There’s a news story this week about a professor of medicine whose car hit a tree. He said he had had a heart attack, which caused his heart to stop and made him run his car into a tree. Fortunately, say the reports, his chest hit the steering wheel with such force that it restarted his heart. All the papers ran the story straight, not one expressing doubt. When I remarked to the effect that you can fool all of the people some of the time, wife said I was a cynic.
My view was that the guy was legless drunk, but being a medical professor he was able to think up a plausible story. (No-one raised the question of how, if he had been wearing a seat belt, his chest could have struck the wheel.)
(I was interrupted in the process of posting the above by a call from my garage man. Sorry, he says, the parts that I told you would cost £20 - $30 - will actually cost £155 - $232 - each.)
I submit I am a sceptic – ie. I do not mistrust people or assume I am being cheated, I simply question things I am told.
When our beloved Prime Minister says that this or that cabinet minister has ‘resigned’, as has happened at least three times in the past 12 months – for reasons of either sexual shenanigans, financial skulduggery or both - I have mused ‘don’t worry, Peter – or David – or Alastair - you can come back in when the heat's off’. Again I was accused of cynicism, and again events proved me right in each case – in fact they all came back to bigger jobs. And when the said PM was telling the nation about WMDs in Iraq when all the experts said there were none, who could not have foreseen that the later justification for the mass murder would become ‘well anyway, Sadaam was not a nice chap’.
I don’t give money to blokes who wave collection boxes in my face while mumbling something about sick children, (why is it never sick oldies?) and don’t believe soccer players who roll over four times and lie dead still in the penalty area when all they’ve had is a gentle nudge - when outside the penalty area. I even have trouble with turning water into wine and feeding 5,000 people with a loaf and two small fishes.
I like to think it’s a healthy scepticism, but just sometimes, I wonder - am I a cynic?
(Footnote to the recent post about French ‘language politics’: an e-mail from a French university professor friend says proudly that she is to be presented with the Palme Académique - a state medal awarded to those who have taught French to foreign students.)