Saturday, August 29, 2009

Your Saturday apophenia

An imbecile writes:

This is a snapshot snapped in Denmark earlier this summer when I was en route to interviewing Kurt Westergaard. It is a close-up on a young woman of Middle Eastern appearance on a Danish train, who kindly consented to be photographed wearing what appears to be an Islamic sword of some kind.

Inflammatory and tasteless, I'd say.

[emphases added]

The author is attempting to make a wider point, comparing the "inflammatory and tasteless" Mohammed cartoons with alleged representations (such as the Saudi Arabian flag) of Islamist supremacy.

Since the young woman's dress doesn't exactly seem to follow the burqa/niqab/hijab fashion stylings of today's Islamista, I thought I'd check further into the sword-as-pendant motif to uncover the sinister in the scimitar, as it were. And, what do you know:

For sale: one "Poison Apple Arabic Sword Necklace," engraved with the words "Poison Apple NYC." Yikes! From the very site of 9/11 comes this onomastic mockery of the "Big Apple," inscribed on a traditional Islamic jihadist weapon, no less. Talk about inflammatory and tasteless!

And here's the offensive piece of jewelery in context, at the treasonously-named Poison Apple website.
Ignore the clearly diversionary unicorns and owls.

Then these: "pirate" swords, eh? Makes you think of Mogadishu right off the bat, doesn't it, even if something a little more up-to-date seems called for? Just who is this Marty Bobroskie anyway? Seems to spend a lot of time in Okinawa. Wasn't Japan at war with the US sometime back?

The humorist James Thurber had this stuff taped. Here, written during the McCarthy period, is a fable for our time:

Not so very long ago there was a very fine gander. He was strong and smooth and beautiful and he spent most of his time singing to his wife and children. One day somebody who saw him strutting up and down in his yard and singing remarked, "There is a very proper gander." An old hen overheard this and told her husband about it that night in the roost. "They said something about propaganda," she said. "I have always suspected that," said the rooster, and he went around the barnyard next day telling everybody that the very fine gander was a dangerous bird, more than likely a hawk in gander's clothing. A small brown hen remembered a time when at a great distance she had seen the gander talking with some hawks in the forest. "They were up to no good," she said. A duck remembered that the gander had once told him he did not believe in anything. "He said to hell with the flag, too," said the duck. A guinea hen recalled that she had once seen somebody who looked very much like the gander throw something that looked a great deal like a bomb. Finally everybody snatched up sticks and stones and descended on the gander's house. He was strutting in his front yard, singing to his children and his wife. "There he is!" everybody cried. "Hawk-lover! Unbeliever! Flag-hater! Bomb-thrower!" So they set upon him and drove him out of the country.

Apophenia is the psychopathology of seeing meaningful patterns in unconnected, random data. The need to discern patterns is an evolutionary mechanism that saves lives: in a universe of particulars, there can be no lessons learned, no "once burned, twice shy." But the faculty of judgment normally prevents us from falling into mere free- association mode: the latter is the stuff of paranoia and conspiracy theories. Those afflicted are always connecting the dots, but in our infinite universe of dots they end up drawing any pictures they want, pictures that merely give shape and content to their own fearful obsessions.

Not being an apopheniac myself, the next time I meet an attractive woman who looks very much like someone from the Middle East wearing a pendant that looks a great deal like a scimitar, and she lets me take her photograph, I'll probably offer to buy her a coffee. Isn't that the Canadian way?


UPDATE: (September 26) Oh, good grief.

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