So what! How a mind virus works.

An inoculation against the sickness of mind control will always require awareness of the disease.

They were really a harmless couple in many ways, strange yes, unusual, seemingly but definitely not a threat to anyone but themselves. God knows how we had made contact, there was something obscure in our connection, maybe a chance meeting, perhaps an unexpected confluence but out of it had emerged an invitation to dinner at their house. We went because we don’t often get invited out to dinner and it is really nice for us when it happens once every few years.

Our social lives are somewhat restricted in as much as we are both self-employed, we both work from home, we don’t need to be in personal contact with people and my wife doesn’t really like the human race anyway. Added to her bias towards our own private happiness, I am far too gregarious by nature but tend to talk too much and bore people silly. Consequently invitations are few and rarely repeated. As a result, when an invitation to go out comes in, so to speak, I have to cajole and convince my girl that we should go. In this instance I was successful.

The drive into London from our small Hertfordshire village was a small adventure in time travel. We were going to the neighbouring part of North London where we had lived before escaping the growing threat of the inner city. From the simple lanes we had become accustomed to, we journeyed into a gridlock caused by roadworks and a maelstrom manufactured by angry driving desperate to convey tempers to places of apparent urgency. Our own calm driving and lack of any desire to race or hurry merely infuriated the horns in this urban bull run.

A bridge repair that needed to close one of the main arteries into central London for more than a year squeezed and condensed traffic down impossible diversionary side roads whilst at the same time expanding and dilating the time of the journey. The effect of which, no doubt, was a pushing and pulling on the psyches of the drivers. In lateness, we arrived at our destination and were greeted at the door by hosts clearly used to a lack of punctuality caused by massive holes in the local road.

We entered their cosy terrace, gave over the gifts which polite guests always arrive with; flowers and chocolates, not too expensive but not cheap. I was introduced as the husband because this contact had been made by the two women whilst the men were wholly fresh to all dynamic. This was a couple of years ago now and in truth, I cannot even remember their names now so let’s just call them Richard and Anne for the convenience of the telling. There is nothing more in this tardiness of memory than the passing of time and the fact we have had no contact with them since that night. Such distance is nothing to do with how nice or not nice they were for in truth, as I have said, they were harmless people and really quite gentle souls. Our night together was enjoyable but we are so embroiled in our own lives and our own company that it is probably true to say that was the last time we went out to someone else’s home for dinner.

Perhaps they are waiting for us to invite them over to ours, maybe we have seemed a bit rude but we haven’t intended any such thing, we are just not naturally social in our own home even if sometimes we wish we could be. Our domestic situation is not really geared up for guests. Our house is a place of work, a studio for her and a library for me, no lounge, no three piece suite, no television and a kitchen which suits two comfortably with a table it is difficult to sit three around. We are happy, we are fortunate, we both love our own occupations and are entirely seized by them seven days of the week. Selfish people I suppose or just anti-social but we are who we are and cannot be anything else and remain as happy as we are.

Anyway, I am wandering away from my tale and as I warned you, once I start talking I can get really quite boring so it is probably best that I just focus on the story in hand.

Richard was a tall but stocky man lost somewhere in his middle thirties. A wispy beard and dark shaggy hair sitting on his round shoulders, he didn’t stoop or lean but stood always straight-spined but was armed with hesitant hands which jerked out a punctuating slight semaphore to decorate his conversation. In unmemorable trousers and a massively ordinary jumper, he struck a figure which at first glance could be mistaken for solid rock but with the familiarity of minutes fractured easily. This was a human being who had clearly had to deal with issues of mental health in his lifetime and from what I could see he had been challenged quite severely but managed to keep things together. There was much to admire in this man.

Anne also had been walking in the shadows and in any amount of light her fragility was blatant. She carried more physical weight than she needed yet had not succumbed to any truly heavy obesity. Her features were round but her continuous smiling couldn’t hide the desperateness in which she seemed drenched. Such smiles are of a particular type and belong to and betray old deep wounds. Lips tautly snag the smile and expose teeth with what is meant to be a hidden force, a need to stretch and hold the facial gesture as though resisting rather than submitting. Smiles are meant to be born of joy, they are at their best when they light up and reveal a natural freedom, a blooming of the soul which flowers in the mind of the observer. But not all smiles are smiles just as not all laughter is about humour.

Some smiles are professional works of a predator before its prey, such as the smile of a lawyer or an estate agent. Some are fictions conjured up to promote myths and legends, such as an actor performs on noticing a camera. there are many types of a smile but the desperate ones are those manufactured by the hopeless as they drown in their own desperation. For these are the smiles of resistance to fate, they are the smiles which say, “I know this could all end badly but I am going to try and stop that happening by holding onto this smile.”.

Anne knew how to hold tightly to her smiles. Her struggles in life had clearly taken a painful toll and obviously been there would have times when she would have been under scrutiny by trained professionals. As I watched her smile I wondered why we entrust a gentle soul in crisis to people who earn a living from their suffering. Anne was still suffering. I can’t remember what she wore or even how long or short her hair was. All the physicalities and the materiality of her being are lost to me now but her character and her soul I can clearly still see. She had cooked us a fine, handcrafted, homemade dinner into which she had put a lot of effort with fine and tasty results. What more do you need to say about a person than that they cooked with love and affection?

At a dining table of moderate proportions, in a galley shaped kitchen, within a comfortable, clean and brightly decorated ambience, we sat together and started the conversations which are meant to lead to more intimate discoveries of exactly who the relative strangers are. We were starting from the most casual and tenuous of connections, Anne and my wife were both artists and had met at a museum whilst considering a funded project which was seeking creative input. A passing moment in which a small interest was generated and, strangely for my own anti-social partner, more usually far too absorbed in her own creative process to possess any concern for another human being, a connection was made. An odd event for the usual response to people claiming to be artists is a withering critique and complete intolerance for anyone who has not put in serious work and devotion, generating a clear and distinct voice, as the benchmark of integrity. Most are dismissed as ‘illustrators’ or ‘decorators’ with work often condemned as ‘painful to look at’ but then, in fairness, far too many people feel the clothes of an artist are something which can be worn at leisure and cut from any cloth they like the look of. That we were at dinner with Anne meant that she had been perceived as someone with a genuine voice in her art.
We men engaged with each other as the two artists talked about their views and opinions. This was not a gender divide, this was vocational, professional and separated those who knew what they were talking about from those who didn’t. I got used to this position very quickly in the early days of my relationship with my wife. I had to or the relationship just wasn’t going to last and I loved her too much to let that happen. Like most men, like most men who think they have something called intelligence, I had a high opinion of my own high opinions on all things that required not just an opinion by my voice to make that opinion clear to everyone else. Being a man is not as easy as most people think that it should be, especially when those people are men. There was another aspect to this learning curve and that was the context of art and the artist.

Art is a subject in which ignorance being paraded as knowledge, and certain knowledge at that, is not a skill set owned by a specific gender, however, men do seem to acquire great expertise in the field of being able to speak fluently and eloquently on the subject of art despite being a solicitor or a mechanic or an I.T. engineer or any occupation which has never seen even the contents page of a book on art history. Never more so than when they are speaking to a woman, especially a small, foreign one like my wife. My own severe lesson came when I expressed an opinion, one I felt was important, about a concrete monstrosity masquerading as ‘contemporary art’.

My firmly held view was that the two towering pillars looked like an unfinished motorway support structure and only existed because of some stupid taxpayer-funded grant to an idiot sculptor. As erudite as this opinion clearly was in my own mind it was little more than a stinking dung pile as far as my honourable wife was concerned and she spared no time whatsoever in flaying the skin of my self-importance and throttling my ego with her own bare and unrelenting hands. Her immediate response was not along the lines of but precisely that I could only hold that opinion because I knew absolutely nothing of the history of art, was wholly ignorant about contemporary art, did not know anything about the work I was looking at or the artist who had made it. Furthermore, it would be best if I kept any similar opinions to myself and better still if I learnt to only talk about things I had some experience of. I think I was hopelessly in love from that point on.

Mercifully, despite having been born with two sets of brains, I managed to grow, very slowly and carefully, into maturity and become an adult by my late forties. This is actually an early date for male maturity as the majority of men do not really start to embrace adulthood until their fifties, a substantial section of male society can only ever achieve such maturity once their second brain, their testicles, stops functioning to all intents and purposes and a dismal number of the human male animal never let go of either the child or the brat.

My own realisation was that two failed marriages, several dreadful relationships and an unsuccessful life cannot be all the fault of women. Much as I would prefer to blame someone else but myself, it occurred to me that maturity had something to do with taking responsibility for my own life and owning the consequences of my own actions. Consequently, when having met a person who was capable, intelligent, interesting, possessed of a sense of humour and liked cooking interesting food whilst also being my preferred gender of attraction, female, at the age of 48, I wasn’t prepared to let my own stupidity ruin a clear opportunity for future happiness.

Faced with being told by a small, foreign woman that you are stupid many men would probably stamp their feet, maybe shout out their innocence or reject the proposition outright. I realised one important thing at that moment; she was absolutely right and I was completely wrong. To me, my position was clearly indefensible so I shut my mouth, took the advice and tried to speak only of the things I had experience of from that point on. I had never read an art history book, I did not know anything about contemporary art so why or how could I possibly think my opinion about art would have any merit or value to a human being who had spent more than 30 years studying art, practising art, being an artist and even making television programmes about art. To this day, nearly twenty years of happy marriage later, I absolutely cringe with gender humiliation when a hear a man, on finding out my wife is an artist, start a sentence with, “The thing about art is…” or, even worse, “I would like to talk to your wife because I paint a little myself.”.

Richard and I engaged in our own conversation as the artists discussed their own interests. An obvious early gambit in the process of establishing a relationship was to ask about his own relationship with Anne. This wasn’t so contrived as I have just expressed it, my sentence at this point is more about a retrospective consideration than a comment on intent. When exploring around new meetings and seeking to establish some sort of foundation or common ground then there is a natural tendency to seek out safe lines of enquiry. As we were both couples then the easiest question to ask was how Richard and Anne met. Not too intrusive, very human and a question which facilitates a participation level decided by the respondent.

“How did you and Anne meet Richard,” I asked with the obvious caveat, ” if you don’t mind me asking.”

Richard nodded and smiled very weakly.
“So, we didn’t know each other but we had friends who knew both of us.” He stopped and nodded again and appeared to be considering his next choice of words. “So they thought that we would be good together and sort of arranged things so we both went out one night with this group of friends.”. He smiled again but this time it was slightly warmer, a fuller expression yet still not fully unchained from an obvious anxiety.

“So they knew about Anne’s mental health problems and they knew I had struggled with depression and they thought that we would both understand each other.”

“Clearly they were onto something!” I suggested gently and lay a casual hand around the space in front of me to indicate the home they had both established.

Richard didn’t look me in the eyes, he could only glance into eye contact in small touches, as though he was looking for some sense of approval of his words rather than wanting to make close personal contact. “So they were right, we met each other and sat and talked together. We sort of got stuck with each other. ” He hesitated. “I don’t mean that in a negative way, I mean that we just got lost in each other. Our friends all said later that when we met we just locked into each other and for the rest of the night we didn’t talk to or interact with any of them at all.”.

“That sounds wonderful!” I said.

“Yes, I think for both of us we were just relieved to be with someone we could feel very comfortable with. When you have faced the mental health issues we have been through, being with people can be very difficult, very uncomfortable. This then tends to make you avoid gatherings and not easily engage in social situations.”.

“You felt you’d found a kindred spirit.” I suggested.

“Yes, we could be open with each other and say what we felt without feeling judged. Anne was the first friend I had made since I had become ill.”.

“I can empathise with that.” I said.

“So, have you experienced mental illness.?” Richard asked and looked directly into my eyes as he posed the question.

“Well not really, not in the same way you have, more the ordinary level of manageable stress than anything like depression.”

“Oh,” said Richard almost sadly and looked away from the eye contact.
“The empathy I was referring to,” I distinctly felt the need to qualify here. ” was about finding someone you feel comfortable with rather than issues of health.”

This circumstance of comfort brightened Richard, he could grasp the meaning of what I was saying and it appeared to resonate with him.

“So how did you and Majut meet?” he asked looking for reciprocation.

“We met through internet dating,” I replied using my standard format. Over the years both Majut and I found that this question of our meeting appeared to be a pressing one with people who got to know us. Our assumption was and still remains that to the world beyond our relationship we must appear an odd if not actually an ill-matched couple.

Indeed, Majut’s close-knit circle of friends, few in number but tightly bound and long established, all predicted doom and disaster for any liaison with the working class, cockney, full of himself chancer who seemed to have specialised in nothing much and at the age of 48 was penniless. As a prospect for their much-respected friend, the hardworking and talented artist, an articulate individual devoted to self-discipline and the focus to build a life of real substance and property, Majut’s choice of a man for a partner seemed to be woefully in error. However, despite all misgivings, these friends were unwilling to really voice their suspicions and dreadful apprehensions. They knew their friend too well, they knew she was always determined on her own independence of action and thought and they knew what happened to anyone who thought they had either the right or ability to cast judgement on her. Quietly they took no risks with their friendship and only in later years, when our own personal happiness was not only self-evident but also proven to be durable, did they express how wrong their first instincts were.

“So how did that work?” asked Richard.

In explaining our story of meeting and how we found in each other real friendship on which we have built companionship, Richard visibly became more relaxed with me. As I told him of my feeling that because our coming together started first with digital communication before physical meetings, a sort of selection process that was sexually neutral, he appeared to be affirming, with small nods and gentle non-descript sounds, my view that getting to know the person before allowing the hormones liberty was a good basis for building a relationship.

“I know what you mean,” he said as I finished my description of how we met, ” because Anne and I were both really frightened of meeting people our expectations of each other were zero. We sat talking together because everyone else frightened us and with each other, we immediately felt safe.”

He let out a small laugh.

“That was a bit strange because all the people who brought us together made us feel really uncomfortable and that then made us feel even more safe with each other.”

There was some sort of strange synchronicity, surely synchronicity always appears strange, at work here because we were finding in our own perceived oddness as people a ground for understanding. In Richard and Anne, their mental health isolated them from society and left them always on the outside of things. For Majut and I, her persistent pursuit of her art and the fact that she wasn’t an indigenous person in the country she had chosen for home cast her at the edge of social affairs at best. My own way of being, dismissive of social hierarchies, bluntly critical of social pretence and posturing, had inevitably left me marginalised and more an object of suspicion than an obvious guest at a party.

All four of us were natural loners; people who were never really members of the herd. In the communal space of society, we were all treated with caution, shied away from, even shunned because the herd instinctively knew we were not one of them. In herd mentality, if you are not one of them then you are seen as a potential predator and treated as such for whilst the herd claim they reject you because you do not conform what they are really doing is living in fear of you. Being a creature who is always watching and mimicking what others around them are doing, being an animal reliant on established behaviour more than independent thought, the herd beast is terrified by anything which is not within the pattern of their society. On such foundations of fear are constructed the petty architectures of polite society and true individual expression is a poison to the tastes of social power. Such is the bitterness of any flavour of the individual that the herd immediately retreats to describing such independence as eccentric to start with then sliding on a scale of denouncement to the label of clear madness. Not wanting to be part of the herd, feeling subsumed by its comforting warmth and submitting personal desires to the driving need of the group migration through the social calendar, can be nothing more than insanity for the snorting beasts of the social savanna.

In this world of the standard and the plain, it is not just obvious but inevitable that mental illness is shunned and rejected because it produces aberrant behaviours. You can have cancer but still know how to act in polite society, illness is not unknown to the herd, it is not the illness that is their issue it is always behaviour. If you do not conform then you cannot be one of them. For people like Richard and Anne, mental ill health forms a barrier behind which their individuality and persona is hidden. Hidden not by their own will but by the will of the herd. They are not seen as people, they are not seen as ‘herd’, even by presumed friends they are not really accepted and any interaction with them is motivated more by wanting to be seen by the group as compassionate, sensitive people rather than genuine feelings for the lives of others. Having mentally ill friends is a credential of humanity, similar to knowing poor people.

By bringing Richard and Anne together, by casting them into a relationship, the herd was hoping to normalise these people in some way. This was a sterlising process which made the rest of the herd feel more secure about themselves.

Security is always a fragile concept and when Richard and Anne’s meeting was manufactured they were two people who lived with fragility in their everyday. In their understanding and experience of the insecurity of life, they found their own personal safety within each other. As the herd around them grunted and bellowed their satisfaction whilst chewing on the cud of a conversation designed to continually reinforce their own group status, these two human beings found themselves oblivious to all but each other. At the end of the evening, the masticating ruminants dispersed well pleased with their efforts to normalise their ‘friends’. In the belief they had done a ‘good thing’ this small herd felt more secure about itself. Richard and Anne had left them all behind from the moment their eyes met. This was not that dreadful chimaera, love at first sight, this was simple recognition of a common humanity. As they explored their lives and shared their perspectives, they found in each other a person they could trust and that is the quality which, when laid at the foundations, builds strong relationships.

“What do you do Richard?” I asked, instantly ashamed of placing such a mundane enquiry before my host. This ‘what do you do’ question is such a pathetic, poor or even bankrupt investigation that it can only ever be worsted by its ugly twin, “Do you make money at it?”. These two enquiries are generally the vocabulary of the self-satisfied mind, they seek to establish the status of the person being questioned. If the inquisitor hears “brain surgeon” then interest and connection is positive, if they hear “road sweeper” then suddenly the finger buffet attracts their instant attention. I could offer all sorts of justifications for my framing of this question but in truth, I was just being lazy. Normally, I tend to ask “What excites you in life?” or “What hobbies do you have?” or “Where do you come from?”, anything but “What do you do?”.

“So, I work for the Arts Council.”

“Really, in what capacity?”

“So, I am a grants officer.”

“And what exactly does that entail?”

“So, I process grant applications and make decisions about their acceptance.”

By this time I could not fail to notice how Richard started almost every response with the word ‘so’. There could be no bones about it, I found this use of language quite disconcerting. This piece of language is, for me, primarily a conjunction. That is to say that it should be used to introduce a sub-clause or a consequent condition of a previous statement such as “I am a dreadful pedant so I can be quite boring company.”. In this example my issue becomes plain. Once you start a sentence and form it thus, “So, I can be a dreadful pedant.” you are leaving out half of the sense and all of the context. You are introducing a redundancy because the sentence “I can be a dreadful pedant” does not need the additional ‘so’ any more than “I work for the Arts Council.” requires the word to initiate itself.

The rest of the evening went pleasantly enough and I dismissed the sloppy use of the conjunctive ‘so’ as a feature of Richard’s mental health issues. We said our goodbyes and left after a completely gentle evening in the gentle and pleasant company of truly nice people. On the way home in the car I mentioned how strange I found Richard’s use of ‘so’ but Majut said she hadn’t noticed it at all. Maybe I was being just pedantic but ever since that night, I have been hearing echoes which have grown from small ripples into a regular thunder in my ears.

My own love of mass communication is rooted in radio. During my days and nights, I have a radio playing away for some of the time. A small box which demands only the attention you want to give it and never tries to dominate your life. This is not a compelling device but one which is as happy in the background as it is in the foreground of your thoughts. Unlike its evil sibling, television, she never imprisons you in a couch or occupies your living space with a black monolithic presence. Radio is happy if you are working whilst she speaks or sings. She is content if you are paying her little attention and even more enchanting, she is the gateway to a universe of content and ideas which can feed the mind rather than corrupt it.

My own taste for content is not music but documentary, science, arts and information from the widest possible spectrum. Now that we can listen digitally, the whole world of radio is available and my own favourite station, RN, though I still call it Radio National despite its re-branding, is a feast for the enquiring mind. I discovered it when in Australia twenty years ago and have never let go. Besides this mainstay, there is the BBC World Service which in its own way is excellent as long as you are prepared to filter out the political propaganda which still sneaks in here and there. Of course, I listen to other options as well because it is just ill-disciplined to rely on only one source of information but the point in mentioning these two services is that their content comes from correspondents all over the world. They both present voices from different cultures, from different societies and different languages. However, those voices, when speaking on the radio are either being translated or, much more commonly, they are the voices of people for whom English is their second language. So what you may ask!

So, I started to realise that people being interviewed for news items were being asked questions, such as, “How exactly does this policy work in practice?” and they were responding, “So, we looked at the issues…”. Here was that use of the word ‘so’ to start a sentence. More and more I began to hear this construction of language, this adaptation or bastardisation depending on your point of view. At first, I let it go with just a mild sense of irritation but the volume of this aberration seemingly increased and was perceptibly louder day by day. I realised that I was witnessing a mental virus in action. A disease of the mind spreading from victim to victim and taking over their independence of thought by replacing it with a linguistic behavioural response. They couldn’t help themselves but who exactly were they? So, I realised that if I could identify the most vulnerable group I could probably identify the source of the infection and maybe even the cause.

Amidst the voices starting their sentences with this seemingly innocuous word, there appeared a very strong group made up of academics and civil servants. These are people who appear on radio mostly to give credibility to an idea, to provide an expert opinion, they are also from occupations which in their very practice require a lot of time for meetings. Committees, steering groups, conferences, management forums, all of these are environments in which contagion can run rampant. Veritable plague pits for the weak mind, such gatherings of the herd look for success in such gatherings by being able to produce a consensus. Being a part of that consensus also denotes not just your present status but also indicates a potential career progression for these belching bison of the establishment plains.

If an infection had taken root in even the smallest of workshops it could easily have spread around the world faster than anyone would realise what was happening. When I heard an interview with the director of a charity and a U.N. aid relief manager with both starting almost every sentence with this irritable ‘so’, I realised that this clearly was an infection caused by some idiot who didn’t know what a conjunction was but had been allowed to speak in a meeting. But why, from that initial position, did this virus possess such uncompromising virulence?

So, I considered the question of potency. So, I needed to look at the infected group and see if there was any other characteristic which defined it. So I did just that. Immediately it became clear that truly senior people in any profession or occupation which was bedevilled by a need for meetings did not use this pernicious little word to start every sentence when responding to a question. These were people for whom the attainment of status had been a task completed. They were already at the centre of the herd, surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of lumbering beasts all desperately trying to push ever closer to the centre. The virus clearly only affected the younger members of any particular group, those pushing their career forward, those trying to secure a senior status, those mid-career looking upwards. Obviously, this represented just the audible group on the radio but, no doubt, the more insignificant creatures of committee and conference were all readily infected. There had to be good grounds for saying that a lack of seniority or a lack of perceived endgame status provided the vulnerable host for this viral contamination.

Vulnerability to contamination alone does not explain virulence of transmission. Just because you catch a dreadful pox does not mean that you necessarily spread it around the world. What listening to global radio clearly demonstrated was that from China to Canada, from Norway to Argentina, the younger generation of expert and administrator were all contaminated in their English speech with this mental virus. Why this infection was so willingly embraced however needed more consideration of what the structure actually provided the weak and barely conscious mind. Inoculation against mental viruses requires a primary recognition of the virus; you have to know and recognise it before you can rid yourself of its effects. As the great and noble Ali Gullen once said, “The problem with mind control is how exactly do you tell if you are a victim of it.”. So what was it that was attractive to the victims of beginning every sentence with a conjunction?

The answer is all in this word conjunction and we should look at it carefully. The root of the word comes from ‘conjoin’ as in meaning to connect two parts into one. There is a mental virus yet there is no cure. Many people are infected for it is virulent. There may be a cure but we are not certain we have found it. Could this contaminate everyone on the planet or will it eventually die out? We have really not asked enough questions nor looked for serious solutions. So is a conjunction so it should connect one thing to another. These are the conjunctions; and, yet, for, but, or, nor and so.

In connecting they seek to make some form of validation; if ‘A’ then ‘B’. We all know this from our earliest education but it is that part of our foundation knowledge that we don’t so much forget but un-remember with persistent use. Such a validation by the method of conjunction is really just a lazy construction of language in this contemporary usage.

I ask you a question, you take the question and immediately join your answer to it and in doing so assume and promote the assumption that this is the correct answer; ‘A’ therefore ‘B’. However, you are only doing half of the work. In this construction of language, you are seamlessly tacking your answer onto the enquiry as though it is the only solution. You conjoin your answer to the question in the most patronising usage you can employ.

“Why is the weather so bad right now?” leads to “So, there are dark clouds in the sky and they cause rain.”..

“Do we need to increase aid budgets based on statistics around child mortality?” leads to “So, we looked at the numbers of children who die each year and decided that there were enough to need more money.”.

The attraction of being able to join your answer to the question and in so doing claim authority in your answer is fatal to the younger aspiring member of the herd and once they hear others bleating in this manner they are prone to copy it without thinking. As the infection spreads even the seniors will slowly start to become vulnerable and some will echo what they have been hearing if only to remain in tune with the younger members of the herd.

Richard had worked for the Arts Council, he was under forty years of age, probably about thirty-five. This was an occupation plagued by meetings, seminars and workshops. He had his own vulnerabilities in life to deal with and that left him badly exposed. He may well have been infected without such personal challenges, who can tell but the fact was that he was an early victim. Before I met him that night I hadn’t really heard this virus in action. After meeting him I witnessed as it slowly gathered in strength. That I didn’t immediately realise its pervasive presence would suggest it was not just a case of once made aware of a situation you are sensitive to its presence everywhere.

Today, years later, it is demonstrably everywhere and that supports the idea that Richard was an early casualty. There is a strong case, however, to suggest that this affectation of speech is merely a sign of the fluidity of language and its ability to evolve. A good thing we would think. We could argue that this is an indication that the herd can accept and involve individuality demonstrating that the herd is open to change. But the lowing of the cattle is still the lowing of the cattle no matter how the sound changes.

If you wish to inoculate yourself against any mind virus then that inoculation must start with making you aware of the existence of the virus. Once you are aware of its existence then you will notice its presence. Once you see its presence then you can make your own decision whether or not to join in or resist with your own independent thought.

So what are you going to do now?

The image in this article is a collage by the contemporary artist Akane Takyama entitled “A Herd Mentality”. Takayama’s work can be found at Akane Takayama. Her collage work is widely recognised as being an incisive form of political and social critique which is constructed through a blending of images from renaissance art and contemporary photography. In this marriage of disparate forms, Takyama manages to create a new and original image through her trademark use of juxtaposition within precise compositions.

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