Friday, June 26, 2009
The murder of eleven elderly people in Kenya, for supposedly being witches, is a stark reminder of one reason why psi remains a taboo -- a deep seated fear of supernatural and paranormal forces. We'd probably all like to believe that hysteria about witches disappeared long ago, but as the BBC news item (linked above) says, "Residents [in the town in Kenya] have been ambivalent about condemning the attacks because belief in witchcraft is widespread in the area...." This happened in 2009, not 15o9.
Fear sustains the psi taboo even in first-world countries, partially because hysteria is just as easily inflamed in educated mobs as well as uneducated ones (witness our collective response to swine flu), but also because despite our common struggle towards rationality, there seems to be a natural human tendency to first condemn any sort of anomaly, and to ask questions later (if at all). While Western scientists exploring the bleeding edge of the known are not in danger of being literally burned, there is ample evidence for a persistent societal discomfort. This is most easily seen by observing the vast majority of the general public who are vitally interested in all things psychic vs. the far fewer than 1% of academics who are known for having any interest at all in these phenomena.
Will we ever be able to set aside our collective fears and embrace both the joy and the uncertainties of exploring the unknown? I certainly hope so, but to paraphrase something William James once said, major advancements in this particular wrinkle of the social fabric may have to be measured in centuries rather than decades.