The Magic Porridge Pot

I learnt to read early and devoured books as a child. When I was about six or seven I read The Magic Porridge Pot and it frightened me. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was about a starving girl living with her poor parents at a time of great hardship. She went into the forest to find berries to eat and met a strange old travelling man with whom, despite her hunger, she shared some of what she had collected. She told him about how poor and hungry the people in her village were and, because she had shown him kindness, he gave her a magic pot together with two spells, one to start the pot producing a supply of nutritious porridge and another to stop it.

She took the pot home and found that what the kindly old man had said was true. As soon as she spoke the first spell, it produced porridge. Whenever the pot was full she stopped it with the second spell. She was able to feed the family and the whole village. This wonderful food put hope in people’s hearts that they could survive this terrible time and soon they began to prosper.

But then a terrible thing happened. One day, when the little girl and her parents were asleep, a man from the other side of the village who had heard the spell that made the pot produce porridge crept into their home and stole it. Back in his house he used the spell to command the magic pot to produce porridge, and it did. But, in a moment of pure horror, he realised he didn’t know how to stop it.

The porridge flowed over the table onto the floor, throughout his house and into the surrounding fields and houses. Soon everyone was panicking, climbing up on roofs to escape this great flood. There seemed no end to it, eventually the whole world would drown in the thick, sticky porridge.

Eventually the little girl woke up and realised what had happened. At the top of her voice she shouted the magic word that would stop the pot, fortunately the pot heard her and that was how she saved the world.

This story frightened me as a child. But what if the Magic Pot has, as it were, been turned on again now … and no one knows how to stop it?

I think it has. The ‘pot’ is the autistic nature of modern government. (Which for us English is, essentially, the European Union, an unelected supranational organisation controlled by unelected technocrats with huge dictatorial powers.) The ‘porridge’ is the tens of thousands of invasive directives, regulations and political decisions, ‘red tape’ that has flowed out of Brussels and oozed over Great Britain and Europe over the last fifty years, unstoppably burying democratic choice in any matter of consequence in a remorselessly growing mountain of bureaucracy. Jean Monnet, the principal architect of the European Union, displayed Asperger’s traits and the way the EU grew and now operates is one that autistic people would not see anything wrong with.

Autistic government

Back in 2004, when Joe and I first wrote about the autistic nature of government and administration, our big concern was to point out that, from the psychological perspective, when government forced individuals, families, schools and businesses, and just about any other kind of organisation, to conform to an intense regulatory ideology, binding them with invasive rules and regulations, they were impinging directly on a fundamental innate human need: that of feeling one has a certain degree of autonomy, volition and personal control over events and circumstances. That is still our concern because, when people feel out of control, they become anxious, angry and depressed. So, however well meaning politicians and bureaucrats are, the continuing growth of rules, regulation and ‘red tape’ not only diminishes our humanity but also contributes to the increase of mental illness and the rise of addictive behaviour, as happened under communist rule in the Soviet Union.

What we hadn’t quite realised back then was the number of people on the high end of the autistic spectrum who are attracted to work in administration and government. It is now widely realised that people with Asperger’s syndrome are far more common than previously thought. And, because of their overriding need and liking for rules and procedures, they rise easily to exert a disproportionate influence on how the country is run.

Tony Blair, for example, through his speech and behaviour, displays many of the signs that fit a diagnosis of Asperger’s and this goes a long way to explain his success – as well as the disasters he inadvertently caused.
Once you become familiar with the pattern of behaviours associated with the condition, it becomes ever easier to spot.

In Blair’s case his autistic charisma is well attested, as is his role playing and tendency to reinvent himself, sometimes literally speaking with a different voice according to what he judges his audience might relate to. The unnatural pattern of pauses and the stress he puts in inappropriate parts of sentences when he speaks, much mimicked by satirists, is another manifestation. He suffers excessively from a sense of duty but has difficulty separating fact from fiction, which often earns people with Asperger’s the reputation for lying and deceit. He has enormous energy and capacity for work but has difficulties in seeing things from other people’s perspective. He is a ‘straight-line’ thinker.

Like many successful people with Asperger’s Blair will take enormous risks, which is not always a bad thing, but is sometimes catastrophic when it involves the lives of millions and goes wrong. He is rigid, controlling and dominating with a love for grandiose schemes and an obsession with his legacy, all traits found among such people. Knowing that we have been ruled for nine years by a highly talented but nevertheless autistic person should make it no surprise that the term target obsession disorder (TOD) was coined while he was prime minister. Neither should it come as a surprise that he has surrounded himself with similar people who have these characteristics in common. Even labour MPs call Gordon Brown’s policies and behaviour “autistic”.

A new book full of insights about this is Unstoppable Brilliance: Irish geniuses with Asperger’s Syndrome by Professor Michael Fitzgerald and Antoinette Walker. They list some of the features of Asperger’s Syndrome that involve exceptional talents and abilities described by the writers. Because of the heterogeneity in autistic spectrum disorders, there can be considerable variety or difference in the features observed.

To end with, here is an interesting summary of autistic features. I have marked in bold characteristics which I think could be applied to Blair from observing him on TV, radio and through reported observations from people who see him often, though others traits could probably be listed too:

Idiosyncratic or peculiar language:
Fascination with words
Word repetition or echolalia
Pronoun reversal / poor syntax / literal meanings (difficulty with figurative language)
Inventive use of language: neologisms / liking for word games / puns / rhymes / capacity for poetry
Higher verbal IQ
Linguists / polyglots
Pedantic / verbose / malapropisms
Unusual voice qualities: high-pitched tone or monotone/unusual stress patterns
Simple, slapstick humour / talent for mimicry and impersonation

Liking for solitude
Solitary pursuits
Difficulty showing emotions, especially affection
Variable desire for company: selective company / preference for family members, close friends
Difficulty reading other people’s minds and behaviour
Failure to recognise faces
Lack of empathy
Gullibility / naivety
Excessive formality / robotic
No turn-taking / adapting content of speech to listeners
Inappropriate behaviour / rudeness
Childlike capacity / immaturity (in adulthood)

Limited / eccentric interests
Intense focus on one or two subjects
Preoccupied with own agenda /self-motivated / autodidactic / insatiable curiosity / avid reader
Non-compliant / non-conformist
Originality of thought / innovative / inventive
Intense concentration / hyperfocus / phenomenal energy
Excellent rote memory for facts and details
Preoccupation with details
Computer-style thinking
Preoccupation with parts of objects, especially mechanical
Difficulties prioritising, except own interests
Poor organising abilities, except own interests
Collecting instinct

Repetitive routines or rituals (compulsive)
Desire for sameness
Repetitive motor mannerisms: hand/toe/finger flapping, rocking
Impaired sequential time: being ‘in their own world’ / living in the ‘here and now’
Few facial expressions (apart from anger or misery)
Lack of eye contact

Innocent, charming faces, flashing eyes
Autistic charisma / poise

Identity diffusion
Poor autobiographical memory
Cannot construct narratives of self
Potent imagination / fears, paranoid traits
No pretend play (as children)
Difficulty differentiating fact from fiction
Musical ability / understanding of musical form
Controlling and aggressive (autistic aggression)
Hypersensitive to criticism
Autistic superego / harsh conscience / moral intensity or, rarely, the opposite
Religiosity / interest in metaphysics / supernatural / immortality
Co-morbidity / impaired or poor health, especially depression / poor hygiene

Good visuo-spatial skills
Unusual reactions to sensory stimuli:
– hypersensitive, especially hearing, touch, smell, sight (colour)
– hyposensitive, especially touch, hearing
Synaesthesia (mixing up of senses)
Absolute pitch
Food fads
Insensitivity to pain
Attention deficits
Delayed sensory processing
Peripheral perception – peering, squinting
Anxiety due to sensory overload
Huge capacity for observation
Fragmented perception – e.g. seeing only the door handle in a room
Motor clumsiness / awkward motor movements
Poor handwriting
Clumsy, awkward gait
Poor balance
Poor muscle tone / lax joints
Rapid movements
Unusual postures
Poor aptitude for sports

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8 responses to “The Magic Porridge Pot

  1. Yes, I think TB’s fixation with his own agenda, coupled with what appears to be a total indifference to and/or lack of insight into the views of the intelligent majority, would seem to confirm this idea. We are certainly being swamped in so many ways and people will, I believe, eventually panic. We could soon be facing civil war in this country. People’s sense of self and their identity comes not just from immediate family but also from the society in which they live. If the primal need to feel at one with such society is absent, it has quite horrific implications for the future.

  2. just read the artical about Blair and the magic porridge pot……..totally brilliant, so pleased someone with standing had the guts to say this, yes i agree we have more mental illness because we are being forced to live in a way that goes gainst our human psychology and basic instincts. Very very interesting conection made about Blair and autisum, something i hadnt thought before, personally ive always suspected he might well tick all the right boxes for being a psyhopath. Intelligent, portrays him self as charming i ay portrays because as ivan said he speech is not spontaneous or natural and gives it away he doesnt actually mean what hes saying. (hence he pauses in the wrong place and emphises the wrong parts of sentences if he was genuinely speaking from the heart. ) As ivan said he does play to the audience, choosing a different role depending on who hes trying to convince. is concerened with advancing his own power. He obviously has no empathy or hint of understanding of how people feel. And appears to be incapable of feeling remorse at his actions. No matter how catestrophic the consequences.
    This list was not just purely a personal attack on blair but traits of a psychopath………if the cap fits……………

  3. it is fascinating isn’t it – once you know the list of autistic traits – you begin to see them everywhere, particularly in government.
    We are not the only ones to have recognised this, as Osbornes comments about Gordon Brown the other day indicate!!!

  4. ….but then again, sometimes we can fall foul of ‘seeing what we want to see’…. an equally dangerous prospect in terms of sound mental health… you can loose perspective… you can begin to believe the proposterous idea that teh problems are all ‘out there’… I wonder how many of the boxes we might tick about ourselves if we were honest enough?… diagnoses are merely constructs, not fixed realities which is certainly one of the reasons that there are (apparently) so many more people with Asbergers and ASD…let’s not run away with good ideas let’s USE them… not to pigeon-hole or pathologise but to find more effective ways of living our own lives in relationship with others

  5. Our growing awareness of how relatively widespread autism is is incredibly important…the list just in the 20th century of suspected autistics is remarkable: Hitler, Einstein, Yeats, Joyce to name only a few. So we do need to understand this condition thoroughly–not to blame or pigeonhole, but because they are both opening up windows in art and science that are often extraordinary, and also shaping our lives into deadends where five-year plans and what Ivan has called ‘straight-line’ thinking rule.

  6. Indeed we do need to understand …. and we need to do an awful lot more of that i think… but having worked with so many children who attract the diagnosis of ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ one can see how the so-called ‘evidence’ for autism might have been called/diagnosed as something different even a decade ago and would have led to a different response from professionals and carers. It’s amazing just how many children now have ‘mild ASD’ (i.e. the diagnostic criteria have been constrcuted to allow so many more children to meet the thresholds) and apalling how this can forclose helpful reponses that might be utilised to respond to a particular child’s unmet needs. Diagnosis as a form of abdicating responsibility – whether its towards a child or our own contribution as a citizen. Very neat and sometimes clever, but rarely helpful. One lens to look at a situation clearly can lead to a lot of MISunderstanding. And straight-line thinking might indeed be a LOT more common among the ‘sane’ than we think!

  7. Interesting concept. More like Roseanna I would have ticked the boxes for the [social] psychopath – with an incongruence that leaves you feeling that under the warm and charming surface is a cold inner core. I struggle with such an extensive list of autistic traits as I’m sure [like John above notes] many reading this article would be able to tick at least some of the boxes here, not least depending on the ‘degree’ to which they may be applied, and feel that generally there is too little research yet that looks at the interface/layering between autistic traits, ADHD and autism, to name but a few.

  8. Eleanor just noticed typos so this is as it should, please delete first post- sorry.

    From The Guardian October 28 2006:
    ‘Town Gets Stuck in Semolina.
    The streets of Great Yarmouth were paved with semolina this week when more than two tonnes of the grain billowed out of a silo and scattered over the Norfolk town.
    First there was a fine dusting of the coarsely ground grain covering the area, but when the council workers tried to wash it with water, the sodden semolina turned into a gooey pudding mess. Blobs of the dessert clotted in corners and over kerbstones and caused a bit of chaos.
    John Hemsworth, the town’s head of environmental health said:”It looked like there had been a heavy frost. It was like an ice rink. We had 10 to 15 people trying to clear it up, but as soon as it got wet it became more of a problem. First it got sticky , then slippy, and then it was dangerous for people to walk on, so we had to close off the pavements.” ‘

    Now I know Ivan tells a good story and metaphors are powerful things but when they come true like this…
    However in view of the discussion on the workings of bureaucracies here is the best bit. The story goes on:
    ‘He (head of environmental health) added:
    “Then we had to get permission from the Environment Agency to put it in the river, then permission from Anglian Water to put it in the drains. It was all very complicated.” ‘

    I notice the little girl didn’t get the necessary agency permissions so that proves it just a story

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