March 1, 2009 · 8:32 pm
The desire to share an intimacy with lovers, even after they are gone has a long history. During the Victorian era, it was fashionable to have the hair of the deceased made into mourning jewelry. Today, you can have the cremated remains of the deceased made into a diamond. From as little as £2,500, LifeGem will create a diamond in white, blue, red, green or yellow. And for those of the animal persuasion, they offer a similar service for pets.
On the other hand you don’t have to wait for your beloved to be dead. Just take them along to Guy’s Hospital London where the good dentists will extract their wisdom teeth and then grow them up in a bone medium large enough to create a disc from which jewelers can fashion engagement rings with inscription “Forever, and for always.” Clearly the desire to have your partner wrapped around your finger extends well into essentialism.
Which reminds me. What ever happened to that vial of Billy Bob Thorton’s blood that Angelina Jolie used to wear round her neck? Did she bury it, drink it or flush it down the toilet?
Filed under Essentialism
Tagged as essences
February 21, 2009 · 10:11 am
An article appeared in this week’s New York Times about the plight of albinos in Tanzania which reminds us that supernatural beliefs sometimes lead to appalling acts and that witchcraft is not always a harmless foible of human belief.
Since 2007, more than 40 albinos have been killed by gangs of men who hack off legs, heads and genitals to be used in various muti practices. Apparently the going rate for an albino corpse is $2,000. One trader caught with the head of an albino baby was taking it to a businessman who was prepared to pay for it by weight.
Even though 170 have been arrested for these attacks, not one has been prosecuted demonstrating a lack of conviction to stamp these atrocities out. Last month the Tanzanian government banned traditional healers and revoked licenses but with such supernatural beliefs deeply ingrained in the population, it will be a difficult practice to eradicate. Four of those charged with these crimes are police officers.
There are 17,000 albinos in Tanzania, so the potential for slaughter of these ostracized individuals is not acceptable. It is bad enough to have medical problems associated with albinism, but to be feared and shunned with the constant threat of mutilation or death seems outrageous.
Thankfully, former Baptist minister Peter Ash, himself an albino from Canada has stepped in to try and help the situation with his charity “Under the Same Sun.” I have signed the online petition to help embarrass the Tanzanian government into doing more to stop these attacks. I hope you do as well.
February 19, 2009 · 6:22 am
Geronimo, the last great war chief of the Apache Indians, is not at piece. To be more precise, he may be in pieces. This is the claim from his great grandson, Harlyn Geronimo who launched a lawsuit against the US government this week.
Geronimo famously led an Apache uprising with some success against the US forces during the Indian wars towards the end of the 1880’s. He eluded capture by 5,000 soldiers who set out specifically to track him down and was reputed to have magical power. Geronimo eventually surrendered in 1886.
After being paraded around various Wild West Shows and riding during Roosevelt’s inaugural parade, Geronimo ended his days as a prisoner of war at Fort Sill, Oklahoma dying from pneumonia at the age of 79. According to Fort Sill, the remains of Geronimo are under a stone pyramid monument at Fort Sill where he was buried 100 years ago.
Harlyn believes that some of his ancestor’s bones have in fact gone to university.Bizarrely, he believes that his great grandfather’s skull is currently being fetishized at Yale’s infamous ‘Skull & Bones’ fraternity society. Famous alumni include the current ex-presidents, Bush & Son.
Harlyn is seeking an order to dig up Geronimo’s grave and recover all his ancestor’s relics so that they can be re-buried at the site of his birth in New Mexico. Has this man lost his marbles? Clearly he, like most, has supernatural beliefs about the bones of the deceased and the need to re-unite the remains in death. We had a similar case in Bristol a few years back, where angry parents where horrified to discover that small samples of body tissue removed during the autopsy of their dead children where being kept in storage for analysis. The parents demanded that these various slivers of diseased tissue were buried again with their children as if somehow their children were not complete and could not be laid to rest.
Meanwhile, Harlyn, who is now 81, has been mocked by the authorities but I think there is some merit to the old indian’s concerns. Apparently, a letter from 1918 from one Yale Bonesman to another, was discovered by researchers a few years ago which read, “The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrrible, exhumed ffrom Fort Sill by your club…is now safe inside [the clubhouse] together with his well worn femurs, bit & saddle horn.”
And who was alleged to have committed this act of grave-robbing? None other than Prescott Bush, the grandfather of George W.
February 14, 2009 · 2:31 am
You may shudder at the udder thought of it, but the Cow Protection Department of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), India’s biggest and oldest Hindu nationalist group, plans to launch a new drink, cow urine in a can.
The cow is sacred in Hindu society and the belief is that drinking its urine and eating small amounts of cow poop is good for you. Don’t worry, we are informed that once processed, the cow pee, “won’t smell like urine and will be tasty too.” Oh, that’s ok then. Can I have mine as an ice-cream float?
Unlike Coca-Cola and Pepsi, it is believed that cow urine is medicinal. They plan to take on Coca-Cola and Pepsi and even export to outside of India.
Somehow, I think that teaching the whole world to sing is easier that getting them to swallow this supernatural belief.
February 9, 2009 · 11:30 am
Last week, a Cleveland Clinic announced that the first US face transplant patient had been discharged. Her identity and the circumstances surrounding her loss of face have been kept a closely guarded secret for obvious reasons, unlike Isabelle Dinoire, the French lady, whose face was partially chewed off by her dog, was mawkishly paraded in front of the world’s media.
What does it mean to have a face transplant? Unlike other transplantation procedures, the face transplant is not necessary to prolong life but rather it allows those who are hideously disfigured to re-enter a society.
But what of wearing someone else’s face? What are the psychological implications? We have just had an academic paper accepted for publication which examines our essentialist anxieties concerning organ transplantation from another individual. In a hypothetical situation, we asked adults to rate how happy they were to receive organ transplant from others after learning about their moral background. We are much happier to accept an organ donation from someone who has led a morally upright life but much more adverse to receiving a life-saving organ transplant from a murderer. It’s a massive effect.
Fairly obvious and all hypothetical you might argue, but in 1999, a fifteen-year-old girl with terminal heart disease was forcibly given a heart transplant because she refused to agree to the life-saving operation because she thought she would lose her own identity. Psychological essentialism is not just an abstract academic pursuit of mine. It has tangible consequences for the way we reason about decisions regarding the assimilation of other people’s bodily tissue. For example, it not only influences the way we regard organ transplantation but also whether we are willing to give consent for the donation of organs from loved ones. After all, many relatives believe that their deceased loved one lives on in the new body.
A face transplant must be the most difficult challenge to the sense of one’s own identity. Good luck to the poor women.
February 5, 2009 · 3:49 pm
Following from my post about “The Gonad Doctors,” Arno alerted me to a recent article translated from the German Newspaper ‘Speigel,’ about a forthcoming book by medical historian, Dr. Richard Sugg of Durham University on medicinal cannibalism. I particularly like the story about Pope Innocent VIII drinking the blood of three murdered boys. Now, if ever there was a name that was a misnomer.
In the book, Dr. Sugg’s makes the claim that pre-enlightenment medicine regularly used bodies parts for cures.
In SuperSense, I mention Paracelsus, one of the leading alchemists of the day and his particular recipe for a weapon salve. Weapon salves were thought to cure wounds inflicted by weapons by treating the instrument responsible for the injury. Paracelsus wrote,
” Take of moss growing on the head of a thief who has been hanged and left in the air; of real mummy; of human blood, still warm – of each one ounce; of human suet, two ounces; of linseed oil, turpentine, and Armenian bole – of each two drachms. Mix all well in a mortar, and keep the salve in an oblong, narrow urn.”
Once this ointment was prepared, it was important to recover the original weapon and dip it in the ointment. In the meantime, the wound was to be cleaned regularly with fresh water and bandages each day after the removal of ‘laudable pus.’
The logic of the weapon salve reveals a number of supernatural misconceptions. The weapon had a sympathetic connection with the wound by virtue of the fact that it had inflicted it. The various ingredients for the salve were chosen because they had sympathetic affinity with the healing process. Some ingredients may have been chosen because they were believed to counteract the negative aspects of infection by exerting antipathetic forces to cancel them out. The gruesome ingredients of the potion demonstrate essentialist thinking. The use of human tissue reflected the belief that it possesses essential forces that can affect the healing process. Particularly prized was the tissue from those who had died healthy and young; no one wanted rejuvenating fat and blood from either the ill or old. Hence, most recipes called for the use of those who had been executed, the younger and more virile the better, as the young had more life force in them than the sick and dying.
If any of this ancient witchcraft sounds familiar then maybe you have been speaking to a homeopath recently. The logic behind most homeopathic cures involves the same magical laws of sympathy and antipathy. The only difference is that the dilutions are so weak that they are indistinguishable from pure water. But that’s another post for later.
With it’s medieval origins and wacky logic, you don’t get such supernatural thinking in today’s modern healthcare system, do you?
January 26, 2009 · 11:40 pm
This one is for “poietes” and her last comment, but really I do need to start sharing some of the strange stories that I have covered in my quest to unravel the human SuperSense. The book will be published in 70 days. Yikes. So here is a snippet. In it I talk about the amazing story of Dr. John Brinkley.
As a trainee medical student, John Brinkley worked in a Kansas slaughterhouse and noticed that the prowess of billy goats. What made them so jumpy? The owner of the goat farm had been complaining of reduced libido and Brinkley suggested inserting male goat gonads in to the aging farmer’s scrotum.
The operation worked, and the aging farmer went on to father a son, called “Billy” no less. John Brinkley went on to earn a fortune and the mighty and rich on both sides of the Atlantic lined up to pay large amounts of money to have the gonads of others inserted into their scrotums. I don’t want to give the whole story away but it involved huge amounts of money, crime, international outrage, an attempt to be elected governor, and possibly the explanation for how HIV transferred from monkeys to man. I think you will enjoy the story.
Needless to say, this type of thinking is pure essentialism where we believe we can absorb the youthful properties of others through intimate contact. Yes, the gonads are a source of vital hormones but inserting another animal’s or man’s family jewels will not make you more vibrant.
January 23, 2009 · 10:49 pm
One of the more strange supernatural beliefs is that you can absorb the strength and vitality of others by consuming their flesh. Last year, Milton Biahyi, aka “General Butt Naked,” gave evidence at Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). As a notorious warlord, Biahyi confessed he was responsible for deaths of at least 20,000 people during Liberia’s brutal civil war 1979-93.
Biahyi earned his nickname for charging into battle wearing nothing more than boots as he believed that he was protected by magic. He also confessed to the TRC that he had conducted sacrifices and eaten the hearts of children in the belief he could absorb their essence and vitality.
Clearly, a dangerous man, but thankfully no longer charging around a battlefield. Rather, he has become an evangelical Christian. You can’t make this stuff up.
January 23, 2009 · 3:09 pm
I just heard about the Belgian stabbings in the childcare centre. Who would let a man with his face painted white and eyes blacked out into a childcare centre. I mean… really?
I am so sickened by this that I think that everyone needs some cheering up. So here is a very funny movie about kissing. It has nothing to do with supernatural beliefs though kissing is a pretty essential behaviour.
January 16, 2009 · 4:24 pm
Following from the postings related to organ transplants and animal essence, I was reminded that in Japan there is a popular belief that personality and compatibility is determined by which blood group (ABO) you have. This wacky theory apparently surfaced in 1927 following the publication of a Japanese paper, “The Study of Temperament Through Blood Type” which attempted to explain personality differences in terms of blood group. In another study, the author, Takeji Furukawa, wanted to “penetrate the essence of the racial traits of the Taiwanese, who recently revolted and behaved so cruelly.” The essence theory really got going in the 1970s following the publication of “Understanding Affinity by Blood Type” by Masahiko Nomi. There are of course, real physiological issues about compatibility for blood transfusions but this Japanese theory (which is also found in Korea) claims that it affects personality as well. There are dating agencies that specialize in matching couples on blood, personal ads carry this information and of course, the tabloids offer blood horoscopes.