Yesterday when I was wondering why public housing became so awful for such a long time, I posited the hypothesis that it might be a problem of architects designing according to theory rather than according to instinct and an understanding of beauty.
Afterwards I remembered a faintly related story that someone told me in Brussels, to illustrate the way, he claimed, that many French people tend to think. In the story, there were two officials, an American and a Frenchman. They had worked for months on some tremendously complex project. There had been many, many difficulties to overcome, but finally they had managed to solve every one of them. The whole thing was finished, and the American was opening a bottle of wine to celebrate.
As he handed a glass to his French colleague, the American looked hard at him and said, "Something's the matter - it's all resolved, but you still seem worried? What's the problem."
The Frenchman sighed and ran his hand through his hair, before replying. "Well", he said, "I have to admit I do have one worry."
The American raised his eyebrows. "What? What is it? I was so certain we'd sorted everything out."
The Frenchman looked down at the plans and sighed again. "My concern is that, while I can see our plan will work in practice", he said at last,"I still can't help asking: "Will it work in theory?'
This letter, published in the Telegraph today, highlights a parallel dichotomy: this one exists between frontline doctors and public health specialists, and is about how the two groups look at risk in different ways: