Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Culture and psychology

Yesterday on the BBC news hour, I heard a story about the tsunami disaster. It described an island of fishers who were now afraid to go back to sea, and their children who were afraid to go to school because it is near the water. I understand that the recent tsunami was much worse than any other natural phenomenon in recent history, but I'm surprised that these people's cultures don't include some teaching of the sea as both peaceful and violent, to prepare them for disasters. Mythology usually depicts sea gods and goddesses as capricious, often malicious. Poseidon made Ulysees wander the seas for years, and tried to flood Athens when its king chose Athena over Poseidon as patron. The Celtic sea gods, the Fomorii, were depicted as extremely violent. Even the Judeo-Christian God sent floods to kill everyone. Various cultures describe hidden horrors in the sea, from monsters to whirlpools, furious storms and the Bermuda triangle. It seems that all peoples that lived near the sea knew that it could be treacherous.

I wonder if the homogeneity of cultures that has come about with the information age has killed the ability of cultural legends to prepare various peoples for tragedies that can befall them. Or perhaps it was the evangelism of Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity that destroyed these psychological ballistrades. These major religions were born in desert lands or the jungle, so they do not have a major focus on the treachery of the sea. Whatever the reason, I think the psychological impact of the tsunami shows the need for disparate local cultures, and the dangers of spreading belief systems beyond their birth places.

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