Sunday, November 16, 2008

Forum (Day 2)

By the second day of the forum, Roger had given up on me and turned his attentions to a good-looking young mechanic I’ll call Charlie. I felt bad for Charlie, but I suspected that he was spry enough to escape if Roger got out of control.

This meant that I was free to get to know the other members of the forum. The majority of them were pretty normal, both in terms of intelligence and perceptiveness. However I discovered that there were two people who took the average way down, like a couple of krakens dragging a sailing ship to the bottom of the sea.

One woman, let’s call her Doris, frustrated me so much that I literally had to fight down the urge to run out of the room and hurl small items of furniture across the foyer. One of the rules of group discussions was that everyone had to have a say, which seemed fair enough, but when she was asked to respond to a statement she would simply latch onto the first word she understood and make a pronouncement about that, regardless of whether or not it made a blind bit of sense in relation to the original statement.

For example:

Me: I think that drug companies have both rights and responsibilities; they have responsibilities to the community, but they also need a legal framework that allows them to function without constant pestering.

Doris: Drug companies need to respect people’s rights.

Me: Well of course, but the drug company also has rights, just as the members of the community have rights.

Doris: The community need to have their rights protected!

Me: But what about the rights of the pharmaceutical companies?

Doris: Pharmaceutical companies need to be controlled by laws.

Me: (untranscribable sound of frustrated gibbering).

Actually I kept the frustrated gibbering to a minimum. When you’re at a table that’s 80% older ladies, any hint of adversarial behaviour automatically sides them with the weaker party and thus discounts anything you have to say. I had to smile weakly, agree with whatever asinine non sequitur Doris had spouted, and retreat to my happy place, there to imagine the rich, satisfying thud of a hurled office chair bouncing off the foyer wall.

The other woman, let’s call her Hilda, was even worse. If Doris was the dullest tool in the shed, Hilda was the tool that the dog stole from the shed and buried in the back yard, leaving it to become an unrecognizable bar of solid rust that you discover fifteen years later while lifting the dahlias. She could breathe, and eat, and smile at jokes, as long as she could see you smiling, because that’s how she determined that a joke had been made. She perpetually wore the expression that a normal woman might wear in the split second after someone unexpectedly bounces a tennis ball off her forehead: a sort of glazed-over blankness that hasn’t had time to work its way up to being surprise.

Poor Hilda – she seemed to be a nice, obliging, harmless person, but at the forum she was way out her depth. Asking her to share her thoughts on a statement like, say, “Ethics committees tasked with approving genetic research might be open to improper outside influence” was like asking someone else to summarise the owner’s manual for a 1973 Toyota Crown in sonnet form.

When it came time for her to talk, we were all thinking the same thing. Please, Hilda, just speak a sentence that makes sense. Any sentence. You can do it. Just put the words together to form a logical clause. Just a little one.

“I think…”

Everyone leans in.

“I think that genetic researchers need to be …”


… need to be honest…

Yes! Score!

… in the way that they use their ethics to make drugs…

Oh crap, we’re losing her!

… use their ethics to make drugs and not let pharmaceutical companies make drugs, and there need to be laws and rights.

“Er, yes, Hilda, genetic researchers need to be honest,” says the facilitator, grasping desperately at whatever she can get. “That’s an excellent point.”

It would be useful if the organizers could prepare for the next meeting by coming up with a metaphor that will put the complicated issues of biotechnology in terms that Doris and Hilda can understand. I figure that all they need to do is to take ethics committees, biotechnology companies and tissue databases and work out which one is Brad, which one is Angelina, and which one is Jennifer.


Blogger TimT said...

That sounds less fun than a group meeting of psychologically disturbed people. Same bland atmosphere, less recriminations/psychopaths attempting to wreak terrible, terrible havoc on all and sundry/less FUN.

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are these forums set up just so the decision makers can say they held one, then they just do what they want to do? Doesn't seem like any real decisions would come from the forums you describe. Jaymez

2:18 PM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

It occured to me that maybe the whole community forum thing is just a box to be ticked, but they seem to be putting a hell of a lot of money and effort into it. If it were merely a formality, they could have dispensed with it all in a day or two, rather than four.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Janine said...

Blanders, I hadn't thought you would have needed reminding that you can't judge the merit of any government department doing ANY thing by how much it would cost them. Governments, and by extension, their Departments, are rather excellent at shelling out all sorts of other people's money to achieve all sorts of absolutely nothing, merely to have ticked a box. But I'm glad it's you and not me, as I expect I would have hurled the furniture. Or just left. I look forward to your wrap up of the final 2 days!

3:59 PM  
Blogger an9ie said...

Your predicament made me laugh AND cry (in my mind). All I can say is it's a good thing you were there to raise the IQ average.

11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Boy,
Scathing, pejorative.... excellent work, keep it up.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous TroyG said...

Think of the money.

10:32 AM  

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