Tuesday, March 8, 2011
It’s life but not as we know it, Captain…
Leaving aside belief in gods, the hereafter, heaven and hell and the trappings of metaphysics, where are we when we drop, for example, the meta in the last domain? Where are we with science, generally? Do we believe it? The professions are certainly beholden to it. Law now has its forensics, medicine has its pharmaceuticals, the food industry has its nutritional values, the home has a complex reliance upon science in all its forms, from entertainment through heating, cleaning, birth control, depression and on to an induced good nightâ€™s sleep. Gradually, the science is outstripping our capacity to understand how it works. But hasnâ€™t it always been so?
The arrival of margarine heralded a new healthy alternative to butter. It was decades before it was realised that trans fats in margarine were potentially lethal. Obesity is rising rapidly in all countries that adopt western fast and processed food regimes though the manufacturers stay on the legal side of the scientific protocols for what constitutes harm. Salt and sugar are being reduced but only after a few million heart attacks, diabetes and early deaths. Powdered milk is being sold to mothers in subsistence cultures as they are being weaned off breast feeding. Skin bleaches are sold openly across black nations with some terrible consequences. Cosmetic surgery is a growing trend for the emerging middle classes.
Thalidomide was sold as a safe drug until misshapen babies arrived. We were captivated by menthol cigarettes as a healthy alternative to straight tobacco; â€œcool as a mountain springâ€™ was a strap line. All the while, in ads, we see serious looking white coated professionals, still with clipboards, researching the efficacy of products. We buy the hype and then curse ourselves when the bad news filters out and it is too late. We assume, I suppose, that the tests are all finished with, that the beagles and rats and volunteer humans have given their bodies to make us safe.
That is why the Sky News expose of the maltreatment of Gressingham ducks in Hingham Norfolk, with brutal keepers holding birds by the neck to beat the others into the hangars, while dead birds lay untouched on the ground to rot, was so offensive. Trust was broken. These had been sold by Waitrose Supermarkets as having been regularly inspected by their scientific vets. They were sold as organic birds and were at the top end of their sales meat chain.
It was visual agitprop for how we have become disenfranchised in understanding the science of our own lives.