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Finding Myself In Caesar’s Bath

Sometimes I think I’m a sucker for Internet memes, especially when they involve slightly navel gazing tendencies. Hence, here’s my contribution to the Caesar’s Bath postings.
For those who don’t know what it’s all about (which I didn’t until Kim posted) the idea is to list five things that your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but that you just don’t get, along, of course, with a suitably naval gazing explanation. So here are mine.

Thing The First: Star Wars
In the summer of 1977, I was 10 years old and thoroughly obsessed with science fiction of all kinds. I’d made my mother take me to a rare showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey (complete with a second feature of 1958’s From The Earth To The Moon as it was the days when you got two films for the price of one). I’d read Heinlein until my eyes bled and I believed in military service for all (OK, I grew out of that one). I’d bought everything Arthur C. Clarke wrote, and memorised the lot.
But Star Wars left me nonplussed. Even then, it made no sense: how come they could make computers smart enough to power intelligent robots, but couldn’t make a targeting computer for the X-Wing that could shoot better than Luke? If the force was so cool, how come the funny guys with white uniforms didn’t use it too? And how could the Empire hold itself together when it’s Stormtroopers were the worst shots in the history of the universe?
Ever sense then, I’ve been left vaguely puzzled by the whole adoration of Star Wars that seems endemic in everyone my age. It’s an OK film, one that I’d watch and enjoy on a rainy Sunday afternoon, but the level of fan worship revolving around it is crazy. But perhaps it’s actually something to do with the second of my Caesar’s Baths…

Thing The Second: New Ageness. Vague waffly hand waving and other Anti-Rationalisms
As I type this, in the background on TV is a show called Have I Been Here Before?, in which a variety of B-List celebrities get hypnotized and “regress to previous lives”, accompanied by (of all people) Philip Schofield. Leaving aside for a second that the last person in the world you’d want to find in a previous life is Philip Schofield, it’s a prime example of the kind of anti-rationalism that’s gradually crept into television and culture – especially things like daytime TV, the Daily Mail and Hello! Magazine, which appeal to the notion that intuition is valued more than reason. To its credit, the programme does at least have psychologists and the like explaining that there’s no evidence that any of it is other than bunk, but the fact that it’s on at all – and that the majority of screen time is spent gently suggesting that the sceptics are wrong – is enough to make the blood boil.
Some people would suggest that this isn’t actually anything to be concerned about, that it’s confined largely to a small minority of people (such as those lovely people who come here and post pleas to David Blaine to intercede in their lives, just as once they would have done pleas to saints). But in fact, it’s incredibly wide spread – especially among the educated middle classes, who flock to Feng Shui, Reiki, Crystal Healing and every other minor brand of craziness like it was the saviour of mankind.
Guess what everyone: It’s all bunk. You’re being conned, and paying for the privilege.

Thing The Third: Food Allergies
When I was a teenager, doctors found out that the reason I’d been coughing my guts up (literally) wasn’t due to the bronchitis they thought I’d had. In fact, I’d developed an allergy to house dust, one of the more common ones, which in me had led to a fairly severe reaction. They promptly put me on a course of injections to boost my system’s resistance to house dust, by exposing me to it. It made me feel woozy for a day or so after each injection, but it worked and I haven’t been troubled since.
This taught me a simple fact: Exposure to something you’re allergic to makes you less allergic to it. Your body gets used to it, and you stop getting the violent reaction. When I was a kid, my Gran had a cat and so I was constantly exposed to cat hair, with no problem. A couple of years after I left home, moving away from the cat, I got scratched by one – and promptly ended up spending a day in bed, feeling like someone had hit me with a bowling ball. Yes, I’m allergic to cat hair too – yet because I’d been constantly exposed to it, I’d built up a level of immunity that let me be around any time I liked. Only when that exposure decreased did the allergy assert itself.
The same is surely true of that most common of complaints, a “food allergy”. Food allergies have only become commonly noted in the past ten or so years, although severe ones have been around a lot longer. Now, it seems, half the people I know seem to be allergic to something, from peanuts to whey. So what’s going on?
There’s only two real options. The first is that the food’s changed, which is something I doubt. Every kid I knew at school scoffed peanuts, for example, like there was no tomorrow without falling over dead. Yet do that now and, if you believe the hype, half of them would come out in hives. Peanuts haven’t changed (they’re still yummy) so it has to be the kids.
My bet – and this isn’t science – is that we look out for allergic reactions earlier, and remove them from kid’s diets. This has the effect of preventing them from building up resistance, making their “allergic” reactions more severe.
Or of course there’s the third option: We’re all turning into puny human weaklings. And, for the Futurama fans, we all know what Morbo does to puny human weaklings.

Thing The Fourth: Thou Must Breed, Immediately
I like kids. Kids are fun. They climb trees, do stupid things, and generally act like you’d secretly want to when you’re really 38.
However, the parents of kids usually aren’t fun, especially when they’ve bred for the first time in their 30’s. Suddenly, all conversation not revolving around children stops. Simply because you have fulfilled your biological imperative doesn’t mean your life is over, but that’s what some parent’s behaviour would lead you believe.
No, I do not want to hear about the brand of Vegan nappy you found. No, I don’t want to know about the fact that you’ve laid out little Tarquin’s room in strict accordance with a Feng Shui mystic’s rules. And no, I don’t want to know about how you found out that he had an allergy to potatoes because he spit some out the other day.
And most especially, I don’t want to see that look of vague pity in your eyes because I don’t have kids. I don’t want to hear about how no one who isn’t a parent could possibly understand about how life-affirming and changing the whole experience is. Yes, it is life-changing: if you’re not careful, it can turn you into the kind of selfish, short-sighted idiot who drives their brats a mile to school “because it’s safer” while complaining about rising levels of asthma caused by increased pollution.
You want perspective? Stop thinking that you’re the first person in the world to have a child. And stop thinking that something is OK if it protects your child, even if it damages the lives of others.

Thing The Fifth: Ali G
So there’s this middle class Jewish comedian pretending to be an Asian kid obsessed with American black urban culture. Sorry, run that by me again?
Simply because it’s post-modern and self-referentially ironic doesn’t make it anything other than the 21st Century equivalent of the Black and White Minstrel Show.

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  • http://mildlydiverting.blogspot.com Kim

    Allergies. I alarmingly developed a very mild one to Red Wine; alas, it’ll put your ‘expose yourself to it and you’ll be ok’ theory out to pasture, as it was due to over-exposure; to Organic vegan red wine, at that.

    In the words of my great aunt, you’ve got to eat a peck of dirt before you die.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    That’s not an allergy, that’s alcoholism! :)

  • http://jonathanbaldwin.blogspot.com Jonathan Baldwin

    I’m afraid it’s the food that’s changed – the thing skids eat today aren’t the things we ate. I recommend ‘Shopped’ and ‘Not On The Label’ as two highly readable books that will make it clear the difference between, say, the salad we used to have and what is available now (big hint: we never used to wash our greens in chlorine in the 1970s).

    But it’s not true that exposure to something solves it – it’s actually exposure that creates it. For example, I’ve never been stung by a wasp (or is it a bee? I forget). If I were stung I wouldn’t have a reaction. It’s the second sting that will cause the problem, if there is one. If you’re theory’s correct, then someone who has a fatal reaction to bee stings should get themselves stung… you see the problem?

    I’m slightly allergic to wheat – completely recent thing. I can tolerate organic wheat in small quantities (as it’s not been separated into its constitutent parts and then put back together like non-organic flour has been) but even too much of that causes agony.

    equally when living in Yorkshire I never had hay fever. The moment I moved down south, whammo – more of the type of pollen I have a problem with, you see…

    No, I’d leave the medical opinions to the experts Ian! You’d be the first to complain if a nutritionist started spoting off about the latest technology trends 😉

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    But if your theory is correct – and it’s exposure that creates allergy – every bee keeper would be falling down dead after a week (those suits don’t keep out every bee, as I found out once!).

    Let’s take your own allergy, to wheat. Now, there’s nothing about wheat that’s new: so how come suddenly, every man and his dog seems to have a wheat allergy? Or are you saying that the allergy isn’t actually to wheat, but to a particular new method of its preparation?

    Hypersensitization (regular doses of whatever it is you’re allegic to) has been shown to work for lots of different types of allergies, including dust mites, pollen, bee/wasp stings and – in one interesting case – for children who suffer from food-induced hyperkinetic syndrome. The problem is that it’s bloody expensive (up to five years of regular injections), doesn’t work in all cases, and makes you feel ill – most patients are required to sit in the doctor’s surgery for an hour after their first few injections.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Oh, and for anyone who’s interested in hypersensitisation, there’s a nice little explanation of what it’s all about at http://www.allergyclinic.co.nz/guides/10.html.

    But of course, it’s easy to ignore the science, which says that immunology against allergy works, in favour of blaming “modern processing” without actually showing how it can affect the body :)

  • http://jonathanbaldwin.blogspot.com Jonathan Baldwin

    Well to be fair, Ian, it’s not a theory, it’s a fact that it’s not the first sting that creates the problem but the second. And I didn’t say that *everyone* will suffer an allergy. If you look back I said ‘it’s the second sting that will cause the reaction, if there is one’. Chances are there won’t be.

    As for every man and his dog having an allergy to wheat, I think that’s an exaggeration! But it often seems like that, I’ll grant you.

    However there is a simple explanation to why it seems to be a ‘new’ thing: it isn’t – far from it.

    We actually consume far more wheat than we used to. It is used as a bulking agent in virtually every food you can buy from ready meals to sausages, even ice cream IIRC. The amount of wheat consumed by your average person today is far in excess of what used to be the case only 20 years ago. And the wheat is heavily processed leaving out the good bits and focussing on the starchy bits that just go straight through you.

    Wheat, interestingly, is actually a grain that the human physiology is not well set up to deal with – it’s only the hardiness of wheat crops that has led to it being in the position it’s in, not its dietary benefits. The same with milk – the human gut finds milk difficult to stomach (if you excuse the pun) but it’s easier to produce in bulk than other forms of milk (e.g. sheep or goat) that are easier for us to digest.

    The increase in allergies to wheat seems to be directly proportional to the increase in hidden wheat intake – it’s not that more people are allergic than before, it’s that the allergens are more prevalent, and so natural allegies are becoming more common. Exposing yourself to more wheat is the thing that causes the allergy…

    Lots has been written on food allergies but it is certainly NOT true that exposing yourself to an allergen will cure it. That is actually potentially very dangerous advice – I speak from bitter personal experience – and allergies, if suspected or known about, should be dealt with by a nutritionist or GP.

    But anyway… how can you not get Star Wars? I mean… Mind you, I’m the rare voice that says ‘2001? It didn’t make sense -what’s the point of that?’ :-)