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Sarah Ruden

Scientism Run Amok

The religion of calculation.

When I was a child in rural Ohio, my father used to chuckle at receiving a mail solicitation from an uncongenial political or charitable organization—but he didn't receive one very often. In those days, lists of donors and members—and potential members and donors—were curated by hand and amended whenever someone responded the way my father did when riled.

Relishing the opportunity because he knew that the same people would never offer it to him again, he would answer the survey in depraved terms, and cross out his name and replace it with "Walter P. Gaspergoo." He would check the box for the highest donation but of course send no check. Instead, he would search the house for disparate junk with which to stuff the return envelope, and make the sender pay to receive holey bow targets and discarded pages from coloring books, in a bundle firmly sealed with duct tape and containing bird shot just to increase the weight.

Today, there seems to be no way to make any impression on mass-mailers. My father-in-law has been dead for eight years, but solicitations from religious charities addressed to him still regularly arrive at our home, where he lived. With a pang, I throw them away unopened instead of contacting the senders with my request for removal of the name from their lists. As I know from recent efforts to stop unwanted mailings to myself, the Contact List is now no longer an administrative tool but a figure in the digital cult, and is flanked by his consort Sale of the Contact List. How can frail humans stop these deities from reproducing?

A purported celestial rival of Contact List, Repress Your Junk Mail Through This Web Site, puts you to work refining the marketing data about yourself. But this deity must be swooping adulterously down onto Sale of the Contact List with as much lust as Zeus ever visited on a river god's daughter or a rusticating mortal maiden, because the catalogues pullulate. You even get the most copies ...

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