Fare Warning

It has been very hot in my part of France lately. Not far away, the temperature in the shade has been as much as 45 degrees centigrade (113 Fahrenheit). No doubt it is often hotter in the Empty Quarter of Arabia or in the Mojave Desert, but for us poor Northern Europeans it seems pretty brutal. It’s even worse when you’re getting on in years.

My insurance company sent me an email. “Heat wave in your area,” it said. Then it gave a little advice:

Avoid going out in the hottest part of the day, select cool places and drink regularly.

Wear light clothes.

Avoid unventilated places and do not stay in a car or a closed space in the sun. Amazon.com Gift Card i... Buy New $10.00 (as of 08:25 EST - Details)

I imagine that few would quarrel with this advice. Who, for example, would advise people to walk about as much as possible in the heat of the sun, or not to seek out cool places? My late little dog knew better than this without being informed by any insurance company.

Is there anybody in the world who, reading the advice, would take off the heavy clothes he was wearing in the heat and don light clothes instead? Would anyone reading it depart the stifling room in which he was sitting and seek out somewhere cool? Would anyone say on reading it, “Aha, now I realize what had never previously occurred to me, that I ought not to sit in my car in the baking sun with the windows shut”?

Ours is an age of information, that is a cliché. But it is also the age of redundant advice and warning; for example, that on bottles of spirits that immoderate drinking can harm your health. Has anyone ever given up drinking, or avoided pouring himself another drink, because he has read this warning? Or has anyone ever reached the age when he can invest money who does not realize that the value of shares can fall as well as rise? Where would one had to have lived, what would have to be the depths of one’s ignorance, not to realize this?

Such redundant advice implies that the world is full of fools, that most adults are really children; and indeed there is no better way to infantilize people than to treat them as infants. It is true, of course, that people may not be aware of genuine hazards and need to be informed of them, but surely not that they should not put their fingers in the rolling mechanism of escalators (and should prevent their children from doing so), or that hot coffee spilt on your skin may scald.

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