A modest proposal for curing a whiny nation

Catherine McMillan, National Post Published: Thursday, February 14, 2008

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Buried in the community history book of my home town is a quietly remarkable entry for the family of Robert and Margaret Cann. The Cann family moved to southeastern Saskatchewan from Ontario to homestead in 1891. Among the 11 children listed are William Henry (born 1880, died 1898), Iva Louise (born 1890, died 1898), and Dora Alice (born 1894, died 1898).

What happened in 1898? As was the custom in previous years, the Canns had sought the relative comfort of "winter camp" in the wooded range of hills north of their farm to wait out the long months of cold and isolation with other prairie pioneers of the area. Instead, they found diptheria.

The account makes no mention of grief counsellors.

Today, Canadians don't lose children in disease epidemics, but it hasn't prevented some from trying. Vaccination programs that allowed the parents of their parents to survive infancy, which transformed the scars of smallpox and the paralysis of polio into artifacts of medical history, are now condemned by the children of their children, who form cleverly acronymed organizations to convince the public that vaccinations are killing them.

That is, if trace pesticides or "frankenfoods" or blood pressure medications don't get them first. Give thanks for the creative efforts of pharmaceutical companies, for without their continuing efforts, the risk-intolerant might have long ago run out of side effects to sue over.

The efforts of the make-it-go-away community reach well beyond interference in efforts to extend health, life and productivity. They have evolved special branches devoted to the banishment of "things that bother people".

Strong perfume. Peanut butter sandwiches. Lawn chemicals. Scary looking dog breeds. Improper house colours.

To end these societal indignities, they declare, "There ought to be a law!"

And government, the natural habitat of the bureaucratic busybody, exists to enact them. In the summer of 2007, for example, the federal government moved to end the suffering caused by "telephone calls from people we do not want to talk to".

Or so they claimed. A cynical nation turned momentarily from their fixation on the "obesity epidemic" to complain that pollsters, political parties and charities still retained the ability to force their march from chair to cordless handset.

"There ought to be a better law!" But, even as that legislative omission was debated, it was in danger of being eclipsed by a new, emerging crisis. In the haste to remove the menace of second-hand smoke from public places, society had fallen victim to the law of unintended consequences. A caller to Saskatchewan talk radio said it best, explaining why smokers should be allowed no closer than 50 feet from the entrance of any establishment.

"They stand right next to the doors. When I walk past them, I have to hold my breath". Oh, the humanity.

When the sea of societal ills is so shallow that "phone calls I don't like" is scraped from the bottom and added to the legislative agenda, when the public tolerance for disagreeable things has dropped so low that "I have to hold my breath" is a complaint worthy of the commiseration of 100,000 radio listeners, we have a problem.


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