19 June, 2008

What's the Harm? So Glad You Asked

I'm fast losing my tolerance for woo of all forms. Look - psychics, tarot readers, feng shui, and all that rot's not a bad or evil thing as long as it's just entertainment, but when people forget it's simply a bit of fun and start taking it this fucking seriously, there's a problem:

Colleen Leduc has an autistic child named Victoria who is enrolled in a public school. She recently got a terrifying phone call — her daughter was being sexually abused. We parents know well the fear and worry a threat to our children can cause, and Leduc was receiving an urgent, frantic phone call from school officials telling her that her daughter was being victimized in the worst way.

So she rushes in to this little meeting.

"The teacher looked and me and said: 'We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of "V." And she said 'yes, I do.' And she said, 'well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'"

Before you ask, there is 0 proof this psychic was even within the ballpark. Victoria's never been sexually abused. There are no men with access to her in that age range. There is nothing. The psychic was pulling this shit right out of her ass.

I have friends who go to psychics. I have friends who are mightily impressed by what the psychics tell them. And usually it's seemed like a little bit o' harmless fun, and everybody has a good time, and the fact that the psychic was completely fucking wrong, or was only right because their information was so broad it could be interpreted any way you like, doesn't seem important because, well, everybody enjoyed themselves.

But this is a slippery slope. Because the psychic may be a good cold reader, or may know the person well enough to work some elements of truth into the bullshit, and a coincidence or two might happen, and people start to want to really believe, and the next thing you know, you have shit like this happening.

And these psychics see nothing wrong, because they believe they have special powers. They've selectively remembered the bits that reflect well on their predictive ability, and forgotten all the misses where they were so wrong they couldn't see right on a clear day with a telescope. The people around them have the same selective memory, which reinforces their faith in their powers. And you know what this psychic's probably saying to herself right now? Not "I was wrong, and I've just destroyed this family." Not "I was wrong and I caused a mother to go through hell." No, she's likely saying, "They just haven't found the proof. After all, I knew that my client worked with a little girl named V! It's obvious I was right about everything! I have the power!"

No. You really don't.

And if we don't start teaching people to think critically, evaluate evidence dispassionately, and temper emotion with reason, we're going to have a lot more bullshit like this. We'll have a world wherein a teacher can get fired for being a wizard and a mom and daughter can have their lives turned upside-down because some silly git went to a psychic who strayed out of "tall, dark and handsome" territory.

That's not the world I want, thanks ever so much.

Think, people.


Cujo359 said...

OK, let's think for a minute. What is the likelihood that a case worker, or an educator, whatever you want to call the moron who visited the psychic, sees a female child in his work whose first name begins with a V? This person must see dozens of kids in his work. Vanessa, Victoria, Violet, Venus - the first two are pretty common names. This is what these charlatans count on - their marks won't ask themselves the simplest questions. John Edward (the one who used to be on SciFi Channel) would pull crap like that all the time, and seemingly smart people would just ignore the obvious.

(Added that first link because the obvious question would be "Who names their child Venus?")

Anonymous said...

What really annoys me is the way people who claim to have this kind of ability have such an arrogant certainty that they're right.

And if you dare to be even vaguely sceptical they tend to say that you're being closed-minded and/or in denial.

During my breakup with my last ex (which was largely due to his immersion in new-agery), he was utterly insistent that he had a special insight into what was going on for me, and if I dared to disagree he told me I wasn't being honest with him.

In the end I asked him if he genuinely thought he knew more about what I was feeling than I did. His reply (which my IM software recorded for posterity!), was:

"I know fuck all about what you are feeling, but I can read your energy easily. What you choose to feel is a selected part of the entirety of what is going on with you - whatever you are allowing to reach the surface. That would be: the tip of the iceberg."

Usurprisingly. that was our last conversation... and the final nail in the coffin of what limited patience I had with this kind of woo.