Superstitious storyteller | AIER

Almost surprisingly recently, people did not know much about how and why the natural world is moving around us.

For millennia, we have imagined lightning as the wrath of the gods, the weapon of the demons – in 1752 Benjamin Franklin proved that lightning was created by lightning (an idea humanity had already established and realized thanks to friction). For the first time in a quarter of a million years of human history, there was a natural explanation of humanity.

The cultural image of Franklin’s key on a kite now belongs to every American school child. But for thousands of years people have explained to each other the thunderbolts. Terrible cracks in the stormy sky were seen as divine revenge in Andean culture and among the Bantu tribes, where individual farmers and pastoralists were relatively frequently struck by lightning. In Russia, people hit the pot and rang the church bell for fear of storms.

Revealed by enlightened knowledge, science and logic begin to shed light on the dark vacations of the mysterious natural world.

The novelty of knowing

The germ theory of the disease – the idea that humans get sick because of bacteria or viruses that multiply in our bodies – was somewhat longer with humanity than with fax machines and submarines.

Louis Pasteur revealed to the world the germ theory that not only educates people thoroughly about the tiny bugs that are infected in their food, but also frees people from them. Its pasteurization process (heating to kill microorganisms, then airtight sealing) protects food and wine from spoilage and protects humans from getting sick. He developed the first vaccine for cattle. The pastoral version of how the world works, even if the average person never fully understands it, rises above storytelling and superstition. It is testable, and its results can be reliably applied. After millennial speculation, Pasteur’s explanation proved correct because it worked: it led to real improvements in antibiotics, antiseptics, sterilization operations, water purification, and thousands more.

Not only did Franklin identify lightning, he invented electric rods to root the charge to protect buildings. The real implication of scientific discovery is that experimental claims give new strength to humanity. When you finally identify the reasons why mankind is properly confronted, you finally have the opportunity to propose a solution that can actually work.

But humanity has become more astonished and hungry for explanation than we had a scientific way to examine the causes of lightning and plague. And before scientific explanations became available … we simply made them.

Unscrupulous storytellers

Our brains are interpreted as a survival instinct, and have prepared themselves rigorously to be hungry for money. To provide such an explanation, storytellers appear in any cultural group to understand the chaotic world and combine parts that seem appropriate.

The value of the storyteller’s reasonable interpretation and entertainment to the tribe usually earns him a share of the prey or crop. Together we collaborate, make money, choose signs and symbols that we use to tell each other stories about why things happen.

In the absence of a truly scientific approach, the storyteller can lie most temptingly that we are his victims. Your crop has died because your neighbor’s wife has given you evil eye. A man fell ill because he was a sinner, or deserving of punishment, or was tested, or because of that tribe there. We have created stories of gods and spirits whose seasons change due to heartbreak, and real sin to explain suffering, and vengeful spirits who stormed or envied gods who led the invading army. Storytellers have taught us how to react to things.

We only had the wrong authority to rely on, and while the explanations were flexible, they regularly adapted better to the storyteller’s own interests. As storytellers have evolved and civilizations have accumulated enough resources to hire more full-time storytellers, those stories have become institutions. Ignorance is easily driven by fear. Fear of hell, fear of expulsion, fear of deportation. Among other types of primates, social exile can mean literal death. We have not only taught ourselves to fear something in our environment, but also to fear reproach if we fail to measure some norms of social behavior. A young orangutan that surpasses the dominant male of his tribe has no hope of finding the mate of his mate or the security of the group. If questioning someone else’s explanation can make us literally insecure through social exile, then we will accept inferior and inadequate explanations and tamper with the questions within ourselves. We are content to live in the security of a group, in ignorance, instead of isolation – some might say personality – in the fearless pursuit of honesty and knowledge.

Our drive to survive through social cohesion – to be included, even if we are wrong – can be a powerful enemy in the pursuit of true truth. Our communities enlarge us with stories, symbols, schemas to understand the world, and a series of thought-out-ending clich জন্যs to quench our innate hunger for interpretation. “He works in mysterious ways,” and “It’s always been that way,” and “Everything happens for a reason,” give a pale consolation, much like the way whiskey soothes the pain of grief or rejection. As an explanation, they are good enough to take the edge off from what they need to know. The most interesting sedatives will be remembered and repeated.

Fortunately, some minds keep asking “why”. Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin and thousands of other thinkers refused to accept the end of thought and the supernatural story. Believe it or not, testable knowledge works and we get antibiotics and generators.

Superstitions and supernatural explanations, because they cannot accurately identify the cause, invite us to ‘solve’ things that do not solve the problem. People have discovered and copied true things through non-scientific methods. Whether your culture understands germ theory or not, ritual hand washing before meals is less likely to kill you. People used salt and spices to prevent food spoilage without knowing why they worked (spices are antimicrobial, and in the absence of refrigeration, the less spicy you eat your meat, the less likely it is to kill you, so we see condiments condensed near the equator).

If your community is experiencing a drought, storytellers perform special rituals or prayers for rain, choreographed rain dances, place pollen in the hair of the dead before burial, and even sacrifice children on an altar, in the hope that storm clouds may gather. However, none of these exercises actually bring more moisture into the air. The story is wrong, so the solution is wrong.

The German philosopher Heinrich Hein wrote, “In the Dark Ages man is the best guide by religion,” just as a blind man is the best guide in the dark night; He knows better than a man who can see roads and paths. But when daylight comes, it is foolish to use a blind old man as a guide. ”

When we have a better way of proof and knowledge, relying on storytellers leads us astray.

Times of Trouble

In times of danger, people are often driven by fear and fear makes them cry out for strong leaders and common stories. Priests and politicians came to explain, and usually very soon, to sell the ransom.

In 2020, with news reports promising a massive epidemic that would kill millions, we feared and demanded a simple explanation. The ambiguity of computer modeling and epidemiology (their own story with a mixture of true and fictional elements) was very complex. Opportunistic storytellers gave us aphorism and thought-ending clichs to allay our concerns: “two weeks to flatten the curve”, and “we’re all in it together,” and “if it only saves a life.” From the story a set of strict rituals was recommended to fight the terrible ghosts. Shutting down our schools and businesses, disinfecting our grocery stores, wearing cloth masks, spending unprecedented trillions of dollars on business bailouts and ‘stimulus’ spending. In fact, the effectiveness of this approach in preventing infection, or improving outcomes, is almost unheard of. The storytellers assured us that the rain dance steps went exactly the same and any deviation from the ritual would cause disaster. Every cruelty and consequence was justified to ensure that the ritual would succeed. Those who questioned the simplified story were excluded.

The great promise of such exaggeration by storytellers and ritual makers is that some people will see through the stories they sell. When the dancing and the sacrifices are over, and the rain doesn’t come, we may end up questioning our own credibility. Storytellers, busy people and petty dictators have given themselves the role of storytellers, standing up to rescue humanity from a fancy danger and completely failing to do so.

Unfortunately, human progress is not linear. In the face of the failure of a narrative, or the hypocrisy of a storyteller, we can quickly fall into the arms of another, which no longer offers any truth.

The hardest, and most critical, part of such times is that self-serving storytellers question their own legitimacy and look for more objective ways to understand the reality around us. Surprisingly, the central foundation of science seems to have been lost in the age of “trust in science” advice. The scientific method encourages the questioning of every explanation, including its own, in search of an objective truth. But humans have come up with this obvious method because our minds don’t usually work very well. We are born to be the victims of storytellers. We must grow up, reject simple stories and choose our own thoughts and arguments.

A new illumination

Logic, and one’s own intellectual development, offers the only way to get rid of human cattle farms. Enchanted by the story, we drink coral and milk for our taxes and tithes, even failing to notice it because the gate behind us is closed. To bring prisoners out of complacency, we must first show them slavery: we must see them chained to their wrists, and help them regain the feeling of leech on their necks.

It’s essential, so it can’t be impossible.

Those in power will certainly not spare any expense in preventing such an awakening as the massive intellectual jailbreak from the shackles of authoritarian thinking. They will call us infidels and witches, rebels and traitors, dissidents and dangerous. They will abuse those who can lead a popular awakening, or worse, as seen in the case of Fred Hampton, who literally presented an alternative narrative to the community of color, or Edward Snowden, who so briefly returned the mask of power. Every outrage and cruelty will be forgiven for those who question the power, as a warning to those whose voices may threaten to stir up the herds from their designated pastures.

Even in an age of information, many people continue to rely on simplified stories. The opportunistic vulture is attracted to the bearer of credibility, weak to Charleton and Conman who say they can explain it to us. Frightened by their self-confident demands, we surrender to the role of ritual entrusted to us, regardless of whether formulating them improves our material life.

We are a species created for the shackles of superstition, and our complacency presents a great opportunity to unscrupulous speculators and storytellers who keep us away from real knowledge. If we agree to live in ignorance then we are condemned to be guided by those who can use our fears for their own prosperity.

If we take responsibility for our pursuit of truth, we have the power to free ourselves from the monsters of lightning and the call of rain. Not every truth can be seen with a microscope or telescope, but the tools of discovery actually come later. Intellectual development begins when we look at the past of the manipulative storyteller and keep an eye on the search.

Laura Williams

Laura Williams

Laura Williams is a communications strategist, author and educator based in Atlanta, GA.

He is an ardent advocate for critical thinking, personal freedom and the Oxford Declaration.

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