The Prophet of Nudge….


“Life’s not fair,” I raged. “Why does god always take the smokers first?”

I was watching Joe’s funeral. The church is inconveniently situated beside our health centre, and I usually duck out of sight as the cortege looks over accusingly. If I’m spotted someone is sure to shout, “You should have sent him for that x ray” or “I told you he needed a strong antibiotic.”

Strong? I feel like shouting back. “It was so strong we had to store it on a separate shelf to stop it attacking the other antibiotics.” This time my conscience was clear: Joe had smoked like a chimney, and then, with cosmic irony, been hit by a meteorite.

But when God actually appeared to me I was underwhelmed. He was tall and rather pointedly Caucasian, with a long white beard – every cliché in the book, and, what’s worse, he didn’t sound one bit like Morgan Freeman. I stepped into the winged chariot, which was piloted by an angel. Male or female, I couldn’t quite make out, but he or she was disconcertingly attractive.

“I have decided,” God said, a drum roll filling the air, “to be more proactive on health promotion. The consequences of smoking will no longer be deferred; short term gratification versus long term punishment, with humans it’s no contest. So I’m making it one of the Ten Commandments—I’ll take out adultery; that’s so 20th century. From now on, anyone who smokes is gonna get smacked in the face by a meteorite. Consider it a form of celestial Nudging.”

Nudge Theory  argues that positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions can influence decision-making at least as effectively as direct instruction or enforcement, and is quite fashionable among our public health colleagues, who just love management stuff (far more than real medicine).

There was a squeak of annoyance, and the drum roll stopped abruptly as an angel dropped a drumstick over the edge of the chariot. It spiralled downwards into the clouds, nearly taking out a cruising US AWACS Hercules C-130.

“You shall be my prophet,” he continued, “to spread the word of Nudging to the four corners of the earth.”

I looked at the other prophets doubtfully. They were smoking hookahs, foaming at the mouth, and torturing a pagan.

“I’ll just put Nudging on Facebook and send out a few tweets,” I said (social media can be a great way of avoiding , you know, real work).

But I was getting up to speed with the whole gestalt. “Yea verily, Lord,” I said, “I would crave a boon.”

“Seventy six virgins wasn’t meant to be taken literally,” he said, crooking a finger at an angel, who swayed toward me in a seductive yet non-gender specific manner. “And,” he said, seeing my confusion, “I’m making you bisexual.”

“Cool,” I said.


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