17 January 2011

I’m ashamed to be ethnically related to these people

In a recent post on cultural superstitions, I mentioned the Chinese belief in kooky ideas like feng shui, acupuncture and lucky/unlucky numbers (whose providential powers apparently derive from their homophonic resemblance to words like ‘prosper’ and ‘die’ in Chinese). Another common Chinese superstition involves the taboo against placing the living in close proximity to the dead or dying. To do so would “bring bad luck, meaning sickness and even death... The ghosts of the dead will invade and harass the living,” leading to “failure of business, the loss of money, the break [sic] of marriage and family, and the healthy growing up of children will be affected.”

This was written in a letter by the residents of an expensive University of B.C. high-rise apartment protesting the planned building of a 15-bed hospice next door.

So a bunch of well-to-do people living in an upmarket residential area are throwing a tantrum over the construction of a place to care for those who are not long for this world, who are sick, in pain, scared, lonely. And why? Because the rich Asians happen to subscribe to a premodern, irrational, unscientific worldview where ghosts exist to torment them.

For an example of how superstition can short-circuit a person’s compassionate, empathetic wiring, here’s what one resident had to say about the atrocity of having a hospice built near her home:

It’s very disturbing. […] My kids and I are going to feel so frightened and angry just to think there are dying people so close to us.

Those damned dying people! Frightening and antagonising good honest folk with their soft moans, silent tears and quiet dignity. How dare they.

I stumbled across this story on ‘Pharyngula’, the blog of the delightfully irascible, godless, liberal biologist P Z Myers. Myers writes in his post:

I'm hoping that these complaining, over-privileged superstitious nitwits remember this when they are old and dying — as they most likely will be someday — and courteously excuse themselves to go gasp out their last breaths in some place where civilized people won't be troubled.



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