Saturday, 26 June 2010


As the academic year comes to a close at East Cheshire Community Education, it is time to reflect upon an eventful year. The recession is starting to bite, and this has been reflected in the trials and tribulations faced by myself and many of my students. Three have had children, one has got married, two have changed their jobs and four have moved to another area.

The one thing that becomes clear is that many people have used the recession to take stock of their lives, work out what they truly want and re-prioritise accordingly. Although undeniably stressful, it is also a time where we let go of behaviours, beliefs and aspirations that hold us back.

One of the easiest ways of cutting back is to cancel that gym membership, give up your regular exercise or quit a hobby that costs you money. Be careful about doing this. It is easy to label activities that keep your health and sanity as being superfluous and wasteful. It is also tempting to work longer hours in the pursuit of money in case you may lose your job. Denying yourself your health and recreation is storing up problems that will prove more costly in the long term. Short term gains may result in long term burnout.

So when re-prioritising during a recession, stay clear of a mentality based on fear and protectionism. This is not a mandate to keep spending and ignoring the climate. It is about nurturing yourself and growing in a new direction.

Mental viruses

The internet has proved a fantastic tool for the circulation of ideas and concepts. It unites groups of people with common interests and is the perfect forum for discussions and networking.

There is a down side. The internet is also a breeding ground for a phenomena that I call the Mental Virus. A mental virus is like a computer virus. It is a thought or belief that has no possible use to the owner other than the creation of fear and mistrust. It spreads from person to person and is almost impossible to get rid of. An older version of the mental virus is the urban myth.

Urban myths were rife before the internet. Whoever told you about them said that they happened to "a friend of a friend". Generally, there is no proof that they happened, and there is an element of possibility. Here are a few:
  • The old woman who dried her wet dog in the microwave and the dog exploded.
  • There are alligators in the sewer put there by people buying them as pets and flushing them down the toilet.
  • The young woman who stopped to help an old woman whose car had broken down. She offers to give the old woman a lift to a garage, and notices manly hairs on the back of her hand and drives off before the old woman can get in the car. It is only when she stops that she finds that the old lady's handbag contains a large knife or a small axe.
Mental viruses are just like urban myths, but are on a much grander scale. They start with an idea that snowballs into international conspiracies and life and death issues. People do enormous amounts of research that joins together unrelated facts to make a unified whole.

Some other mental viruses are as follows:
  • All modern inventions like computers and stealth aircraft are inspired by recovered flying saucers being reverse-engineered by the US government.
  • Princess Diana's death was ordered by the royal family.
  • Humanity is being secretly enslaved and ruled by seven foot blood-drinking lizards.
  • When NASA landed on the moon, they found alien bases and have been covering it up since.
  • NASA never landed on the moon. It was all a hoax.
  • The nazis landed on the moon during the second world war.
When you first look at the concepts, they appear pretty far-fetched. But the people who perpetuate mental viruses spend a great deal of time researching for phenomena and facts that support their ideas. They then place these facts into a logical order to build up a picture that points to their theory. They also conveniently ignore all evidence that points to a more logical conclusion. But when you de-construct their arguments, they don't bear well under scrutiny. Many of the conclusions are measured incorrectly - like trying to say that someone is 6 ft tall by weighing them.

More dangerous mental viruses can be perpetuated by religious cults and groups. In these cases, mental viruses are the start of extremist behaviour.

So when learning new concepts on the internet, please consider whether you are taking on a mental virus. Consider whether there is significant scientific backing for the facts and concepts. Also, consider how the ideas influence how you feel about yourself and others. Be rational, sceptical and challenge everything. Ask the right questions, and many of these theories fall down like a house of cards.