Catchy title? Maybe not. But I made a note of the expression when I heard it in a radio interview a while ago. The interview was about safety measures and ‘preventable people’ was a slip of the tongue by the interviewee. He was actually referring to (dangerous) things that could be neutralised by being ‘prevented from affecting people’. But the slip is much more interesting.
Of course, it would be easy to make a list of preventable people. We might not all produce identical lists, of course. They’d vary according to our political, moral and other beliefs but if I took that route, the blog would end here. And you know me – ex-academic, capable of talking/writing for ages but saying nothing, so I prefer to point out that the expression poses another, bigger problem. In order to know that they ought to be prevented, we’d need to know why, which means they’d need to exist first and so, by definition, they couldn’t be prevented. See? All very existential.
And before pro-life objections are raised, this isn’t about abortion. I have very clear opinions about that topic which are too profoundly held and too important to be articulated in a trivial blurb such as this. No, this is just a linguistic fancy (triggered, admittedly, by our current international socio-political context). It’s about the delightfully Orwellian notion of a category of persons unpleasant enough, in one way or another, to be considered preventable. People without whom the universe would be a far better place.
Purists will complain that that implies being prevented from doing something specific but I prefer the blunt, unqualified ‘prevented’. If someone should have been prevented it means there’s nothing about them worth preserving. How satisfying it would be, when faced with our politicians mouthing the usual evasions (or, nowadays, even worse, turning their solipsisms into official policy), or a ‘celebrity’ making vacuous pronouncements about their importance or their desire to be alone, to be able to say ‘he/she ought to have been prevented’.
How much nicer history (and therefore the world) would have been if certain people had been prevented. In fact, I’m beginning to think that the verb might be an alternative to ‘elected’. At the polls, why shouldn’t we get ballot papers which allow us to ‘prevent’ candidates as well as ‘elect’ them? Given the representatives we seem to have ‘chosen’ in the recent past, I’m pretty confident that the ‘preventable’ option would be a much better use of the democratic process.