Tuesday, July 27, 2010


There's something strange (completely unexpected yet simultaneously inevitable-feeling) about this story. President Ahmadinejad of Iran is quoted as saying that Paul--the psychic German octopus who predicted the result of the World Cup--is a symbol of decadence:
Those who believe in this type of thing cannot be the leaders of the global nations that aspire, like Iran, to human perfection, basing themselves in the love of all sacred values
But does anyone believe in this type of thing? Lots of people enjoyed reading about Paul's predictions, and probably some people placed bets on the basis of which tank Paul climbed in to get a mussel, but no one capable of serious belief would seriously believe that the octopus is psychic. Similarly, no one seriously doubts that the Holocaust took place. People who say they believe Paul's predictions are joking. People who deny the Holocaust are insulting Jews. I doubt that this kind of insult and the contempt that goes with it can be removed from Ahmadinejad's ideology without fatal damage to that ideology, which would be a reason for regarding his religious beliefs as a form of superstition. This is probably obscure, since it might look like an argument with several key premises missing. But basically what I'm saying this: his form of religion is too hateful to be called religion, so I'm calling it superstition instead. (And by "his form of religion" I don't mean Islam, although, of course, some people use the word "Islam" that way.) I think that's a legitimate use of the word superstition. (Would sticking to 'ideology' be better? Maybe.) But belief in Paul's predictions (i.e. the kind of unseriousness that goes by the name of belief in such things) is a form of superstition too. It's a diverse phenomenon.

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