I Want To Believe

A recent study claims that nearly one third of Americans believe in ghosts, UFOs, and other unexplained mysteries, which, among other things, certainly explains a lot about the inexplicable popularity of Will Farrell movies, Blackberries, and Whole Foods.

Hearing that one third of people in America believe in such things isn’t nearly as alarming at first glance, since they lump pretty much all of the paranormal in that figure. This include the standard ghosts, goblins, and ghouls, but also ESP, space aliens, spoon bending, parallel universes, kirilian photography, and OxiClean. Throw enough piss in the pool, and you’re bound to catch pretty much everyone under a certain threshold of awkward metaphors.

What you believe in, of course, is important because it can also tell you what kind of person you are. For instance:

Aliens: You wake up feeling like a freight train went the wrong way up your butt.
Telepathy: You honestly believe that you knew your wife was cheating on you before she did.
Spells: You weren’t all that shocked that Dumbledore was gay. I mean, c’mon. Hell-oooooo!
Vampires: You have too many The Cure CDs.
Psychics: You have a very tenuous grasp on the value of currency.
Zombies: You work at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Anthropomorphic Pumpkin That Travels By Night Harvesting Eyes With A Vice Grip: You, ah, you know what…never mind. We’ll come back to this later. Much later, when my therapist is available.
Killer Scarecrows: You either really, really like corn, or you really, really hate corn.
Bigfoot: You have very limited experience observing animals at the zoo.
Applied Kinesiology: You are a wayward Christian Scientist; or, you have no health insurance.

I can see how easy it is to believe—I mean, really believe—for most people. Many are simply looking for answers, but instead of researching issues, demystifying science, investing in a religion, or holding meaningful dialogue, most people will simply ascribe an uneven thump at three in the morning or a vaguely coincidental overexposed negative to a grand history of crimes, motives, and long lost loves, all because some penniless dope who lived in a barn on your property two centuries ago died of turpentine poisoning.

Color me skeptic. I’m not a big fan of the paranormal, at least in a swear-to-tell-nothing-but-the-truth scenario. It’s kind of a latent fun; listening to Coast to Coast AM, for instance, is a guilty pleasure I readily admit to and actively promote. It certainly makes me feel better about myself, anyway, the same arrogant feeling of superiority I feel when white trash hold up the line at the Dollar General proclaiming a violation of her civil rights because they won’t cash her money order because she doesn’t have any photo ID. Yeah, it wastes my time and it pisses me off, but it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know that of all the things that are wrong in my life at least I’m not her.

I feel the same way about ghosts. Or, rather the people who believe in ghosts. But it does alarm me a bit about the sheer industry of it all. There are psychics all over television, there are dramatic reenactments of possessions on every channel from Discovery down to Animal Planet (although the ones on Bravo tend towards the “What possessed you to wear fuchsia with horizontal stripes??” variety), and the scifi and horror genres are now full bore tilt with aliens and reincarnated evil. There is lots of money to be made by people who have both active imaginations, poor grasps of scientific principles, and, apparently, large sums of money to throw away.

However, for most so-called “paranormal” things…well, I’m just not buying it. People believe because they want to believe something is “out there,” a weaselly phrase that can only be made weasellier by inappropriately using quotes to emphasize it. To me, the “out there” is one part wind changing directions, one part basic scientific principles that were not fully observed, and about a thousand parts willful suspension of disbelief. Saying you saw a ghost in the back yard right above where Rover was buried a year ago today is a hell of a more exciting story to tell the ladies at church than your neighbor was parking the Lawn Boy and the headlights were reflecting off the garage door onto the basketball backboard. And telling everyone that the vaguely-shaped natural indention in the dried mud is a Sasquatch footprint is simply a clever application of misdirection to keep everyone from realizing you got poison ivy on your crotch when you went to go take a leak.

Although this is all probably unfair. There are degrees of belief, of course, and plenty of otherwise intelligent people are humble enough to believe that there are things in this world that simply can’t be explained. And I guess I have to respect that. Though in all honesty that’s the same type of respect I give washing machines, which I suppose is faint praise indeed. But as long as you leave your vice grips at home, I’m cool with it.

One Response to I Want To Believe

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