The Triumph of the Trivial

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Recently I gave evidence in a tragic case in which a young man died whose life might have been saved if only the doctors had thought of the right diagnosis. It was not an easy case, and the doctors who missed the diagnosis were mortified, though in what proportion by the tragic outcome of the case itself, and in what proportion by wounded professional pride or by fear of subsequent legal action, it is not easy to say. Human emotions are as mixed as human motives, and are seldom as we would have them. In our sorrow for others there is often regard for ourselves.

Certainly it was my painful duty to testify that the doctors had been at fault in not making the diagnosis, though they were obviously not bad people, and there have been, and are daily, many far worse errors committed by doctors (though many of them do not end fatally, and indeed go undetected); moreover, the refrain “There but for the grace of God go I” ran through my mind throughout my evidence. The wisdom of hindsight is easy, that of foresight a little more difficult: if it were not so life would be intolerably dull, though perhaps less full of unpleasant surprises.

It was impossible to say what the future of the young man would have been. Most likely it would have been ordinary rather than brilliant, simply because most futures are ordinary rather than brilliant, and he had given no evidence up to the time of his death of extraordinary ability.

After the case was over, I looked up the deceased on the Internet and though, as I have said, he was not in any way remarkable or extraordinary, I found quite a lot about him and by him, most notably a video that he had made about himself and the kind of shoes that he wore. Even here, as far as his taste in shoes was concerned, he was not at all extraordinary: I think he wore the kind of shoes that everyone, or at least everyone of his age like him, wore. The film lasted more than five minutes, and consisted of him putting on and taking off various of his shoes and holding them up to the camera. This was done to a background of rock music, which I muted as quickly as I could.

I suppose that at my age nothing should surprise me, but I confess that I was rather surprised by this. Why should anyone be interested in the shoes he wore? But more important, why should he have thought that anyone might have been interested in the shoes he wore? Everything else about him that I found on the Internet, at least everything about him before his tragic death, was of equal banality.

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