Chris Parker is a young lady who is DOING SOMETHING about psychics and the real-world harm they do. We met this weekend after I spoke with her by phone about my take on the psychic business a few months ago. After attending my Reason4Reason pub lecture on “Psychic Blues” Saturday night in San Francisco, she expressed an interest in having me post her thoughts on how she made a difference to her college class (and in particular the class professor) in her own lecture on psychics. Once again I may be “preaching to the choir” on this issue, but people continually ask me, “…What can I do?” So here is an excellent example:
The following is an excerpt from the speech Chris gave to her class last semester. Her topic was psychics and the harm that results from their “unsavory business practices.” The assignment was to give a persuasive speech, which according to Chris by definition, requires that she attempt to influence the values, attitudes, and beliefs of her audience.
“We were asked not to offend anyone with our choice of topic. Basically, we were warned that our speeches should not be aimed at changing anyone’s personal beliefs, so as to keep the classroom a “safe” space. Is that not the exact opposite of what a persuasive speech is designed to do?
Now, not only did I have to worry about coming off as offensive, but my professor then informed me that he had a personal interest in my topic. He confessed to me that he’d been a long-time psychic user, his drug of choice being 900 numbers. While he seemed open to my criticism of the industry, he told me that he was only skeptical of the in-person psychics/fortune tellers, but he couldn’t see how the phone psychics could possibly be fakes (since they cannot gain info based on appearance).
The speech seemed to go over well; I had everyone’s attention and did my best to sound informative rather than angrily critical. Afterwards, I was asked this question: “Why do the police allow psychics to try and help solve these missing children cases, especially if it hasn’t worked?” I said that it’s the family that is actually allowing them to participate. Imagine that your child is missing, whether it’s several hours or several days, if the police aren’t making any headway, you’re going to be desperate. If a psychic came up to you and offered to find your child for you, how easily do you think you could turn them down?
Finally, there’s the issue of my professor. After class he commented on what I’d mentioned regarding phone psychics. He said, “Well you know, I’ve been calling my woman for years, but I didn’t realize until today, I did tell her a lot about myself in the first 5 minutes of our phone call. They gave me 5 free minutes and I figured I’d save time and money if I gave her some direction!” I just smiled sympathetically because at that moment, it was clear to him, that by phone or in person, you give them exactly what they need to make a sucker out of you.
I was originally nervous about giving that speech, because as a skeptic and atheist, I sometimes worry about the repercussions of “being myself” in place like school or the workplace. Sure, some of you may ardently argue that we should be cramming our agendas down the throats of everyone we meet, but that’s not always practical (or effective). There’s a time and a place for everything and seriously, who wants to be the critical thinking equivalent of a bible thumper? For one afternoon, I was able to educate my classmates on a topic that they probably had never considered before and I even managed to get my professor thinking more critically. I count that as a win for our side. ‘
In the realms of education and social activism, it’s getting harder and harder to “be yourself.” Schools or workplace situations unfortunately demand a stealth approach in this PC day and age. It’s as if being wrong is right or else you may find yourself in danger of being ostracized as an outsider. This is what it’s coming down to.
The other day I happened to have a short dialogue with a security guard who works at one of the facilities I’m involved with. He was going on and on about how he and his wife watch all the ghost hunter shows on television. Being myself, I mentioned that paranormal shows are totally scripted bullshit and can actually make situations far worse for home dwellers who allow the show’s writers and producers to further aggravate an already bad situation by allowing them into their “haunted houses” and pumping up the script with even more egregious crap to get a better story and ratings. He looked wounded and said to me, “…You mean those ghosts aren’t real?’ This is a guy CARRYING A GUN folks. His job is to rationally make quick law and order decisions and keep the community safe. And he totally thought I was the outsider on this.
Do we need just a tad more attention to facts in the media …or what? Starting with engaging college professors may help.
I applaud Chris Parker on her bravery in the face of Overwhelming Woo (OW) and hope others will take heart in her willingness to DO SOMETHING.
FYI: Sylvia Browne will be in Las Vegas this weekend at the same time TAM will be in town. Do you think any one or two attendees or leaders of our august and prestigious skeptical movement will take this golden opportunity to show a presence and bust this grief vampire down? Penn & Teller? Max Maven?