Wealth and Safety

‘Warning: Crucifixion is bad for your health,’ was the best headline last week. FOX News and a few other news carriers ran the story (no doubt out of their deep and abiding respect for Christianity rather than for a cheap Easter laugh), about warnings from Filipino bishops that people re-enacting Christ’s flagellation and crucifixion could be opening themselves up to the risk of tetanus. You may be thinking: ‘If the health and safety brigade were around back then, Jesus would have been crucified under anaesthetic, in a bed of cotton wool.’ Well, okay, you’re probably not thinking that, but I would not be surprised to hear it. Some people have issues with Health and Safety.

I myself have found the phrase: ‘Health and safety,’ used as a discussion-ender, an argument in itself against some proposed course of action, as if just by saying those magic words the debate is automatically won. That is annoying, as are the many other ways in which the legislation (intended to protect workers from unscrupulous employers who endangered lives in the pursuit of efficiency and profit) has been taken to an illogically extreme conclusion.

But let’s be clear: a world in which petty oxygen-wasters and mindless bureaucrats annoy us is preferable to one in which miners are guaranteed an agonising death from lung disease and the poor have no choice but to do jobs that could result in losing a finger, a limb, an eye.

If we have been ‘swaddled in cotton-wool’, as so many people are so fond of saying so very often, how come can I still hear them complaining? I think these people, like the ‘it’s political correctness gone mad’ gang,  like to have something to whinge about. And it really doesn’t matter to them that they are essentially undermining what the powerless in society have worked for hundreds of years to establish, because of the same tired examples of the woman who spilled her coffee and sued a restaurant or a burglar who sued a homeowner for bodily harm.

Oddly, I haven’t read much in the related line of ‘this litigious society is out of control’ clichés about Kate and Jerry McCann’s victory last week over some tacky newspapers in a libel case. Everyone, it seems, thinks it’s a good thing that newspapers had to cough up money for saying the parents were responsible with no evidence to prove it. It seems that, in the minds of the right-wing back-lashers (lash-backers?), if your daughter is missing, whether or not it has been proven to be your fault or otherwise, then suing people is apparently not a symptom of a decadent society, but a victory for decency. Personally I applaud the victory. Not because I necessarily believe the McCanns are guilty or innocent (there has hardly been much conclusive evidence either way), but because many newspapers, not just those found guilty, have not so much delighted in this couple’s suffering so much as callously used the story for profit. Siding with the McCanns or demonising them have both served to sell newspapers and while they might be victims, we, the public are all dupes. Perhaps we should sue.

Or perhaps China should. News last week lambasted the admittedly oppressive state for the way it treated protestors who were rioting. Which is interesting in a country where holding up an offensive sign can get you into jail. Some papers have asserted that China does not belong in Tibet. Fair enough. I happen to agree. But isn’t that a bit rich in countries like Britain and US, which still hold colonies (I’m sorry: ‘protectorates’ and ‘states’)? What’s Chinese for ‘Falklands war’ or ‘Diego Garcia‘? Think that’s an unfair comparison? Sue me.


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