Explaining the Aswang Phenomenon through Tunnel Vision

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Our propensity to believe the fictional and the absurd relates to how we are inclined to fear, seduction, manipulation and biases. Most of the times we don’t even realize it, and even when corrected, we look for ways on how we will be able to explain this affinity rather than admit that this is a ridiculous thought that must be discarded.

Tunnel Vision is a Medical Term and a Metaphor

In medicine it is the loss of peripheral vision but the retention of central vision, resulting in a constricted circular tunnel-like field of vision. It happens to people with diseases of the eye, like those with glaucoma and severe cataracts. It may also happen when one has sleep deprivation or substance abuse.

As a metaphor it means the reluctance to consider alternatives to one’s preferred line of thought. It’s sticking to the biases of one’s belief despite it having multiple other sides and explanations. It happens all the time, we are all filled with our own biases, some are meant to keep us from doing the immoral, some as innocent as food preference or tastes in music and movies, and some are downright illogical.

Second Opinion in Medicine and Detective work is common but little did we know that it’s actually a formulated countermeasure against tunnel vision. In the medical field for example when there is a high risk surgery, patients and doctors would ask for a second opinion from another colleague regarding it, in order to look at the case from the beginning without the same biases and preconceptions – In a way, if patients are assured that findings are equivocal between two separate, unrelated healthcare professionals, they will understand better what they are going to go through. The same with Crime investigations. Detectives may opt to ask for help from another detective to consider crime suspects to make sure that the suspect is not chosen merely because of the initial detective’s biases.

The Aswang Phenomenon

Weeks ago, in the midst of the enhanced community quarantines that’s currently happening all over the country, there was a video circulating about a neighborhood allegedly terrorized by an “aswang” a famous creature of folklore in the Philippines. While these videos are laughable at best, DNX news decided to dissect it since our dedication to covering this crisis is not limited to the government’s implementation of the laws, public health and the struggles of your daily citizen, it also includes, albeit on rare occasions, the supernatural.

(READ: Fighting a demon with flashlights and screams)

Unfortunately the video does not show an aswang nor any animal that might bare any resemblance, like a large dog, cat, pig or goat.

It just shows people with flashlights, running and screaming. Pretty certain that some of these people didn’t even have any business going outside, and didn’t even care about any mythological being prowling their neighborhood but just wanted to get some outside air due to cabin fever.

There’s a lot of things that stem from our culture that has been rooted in our rich histories to our colonization. The Aswang is just one of our famous folktales passed on from generation to generation, and it’s famous enough to be in par to the gods and goddesses of other cultures. How Norwegians think of Odin and Thor, and how Celtics think of the Leprechaun.

A depiction of tunnel vision.
A depiction of tunnel vision.

While these tales, at their best, show the beautiful and rich cultures of a society, at their worst, it shows its dark underbelly. Mindsets cut off from reality and logic. A belief system that makes it hard to free oneself from biases in the face of evidence.

The pandemic, a calamity only understandable by leaning on to science and evidence, didn’t ease this. For a night, the people shifted their attention to hunting down an alleged aswang roaming around their neighborhood than addressing the real dangerous threat that is SARS COV 2 lurking in the environment. They went out of their houses despite the laws enforcing quarantines, they shifted their focus to something they can grasp their minds with (An aswang, really) because the virus threat was too huge and too scary, they can’t even pray it away or use pitchforks against it. They are trying to find a problem out of thin air that they think they can solve in order not to feel helpless in a very much helpless situation.

They’d rather focus on the aswang. For a moment. To forget about the pandemic.

A neighborhood plagued with a unique case of Tunnel Vision.   

While the aswang, no matter how legitimate the video claims it to be, remain uncaught. A single person with SARS CoV 2 could have possibly infected the whole neighborhood gathering that night. A cost too big for a herd who banked on emotion and fear. While the virus is still a threat, these mindsets and biases continue to supplement the plague. When we keep on focusing the world through tunnel visions, then we lose the ability to understand it, and the moment we lose the ability to understand, so do we lose our judgement and in effect endanger lives.

This is how fake news work. And this is how fake news have been tugging on our biases for years now.

I think the aswang stories are real, but in the modern times, they are not the physical monsters we know and believe. They are the embodiment of our belief systems and biases that have endangered our brothers and sisters, murdered our sense of responsibilities and devoured our abilities to think based on evidence as we remain invested in the things that confirm our biases and our fears.

In this sense, Aswangs are real. And at the end of the day it’s up to us if we decide to fight them or let them consume us.

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