People are inherently frustrating and annoying to each other. We’ve historically competed with each other, even within our own little goddamn tribes, for everything. Even when you don’t need to fight to survive, the habit remains—and this may piss us off even more than necessary competition. When someone shoves in front of you to get the last slice of bread in a famine, you feel angry, but you immediately understand his actions; put the same guy in a nice suit, let him shove in front of you to get into the subway out of instinct and thoughtlessness, and he just makes you feel like the human universe is a completely retarded place.
But what are you going to do? Push him onto the third rail? If everyone behaved like that, in short order there would be no one left. Which would be great from one point of view, but it’s a mutant point of view. Lord DNA tells us thou shalt not kill unless thou art killing a killer, so most of the time, unless we want “social censure” (usually jail, these days), most of us have to either settle for a pointless argument (“NO, fuck YOU, buddy!”—the catch-22 there being that pointing out someone’s assness to his face makes you a rude ass too) or sucking it up. Which we can’t quite handle. So we curse the guy under our breath. Personally, I tend to want to go one further and curse the guy’s children, and his children’s children, because I’ve read a lot of Greek plays.
I’ve been told cursing people’s children isn’t nice. But nor is survival, or having children; in fact, these two latter are less nice, since curses don’t do jack shit. Curses DO make us feel better, however; and since life curses everyone, people will never lack for evidence that their curse actually worked. When I was 20, for example, I had my heart broken by someone whom I cursed, who promptly got in an accident, which made me feel much better. (No, no, he didn’t die; Christ, I’m not that twisted.) I knew with most of my mind that my curse hadn’t worked, that he would have gotten in the accident anyway; this was the part of my mind that was a. rational, and b. protecting me from guilt. But part of me was still satisfied; that was the part that wanted to personally punch a railroad spike through his throat. And so I harmlessly went about my day, and no more harm occurred than was going to happen anyway.
Point being, curses aren’t just harmless… they’re probably adaptive, population-wide. The ancient Mediterranean was littered with curse tablets, and there are still humans living in the area. There are humans living everywhere we can possibly stuff them, as a matter of fact. Way to go, curses.
P.S. Curses call upon demons. But the illusion of control isn’t the only thing that soothes us; as to the illusion of explanation, Sister Y has begun a fascinating exploration of Lord DNA with a discussion of fairies, over here in suicideland…