By Tony Samson

AN ITCH is medically considered the lowest level of pain. Even as it sits at the low end of the agony ladder, the itch cannot be ignored. It can be annoying when lodged at a hard-to-reach part of the body when in the company of others. All the same this pain is easily relieved with a simple scratch.

Still, with the manifestation of allergies and skin rashes ranging from eczema to skin asthma, an itch is not so easily relieved. Only a vigorous assault leading to the scarring of the skin can the pain be assaulted. The persistent itch can then be the manifestation of real pain.

Some itches are not so easily eliminated by the mere application of fingernails and back scratchers.

At its basest form, the itch is a metaphor for an obsession. A man whose desires are too openly displayed is said to be itching to do something, maybe something innocent like a craving for roast pork. In the vernacular, the propensity to scratch a psychological itch, or have it scratched, is unfairly applied to women, showing the dominance of a matriarchal culture which elevates females to itchless creatures.

A woman too showy with her affections and accommodating with her favors is whispered about as “itchy”, especially by fellow females. Such a scratchy propensity is not limited by age.

Itches are passions. None of us are free of them. We only vary in our objects of desire. If an itch is the lowest form of pain, the hobby may be its equivalent in the matter of obsessions. Hobbies are considered harmless until they escalate into full-blown addictions. Thus, the weekend poker player justifying his habit as just bonding with the boys escalates the itch to real pain when involving “real money”. Once the addiction takes hold bigger stakes and more frequent visits to the casino follow.

Removing an itch by scratching can be a cheap delight. It reminds one of Oscar Wilde’s prescription on willpower and dispensing with it altogether — “The best way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” The remedy for itches and minor temptations seem to call only for one’s natural inclination of attending to them quickly — here’s the backscratcher, Pal.

As they climb up the ladder of pain and discomfort, itches can no longer be ignored. They may be symptoms of far worse maladies. Then, scratching merely provides temporary relief. As with the blackmailer that starts out with modest payments for hiding a secret, the very willingness to scratch rather than resist the itch only leads to escalation of demands.

As every collector knows, the line between a hobby and an addiction can be slowly crossed. When the itch moves from irritant to howling pain, it is too late to go back. Only the first acquisition of a collector is tentative as the subsequent ones now combine expertise and arrogance. This itch for more is true of any collection, be it stamps, butterflies, art, walking sticks, women, and companies. The costs of the last two can exceed the acquisition price as they progress into further maintenance and operating expenses. They then become black holes (astrologically speaking) that suck up fortunes that include debt and broken hearts to blossom into real agony. Trying to stop the pain with sheer willpower ushers in withdrawal symptoms, often involving bank balances.

Is there a political equivalent of the itch?

The urge to “run for office” is an itch. It is a combination of the urge to serve (can’t you help the community as an ordinary citizen?) as well as the unexpressed desire for power and adulation. Just because you think you are popular in your subdivision doesn’t mean you can win an election, even for president of the homeowners’ association.

There is too the lowest form of pain for the body politic. Traffic woes are itches. So is the growing lack of civility in political discourse. What about the discomfort with growing incursions of a foreign power and the crackdown on critical thinking?

An itch that is not relieved quickly and left unattended can climb the ladder to a higher level of pain. The gradual ascent is not even noticeable…until it is impossible to ignore or attend to.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda