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Is this the society we want to live in? 27 April 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in World gone mad... or is it just me?.
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'Interesting' news where an old man was locked up by the police and prevented from saving his own possessions from a fire in his own house – for his own protection, of course.

A retired army captain is suing police for the loss of valuable heirlooms in a fire at his 16th-century manor house.

Edmund Carlisle, 83, who served in the Indian Army in the Second World War, claimed police demanded he left the house, refusing to allow him time to rescue his collection of antique furniture and Victorian oil paintings. When Capt Carlisle objected and tried to remain inside with his wife Rosemary, 82, he said he was wrongly detained in the back of a police van.

I am not a fire expert so I will leave aside the rights and wrongs of the specific issue. However, does this incident raise a wider, and much more important, issue, namely the sometimes mindless and pervasive "health and safety" culture in England today. I think this culture has developed primarily due to the litigious society we have become; when every idiot threatens to sue on the most puerile of reasons, it is not surprising that those in authority end up treading too carefully and losing all sense of perspective.

Whatever happened to the sensible notion that accidents will happen despite the best efforts to avoid them, and that risk is a normal part of life – it cannot be eliminated, so its futile to even attempt it. Yes, by all means, take all sensible steps to mitigate against the obvious risks, eg by wearing seat-belts, locking our homes at night, and so on – but to avoid all risk altogether? What does one do then – live in a plastic bubble?

The same "health and safety" endemic means that beautiful trees are chopped down as acorns may fall on someone's head; that playground swings are removed because a child may fall off, and public swimming pools are closed off. Yes, the mindless muppets running the so-called "public" sector are partly to blame, but so are the common folk who, when faced with any misfortune or accident, look around for someone else to blame. This blame culture is unhelpful and leads to those in authority making sub-optimal decisions. For governments, often the best course of action is not the Blairite call to arms of "Something Must be Done", but the Sir Humphrey/Hacker approach of "masterly inactivity".

There is an even broader issue here, which needs a separate blog entry in its own right – the balance of rights and responsibilities. Where everyone knows their rights, but few care for their responsibilities, it is not a surprise that we end up with the inner cities we do have. In any case, I am not so keen on the "rights" culture so beloved of Eurocrats and lefty loonies – rights, by their very nature, are 'awarded' by someone up high, usually a politician. Much more helpful if instead of this talk of rights for every group imaginable, we revert back to the basic liberties of the subject/citizen; liberties which everyone has and which are inviolable except in clearly defined and well-established circumstances.

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