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The social contract and radioactivity

Dear Reader,

I will comment later on some of the possible reasons why governments are suspicious of radiation measurements made by the general public. I think that it is quite simple, bad advice kills people or in lesser cases causes ill health, needless suffering or economic damage. But first I want to tell you about what I think of the social contract.

The great problem is that the social contract seems to be starting to fail in some places; the idea of the social contract is that all persons who reside in a place through their continued presence in a place are buying a part of society. We pay for society through taxes and when we give up the “rights” to do as we please, but in return the state looks after our interests and protect us from harm.

For example if Mr Z (The vile felon from another of my posts) punches you and steals your car, then rather than you being allowed to (or being required to) settle it through a violent attack on Mr Z when he goes out his house to put out his bin (Note I choose a scenario which the “gun lobby” could never argue was self defence) you can go to a policeman (or a police woman). The police officer will investigate the theft of your car and
the injury to your body. Then the police officer will catch Mr Z, and bring him before a court. The court will then put Mr Z on trial, convict him and then give him a sentence. The judge may order compensation to be paid to you; alternatively you can go to a civil court and sue his sorry ass to kingdom come.

In the UK even if the vile felon is not caught for personal injuries you may be paid compensation by the government. A scheme exists where the victims of violent crime are paid a modest amount of compensation by the state, even if no body knows who did the deed this state body can pay compensation.

This is an example of how the social contract works; sadly it does not always work. I recall once reading that an evil knifeman went on a rampage. A passerby helped the police subdue the monster (getting hurt in the process); the policemen then strongly suggested to the man that he should apply to the state for compensation for the injury caused to him by the knife thug. The man applied and then was told that because years ago he was convicted of drunken driving that he was not eligible for compensation from the state.

While I do not support the idea of compensating the bank robber who robs a bank and then is violently robbed as he leaves the bank (do not laugh too much it has happened), I do think that if the former drunken driver had paid his debt to society then if through his brave action he gets injured then he should be considered just like any other man when the compensation claim is being processed.

One of the aims of the UK prison service is to make bad people into good people, to me this is the idea of reforming people. If bad people are fixed by the criminal justice system and turned into good people then society should try to give the reformed offender some chance to have some form of a new start.

Part of the social contract includes that the state should take care of your health and wellbeing, the degree of care differs from one country to another. In the UK since just after world war two a national health service (NHS) has existed which provides free of charge treatment to the British public. However in the USA much of the healthcare system is private healthcare, but even in the USA the state claims that it is trying to protect the citizen. For example the USA have the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) which try to guard the wellbeing of the public. In the same way the Japanese citizen should be protected by the state from radiological threats such as poorly designed X-ray sets, defective sun tan block (imagine a bottle which claims to be factor 24 which in reality is only factor 3), radon and the careless use of radioactivity.

The problem is that a government needs to walk a careful line between a range of disastrous outcomes. We could greatly cut down on human exposure to radiation by banning the use of X-ray imaging, but if we did this then the health of the nation would suffer when doctors and dentists no longer could use X-ray equipment to see inside the human body.

On the other extreme we could make X-ray imaging technology more available to the population by scrapping all laws relating to its use. This would lower the price of X-ray equipment (and X-ray examinations). It would also allow people to see freely inside their bodies but it would be certain to lead to a series of radiological catastrophes.

So the government has the thankless task of trying to walk a path which allows society to get an optimum use of X-ray equipment. While medical X-rays are not very emotive, if you consider the application of other radiological/nuclear techniques to society I am sure you will soon see how people can not agree on what is the right way for society to react to the advent of a new technology. I know that the choices of some people are based on scientific reasons while other people make their choice on moral or emotional grounds.

When society does not do what a person wants then people are free in a democratic country to campaign for what they want through a series of different measures. These include.

  1. Write to your MP, congressman or senator
  2. Use the newspapers and other parts of the media to get your message across
  3. Go on protest marches and other forms of public events where you can get the message thought
  4. Link up with likeminded people to try to campaign for change together
  5. Write books and other written materials which expresses your views
  6. Take action, for example if you think that society is failing to take good care of old people/children/animals/disabled people/the environment then volunteer to help take care of what interests you

Many members of society have started to doubt the measures which the state has taken to protect their wellbeing from radiation. I do not want to get into a discussion of “has the state taken all the reasonable actions which are possible to protect the Japanese citizen from the effects of a nuclear accident”, this question is a complex one which I can not deal with in a blog post so I will move onto the next topic.

Regardless of the efforts of the Japanese state and TEPCO to protect the citizen, some citizens have decided that they do not to trust the government. They may well hold the view that the government does not have their best interests in mind when it makes the choices which lead to official advice and government policy.

One of the ways in which some sections of the public have decided to become independent of the state is through their own measurements of radioactivity levels. I will get onto that in a short while.


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