The Living Dead

Economist Paul Krugman talks about “zombie ideas” — that is, notions that have long since been disproven either by economics or just experience but which nonetheless continue to be part of political discussions, possibly because they just sound right and possibly because they provide a political or social reward for their adherents.

I think about this at Halloween, not just because zombies are seasonally appropriate but because the story of Halloween itself is something of a zombie idea.

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That is, anyone who knows anything about European history knows that the idea that “Halloween is an ancient pagan festival” is pretty much guff — it is on the same date as a pagan celebration, but there’s no evidence they have anything in common, and there’s no continuity between the two (note that the Ronald Hutton article I’ve linked has a headline that suggests some kind of deeper meaning to Halloween, but the text of the article doesn’t support it).

And yet, it’s an incredibly persistent idea, together with the broader idea of pagan survival in Christian Europe. Presumably, then, it fulfills some kind of other need. But what? I don’t know, other perhaps than that it’s just a better story that way. People do like a good story.

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The Living Dead