Trivial Pursuits

When British troops returned home in 1945 they voted in the first Labour government, from which they wanted very practical steps to provide homes and schools and hospitals, and above all jobs.

And so the political world in which a baby-boomer like me grew up was one which was focused on providing homes, schools, hospitals, and jobs. That’s what politicians talked about back then.

It was a politics in which I had next to no interest. And I had next to no interest because my middle-class family already had all these things. We didn’t have that problem.

What concerned me instead were things like the threat of nuclear war, the population explosion, environmental pollution, and (to a lesser extent) discrimination against minorities of one sort or other. And if I wasn’t too bothered about minorities, it was because I didn’t myself belong to any minority.

So while my parents worried about here-and-now, bread-and-butter concerns, I instead worried about being nuked, starved, or poisoned in maybe 20 or 30 years time. And if I wasn’t worrying about that, I instead worried about other people’s problems – the problems of coloured people, of women, of homosexuals, and so on.

Essentially, I didn’t have much to worry about.

But that didn’t stop me worrying. If I wasn’t worried about what to eat tomorrow (and I wasn’t), I could instead worry about what to eat in 30 years time when the entire planet had been turned into a post-nuclear dust bowl, populated by zombie mutants. Or when the oil had run out. Or the copper. Or the zirconium.

Since then, discrimination against minorities has much diminished. And nobody seems to worry about nuclear war or population explosion any more. So my 1970s concerns have become rather passé. Instead people now worry about secondhand smoke, and global warming which might see a 2 degree rise in the Earth’s temperature in 100 years time.

There’s a trend here. And it’s one of the focus of people’s concern shifting to ever more remote and improbable and insignificant threats. Not worried about putting food on your table? Well, we can offer you future population explosions, resource depletions, and nuclear wars. Not worried about those either? No problem, we’ve got secondhand smoke and climate change and polar bear extinctions. Not worried about those either? Well, we can offer you…

Every time one problem gets solved, another smaller and less pressing problem is identified. And so attention gets focused on a succession of steadily more trivial and insignificant concerns.

Since America has enjoyed peace and prosperity for longer than Europe, this means that Americans are the world leaders in identifying ever more trivial and unimportant problems. And so it was in the USA that the civil rights movement took off, and gay rights, and women’s lib, and the environmental movement and all the rest of it. And in America, it’s the golden state of California which usually leads the way in generating the next raft of hyper-trivial concerns, like secondhand smoke or global warming.

And in the process, the focus of concern quite often becomes inverted. In the war years in Britain, there was a real danger of people starving, and so rationing was introduced. Back then the worry was about people getting too little to eat. But 60 or 70 years on, the worry is about people getting too much to eat.

As the focus of concern falls upon the ever-more-mind-bendingly trivial, it might be imagined that the strength of the concern felt would be correspondingly small. But in fact the opposite happens. The more trivial and unimportant the concern, the more it needs to be exaggerated. So we have a smoking ‘epidemic’ and an obesity ‘epidemic’. Everything is hyped, and the more trivial it is, the more its importance needs to be hyped.

If it goes on like this, we can expect to see even more trivial matters becoming the focus of exaggerated concern. There will be hair-style bans, mini-skirt bans, high-heel bans, tattoo bans, ‘Good manners’ and etiquette will become all-important in a way that they haven’t been for a century, when it was the height of bad manners to put your hands in your pockets, or leave the top button of your jacket undone. And it’ll all start in California.

But it’s actually more likely that the increasing focus of attention on ever more trivial concerns will result in far more serious threats being ignored. For example, while the WHO now has its focus fixed upon the smoking ‘epidemic’ and the obesity ‘epidemic’, it has been ignoring a very real ebola epidemic which has spun completely out of control.

Because the flip side of small-mindedly focusing attention on trivial matters is that important concerns are not addressed. And this means that when things go wrong, they’ll most likely go badly wrong. And if lots of important matters are being simultaneously ignored, it also means that everything is likely to go very badly wrong at pretty much the same time.

At which point the clock will be reset, and everyone will go back to worrying about here-and-now, bread-and-butter concerns like homes, schools, hospitals, and jobs, just like in my war-time parents’ generation. And they’ll stop worrying about secondhand smoke, global warming, and polar bear extinction – because there’ll be lots of far more important things to worry about than those.

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28 Responses to Trivial Pursuits

  1. Hey Frank, it’s already going! Worried about germs from shaking hands? Just bump fists!

    – MJM

    • jaxthefirst says:

      Bumping fists, MJM?? But that’s physical contact, and that’s disgusting! All those nasty germs! No, much safer just to wave a cheery greeting to one’s friends and comrades – a lá “Demolition Man” (one of the more amusing of Sly Stallone’s blast ‘em and blow ‘em up movies!)

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Hey Mike you better be getting into the fight………………aint seen ya nowhere of late!

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    NIH report on carcinogens

    If you want to learn about which chemicals might cause cancer, or just want to feel more paranoid about getting cancer, check out the 2012 NIH report on carcinogens.

    One of the more exciting findings is that human beings themselves are possible carcinogens, by virtue of their natural emissions of isoprene:

    Isoprene is formed endogenously in humans at a rate of 0.15 µmol/kg
    of body weight per hour, equivalent to approximately 2 to 4 mg/kg per
    day (Taalman 1996), and is the major hydrocarbon in human breath
    (accounting for up to 70% of exhaled hydrocarbons)

    Don’t breathe on me!

    Natural occurrences[edit]

    Isoprene is produced and emitted by many species of trees into the atmosphere (major producers are oaks, poplars, eucalyptus, and some legumes). The yearly production of isoprene emissions by vegetation is around 600 million tonnes, with half that coming from tropical broadleaf trees and the remainder coming from shrubs.[1] This is about equivalent to methane emission into the atmosphere and accounts for ~1/3 of all hydrocarbons released into the atmosphere.

  3. smokervoter says:

    Frank, you’ve just reminded me of a strange old teenaged tabu I’d completely forgotten about. My father was absolutely adamant about my keeping my hands out of my front pockets. He thought it was disrespectful, slouchy posturing and a sign of all around hoodlum-like behaviour on my part. If he only knew some of the other stuff I was up to.

    I was an early adopter of smoking, drinking beer and, drum roll, illicit teen sex. I was one of the first to lose my virginity and as such had to put up with more than a few of my classmates gossiping about how me and my girlfriend were “doing it” and “going all the way”.

    I was also an early adopter of Cassius Clay’s (Muhammad Ali) boxing technique. So, it was so much for their wiseacre chattering when they came face-to-face with me about it.

    Another of my heroes was the great Freddie Blassie, wrestler extraordinaire. He was a huge public personality when I was a kid. Every Thursday night was Wrestling from the Olympic Auditorium in L.A. on the black and white idiot box. There’s a comment on YouTube which states “Apparently KTLA’s Wrestling show still has the highest rating EVER in LA TV history.” Dad didn’t exactly approve of us watching it and said it was all fake, but he was always busy working on stuff. The last thing you wanted to be back then was a pencil-neck geek. Just how goody-two-shoes geekdom has become the epitome of non-smoking, clean-living, rat finking, picky-eating cool is beyond me.

    Incidentally, Ali was an early adopter of Fred Blassie’s incredible bluster and swagger.

    Here’s Ali acknowledging as much on the Tonight Show as Blassie coaches him before his fight in Japan vs. the karate guy.

    If you’re in a mad rush, start in at 4:00. And for some reason the sound goes away at around 6:00 (dammit!), skip ahead to 7:37 as Blassie enters stage left. The guy was really something else !

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      During my army time hand sin pockets was a big ass no no………….Theyd yell you aint back on the street boy!

      • Rose says:

        Which is why I’ve always made a point of doing it.
        Apart from which in winter my fingers can go white to the palm.

  4. harleyrider1978 says:

    Gibraltar’s Cigarette Smuggling Epidemic is the Fault of Big Govt and ‘Health’ Campaigners

  5. Marvin says:

    I also think it’s the reason why all aspects of engineering (civil, electrical, mechanical etc) are derided today in favour of “media studies”, “sociology”,”psychology”, “womens studies” etc. In 1945 after the war, engineers were needed to build/repair the infrastructure and so these professions were held in high regard.
    Once everything was back to normal and the trivial pursuits began, these professions were looked down upon and avoided, even though we can still build channel tunnels and high speed rail links. At my old university the engineering departments were chock full of overseas students, just a handfull were british, says it all really.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      My kid is now working on a MA in sociology in Pittsburgh Pa and at Washington University Brownsville Pa. Wow what a brainwashing he has received. But every once in awhile I hear back you remember when you said xxx you were right all there doing is preaching that to us in class………………..xxxx! Just fill in your own blank.

  6. garyk30 says:

    The ‘panic’ over Ebola is just a cover-up for a real problem.

    There were an estimated 627 000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2012 (uncertainty interval, 473 000–789 000).

    Of the estimated deaths, most occur in sub-Saharan Africa (90%) and in children under 5 years of age (77%)

    So, in the part of Africa where there have been a few Ebola adult deaths, this year there will be about 564,300 Malaria deaths. Of which 434,511 will be children under the age of 5.

    Malaria is preventable thru the use of DDT to kill the critters that spread the disease.

    WHO has forbidden the use of DDT and needs the Ebola scare to distract us from the real mass killer that they let continue.

  7. garyk30 says:

    Or, perhaps this is what they are trying to get us to forget.

    6.6 million children under the age of five died in 2012.

    More than half of these early child deaths are due to conditions that could be prevented or treated with access to simple, affordable interventions.

    Leading causes of death in under-five children are pneumonia, preterm birth complications, birth asphyxia, diarrhoea and malaria.

    About 45% of all child deaths are linked to malnutrition.
    That is 3 million child deaths from their literally starving to death.

    Children in sub-Saharan Africa are about over 16 times more likely to die before the age of five than children in developed regions.

  8. garyk30 says:

    Or this:
    Ebola has killed a couple of thousand people and Ebola is a World Health Emergency?

    “In the world, approximately 62 million people, all causes of death combined, die each year”

    Mortality due to malnutrition accounted for 58 percent of the total mortality in 2006:

    That is 36 million deaths from malnutrition/starvation per year.

    • garyk30 says:

      But, this is WHO’s big scare:

      Tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year.

      More than five million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 600 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

      Tobacco kills up to half of its users.

      • garyk30 says:

        “Tobacco kills up to half of its users”

        Do they mean that 50% of smokers’ deaths are from the diseases ’caused’ by smoking?

        If so, since Doll’s Doctor Study showed that 84% of the never-smoking doctors died from the diseases ’caused’ by smoking, SO:


        Or, since we are told all smokers deaths are from the diseases ’caused’ by smoking:


        • Rose says:

          I’d dispute that Gary, smoking doesn’t cause any diseases, they can happen to anyone but what anti-tobacco says is that smoking increases the risk of getting them.

      • ““In the world, approximately 62 million people, all causes of death combined, die each year” Mortality due to malnutrition accounted for 58 percent of the total mortality in 2006: That is 36 million deaths from malnutrition/starvation per year (real body count) …. Tobacco (supposedly, by jiggled computer model projections) kills 6 million per year”

        The disparity is monumental.

        – MJM

        • Marie Engling says:

          And how many die of old age. Said in another way – how many don’t die?

        • Marie, I’m forgetting the movie title at the moment (Wait! “The Hunger”?), but it involved a very old female vampire, who of course, being an “original,” never aged or sickened. But over the many centuries she had vampirized and taken on as lovers many, many males, who greatly enjoyed their vampire lives until it all would suddenly “catch up” to them after a hundred years or so as they would suddenly become so old and decrepit that they could barely move although they were immortal. At which point she would take them to her attic, seal them in sarcophagi to twist and turn and moan sadly for eternity while she would go out and find a new one.

          There are worse things than dying certainly.

          – MJM

        • Marie Engling says:

          Now I know how it is to be 100, nearly 101 years. But very few people knows a 101 year old.

  9. smokervoter says:

    And in America, it’s the golden state of California which usually leads the way in generating the next raft of hyper-trivial concerns, like secondhand smoke or global warming.

    Guilty as charged. I’m sorry, I really am. I love this state and I hate it.

    And it’ll all start in California.

    Who knows maybe Ruth Engs will eventually be proved right. She posits that Backlash is the final stage of Clean Living Movements and, god knows, maybe it’ll start here.

    It was all so much better during my paragon formative years when we were exporting surfing, dirt-biking and fun, fun, fun ’till her daddy takes the T-bird away. If only stone cold Stanton Glantz hadn’t moved here in 1972 from Toledo, Ohio, undoubtedly “to find himself” Out West.

    Truth be told though, native son Adam Carolla has the most downloaded podcast in the world while Stanton Glantz is liked by his mother, little Johnnie Banzhaf and a small capnophobic cloister of faux Californians at the University of California in San Francisco.

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