Are we all getting just a little gullible?

I begin with a splendid little joke played on his congregation by our parish priest over a year ago. In the notices on the weekly sheet (proper Mass readings and prayers on the obverse side) an announcement appeared to the effect that, unfortunately, because of new health and safety regulations, the burning of votive candles before the church’s various shrines would shortly be illegal, and that the Swedish firm of Arvin Olaf would therefore shortly be installing tasteful electric candles, which would light up when a coin was placed in the appropriate slot.

This notice naturally produced an apoplectic response in most members of the congregation who read it (including myself, I have to admit), and after Mass we all descended in our rage on Fr Daniel, the then newly appointed parish priest, who was incomprehensibly (he is a very serious and clearly prayerful young man) highly delighted by our response, which he greeted with ill-contained laughter. Is it true, we spluttered? And what’s so funny about it? Well, he replied, look again at the name of the Swedish electric candle firm. What? Arvin Olaf, he said. Think about it. Arvin Olaf. ’Avin a laugh? It was a tease. We, of course, responded with slightly shame-faced laughter, which became more uninhibited the more we thought about it. But what was he saying? Don’t believe everything you read, even in the parish notices? Or was it, don’t get so het up about unimportant things?

‘Elf and safety, political correctness, and a whole load of other issues, illegal immigrants on our benefits, the general moral collapse of our society and so on, are (some of them) serious enough: but maybe we need to think a bit more about what’s involved rather than simply relapsing into “disgusted, Tunbridge Wells” mode. I only suggest this because with advancing years I detect this tendency more and more in myself. The danger is that it induces a willingness to believe anything at all which feeds our prejudices.

To some extent, this is inevitable. Don’t we tend to read the newspaper least likely to outrage our prejudices and most likely to build them up? But a certain initial scepticism about such information is probably a good idea. Fortified by the Arvin Olaf incident, perhaps, I am glad to say that I was not taken in by the following “news item”, which we were sent by a relative now living permanently abroad, as an example of what has happened to this country (possibly in an unconscious justification for leaving it forever?)

In a run-down part of the East End of London a fire destroyed a dilapidated four-storey house that had been divided into four flats.

A Nigerian family of six internet con artists and full-time benefit cheats lived on the first floor… all six tragically perished in the fire.

A group of seven Islamic welfare cheats, all illegally in the country, lived on the second floor… they too, all perished in the fire.

Six Albanian, gang banger, ex-cons – all claiming political asylum and living off the state for free, occupied the 3rd floor… they too, died.

But the middle aged British white couple who lived on the top floor miraculously survived the fire. The Equal Opportunities Commission, Amnesty International, rights activists, black community leaders and the British Islamic Council were all furious at the apparent racial inequality of the situation.

Why was just the British white couple saved? It was monstrous, they claimed, and showed that systemic “racism” still existed in all areas of public service… A large motorcade of representatives from all five groups, together with the Home Secretary, drove to the area, having demanded a meeting with the local
chief fire officer….

On camera, they loudly demanded to know why the Africans, Black Muslims and Albanians all died in the fire and only the white couple lived.

One bemused chief fire officer quietly replied: “Because they were both at work.”

Well, there is something pretty obviously fishy about this story; for a start, where does it come from? It doesn’t read at all like a newspaper story in any identifiable English paper. It’s too long-winded for a tabloid, too crudely opinionated for a “quality” paper. But our ex-pat source did believe it: “this says a lot about England” was her view. “They had it coming, I suppose. Fruits of Empire. But very sad.”

Actually this particular spoof has appeared in many versions in more than one country. The following mutation is clearly meant to be believed, since it gives as its source the Los Angeles Times (I have not however, perhaps unsurprisingly, been able to confirm that any such article ever appeared in that highly respectable paper). This is the “Los Angeles” version:

A fire was reported in a three family house mid-morning Wednesday last week.

There were many fatalities.

On the first floor lived a black family – 6 fatalities.

On the second floor lived a Mexican family – 13 fatalities.

On the third floor lived a white family of 2 – no fatalities.

A reporter at the scene made headlines with this story. Immediately the fire chief and his department were attacked by NAACP, Jesse Jackson and other black rights groups, as well as the Mexican Consulate as being racist in their handling of the fire and loss of life issues.

There was some unsettling discomfort when questioned further the fire chief explained why the family on the third floor survived the fire and the others did not.

His only response was, “They were at work!”

Message: all immigrants are lazy spongers who are a drain on our resources: and those who seek to defend them against the racism of those who reject them absolutely are politically committed opportunists to be ignored.

Meanwhile, all attempts at considering such issues in a sane and balanced way become more and more difficult.

So what’s the solution? Firstly, perhaps, a little moderate scepticism; and second a little more cool thought about such facts as really can be established. Pretty obvious stuff, I know. But not necessarily the way we actually behave. So, when I find myself beginning to get cross about some aspect of our disintegrating culture, I here most solemnly resolve to remind myself of that indispensable Swede Arvin Olaf. And then to try to find out what is really going on.