A setback for the working glasses?
A strange report emerged this morning from my bedside radio, by which of course I mean a news item, though now I mention it the thing does sound like a Chinese New Year’s worth of firecrackers when my wife is hoovering the dog, or, as in this case, cooking my breakfast on the other side of our spacious flat (163½ feet2 and £980 a month – a bargain these days). Fortunately my surging consciousness was just able to capture this curious report before it became drowned in the last round of audible breakfast cereal (‘crackling with health’), and I recorded its details. It was in the context of a research programme somewhere near Russia into the effects on human beings of heavy drinking (surely studied enough over the past seven or eight hundred years since universities got going in Europe?) and the important part went approximately thus: `500 hardened boozers are to be recruited in November to act as guinea-pigs on a year-long programme.’ You encounter a very low class of word on the BBC these days, but when you meet the people running it you realise it is a waste of time to be surprised. What is unusual is the word `act’. Now if it was a matter of being treated as guinea-pigs, which is quite common in experiments and surveys, and for that matter in ‘government initiatives’ too, there would be no need to raise an eyebrow. (And before I go on here’s another oddity. `Guinea-pig’ is a traitor to its social origins. Nowadays it means any member of the masses who is bought, or bullied, tricked or suborned by powerful appeals to his stupidity into submitting to the callous curiosity of whichever experimenter or surveyor or politician wishes to manipulate him. But it is a word which has crossed the social front line; for it used to designate one of the manipulating classes, specifically a well-paid company director or some such who was too incompetent or too lazy even to seem to do the job.) Anyway, the manipulators, whoever they are, had allowed it to slip out on the radio that this particular survey required the `boozers’ to act as guinea-pigs. The mind boggles (indeed if it boggles what else can it be except a mind?) What on earth is this programme aiming at and how on earth is it going to be conducted? Are `boozers’ needed because it will be easier to persuade them to adopt this unusual and humiliating behaviour? True, some drunks are easily bamboozled into undertaking ridiculous activities (remember the safari porter who chased away a full-grown elephant a month or two ago?) but just as many become dangerously countersuggestible (especially in Russia in my experience), and half of the first lot collapse into hysterical laughter when they realise what they look like. Perhaps the idea is that those who can be so persuaded will be better at the guinea-pig business than the sober citizenry. This is likely an unjustified slur on sober citizens; nobody so far as I am aware has ever done any properly run investigation into the capacity of ordinary citizens to mimic the guinea-pig when not drunk. I for one believe I could do so to the full satisfaction of all concerned. All the same it is a very odd business, given the almost complete lack of common ground between the typical guinea-pig – shy, herbivorous, timid, a total abstainer from alcohol, and so on – and the typical drunken Russian, and it is a mystery why anyone should have put up the funding for such an experiment. Except it strikes me at this moment that there may be a clue in the extraordinarily large number of people required to take part. They want five hundred! Despite all the differences in other ways, there is one type of behaviour the two mammalian types share. What is more it is one that guinea-pigs are particularly good at, humans less so especially when they are too drunk to be able to perform at a satisfactory level. It is well-known that the Russian government is seriously worried by the declining population. It may be that applicants for this programme will be given the impression they will be getting free supplies through the winter and beyond. I would advise them to be very cautious; it could be that those who devised this experiment are heading in exactly the opposite direction.
Jason the Mason