Richard Smith: Don’t panic, regret, worry, or feel guilty

Richard SmithI’m fed up of being told not to panic over swine flu. If I want to panic then I’ll panic. I’ll run naked and screaming down the street imploring my neighbours to do the same.

But then I realise that I don’t know what exactly you do when you panic. Do you turn to jelly, burst into tears, take to your bed, shoot yourself? I’d better look in the dictionary, especially as there presumably won’t be time for that when I do decide to panic.

This is how defines panic: “a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behaviour, and that often spreads quickly through a group of persons or animals.” (I didn’t know this, but panic also means: “Slang. someone or something that is considered hilariously funny: The comedian was an absolute panic.” American usage, presumably.)

“Irrational behaviour” covers anything, but what about “hysterical”? Isn’t that a sexist word? defines it as: “uncontrollably emotional.” Maybe I’ll try that when I decide to panic.

But what irritates me most about Fergus Walsh of the BBC earnestly telling me that it’s not time to panic is that he implies that there may be a time to panic. I imagine him one day looking serious and saying: “Swine flu deaths have now reached 500 a day. It’s time to panic.” Or, if I translate: “It’s now time to behave irrationally or become uncontrollably emotional.”

Clearly there is never a time to panic if you have any choice in the matter. Panic is entirely useless as are regretting, worrying, and feeling guilty. These are all activities that eat you up and have no positive side to them.

I’ve been practising and preaching this philosophy for a long time, and I’ve mostly been successful in avoiding regret, worry, or guilt. There are things that I might have regretted, worried about, or felt guilty over, but where would it have got me if I’d “indulged” those feelings? Nowhere useful.

My comedian brother Arthur Smith, a bit of a philosopher and moralist, is worried by me not regretting, worrying, or feeling guilty. He believes these to be the tools of conscience. If I decide not to feel guilty won’t it mean that I will happily do dreadful things that I should have felt guilty about? I will become an amoral monster, rampaging through South London indulging every beastly appetite.

An empiricist, I simply answer that I don’t do anything more amoral than him—perhaps, he might answer, because I don’t have the same opportunities. So I urge you, gentle or ungentle reader, to follow me and discard regret, worry, guilt and panic. When Fergus tells you it’s time to panic, ignore him.