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Making A Virtue Of Necessity

M. Brett‐Crowther
Published 2018 · Chemistry

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To make a virtue of necessity means two things. The better sense is to achieve a good end in great difficulty when options are few and failure is likely. The lower sense is to do something of this kind as if the intention of the actor was to do this throughout and the course of action was chosen for good reasons, not because there were no other possibilities. One may think of military examples; e.g. H.M.S. Rawalpindi’s attempt under Captain Edward Kennedy to attack the German Navy’s Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, 23rd November 1939, or the Battle of the Java Sea, 27th February 1942, when Rear-Admiral Karel Doorman, facing superior Japanese forces, signalled to his squadron (American, British, Dutch, Australian) ‘I attack, follow me.’ The freedom to manoeuvre in regard to environmental matters is day by day reduced, yet year after year, the same picture arises. Problems look increasingly likely to become more entangled with fewer possibilities for resolution except through catastrophe. Thus, there is a population problem; yet the probable consequence is that more will die from hunger and disease before countries bring population and resources into balance. This idea of balance is bound up with the idea of a golden mean, a rational acceptance of the common good, because the essential facts are agreed, the analysis is agreed, and the values are shared. How much more discussion will be needed before the United States takes action to support the Paris agreement on climate change? Before Great Britain takes action on air pollution which is having adverse effects on children in urban centres? Before desertification in Africa and the Middle East becomes the focus of investment, action and significant political choice? The model for solving such problems carries the marks of enlightened self-interest congruent with the political behaviour of Western societies. The behaviour is apparent in societies which have other norms (e.g. China, Russia). But the difficulty is that mankind does not know everything, cannot control all outcomes, cannot even forecast some outcomes with confidence. Again, military examples come to mind. And some outcomes are perfectly predictable but are politically ignored. Thus, in 2018, India is proposing a scheme of public health with immense numbers – patients, costs – in prospect. The British experience of the National Health Service is a salutary warning. Sir Kingsley Wood, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, warned in 1942: ‘The Beveridge scheme is presented as contributory but ... depends on a deficiency grant from the general taxpayer which will grow in the course of time to immense proportions [1].’ In 2018, the NHS presents many questions of resource allocation; not the least being those posed by the falling numbers of E.U. personnel because of Britain’s absurd, self-destructive Brexit ‘policy’. As for India, the birth control policy of Indira Gandhi ran into difficulties including objection to her autocracy; and it has not been matched by any policy of palliative care for the dying [2]. The reduction of the pangs of death may seem a very worthy object for any Ministry of Health, but the question whether health resources can be rationed so that quality is maintained with
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