Matters of Opinion

The Nuclear Power Plant and Magical Thinking

I have a habit most mornings when my smart phone sounds the wake-up alarm of reaching for my glasses, and going straight to the headlines in the email blast of the local newspaper. The most reliable headlines this summer were traffic accidents, at least one everyday, head-on crashes, cars mowing into storefronts, motorcycles careening into trees, truck roll-overs, an SUV in a pond.

Besides Dan Wolf’s problems with the Ethics Commission and the Red Sox, the only other predictable item in headlines was the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station. We had the massive distribution of potassium iodide pills in case of a meltdown, a tripped breaker cutting off power to pumps that cooled the reactor, two senators writing a letter to urge Entergy to create an evacuation plan just in case, a Department of Defense-commissioned report citing Pilgrim as being one of eight plants in the nation that are vulnerable to an attack from the water, a survey indicating that a full half of all Cape residents would run for the bridges in the event of a nuclear accident, Entergy laying off workers at the plant… and that’s only August.

I do remember one nut ball defense of Pilgrim in an Op Ed piece, but with such an avalanche of bad press you have to wonder what in the world is keeping people complacent enough not to demand, by the thousands and with every tool at their disposal, that it be shut down.

All I can come up with to account for this complacency is what psychologists call magical thinking, which occurs when our hopes, fears, desires, prejudices, and beliefs take over our decision-making. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

In fact, according to a recent book called The Seven Laws of Magical Thinking by Matthew Hutson, most of us not only believe in luck, mind over matter, destiny, karma, jinxes, the afterlife, and totally irrational ideas, but we engage in magical thinking on a daily basis.

Do you have any lucky objects, like a Brady jersey you wear during Patriots games? Do you believe that what goes around comes around? Do ever find yourself saying, “It was meant to be?” Do you knock on wood when you make a boastful statement like, “I really aced that interview?” None of those actions are rationally defendable but believe it or not, magical thinking has enabled humans to be an evolutionary successful species. It offers us a sense of control and a sense of meaning in an incomprehensible and frightening world.

Psychologists who have studied magical thinking have discovered that most of us would say we don’t believe in woo woo…but that almost all of us believe in a little bit of it.

Do you play the lottery? I would generally tell you I don’t, but whenever the TV news people start hyping those interstate mega-jackpots where the prize gets up to hundreds of millions of dollars, I have to confess, I go to the liquor store on Main Street and buy a ticket. Do I really believe I’ll win? Well, other people have, why not me, and besides, could I live with myself if the winner came from Wellfleet and I hadn’t bought a ticket?

The odds of winning Powerball are long, 1 in 175,000,000. Winning is pure wishful thinking, a lie I tell myself.

So what is the lie we tell ourselves in order to tolerate Pilgrim? Well, the Op Ed piece that made light of the danger cited the fact that it was a tsunami that caused Fukushima and we don’t have tsunami’s in the North Altlantic. We do, of course, have historically deadly hurricanes, and to deny their ability to level entire cities is a whopper.

routeHow about the belief that we’ll be okay if they develop an effective escape route? That’s another lie, one that Senators Markey and Warren seem to believe at the moment. Sure, some of us may be able to drive out of harm’s way but what about the land we love and call home? Just google Fukushima to see what Cape Cod might look like after a meltdown and if you really want to face the awful truth, Chernobyl.

And is it magical thinking to tell ourselves is that the United States government actually cares about our safety, our health, and this magnificent peninsula enjoyed by millions every year…that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would not sacrifice us for the meager profit of a corporation?

I think that’s the biggest lie we tell ourselves…and the one that hurts the most.

I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.

Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Ira to tell him what you think.