It Will Kill You . . .

Last week, it was plastics. Someone in our office sent around an e-mail about how when you microwave plastics or store water in plastic bottles, some horrible cancer-causing chemical is released, and don't ignore this warning because, to quote the series Monk, "it must be true, it's on the Internet."

I ignored the e-mail. Everything is supposed to kill me, as far as I can tell: meat, vegetables, plastic, mold, second-hand smoke, carpet cleaner, fruit from supermarkets, bread. As with most things, I apply the Middle Ages Rule. It's not the plague? Well, then, I'm O.K.

I don't, I admit, say this to people's faces. People who are into death by chemicals are like people who are into diets--I mean really into diets--such as Atkins or Anti-Atkins or whatever. Once you express doubt, they morph into especially earnest missionaries except it's calories and chemicals they're preaching about, not the existence of deity. I give somewhat more importance to the latter than the former but hey, that's my bias!

Thing is, I can understand Atkins' people because I like meat. I also think Atkins' people are nuts because I love bread. (Yep, I was raised on a meat & potato diet: well, chicken cacciatore and potato diet, with green beans and Parker House rolls--homemade--and chocolate spice cake thrown in; you can't tell me there won't be food in heaven!) But, despite my views on Atkins, I would never actually bother to come up with arguments for and against. Nitrates smitrates, I'm not in high school chemistry anymore, I don't have to remember this stuff.

To return to my original story, the plastics scare was ended when someone in our office went to the John Hopkins website and discovered that "plastics will kill you" is an urban legend.

Which brings us to urban legends. The thing about these particular types of urban legends is how much people want to believe them and how few of them, other than the magic "cars run by water" idea, have a positive twist. Even the cars & water legend is usually accompanied by "but the big evil government/oil corporations are keeping it a secret." And I wonder, is this what happens when a culture stops believing in the devil or magic? We sublimate all over the place? Not that there aren't people who believe in the devil. I mean, I do. And I believe in a personal God. But I don't believe that my life is constantly being shaped by devils or spirits or Saints or angels. In other words, I'm a thoroughly modern, Westernized individual. In general, whatever people believe personally, our cultural commentary doesn't include theories as to whether or not spirits are involved in promoting a particular crisis.

Now, at least with angels and Saints, the influence is theoretically positive/constructive. But there are people who expend a great deal of energy combating or extolling negative external forces, the WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE TOMORROW! stuff. And if they can't have the devil, they're going to turn to/invent/maximize urban legends. And I wonder if it makes them feel, well, better. If it gives them a measure of control to live in a world in which all that is required of them is a constant lookout for danger. A raison d'etre, so to speak.

In other words, paranoia isn't just some accidental mindset that occurs while one is shelling peas. I believe that most people find some benefit, however minscule, in adopting negative beliefs. Like people who "recover" thoughts of abuse. There's some benefit at work, some kind of grounding of the identity: this is who I am, this is what I have to be afraid of, this is as bad as it can get, this is what I am against. Like people who pray for trials because having trials gives them definition.

I could blabber on about this some more, but I'll stop here because it would just be more of the same; in sum, something in the human psyche likes to be afraid, to think, Something out there is trying to kill me.

I wonder what it will be next week?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this one. I'm not one who feels that everything is dangerous or can kill me and that's mostly because then EVERYTHING is dangerous and can kill me. Who wants to live that way. Well I suppose there's at least one but for the most part I'd say not many. Also I really have no intention even in the slightest of giving up steak, which supposedly can kill me in a plethora of ways. I'd rather live to enjoy life and all of its bounties while I'm here. So what things can look me inevitably something WILL kill me so why waste my time running from it.