Opinion | Superstition helps soothe identity crises
August 31, 2020
“No one knows me better than myself.” The prevailing sentiment that no one knows a person better than his or her own self is a lie.
Knowing oneself is incredibly difficult to do. The human brain has so many mechanisms to deny, rationalize and warp the truth that one’s idea of his or her own identity is likely estranged from reality.
And worse yet, although many people have a flawed, yet self-assured, idea of who they think they are, many people continue to struggle through existential crises and identity crises, having little confidence that they understand themselves.
It is because of this lack of certainty surrounding one’s identity that certain “vehicles” are necessary to help discover oneself, but many of these vehicles are shamed or stigmatized.
One of these vehicles is astrology. Astrology may be a pseudoscience with little grounding in psychology, but it nonetheless helps countless human beings understand themselves better.
Whether it’s astrology or baseless personality tests found on Buzzfeed, these act as a sort of Rorschach or inkblot test, where people extrapolate important information that help them feel comforted when defining their identities. The key, present in many mystical fields like astrology, is to be so vague that anyone can find some applicability to his or her own life. Therefore, the people analyzing it draw their own conclusions about themselves.
Obviously, people shouldn’t restrict themselves — say by dating only people with a compatible zodiac sign — but those taking interest in astrology or tarot cards surely don’t deserve judgment, particularly when they may simply be coping with identity struggles.
But if a person indulging in these activities doesn’t learn something about him or herself, these activities may offer other comforts. Some of these types of activities, like palm readings, may only be lightly stigmatized due to their superstitious nature; others, like soliciting a medium, generally are looked down upon by society.
Mediums can definitely be duplicitous and opportunistic, and to be wary of those potentially scamming the vulnerable is fair. But those who visit mediums in order to receive comfort or needed closure certainly do not merit shame for doing so. Even if the medium is lying through his or her teeth, the patron may still be provided with a sense of relief that can help him or her move on.
Any coping mechanism, no matter how superstitious, to help the existentially confused become more clairvoyant ought not beget public humiliation. This same argument could be extended to religion and people of faith. Even if an atheist believes all faiths are falsehoods or a theist believes another religion is based on a false prophet, so long as the creed is helping to soothe over existential woes and uncertainty with a direction in life, it should be respected.
Are less arbitrary tests, like the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator, more useful than “Which pie are you?” brought to you by Buzzfeed? Probably. But existential fears and feeling a lack of identity or direction are difficult inner demons to quell. That anxiety is difficult enough to manage when compounded anxiety from others’ judgment is gratuitous.
So long as the coping mechanism isn’t actively harming another in the way that interest in most of the aforementioned doesn’t, there is no stigma warranted. One shouldn’t rely too heavily on horoscopes, but if it innocuously offers some direction to those who could use it, why shame it?
“While it is always best to believe in oneself, a little help from others can be a great blessing.” This quote, uttered by Uncle Iroh in “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” epitomizes the key to the long and confusing search for identity. Existential anxiety can strike at any age, and if persistent enough, can cripple daily function.
Therapy is great, albeit costly, but if all you need is a book to affirm in what ways you are totally a Scorpio, all the more power to you. If a trip to a spiritualist or self-proclaimed seer will accelerate the grieving process, then be careful of predatory practices, but go for it.
Most people don’t know who they really are or what they are truly capable of. But regardless of the journey to finding peace and self discovery, know that you have been wished luck — that is, if you’re the type to believe in that sort of thing.
Andrew is a junior in LAS and the Opinions Desk Editor for the Daily Illini.