Tag Archives: psychology

Arachnophobia

A few weeks ago, during the days when summer transitioned into a wintery autumn, our household was struck by an immigration issue. They came in all shapes and sizes, some small, some large, some black, some brown, but all with the same intent: feeding off us, using our benefits, impinging off our heating and lighting and making zipwires from my light-shade to my curtain-rail.

I was working one day (surprisingly) and I saw something out of the corner of my eye, something which scuttled with malice and a vengeance across the floor. This eight-legged horror froze as I turned my gaze upon its features, eyeing me back with contempt. I didn’t move either, and, summoning up my courage, I called my sister to remove it to a more suitable location. Then I knew. I had arachnophobia.

It lasted less than a week. I still don’t pick them up and let them run across my hands, and they’re not coming anywhere near my food, but I’m not afraid of them any more.

The word phobos is often translated as fear, but that’s not its true meaning. It’s the intertwined mix of hate and fear which supersedes reason and common sense. Paraphrasing Ovid, what is more influential than mankind, what less than an insect? Yet mankind screams and runs away from the insect.

The spiders have truly come out of the woodwork in the last few parliamentary years. In the midst of the populist web of disruption lies Nigel Farage, spinning out attractive propositions to win over the British electorate. The established parties, in reality, have nothing to fear from Ukip, electorally speaking. First-past-the-post, whatever disadvantages may be found with it, ensures that, even if Ukip come a close second in every constituency, they still won’t gain any seats. The spiders won’t eat the human.

Just as with the Anti-Waste League in the early 1920s, the Conservatives will inevitably shift more towards the right to eliminate the usefulness of Ukip, since they are more effective in government than the untested and globally unpopular Ukip.

Of course, the European elections show that Ukip has a mandate to voice Euroscepticism in the United Kingdom, but these cannot be taken as a prediction for the general election, given that the turnout was much lower (so those who did bother were probably more motivated to make it count anyway) and works on proportional representation.

The spider may not be able to do anything disasterous, but I still engineered a pretty comprehensive series of traps to stop one crawling onto my face during the night. Ukip may not win a majority in government, but they can still force Cameron’s hand in the EU, push for a reconsideration of the immigration laws and of the judicial infrastructure.

It isn’t logical to fear/hate spiders. In actual fact, they do some good, such as controlling the fly numbers…and probably other good things too. And Ukip have one good point – they’ve forced a reconsideration of the status quo and have ridded the established parties of the complacency in policy and in action they have enjoyed for a long time in Westminster politics.

We can prohibit spider from impinging on our territory by covering the vicinity in peppermint essence, or we can suck up each one with a hoover. We could discredit Ukip on the grounds of racism, sexism or whatever else the media can find, or we could seriously consider how they have enjoyed such a surge in popularity despite their ostensibly massive flaws.

I don’t have arachnophobia any more. I got over it. Maybe it’s time Westminster did too.

Childhood

No matter how far we are from it, most of us like to be reminded of our formative years once in a while. Whether it’s comparing the children’s television of today with that which we used to adore under the guise of entertaining young family members, adding musical memoirs of those times to our Spotify playlists or choosing what to cook on the basis of what we ate with our grandmother, our childhoods reach down indelibly into all of our lives.

This is obvious. It isn’t particularly insightful analysis to draw the link between nostalgic comfort and my desire to listen to the theme tune to “Thomas the Tank Engine”. But when it comes to the study of history, I believe the effects of childhood and the influences thereof are myopically overlooked.

Take  Adolf Hitler. His father, an illegitimate child with confused paternity, was an alcoholic who regularly beat up Adolf’s mother; Adolf, standing up for said mater, was once pushed through a window (albeit ground floor) by his drunk father. Alois exerted a forceful influence on his son, and tried to dictate his life, so undermining Adolf’s faith in a peaceful home and a successful career path that it set the foundations for the disturbed mind which would wreak such havoc upon the world.

Coupled with nationalist grief at the annexation of his local area (Branau-am-Inn) by Austria rather than Germany ingrained from childhood, the influence of famously proto-fascist politicians (e.g. the mayor) and businessmen in his late teenage and young adult years in Vienna, his impoverished situation sweeping drives for a pittance in the rich (and actually predominantly Jewish – who, due to racial career restrictions, often ended up in the lucrative financial sector) sector of the city and of course the defeat of the German empire (to whom Hitler always wished to demonstrate allegiance) in the First World War and ensuing Treaty of Versailles, the disruptive and strained home atmosphere had a deep effect on Hitler the man.

In fact, his extremist tendencies can be demonstrated from a relatively young age (teenage years) from the remembrances of friends and acquaintances. I would argue that Hitler became the evil persona by the time he was 20 – contingency, in the form of the First World War, created the opportunity for that to be released into popular politics, and, except for certain geopolitical tendencies as shaped by Munich professor Karl Haushofer, most of his ideas on politics were already complete prior to the outbreak of war.

In the English history curriculum, this crucial childhood is not explored enough for understanding of the man. If we are to prevent such a phenomenon of psychology occurring again, as advocates of the study of history love to claim its purpose is to do, surely we need to identify the causes therefor and rectify them in our society?

Hitler was not special. There are many alcoholics in the world. There are many nationalist politicians. There are many stubborn little boys. And, although circumstance in the geopolitical division of the border between southern Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire heightened Hitler’s development into the man he became, there are other instances in the modern world. North and South Korea. Sudan and South Sudan. Israel and the Gaza Strip. Just look at Chechnya; disagreements, to put it lightly, in the 1990s about whether or not it was part of Russia or an independent state following the dissolution of the Soviet Union have elicited devastating acts of terrorism and violence – the murder of Alexander Litvinenko and countless other investigators, bombings in Moscow and attacks in Grozny and the devastating Boston Marathon bombings.

If the circumstances exist, so too, somewhere, must such a person. They occasionally pop up, such manifestations of evil; Stalin; Bin Laden; the queer convention that was the Nazi party. In Britain, the Conservatives are most eager to help to diminish the frequency of broken families by encouraging the maintenance of marriage and so on; the break-ups thereof and familial discontent can brew future disaster.

Childhood is important. Childhood is very important. Memories, relationships and  some skills are formed during that time. But we would be foolish to regard it as pure nostalgia and to disregard it in adult life. Whilst Hitlers are – thankfully – extremely rare in positions of such potency, societal issues caused by dysfunctional (if I may venture to use that word) or disrupted childhoods, such as substance addiction, suicides and mental health issues, affect many millions of people. Whether caused by familial, geopolitical or associative (i.e. persons not pertaining to one’s family) issues, the formative years are crucial in developing such.

Please excuse me whilst I YouTube Fireman Sam and eat a jam roly-poly.

Inversion of prediction

“If it’s a girl they’re calling her Sigourney after an actress. And if it’s a boy they’re naming him Rodney, after Dave.”

Trigger, as portrayed by the late Roger Lloyd-Pack, used this simple line referring to the imminent birth of Del Boy’s child in “Only Fools & Horses” to intertwine typical social intricacies and his character’s idiosyncracies, playing on audience expectations to render the essence of the pun much more comedic than the situation might otherwise have been. Simple inversion of prediction is probably the most effective form of comedy. Tommy Cooper, whose jokes and magic antics made for popular and memorable viewing, exploited audience expectation expertly when relating a joke; “My neighbour came round the house at 4 o’clock this morning, banging on the door. Good thing I was up playing the bagpipes.” Les Dawson, in his pianoforte sketches, and Eric Morecambe, in the famed “Andrew Preview” sketch, also played on these false predictions with, shall we say, unique interpretations of famous works (or, paraphrasing Morecambe, playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order).

Yesterday, David Cameron, delivering a speech to the Westminster Correspondents’ Dinner, also inverted expectations whilst outlining his priorities for the coming year and his remaining in this parliamentary term.  Ostensibly serious, he declared his first priority to be “keeping the bald spot under control”, whilst lauding his hairdresser for making cuts and inhibiting a recession simultaneously.

Other inversions of prediction tend to be somewhat less humourous; the 5-0 whitewash in  the most recent Ashes series comes to mind for English cricket fans. Others are simply interesting; a score of ‘8’ for Gordon Brown on the tea-time quiz “Pointless” when 100 people were asked to name chancellors of the exchequer, or the shock of watching David Suchet sans moustache and Belgian accent.

What forms these expectations? As members of society, we have individual childhood foundations, familial influences and life experiences, yet there is sufficient communal interest and knowledge to merit a wealth of popular comedies – “Only Fools & Horses”, “Miranda” and “Morecambe and Wise”, for example, which pull large audiences. The 1978 Christmas special of “Morecambe and Wise” drew 28 million viewers, a huge proportion of the population with television sets. Does nationality – shared heritage and language – relate strongly to what we find funny? British comedy and German comedy are very different, with exchange of broadcasts being rare. British and American comedy are more similar, yet different in terms of development and intricacies.  The British sense of humour is unique; self-deprecating, often finely engineered and sometimes subtle, it is distinct from the more simplified, ostensible and ‘easy’ US comedy, designed for different audiences.

Expectations are also played out ostentatiously for comedic effect. Henning Wehn, self-described German comedy ambassador to the UK, preys upon the stereotypes of Germans as obsessed by punctuality, efficient and direct. Yet in fact this succeeds as comedy because our expectations as governed by the stereotypes we know to be untrue: hence subconsciously we, as the audience, are not in reality expecting it  and therefore the ploy works.

Is this a question of nationality, then, since so too are stereotypes? Is all comedy different across the world due to the discrepancy in expectation?

As Tommy Cooper would say, I was indecisive: now I’m not quite sure.

The food of revision

Last summer, along with thousands of teenagers and adults across the UK, I took my GCSE examinations. With 12 subjects and 20 examinations, it’s fair to assume that revision would have started pretty much at the beginning of the school year.

But, like any pre-determined scheme, external factors influence it, and when I contracted a series of influenzas and glandular fever throughout the year, I thought my chances of cramming in enough revision in addition to catching up work were pretty slim, especially considering in one subject I hadn’t done around 55% of the course by March prior to the June examinations.

Concerning; worrying; stressful – perhaps, but the knowledge that I had limited time when it came down to serious revision actually helped me in the end.

Being musical, the extra stress caused in those weeks led me to go and tinker on the pianoforte, or listen to certain pieces of music over and over whilst I tried to learn some Classical Greek literature, or biological processes of bodily transportation. It was during this action, originally and ostensibly for stress-busting, that I discovered the ultimate revision tool: music.

Our brains memorise musical patterns more quickly and more naturally than they do chunks of information or visual detail. If you give a teenager a popular song to listen to, chances are they’ll be able to sing back the lyrics back after a few hearings, whereas a passage from Romeo and Juliet of comparable length would probably require tens of hearings.

This is to do, as I believe, with the marriage of words and melody. Particularly when one likes a certain harmony in a song, or a particular bass line, one’ll pay attention to the structure of that song and try to emulate it in our brains; indeed, songs with especially striking lyrical or melodic features often replay in our brains as perfect as the originals, despite our attempts to reproduce them aloud.

This easy memorability is, so I’ve found, the perfect style of revision, the optimum style of remembering information, regardless of most learning styles. Try fitting Latin vocabulary , composed into sentences, to Take That; kinematic equations and their derivations to Sir Tom Jones or German verbs to songs from the musicals. Take advantage of YouTube; of Horrible Histories, or the calorimetry song.

The lineage of English monarchs seems long and, much to the chagrin of elementary history students, hard to memorise. To prove my point, take this Horrible Histories song and see how long it takes you to learn at least most of the order.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/clips/p00h9nqb

[Song courtesy of BBC]