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Reality is not that important – it’s perception that counts

There is no culture. Only trash. And every week it’s my job to recycle the trash.

As I fed the plastic bottles, one by one, through the frustratingly small hole in the recycling bin, I get a text: ‘Don’t forget to buy bottled water’. 

Buying water is a bit like buying air. Origins matter: spring water, ice mountain water, water slowly percolated through the volcanic rocks of Fiji is what sells. But at the end of the day, it’s all just water.

And humble tap water has fallen out of favour – marketing has seen to that. The oestrogens will reduce your sperm count and the chlorine will bleach your insides. That’s the narrative, and narratives matter.

We buy expensive Italian water to set on the table and we pretend to ourselves that it makes a difference.

Buying trash is the only collective activity we have left. And trash needs to be given value.

So when you buy a pair of fancy Nike trainers you don’t think about the cheap plastic and the sweat shops, you buy them because they’ll help you slam dunk like Michael Jordan (they won’t, you’ll just be another fat kid who’s wasted his pocket money).

If you spray yourself with David Beckham’s deodorant you’ll somehow become wealthy, good looking and talented. I’ve tried it, it doesn’t work. And if you drink coca-cola you’re just awesome and live with your giggly summer friends in a nostalgically over-lit corn field, when in reality it just gives you indigestion and makes your teeth feel funny.

We’ve dead ended ourselves in a never-ending consumerist fantasy and everyone is scrambling to cannibalise a little bit of their favourite celebrity.

And it’s the same with medicines.

You can buy Tesco own-brand paracetamol or ibuprofen but that doesn’t quite hit the spot. If it’s prescribed it’ll work better because, like it or not, general practice and GPs in particular are a brand. We add value where there really isn’t any.

Classical economics tells us that it’s reality that matters and Governments spend billions every year trying to change it. They spend billions trying to cut down on A&E waiting times when they could spend a fraction of the overall cost and invite David Beckham to serve cups of fizzy French water to the punters and people will ask for the waiting times to go up.

At the same time as society is progressively democratised, allowing the bum on the street to drink the same coke and eat the same painkillers as the president, we’re spurred on to consume and demand and to have access to whatever we fancy at any time of day. A 24/7 culture is the norm, when really it’s nothing short of absurd.

And our liberalism means that the consequences of all this consuming and demanding will never be judged. There’ll always be someone out there to pick up the pieces; an addictions doc to dish out the Valium, an A&E nurse to stitch up the forehead, a surgeon to squeeze on the gastric band and a GP to prescribe the brufen, preferably at 8pm.  

I let the last empty bottle fall into the hollow recycling bin, locked the car and trudged across the car park to buy yet another crate of bottled water. Reality, it turns out, is not that important. It’s perception that counts.

Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Edinburgh.