Posts Tagged existential dread

Dissecting CARCASS’ “Heartwork” – Fifth Incision…Embodiment

This is the fifth in a series of articles analyzing the lyrics from the 1993 Carcass album “Heartwork”.

Embodiment

I bow down your precious icon, deity of self-suppression

This effigy of flesh, corporeal christi, nailed

In submission to this false idol, seeking deliverance

From this spiritual hierarchy, downward spiraling, a corrupt throne

Of repression and guilt

Our will be done

Thy kingdom burn

On my knees, before this tormented flesh, in irreverence

In communion with this parasitic host of virtuous divinity

This imperious creed bears testament to the failures of our morality

Righteous durance is our cross we bear in stations

In stations of the lost

Our will be done

Thy kingdom burn – thy kingdom burn

Our will be done

From your knees arise

By your own hand, your god you scribe

The earth shall inherit the meek

Your god is dead

Bound down, in God we’re trussed, foul stature

Icons embodied in flesh, we nail

In servitude to deities fashioned in our self image

Shadows of eternal strife cast by those who serve

Serve a crown of pawns

If up until this point you weren’t sure how the band Carcass feels about religion, Embodiment states it completely and in no uncertain terms. The song is an outright renunciation of organized religion, Christianity in particular.  The lyrics bubble with hatred and scorn for the self-annihilating principles that they believe mark the Christian outlook.  I don’t share the disdain that the band feels for Christianity, but the force of the language used in their argument is highly compelling.

The song’s central argument is that Christianity is an advanced form of slavery.  They make the case by dismissing the existence of any fathomable God and assuming that the goals of religion are to allow those who are in power to continue an unfettered hegemony over the practice of free will.  Where some people see peace and comfort, Carcass perceives control and subjugation.  Certainly, some of their argument is legitimate.  There are plenty of historical examples of the misuse of religion to advance the selfish ends of a tyrannical elite.  However, the song fails to address much of the comfort and solace that it has brought people for over 2000 years.  Further, it would be facile minded to simply assume that the self-abnegation at the core of Christian thought is completely a bad thing.  The giving up of one’s desires to benefit the community is on many occasions, inside or outside of a religious context, beneficial towards the human race as a whole.

In spite of the problems the argument presents, the language with which the case is made is striking.  The core belief in the song is contained in the beautifully efficient and devastating pun “In God we’re trussed”.  By taking an expression found on American money and perverting its message, Carcass is able to make several critical points.  First, the use of a religious phrase in an economic context effectively links the agenda of today’s Christianity with the pursuit of financial gain.  Then, they take the phrase and change trust (an act of faith) into trussed (to be tightly bound or in this case completely controlled).   Essentially, they argue here that while you may choose to subvert your needs for the Church it will not extend you the same courtesy and, worse, it will take your belief and use it to hoodwink you into giving up your possessions and your liberty.  In their eyes, it is the greatest hustle in human history.

What is truly lost for believers is contained in the heart-wrenching expression “the earth shall inherit the meek.”  The original phrase “the meek shall inherit the earth” is an appeal to the Job-like masses that give so tirelessly but ask for little in return.  They suffer in silence, but at the end of the day, they will be rewarded…or so the story goes.  The good and humble people will come to control the earth and the wicked will be cast from it.  The subversion of this expression contains allows for a very troubling message to be presented.  If you suffer in silence and do the right thing your reward will be the grave.  Death awaits us all and those who are pious and righteous are rewarded with the same eternal darkness that await those who pillage the world blind.  There are no rewards in this life or any other for those who follow the words contained in the Bible.  The meek will be buried right alongside those who engage in a Dionysian life of personal excess and unabated greed.  The ground cannot tell the two apart.

If this argument is legitimate, it presents us with chilling questions about how we should live our lives that goes beyond religion.  If there are truly no consequences for our actions, why not do whatever we want?  Those with the most material, at the end of the day, are those who have benefitted most from a purely material world.  If all that is promised to us for a good life is an eventual death, what is the motivation in living a justly?

I believe that the truth or untruth of God’s existence need not bear on whether someone acts morally.  If every word of the Bible is true and God’s existence is exactly as portrayed in Christianity, we should act with as much kindness, patience and love to those around us as we are capable.  If every word of the Bible is false and Christianity is an unholy scam perpetrated by on the masses by ruthless power mongers, we should act with as much kindness, patience and love to those around us as we are capable.  The reward of living a just life is simply getting to live a just life.  That’s all.  The earth may inherit the meek, but at least the meek can lessen the suffering of those around them.  Nothing else is promised and nothing else is certain.  TS Eliot eloquently summarizes this principle in his poem “Choruses From The Rock”…..

All men are ready to invest their money

But most expect dividends

I say to you: Make perfect your will.

I say: take no thought of the harvest,

But only of proper sowing

It is our station to care for one another to the best of our abilities regardless what the truth of the universe is.  To love without condition is the greatest gift we could bestow on our world no matter what the terms of our existence are.  Any philosophy that brings us closer to that ability, be it religious or atheistic, is worthy of our respect and consideration.

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Glossophobia and The Fugitive Mind

Stage fright is a truly terrible feeling.  Many people confront it, but usually they manifest their experience in different ways.  Some people cry, some talk louder, some simply feel a vague sense of dread as they move through the speech.  What I’ve noticed in talking to people about it over the years is that the experience of it changes dramatically from person to person, but it is always quite miserable if you feel it.

I have an awful fear of speaking on stage.  As a teacher, I never feel nervous speaking to a roomful of high school students, but once a year in May I am asked to speak in front of a large audience on a stage with a microphone.  The speech itself is something I’m honored to give, but the fear I feel starts around January and becomes nearly debilitating by the end of April.  It is only a three-minute speech but my fear of it consumes months of my life.

People are always very supportive and try to be compassionate but usually the advice I get doesn’t help all that much.  If you mention you have this fear you will get a lot of guidance, but often I’m not sure if the people who give it really understand the parts of it that make it so terrifying.  It is an irrational feeling and most rational suggestions fail to address it in a way that is practical.  You get advice like “Try to imagine them all naked”.  If everyone in the audience were naked I’m sure I’d be even more terrified!  How could the thought of hundreds of naked humans staring at you be even remotely comforting?  Other people ask you “What’s the worst that can happen?”  They have no idea of the circus that your brain becomes for three minutes.  The worst that can happen is that you’ll be on stage giving the speech.  People simply can’t comprehend why a relatively simple act like this can cause such suffering.  I don’t really understand it myself.

The following is an attempt to describe the experience in real time.  Some of this will sound silly, but every single thought written down has gone through my mind on stage.  The goal of this piece is to create a running record of what stage fright actually feels like for me.

Alright, here we go.  Need another sip of water.  If you act confident, the fear won’t come.  Okay, time to stand up.  They just called me.  Fix my jacket.  Three buttons…how many should I button?  I need to keep it buttoned cause my tie is too short.  I look like Oliver Hardy.  Someone once told me leave the bottom unbuttoned.  Okay.  Here we go.  Don’t look up.  Don’t look up.  Just read.  You should make some arm gestures.  Just hold the podium.  Don’t fall.  Hands sweating.  The podium is see through.  Are the spots around my hand fogging up?  Do they see me sweating? Act confident.  Here it comes.  Here it comes.  I should have left them all unbuttoned.  I should have acted more confident.  Now IT is HERE. 

Hot.  What if I pass out?  Falling, hitting my head.  Would someone catch me?  I’m too big.  Where am I?  Did I just miss a line…no, no, I’m okay….page one is over.  Don’t look up.  They are all looking at you.  They are all looking at you.  Is my fly zipped?  Don’t look up.  Fast.  Dizzy when I look up.  Falling, hitting my head.  IT IS HERE.

Does what I’m saying make any sense?  Do they hear me?  I didn’t practice enough.  I practiced wrong.  Fast. I practiced too much.  What if I forget how to read?  Sweating.  Pain in the top of my head.  Antler pain.  I feel like antlers are going to sprout out of the top of my head.  Stay focused.  Where am I?  I am reading, but I don’t know how.  There is another me reading.   I don’t even know what the other me is saying.  Why are they laughing?  Did I say something funny?  Did I do something embarrassing?  I didn’t write that to be funny…what’s happening???

FOCUS!!!!  Antlers.  Sharp, sharp pain in the top of my head.  Halfway done.  Sweating.  What if I can’t breathe?  Slow down your breathing.  What if I can’t?  I don’t control my breathing.  Long way to go in this speech.  Lots of words left.  What if I start saying weird things?  What if I start shouting random nonsense?  NO CONTROL. What if I burp?  What if I start cursing?  What if I lose control of my body?  Sharp pain in my head.  Antlers are growing inside.  Will they pop out?

One page left.  Downhill, downhill, breathe, another minute…..breathe.  If I can just get one more page.  What am I talking about?  Where am I?  DON’T LOOK UP!!!!  THEY are watching you….breathe….breathe….you are going to fast…..no one understands….breathe….one paragraph now…..look up once…try it…..try it….dizzy….FOCUS….DON’T LOOK UP…..clapping…no more words….handshake….get to the chair….don’t fall….don’t pass out…get to the chair…..sit down…..breathe….

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Dissecting CARCASS’ “Heartwork” – First Incision…Buried Dreams

Heartwork, the 1993 release by Carcass, is easily one of the most compelling metal albums ever recorded.  First and foremost, it is an explosion of monstorous guitar riffs, frenetic drumming and raging energy.  The music is captivating and overwhelming.  Heartwork is a remarkably powerful lyrical album that deals intelligently with issues like globalization, dehumanization and existential dread.  The music has been widely praised by many music journalists.   The lyrics, however, have been given scant attention. Jeff Walker, the band’s singer, bass player and chief lyricist, envisions a world that is entirely devoid of human feeling or empathy.  Walker’s adept use of language, particularly double entendre, lays bare the man’s inhumanity in all of its baseness.  His world is an empty one, filled only with sorrow, guilt and deep-seated hatred.

The album behaves like a book, each song a chapter examining a set of widely held beliefs and contrasting them with his vision of a world gone completely insane.  Over the next few months, I will attempt to analyze the themes and ideas song by song in an attempt to convey the inventiveness of Walker’s lyrics as well as the perspicacity of his message.

Buried Dreams

Welcome, to a world of hate
A life of buried dreams
Smothered, by the soils of fate
Welcome, to a world of pain
Bitterness your only wealth
The sand of time kicked in your face
Rubbed in your face

When aspirations are squashed
When life’s chances are lost
When all hope is gone
When expectations are quashed
When self-esteem is lost
When ambition is mourned
…All you need is hate

In futility, for self-preservation
We all need someone
Someone to hate

Buried Dreams is a nightmare vision of a world completely unconnected to its humanity.  It serves as an overview of the themes that are addressed in each song and is a great starting point because it contains the most unambiguous lines on the record.  In Walker’s “world of hate”, humans begin their journey in life filled with hope only to see that hope slowly eroded by the fixed nature of reality.  This reality is the death and pain experienced by all humanoid beings.  It is immovable, unchangeable and constant.  Humans search blindly in the dark for some reason, some deeper meaning that will connect the dots and make the pain they experience intelligible.  We fill ourselves with illusions in order to soften the blow of this horrible truth.  As the truth becomes more real, we grasp harder at the illusion but ones commitment to an illusion will never make that deception a reality.  We slowly come to terms with the understanding that there is no connection, there is no one tending the fire and the center simply does not hold.  Once this veneer of meaning has been stripped away there is nothing left to hold onto but pure visceral hatred.

By experiencing hatred for something, we are given the ability to overcome our basic alienation from ourselves all the while connecting to the other beings around us.  Love would be another way to connect, but the drawback of love is that it is fleeting.  Its initial joy is snuffed out by the understanding that our basic existential problem, death, will cause love to one day give way to sorrow and despair.  If you connect with hatred you never have to feel loss because the eventual vanquishing of your foe will be greeted with a feeling of joy and accomplishment.  No one mourns the death of their enemy.

On the surface, the lyrics could be read as a simplistic explanation of the rise of fascism in Europe in the 30s and 40s.  A society like Germany, which was drowning in debt and filled with impoverished humans recovering from the insanity of years of mindless trench warfare, was ready for the message of hate that Hitler brought.  I believe the song is meant to have much more of a timeless message with broader overtones about the human condition.  The line that universalizes this song is “in futility, for self-preservation, we all need someone…someone to hate.”  This is a Hobbesian view of a world of beings so frightened of death that they are willing to do anything to avoid it, even if they know that their actions are eventually pointless.  We are willing to create a Leviathan that may kill us for our disobedience in order to be safe.  The wall each of us run into is death and we are willing to embrace any idea that allows us to fully avoid thinking about our eventual consequence.  We are willing to embrace ideas that are self-destructive in order to escape the fear of death.  If this isn’t true, then how do you explain war? This horrible irony of our basic condition is that we long to avoid death, but we do so in a way that often hastens its coming.

And so our dreams are buried as we are carried kicking and screaming to our own certain demise.  We mask our fears with delusions of enemies all around us.  We think that we can stop the inevitable if we bomb that thing or execute this thing but with our last dying breath we are reminded of the futility of all of it.  Even hate cannot save us.  The final, horrible irony of our Buried Dreams is that we will eventually be buried next to them.

(I am pretty darned excited to announce that this series will also be running at MindOverMetal.org, one of my favorite metal sites. Special thanks to my homeboy Metal Matt Longo who not only agreed to run the thing, but even gave me a fantastic title for the series and some killer editing ideas.  Anyway those dudes speak truth and wisdom over there, check’em out)

Click here to get to Part 2 of the series

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More Details Emerge About Mets Abuse of Pedro Feliciano

Feliciano Being Forced To Consume Shaving Cream After A Loss

In yet another in a growing series of scandals around baseball’s most beleaguered franchise, the New York Mets, details have begun to come out showing that left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano was severely abused over the past few seasons. Yankees GM Brian Cashman yesterday claimed that the Mets had abused Feliciano in his time with the club. Since Cashman’s statement several sources close to the Mets organization have come out with horror stories about Feliciano’s treatment.

Former Mets Manager Jerry Manuel was responsible for much of the abuse.  Sources confirm that Manuel locked Feliciano in a closet for 12 hours without food or air after he gave up a game-tying single to Phillies second basemen Chase Utley early last season.  Things only got worse from there.  Apparently, Feliciano was tied to the foul pole in right field during a rain delay in a game against the Nats in July after walking pitcher Drew Storen.  Another source claims pitching coach Dan Warthen covered Feliciano’s left arm in honey and threatened to unleash hundreds of angry ants if Feliciano didn’t agree to stop using his breaking pitch to righthanders.  Other sadistic punishments included being locked in a cage with an angry gorilla, being pummelled by former Vice President of Player Development Tony Bernazard and having to pitch to Ryan Howard with first base open.  Treatment of Feliciano got so bad that Social Services removed him from the custody of the Mets on two occasions during last season.

The Mets front office could not be reached for comment about the Feliciano abuse allegations but have scheduled at 2 AM press conference to discuss the charges.

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If I Never Hear It Again It Will Be Soon Enough: Clichés that Push Me Over the Edge

I've Got An Idea...Why Don't I Put An Attention Catching Photo That Has Nothing to Do With The Article On Top

“The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.” –Salvador Dali

There are simply too many clichés in the world.   The language is filled with them.  It is hard to get through a conversation without hearing one or saying one.  Most of them started out as colorful ways to describe an experience and have, through years of endless repetition, become mildly annoying, harmless platitudes that move conversation along.  For some strange reason certain clichés make me extremely angry.  Most float through my mental filters without much of a struggle, but every once and a while there is one that disturbs me.  Since the chances of me actually getting legislation past to outlaw these incipit expressions are remote at best I have decided to address them in a constructive way, instead of quietly fuming about them day after day.  I have been compiling a list over the past few months of these along with descriptions of why they bother me in the hopes of understanding the pain that they cause me and hopefully inflicting this pain on others.  I have also included helpful sarcastic responses to confuse the cliché user and possibly prevent the offending expression from being used again.   So, as they say, away we go….

Cliché:  “Throwing the Baby Out With The Bathwater”

What kind of sick freak thought this one up?  As a parent of two small children, I find the idea that I might actually forget one of them and toss them into the river with dirt-ridden water to be entirely preposterous.  I get that the creator of this one is trying to make the point that whatever the person is doing is a really ridiculous thing, but what sort of lunatic would toss a baby out with bathwater?!?!  They are certainly tiny, but not nearly small enough to accidentally thrown away.  Maybe the person is an evil, malicious hater of babies, but this is far from the most efficient way of getting rid of them.

Appropriate Response:  Look down at your shoes shaking your head for one dramatic moment, then look up and shout “Well, it’s better than shooting it!”  Turn and walk off.

Cliché:  “I wear many hats”

AGHHGGHHHH!!!  I can’t even think about this one without seething.  Yes, I know it means doing more one role, but the metaphor confuses me.  Do they mean at the same time?  What kind of fool would wear 3 or 4 hats at once?  It would be stupid looking.  There have been a lot of asinine fashion trends throughout history, but I cannot recall a single fad that had anything to do with the person wearing a lot of hats at once.  Is the point that the person has multiple heads?  Am I meant to imagine the person in front of me morphing into a giant hydra like beast wearing a prefaded Red Sox cap, a turban and a Michael Coreleone style fedora?  More than likely, the person who said it wants me to see them as a beaming icon of capitalism and industry, efficiently moving from task to task, a vaunted leader one moment, a regular lunch pail working stiff the next, a person who can be all things to all people, a technocratic “renaissance man”, a proud beacon of all that can be achieved in a 24 hour day with a little know-how and a fist full of gumption.  I think I’d prefer the hydra.

Appropriate Response:  Vomiting on the persons shoes

Cliché:  “Give it 110 percent”

I am well aware that the test scores of American students in math and science have declined over the last 30 years, but the fact that Americans have no qualms about repeatedly asking each other to violate common sense and mathematical reason in this way is alarming.  As if this wasn’t troubling enough, the cliché inflation that has taken place is now taking place is insane.  During the 2010 baseball season, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said that pitcher Gavin Floyd would only pitch if he were at “200 percent”. 1972 Democratic Presidential Candidate George McGovern, the Godfather of Cliché Inflation, started this madness when he said he was “1000 percent behind” his Vice Presidential Candidate Thomas Eagleton seconds before he tossed him kicking and screaming off of the Presidential ticket.  Of course, none of this compares to the all-time Cliché Inflation champion Atlanta Attorney George Lawson who asserted that he was “a million percent certain” that his client, Auburn Quarterback Cam Newton, did not take money.  Where does it end?

Appropriate Response:  Give an overly loud, awkward pretend laugh, and then shout, “If I ever see you again, I’ll break both of your legs!” Turn and walk off.

Cliché:  “Too many Indians, Not Enough Chiefs

This one has started to fade into cliché obscurity for everyone except people who write those grotesque books that quote Vince Lombardi a lot and compare great managers to Ghandi and Napoleon.  It doesn’t get play in the real world anymore mostly because “too many indigenous peoples and not enough chiefs” really doesn’t have a great ring.  Here’s the larger problem…Chiefs ARE Indians.

Appropriate Response:  Look deeply offended and reply, “Are you trying to say that there are too many Indians?  What kind of idiot racist would make a claim like that!”?

I’ve got a ton more of these but I’ll save them for a rainy day.

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We Are Bones, We Are Dust

This thing that I think that I am, sometimes, I am not.  Looking at an X-Ray of my right foot has twisted my mind into knots for the past few weeks.  It’s not that they found anything that disturbing. My doctor discovered a bone spur, which I was pretty sure that I had.  No surprise there.  I am having surgery tomorrow.  Again, not a surprise.  The thing that got in my head was the X-ray itself.  If I am what’s in that picture…what am i?

There was this picture of the bones in my foot staring at me.  The doctor was pointing to things and saying a bunch of words, but I was transfixed on the picture.  There I am?  There I AM!  There I am?!?!?!?  This picture is of the inside of me.  Underneath all of this skin and blood are a set of bones. These bones have been with me all of my life.  They were at my high school graduation, they were there when I got married, they attended the births of my two beautiful children, they have seen me laugh, they have seen me cry, they have been there when I thought I was alone.  I couldn’t process it. These bones are actually me!

The me that I think I am is the thing that experiences the world consciously.  I am aware of feelings and ideas.  I make plans and I remember experiences.  I see, I smell, I touch, I taste, I hear.  I have no problem associating these things with me.  Then, there are these bones. They are in me, they are part of me, but I can’t believe that they are me. This picture wasn’t some random x-ray they keep in the back and show everybody.  These were my bones!  Seeing them really sucked the magic out of everything.  I tend to think of myself as more than the sum of my parts, but maybe I am nothing more than my parts. Maybe, I am just bones and skin and blood with a few organs floating around.

There are parts of myself I have never seen.  I don’t know what my hip bone looks like.  I don’t know what my liver looks like.  My heart, my brain, my lungs…all highly valuable parts, but I couldn’t tell mine from my neighbors.  The me that I know seems so special, so unique.  My memories seem so important, as if they are part of some great mystery that I have a lifetime to solve.  My thoughts, my ideas, my identity all seem to be pieces in the great “who am I?” puzzle.  They all conspire to make me believe that I am an enigmatic character whose mythology is terribly important.  And then, there is this picture of the inside of my foot.  It is not special.  It is not unique.  It is simply mineralized osseous tissue housed in a pile of skin that is called “foot”.  There are somewhere in the range of 14 billion of them and they all pretty much look and act the same.  Sure, there are minor subtleties and nuances, but for the most part, what is the difference?

My foot does not find itself unique.  It pushes against surfaces over and over throughout a day.  It works, it rests.  It does not feel loneliness or claustrophobia if it is trapped in a shoe for too long.  It does not become jealous that I am favoring my other foot.  It does not make plans to meet with my spleen for coffee.  It does not become romantically involved with my esophagus.  It does not ponder the mysteries of the universe and wonder what will happen to it when it dies.  It is material and material has no time for enchantment.  It simply is.  When it ceases to work, it will waste away along with the rest of this thing that is me.

There is a part of me that cannot imagine that this is possible.  There must be something else, there must be something more.  I am more than that picture.  I am not just bones.  I am not just flesh.  I am something mystical.  I am more than those parts.  I am more than words on a page saying “healthy, well-developed 35 year old male suffering from Hallux rigidus“. Right?  Right?!?!?!

Maybe this identity of mine that I find so fascinating is just a bunch of electrical impulses.  Maybe we are just piles of material walking around among other piles of material, thinking that thoughts and memories and ideas make us more.  These self-important piles of material spend much of their time avoiding damage so that they can one day be part of creating new piles of material.  And on and on with no direction, no meaning and no end.  Thousands of them are created each day and thousands disintegrate. It does not matter…it is only matter.

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The Politics of Sneezing

I sneeze and people feel obligated to reply.  The more you think about that, the weirder it is.  You are on an elevator with ten complete strangers, you sneeze and all ten race to beat each other to say “God Bless You”.  You are on a subway, it is 3 o’clock in the morning and you are surrounded by several odd looking strangers who look like extras from The Warriors.  They are taking turns leering at you with a detached sense of malice.  You sneeze.  A cacophonous chorus of disinterested voices mumble something that sounds remotely like “GesundheitGoblessyou”.

This pervasive but odd little social custom seems to insert itself everywhere without regard to circumstance.  There are plenty of bizarre customs out there, but this one seems thoroughly inescapable.  I have allergies and live in Atlanta, which means I spend a good portion of the spring testing the politeness of strangers.  A sneeze never fails to draw some sort of reply.  No one knows particularly why we do this.  There are several old stories handed down about it.  One story says that it was created during the Black Plague to ward off the spread of the virus.  Another story claims that the custom began over the fear that the heart might stop during a sneeze.   Yet another tale claims that it was a way of forcing the soul to return to the body after a sneeze.

Most of these stories are meant to explain the “God Bless You”, but there is less explanation for the “Gesundheit”.  Why would a room full of non-German speaking Americans suddenly nearly crawl over one another to shout a German expression at someone who has just fired a blitzkrieg of germs at them?  Politeness?….really?!?!?!  Occasionally when one sneezes they are given a “hatchoo” by someone near them.  Why on earth would someone imitate the sneezer?  I find this response to be quite demeaning.  To get how strange this is, imagine if a person burped and was greeted with a choir of fake burps in response?

I have only experienced this sort of weirdness in America, but apparently it is popular around the world.  Most cultures have some word that means “to your health” that is thrown at the offending germ cannon.  The oddest sneeze response I’ve come across are the Mongolians who say something that sounds like “burkhan urshoo”.  This translates to “May God forgive you”.  Not knowing much about the Mongolian culture, this leads me to believe that sneezing is serious business over there.  It must be some sort of crime or something.  God would be quite busy if he or she had to spend the better half of eternity forgiving sneezers.  In Iceland, they say something that translates into “May God help you!”  This sounds like a threat that is better suited to someone stealing your pet llama.  The Tamil language has a word that translates to “may you live for one hundred years”.  The sentiment of this is quite lovely, but the actual math becomes severely problematic.  If I were to sneeze five times a day for one year I would have added 182,500 years to my life.  Imagine the effects on the economy in many Southern Asian nations if they had to deal with taking care of scores of 2 million year old allergy sufferers?

No one particularly knows why we do it, but if your curious to see whether this custom is alive and breathing today, try sneezing in front of a room full of strangers.  If you cough, people barely notice.  If you blow your nose, most people simply go about their business.  Sneeze and the world stands up and takes interest.

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