When people speak of the Great British Eccentric being a dying breed, most of the examples given of the species do tend to be over a certain age – 50, at least. Granted, there are a few defiant exceptions (certainly in terms of dress, someone like Paloma Faith, perhaps), though the famous names that spring to mind are usually past their half-century. I think the claims of the species bordering on extinction aren’t too far-fetched in that it’s hard to foresee another generation spawning any. It isn’t just the large-scale homogenisation of genuine individual thought and/or appearance within society that could be held responsible, nor the fact that every suspected ‘Paedo’ exposed by the press is painted as ‘a bit weird’ because he doesn’t adhere to an imposed dress-code (thus marking out sartorial originality as totally toxic); but when any potential eccentricities surface in children today parents, teachers and doctors alike are a tad too quick to diagnose a ‘syndrome’.
You may or may not have heard of Oppositional Defiance Disorder, but that is the tag that has now been attached to children who misbehave – yes, fancy that! Children misbehaving and refusing to do as they’re told! What an uncharacteristic behavioural trait! Children doing what children have always done can no longer be just that; there has to be a medical condition to cover all eventualities that can be tamed with both medication and counselling.
The feminisation of our leading institutions, along with the box-ticking bureaucracy that negates common sense, seems determined to prevent little boys in particular from being little boys. There is also the plethora of self-help ‘how to be a perfect parent’ publications, an entire literary industry that has had a pernicious influence on the attitude towards children and remains in perpetual denial of the fact that some of them are strange little bastards.
Ever since the recognition of dyslexia as something to be distinguished from basic stupidity, there has been a conscious rush to judgement on classic childhood symptoms that veer from the desired ordinariness that is a by-product of perfection. All the numerous minor strands of autism are examples of this, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is another that has now become utterly accepted as a bona-fide syndrome, a condition that is hastily diagnosed and in many cases treated with a course of medication. In recent years, the transgender issue has also reared its head, especially amongst right-on parents who seize upon any indication of effeminacy in their little boy as a sign his ‘true’ sexuality must be determined by them before he’s even hit puberty.
The dangerous fad for labelling every aspect of a child’s natural behaviour a syndrome is a panicky response when so many are afraid of standing out from the crowd and expressing any notion of individuality that contradicts the consensus. The ghastly competitiveness of parents that rests on one-upmanship faces a severe threat if their little angel is exhibiting any signs of being ‘different’, so a convenient pigeonhole that is accepted as a syndrome by the teaching and medical profession is an easy solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist.
Like most of us, I grew up around many children who displayed personal eccentricities that would now probably have a ready-made diagnosis on hand. One girl I was at primary school with used to bite her toenails. I wonder what that would be categorised as today? Keratin Carnivore Disorder? And I suspect we all knew one or two who would eat their own bogies. Mucus Consumption Disorder? Keeping children on a tight leash and denying them the freedom to express themselves through the kind of behaviour adults aren’t able to get away with is a modern trend that only has a few caveats, such as when it comes to ‘artistic’ expression – which basically amounts to those bloody awful pictures proud parents stick on their fridges as a sign of what creative geniuses they’ve spawned.
But genuine creativity often goes hand-in-hand with unconventional outlooks and attitudes that are commonplace amongst children and rare amongst adults; the adults that retain them are ones that resisted having them drilled out by the educational system. It must be harder than ever to uphold such resistance and be a little Winston Smith today, however.
Not only does one have to risk being diagnosed with a syndrome and being forcibly drugged to wash the nasty thoughts away, but there is also the league table-obsessed educational system itself, which like all institutions – whether the NHS, DWP, police force or legal profession – has become a training camp for the appliance of politically-correct robotic responses in which impromptu personal judgment not listed in the script has no place. The fear of litigation or ostracism enables such Orwellian Ministry systems to flourish unimpeded by common sense and ideas that risk being labelled that most dreaded of contemporary ailments, eccentric.
That each new crop of recruits to these institutions now instinctively follow the rulebook to the letter of the law (and probably had early resistance suppressed by a syndrome diagnosis and accompanying medication) means the likelihood of the Circumlocution Offices the institutions have gradually evolved into ever reverting to what they were before virtually zilch. Anyone at the frontline of having to deal with said institutions will know what an uphill struggle it is to make representatives of them understand that everything they’ve had programmed into them is counterproductive to an actual result. Add the inherent conservatism of social media as a further tool for falling into line and it would seem any future eccentrics that are lucky enough to slip through the net will be few and far between. And our society will be all the poorer for their absence.
© The Editor