Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Shady Line Between Reality and Fantasy

As the details of the Wisconsin Slenderman case start to emerge, it keeps getting more disturbing.  It turns out one girl was only eleven, not twelve. Statements allegedly made to the police are downright chilling.  One girl is reported to have said that she knows she should have felt something, and that something should have been sympathy, during the attack, but that she didn't really feel anything as the victim screamed bloody murder.

Her sidekick allegedly said, "The good part of me wanted her to live, but the bad part of me wanted her to die."  Both statements exhibit a certain amount of sociopathic behavior.  Furthermore, a rather eccentric interest of one girls father (pictures of skulls around the house, heavy immersion into horror) has added plenty of fodder for the finger pointers and media hounds.  Its also been reported that the ringleader of the pair believed she was communicating telepathically to Slenderman, and stated that if she didn't commit this murder, Slenderman would come and murder her entire family.  The pair thought they were being called upon to be proxy's of Slenderman.

Belief in the Supernatural, and the Shady Line Between Reality and Fantasy
One of my pet peeves is when psychologists talk about how silly children are when they engage in magical thinking . . . say by assuming their own bad thoughts can cause someone else to die.  The same psychologists will go home and pray at night -- believing (with not hint of irony) that mere thoughts will bring about a change in the physical world.  The only difference between kids and adults is the sophistication of the idea.  One we give validity too, the other we dismiss as silly.  It's all magical thinking in one form or another, in that it all professes a faith in things beyond the physical realm.

The Slenderman phenomenon presents a similar situation.  People act shocked and intrigued that two young girls could believe in a comic book character.  Yet most of these same people, if you interviewed them, would profess a belief in one or many of the following: Big Foot, alien visitation, ghosts, spirit people, communication with the dead, shadow people, guardian angles, horoscopes, werewolves, or any of the other proof-less phenomenon out there.  Looked at in that light, it suddenly doesn't seem so extraordinary that these girls might believe that Slenderman was real and was talking to them.  In fact, it's telling that since the story broke, people everywhere have been seeing glimpses of Slendeman -- their brain assigning his form to dark shadows.

Humans are magical thinkers by nature, and beliefs can kill.  Carl Jung once remarked that hostile beliefs have caused more death and destruction in this world than all the plagues and natural disasters combined.  Cases like this should be a sober reminder of the power of belief.  This doesn't just apply to the occasional psychopath -- it's true for all of us.

Beliefs can take hold of our psyche and transform our reality, and sometimes disappear just as quickly, leaving us wondering how we could have acted so foolish.  Lets hope that's the case with these girls, and that they someday get the chance to atone for their mistake.

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