As people wonder about accelerated climate change causing crazy weather across the globe, all sorts of other crazy is crawling out of the woodwork in the unusually warm weather: women in stiletto heels walking on cobblestones. Actually, they are trying to walk; smoothly, gracefully, and without catching their heels in the holes between the stones. Guys are walking about too. Well, trying to walk with that fashionable smooth swagger. It’s not working. They’ve got their pants belted under their behinds. They move awkwardly, like penguins in diapers. At the cool cafe promoting fair trade and locally sourced healthy goodies, there’s a container full of fake sweeteners, the ones made from synthesized chemicals. In local news, Toronto can now boast that it has a mayor who’s proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is what we always suspected: dumber than a stump and far less useful to the environment around him. Meanwhile, Canada is grappling with a growing shortage of an array of necessary prescription drugs affecting the quality of life and death of people and animals.
Here’s how that happened: people in various levels of governments drank the kool-aid of enlightenment in which they saw the flashing neon lights of a cost-saving saviour that goes by its business name of Single source, Just-in-time, Bulk buying. You see it in the smarmy guys and gals in the snazzy suits who proselytize low, low cost, with big, big savings and where governments are involved, value for public money. Purchasing power it’s called. All rather interesting in theory. In practice, it’s a curious belief in a financial holy grail that we’ve hunted since forever. After several hundred years of experience with it, here’s what the evidence suggests: it doesn’t work according to the theory all the time and it doesn’t work for everything and it never works for life’s necessities like food, shelter and medicine. But it’s a strong belief, this gospel of Single source, Just-in-time delivery and Bulk buying.
Crazy beliefs aren’t all that surprising. Crowd-sourced belief in things that prove to be untrue is not new. We once believed in many gods, trial by ordeal, bomb shelters, child labour, slavery, that women are the same as men, that unwed mothers are evil, communism, the Oedipus complex and, that unicorn horns provide magical protection and healing powers.
Unicorn horns? Yes. Unicorn horns. You see, once upon a very real time in our history, there was a booming business in the buying and selling of unicorn horn because we believed that the horn was of more use to us than to the unicorn.
Unicorn horn was a magic, miraculous substance that cured illness and protected people from being poisoned, particularly the frequent targets of poison over the years, wealthy people and people in positions of power. It was also an investment, an early day hedge fund. Astute people saw an opportunity and launched efforts to get those magic horns. Off went hunters. Lo and behold! Didn’t they come back with magic unicorn horns some of which were used as investments and some of which were transformed into expensive and useful products: a Danish throne, cups, handles for eating utensils, candlestick holders, goblets and medicines for all sorts of illnesses. Thus was launched the industry based on unicorn horn.
It didn’t seem to matter that a living, breathing unicorn had never been seen or found. People believed it existed and that was what mattered. Over time, scientists began to quietly question the existence of unicorns and by implication, the magic powers of its horn. When scientists started to speak and write publicly about the doubtfulness of unicorns and their magic horns, people with vested interests worked to keep those doubts under wraps to stop a sell-off and a drop in price of unicorn horn. Doubt became more prevalent but it didn’t stop the true believers. Long after science acknowledged that in all likelihood unicorns and their horns were not real and that powdered unicorn horn could not be a healing medicine, patients still demanded that doctors prescribe it.
The market for unicorn horn eventually collapsed by the 1740s although belief in unicorns continued to persist, even in the hallowed halls of academia, well into the 19th century. Today we know unicorn horn was the long, spiral tooth that stuck out of the forehead of the narwhal.
We are still those believers.
What we believe and why we believe and how we believe is a complicated mix of the soup we’re born into: family, friends, culture, peers, education, that’s added to what we come with, how we’re hard-wired. What we tend to do is go with what we know or go in an entirely opposite direction to prove we are not connected to the beliefs of our origins.
Oh, but we are. Dig deep. You’ll see.
In our ever-changing changing world, there are hundreds of modern-day purveyors of the latest incarnation of unicorn horns out there and we’re glomming onto them: from food and parenting fads, cancer cures, virility pills, political ideologies of all stripes, spiritual developers, financial advisers, technology, infotainment, fashion and urban development, organic foods, and genetically altered crops, to name a few. We’re all there, taking it in, hearing according to our beliefs, wants, needs and ability to pay.
Once upon a time people who lived in castles invested and used the horn of a non-existent creature called a unicorn, and the common folk demanded it as medicine long after it was clear that the creature never existed. Do we really need to do it again?
No. We don’t. We don’t have to be part of the equation that says the masses are asses. In the ever-changing changing world, with no knights in shining armoires coming to rescue us from crazy beliefs in the many forms they manifest, all we have is a brain. A brain to recognize and acknowledge but not engage in the unicorn horn groupthink kinda crazy. A brain to balance that kinda crazy with mindfulness, critical thinking skills, exquisite vanilla ice cream, love love love, kind curiosity and hardworking hope.