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Horace Miner begins his story with very amusing description of ancient tribe named Nacirema, that exists somewhere between Canada and Mexico. Their nation was originated by a hero, Notgnishaw, famous for chopping down a cherry tree in which the spirit of truth resided. While reading these first lines, a reader may suspect that an author portrays some fictional environment, yet very similar to present day world. For example, “Nacirema” is read backwards as American. “Notgnihsaw”, spelled backwards is Washington. Evidently, Miner relates to American culture and wants to write about it in a comparative fashion. Afterwards, the author depicts how under the supervision of “medicine man” individuals subject themselves to pain and tortures, in order to become younger or healthier. This is very reminiscent of what happens with current clinics.
There is a holy-mouth-man whom people visit twice a year. This strange practitioner has a set of paraphernalia in his possession, consisting of awls, probes and augers. He uses these instruments for victim's mouth, enlarging any holes that may be in the teeth. Then magical materials are put into these holes to halt the decay. Strangely enough, despite the teeth continue to rotten, natives do not stop visiting the thaumaturge. In case such rites ever happened in a primitive tribe, it is possible to conclude that nothing has changed since then. Modern society welcomes dentists to practise similar ministration, inflicting tremendous amount of pain on sufferers, whilst the teeth continue to degrade without them noticing that. This unusual personality characteristic may indicate the masochistic side of humans that lies deep inside their psyche and requires to be studied.
Another comparison with modern hospitals can be observed when tribe supplicants visit a temple to lie there on hard beds. This ritual involves discomfort and torture. Trained vestals roll them on beds of pain performing ablutions. At other times they insert magic wands into the mouth or make them to eat distasteful substances which are supposed to heal. One can only speculate why humans continue to prioritize clinics and methods that are executed there to “cure” maladies. Surgical intrusions or chemical injections severely damage physical body. However, patients refuse to recognize this fact and pursue the idea of almightiness of medical doctors. This is an evidence of individuals willing to experience pain in order to feel pleasure while visiting sadistic specialists.
Description of a “listener” in the tribe is in some measure reminiscent of contemporary psychiatrist. The “listener” performs psychological exorcism on the tribe member, raising all the concealed memories of the birth, a moment of rejection from his mother he felt upon being weaned as a baby. Despite this traumatic effect, individual agrees to proceed with such an appalling experience. It is not a secret that there are many institutions or sects around the world where one can easily go and subject one's psyche to a lacerating execution in order “to feel better”.
Horace deliberately chose to focus his story on this imaginary tribe. His intention was to exhibit a primitive essence of the people's mind and to display that human nature does not change. Despite technological advancement, people continue to experience themselves on a primeval level. This barbarian mindset forces the nations to create governments, build prisons and hospitals, generate wars and commit genocide in order to feel more secure, healthier and happier. Miner adroitly reveals humans profound inability to discover something that will enable them to lead the conscious life that is distinctive with the rest of the animal world.