When commenting on Facebook posts, I quite often type something then think, Oh bugger, I can't be bothered, life's too short, and delete what I wrote. When you challenge an opinion, you expect a debate and you have to be prepared to argue your point. You put some time into it, maybe influence others, and hopefully also learn something by doing it. Most people behave this much of the time. It's normal, it's healthy, it's how we develop both as individuals and as a species.
This would be the case in most online discussions, but not in the sensitive world of the paranormal, apparently. Today I was busy at work, feeling a bit stressed, and so took a few minutes out to look at Facebook. A post in a group I belong(ed) to caught my eye. It is run by someone I quite like personally and who is also a psychic medium. The post raised the question of whether psychics should give free readings when asked, and was along the lines of all those posts you've read about creative people rightfully refusing requests to work for free, which I totally agree with. (My wife Denise and I both work in the creative sector and so are well up on this.)
So, should psychics, mediums, and psychic mediums occasionally acquiesce to requests for free services? Why should they? No one expects a plumber or car mechanic to work for free, so the argument goes. Fair enough.
My admittedly mischievous comment was something like, Perhaps a more pressing question would be: Should psychics ever charge anything for their services? Is it justifiable to charge for a service that cannot possibly be guaranteed? (I stopped short of mentioning New Zealand's rather good consumer protection law, namely the Fair Trading Act and the Consumer Guarantees Act.)
I say 'something like' because I can't remember my exact words, and I cannot now go back and check them because I've been banned from the group.
I don't believe such a comment contravenes any of the rules of the group; it's not a personal attack, it doesn't use profanity. Of course I can't check the rules either because I can no longer access the group. I'm shut out of reading ensuing comments and I'm unable to defend my viewpoint. But a friend sent me a screenshot of the lengthy rant that my comment provoked. I wasn't shocked, just disappointed. Seems to me some people are over-sensitive to their world view being questioned in any way. And if you are like that, you will never learn anything and never develop.
Such over-sensitivity is common in the paranormal world (man, it's hard to write this without puns). A few years ago, I saw a photo in a similar-minded NZ Facebook group which showed some dust orbs and there was a large number of comments upholding the view that the orbs were spiritual manifestations or angels, when they were clearly caused by the camera flash creating highlights on dust floating close to the lens. Such photographic faults were recognised and understood decades ago and few people these days still think there's anything paranormal about them. (The page I wrote for this website ten years ago; Orbs Explained - Most are not Paranormal has consistently attracted thousands of views a month.) In a very diplomatic, non-confrontation way, I suggested - suggested - that perhaps the orbs in the photo were not paranormal. Not diplomatically or non-confrontationally enough, apparently. You guessed it: banned.
Hell, I'm not a hard skeptic of the paranormal. I've had experiences I can't explain, and so have many others. We all seek answers, or at least someone to talk to who will listen and take us seriously. This is largely what drove me to co-found the Strange Occurrences group in 2006. I'm agnostic about most things in the paranormal (a position discussed at length in the book 'Spooked - Exploring the paranormal in New Zealand' - Jo Davy & James Gilberd, Random House NZ, 2011), including the possibility of communication with those no longer living via the rare talent of mediumship. I'm open to the possibility and am genuinely interested in exploring it.
So, let's not divide the paranormal community into True Believers and Others. Questions such as mine aren't personal attacks. If you block out all views that even gently challenge your own, you risk casting yourself into a world of delusion, a soft, insulating cocoon spun by those 'friends' with similar and supporting views. The internet is wonderful in many ways, but one of its worst features - and greatest dangers - is the facility it offers to isolate oneself from the wide world of genuine, healthy viewpoints, questions and interactions, thus fostering the creation of personal worlds of self-delusion that get deeper and deeper. The worst results of this are in the news every day.
Respond, don't turn away. Include, don't block. Question yourself and others. Engage, don't retreat.
Due to some software glitch we're unable to post comments on this post.
The following is posted by the author on behalf of Susan Archer.
(If you have a comment to post, please email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll add it likewise. Apologies for the problem, though I don't know what the cause is.)
I couldn't agree with you more James - it is in the space between the extremes of unquestioning belief and dogmatic scepticism that the most fruitful debates & discussions take place, and we all need to be willing to step forward and engage. I practise both tarot & astrology, and think constantly about how they work or don't work and, certainly within astrology, that's not uncommon. For example, one of the best astrology websites: www.skyscript.co.uk has a Philosophy & Science forum that asks Does astrology work?
And you're right, the internet makes it easier for people to huddle in their chosen corners and block out anything that upsets their world-view. We all need to make a big effort to avoid that and keep exploring the fertile grey areas between the black-and-white extremes!
- Susan Archer.