A period of anniversaries – from the First World War to Magna Carta to the Beatles in the US (only the last of which was in my lifetime!) – makes me reflect on changing social attitudes.
When I was young, people smoked not only in homes, pubs and restaurants but in offices and trains, even hospitals. I celebrated an anniversary of my own last November, marking 25 years since I gave up smoking. Like most of us, I regard smoking now as anti-social.
The popular TV series Mr Selfridge reminds us that in 1918 women employees – earning in any case only half their male counterparts – were sacked to make way for returning war heroes. Sex discrimination, like racial and homophobic prejudice, has not vanished, but its grosser manifestations have become unacceptable.
Attitudes have hardened to drunk driving and are arguably becoming less tolerant of (sober) dangerous or careless driving, including that which kills cyclists.
The law and social evolution seem to work in tandem, reinforcing each other in squeezing out harmful behaviour. Attitudes start to alter, then the law comes in to crystalise and back the change and itself helps generate more progressive views.
On air pollution, we are at a surprisingly low point on this evolutionary scale, apart from on coal-generated smog which the almost 60-year-old Clean Air Act was designed to eliminate. There has been UK law on (invisible) air pollution for 40 years, in the form of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 – on the drafting of which, incidentally, I worked as a junior civil servant.
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