checkpoints. What on earth difference did they make?  The bombers who attacked London on 7/7 2005 were born and bred in this country. They didn’t even need to go through passport control.

Besides, 7/7 cost 52 lives, and there have been no other deaths from terrorism in Britain since. Over that period, nearly 12,000 people have been killed on the roads. So if you’re concerned about saving lives, shouldn’t you start by banning cars rather than limiting the right to strike?

In any case, none of that is the point. The right to strike may be immensely irritating when it’s exercised, but it’s still a fundamental right. Before it was recognised as fundamental, we lived in societies which were significantly uglier than today’s – the occasional inconvenience seems a price well worth paying to block any move back towards those times.

I never tire of quoting Benjamin Franklin, who was bang on the money when he said ‘he who would give up a fundamental freedom for a little temporary security deserves neither freedom nor security’.

This constant striving for safety is bound to fail anyway. I recently quoted Eliza Manningham Buller, former heady of the British Security Service MI5, from her second Reith lecture of 2011. Let’s look at what she said in the third:

‘It’s important to keep a rational perspective on terrorist risk. Bin Laden must have known that 9/11 would make this especially difficult, for at least two reasons: the endless images of the horror, recycled and replayed round the clock by the 24 hour media, and the unrealistic view that society can become risk free. The world is full of risks and dangers, only some of which can be reduced.’

That’s right. Anyone who wants to live in a risk-free world shouldn’t be in this world at all.

So if you’re scared about terrorism, just remember it’s extremely unlikely to affect you. Worried about car crashes? Don't, you're probably not going to be involved in one. As for anxiety about the Euro, bear in mind that stoking up the general sense of panic may make the very thing you fear more likely.

Not perhaps an answer to our woes,
but a great palliative
So my advice? Relax. Chill. Open that bottle of Barolo and set about emptying it. You may do the Italian economy some good, and yourself a lot more.


Keith said...

Excellent piece David - couldn't agree more.

I have to admit that I rarely listen to the news these days. Most of the stories are sensationalised out of all proportion in order to 'attract' viewers to the channel/paper in question.

News media are competing for viewers/readers like any other entertainment media, and nothing sells papers or gets people to tune-in like an impending disaster. Call me a cynic…

David Beeson said...

Excellent point - the contribution of the news media to making things worse really needs stressing too - and it's another vicious cycle: the worse it gets, the more sensational articles they can publish, and the worse that makes things...