The way it works is this: If you are not in the culture, you recognize superstitious behavior. If you are IN the culture, superstitious behavior seems like caution.
Think of 18th century sailors, with their tattoos and talismans. Nothing could really protect them from the fury of the sea, but carrying talismans made them feel as though they were being proactive.
Superstitious behavior keeps us from addressing things better—like maybe putting life boats on sailing ships (not standard practice) or learning to swim (dubious protection, but better than a tat).
Superstitious behavior also saves us from having to admit when it is hopeless, or nearly (a sailor who swims is better off than a non swimming sailor only if the ship goes down near land and/or in conveniently non frigid waters—although some Titanic survivors did tread water while waiting for salvation).
From where I sit, I can say with confidence that the talismans were a silly superstition, and a sailor who was really bothered by the danger of it should have tried to find another line of work, or, if that was not realistic, accepted that he was pretty much doomed. And then, some of the superstitions were against things that didn’t even exist, evil spirits, curses.
On the other hand, superstitions can have a powerful uniting effect: sailors can recognize one another by their ink. And feel safer, and validated, as a result.
In modern, first world existence, we are all sailors. And the sea is lack of privacy.
Our superstitious behaviors are rituals and passwords.
Privacy laws and policies get muddled in this world. Under the law, you have no expectation of privacy in a public place, such as a football stadium or a mall. Anyone can take your picture and post it. And with Snapchat, Facebook, and other social media, you may find yourself—through no malice—in the background of other people’s photos, all over the world. (Or there may be malice, but that’s another post.)
At the same time, privacy laws make it so that an office worker with no interest in my well-being now has access to my name, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, and address. She may well shout it across the room in order to verify I am who I say I am.
I doubt anyone has ever impersonated another woman in order to access a mammogram. This is the equivalent of a sailor wearing a talisman against a curse. It’s not going to happen, but we will take precautions anyway, and then say how well they have worked because the thing that wasn’t going to happen anyway didn’t happen.
In my area, schools employ retired people to sit in the vestibule and screen for bad guys. A bored retired person is no protection against someone with an Uzi. Screening the presenters and guests is insulting– presenters at school have never been the problem. So my tax dollars go to pay someone to do exactly diddly/squat.
Privacy laws can be dangerous. My husband had several panic attacks before he had his heart attack. The symptoms are similar, so after he nearly died of a cardiac infarction he thought he was dying at each panic attack (which of course you do, anyway, in a panic attack, but now even more so) .
When he admitted himself to the hospital and told me it was another panic attack, I had every reason to believe him. But the time came when it was not true. All the doctors who examined him, every nurse, every PA knew when it was not a panic attack but a detox, that he had become an alcoholic and had spent a good deal of time lying to me about it.
“Privacy” meant they didn’t have to tell his wife he was in the hospital for detox. Because of their collusion, it took me years longer than it should have to realize he was an alcoholic and that it would kill him. This is the equiv of a sailor getting a dangerous tattoo. Didn’t help a dang thing, was actually harmful.
Privacy policies make it so that my pharmacy has to be told repeatedly that I am the only person who answers my land line and for GOD’S SAKE LEAVE A GODDAMNED MESSAGE INSTEAD OF SAYING “CALL ME.” I have wasted days playing phone tag because they won’t leave a message, and then smugly tell me it is for my own protection.
The day will never come that a bad guy breaks into my house and listens to my phone messages, but by golly, they will make sure they protect me from this.
This, in an industry which gleefully sends texts with private information. Oh yeah, no text has ever gone wrong. No cell phone has ever been stolen, or compromised. Refuse to leave a message on the answering machine physically in my house, but offer to send private info to a hand held device that can easily be stolen.
If you are in the culture (modern technology) you don’t see superstitious behavior as silliness.
Similarly, in the 80s, I was repeatedly and smugly told by several college admins that they would not accept photocopies of certain documents, only originals. But I could send a fax. A fax was a new and shiny technology in the 80s, so I suppose it could be seen as trustworthy the same way that cell phones are seen as more trustworthy than answering machines. (I never did point out that a fax was not an original or that I could easily photocopy something, then fax it. I wanted the document accepted and didn’t see trying to correct their foolishness as anything but a time waster.)
Passwords can be another useless ritual. We get sick of putting in passwords, so we autofill, which negates the value of the password. Only it makes it worse because if the computer goes down, it takes the password that you autofilled with it. I have an e mail which lists a good many of my passwords, but even that doesn’t work—as companies buy one another out, they sometimes decide for you which password is the real one. That can take a long time to work out.
I don’t know what the answer to privacy is. I know we are surrounding ourselves with superstitions in pursuit of it. We have to feel we are doing SOMEthing. So we do things that are silly.
We are at sea.