Memes and Friggatriskaidekaphobia
Lightning Rod is not a superstitious poet. Poets create superstitions so are not inclined to fall for them. But I’m also a cautious skeptic. Let’s put it this way, I don’t go out of my way to avoid stepping on cracks but I find myself pacing a rhythm that avoids them and I don’t know if it’s just out of my usual respect for the superstitions of others or if I’m hedging my bets on the theory that there is no sense in tempting fate by taking unnecessary chances. Today is Friday the 13th so I suppose it is inevitable that we think about superstitions. I intend to do that just as soon as I put on my lucky socks.
Superstitions are terrific examples of memes. They are little assumptions based on nothing but the fact that they are repeated. Superstitions might be called the Obsessive Compulsive memes. They cause us to alter our behavior and flip the lights thrice or check the locks one more time or throw salt over our shoulders for no productive reason. If some nursery rhyme or song or something that our grandmother said causes us to think that doing this or that is good or bad luck, it insinuates itself into our behavioral script and we find ourselves doing things for reasons which we don’t understand. The memes and superstitions are controlling us and just as genes tell our bodies which proteins to make, memes are telling us what and how to think.
I like to consider myself post-superstitious. By this I mean that I have the intellectual arrogance to imagine that just because I can see the memes at work that I am somehow immune to their influence myself. I understand the folly of this and yet I do it anyway which is exactly what I’m trying to illustrate. Memes work whether you can see through them or not. Even though you know its a theatrical illusion you still get a tear in your eye at the corny, predictable ending of a movie that you’ve seen a dozen times. Memes work whether we are hip to them or not. Sure, I tell myself that I avoid breaking mirrors because I try to avoid breaking things in general and I know that mirrors are not magical talismans but I can tell you that on the few occasions where I have broken a mirror, a chill ran up my spine and I caught myself musing how old I would be in seven years.
When I wake up on Friday the 13th, I’m not sure what to do. Should I remain in bed all day to protect against unexpected disaster? Should I scoff at superstition and remind myself that some people think that Friday 13th is a Good luck day? Just the fact that I’m thinking about it tells me that the meme is at work. It has insinuated itself into the template of my thinking about this day, created presumptions, fears, expectations. It is no longer just a day like any other day with a sunrise and a sunset separated by the mundane events of life, no, it’s a strangely auspicious day that is charged by superstition where we anticipate the bad things that can happen to us and heave a sigh of relief at midnight when it’s over.
Perhaps I would succumb to my fear of Friday the 13th but for the fact that my fear of being called by the jawbreaking name of friggatriskaidekaphobic is even greater. It’s a weird memeish combination of a fear of the number thirteen and the fear of Friday. Nobody really knows the origin of the superstition, the Norse claim it and the Knights Templar. Several bad things have happened on that day in history but statistically there are no more accidents or disasters on the black day than on any other. It’s a quaint but baseless superstition, just the same as many of the other superstitions that we base our lives upon.
The Poet’s Eye tries to look with tolerance on the superstitions of others because it also sees that we all have our favorite superstitions and can become very attached to them. Whether we call our superstitions Science or Religion, they are both memes and give us the vocabularies we use to speak about life. I suppose Friday the 13th serves some purpose or it probably wouldn’t persist as a meme. Utility is one of the qualities that gives a meme its strength. The ones that last are the ones that have a use, satisfy a human or cultural need. Perhaps Friday the 13th is a way that the culture reminds us that at any moment something bad could happen quite beyond our control or anticipation and that alertness or mindfulness is necessary if we are to cope with it. If this is true, it’s my lucky day.
Within your mind
Will make this jinx complete
And now you find
The end of times
When the black cat crossed your feet