One of the most denied of all human rights is that to silence. I do not mean by this the right to remain silent when accused of a crime, though in Britain at least this has effectively been abolished. I mean, rather, the right not to be assaulted everywhere by extraneous and unnecessary noise.
Silence has become a luxury that very few can afford. An Italian artist was once asked why he had moved from his native country to the wilds of the west of Scotland, not at first sight an exchange that many would make. He replied that while silence in Italy was very expensive, in Scotland—at least in the largely uninhabited parts—it was very cheap.
Of course, not everyone appreciates silence, and perhaps fewer and fewer do so. Indeed, so used have they become to constant electronic stimulation that they grow nervous or anxious without some form of it. Many now claim that they cannot concentrate in silence. Perhaps it is a sign of my age that I am surprised when I see a young person, apparently concentrating on something, with his headphones relaying cacophony while he works. Perhaps, though, he is also working on a homeopathic theory of cacophony that like drives out like, since, if he were to remove his earphones, he would be exposed to other people’s cacophony. Better your own noise than someone else’s.
When I was young, there were notices outside hospitals: QUIET PLEASE. Now such notices would be completely redundant because the noise within outdoes by far any noise that could enter from outside. No doubt some of this noise is unavoidable, but much of it is not. A friend of mine was recently in hospital—a self-proclaimed “Centre of Excellence,” which almost guarantees its mediocrity and likelihood to…