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Water, Prozac, management consultants: all completely useless

So many of the things we are told to do are a total waste of time or money, says Rod Liddle, who has just completed a failed two-year course in water-drinking to make him a better person

5 March 2008

12:00 AM

5 March 2008

12:00 AM

According to one serious front-page newspaper report, all those bones found on the site of that former children’s home in Jersey were actually left-over props from an edition of Bergerac. The whole place is taped off, they’ve had the floppy-eared sniffer dogs in and the supposedly grisly, horrible revelations have been leading our news programmes for a week or more. Now it may well be not multiple murders after all, but merely fake stuff left for John Nettles to find many years ago, before he forsook the Channel Islands for the scarcely gentler parish of Midsomer.

This revelation surprised me less than you might imagine. I have long held that almost everything I do in my life has been scripted by some grinning imbecile in the BBC light entertainment department and that unconsciously I am simply acting out a rather lowbrow situation comedy, the sort of early evening programme that once provided work for the likes of Melvyn Hayes or Terry Scott and revolves, for its jokes, around male ineptitude, misogyny or racism. So it makes sense that everything else is fictitious, too.

I suspect it wouldn’t surprise you if you were told tomorrow that Afghanistan was simply a vast, rocky set created for the benefit of Ross Kemp and that actually at the end of each day the Taleban militia members rip off their confining robes, wipe away the dusky greasepaint and enjoy a nice Sancerre in the Green Room. You would just nod wearily and say yeah, that makes sense. Welcome to something like the Truman Show, except less fun and with nothing at all beyond the glass barrier that confines us except for an omnipotent but paradoxically moronic television controller.

You can blame this depression of mine on another story last week, to the effect that Prozac doesn’t exist — it, too, is a sort of fiction. Most people who read the story that these antidepressants were proven to be utterly useless, of no greater consequence than a placebo, will have become so depressed that they probably took double the usual dose. And thus immediately succumbed to an illusory feeling of comparative cheerfulness.

This is the real problem, of course; the revelation that Prozac and the like is a complete waste of money will have made an awful lot of depressed people even more depressed than they would usually be. The clever ones will have worked out that if Prozac has no medicinal effect, but it does in fact serve to cheer them up, then their depression is also entirely illusory. ‘I thought I was depressed,’ they will be muttering to themselves, ‘but it turns out it was all in the mind.’

What they needed to alleviate their depression, these people, was the notion that they were being taken seriously by the medical profession, a transactional process that occurred when the prescription for Prozac was written out. Now all of that charade has been destroyed for ever by an inside-page news story. What shall they do? They will probably exist like the rest of us, in unalleviated depression, harbouring the suspicion that nothing works, that nothing is real.

Not even water; for the last two years I have dutifully swallowed glass after glass of water during the day in order to detoxify and lubricate my beleaguered system. This swallowing of a deeply boring substance I considered an imposition, but I did so anyway partly because I wished to be part of the modern Western world, in which everybody continually sips f****** water and also because I was gulled into believing it might stop my liver from exploding, lower my blood pressure, make me a better and more caring person, etc.

I do not know why I fell for this; I am usually well-attuned to the jackboot approach of the health fashion police. Now it turns out that drinking water all day has exactly the same effect as taking Prozac — i.e., none whatsoever. You do not need to take so much as a sip. You can get all the water you need in any other liquid, fruit or vegetable you care to mention. I look back at my days of dolefully pouring a glass of tapwater at 11 a.m. as being a kind of practical joke played upon the participants of an endless, boring and spectacularly witless reality television programme. ‘Now we’re going to make Liddle drink water for TWO YEARS. Ha ha ha, come into the diary room, Liddle.’

However, the most shocking revelation that this life is nothing but smoke and mirrors, that even the things which we hold most dear and invest all of our faith in are wholly illusory, came exactly one year ago. And despite having the rug pulled from beneath our feet, in the intervening 12 months we have continued exactly as before, our faith apparently undimmed. I am talking about the frankly unbelievable report from the National Audit Office (NAO) at the very end of 2006, which stated, following a long and costly analysis, that management consultants were of absolutely no use to mankind whatsoever, despite the £3 billion of public money we spend upon them annually.

Let’s be clear: it did not say that management consultants were sometimes of no use, but that sometimes they were terrific. It said, per se, management consultants are absolutely useless, full stop. In the three years leading up to the NAO report, spending upon ‘outsourcing’ to the likes of Logica and Accenture (and surely those names should have given the game away) increased by 33 per cent. There was one glorious example of outsourcing cited: Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs outsourced the problem of needing to save £105 million in labour costs. This they did, successfully, to a team of management consultants who charged them £106 million. The NAO suggested that the work carried out by the consultants usually simply duplicated work done by the in-house civil servants. Either way, it was useless.

Anyway, that was a year ago. Have we changed since then? Have we resolved never, ever, to use the likes of Accenture and Logica again? Nope, we have continued to give them vast sums of public money, much as those suffering from depression will continue to plead for Prozac, regardless of the knowledge that it will do them no real good whatsoever. Thinking about it, there is very good money to be made from smoke and mirrors.

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