The Decline and Faliraki of civilisation?
spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on Brits behaving badly in Greece.
Never mind the al-Qaeda terrorists. To judge by recent reports, the most pressing threat to our way of life comes from Club 18-30 tourists. With the unruly antics of young(ish) British holidaymakers having prompted such wailing and gnashing of teeth everywhere from the Foreign Office downwards, we await the despatch of peacekeeping forces to the blighted resort of Faliraki in Rhodes.
The over-the-top (and out-with-the-bottom) goings-on in Faliraki may well reveal something rum about British youth today. But the over-the-top reactions back home betray a loss of perspective as bad as that suffered by any drink- addled tourist.
While their ‘beer goggles’ make other people look more attractive, the fear goggles through which we view reports from Faliraki make everything seem far more ugly and threatening than in real life. Why must we treat tales of excessive youthful sex and vomiting on a fortnight’s holiday as a parable of the Decline and Faliraki of Western civilisation? Although commentators have compared Faliraki to Sodom, the sinful city that God destroyed with sulphur, there are few reports of the Club 18-30 crowd emulating the Sodomites by attempting the homosexual gang-rape of two angels sent down from heaven. If you opted to avoid the risk of a sulphur storm by staying at home for the summer, there has been no escape from the exaggeratedly bad news. The one thing to bank on this weekend was that reports of ‘Bank Holiday travel chaos’ would be everywhere long before anybody had tried to travel anywhere.
And when the predicted ‘national gridlock’ failed to materialise by Sunday, we were warned that the transport network was simply saving its worst for today. The usual motorway jams on a Bank Holiday Monday have somehow become the stuff of shock-horror headlines. But then, most pleasurable activities associated with summer have been placed on the danger list this year. Those flying abroad have been warned that they risk everything from deep-vein thrombosis to environmental despoliation. Sunbathers have been told that to avoid the risk of skin cancer they should stop going out covered in sun-block and holiday burka and stay indoors for the duration. Swimmers have been warned off familiar rivers and seas, apparently because experts have discovered that it is possible to drown in deep water. And so it goes on. Add the dread word ‘drinking’ to any of the above, and the pleasure police go into full riot cop mode. Mix in children with any aspect of fun in the sun and they declare martial law.
Nor is it just summer holidays. All sorts of things that might once have been sung about as the joys of life are being paraded across the media to the morbid strains of the funeral march. The uplifting experience of parenthood is now deemed so emotionally painful that fathers as well as mothers are apparently to be offered counselling for postnatal depression on the NHS. And the delights of good eating have been buried beneath off-putting stodge about supposedly toxic foodstuffs and dangerous diets.
We are suffering under a regime of Institutionalised Miserabilism. Although often couched in the language of junk science, this systematic promotion of anxiety and fear is not really based on research into specific risks. It rests upon the unthinking assumption that everything must be for the worst in the worst of all possible worlds. Having been warned that last summer’s flooding was a dangerous symptom of global warming, we are now told that this summer’s heat wave is, er, a dangerous symptom of global warming. No sooner have we been told that the nation’s health is at risk from an epidemic of obesity than we are advised of the dangers of trying to lose weight through the Atkins diet.
Worse still, Institutionalised Miserabilism encourages a climate of caution and risk-aversion that is part of the problem rather than the solution. Take the Faliraki malarkey. When we seem so determined to keep young people wrapped in cotton wool like irresponsible babies, it should come as no surprise that, suddenly released into freedom for a fortnight, they behave like caricatures of traditional raucous teenagers with no idea of where any line might be drawn.
We now live longer, healthier, wealthier and less violent lives than at any time in history. It is high time that our cultural assumptions caught up with that reality. We can waste our time and energy fretting about the pros and cons of alternative diets, or get on with enjoying our food. Similarly, we can fret about all the possible causes of a premature death, or get on with living our lives. On this last Bank Holiday of a glorious summer, let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will be back on a diet of Institutionalised Miserabilism.
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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