Sunday, February 6, 2011

Batten Down the Hatches

It is not uncommon to hear people speak disparagingly, or at least half in jest, about high-strung A-type personalities, those individuals who distinguish themselves by being obsessive or neurotic. The attributes or ramifications of such people are partly pop psychology and the term has been determined obsolete by many researchers. Nevertheless even to the layman there are obviously people who are less laid back than others so it is not entirely unreasonable or inconvenient to permit the generalization.

To my non-scientific way of thinking the distinguishing feature of the A-type personality is anticipation, specifically the need to prepare for trouble. It is under this umbrella that one embraces the many other characteristics commonly attributed to the class; viz., aggressive, business-like, time-conscious, controlling and preoccupied, though I prefer to soften the features by relating them to foresight, reasoning, prediction and logical thinking. Clearly being achievement-driven, the Type A individual is commonly urgent and impatient. The motivation, however, isn't the fear of trouble on the horizon, but rather the desire to avoid it altogether. It should come as no surprise that the phrase "batten down the hatches" is lifted from the nautical vernacular. If one is at sea there is literally nowhere to run in the event of catastrophe. As such the metaphor is apt to describe the precaution taken by those who detest ambivalence and uncertainty.

The Scots were renowned for the moats around their castles. The moats were a preliminary line of defence. Modern people are no longer operative defenders, but rather speculative defenders in the sense of academic or theoretical. In many instances the preparation for trouble can assume immense proportions in that it dwarfs the value of long-standing religious beliefs (which are often no more than comfort for capitulation) and replaces them with inherently individualistic convictions and determination.

Just as the Scots are notoriously suspicious, the obsession with the avoidance of trouble is equally mistrustful, not necessarily of human nature but of the human condition. The spiritual fortification which one constructs about oneself is indeed partly designed not only to impose control upon external forces but to insulate oneself from its effects. It may be a figment of imagination to assume that we can do anything substantive to raise ourselves above the muck and mire of everyday living, but for some it is worth the effort to manufacture or even fabricate a world in which there is an order and dominion not completely irrational or inevitable.

I suppose it is arguable that the effort to control one's external experience is illustrative of uncontrollable internal turmoil. On the other hand, I would be very reluctant to attempt to define the line that separates me from the world. Let us just call it a predisposition as opposed to a paranoia. There are for example those who prefer a rambling garden, while others are more inclined to constant pruning and direction. I have always admired the abandon with which some people conduct their lives, but I'm afraid the same recipe doesn't suit my own tastes.

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