5 Harmless Superstitions With Horrifying Global Consequences
You know the deal. Spill the salt, toss a pinch over your shoulder (and blind an innocent bystander). Speak too soon, knock on wood. Walk under a ladder, sacrifice your left testicle to James, the god of careless handymen. We're all a little superstitious about some things, even if it's just, say, the belief that we can control a rolling bowling ball with our body language. The human brain is kind of built that way.
Still, if you step back and take a broader look at the ripples that such preposterous notions send butterfly-effecting across the world, you find that things we tend to think of as "harmless" superstitions can actually be anything but.
Friday the 13th Is a Bad Day for Stocks
Long before it ever became associated with homicidal zombie maniacs in protective sports gear, Friday the 13th was bad news in ways that, while they may not have reached machete-murder proportions, were still absolute shit luck for all involved.
To get an idea of how widespread the phenomenon of allowing superstitions to control our behavior is in America, let's look at some numbers. According to the clinical director of the Anxiety Treatment Center in Chicago, Karen Cassiday, about 10.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from obsessive-compulsive behavior, and a quarter of those harbor strong superstitious phobias. Beyond that, an additional 21 million have generalized anxiety disorder, up to 80 percent of whom are superstitious, Cassiday estimates.
"We lay millions of creamy chocolate eggs for you bastards and this is the thanks we get?!"
Now, take that many people whose fear and worry control their every move, and it's bound to have a nationwide effect. A single Friday the 13th in America is estimated to cost the economy as much as $900 million, because instead of going on vacations, going to work, shopping, and doing everything else otherwise known as "being human," all those people are instead sitting at home stewing in puddles of their own terror pee.
But it doesn't end with the overly anxious among us. Looking at the historic performance of the stock market on Fridays of the 13th variety, it shows average gains of just 0.2 percent or less. It would seem that stock traders -- people specifically known for their rational and calculating nature -- are still afraid to buy stocks on a day that's supposedly unlucky. And they hold the fate of the world's economies in their crazy hands.
Bob's Broken Mirrors and Indoor Umbrellas Inc. rues the day it went public.
The Black Cat Superstition Kills Droves of Adorable Kitties (and Puppies)
Every year, more than 5 million dogs and cats find their huggable asses sitting behind bars in an animal shelter. About half of those get adopted. The other half? Well, for them, the animal shelter is the last stop in their furry little lives. And since we're a website and therefore can't accompany this paragraph with the soul-destroying stylings of one Miss Sarah McLachlan to make it even more heartbreaking, we'll tell you that a huge chunk of those senseless deaths are absolutely thanks to an age-old -- and infinitely dumbass -- superstition.
The color black has been associated with evil and misfortune for untold eons, and we don't mean in the way your asshole great-uncle drunkenly informs you every Christmas -- we're talking about the good old-fashioned "black cat = bad luck" superstition or, as shelter workers call it, Black Dog Syndrome. It refers to the fact that black dogs and cats are typically the very last to be adopted, and are therefore much more likely to be sent to the doggy gas chamber to make room for the constant influx of critters of the fairer variety (just the way your asshole great-uncle would want it).
"If they wanna beg at my table in my house, they better learn some fuckin' English."
The outlook for black pets gets even more dire when you consider the fact that this prejudice seems to have blossomed into a full-on kitty racism tree since it first set down its unlucky roots. Not only are people apparently still subconsciously blaming black cats for their lack of winning the lottery, they've also come to associate black dogs with dangerous behaviors. In one 2013 study, participants rated black dogs as not only less friendly (and, therefore, less adoptable) than their yellow or brown counterparts but also far more likely to make a lovely snack out of your face meat.
To be clear, people made this judgment call based on a photo of a black dog that they'd never once met or even asked "Who's a good boy?" Good thing we've never treated our fellow humans with such superficial prejudice, huh?
"No sir, it's happenstance you've been randomly selected for a two-hour search the last 15 times
you've been here. Please bend over."
This may go a long way toward explaining why we seem to automatically judge darker breeds such as rottweilers as exceedingly vicious, despite the fact that they're actually less aggressive than their pint-sized counterparts and that their behavior seems to largely correlate with that of their two-legged companions (we call it the "asshole owner, asshole dog" syndrome). Of course, the fact that they have a conveniently human-face-sized mouth ringed by nightmare-daggers might also have something to do with it.
Related: 5 Ways to Improve Cats
In China, Your Zodiac Sign Can Destroy Your Job Prospects
Hearing the question "What's your sign?" in any sort of dating context is ... well, it's not a real good sign. If the potential partner you're scoping out is willing to judge your relationship compatibility based solely on the fact that you were born while Taurus was getting beasty with Uranus, we're betting they're not going to turn out to be your soulmate. More likely, you'll find yourself three months down the road sitting in an empty apartment decorated with Indian tapestries and reeking of incense, wondering where the hell your TV went.
"What's that thing say about aligning your ass to a Best Buy and ascending me a new flat-screen?"
Don't say that to people in China, though -- because people in China take their zodiac bullshit seriously. In one recent survey of 3,000 young Chinese folk, damn nigh all of them said that they followed their horoscopes, while a full third viewed astrology as an absolute science. And while this widespread adoption of Western astrology has most definitely had a strong effect on the Chinese dating scene -- good luck with ever dusting off those funbits, Capricorns -- it didn't stop there. It's also oozed its way into the workforce.
Imagine clicking your dream job opening on Monster.com, only to be greeted by a big, red "Pisces need not apply" (adjust for your sign accordingly). It sounds utterly ridiculous to us, over here wading through our fancy pools of democracy and capitalism, but it's not at all out of the ordinary in China -- right after "degree required," companies have no qualms listing that they're "looking to hire a Gemini, Libra, or Aquarius." That's right: As if it weren't already difficult enough to find a job in a country that somebody apparently nuked with a population bomb, now one of the default job qualifications is having been born at the right time.
"Says here you're impulsive, superficial, and devious.
"So is that a 'maybe'?"
So who gets the short end of the zodiac stick? Virgos. No one wants to hire Virgos, because ... fucking Virgos, man. You know? (We don't really know what's so wrong with Virgos.)
God, they're so them. Always walking around like they're such a thing, but they're so not a thing.
Still, as bad as having your astrological sign throw up a career roadblock is, it could be worse ...
In Japan, Your Astrological Symbol Can Make You a Victim of Infanticide
As anyone who's ever suffered a long wait at a Chinese restaurant can expertly attest, Chinese astrology is sort of complicated. Each year is represented by not only one of a dozen animals (a rat, a tiger, or a snake, for example) but also one of five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, or water). Whichever combo happens to land on the year in which you're born will supposedly decide myriad things about you, including your personality traits and your likelihood of bringing unending famine and shame upon your family for generations to come. Now, normally we'd dismiss such balderdash straight out of hand, but we have to at least give some consideration to any system under which we could possibly be referred to as a Metal Chicken.
"Symphony of Frank Perdue's Destruction"
The Chinese zodiac was long ago imported to Japan (with a few slight modifications), and according to one ancient Japanese legend, in 1682 a young woman named Yaoya Oshichi fell for a young priest and set fire to a house to demonstrate her love (probably a pretty strong warning signal that the priest should run away and never look back). Because Yaoya was a Fire Horse, however, that one smallish fire immediately grew up and pulled a Godzilla (that is, it destroyed Tokyo).
"We don't need no water sign, let the motherfucker burn."
Fast-forward to 1966. Yaoya's legend had been kept alive in the minds of the Japanese people for all those years thanks to Kabuki dramas, as had the reputation of Fire Horse women for being dangerous creatures who were headstrong and brought their husbands all manner of bad luck (possibly by burning down Tokyo). And 1966, as it happened, was a year of the Fire Horse.
That year saw a massive decline in the number of babies born in Japan (and places with high Japanese populations, such as California and Hawaii), as well as a rise in the number of abortions. Checking out a baby's junk by ultrasound wasn't yet widespread like it is today, and people simply didn't want to take a chance on having a Fire Horse girl. And more disturbing yet, when researchers examined infant mortality rates for that year, they found them to be significantly higher than the years before and after ... but only for girls. Would people of the 20th goddamn century really sacrifice their own baby daughters based on a wonky old superstition? Signs point to yes.
"Fire Horse, fire house. It's practically the same goddamn thing."
The next year of the Fire Horse will be in 2026, in case you're wondering. But we'll have left all that stuff behind by then, right?
The Number 4 Can Tank Your Home's Value (or Kill You)
In many Asian languages, the number 4 is pronounced similarly to the word for "death" -- in Japanese, for example, both are pronounced "shi." And since death is pretty much universally considered the unluckiest of all states, people native to such languages consider the number 4 similarly unlucky. In a study of five years' worth of real estate sales in the greater Vancouver area, researchers found that houses in Chinese neighborhoods with an address containing a 4 sold for an average of $8,000 less than their luckier counterparts.
If Sherlock Holmes lived at 224B Baker St., Moriarty would've gutted him on day one.
Plummeting home values are of little concern, though, to those who've moved so far out of the neighborhood that they've left this mortal coil -- which is exactly what untold 4-fearers have done throughout the years. Back in 1942, Harvard physiologist Walter B. Cannon coined the term "voodoo death" to describe the very real possibility of a person making themselves so sick with stress as a result of superstitious belief that ... well, the "death" in the name kind of gives away the ending there. Basically, when someone goes through life constantly stressing that unlucky things are about to happen to them, their bodies are pumping out a constant flow of stress hormones. Then they mistakenly walk under a ladder one May the 4th, and boom! Goddamn heart attack.
"This is the worst Star Wars Day ever."
When researchers studied more than two decades' worth of U.S. death certificates for Chinese- and Japanese-born citizens, they found that deaths from cardiac arrest peaked on the 4th of each month. White Americans, on the other hand, showed no such peak -- their tickers gave out at a fairly steady rate throughout the month, mostly due to what we call the "cheeseburger effect." It seems that, by shuffling through the 4th of each month in a constant state of worry about the barrage of bad luck that's about to befall them, many Asian-Americans have created a self-fulfilling (and heart-exploding) prophecy.
And ... that's pretty much how superstition works, in a nutshell.
For more superstitions that miiiiight not be, check out 6 Insane Superstitions That Are Still Shockingly Influential and 5 Retarded Superstitions (With Logical Explanations).
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