‘Preventable people’ was a slip of the tongue by someone being interviewed on the radio today. He meant things that could be prevented from affecting people but I think the slip is much more interesting. Of course, it would be easy to make a list of preventable people. They’d vary according to our political, moral and other beliefs but there’s 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. All very existential.
And before pro-lifers start putting me on their list of undesirables (or maybe preventables), 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 medium such as this. No, this is just a linguistic fancy. It’s about the delightfully Orwellian notion of a category of persons who are unpleasant enough, in one way or another, to be considered preventable.
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 a politician mouthing the usual evasions 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 choose, I’m pretty confident that the ‘preventable’ option would be a much better use of the democratic process.