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Thursday 8 April 2010

Pet Peeves - Coping Methods & Finding Closure

Can a person remain happy and be productive through an examination of his pet peeves? I think so. By identifying annoyances that find you all-too-often you can find a type of release in writing down your reasons for becoming irritated. It also prompts a bit of meditation on how to deal with said annoyances and, most importantly, move on. In fact, I have actually put forward some advice I have found was useful to me in dealing with them. Below is a list of the “little” things that tend to get on my wick from day to day. It’s been an enjoyable exercise for me. Don't worry if you disagree with me. Many of these annoyances are readily brought on by many people who are quite close to me, including several family members. If anything upsets you, too bad. However, as a consolation I have just provided you with a few buttons that, when pressed, will surely get my gander up. I hope you will find it interesting or even mildly amusing.

  1. People who do not understand irony or get sarcasm!

Yes, I would go as far as saying that there is a serious lack of irony in a good number of people’s diets. I find it quite insulting when I make a comment and the other person thinks I am that ignorant or, worse still, they agree with opposite of what I am implying. Furthermore, I find it quite worrying when obvious satire – films like “Starship Troopers” for example – are taken in completely the wrong vein. Ronald Regan using “Born in the USA” as his patriotic anthem was an example that even people in high places are missing more than irony; they are missing the whole message and only listening to the chorus of a song! 

Here are some videos to help those who have difficulty with the whole irony/sarcasm issue. There is a subtle difference between the two I hasten to add, but that is a discussion for another day. 

And here is a little something to remind us what irony isn't. 

To add to that discussion I present Marc Duncan's brilliant comment on an apparent ironic statement he had just made: "I am pretty sure it is ironic. Sometimes I think that no situation actually fits the technical definition of irony and that the word just sort of hangs out in the linguistic ether singing a siren song that is designed to crash the unsuspecting against the jagged rocks of pedantry."

  1. Conspiracy theorists.

There are few things that get my goat up more than when some idiot, usually at a dinner or a barbecue, pops up with a conspiracy theory. They love an audience and tend to get aggressive very quickly when questioned. It is okay for them to ask ridiculous questions and produce absurd ideas that defy reason and science, but it seems to be bang out of order for anyone else to question them. My quick advice to these people is that they look up logical fallacies to check their arguments, understand what confirmation bias is when they cite research, make sure that they have their science right when they seek to discredit genuine scientists and mainstream scientific theories/facts and finally - and above all - look up Ockham’s Razor for a good way to decide upon a strong conclusion. Then – and only then – should you join the grown-ups table for a discussion about conspiracies. 


  1. Questioning intonation

I share annoyance here with Stephen Fry who brilliantly discussed the matter with Paul Merton on “Room 101”. This apparently came from Australia via their soap operas, but it is still a major fixture in “trendy” speaking. I think it peaked a few years ago along with the equally annoying “mockney” and estuary English. What I mean by a "questioning intonation" is the really annoying habit of making a statement sound like a question. It is affected, weak, adds absolutely nothing to the statement being made except possible confusion and can really grate on anyone listening. 

  1. New Age nonsense

This is another Stephen Fry pet hate, which is also shared by Billy Connolly and Jack Dee. The latter two have almost identical routines about the use of alternative medicine in a life and death situation. They conjure up images of an aromatherapist trying to treat a road traffic accident or an herbalist sorting out someone suffering from a heart attack. “But herbs and natural treatments work” is a common cry. Yep, they do and we turned those ones into things we call medicines and drugs. Don’t start the “Big Pharma” thing either (please see conspiracy theorists). No one is saying that there isn't massive corruption and nefarious activities being done by those involved in the pharmaceutical industry. I would suggest reading Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" and "Bad Pharma" for rational arguments for this particular issue. Scientists may be corruptible, but science isn't. I have no issue with people decorating their houses with exotic looking dream-catchers, ornaments of pixies, pictures of native Americans, feng shui bowls and crystals; just don’t start feeding my pseudo-scientific nonsense about esoteric energies.

  1. Nutritional nonsense

Superfoods have been debunked so many times it is not funny. Detoxing has also been trial tested umpteen numbers of times and proven to not make a difference. Most diets work simply based on the fact that if you put some conscious restriction on your food intake you will lose weight. Nutrition has always gone through phases and now there are countless numbers of diets out there. There are also a ridiculous number of nutritional supplements that are just expensive milk shakes or little more than placebo tablets. The “secret” is only to eat the amount of calories you can burn off in a day. Different people have different metabolisms. It is that simple. Stick to a food guide that you can stick to. 

  1. Sanctimonious people

From as far back as I remember people have tried to preach to me. Whether this is in the form of religion, nutrition, conspiracy theories, martial arts or charity there is always someone who feels they have a secret knowledge that somehow makes them better than me. Often this is a tactic designed to recruit me to their particular cause. I have watched just about every trick in the book and as time goes on my patience for these people, who are largely very ignorant and hypocritical, wears thinner all the time. Religion has a hugely chequered history of verifiable institutionalized corruption and downright persecution enacted on followers and non-believers alike. Charities are perhaps the final taboo area that seriously needs to be investigated. There is a tremendous amount of corruption in the way money is used inside many of these institutions and sometimes even for the causes they support. Like religion, their very status often overrides our natural sense of scepticism and allows them to use emotion to claim undeserved moral high grounds. Likewise sanctimonious supporters of many charities often use their donations as a type of crutch to lean on or “offset” their lack of charity on their own doorstep. I follow a live and let live philosophy when it comes to beliefs, so long as that belief doesn’t inspire others to force whatever action they feel is right onto my life. 

  1. People who feel you should have an opinion on everything

How can you form an opinion on something you know nothing about? There is nothing wrong with having an undecided stance on a majority of subjects. Surely this is the basis of rationalism; to embrace uncertainty and doubt. Be a blank canvas with a keen sense of critical thinking and you better formulate an opinion shaped by facts than when you buy into a belief that allows others to manipulate you. Popular ignorant ideas often come from people who have had their entire opinions swayed by an hour long documentary or some inflammatory report they’ve read in a newspaper or a rumour they have just decided must be true. The appeal to popularity or the bandwagon logical fallacy arguments are often cited with due vigour and a shocking lack of self-awareness. Just remember where there is apparently smoke there is also often a dry ice machine. People who say they “hate” celebrities when they haven’t even met them make me laugh. In fact, a relative of mine, who is involved in the music business, regularly responds with the comment “They speak very highly of you” when someone expresses their loathing for a certain public figure. The person then responds “But they don’t even know me”. Exactly! 

  1. Tabloid journalism

The lack of research that goes into your average news story is shocking. Papers owned by massive corporations that have legal teams poised and ready for the libel actions, which they know presents them with win/win situations, are truly dangerous institutions. When I see a tabloid in someone’s house, I rarely comment – it’s their life and I don’t want to be sanctimonious – but I look at it like it’s a packet of cigarettes. This stuff is pornography. It is designed to stimulate base senses, knee-jerk responses and inspire mass hysteria. Rather than attacking pieces of art for the corruption of the innocent look to irresponsible news reporting through the ages. Driven by money, whole families and innocent people have been hounded and persecuted by the desire to promote a “good story”. We live in a time after the death of Princess Diana when the general public received a shocking insight into the lengths of paparazzi journalism. Then they were there was the "News of the World" scandal, the sacking of Piers Morgan (who has subsequently recovered as an even more sanctimonious and bullying TV celebrity), the post-Alastair Campbell era and the Levison Enquiry. People's lives are unfairly wrecked and ruined beyond repair by an unregulated press in the UK and a mindless culture that believes virtually anything they read, see or hear. 

  1. The devaluation and degradation of history

Postmodernism has a lot of positive benefits. Every movement should be critiqued, reviewed and analysed. Modernism was no different. However, as is the nature of a philosophy, political or social movement, development can often branch off into weird mutations. Postmodernism prompted a strong re-evaluation on many historical study methods, which was fine except it went to extremes until we started to get this concept that history was irrelevant; worse still, that all evidence was equal. It’s an idea that has crept into the mainstream and allowed the publication of some horrendous books that should be under any section in a Waterstones bookshop other than “History”. By the 1980s history was made a non-compulsory subject in British schools. By the 2000s we had an influx of subjects with dubious scholarly or even vocational merit. Today, we see the distinct possibility of journalists being employed as history teachers. The art of connecting with the past, the science of uncovering facts and empirical evidence is giving way to a subject that is pretty much going to be based on opinion. As the general public show their thirst for history through the popularity of history TV channels, documentaries, historical novels, biographies and the hobby of family genealogy, they are being fed badly researched, sensationalist and partisan material.  

  1. Negativity vampires

Misery loves company and there seems to be a whole breed of people who bathe themselves in your problems. We all have people in our lives that are only interested in talking to you if you are down in the dumps. They sniff depression like it is a pheromone and come in all sorts of guises. Often they come under the “just wanted to help” cover, where they will enjoy sitting with someone so they can bitch about other people. They love sharing sob stories and are drawn to troubled relationships like diseased insects to an open wound. The result of their activities rarely amount to anything positive other than when the person being “fed” on wakes up to what these people are up to. They ruin relationships, stoke further anger, prompt irrational responses and help make depression addictive. We all get down at times and some of us have clinical depression, but there are trusted and professional people who can help us out there. We also have our trusted friends who do want to help offer support and maybe offer helpful advice, but be wary of those who use your misery to fuel their day. Once they are identified, as they try to probe into your life, give them a wall of positivity. There may be little empirical evidence to support the benefits of using positive thinking, but when it comes to protecting yourself against the negativity vampire appearing happy and joyful even when you are not is as good as using garlic against their mythological equivalent. Sounding positive about your life provides your misery loving acquaintance no purchase; nowhere to put their bitter hooks. Be like Teflon my friends and watch them slide off. 

  1. Black and white politics

Life is sometimes simple and sometimes it isn’t. I grew up in a community that had fixed loyalties and fixed politics. This inspired some of my generation to start having very fixed and fundamental ideas about religion. At a relatively early age I discovered scepticism and individualism, and both allowed me to step back from having unshaken ideas about things. I became more swayed by practical experience and reason as I grew up. This meant that I no longer could simply accept party policy on anything. I had to make my own mind up. I do not see any absolutes. It is always interesting to hear an apparently open-minded person hit their own ceilings and exhibit tribal protectiveness over certain ideas that defy reason. Every issue should be judged separately. I have my principles, but they allow me to be secure enough to hear all arguments.

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Some useful resources on the above subject matter that will provide relief if you share my frustrations!

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