The Value of Superstition

Today, a black cat crossed my path (I live with three, so it happens pretty often), and a murder of crows called me outside to check the landscape for trouble. The wind was blowing from the west, so I checked the clouds for signs, but they seemed to be holding steady, with only the usual portents and omens. So I glanced over the leaves on the trees and the progress of the spiders, and wandered in for a cup of tea, where I stirred the cream clockwise and made sure to glance at the escaped tea leaves in the bottom of the cup. I throw salt over my shoulder when I spill it, knock on wood when I talk about good events in my life, and throw a kiss to the ceiling of my truck when I run a red light (which, of course, I never, ever do).

Many people feel they are above such archaic expressions of the desire to control the random fate of the universe. In an (supposedly) enlightened age of science and reason, they feel that to submit to a tradition such as superstition would be a flaw in their thinking, a piece of grit in a highly polished lens (to paraphrase Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). They traverse their days in an orderly manner, effect following cause in a seemingly predictable pattern. Until it doesn’t, and they must turn to probability to diagnose the pattern. This is all very well and good, but it denies a fundamental human need, that of mystery and meaning.

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In Favor of Sheltering

The standard American parenting advice is directed toward one specific end: get your kids as independent as possible, as fast as possible. Let them cry it out, schedule their feedings, put them in preschool as soon as possible. Once in school, the rush begins to inundate them with as much “knowledge” as we possibly can, with emphasis put on making good grades and conforming to a specific mode of “acceptable behaviour”. The question which begs to be asked is whether all of this is actually creating the desired end result: healthy, happy, competent adults who can interact with society in a useful (or at least, not harmful) way?

We all live in society, of course, and interact with the products of this system on a regular basis. Most of us, in fact, are products of it ourselves. We should be able to answer this question from our subjective experience, but as we have allowed ourselves to become a culture reliant on “official results”, let us take a moment and examine what the statistics say about how our society is shaping up.

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