Human intelligence is undervalued these days. We must do away with rulebooks and start trusting our own judgementby Richard Dawkins / February 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
Click here to find out what other big names such as Simon Schama and Grayson Perry would do if they ruled the world
How often do we petulantly mutter something equivalent to: “If I ruled the world, I’d…” Yet when an editor offers you the same self-indulgence out of the blue, the mind goes blank. Frivolous answers are easy enough to reel off: ban chewing gum, baseball caps and burqas, and equip all trains with mobile phone jammers. But such pettiness is unworthy of the editor’s generosity. How about the other extreme, the utopian, pie-in-the-sky decree of universal happiness, and abolishing starvation, crime, poverty, disease and religion? Too unrealistic. So here’s a manageably modest yet still worthwhile ambition: if I ruled the world, I would downgrade rulebooks and replace them, wherever possible, with humane, intelligent discretion.
I’m writing this on a plane, having just passed through security at Heathrow. A nice young mother was distraught because she wasn’t allowed to take on board a tub of ointment for her little girl’s eczema. The security man was polite but firm. She wasn’t even permitted to spoon a reduced quantity into a smaller jar. I couldn’t grasp what was wrong with that suggestion, but the rules were unbendable. The official offered to fetch his supervisor, who came and was equally polite, but she too was bound by the rulebook’s hoops of steel.
There was nothing I could do, and it was no help that I recommended a website where a chemist explains, in delightfully comedic detail, what it would actually take to manufacture a workable bomb from binary liquid ingredients, labouring for several hours in the aircraft loo, using copious quantities of ice in relays of champagne coolers helpfully supplied by the cabin staff.
The prohibition against taking more than very small quantities of liquids or unguents on planes is demonstrably ludicrous. It started as one of those “Look at us, we’re taking decisive action” displays, the ones designed to cause maximum inconvenience to the public just to make the dimwitted Dundridges who rule our lives feel important and look busy.
It’s the same with having to take our shoes off (another gem of official wallyhood that must have Bin Laden chuckling victoriously into his beard)—and all those other exercises in belated stable door-shutting. But let me get to the general principle.…