People were always making extraordinary claims. I wanted evidence. Unfortunately, no one bothered to teach me much of the scientific method, so evaluating evidence turned out to be a whole other story. Couple this with some supreme boredom, and you had a recipe for woo. In high school, I fell in with a guillable group that believed a lot of crazy things, including the power of rutilated quartz to fortell the future. I still trot that out for fun sometimes - when people don't understand the way pendulums work and how tiny muscle movements can have a large effect, you can really impress them. Especially when you ask questions you have a high probability of guessing the correct answer to.
Dream interpretation, blowing coincidences out of proportion, channelling, all that rot - had immense amounts of fun with it all. I wouldn't trade those days, either. I wouldn't have gotten into SF without that silly belief in magic and powers beyond human ken. Without SF, I doubt I'd have fallen in love with science. I'd probably be writing pedestrian mystery novels by now - which is where I'd originally envisioned taking my writing career. So no science aside from forensics. No excuse to study absolutely everything in the entire universe. No Pharyngula. No En Tequila Es Verdad. No you. And I really like having you guys around.
SF remained, but I abandoned woo a long time back, after learning enough about science to be able to reevaluate my "evidence" and laugh myself sick over how silly and guillable we'd all been. Woo just irritates me now. People don't think. They don't examine. They'll believe nearly anything. And if I wasn't a moral person, I'd be making an assload of money about now.
You see, I'm good at this woo shit. Being a writer means having to lie convincingly - fiction is nothing more than a pack of lies, salted with enough truth to make it taste good. Back in my woo days, I could persuade nearly anyone of nearly anything: I can see into your dreams. I can see into your future. I can channel. I can wield powers beyond the imagination. Don't even have to break a sweat.
My morals won't let me use that power of persuasion for anything other than fiction. And that's really too bad, because there are a lot of people out there who would pay cash money to have me lie to them. Writing's damned hard. Woo is easy.
Just take Sylvia Browne.
By way of Bad Astronomy, I came across StopSylviaBrowne.com, and this little gem of a takedown. Robert Lancaster went to her show in Vegas and totally pwned her. It's an entertaining read.
There are two things here that make me wish I could meet my morals in a dark, deserted alley and strangle them to death.
One, in order to make buttloads of money being a psychic, you don't even have to be good at it. Her show starts with Astounding Insights. Now me, being a writer who likes to deliver upon what is promised, I would think the Astounding Insights should at least be within the neighborhood of astounding. However, this is how "astounding" is defined in the psychic shyster lexicon:
She then proceeded to spend a few minutes complaining about the weather in Vegas, and said that the dryness was what made her voice
sound the way it did (which sounded to me just like her voice always sounds), and complained that she woke up in the morning hacking and coughing just like a smoker.
She then proceeded to give what was, in effect, a commercial for her upcoming cruises, including ones to the Caribbean, Ireland and Egypt. She then proceeded to give a plug for her "Farewell Lecture Tour", and assured us that she would not be like Cher, and have "fifteen of them." She then went on to plug her upcoming book, End of Days.
But wait! There's more. More of the same sort of shit you'd get from your crazy Aunt Dottie. There's no need to pay for this kind of crap when you can collar any woo-loving relative and get it completely for free.
She then moves on to "readings." She's not even trying anymore. Check these unbelievable psychic powers:
These people generally asked the same types of questions that the audience members on the Montel Williams Show do:
What is my spirit guide's name? (Sarah, Raul, Martha, Tiffany, Corinne, Doreen and two Elenas were mentioned, among others).
When will I meet Mr./Ms. Right? (two years, three years, two years, next spring, one year, two years, five years)
What will my true love's name be? (Keith, Joseph, Peter, Carl)
Oh, for fuck's sake. Two Elenas? Read a baby name book, for crying out loud! It's a spirit guide - shouldn't we be talking more along the lines of Ramtha? Shouldn't there be some zing and zip, some jazz, something a little more fucking interesting than a list of whitebread names that fucking duplicate?
Look, if people ask the same sorts of questions every bleeding time, you could at least get a little creative with the answers. Jeez. As an SF author, I'd have the best spirit guide names evah.
That brings me to the second reason I wish I could murder my morals. The clientele make this job cake. Absolute cake. They ask silly questions whose answers can't be proved or disproved, and they want so much to believe they'll swallow anything you feed them. Even when three - three - skeptics got up and asked questions she got absolutely wrong, a woman still followed those skeptics out to the parking lot claiming Sylvia's the greatest psychic in the whole wide world.
Are you fucking kidding me? People are really this lame? Cha-ching! I could be raking in the dough.
Sylvia's not even a good cold reader. I am. I'm a pretty damned good one. And I know better than to try to give specific answers that could be debunked.
The thing is, though, I can't bring myself to do it. I couldn't live with myself, fleecing people. Fiction writing is one thing - it's advertised as fiction, it's got "NOT TRUE!!!" written all over the disclaimer (This book is a work of fiction, all resemblance to people living or dead, blah blah). People know I'm lying to them, but that's what they're there for - a good story.
What Sylvia's providing isn't even a good story. My little high school woo-group, we told good stories. We could curl the hair on a billiard ball. We could make nearly anyone believe the most ridiculous shit possible, and we came up with more creative names for spirits - there wasn't a Martha to be found, and you can be damned sure there weren't two Elenas. We fucking amateurs were so much better at the game. And I could take that, parlay it into a fortune, if I didn't care for people too much.
You see, I don't think people should be duped.
I don't think their vulnerabilities should be exploited.
I don't think it's right to charge someone $100 a pop to lie to them and say their dear dead dad is very happy on the other side and is still watching over them.
I think people should be encouraged to be skeptical, to think critically, to see the world for what it is, not snookered into believing that all of this marlarkey is really truly true.
I'd have to start every show with a disclaimer: "This is all just fun and games, folks. I'm joshing you. I'm having you on. I'm pulling your leg. Don't believe a single fucking word that's emerging from my mouth." And that would either kill the show or make everybody believe I'm the most genuine psychic in the universe. That last is just not something I could face.
So the easy money's right out. Can't do it. Which is really too bad, because I'd love to see Sylvia's furious face when I stole her believers away....