Monday, April 21, 2008

mass hysteria

we brought along far too much stuff through the our two previous moves. the earlier was just across town in santa cruz, so it was easy to make many trips and we were both working so stuff just came along. the later, a much further move here to port townsend, was made easy by the fortuitous circumstance of the rental company providing much larger truck than we had ordered. we both worked almost till we left. i had perhaps a week off. robin worked till the friday before we left on a monday. it was easier to jam everything, most of which was not unpacked from the previous move, into the big truck. we are determined to lighten our load for the next move, coming up next month, so i have been ruthlessly editing my fabulous collection of tools and materials.

among the long unexamined but still shlepped along boxes i found one full of youngest daughter's college leftovers. some books and loads of spiral notebooks and pencils and doodads. we can't be the only parents carting such kid stuff around can we? among the books was "Why People Believe Weird Things: pseudoscience, superstition, and other confusions of our time" by Michael Shermer, forward by Stephen Jay Gould. who could resist a book like that. not i.

it is an interesting book by the publisher of Skeptic magazine, an Occidental College professor. he debunks the "hundredth monkey" theory early on, using facts. i like that. but here is what really caught my attention as i was reading about mass hysteria through history, in particular the witch craze in 16th century europe. he quotes anthropologist Marvin Harris;

"The principal result of the witch-hunt system was that the poor came to believe that they were being victimized by witches and devils instead of princes and popes. Did your roof leak, your cow abort, your oats wither, your wine go sour, your head ache, your baby die? It was the work of the witches. Preoccupied with the fantastic activities of these demons, the distraught, alienated, pauperized masses blamed the rampant Devil instead of the corrupt clergy and rapacious nobility."

hhhmmmmmm. that sounds familiar. now the witches are abortionists, gays and liberals, and the rapacious nobility is bear stearns, halliburton, countrywide et al. the corrupt clergy? i'm looking at you pat robertson, among others. the cardinal of los angeles (city of angels, how ironic is that?) is asking parishes to kick in some bux to help pay for the sexual abuse settlements. your priest was bad. pony up some hush money. might we suppose that those "distraught, alienated, pauperized masses" were bitter?

the picture was taken sunday morning. was it la nina or global climate change that brought snow in april? maybe witches and warlocks. maybe liberals.

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