The Big Issue : Edition 490
culture police Fiona Scott-Norman THEBIGISSUE7–13AUG2015 29 ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH OFF COURSE arborist a few months earlier during a routine inspection of the park. So the council and its arborist ended up in court. This makes me so sad. Because it’s clearly a tragic case, but also because it’s become a hunt for someone to blame. If ever an event fell into the category of ‘Act of God’, it seems to me it’s a falling branch. The outdoors can be dangerous. The only way to guarantee branches won’t fall is to cut down every tree. Which, let’s face it, would make for a lousy park experience. Years ago, at a party I attended with my friend Kate, a drunk young man dislocated his shoulder. He’d been dancing on a marble coffee table, fell off and started screaming. The party stopped as if hit by a train. No one was a first-aider, and there was nothing to be done but wait for the ambulance. And wait. And wait. A shoulder dislocation rates low on the dispatch urgency scale on a Saturday night. Kate and I slipped into Good Samaritan mode, and figured we’d just drive the poor bastard to Emergency. We were chatting within earshot of two lawyers we’d just met, and they became super sober, super quickly. “Do not,” one said. “Do not do that.” When we looked incredulous, they sighed as though we were idiot children. “If anything goes wrong, he’ll sue you,” they explained. Kate and I stared at each other for two beats and then laughed like drains. I remember feeling sorry for the lawyers. That’s how you live? How awful... And now we all live like this. And it is awful. Sometimes we’re responsible for our own misfortune; sometimes shit does just happen. The result of casting around for someone to blame is that we all become increasingly cautious. Why would you ever help anyone, or take a stand, or any kind of risk, if you might end up in court? Being alive is one big crapshoot. Have we forgotten that mortality isn’t optional? It’s as my mum Norah said when she was admitted to her first nursing home. “Well. No one leaves here except in a coffin.” I’M BEGINNING TO miss God. Not in a personal way, as I was raised to be secular by spiritually lazy parents. My belief system consisted of calling myself an atheist because “I didn’t need an invisible means of support”. I also wore a lot of black and smoked Sobranie Cocktail cigarettes. I’ve left smartie- pants slogans and the fags behind, but I’m still a non- believer. It would be lovely if there were some omnipotent super-being who, like Elvis, was Taking Care of Business. But with half-a -century under my belt, all the evidence I see suggests the contrary. But the concept of acts of God? Now that was useful. Insurance policies used to rock that clause, which effectively forwarded damage claims due to floods, hail or locusts to the inbox of The Lord. It was a fancy way of saying ‘‘shit happens’’; some things are beyond our control – which is the stone cold truth. I can’t even control the things which technically are under my control, such as how much cheese is appropriate to eat in one sitting, paperwork and, thanks to perimenopause, my bladder. We no longer slate things Godwards, though, which means there’s a gap in the blame market. Used to be, something bad happened: God’s fault. Move along. Yes, it was imaginary, but it was the mental-health equivalent of good guttering; blame was displaced into the stormwater drain and harmlessly funnelled out to sea. You’d think the vacuum created by shunting God out of the picture would have been filled with, I don’t know, common sense or taking personal responsibility. But no such luck. Turns out it’s been filled with lawyers. When life deals us a bad hand, the new normal, apparently, is to cast around for the people ‘responsible’ and start proceedings. Your kid has an allergy? Threaten to sue if the school doesn’t ban peanuts. You didn’t get the university grade you wanted? Sue. A man in the US sued Apple for ruining his sex life, because their device allowed him unrestricted access to porn. I mean, dude... Another case, closer to home, involved a family in a park when a branch from a tree fell down, killing a child and injuring the mother. Legal action has since ensued. Why? Because it seems the tree had been declared safe by a council » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman. IF WE’RE LEAVING GOD OUT, WHO’S AT FAULT WHEN THINGS GO WRONG?