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Last night, British public service TV (BBC2) broadcast a show presented by Terry Pratchett – the fantasy author – about assisted suicide. It showed what happened to a wealthy seventy-one year old man, who had motor neurone disease, and chose to buy the services of the Swiss-German ‘Dignitas’ organisation to arrange his death.

Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer’s disease, and says he’d choose death rather than lose his mental and physical faculties. After the show he said he still wants to see that choice made available in the UK, despite appearing distressed on the show, when he knew that a ‘young’ man of forty two, suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, was exercising his choice in another room at Dignitas’ premises near Zurich.

I’ve always agreed with my wife that I’d rather be dead than become a ‘burden’ to anyone through mental incapacity – I reserve any decision about physical pain and debility until that happens. I certainly don’t want the ‘slow and painful death’ they advertise on the backs of cigarette packs. She says that she feels the same impulses.

My mother-in-law arranged for her husband and, a year or so later, herself, to receive overdoses of opiates when she judged first that he had lost his ‘mind’, and latterly that she was on the verge of physical dependency. She gathered her children around her (She lived outside the UK, and they all lived elsewhere around Europe) and arranged to have her own overdose. Despite her physical frailty, it took several attempts and a matter of days before she achieved the end she wanted. It seems that the human body is addicted to life even more firmly than it can be to other things.

Each of her children would gladly have cared for her continually until her life reached a natural end, but they were used to their mother having her ‘own way’. She had spent her adult life ‘in control’; not only of herself, but also of anybody who came within her sphere of influence. Many people willingly submitted to her rather imperious dominance. She did everything with grace and dignity, and enjoyed hosting social occasions, which she did with considerable style. Much as she achieved her own death. Her many friends – most of whom were ‘high achievers’ and internationally known amongst the ‘privileged’ – mourned her in the full knowledge that she had died as she had lived; decorously and with faultless dignity.

She died in a country in which assisted suicide isn’t legally sanctioned, although Switzerland wasn’t inaccessible to her. Citizens of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg all have freedom under the law to choose an assisted death, but those countries don’t offer the option to subjects of other countries. That’s a little ungracious of the Belgians and the Dutch, given the large number of foreigners who died in both countries during the World Wars of the first half of the twentieth century. Nor did she pay a fee for the service; her doctor was working within the socialised medical provisions of the European Union.

I’d like to make it absolutely clear: I’m not one of those package-bought hippies who believes that ‘if it’s natural, it must be OK’ – deadly nightshade, digitalis and hemlock are all perfectly natural, but they make lousy tea. But there are some things over which it is both unnatural and foolish for human beings, as natural animals themselves, to seek complete control. Just think how hard it is for some men to control premature ejaculation.

Whilst I’m on the subject of the beginning, rather than the end of life, I reckon interfering with evolution by genetically engineering designer babies is an example of unnatural folishness. Mess with the way that genes operate, and things we do not understand are likely to happen, leading to us paying a price for overstepping our competence.

This is not the old familiar ‘god’ diatribe. I have no fond delusions about some benign creator of universes of pattern and order that we shall eventually understand and control, but I think it’s even more delusory to fantasise that humanity is the undoubted heir to all the ‘secrets’ of ‘life, the universe and everything’. When we die, we rot, so far as I’m concerned, and notions of ‘dignity in death’ are just a pompous symptom of the self-aggrandisement which seems to typify the silly behaviour of the animals we are.

We speak of ‘nobility’, of glory and admiration of courage, of martyrdom, of qualities we assert are uniquely human, the product of our reflective and self-aware intellect. We like to see ourselves as the most important part of everything. The owners.

If there is one sure product of our humanity, it is our capacity to fool each other and to be fooled in return. Flattery, manipulation of greedy desires and immediate short-term appetites plus a whole bunch of other methods to trick our perceptions, constantly persuade us to take what we can get, and keep what we have, and easily divert us from any focus upon our ‘being’. We define ourselves by acquiring trappings that others can see.

Watching the show, what I was surprised to feel, seeing a man buying his fully packaged, Dignitas-branded suicide, was that we have now commoditised death. The man clearly had the wealth to accumulate all the enviable status symbols; the sports car, the wine cellar, even the trophy wife who only half-jokingly described his car as an object, not for driving, but for ‘pulling women’. Perhaps the man had earned all of this. He certainly had a ‘lifestyle’. And he was finally able to buy a ‘deathstyle’.

Maybe ‘deathstyle marketing’ could be a growth opportunity. Some folks want dignity, but others might opt for some different style. Dignitas’ premises looked a little too much like an office on an industrial park. Maybe they could have had a proper Swiss Chalet, with blonde Swiss milkmaids and those nice cows with bells round their necks? Maybe they could even deliver the lethal dose in a barrel worn by a Saint Bernard dog? And the customer could choose a selected scene from ‘The Sound of Music’ to play out their last conscious moments.

The possibilities are endless. Funerals have become quite entertaining in recent years, and it’s quite possible that, with the ability to choose the moment of death, some folks could host their own funeral, hear their friends give eulogies and then finish the occasion off by hopping into the box before swigging down the poisoned chalice.

And it need not be downbeat and all about people being past their sell-by date. Think of all the teenagers who get sick of living. Quite a lot of them opt for the ‘do-it-yourself’ route, and nobody else makes anything out of it at all. Maybe there’s room for a special service just for the younger market. You could have a slogan like; “We put the youth into euthanasia.”

Once the trend gets established it could get to be quite fashionable. I’m sure that with the right promotion you could soon have loads of people just dying to go. It needn’t be for avoiding pain or the indignity of dependency. You could choose suicide because you weren’t really getting much out of life. Maybe because you can’t get a job, and you haven’t any hope of better prospects. Or you are bored. Whatever.

Given the problems of global overpopulation, governments might offer welfare assistance to people who couldn’t afford the fees. Some people might even decide to do it for fame and glory, a bit like the people who joined up to go off to Belgium in 1914-18. I bet they could make a really good reality TV show, with internet spinoffs, providing people could make the death bit interesting enough. Death has always been a popular human obsession, second only to sex, for a lot of people, and everybody knows how well sex sells. You might even combine the two.

And once deathstyle choices become popular, it wouldn’t be so hard for governments to persuade people who are economically unviable, like old people, and people with disabilities, people who are morbidly obese and so-on to consider a good death as a much better consumer choice than a miserable life. Some people might even be able to pass on a bonus to friends or family, by selling healthy organs for transplants, or by being reprocessed for food.

Of course, if it does turn out that there is some kind of ‘post-death’ experience, it could be a little embarrassing turning up at whatever ‘pearly gates’ venue exists only to be told that you aren’t expected, and can’t just turn up uninvited. From premature ejaculation to premature capitulation.

I am old enough to remember the JF Kennedy assassination. In the UK people were shocked, felt empathy toward the mythical Jacqui, and a little afraid of potential world political instability.

Later TS Eliot and Winston Churchill died, and the nation mourned their loss as distant and respected examples of ‘people better than us’ (that concept of an elite still existed in 1965 Britain). The killing of John Lennon, who had been idolised and mythologised in his life, was a shock too, and people began to express a kind of personal grief, based upon the notion that Lennon was ‘like one of us’. I felt that there was a certain amount of self-aggrandisement going on here, and the media offered five minutes’ fame to anyone who could wax lyrical over ‘what John Lennon meant to me’.

Then, sometime around the end of the eighties, it became fashionable – possibly prompted by the American Psychoanalysis movement – to ‘get in touch with your emotions’. Jerry Springer, Oprah Winfrey and others then decided to invite disenfranchised rural Americans onto TV to bare their souls for the entertainment of Middle America, who probably felt markedly superior, but nonetheless joined the competition to express their emotions, based on the criteria of having ‘better and more’ emotions than everybody else.

Then Princess Diana got killed, and Saint Blair in a spectacular display of fake sincerity described her, through his crocodile tears, as; ‘The People’s Princess’, and a wave of mass hysteria swept the UK. Because the elite in British society had been careful to cultivate the appearance of being ordinary people, when the gap between the rich and privileged in the UK and the ordinary electorate had become immensely wider than ever before, sobbing and impoverished citizens mourned her as if she had been their sister, and had had a personal relationship with each and every one of them.

The people who enjoy indulging themselves in ostentatious displays of extreme emotion are often, in ‘reality’, numb to the core, and do not give a flying fig for anyone else, but vigorously assert their own importance as deeply wounded individuals.

There is every indication that this is getting worse, as the Brits recently got all worked up over the deaths of fictional characters in TV and even Radio soap-operas. Weeping idiots wail publicly about their personal sense of bereavement, and other idiots comfort them, assuring them that they share their grief.

Does nobody understand ‘catharsis’?

People are beginning to suggest that they are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of misfortunes suffered by their ‘Second-Life’ personas. I’m waiting for the first major lawsuit in the ‘real world’ for compensation for ‘virtual’ injury which was confined to someone’s ‘second life’ in the cyberworld.

Human kind cannot bear very much reality? They are successfully annihilating it.

I used to be a Marketing Director.  I used to be interested in finding out what people wanted and needed, getting something done to meet their needs, wants and desires, then communicating the message that we had the best answer to our target market’s needs.

Since I had cancer at the beginning of our brave new millennium, I have been quietly devoting life to art, music and thought.  Haven’t marketed in anger for about a decade!

Because I had time, and had also worked in TV production, I decided that Tania and I would take part in the GFK ‘Media appreciation poll’, to contribute something of use to fellow marketeers and – hopefully – to programme makers. 

Recently we’ve responded less to the GFK Poll because we’ve found less and less worth watching on TV.  Nowadays we tend to watch previously recorded stuff, or programmes from the various channel catch-up sites available via the internet. Our radio listening is also likely to include catch-up stuff from Radio 4 occasionally.  We aren’t alone in finding ourselves choosing to watch content at times other than when first broadcast, and apart from listening daily to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, we find that consistent consumption of broadcast media  is becoming less a part of our lives. 

Because we might not watch anything listed under live broadcast times on the Poll, we cannot record usage which is probably known only to the sites in question through their site traffic analysis data. So GFK don’t really see what we are doing.

Declining advertising revenue for the ‘conventional’ and ‘traditional’  live broadcast media is likely to speed up the further decline of the importance of these delivery routes, as more people migrate to internet access as the most common means of media uptake, particularly via mobile devices.

Unfortunately this also signals a decline in the ability of independent agencies such as GFK NOP to track audience response to media output, because the media owners will be monitoring audience data directly ‘in house’.  There may be some opportunity for NOP to carry out a ‘media omnibus audit’ based upon submission of data by media owners across the industry and ‘independent analysis’ by GFK NOP of the data received, but the pattern of audience fragmentation and the phenomenon of media diversification means that the size of  audience attained by any individual programme product will continue to fall, with segments and sectors becoming more diverse and, in mass-terms, culturally less significant. National opinion polls will reflect this, because there will be an increase in the number of distinctly differentiated segments according to particular ‘cultural’ signifiers. In other words, there will be no identifiable, majority mass-market.

In the medium to long term, the assumption that the majority of UK citizens have a common cultural media-based consumption of programming output will cease to be valid.  Only a small segment of the population will follow the ‘soap-operas’ and even viral advertising campaigns will find themselves hitting smaller target markets. 

It will become less and less possible to identify any particularly ‘national’ target market as cultural diversity will tend to create distinct and separate sub-cultures, aligned by factors such as ethnic adherence and possibly educational attainment. 

The inhabitants of the Island of Britain will begin to resemble ‘tribes’ and the notions of a ‘classless’ society will cease to be relevant – if only because there will be no overriding common set of values which can be identified which link a single majority of the inhabitants. 

This will present problems in governing the population.  Already a diversity of opinion exists concerning the desirability of national involvement in conflicts in other countries, the policies of economic alignment with other states and trading blocs – particularly with respect to the EU, the USA and the ‘developing world’.

Increasingly, minority opinions concerning the reliability of the police, the legal system and the sanctions of sentencing of criminals, the educational system and the effectiveness of policies which have been devised to create citizens to fulfill roles within the purpose of maximising Gross Domestic Productivity, and the health policies of the state, are attaining the mythological status of becoming the opinion of a notional ‘silent majority’ who, if apathy was not one of the few remaining characteristics of the populace, might be encouraged to call for an anarchistic revolution.

Over half a century ago it was possible to influence a great majority of the population through the media.  Both ‘Mrs Dale’s Diary’ and ‘The Archers’ were intended to educate the nation and to reflect a general cultural and moral ‘tone’, which was identifiably ‘British’.  As a nation we assumed that teachers, doctors, lawyers, the police and politicians were worthy of respect.  None of these groups can be expected to enjoy the universal respect of a majority of the population today. Indeed, it is actually difficult to identify any group of people who might be considered the cultural, moral and esteemed leaders of the nation.  Those who come closest to widespread adulation, such as Geldof and Bono, were celebrities created before media began to lose the power to influence mass audiences.

The cult of the individual, and the tendency of citizens to see it as their right to do as they wish, providing they intend no direct harm to others, has paradoxically resulted in a proliferation of surveillance methods used by those who wish to control mass behaviour.  The generality of ‘mass observation’ which is familiar to those conducting social and market research under the usually anonymous data gathering activities of organisations conforming to MRS rules is ceasing to be as useful as the particular methods available to commercial organisations in tracking purchasing behaviours of individuals through EPOS data, their communication habits through ISPs and telecomms providers, and even their everyday movements through CCTV surveillance, and travel waypoint information such as Oystercard, passport controls, online travel and accommodation bookings and so on. The addition of Identity cards and a DNA database is only a very small step away.

Citizens seem to respond most to the motivation created through the fear that others will threaten them, and submission to some form of state ‘big brother’ capability will be seen as acceptable on the basis of protection. Because individual self interest is more powerful than any of the media for social persuasion which are currently losing their effectiveness, it will become easier for those in power to foster acceptance of principles which were once considered anathema to liberal ideals of human interaction.

Under the guise of creating greater freedom, voluntary euthanasia will become increasingly acceptable, under the guise of creating greater safety, it will be possible for any state to use DNA profiling to identify individuals with particular behavioural tendencies.  If, for example, the state was to declare that – as has already been the case for certain cancers – the gene potentiating paedophilia had been identified, the majority of citizens might readily accept that measures should be undertaken to ensure that those individuals would never have the opportunity to act upon their tendencies.  Perhaps they might be offered gene therapy, or alternatively they might be allowed to opt for voluntary euthanasia.  Those who readily call for the castration of sex offenders might prefer the alternative of compulsory euthanasia, as there cannot be any possible mistake in identifying a gene in the DNA, so it has none of the problems of carrying out the death penalty upon an individual who had been wrongly convicted.

There is some debate currently concerning whether or not it might be morally permissible to torture terrorists, because they do not observe the Geneva Conventions in their activities.  What people accept as being civilised behaviour has changed throughout history.  It is not a very long time since slavery was abolished in the West. Some countries in Europe did not allow women to vote in democratic elections until the latter half of the last century.  Is there a point at which progress becomes decadence?

Might we see the acceptance of other measures for the greater good? People identified as failing to contribute to state economic prosperity being offered exile or compulsory euthanasia?  Perhaps there is a gene for social non-compliance?  Wouldn’t it be safer for all concerned; those who have the power to protect the citizen-consumers and those who are themselves the producers and consumers within the economy, to prevent any individual from conflicting with the interests of the majority?

There are far too many people on this planet.  Now that we have nearly developed the technology to ensure that only those with the best qualities should be preserved, isn’t it perfectly logical that we should weed out the people who might be a burden and a challenge to the greater good?  And isn’t it why those in power are quickly preparing to make such measures possible, before communication and persuasion media can no longer win the cooperation of the majority? 

Surely we can all see that we are headed for our own destruction? Would we rather starve and die as population increase and Global Warming make it impossible to feed everyone? Or would we be better to allow those who know best to take totalitarian control and, for our own protection, use eugenics to prevent any undesirable people being born in the future?

After all, those who know best have already thought of all this. Why else are they trying to shape public opinion?  Why are they so happy to see the media losing the ability to influence the masses?  Wasn’t it their own policies which made it possible for everybody to shout their own message to anyone who will listen?  Even the best of the Bloggers, the biggest of the Twitterers will never have the power to persuade the majority, to threaten those with the real power. And if they do, it will be a simple matter to silence them. Start by preventing them from gaining access to the communication channels.  Then see if they have an identifiable non-compliant gene. If they are guilty, then they can be euthanased.  Simplz!  Easy as Comparethemeerkat.com!

I met my first wife when I was 21 and she was sixteen.  It had been love at first sight for me.  I cannot speak for her.  We married three years later.  The seven year itch ended in divorce, and I married Tania, who had been a good friend to both of us; she’d even been present at our wedding!
 
After the initial pain we kept in touch, as Adrienne – more familiarly ‘Wren’ – went on in life.  Initially living with a guitarist on a non seaworthy trawler in drydock at Bristol, she then moved on to Wales with a solicitor who eventually gave her a child in 1993.  They lived in a house with no mains electricity and no mains water.  For reasons not relevant here, the father of her child ceased practising law, and eventually Wren flew the nest and married again to a thoroughly wonderful Welshman.
 
Wren was creative, a great hostess, she had run her own successful restaurant in the late seventies and early eighties.  She had wide ranging artistic talents, in printmaking and ceramic sculpture.  She was a great singer, with a catholic taste in music ranging from Purcell to the Pogues.  She was generous and inclusive, and it was a privilege that many enjoyed to feel the love that she readily gave to people all around her.  She loved The Archers, she loved nature and detested the ecological disaster of civilisation, she loved animals.  She was no conformist: she always made up her own mind.  She loved cooking for other people, always rustling up something magical for uninvited guests.  She had a sense of the mystic about her; a pagan, almost Wiccan approach.  Not long ago she began a formal study of herbal medicine.  She loved sex, drugs and rock and roll.
 
It was a green funeral, and she was buried by friends in the Pembrokeshire countryside on Thursday 12th February 2009.  She was 52.  She was buried in a wicker coffin, decorated with flowers, without religious ceremony.  It was said that no religion was broad enough for her.  Afterwards we met in a pub – one of her favourite places – and there was singing, laughter and a few tears.  Many of us felt angry;  she had died too soon.  And she had been a major contributor to that herself.  Those of us who would have liked to have influenced her regretted that we had not persuaded her to take better care of herself.  Many of her heroes had died young too, including Dylan Thomas who had lived down the road.  Our anger was not directed against any ‘Deus ex machina’ who had taken her from us, but at Wren herself for seeking to numb her oversensitivity to the business of life by excessive use of alcohol, and in her earlier years, drugs.  And anger at ourselves for failing to win her from her self-destructive lifestyle by loving her as well as she loved others.
 
She would have grown old disgracefully if she had grown old at all.  But many of us know that she hoped she’d die before she got old.  And so she did.  My thoughts are with her son, her husband, her sister, with her many friends who will miss her.  And to some extent, with those who never met her, but whose lives would have gained a little from having done so.  They, like us, have no opportunity to share in the light she could bring to a moment of our lives.
 

Women are demanding that photographs should not be airbrushed and digitally distorted to represent celebrities as they truly aren’t.

This notion that we should ‘tell it as it is’ seems to be a little selective.  All this takes place as London’s Hayward Gallery is showing an exhibition of the work of Soviet photographer, Aleksandr Rodchenko (Spelling academic when translating from Russian) sponsored by that nice Mr Abramov.

Rodchenko was a pioneer of the manipulation of photographs, having, in the service of the Soviet State, manipulated photographs of the building of the White Sea Canal during the nineteen thirties to convey the impression that it was an heroic and admirable achievement.  It wasn’t.  The Soviet regime used the construction project to work over 200,000 prisoners to death.

Nonetheless, Rodchenko is championed as a groundbreaking photographic artist.  Much as was Leni Riefenstahl, who put her talents as a photographer to use in Nazi propaganda.

People are falling out of love with photographers.  The Papparazzi are demonised for involvement in hounding Princess Diana to death.  Nobody needs professionals any more since the advent of digital cameras and bundled image editing software.  Now everybody can make their own image.

Apparently it infringes our human rights if someone else tells lies about another somebody else in order to prop up the ‘proper’ social order, but it’s ok for us to tell little fibs about the desirability of our own propositions.  Like the vendor of a car who ‘tidies up’ the photograph he puts on e-bay to remove the odd blemish or two.

Where does it end?  Enhancing one’s CV? (Resumé for US readers)  Or maybe where does it all begin? Shaving off one’s beard? Cutting one’s hair into tonsorial topiary? Putting on make-up?  Shaving one’s legs?

I don’t know about you, but I find it rather sad that fashions in beauty are such an insidious part of everyday life that natural phenomena such as body-shape go in and out of fashion and lead to ridiculous efforts amongst the population to conform to the ideal.  It’s by no means a new thing.  Corsetry and surgery was used over a century ago by women who would have ribs removed to achieve an eighteen inch (45cm for metric readers) waist.

I must admit that the plague of obesity currently burgeoning in the UK does make me wish I hadn’t put my harpoon-gun into the car-boot sale, but I still hope that people could be taught to feel more comfortable about the way nature (or God, for religious readers) made them.

I do think that there is a link between beauty and Truth.  Artificial objects just can’t match up to natural creations.  We can try to modify or improve nature until the genetically modified milk producing units return to the collection depot, but we will not succeed.

When it comes to Art (capital A for observant readers) all creations are artificial.  But I do think that artists have a moral responsibility to show a view of Truth.  Some images of Truth, especially those which depict human behaviour, are far from being beautiful.  In photography one thinks of journalistic reportage of death, warfare and destruction – a tradition that numbers Goya’s horrors of war amongst its predecessors.  Of course, images of negative behaviour are often condemned as ‘obscene’.

What might be construed as more obscene is the manipulation of an image in order to create a false impression.  Such as Rodchenko’s lies about Soviet atrocities.  And maybe the creation of false ideals about what the perfect woman ought to look like.

Photography is one of the tools of pornography.  Pornography also tends to represent an image which does not match the reality, and unfortunately affects a lot of people whose ideas of everyday human behaviour get modified by the images they see.

Pornography often presents images of women, infantilised by shaving off the hair they grew when they ceased to be children, apparently enjoying the gratification of men by fellatio and anal intercourse, and almost never shows couples genuinely enjoying ‘conventional’ consensual sexual activities in which each gender plays an equal part.

There could be no better propaganda for the sort of men who wish that adult women were not their equals.  The insistence that women wear make-up, shave their legs and armpits and even their pubes seems to betray some kind of paedophile longing in the men who want to see women with the hairless bodies, rosebud lips and large eyes of little girls.

Such is the power of the bland propaganda of the mainstream media, that most women seem eagerly complicit in their own image manipulation, and few would not be horrified by the thought of giving up shaving their legs, bleaching or epilating facial hair, and presenting themselves ‘unretouched’ in public.

We should watch carefully how our images are presented, lest we start to try to become like the images rather than to insist that the images present a true likeness.  Even if we don’t yet feel comfortable with our own likeness.