Niagara Gazette

Columns

November 24, 2013

SINGER: Superstition and its limitations

Niagara Gazette — Superstition was the theme of a Stevie Wonder hit of the ‘70s, and while the song is now an oldie, superstition still thrives in our world of the 21st century.

And I’m here to tell you plain and simple that it’s dumb! Useless. Silly. Childish. And that like many of you, I’m superstitious!

Psychiatrists have a fancier term, magical thinking, for the rituals people repetitively perform, and which stem from childhoods where stress overwhelmed them. Hence these practiced moves that are somehow supposed to ward off neuroses going back to an earlier age.

Except such rituals (despite high-minded defense of them from such as Lévi-Strauss in “The Savage Mind”) don’t work! They simply don’t ... And yet you see hockey players touching the net or their goalie’s pads with their stick before games, or athletes in various sports putting on uniforms a certain way, and then there are those luxuriant playoff beards which can’t be trimmed!

To be sure many of you knock on wood, avoid walking under ladders, or throw salt over your shoulders, among common superstitions one could name. But I still think “childish” remains the best description for such behavior. I guess “hopeful,” too — like, “I need a good deal, so please, ritual, help give it to me.”

In the 18th century Enlightenment, based on principles of the scientific revolution produced by Galileo et al., philosophers hoped we could dispense with such childish fears and “walk without (mental) crutches,” as one put it. But even a Voltaire, Jefferson, or Gibbon must have engaged in such behavior from time to time, despite being part of the so-called Age of Reason.

That period also went after heavy-duty religion, and you all know what atheists think of people beseeching God via prayer. And yet the old adage has it (with some truth) that there are no atheists in the foxholes of war.

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