The Null Device

We don't like your sort in the USPS

A Berlin-based trainer manufacturer named Atheist Shoes has discovered that packages sent to the US with the word ATHEIST on the box have a way of going missing inside the postal service; packages sealed with printed tape reading ATHEIST were ten times as likely to disappear as unlabelled packages, and when they didn't disappear, took on average three days longer to reach their destinations.

Which could mean that a significant proportion of postal workers regard atheism as a hostile ideology to be stopped, even if they are technically committing a federal crime in doing so (even if they were caught and jailed, I imagine that FOX News and/or talk radio would talk them up as martyrs defending America from Satan); or perhaps, mindful of the prevalence of militant atheist terrorism around the world, they prudently detain the packages for extra screening. Of course, there's also the possibility that the tape confuses automated scanning machinery of some sort; perhaps one should repeat this experiment with a third cohort labelled JESUS SAVES; and perhaps a few other religious, political and neutral messages as well?

(I also wonder what the geographic distribution of the effect was. Does mail from Germany to the US usually pass through any fixed points? And would packages to, say, the deep South be significantly more likely to disappear than those to the Pacific Northwest?)

A similar experiment was conducted in the 1960s by the psychologist Stanley Milgram (best known for his infamous obedience experiment with the fake electric shock machine): volunteers would drop sealed, stamped envelopes with the name of an ostensible organisation and the address of a PO box on them, and by counting how many were helped to a mail box, would determine how much sympathy there was for the views encoded in the organisation name; i.e., the Society for the Protection of Cute Kittens would get more help than Friends of the Nazi Party. Only in that case, voicing one's disapproval was a passive act, and not a federal crime.

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