Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cryptic Critters

Have you seen Bigfoot?
Do you know someone who has?
Do you wonder if he really exists?
Do you wonder how it is possible that the legend of Bigfoot persists year after year after year...DINGDINGDINGDINGDING!  We have a winner!

For today's blog subject, I salute Christi Coker, who controls (the topic of) my blog today, thanks to her generous donation to my Habitat for Humanity build in Poland. Christi wants to delve into the fascinating world of cryptids.

Cryptids. I just don't get it. The first two I learned about were undoubtedly Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. As a child, I would often read books my sister had read, sometimes at her prodding, and then follow up with her, seeking answers that she, in her wisdom and experience (a whole two-and-a-half years ahead of me) could surely provide. I remember doing this with Bigfoot. I think we wanted to believe. We dutifully read whatever children's paperback we had come across, with its "photos" (mostly of the Pacific Northwest forest, with a blur superimposed) and breathless anecdotes, and then we probably set about making some plan in which we, the intrepid Napikoski sisters, would travel to the wilderness and discover Bigfoot for ourselves.  Then I read about the Loch Ness monster. This was fun, because I had a pen-pal in Scotland, so I felt connected to the mystery, and I was eager to accept the pictures that showed, well, nothing much as so much evidence.

But even then, it occurred to me: if people have been reporting Bigfoot and Loch Ness sightings for years, and years, and years....even if they were real...wouldn't they have just died by now? Discrediting the later versions of the stories as impossible, temporally, made it that much easier to reject all the stories. Ahhh, I know, this is where the sightings of baby Nessies come in. They reproduce! They're real and they perpetuate themselves! Uh-huh. Sure, there's a whole family of these monsters living in Loch Ness, and yet they just never seem to reproduce to any sizable numbers, now do they? Why is all the talk about the Loch Ness monster, until somebody remembers that it needs to reproduce in order for them to keep making money off of selling t-shirts or tours or whatever?

Now, I enjoy a Jersey Devil The X-Files episode as much as the next gal, but come on, folks. Why are you so eager to perpetuate these myths? I think some people think, well, why would someone make it up? Beyond the incredibly obvious answers of attention and money-making potential, not to mention being delusional, I don't think that question is really a dealbreaker. First of all, well, why do humans make up stories about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? Or Dracula and Frankenstein's monster? Or about Zeus and Poseidon?  Or about mankind being created from a spider's web/bear/sun/heavenly personage? Because we tell ourselves stories! And they often involve mythical beings! Secondly, why do humans do any of the weird crap that they do? They routinely shoot each other, or watch hours and hours of reality television, or eat larvae, or go to tanning salons, or any number of totally bizarre actions. It's just kind of how our species is. We fill our days with really weird moments. That doesn't make a random made-up story true.

Despite our childhood fascination with The Wizard of Oz, we don't really expect to fly to Munchkinland when the next tornado hits. We don't really think a poor, overworked girl named Cinderella watched a pumpkin turn into a carriage. We don't really believe that a leprechaun is going to lead us to a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. (I wish!) So why do so many adults persist in their beliefs in Bigfoot, Nessie, the Mothman, the Abominable Snowman, the Chupacabra?

Maybe humans have a hard time with the concept of mystery. In comparison, it's kind of like when atheists take a lot of flak for not believing in a so-called higher power. To be clear, atheists don't believe in God, but sometimes people criticize them with the line of thinking that "atheists think they're so important they don't need a God because they believe they're the most important thing in the universe" or some such thinking. (I'm not saying everyone says that, just some.) Because the atheist rejects the higher personage power and/or the beliefs of world religions, s/he is accused of not marveling at the Earth. This line of thought leads to pithy questions like, "How can you look at a beautiful sunset and think there is no god?" Well, it's easy. You look at the sunset and marvel at its beauty, and you feel inspired, and you feel like you have a lot to learn, and you feel happy, and so on. It doesn't necessarily translate into "And so someone must have designed this on the second day" or whatever. Many an atheist can sit there and just be impressed that the sunset exists without needing there to be an explanation in the form of a divine man-like-but-better being who created it.

Now I've heard Oprah and some others say that a sense of reverence or awe in the face of nature's amazing spectacles is spirituality, and that to her and others is the opposite of atheism, because feeling richly "blessed" in the lucky sense to just be alive is seen by them as spiritually felt. That obviously gets into how everyone defines their feelings (and perhaps the word "spirit") differently, but that's not really relevant here. My point is just that people seem uncomfortable with mystery. They have a hard time beholding the mind-boggling universe and accepting that they might never, ever understand it all unless there's a God and a heaven and an afterlife. They have to invent reasons and creation myths and legends and gods. Others, well, they are totally cool with realizing that there might never be an answer as to "why" they are here, but they can easily live an awesome life without this "why." And maybe the cryptid-believers are those people who need there to really be something out there. They can't grapple with the fact that a bunch of people say they saw some blurry creature in the woods. They can't just say, "Oh, something ran by, and you have no idea what it was--that's nice" and leave it at that. They have to build a legend and backstory.

It might seem like those who say "Dude, there's never been any proof of Bigfoot; it's all made up" are uncomfortable with mystery, because they request proof--proof ends the mystery. But really, they're obviously comfortable just letting randomness be the "explanation" for life. And they maybe can't be bothered to delve into all the Abominable Snowman lore because the random crap that humans dream up every day is often useless and certainly not all of it needs to be pursued. Maybe one day a new species will be discovered in the Himalaya and it will look like a family of abominable snowmen/snowwomen, but I doubt it, because we have ravaged so much of the Earth that I can't imagine many undiscovered but really big species being undocumented.

The fact that you think you saw something -- Bigfoot, a ghost, the murdered children who used to live in this house fifty years ago, whatever -- does little to impress many of us. But boy, do the anecdotes gain power, like The Blob, when they join together, getting bigger and bigger and drawing more people in to their self-perpetuation.

For clarification purposes, this topic was Christi's, but the thoughts spewed above happen to be mine. I don't normally give much more thought to cryptozoology than I do to fairies or werewolves or zombies. (So, basically, none.)  Cryptids. What a silly world we live in!

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