Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Paying psychics what they're worth

It's not often that I'll run across a story from the World of Woo-Woo that actually makes me mad.  My general opinion is that if it makes you happy to believe in ghosts, the Loch Ness Monster, or whatever, and you don't mind my laughing in your general direction, then I'm cool with that.

This morning, however, I bumped into an article on the site A State of Mind called "What Can You Learn about Attracting Abundance by Paying for Psychic Services?"  (The article can be read in its entirety here.)  This opinion piece, written by someone who simply calls himself "Nathaniel," has as its central argument that you should pay psychic practitioners because that's a way to share the abundance of the universe and attract more good stuff into your own life.

Okay, I have some serious problems with this.

Let's take the simple stuff first.  Suppose you decide to go into a bakery this morning and get a cup of coffee and a croissant.  The guy at the counter asks you for five bucks.  Why do you give it to him?

Well, because it costs money to grow, process, and ship the coffee beans, wheat, and other stuff that it takes to make your breakfast, and people put time and effort into brewing the coffee, making the croissant, and so on.  So you're paying for a set of things, and you're paying for a set of services.

What about entertainment?  Why do we pay for movies?  Well, here we're paying people for their skills; a talented movie-maker worked long and hard to learn how to craft a good movie, as did the actors, costumers, and all of the hundreds of other people it takes to put together this summer's blockbuster.

You pay the people who tune your car up because they have abilities you don't.  You pay doctors because they have knowledge that can help you directly.  You pay the government, in the form of taxes, to maintain resources for the common good -- police, teachers, firefighters, roads, public lands.

Why, then, should we pay psychics?

Beats the hell out of me.  Let's see how "Nathaniel" weighs in on the topic:
You’re not paying just for service – let’s take my e-books for example. You’re not paying just for the e-book as a piece of electronic document. You’re paying for knowledge inside, for the knowledge I had to collect and understood in the past years. You’re paying for all my experience, mistakes and successes I had, so you won’t make the same mistakes I did. You’re also paying for the coffee I used to drink when I was writing e-books, you’re paying for electricity, for my food, for my bills, for hours of practice. Or let’s take Chakra reading, for example, what are you paying for in this case? First, you pay for my time, and, of course, you pay for my knowledge and experience. You’re also paying for my life energy I’m spending to use that “active sonar” on you :). Then you’re paying for the food, jogging and Tai Chi Chuan that I will use to recharge my psychic batteries. And all of this is just the tip of an iceberg.
So, "Nathaniel," you really are putting "chakra reading" in the same category as, for example, a doctor's use of his/her knowledge and training to help cure you of a disease?  I'm sorry, but I have to call "bullshit" at this point.  There is no evidence - not one scrap - that "chakras," and all of the associated nonsense about energy meridians, auras, and blockages, actually exist.  To steal a line from Richard Dawkins, the training people receive in this area is a little like a person studying for a degree in fairyology. 

What psychic practitioners are doing is hoodwinking the public.  They are leading the gullible into thinking that they have abilities that they in fact do not have, and that they can provide a service that they in fact cannot provide.  As such, it is not only questionable as to whether they should be paid, it is questionable as to whether they should be allowed to practice their "arts" at all.

Now, I understand that many people approach this stuff as a form of entertainment, and I have no issue whatsoever with that.  I actually had a Tarot reading done myself once, just for fun, although I must add in my own defense that I had had more than one pint of beer in the hours preceding the event.  As a form of entertainment, there is nothing wrong with people shelling out cash to get a crystal ball reading if that's what floats their boat.

I do, however, have serious issues with the amount of money people spend on psychic services not as entertainment, but because they think that they are really receiving something valuable for their money.  Despite the fact that the claims of such charlatans as James Hydrick, Uri Geller, Peter Popoff, James van Praagh, and Sylvia Browne have been debunked again and again, people continue to make them and others like them filthy rich.  Desperate individuals have blown their entire life's savings paying for the services of "psychics."  And that is immoral, unethical, and should be illegal.

Nevertheless, "Nathaniel" concludes his article with:
Everything you do is a way of giving or receiving energy. When you receive a psychic or spiritual service, and you give money in exchange, then such exchange is complete. But you don’t need to give money to complete the exchange. It can be food, a place to say, or a bit of advertising for someone who was kind enough to help you for free. Some people prefer money, as this is a form of universal energy exchange in the modern world. Others accept other things, as well. But some form of exchange is needed.
It’s that simple.
If you do not give, how do you want to receive? If you do not provide a service, how do you want to receive gratitude? If you do not produce a product, how do you want to receive money? If you do not give, how do you want to receive? This rule applies to our entire life.
Myself, I believe the "give to receive" rule only makes sense if what you're receiving actually has any value.  If "Nathaniel" and others like him want to get rich off our desire to understand the present, know the future, and do even more outlandish things - contact the dead, cast spells to attain our wishes, heal our illnesses without the use of traditional medicine - then it is incumbent upon them to show that they can actually do what they claim.  As the evidence for such abilities currently stands at "zero," my opinion is that they shouldn't receive a single cent of compensation for their "services."

1 comment:

  1. I've always thought it was very public-spirited of psychics to work at all, rather than simply using their powers to make a killing on the stock market and retiring to Bermuda (to try to make contact with the aliens and persuade them to stop kidnapping ships).