Not so radical after all…Black and White Cats and Old English Sheep Dogs

The Minister’s Cat has now been with us for one year!

One of the things that constantly amazes me about him is the way in which he can appear out of nowhere as if by magic. One moment – not a whisker to be seen, then you look away for a split second and when you return your gaze there he is sprawled across the floor as if he had been there all along.

It’s the opposite with children isn’t it? They are sitting/lying there playing quite happily one moment and the next time you look they are nowhere in sight!

I think cultural ideas can be a bit like that – cats that is, not children.

I don’t want to negate or downplay the heartbreak and hard work of those who campaign for change, the years in which there is so little to show for their efforts. In the thick of it, ideas take forever to change and are fought for with blood, sweat and tears. To change the way a culture thinks, to re-set the accepted wisdom, the default position, ‘the way we do things around here’ is a painstakingly slow and a very costly process.

However, if we zoom out just a bit and look at things over the course of a century say – there are definitely moments when you return your briefly averted gaze to a particular spot only to find a radically different culture sitting there comfortably and proudly as if it had always occupied that exact spot and has no intention of moving until it jolly well feels like it.

What causes seemingly deep-seated beliefs of right and wrong to do a 180 degree flip over the course of a generation or two?

The quick answer? Because the way we decide what we like and what we don’t like has far more to do with our emotions, our immediate gut reactions that we tend to admit.

This was illustrated brilliantly for me by a Radio 4 discussion on paint brands.

Dr Robert Heath, Associate Professor of Advertising at the University of Bath School of Management, speaking on You and Yours, 27th Sept 2017 if you’re interested!

Apparently certain paint brands do significantly better than their (much cheaper) own brand equivalents not because they are technically superior, but because they have understood the role of emotion in our decision making. Basically, put an Old English Sheepdog on the tin and in the adverts and you get an emotional response that wins you loyal customers.

Dr Heath calls it subconscious seduction, stating: “Much of our decision making is based on our emotions and there is no question that devices like dogs are able to exert a very strong influence on our emotions at a subconscious level”. 

This is an important dynamic to understand when looking at how a culture changes – for example the massive shift in popular thought brought about by the sexual revolution.

Recognising this has has been a huge help to me as a black and white thinker.

If a long lost section of the bible had been discovered, if there had been some transparent, careful, well balanced analysis before we abandoned what has been accepted as God’s clear commands for centuries I would find it easier to engage. As it is I tend to bang my black and white drum about the clarity of scripture on the matter and tear my hair out at the lack of a chance to have a reasonable conversation about it.

As someone who is convinced that 2 + 2 still equals 4,  how should I engage in a universe in which it is 62 and proud of it?

My tendency is to simply mark society’s new maths with a big red x. Thankfully God has been using writers like Ed Shaw and Glynn Harrison to help me look behind the painfully wrong answer and to engage with the workings out.

Which is where the elephants come in – or rather where they will come in in due course.



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