Features

Please stop trying to raise my awareness

Once, campaigners and charities tried to fight social evils. Now they just tell us about them

29 March 2014

9:00 AM

29 March 2014

9:00 AM

I wish people would stop trying to raise my awareness. I can’t so much as surf the web or stroll a high street these days without being accosted by one of the aware, who is always hellbent on making me as aware as he is, usually about some disease or, if you’re really lucky, the rifeness of child abuse. The army of the aware are everywhere, covered from head to toe in awareness ribbons, their arms weighted down by awareness bracelets, their aware brains bulging with scary stats about Aids, rape, breast cancer or boozing that they are desperate to impart to us, the blissfully unaware. These awareness-raisers seem to be aware of everything except how annoying they are.

Raising awareness has become the aim of just about every political movement and charity of the 21st century. There was a time — seems like donkey’s years ago now — when socially minded folk were focused on changing the actual, physical, infrastructural world. Now they’re obsessed with re-arranging the brain furniture of those of us who don’t know how many men aged 18 to 35 die of testicular cancer every year or what sarcoidosis is. (Nope, I don’t know either — but April is Sarcoidosis Awareness Month, so we’ll no doubt find out.) Charities now raise awareness about poverty rather than trying to end it. Schools raise awareness about STDs. Government officials raise awareness about the dangers of binge-drinking, or what the rest of us call ‘having three pints’. And there’s no option to remain unaware. To say ‘I know quite enough about Aids, thanks very much’ or ‘I don’t want to know what getting drunk every Saturday night for the next 20 years will do to my liver’ is to mark oneself out as unfeeling, one of the ribbonless rabble who refuse to become aware.

There’s no escaping the awareness-raisers. In April we have the following to look forward to: Allergy Awareness Week, Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, Child Abuse Awareness Month, Male Cancer Awareness Week, Parkinson’s Awareness Week, STD Awareness Month, and Stress Awareness Month. That last one is quite handy, actually, because if anything is going to ratchet up the stress levels of the populace, it’s being subjected to a tsunami of awareness-raising ads and articles about disease, death and child abuse.


The awareness-raisers aren’t only on our TVs and in our papers. They’re in our pubs. Beer mats are increasingly used to raise awareness about everything from alcohol abuse to domestic violence to unsafe sex. Coppers and officials have plastered public loos with posters designed to raise awareness about human trafficking, prostate cancer, and drinking while preggers. Hell, they’re even colonising our clothing. A few years back, in the name, of course, of raising awareness, Tesco put in its Y-fronts and boxers a message for young men to ‘check their testicles once a month after a warm shower or bath’. The aware are literally getting into our pants.

Raising awareness in others these days actually means drawing attention to yourself. Ignoring historian William Hutton’s warning that, ‘The charity that hastens to proclaim its good deeds ceases to be charity, and is only pride and ostentation’, people now grow moustaches to let the world know they’re raising money for men’s health charities; they take pictures of themselves — ‘selfies’ — without make-up and post them on Facebook in the name of breast cancer awareness, and don ribbons to show how much they care about some plague or plight. In 1991 the red Aids ribbon was launched; now there’s a pink ribbon for breast cancer, a blue one for prostate cancer, an orange one for kidney disease — the list is endless. There is colour competitiveness and confusion in the ribbon world: the purple one can denote concern for pancreatic cancer or cystic fibrosis or Alzheimer’s. You’ll have to ask the wearer what terrible thing he or she is very publicly concerned about. Don’t expect all of them to know, though. Researching her book Ribbon Culture, the academic Sarah Moore found she had to remind some of her interviewees what their ribbons represented. But then, the colour and cause of a ribbon are not what’s important — a ribbon on a lapel, whatever its hue, is really about showing the world you are generally sensitive, aware, good.

Being aware is now the correct and conformist state of mind. Government-backed charities encourage us to be ‘drinkaware’ or ‘gambleaware’. Drinkaware, supported by the Home Office, might just be the most patronising charity in Christendom. ‘The only guaranteed way to avoid a hangover is not to drink alcohol,’ its website says. Thanks for that. The modern-day temperates who have devoted themselves to raising awareness about drink aren’t really interested in giving us serious info, far less in making us aware of just how joyous a bender with mates can be. Instead they parrot the killjoy view of boozing as a reckless act that is making Britain broken. To be drinkaware is actually to jettison your own judgment, to shelve your own experience-based awareness of the benefits of having a drink, and to bend your knee at the altar of what the aware have decided is the correct amount to drink.

The aware claim that they just want to enlighten the little people about the pitfalls and ailments of modern life. In truth, they have more in common with what Kant described as the ‘guardians’ holding humanity back from experience. Kant complained about having ‘a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet’, and he accused these self-elected guardians of teaching ‘the majority of mankind [to] consider the step to maturity, not only as hard, but as extremely dangerous’. Sing it, Immanuel. Today, we have the aware telling us what to drink, when to gamble, how to have sex, how scared we should be of disease. Human beings are perfectly capable of learning for themselves, from trial and error, from taking risks, from Google for God’s sake. ‘Dare to know,’ said Kant. Today, let’s dare to be unaware. Rip off the ribbons, shave the moustaches, bin the bracelets, shun the selfie and decide for yourself what you want your life in the 21st century to be like.

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Show comments
  • ReefKnot

    The real scandal is that thousands of so-called charities receive direct taxpayer funding to enable them to carry out political campaigning and lobbying. Many of these ‘fake charities’ do no real charitable work at all.

    They should be made to stand on street corners shaking tins to see how much public support they really have and to see if they can then afford to pay their CEO’s the mega bucks they currently enjoy – courtesy of the unwitting taxpayer.

    • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

      So your against outsourcing of government functions to third sector organisations which lack democratic accountability? Great, me too, let’s bring these things back in house.

  • La Fold

    Just do what I do, listen to their spiel, look all dewey eyed about whatever they are trying to guilt trip you into and then just bluntly say no once they think they’ve mugged you off into dishing out a donation/ comission. That way they are sure never to bother you again.

    • post_x_it

      It’s funny, there is always someone who comes up with a “I know how to play them at their own game” or “I know how to really piss them off so they never try again” line. Truth is, they shrug and carry on. If they didn’t have a thick skin and total lack of self-awareness, they wouldn’t be doing the job in the first place.

  • Ian Woolley

    Brendan is wrong about this – increasingly the real problem is raising inaccurate awareness as the new campaign at Live From Golgafrincham shows.

    • Pleiades

      Maybe we should start an organization to raise awareness about inaccuracies in awareness-raising organizations’ information. People need to be aware that what they’re newly aware of might not be correct. What color should our ribbons be? Which month should we pick?

      • mountolive

        Ribbons: black or white with ying yang motif to make us aware of the duality, the interconnectedness – but with essential contradictions – of our situations.

        Month: Feb/March. Aquarian, of course.

        Can I join?

  • Ian Woolley
    • post_x_it

      I think you just have.

      • Ian Woolley

        Yes, I’m aware.

  • paradise 33

    How would the faux-omniscient o’neill suggest we set about changing things in “the actual, physical, infrastructural world,” if we don’t know about them in the first place?

    • Pleiades

      Most people know about most of these things “in the first place”. If awareness was the answer, then why do we have any societal ills or health problems at all anymore? In fact, we have the most “aware” public in history. We have the most aware AIDS “victims”, the most aware knocked-up teenage girls, the most aware druggies, the most aware drunkards, the most aware [insert cause here] sufferers in history. I know to give my breasts a good once-over every month because my grandmother died of breast cancer, not because some ribbon-wearing, awareness-raising activist wears pink and walks forty miles in an effort to make me aware. I know how to avoid a hangover because I’ve had one before and it wasn’t fun enough to repeat (well, repeat more than three or four times anyway). I knew how to avoid getting AIDS before anyone had ever heard of it. It’s called “common sense”, a phrase that has, unfortunately, become an oxymoron. Hence, the profusion of awareness raising.

      • Ooh!MePurse!

        Brilliant! You’ve cut through the BS in a masterly manner!

      • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

        “Common sense” is what it’s called when an awareness campaign succeeds. Washing your hands to prevent infection wasn’t “common sense” for all of human history up until germ theory, and the resultant massive sanitation and public health campaigns.

        Your AIDS comments are case in point. You didn’t know how to avoid it “before anyone had ever heard of it”, because the connection between AIDS and the HIV virus wasn’t made until several years later. You imagine, with the benefit of hindsight, that you always knew what you in fact only learnt because someone else told you after scientists had put in the work.

        • Pleiades

          Public health campaigns are one thing; those members of the Church of the Perpetual Causes who proselytize in an effort to feel like they’re “doing something” are what some people take exception to. They don’t have to get their hands dirty doing anything meaningful if they wear a ribbon and Run for Rheumatism or See-Saw for Syphilis. It’s sanctimonious and self-aggrandizing. And extremely annoying.

          Not knowing what AIDS was had no bearing on my ability to avoid contracting it. I knew that more harm (in myriad varieties) than good would come from having risky sex with people I had no history with, no personal or emotional investment in, and no future with. I also avoided contracting crabs, gonorrhea, HPV, and unwanted pregnancies using that same “common sense”, and I learned it all before the first red ribbon showed up on the lapel of a Hollywood star at the Academy Awards.

          • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

            What you’re talking about in terms of sexual behaviour isn’t ‘common sense’, it’s learned morality.

            Your responses in both your answers implying that those with the HIV virus some how deserve to have a deadly disease because of their behaviour is quite horrible, considering that this is a disease which can be passed from mother to child simply by breast feeding.

          • Pleiades

            Common sense is a basic ability to make sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts. It’s acquired through rudimentary inductive and deductive reasoning. The process of this type of reasoning is best exhibited through syllogism:

            Major Premise: When human beings have unprotected, risky sex, there is a great likelihood that they will get pregnant and/or contract sexually transmitted diseases.
            Minor Premise: I am a human being.
            Conclusion: Therefore, if I have unprotected, risky sex, there is a great likelihood that I will get pregnant and/or contract an STD.

            This became apparent to me at 12 when my 16-year-old sister had risky, unprotected sex and became pregnant. We were taught the same moral values, but our results were different because she did not employ her common sense whereas I did. In fact, those who are not taught the same moral values could (and do) come to the same conclusions. It’s a morality-free process based on the process of linking consequences to actions.

            And yes, you’re quite right about me being horrible. My comments were targeted specifically at the relatively infinitesimal number of innocent newborns who contract AIDS through breastfeeding. I also take joy in drowning puppies and pushing the elderly in front of oncoming traffic.

          • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

            According to Yale University, around 800,000 children per year contract HIV.

            According to the World Health Organisation, between a third and half of those children who contract HIV do so in utero, during birth or during breast-feeding.

            That would be between 270,000 and 400,000 children per year.

            Your “common sense” told you only an “infinitesimal number of innocent newborns” contract HIV in this way. The data says your “common sense” is wrong.

            I’m happy to have raised your awareness.

          • Pleiades

            Brendan O’Neill’s argument is about annoying, irrelevant awareness-raising twits in the UK, not legitimate health campaigns for legitimate epidemics across the entire planet, and it was to that argument I was responding. You’ve gone so far afield on this one that I’m just…I can’t…

            And I’m sure you’re happy to have raised my awareness. You couldn’t have done a more effective job of proving O’Neill’s point. You are the posterboy for annoying, irrelevant, awareness-raising twits. Congratulations.

          • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

            When I see people implying that people who have a deadly disease deserve it, I challenge them. If that make me a posterboy, well, that’s a badge I’ll wear with pride.

          • Pleiades

            No doubt.

          • Ridcully

            I can’t see how breastfeeding would pass on HIV. Even if the mother’s milk were contaminated, the virus would have to directly enter the baby’s blood stream; something it is unlikely to achieve by passing through an even rudimentary digestive tract.

          • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

            I don’t claim to be an immunologist, but the WHO says it can and I was taught it can when I worked at a HIV charity.

          • Rocksy

            Not before the mother got it from her zipperless wanker of a man.

        • Rocksy

          Oh for f***s sake get over yourself.

          • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

            Eloquent and evidence-based argument as always there Rocksy,

          • Rocksy

            Thanks. I thought I presented a cogent and well thought out post.

      • Gwangi

        I agree with everything you say, about the evaporation of common sense in society, cause perhaps by the fact that we are healthier, longer-lived and our children are safer than ever before.

        However, this really did make me laugh out loud:

        ‘I know how to avoid a hangover because I’ve had one before and it wasn’t fun enough to repeat (well, repeat more than three or four times anyway).’
        One before? ONE BEFORE? You clearly need your awareness raised about how to appreciate fine wines and beers!

  • Populist Alliance

    This “awareness” ribbon stuff started with the AIDs issue. It was all about wearing your liberal values as a badge of pride, and it crept in to other public and personal health issues. The trouble is that those who wear them often confuse lack of interest in wearing one with a lack of compassion for the person with cancer, AIDs etc, when really it means that people may be donating privately towards charity with minimal fuss.

    Telethons etc where people pledge money and try to outdo each other to show the world that they are more generous than the next man are another example of ostentatious caring. There may well be people who give even more, but they do it with humility and not for recognition. Ribbons, telethons and the like are the American way of giving to charity. Brash, in-your-face, and hectoring. People give what they can, when they can, and to a charity that suits their world-view, and there personal preferences. Non-participation in public charity does not a Scrooge make..

    • mountolive

      I would have put it a little earlier than AIDS. I reckon it emerged with New Age self-awareness newspeak: “if only I had been aware of the I Ching, I could have got my chakras turning earlier”.

    • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

      Surely it started with poppies?

    • transponder

      Ribbons, telethons and the like are the American way of giving to charity.

      Don’t underestimate the Americans. (Many do, and it’s always a mistake.) After the 9/11 atrocities they did not wear ribbons. They wore the flag. Land of the free, home of the brave, and I am glad to be one of their number.

      • IainRMuir

        You sound like a bad movie screenplay. Forgive us if we’re not overwhelmed.

  • post_x_it

    Sarcoidosis must be a very serious condition. After all it drove the French to vote for the useless Hollande.

  • mountolive

    Awareness raising has always been an exercise in propaganda by the dim for the benefit of the even dimmer.

    Not ‘being aware’ has always been synonymous with having gone through life with a bag over your head

  • disqus_JXTaH3N9kU

    Marvellous stuff. The best article I have read in The Spectator all year. Well done that man.

  • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

    Kant by name and cant by nature. As for the rest of it, your obscurantist desires do not make you sound mature, they make you sound like a child throwing a tantrum because you want to play in the middle of the road.

    I also have to laugh that the very mild and low key public awareness campaigns of drinkaware and gambleaware amount to people telling you how to run your life, but the ubiquitous advertising of the brewers and bookies elicits no mention.

    • transponder

      People want to have fun sometimes. Escape, a bit. We should quash that? Why?

      • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

        I don’t see how providing people the information so they can make a more informed decision is stopping them having fun.

        • transponder

          I think that in my semi-sloshed state I was referring to this:

          ‘but the ubiquitous advertising of the brewers and bookies elicits no mention’.

          • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

            That if you object to being told what to do, it seems a little odd complaining about people pulling you one way, but not about people pulling you the other, especially if that latter are far more influential.

  • Doggie Roussel

    Great article… as far as I’m aware …

  • Doggie Roussel

    There’s a brown ribbon missing… buggery awareness week…

    • Pleiades

      I thought the brown was for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I can’t keep track anymore.

      • Retired Nurse

        what happens when we run out of lapel space?

        • Doggie Roussel

          Perhaps stick them onto other threatened area of our bodies…

      • Doggie Roussel

        No, IBS is a dark chocolate ribbon flecked with red …

  • perdix

    Most shameful have been those charities who previously got their hands dirty by providing practical help to the unfortunate but have chosen to become “campaigning” outfits. The soft option, but still well paid for some.

  • transponder

    Well, Brendan, I can make you aware that carbohydrates will likely give you the ‘diseases of civilization’, including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, bowel problems, digestion problems, certain cancers, and possibly dementia — or I could say nothing and let you eat white flour, white rice, potatoes, corn, and above all sugar to your heart’s content.

    But I’d prefer to give you the head’s-up, as they say in America. Am I wrong to do that?

  • Socialism is Organized Evil

    I’ve found this to be a useful lamp of liberty holding timeless truths for today’s course of human events: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0094KY878

  • Gwangi

    So true!

    Whenever I hear the words ‘Raise Awareness’ I wince with a gag reflex in response to yet another meaningless parroted platitude polluting the air in my ears!

    Ironically, those wanting to raise everyone’s awareness on an almost continual basis seem utterly unaware of how irritating and unlistened to they are. Maybe they need their awareness raised?

  • aurila

    I wonder how long before the liberal elite force everybody to do the opposite of what the individual thinks is appropriate,
    apart from the liberal elite, because of course, some pigs are more equal than others

  • Retired Nurse

    …latterly of course, these have developed into Governmental ‘Nudge Units’…..wish someone would oppose them by setting up Public ‘Grudge Units’ who spam their Twitter feeds……

  • Jitendra Desai

    “Awareness” has evolved in to an industry from the act of genuine charity that it used to be in the days of snail mails.So called “non profits ” don’t report profits but do enjoy perks and privileges and do provide jobs to their nearer and dearer ones.Eg take UNO.How much does it spend on its own and how much on observing so many of those days?
    True, that world is not fully literate and billions are really not “aware” of so many things.But many more billions have become much much more aware than they should be.This is due to the concentration of activists [ and their donors and governments ] in the areas of their comfort zones.[Few will go to jungles of Africa or Asia to make tribals aware of few things].

  • RODA

    Hi, I work in a communication company I want to share my testimony to the world, my name is roda, i am from united kingdom in belfast north ireland, I was a stripper in a club I got effected with HIV due to the nature of my job, In april 15 2013 i was tested positive to HIV, This is not design to convince you but its just a personal health experience . I never taught doctor lawcy could ever get my HIV-AIDS cured with his healing herb spell, i have tried almost everything but I couldn’t find any solution on my disease, despite all these happening to me, i always spend a lot to buy a HIV drugs from hospital and taking some several medications but no relieve, until one day i was just browsing on the internet when i came across a great post of !Michelle! who truly said that she was been diagnose with HIV and was healed that very week through the help of this great powerful healing spell doctor ,I wonder why he is called the great papa lawcy, i never knew it was all because of the great and perfect work that he has been doing that is causing all this. so I quickly contacted him, and he ask me some few questions and so i did all the things he asked me to do,He ask me to buy some herbs and which I did for my cure,only to see that at the very day which he said i will be healed, all the strength that has left me before rush back and i becomes very strong and healthy, this disease almost kills my life all because of me, so i went to hospital to give the final test to the disease and the doctor said i am HIV negative, i am very amazed and happy about the healing doctor lawcy gave to me from the ancient part of africa, you can email him now for your own healing too on his email: drlawcyspellhome@gmail.com……………..

    • mrsjosephinehydehartley

      It’s not Roda Clap is it?

  • bandalasta

    Great stuff, Brendan. Seconded!

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