As a college freshman I had to write a brief paper on superstition. Some of the examples were baseball players and South Seas tribesmen. Both these groups are prone to superstition, but why, and what is the connection if any?
Baseball bores me to death and I pay it no attention. However you can’t escape at least some exposure to baseball lore in our culture, so we all know baseball players are prone to certain superstitions and rituals- not washing their socks, eating a certain food before the game, or certain hand gestures.
On one level, these hardly seem necessary. A baseball player at almost any level, but particularly a pro, will have excellent coaching and training. He will be able to develop his skill to the highest possible level and improve on or eliminate his weak points. So why might he decide he needs to do something totally unconnected, from a rational standpoint, with his performance?
However much he may train, his performance is still going to be subject to factors neither he nor his coaches can quite grasp. Some ineffable factor can make the difference between a good and a bad day. The superstitious baseball player supplements his training, practice, and experience with the superstition to eliminate his nagging insecurity.
Superstition among the South Sea tribes is a different matter altogether. Take the cargo cults; having seen American troops build airstrips and then planes arrive filled with goods, they believe they can build airstrips and the same thing will happen. It’s a lack of understanding of cause and effect. This is really magic, and not superstition, because it is not focused on controlling random chance but on manipulating reality.
The same fundamental divide in perception defines the divide in American politics between white working class attitudes and minority attitudes. The lack of interest in minority socialism by white working class voters puzzles leftists to no end. Racism has been the catch-all answer since the 60’s; a slightly more sophisticated version of this is the modified false-consciousness argument of Thomas Frank, of “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” fame. Frank thinks white working class voters are distracted by social issues into voting against their economic interests.
One significant problem with this is Frank is not willing to see that “social” or “cultural” issues are of great import to the quality of life of these people. But more fundamentally he and others who think like him don’t realize that the white working class and minorities have fundamentally different relationships with government.
Minorities want socialism of the more traditionally defined sort- government jobs, government guaranteed jobs, government health insurance, government subsidized housing, and other direct transfers of income. The white working class does not need or want any of these things. They can produce these for themselves. What they want is freedom from economic anxiety, which is to say old-age programs, unemployment insurance, and government support for the economy.
Beyond this they have a visceral dislike of the direct-transfer socialism that minorities like. They don’t see why black and brown people should get a free ride. They view it as grossly unfair.
Liberals can only attribute this to racism. Theoretically only upper-class voters will pay for this, so what do the lower-class whites care? There is a certain racial animosity involved, but disliking someone’s racial privilege is not the same as “racism” of the traditional sort, which is actively suppressing someone’s aspirations or rights based on their race.
It doesn’t help that privileged minorities are quite vile and arrogant, and not at all shy about flaunting their privilege and power.
There will always be strong support for New Deal programs protecting working people from ruin. Support for Great Society programs benefitting minorities outside the bounds of fundamental fairness will never be supported by the white working class.