July 2, 2007

Vampire Seeds

People do some pretty crazy stuff.

A peacock that roamed into the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant was attacked by a man who vilified the bird as a vampire, animal-control authorities said.

When you see a story like this, what the heck do you think?

  • Mental illness
  • The guy is just violent and made up the vampire thing as an unrelated joke on top of a cruel act.
  • Believing in vampires is his personal choice — don’t criticize! But this guy went too far by attacking a defenseless animal.
  • It really was a vampire!
  • Other

… because I’m having a hard time putting this news story in context.

And does believing in peacock-shaped vampires automatically make you mentally ill? Don’t people believe all sorts of weird things, like UFOs, ghosts, astrology, neo-conservatism and we don’t automatically think they’re mentally unbalanced.

I knew a guy who once told me he had been abducted by aliens. Up to that point he’d never said anything to me to make he think he believed in strange things. He was a functioning member of society. But one day he comes out with his abduction story. I won’t go into detail, but it was mostly a classic story which led me to believe he had experienced a combination of dreams and hypnagogic hallucinations1.

I tried to explain the natural phenomena which could account for his experiences, but he wanted to hear none of it. Neither of us ever brought up the subject again, and his beliefs didn’t affect our relationship any more than if he’d told me some surprising religious belief. This, even though I am a confirmed alien abduction skeptic after an adolescence of scouring every nearby library for all information on what is called “the paranormal.” It’s funny, because I thought that knowing this about a person would completely change my opinion about him. However, I compartmentalized the belief since it didn’t seem to have a visible effect on his daily functioning.

So, people believe strange things, and I seem to have an allowance for that, up to the point where those beliefs seem to be driving destructive actions, I would imagine.

This attitude is healthy for coexistence; a society which would sustain our liberties demands tolerance of strange beliefs. The inherent risk, however, is that if a belief is not rational, you can’t expect it to forever stay innocuous. You can’t apply rationality to a concept not grounded in reason and expect your conclusions to be accurate. All our liberties are balanced against the risks we take on to universally apply those liberties2.

Perhaps the fellow in the story believed in vampires, and that they could change shape. Perhaps he had friends who knew this. Maybe they talked about how you can tell a vampire: if you see a strange animal out of context, it is clearly a vampire. And when he was faced with a coincidence he could not explain, his belief launched into action.

Beliefs are the dormant seeds of actions.

1 I, myself, had experienced a probable hypnagogic hallucination as a youngster but got woken up in the middle of it. I know how real they can seem. But they’re still hallucinations.

2 Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. - Ben Franklin

Posted by James at July 2, 2007 10:14 AM
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Who knows what caused that guy to snap. A bad burrito while watching late night NBC programming, maybe.

I miss the days when the media wasn't able to report every weird thing that happened around the world.

Posted by: Mike at July 2, 2007 11:12 AM

Yeah - but this was in New York!

Practically down the street, in global terms.

Posted by: James at July 2, 2007 11:16 AM

Good point.

Maybe I can add a geographic filter for my weird news so I can willingly become parochial again. Whenever a TV station reports something outside the northeast I'll see and hear the Emergency Broadcast System.

Posted by: Mike at July 2, 2007 11:20 AM

Tell us YOUR story. I want to hear it. ;)

Posted by: pippa at July 2, 2007 12:20 PM
Don’t people believe all sorts of weird things, like UFOs, ghosts, astrology, neo-conservatism and we don’t automatically think they’re mentally unbalanced.
We don't? I do.

Of course, I might accept the people who think those things despite knowing that they're unbalanced.

Then there's this post that I made in November last year.

Posted by: Barry Leiba at July 2, 2007 1:43 PM

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