93. Schnauzers – they don’t need trousers.


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.


53. Eating brunch, with keen social observers.


A five factor system based on skin conductance, showing that shy and bashful are not the same

Fed up with being an armchair sociologist, at the weekend I did some field work in Camden, in search of Hipsters. Accompanied by expert guides, we went to a comedy club, the Norfolk pub and Food Lab for brunch. From time to time I asked my guides if there were any Hipsters around, and they would discreetly point them out. It’s a lot better than birdwatching or trainspotting, because Hipsters are found in warm places with excellent coffee, rather than flooded wetlands, or Stevenage Station.

In Islington, at brunch time, most restaurants are full and we are turned away a few times. In Food Lab, to get us in, a bloke with a Macbook who has probably been there for hours, has to be moved on. My guide points out a girl near the window in a brown hat, with a boyfriend who looks like Brad Pitt. The girl is a Hipster, but not the boyfriend, I am assured. I remain puzzled.

It’s always been difficult for psychiatrists to categorise types of people. We mainly look for familiar patterns – people who look and behave like patients we have seen before. In Camden though, that’s practically everyone.

For decades, psychologists attempted to measure personality, using various scales and measuring techniques. The most surprisingly successful of these is the so called Myers Brigg Type Inventory, which is widely used by business types, and hardly at all in clinical work. Myers Briggs was not trained in psychology and it shows.

To be fair, psychology is a young science, and plenty of people dabbled in it who’d struggle to flip a burger through 180 degrees. The Myers Brigg system is based on the work of Jung, who was also not trained in psychology (and it shows), and divides people into 16 different types. You will get a four letter code, like ISTJ, at the end of it, which is about as useful as knowing you’re a Gemini. Try telling your hairdresser you’re an ISTJ for instance.

The Myers Brigg inventory struggles when it comes to validity and reliability, just like horoscopes.  And four digit codes are so difficult to remember. I get mine confused with MDMA, which is ecstasy, and NMDA, which is a nerve cell, not to mention CSNY, which is Crosby Stills, Nash and Young.

Briggs Myers’ only work of fiction, the novel Murder Yet to Come, published in 1929, won the National Detective Murder Mystery Contest for that year. It applies her ideas about personality type into a murder mystery and sounds like she foresaw Minority Report.

In parallel with Myers Brigg, we had the ‘16PF’, which also attempted to divide people into 16, and the MMPI, which had no particular core theory of personality, except to establish how similarly you answered questions to a group of 1940s  american psychiatric patients.

By the time MMPI -2 came out, in the eighties, all this statistical pomposity had been swept aside, by the Mister Men books. This established a series of simple, face-valid types, each with good graphics and the behavioural phenotype explained in a brief, amusing narrative. There are at least 49 Mister Men books, with a further 42 in the Little Miss series, giving at least 90 categories.

Unlike the four-capital-letter systems, the Mister Men series could easily replace the ICD-10 diagnostic system. Instead of which the NHS has gone for a clustering system with 21 categories. Don’t they realise that dice only have 6 sides? There are certain numbers that are used for systems like this, we know this from Ancient Babylon. Useful numbers must divide into 60. Just look at Time and Money.

If 90, or even 16, is too many categories to bother with, how about using just 3? Shortly before he died in 1997, Hans Eysenck gave a talk in Sheffield and our clinical tutor hired a coach for colleagues and trainees to go and see him. On the night of his talk there was dense freezing fog and only two of us turned up. We went anyway, arriving very late and missing most of his talk. Worse still, we were welcomed enthusiastically to the front of the hall by the chairman, like being picked on at a comedy gig, and the talk was about support groups for cardiac patients rather than anything controversial, like personality typing.

Eysenck used a two factor system to describe personality, these being Extroversion and Neuroticism. Much later he added a third dimension, called Psychoticism, adding a bit of chimp. Again, popular culture was way ahead of psychology. The beat generation had developed an axis which ran from Cool to Square. This was almost sufficient to describe what a person was like, but it proved necessary to add the dimension of Geekiness, which runs at 90 degrees to Cool-Square, or ‘orthogonally’, as a geek would say.

One of my proudest moments was when I was buying some pipe insulation at Pipeline Center, note the edgy use of US spelling, and the assistant, who was called Clinton, pointed excitedly at my watch and assured me it was the geekiest thing he had ever seen. Scoring Low on Cool, Low on Square even, but high on Geeky. A new dimensional system was born.

Which brings us back to Hipsters, who could almost certainly be defined as people who would never visit Pipeline Centre, unless they were sculptors working with tubes.

Hipsters are mainly cool, but a little bit square in some ways, and quite geeky. The web is full of Venn diagrams explaining all this. It’s been said that Hipsters cannot be categorised, since this would, of itself, make them too mainstream.

If Jung and Myers Brigg had spent more time in Islington and Pipeline Centre, they could have saved themselves a lot of time and trouble. Roger Hargreaves has made them look Silly. Apologies to the guy who was moved on at Food Lab, I’ve just realised you were probably doing field work too, but without guides.