99. Duplo Men in a world of Lego.

Thanks to Mr Belton, our young, dynamic English teacher, (nicknamed ‘Sexy B’) we studied the novel ‘1984’ when we were 12.  We found out that George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, that it had something to do with propaganda and quite a lot to do with Stalin’s USSR.

Amongst many gems, Orwell coined the term ‘doublethink’, meaning that people could hold two diametrically opposed views at the same time.

Because Orwell was a writer, the concept of doublethink was largely ignored by psychologists, who were still trying to understand how genocides could happen.

In 1957 Leon Festinger coined the term ‘cognitive dissonance’ meaning a situation where two opposed beliefs or behaviours could co-exist. 

In Orwell’s idea of doublethink, there was no tension or anxiety involved in holding opposing views. There was no need to bring in moral-based concepts like hypocrisy, deceit or plain lying. You just had two different views at the same time.

Whereas with cognitive dissonance there is a tension between the two beliefs, so that a person tries to reduce the tension by pumping up one of the beliefs and diminishing the other. Many (quite unconvincing) experiments took place to show cognitive dissonance happens, at least in samples of carefully selected American college students. 

Also in 1948, the WHO made a statement defining the concept of ‘health’: 

‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. Health became an entirely different thing from not being ill. More recently people are using the term ‘mental health’ in all kinds of contexts, often stretched or inverted, so that people ask me things like ‘was Trump a bit mental health?’

Trump does not seem unhappy with himself in any way.  Also psychiatrists are not supposed to diagnose people they haven’t met, even if those persons are famous, for instance suggesting certain politicians fit the profile for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. 

According to the ‘Goldwater rule’ in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Principles of Medical Ethics, ‘it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures whom they have not examined in person’.

Shouting at the television probably doesn’t constitute giving a professional opinion so it’s probably OK to keep yelling abuse. The TV can’t hear you, or so we thought.

Despite the rule, in 2019, ‘The Independent’ reported that 350 mental health professionals had written to warn Congress that ‘Trump’s mental state is deteriorating dangerously due to impeachment with potentially catastrophic outcomes’. 

Conversely, “Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) was proposed as ‘a mental condition in which a person has been driven effectively insane due to their dislike of Donald Trump, to the point at which they will abandon all logic and reason’’. 

TDS is a refreshed version of BDS, Bush Derangement Syndrome, invented by a psychiatrist, Charles Krauthammer, in 2003.

Notice that TDS affects everyone apart from Trump, including the 350 mental health professionals who wrote to Congress, leaving Trump the only person coming out of the situation looking completely healthy. 

We should look at Trump and BritainTrump (and the other world leaders that Pink Floyd would have consigned to the Fletcher Memorial Home) and instead of asking why they are deranged, ask instead why they seem so well.

Along these lines, we need to revisit doublethink and ask, is doublethink a step forward in human development, a special power of some kind?

BritainTrump for instance wrote two articles within days of each other both opposing Brexit and promoting it. There are websites devoted purely to recording his lies. The Marcus Rashford related lie, June 2020, went as follows:“I talked to Marcus Rashford today and congratulated him on his campaign which to be honest I only became aware of, recent … erm, today.”

Simon Hattenstone, in the Guardian, wrote at the time that this was a new kind of non-useful lie:

‘on Tuesday he appeared to have taken his lying to a new, worrying level – he now seemed to be lying just for the hell of it’

Yet he seems happy with himself and so far the voting public seem reasonably happy with his behaviour. 

Let’s assume Britain’s PM has evolved beyond cognitive dissonance into ‘dual mode’ so there are no signs of mental tension. Attempts to see the problem as ‘pathological lying’ or ‘mythomania’ are plainly judgemental. All we know is that there are two versions streaming at once. 

Double thinking, sometimes called double-bookkeeping, tends to be regarded as pathological, whatever the motivation. Whether it’s unconscious or deliberate, whether it’s delusional or magical thinking, we’re suspecting, in the words of Tokyo Blade, a ‘Head full of Bad Wiring’. That’s in contrast to everyday observations of doublethinkers, suggesting they are very happy indeed, having their cake and eating it.

Could it make sense to belong to several political parties at the same time? While you’re in town on Sunday morning, could it make sense to attend the catholic church and then the Friend’s meeting house gatherings, if the timings are favourable and you’ve paid for a whole morning’s pay and display? 

You can’t join the labour party if you’re a member of another party. Churches, on the other hand, don’t employ bouncers. Many are nice places to hang out and some offer low price coffee and biscuits. The methodist church even has a capsule coffee machine. Would you give up Hail Marys in return for Lungo Intenso? Maybe you don’t have to.

If I’m asked what football team I support and I reply, ‘Man Utd and Liverpool’, am I facing a beating? 

My argument is that such thinking is commonplace, but also that it is extremely rare.

96. Watching their Rome burn.

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Sorry, I’ve not written anything for a while. The daily news has become so outlandish that the art of wry observation has been killed off. It’s like a weather report has been interrupted by an extinction event meteor strike.

People keep asking me to explain why the UK is shooting itself in the foot and I suppose the easy answer is that Britain hates itself deep down. Britain is one of the first industrial countries and is the first one to become sick of industrial endeavour. The jadedness is pervasive. No-one’s really facing it. Employment is historically at a high level, but most of what people do at work they freely accept is pointless.

If Britain turned up in outpatients we’d send it to the crisis café, where it would do breathing exercises and group drumming therapy. Britain is paranoid, but not in a psychotic way. Britain is using the primitive defence mechanism of projection to blame its problems on others, much as Gotham City eventually turned against Batman. Britain will not be given drugs and universal benefit; it will not be allocated to a care coordinator. Britain will be given a self help leaflet and ‘signposted’ to the Tuesday allotment project. Sadly there is no therapist designed to treat whole countries. Although we have Prince Harry ‘starting conversations’ and the government’s behavioural insights unit.

But will that be enough to rescue us from our angry self loathing? Or do we need a proper superhero? Or even a more universally hated enemy, now that ISIS is receding and Northern Rail have settled their strike?

Beneath paranoia lies a longing for there to be someone out there who is interested in us– preferably in a good way, like a guardian angel, or Nick Knowles from DIY SOS. If they care in a negative way, such as a stalker or the taxman, that is still better than the complete indifference of a dark, empty universe. If Brexit is a cry for help, rather than a death throe, it relies on someone taking notice.

We cannot rely on International Rescue since David Milliband took over. I seriously doubt whether David has got the time to monitor every radio network in the whole world 24/7 like the Tracey brothers used to do. The closest we can come to Thunderbirds is the Air Ambulance, which is why we love it so much and keep putting coins in the collecting tin.

Maybe the giant corporations will look after us. I know that Google Rewards checks up on me regularly, knowing which shops I have been into or near. Unlike my guardian angel or Nick Knowles, Google Rewards reveals itself to me regularly with short survey messages. At the moment it wants to know whether I have spent any money in the shops and in particular what means of payment I used. Quite often it asks me how I feel about Argos. I don’t think Google would come to my rescue in an emergency, but importantly it does pay a small fee for each bit of information I send in. It might only be 6p each time, but it means at last I can say I am a paid writer.

Up there somewhere, my imagination tells me, there’s a person at a monitoring station looking at a screen, looking at what I am doing, ready to beam me up out of any trouble spot – this is what I call the rescue fantasy.

If I break down in my car I will call the AA. If I’m in a road accident the ambucopter will arrive, circle overhead for a while and land in nearby school playing fields. If my tooth breaks off the dentist will fit me in the same day and fix it during the Ken Bruce Show on Radio 2, both of us muttering answers to the popmaster quiz.

The local GP surgery reached out to me recently, inviting me for my 5 yearly check up. It’s called Health Check with the Nurse, though it is a health check with a health care assistant nowadays. In some more prosperous parts of the world it’s maybe a Health Check with a Regional Dean of Internal Medicine, or an underemployed WHO ambassador like Robert Mugabe. Next time here I suspect it will be health check with youtube and a mirror.

Anyway, the point is there is someone out there who cares about you, even if they have ulterior motives, like targeted advertising or stopping you getting diabetes.

And we’ve looked upon our parliament and political leaders to take an overview and guard us from our own foolishness. In return for their efforts we scream ‘nanny state’. But now we find our elected leaders fighting among themselves. Our ambucopter has landed, only to reveal the pilot and paramedic beating each other unconscious in a fist fight.

Some good things are happening, like the minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland, limits on fixed-odds betting terminals and quiet carriages on LNER. The police are asking us to report motorcyclists without helmets, accepting they will be anywhere within a ninety mile radius by the time details have been taken on the non-urgent line.

If The Rescue Fantasy was a movie here’s how it could all still work out:

Prince Philip has a dream of a devastated Britain that looks ever more like the set of a Mad Max movie. No More Heroes by The Stranglers plays loudly in the background.

He sends for Harry and symbolically hands over the key to the Royal Land Rover and Harry’s old army pistol. ‘You’ve got exactly 40 days to save this country from its own danged-bone-headed foolishness. You’ve been talking a lot about starting conversations, Harry. (eyes narrow) Now I’m telling you to finish the conversation.’

Training montage of Harry ploughing through piles of books: Freud, Durkheim, Nelson Mandela; exchanging ideas with world leaders; mindfulness exercises with the Beckhams; in the lab with Brian Cox; and finally, on the firing range with Prince Philip.

Cut to Parliament. Just like in Crimson Tide, at gunpoint, Harry relieves the prime minister of command, ‘You’re unfit for duty madam. And that’s the end of the conversation’.

Epilogue scene, the truth and reconciliation committee, chaired by Ant and Dec, symbolically reunited, takes evidence from the perpetrators. Harry, in the background allows himself a half smile.

Brief shot of angry Putin, smashing his vinyl copy of No More Heroes.

The End.

Post credits shot of the new Nissan X Trail, made in Sunderland after all.