Friday, July 22, 2011

On the Need to be Right

One of things that strikes this Englishman when he returns to his homeland from time to time is how keen my compatriots are to be take sides on any matter, and how much they desire their position to be not only right but virtuous.

The biggest of these in terms of actual importance is probably global warming. It follows the pattern of the minor religions. There are powerful interests on both sides, and very dodgy science going on. Some of the things that are said and done just don’t look like science. Everyone believes, almost no one has a clue what they’re talking about. Everyone must have an opinion, there are angels and demons, and everyone knows whether they are one or the other.

Diet was long ago turned into a religion. Practices and beliefs are expressed in the language of theology. There are virtues and vices, ‘being good’ and sinning. There are heretics who must be condemned, doctrines and dogmas to suit every taste. No one cares about the truth. You will hear self-proclaimed experts declare that some nutrient-free chewy stuff sold in small, tasteless lumps is ‘good for you’, whereas anything with fat or sugar is ‘evil’. Those who suffer by eating the ‘good’ stuff expect to wake up the next morning looking like (insert slim attractive young woman of your choice), without regard to the way the metabolism actually works. It’s like grace, a prize for performing sacrifice and having the right intention.

Cycling is also like this, as I was told in an exchange on another blog (or was it this one) recently, and have now realized is perfectly true. People who ride bikes think that they are worthier human beings, deserving of abasement from the common masses. It isn’t even a matter of riding a bike, which I do regularly without expecting it to take me to heaven; it’s a state of mind. The irritating people who accused me of failing to recognise their worth were surprised when I said I also rode. They couldn’t accept that it was possible to ride a bike without being a total prat.

There is a desperate need to be right, and to condemn, those who won’t believe. There is a grim joylessness about the whole thing. I also passed, while out walking, a group of hikers who were kitted out with thick boots, rucksacks and long sticks for a route I knew was no more than three miles over flat country. Ok, so there’s nothing wrong with being prepared, but it was clear from the snippets of conversation I overheard that they were walking that path not in search of beauty or wonder, or for the pleasure of exercise in the open air, but because they were jolly well allowed to. They were not having fun at all, they had forgotten that it used to be fun, if it ever was, they were doing their duty. They were trying to pay attention to a dull sermon. They were abstaining from meat on Good Friday. Just look at the bloody flowers, FFS.

I was surprised, though I don’t know why, to learn that the act of drinking water has also become a religion. There are those who say you must drink a certain amount of water a day, and those who say you mustn’t. In the furtherance of her creed, a medical practitioner was quoted as saying that ‘dehydration is a myth.’ (Someone on my blogroll had a link to the article, but I can’t remember who, sorry.) Try doing strenuous exercise for a few hours under a hot sun and you will soon discover what it means to suffer for your faith. Or getting very, very drunk. It’s perfectly true that an hour’s aerobics isn’t going to dehydrate you dangerously, but there’s no harm in drinking water afterwards, especially if it contains a little salt and sugar. And of course it makes no sense to decree that we ingest a fixed amount per diem, since the rate at which we lose and take up fluid varies enormously from person to person, and activity to activity.

The point is that no one seems to care much about the facts. Belief is everything. I’ve known people who think that lottery numbers are more (or less) likely to come up again if they have been drawn recently, and I’ve also known people (possibly apostatising former believers) who are so convinced they understand the laws of probability better than the ignorant masses that they won’t accept there is a way of increasing your expected winning however many diagrams you draw.

The English are not alone in any of this, I’m sure, but there is a much larger proportion of the population there than here who feel a need to be on the right, wholesome and morally superior side of anything, however trivial it may be, and however little they understand it. Perhaps it’s centuries of arguing with the neighbours about the height of their hedge.


James Higham said...

Bicycles - I don't think I'm worthier but my bike is a mighty handy instrument on the road/footpath/field/through a traffic jam etc. ;-)

CIngram said...

Very handy indeed, especially as your elbows are already sticking out at just the right angle.