93. Schnauzers – they don’t need trousers.

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A family member is saving up for a Schnauzer. It turns out this is not a machine-pistol after all, but a tiny mustachioed dog. And that’s caused me to re-open the question: do dogs stack up? Not literally, but rather, are they a viable addition to the domestic panopoly, or would you be better off with a Macbook Pro, which has a similar price and processing power?

If you haven’t ticked either the box ‘visual impairment’ or ‘sheep farmer’ at first glance a dog looks like an encumbrance. It’s expensive to run, it doesn’t pay rent or tax and you can’t ride it. If it gets ill, there is only one treatment guideline, which rhymes with Millett.

The Schnauzer is supposed to be an expert in rat control, but the rat sector is well covered nowadays by enthusiastic amateur ratters like cats and owls, not to mention the contributions of big pharma, such as re-purposed warfarin.

Still, in the post-ratting era,  there’s an urban myth going round that pets are good for your mental health. Some of the advantages are probably non-specific, like gentle exercise and superficial social interaction with other owners. But I can see one big positive, which is that dog ownership, if supervised properly, is a practical revision course in behavioural psychology.

Readers of EP will already know that Behaviourism provides far more of the answer to life’s problems than people realise, diverted as they are by the false Gods Thinking and Feeling. The beauty of animal ownership is that behavioural methods are mainstream and largely unchallenged.

There is no visiting-occupational-therapy-student-from-Kidderminster to suggest trying hot yoga, no semi-retired-social-worker-who-does-homeopathy-on-the-side to suggest homeopathy on the side. Just people with big coats full of food treats.

Recently I found myself defending a dog that stands accused of being Nasty. It was alleged that the dog’s father had also been nasty. And there’s an implication, not unlike racism, that certain breeds are genetically loaded towards hooliganism.

You’ll understand that I have never owned a dog or spent much time with dogs or even studied dogs academically.

Against this, I know a man who spent decades training dogs for the RAF police, a man who travels around the world as something of a training guru. And he tells me that dogs are largely a blank canvas onto which the trainer writes a behavioural program.

So that deficiencies in animal behaviour are largely a reflection of poor quality ownership behaviour, such as giving mixed messages. The main enemy is contaminating  owner behaviour with Sentimentality. They don’t want to kiss you and they probably regard wearing a coat as a punishment, especially if it’s Tartan. Sentimentality is your problem, don’t make it the dog’s.

Which brings me to Jasmine Tree, which is near the scary butcher shop and the scary barber shop, next to the funeral directors. Jasmine Tree is a new gift shop which has opened like a poppy on a battlefield.

One person who won’t be shopping there is CG Jung, mainly because he died in 1961. Jung described sentimentality as ‘a superstructure that covers up brutality’. To be fair, he was talking about popular sentiment getting pumped up during war time. He’d have loved ‘ET’ as much as anyone else, if he’d lived to see it.

In fact he might just have seen ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ if he’d ventured down to the Küsnacht Odeon in his final year.

Another psychiatrist who won’t be visiting our gift shop is Theodore Dalrymple, who wrote a book about modern life called ‘Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality’.

Both CGJ and TD, commenting on society, believed that Sentimentality went hand in hand with decadence and brutality.

But how does this relationship work? Is sentimentality a diversionary tactic, does it actually cause decadence, or is it an antidote to the harsher realities of existence? Do we need less sentimentality or more?

Sentimentality is by definition disproportionate. Implicit in the definition of sentimentality is that the emotional tone is overloud and wrongly focused, like the sound from a ghetto blaster. Sentimentality distorts logical thinking. It’s the force that keeps the card and flower shops flourishing, not to mention your uneconomic local hospital and those little trains with no passengers that go to Cleethorpes.

Humans attach emotions to objects but I suspect dogs only attach emotions to food items. So why do they go after an old stick or rubber ball? Because they are suckers for social approval, or have they just associated social approval with getting fed? Dogs are just one jump ahead of us in chaining together rewards.

When humans invest an object with an emotion it takes on a sentimental value. When the sentimental value brings a sense of comfort, the item is called a comfort object. We can easily delude ourselves that animals like comfort objects, but we might just as well dress them up in clothes and pretend they talk.

Originally considered as fetishes, comfort objects were officially deemed ‘OK’ by Bowlby and his colleagues, who came to regard them as a healthy and normal way of dealing with separation. After this liberation the trinket industry ran riot.

According to the object-relations school, we start to need comfort objects at the age of 4 months. It starts with an old J cloth and ends up – via a one-eyed teddy bear, and a plastic luger pistol – with a iphone 7 plus.

According to Today’s Parent,  it’s always wise to introduce toddlers to a rotating repertoire of comfort objects right from the start, like in ‘The 12 days of Christmas’. Since the legalisation and slow destigmatisation of security blankets, championed by Linus van Pelt, society has created more and more comforting items and showered them everywhere.

For every stress in life there is a comfort to cancel it out. There’s a card for every occasion, even high number birthdays, like 97.

The concept of a comfort object started out as fairly useless item such as a piece of cloth given to a baby by its mother. The power of the object can be increased by making the item attractive to touch and hold as well as by belonging to someone significant.

 

If we make a list of sentimental objects – pets, flowers, cards, fountain pens, vinyl records – we soon find that sentimental purchasing accounts for  90% of GDP.

Pretty much everything in fact, except barbed wire, rat poison and drain cleaner.

My hypothesis, which can’t be tested very easily, is that comfort objects have been created in greater numbers and greater potency as a kind of quantitative easing approach.

This has been needed because of the increasing number of discomforting objects that insult our sense of wellbeing, like news bulletins, call centres, crowded places and harsh materials like concrete and polyester.

My contention is that people have only been able to put up with the ridiculousness of modern life because of the compensatory tidal wave of comfort objects and food.

Unfortunately, we are increasingly exposed to harshness, in the media and in daily life, and there are signs that traditional comfort objects like the iphone 7, even the jet black version, may soon fail to calm us.

Tried and tested products are beginning to let us down. There aren’t enough small electronic devices left on our shopping lists that we covet so much that we’d exchange our spleen for one.

People used to lust after a Sony Walkman or an ipod. People queued all night outside the Apple shops. But that magic has died down and there is nothing new coming through. Big stores weren’t that keen on spleens anyway and rumour has it, just stacked them in recycling bins.

If there is hope, then it probably lies in the direction of Turkish Barbering and possibly now the new craze of Hygge.

In terms of physical objects, there are many suggestions on the web, like this one:

A hammerless short-barrel revolver, which you clean and oil daily, give a woman’s name to, and keep always loaded, under your pillow while you’re sleeping.

 

Or this list:

 

  • egg of Silly Putty
  • stress ball
  • unusual object or keychain attached to keyring
  • glass or stone marble
  • smooth pebble or “worry stone”
  • a couple of ordinary dice
  • a small metal or wooden figure or animal
  • tactile keypad pulled out from a broken calculator
  • your own thumbnails
  • hooded sweatshirt
  • pair of socks, gloves, or mittens
  • sunglasses
  • Koosh ball
  • miniature Slinky
  • small metal spring (round the ends off)
  • a good ink pen
  • pack of chewing gum
  • anklet, neck chain, watch, or bracelet
  • rosary or worry beads
  • piece of telephone cord
  • Monopoly game piece
  • metal bottle cap
  • shampoo bottle top
  • rubber bouncy ball or other small object from children’s vending machine
  • packet of small round candies
  • Livestrong or other similar “cause” bracelet
  • strip of cloth
  • empty cigarette lighter
  • Swiss Army-style pocketknife or pocket toolset
  • lump of sea glass
  • smooth-worn seashell
  • ankle jogging weight
  • toy figurine
  • one preferred paper clip
  • small eraser
  • guitar pick
  • mini-flashlight or LED keychain

Jasmine Tree doesn’t sell the revolver, but most of the rest is available. The Schnauzer won’t be interested in any of it though. In fact he’d prefer an amnesty on gifts, so he can get back to his ratting work.

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50. Taking Canadian Living more seriously.

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First, cement each of the six guitar strings to the guitar. Then, cement the guitar to the James Blunt figure. Now, cement the James Blunt figure to the tank controls…

When I was about 7, I had a book called ‘365 Things to Make and Do in Nature and Science’. To be honest, many of the projects were frustrating, as it was difficult to obtain the necessary parts and materials, some of which were quite exotic. In our town it was very hard to obtain, say, an old altimeter from a WW2 German bomber, or a tin of gunpowder. There was also the obvious problem of leaving one day relatively unstructured during a leap year.

Until now, I have never questioned the idea that Doing Something is a worthy use of time, as compared with Reading Something, or Watching Something. But now, typing with a bandaged thumb from an unfortunate slip of the Stanley Knife, tennis elbow on both sides, from excessive screwdriver and spanner activities, and lower back pain from heavy lifting, I’m forced to ponder whether it’s time to say goodbye to B and Q and that new yellow brick road I was planning.

The Nike slogan, ‘Just do it’, is now 25 years old. People were tougher in the eighties – if coined now,  that slogan would come with a number of provisos and safety warnings, such as adding: ‘once you have checked with your cardiologist’ or  ‘providing you are Corgi Registered’.

Though Nike do not state this overtly, their motto asserts a behaviourist stance on life which I interpret as follows – you are what you do. There is a worthy theory underpinning this outlook, stemming from the psychology of self – perception. From what we find ourselves doing, we infer who we are and what we stand for. I am sitting at a computer, wiping blood off the spacebar, so I am a dedicated writer. If I had a Scotch, a full ashtray and a loaded revolver on the desk I’d be even more dedicated.

Last year, as further evidence of a shift from behaviourism toward ‘cognitivism’, Nike took the ‘just do it’ campaign in a new direction: Possibility.

With ‘Possibilities’ we’re taking ‘Just Do It’ to a whole new place, showing people a new way to set goals and think about their own athletic potential’

Thinking about our athletic potential is quite cognitive. If you are taking a penalty shot or serving at tennis, the last thing you want to do is think about possibilities. Probably the one time David Beckham thought about possibilities was the time he shot the ball twenty feet above the crossbar.

Apple’s campaign ‘Think Different’, invented in 1997,  also seemed to pursue a cognitive path. 29 famous ‘thinkers’, such as Albert Einstein, were included in the campaign posters. But if we look more closely at the list, we see that many if not most of the ‘thinkers’ were actually artists or musicians, i.e. people who held tools in their hands, made grooves in vinyl or canvas and left a legacy of artefacts and occasionally accidentally cut their fingers. In fact, none of those featured in the ads were Philosophers, unless you count Kermit the frog.

‘Here’s to the crazy ones’, ran the script,  ‘The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo’.

The script seems to owe something to Top Gun, where, rather lazily in terms of character development, the hero was named Maverick.

We probably know many such mavericks, but they have never become well known or achieved much, because they thought too much and didn’t do enough. In Britain they would mainly be described as harmless eccentrics. On the other hand, those who made it into the ranks of Think Different were prolific doers. Alfred Hitchcock made over 60 movies for instance; Bob Dylan made over 40 albums.

Maverick couldn’t wait to get catapulted off an aircraft carrier and frighten the MiGs.

I just collected a Depression Leaflet from the doctors while I had my finger looked at.

In the ‘what can be done?’ section there is a bit of practical advice as follows:

‘Vary your normal routine, get out and about if you can, keep occupied if possible, if you can’t sleep, try watching TV or listening to the radio.’

In search of useful things to do I turned to ‘Canadian Living’ magazine. I found an article called ‘Fifty good deeds for fifty days’, which borrows a little from the Random Acts of Kindness movement.

Like ‘365 things to make and do’ however, some of the materials are hard to find. For instance I have no ‘well behaved dog’ to take to visit elderly people, nor any fresh cut flowers to leave at a nursing home. If I happened to buy some pet food at the supermarket to take to the local animal hospital, I’d probably buy something they weren’t allowed, like cream buns.

I’ve come up with these ideas instead, which I’m hoping Canadian Living will publish:

  • Wearing a salvation army jacket and carrying a clipboard, feed parking meters that are about to expire – not for Audi drivers though
  • Get everything out of your food cupboard and throw away any packets with a sell by date before you were born, or 1963, whichever is more recent
  • At Tramshed, in Shoreditch, try and make a citizen’s arrest on Tony Blair.
  • Find a pothole in the road, chalk round it in yellow and report it to Fillthathole.org
  • Place a small whiteboard in your toilet, headed: ‘This toilet was last checked at…’ Then sign with a fictional name and date, such as Attila the Hun, 453 AD.
  • Install Windows 8.1, but first say goodbye to everything you have on your computer, it’ll be like new
  • Phone up Santander Bank at 5.30pm and ask them to answer a short feedback questionnaire, regarding your performance as a customer
  • Phone up the bursar at the University of Leicester and ask for a cash donation towards your holiday in the Bahamas

In other words, don’t just think different – do different. Or differently, if you prefer .