And so begins this blog’s “Month of Horror,” succeeding its “Month of Sex” (as if the world weren’t horrible enough already, what with financial crises and a looming election — but you can get some of the political fears out of your system by attending the term limits debate I’m hosting Tuesday night next week).
Why are we drawn to the horrifying, gentle reader? Why does every year see a new Saw movie (none of which I ever intend to see, practically shuddering just from descriptions of them)?
I suppose a big part of it is our evolved inclination to be highly attentive to danger in general — but in particular to predators, perhaps especially ones that are only borderline human (like fanged, horned depictions of Satan). I mean, think about it: for millennia, there were so few of us (at times, it’s estimated, only tens of thousands, who might easily have gone extinct), and much of the time we could cajole fellow Cromagnons into not bashing our brains in (though something like half of prehistoric males appear to have died that way) and we could outwit the dumber, completely non-human animals…
…but run across a tribe of, say, Neanderthals, about as smart as you but perhaps with no inclination to treat you as nicely as kin — now, that’s the stuff of primitive nightmares, and those most prone to see such situations as requiring special caution may have been most likely to survive and pass on their aesthetic inhibitions. I merely speculate, of course. It does seem to be the case, though, that even very young children, who’ve had no time to learn what their parents fear, have an instinctive fear of many of the things they should in fact be worried about (and were also wise to worry about in the ancestral environment), like snakes and angry dogs and places where it’s too dark to see what’s just ahead of you.
Biology might also explain the curious resonance of a very modern nightmare — this bizarre, recurring idea of “grey aliens” with indistinct features, hovering over our paralyzed bodies and manipulating us — yet often bringing some sort of paternalistic, quasi-religious message of love or global understanding. It could just mean everyone heard the unproven UFO abduction claims of Betty and Barney Hill back in the day or saw Close Encounters…
…but one Skeptical Inquirer writer offered the odd but interesting theory that the greys may continue to resonate — and to crop up in so many ludicrous hypnosis memory-regression sessions — in part because they look an awful lot like human parents probably did to all of us when we were young, immobile, and possessed only of fuzzy vision and minimal language skills. Perhaps your Mom is an alien, in short.
Of course, none of the above explains why, when friends in college said something like “Can you think of a worse way to die?” after a tragedy in the news or somesuch, I so quickly volunteered, “Well, yes — you could have your spine pulled out through your anus and attached to running Dobermans who drag you across a rocky field.”
There are those unwilling to face worst-case scenarios — and those who suspect that we must in order to understand the truth. Like having to go bankrupt before learning basic economics.