What the world needs now is luck, not love


We live in a country where the transgender lobby has made so much progress that our Government apparently feels it necessary to question the use of the words “pregnant women” by the UN.

And where London Transport have modified their tube announcements to replace “ladies and gentlemen” with “everyone”; the head of a distinguished girls’ school now takes care to describes her charges as “pupils” rather than “girls”; and John Lewis and others proudly proclaim their commitment to “gender neutral” clothing.

As a man, I can’t say that any of this bothers me too much, beyond the fact that much of it is patently nuts. I’m not sure I would be quite so relaxed if I were a woman facing the invasion of my refuge, changing room, lavatory or sports team by anyone who decides to identify as a female.

But then we also live in a world where something massively more nuts – the reckless over-prescription of antibiotics, and their even more criminal use as a handy additive to animal feed – is storing up a potentially huge problem of drug resistance.

Already, according to the Chief Medical Officer for England, 50,000 people a year are dying in Europe and the US from infections against which antibiotics are no longer effective.

Within 20 years, in the absence of some great scientific breakthrough, we will be faced with an “antibiotic catastrophe” in which childbirth and appendicitis will once again become major killers, transplant surgery will be impossible, the prudent will elect against elective operations, and pneumonia will once again become the old man’s true friend.

As an old man myself, and one who has always had a deep-seated fear and hatred of hospitals, I do not regard this as entirely unwelcome news.

It might also finally put an end to those endlessly recycled reports of “the financial crisis in the NHS”, both by trumping it with a real health crisis and, one presumes, by vastly reducing the costs of running the service when it becomes too risky to undertake a whole swathe of medical procedures or to extend the lives of the terminally afflicted.

In these circumstances you are surely going to have to be 100% rock solid certain that you are trapped in the wrong body before you volunteer for gender reassignment surgery, given that there will be a very good chance of dying in the process.

Similarly, we can surely anticipate a massive and welcome decline in demand for all but the most superficial cosmetic surgical procedures.

Before we all dump our shares in cosmetic and plastic surgery providers, and go long of coffin manufacturers and undertakers, I suppose we should at least consider the possibility that the doomsayers have got it wrong, and that science will find the answer in a new wonder-drug before the last resort antibiotic gives up the ghost.

After all, that’s what always happens in the movies, isn’t it?

And it’s true that every great scare of my lifetime, from the new Ice Age and the exhaustion of world copper reserves to the Millennium Bug and imminent nuclear apocalypse have all failed to happen. Up to now.

I also strongly suspect that both Brexit and climate change will not prove the disasters they are widely billed to be, though I am less sure about the undoubted follies of rainforest destruction and filling the oceans with plastic.

Usually we have the sense to pull back from the brink in the nick of time, but I would respectfully suggest that the contribution of native human genius to these fortunate escapes has been greatly outweighed by the contribution of luck.

We are an amazingly lucky species. Lucky in the lottery-winning combination of factors that make life on this planet possible at all. Lucky not to have been wiped out by a not quite passing asteroid. Lucky, in the case of baby boomers like me, to have lived through a period of relative peace, effective medicine, free education and healthcare, affordable housing and credible pension schemes (if only we had had the sense to join one).

Much of that luck has already run out for the next generations, and the chances of what remains continuing for any length of time seem to be on a par with those of pulling the handle on a one-armed bandit and consistently seeing a line-up of matched fruits.

With hindsight, I feel reasonably confident that the current enthusiasm for gender neutrality will be regarded as a peculiar episode of mass hysteria on a par with past concerns about Satanic ritual abuse and UFOs (sightings of which strangely seem to have evaporated since most of the population started wandering around with a high quality camera on their persons at all times).

But when it comes to defeating antibiotic resistance, I fear we are going to be mainly reliant on another statistically improbable run of great good luck.


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