There’s a woman who lives in a village near me. Of all the people I don’t know very well, she’s among the most friendly, very happy to strike up a natural conversation about pretty much any subject. It’s rumoured that she previously worked in adult entertainment, anything from glamour modelling to porn. Plus, of course, it’s rumoured that she’s sleeping her way around her village, though nobody seems to be able to name a single man in the village she’s bedded. Whether she’s aware of these rumours, I don’t know, but she strikes me as someone who built herself up to withstand this sort of thing.
She recently posted something on a village Facebook group offering some old tat from a lockdown clearout she was having, which led me to idly peruse her social media profiles. She posts more than once a day, often memes about empowering women. She seems to make money from multi-layer marketing businesses – health foods, beauty products and cryptocurrencies. And, she does a fine line in conspiracy theories about vaccinations, lockdowns, face masks and Donald Trump. In short, the only real cure for coronavirus is organic vegan produce, because Bill Gates wants to control you through vaccinations. This is while also selling vitamin supplements and something called ‘super-water’.
I’ve recently been reading about the part of the brain called the hippocampus. Part of its role is to create a perception of control. At one level, the world is a series of entirely random events. If you drive up a motorway, you don’t know who else is on the road and what they might do. However, we also have to believe there is some kind of accepted order, that most people will broadly follow the rules of the road, otherwise we’d never leave the house. The book I’m reading uses a nice analogy – it’s probably better to believe you have a drunk pilot flying the plane than no pilot at all.
Those with a small hippocampus are more likely to perceive the world as out of control, a series of entirely random events bumping into each other. This is more likely to lead to mental health issues – essentially the brain going into survival mode in response to all the danger it perceives. Those with a large hippocampus perceive that it’s possible to have absolute control over the world we live in and our role in it. This sounds great, but these people are also more likely to construct elaborate conspiracy theories about secret controlling forces that govern our world because it’s the only way they can process randomness. They actively seek order and explanation where there is none. To them, the current pandemic, an apparently unpredictable random event outside all societal norms, must have someone controlling it because they can’t perceive a world in which a tiny viral spore can just turn society on its head.
Whether it’s the self-empowering memes or the conspiracy theories, the woman in the nearby village clearly believes in a sense of order and control. Whether it’s achieving it for herself through her various business ventures, or the construction of elaborate conspiracies about controlling forces preventing her from achieving her goals.
All of which is a sage reminder that there was very little to report from our 0-0 draw with Ipswich Town. It probably signals the end of the middle and beginning of the end of the season. Having had a poor start and a spectacular mid-season, we’re heading into the final phase of the season broadly where we’d expect to be. But, because of our streakiness, it’s difficult to know where we’re heading.
Ipswich was the first of the big bears of League 1 that we’re set to face in the coming weeks alongside Portsmouth on Tuesday, Charlton Athletic, Hull City and Sunderland. These are all teams that have suffered in recent years as their constructed world as a big club got gradually undermined, dumping them in a world they barely understand. They now play in cavernous empty stadiums, a constant reminder of who they should be, while struggling for points against clubs they would consider to be beneath them. The stadiums represent the controlled world of status they crave, the opponents are the reminder that the world is more random than they’d like to believe.
I don’t know where we sit in all this; we’ve been at the top, but don’t have the constant reminder of being a big club. We’ve also been to the bottom, playing Ipswich or Portsmouth is more motivating because we know what it’s like to face Farsley Celtic and Droylsden as equals.
But, of course, those memories don’t sit with the players or management, they sit with the fans stuck at home. I suspect our recent form would have had us pack out the away end at Ipswich, which may have been enough to push us on and further undermine their brittle confidence. Our form doesn’t help; do we have the confidence in our own ability to power our way into these fixtures, bowling them over with our confidence? Or will we be simply be dragged into the same lethargy that’s engulfing the likes of Ipswich at the moment? We seem capable of doing both.
Yesterday didn’t feel like we really believed the prize of promotion was in our grasp. A small hippocampus, prone to accepting randomness over control. Despite their problems, Ipswich weren’t to be taken lightly, but at the same time, there was an opportunity to chip away at any perceptions of control over their own destiny that might remain. We didn’t really take that opportunity, but we’ll need to, particularly at home, if we want to sneak into the play-offs.
What happens next is likely to be determined by whether we perceive that we control our destiny or simply take each game as it comes to see where we end up.