Feb 26, 2006

Superstition

I'll bet you thought we no longer live in the dark ages, that we are intelligent and enlightened beings who understand how the world works and are not afraid of the dark.

Wrong.

To my great satisfaction. because it finally gives me a word for a phenomenon I've been seeing, an essay in today's local newspaper (Bergens Tidende) states in reference to the current scare about avian flu: "Modern anxiety is not due to bad experience, but that we are afraid of something we don't know what is. In the old days, we called that superstition." (My translation.)

Ah, yes, man will insist that there are monsters under the bed, but like modern special effects, the details are more realistic and believable. Modern man know what causes illness and it isn't due to being cursed or building over a grave. But that is our problem: We know so much, we panic. We panic about flu season (hasn't arrived yet), we panic about the avian flu (hasn't arrived yet), and we panic about all sorts of other things. We've lost perspective and media no longer provides a calming voice of reason. Rather, it fans the flames of fear and drives paranoia - and the sales of newspapers - to new heights.

I am exaggerating a bit. Most folks are keeping their cool. But there seems to be an increasing number of people who will believe the worst. Modern society bombards us with information about the dangers of soft plastics, acidic drinks, etc., and it's enough to make anyone paranoid. One week coffee is dangerous, the next it's healthy. Same goes for carrots. How do you keep your equilibrium? The really scary part is that some of the people causing the paranoia are in charge. For example, the city that I live in put a ban on all public feeding of pigeons. There are several problems with this well-intenioned forewarning:

  • Children are taught to be afraid of birds (it's mostly kids who feed pigeons).
  • Birds will now die of starvation.
  • There is no incident of any case of avian flu in Norway.
  • Even if there were, pigeons are not susceptible to avian flu.

Yes, we have a new form of superstition in our modern society. Our primitive nature sees shadows dancing on the wall of the modern equivalent of our cave. We don't blame ghosts, witches or werewolves, any more. Instead, we blame government officials, scientists and innocent animals.

I don't want to hear any more crap about how stupid I am for believing in astrology. That belief never killed any healthy birds.


(For a more humorous take on modern superstition, there's the novel "May Contain Nuts".)

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