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.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

eBay, metaphysics, and caveat emptor

In what can only be called a puzzling move, online clearinghouse eBay has announced that they will no longer allow selling of "paranormal services."

From the 2012 Fall Seller Update, we read the following:
The following items are also being added to the prohibited items list: advice; spells; curses; hexing; conjuring; magic; prayers; blessing services; magic potions; healing sessions; work from home businesses & information; wholesale lists, and drop shop lists.
My reason for calling this "puzzling" is twofold.  First, they have a whole category called "Specialty Services," and it would seem that such things would clearly fall under that heading.  And as such claims are bogus from the get-go, it would be hard for a purchaser to file a claim under eBay's stated policies for sellers:
As a seller, you're expected to:
  • Charge reasonable shipping and handling costs.
  • Specify shipping costs and handling time in the listing.
  • Follow through on your return policy.
  • Respond to buyers' questions promptly.
  • Be helpful, friendly, and professional throughout a transaction.
  • Make sure the item is delivered to the buyer as described in the listing.
And all of this would seem to be well in line with what these sellers are doing.  All they were selling was a prayer or a hex or whatever; there's no guarantee it would work, just as there's no guarantee that if you ask your religious friend to pray for you (or your wizard friend to cast a spell for you) that it'll produce results.  The only difference is that here, you're being asked to pay for it.

Now, the hopeful side of my personality is speculating that eBay is pulling these offers because they know them to be inherently fraudulent, and they don't want to have any part in ripping off the credulous.  But my second reason for calling this change "puzzling" is that if this is the reason, it's hard to explain some of their other listings, such as:
So you can see that even though they are eliminating services having to do with woo-woo bullshit, they are still fine with selling stuff that has to do with woo-woo bullshit.  My only conclusion is that they don't want to have to mediate between buyers who purchased a magic spell that (amazingly enough) didn't work, and the seller who sold it to them.  But since, other than the policy that (1) the purchased item be delivered promptly, and (2) that the delivered item is as described on the eBay site, there seems to be no basis for a complaint, you have to wonder why they are backing off from what surely is a hell of a deal both for eBay and the sellers.

In any case, that's today's lesson in critical thinking and the principle of caveat emptor.  Me, I wonder if I missed my calling.  If I could make $550 (or more) handwriting a book of spells, and selling it on eBay, and have people trampling each other to buy it, I could retire from teaching and move somewhere warmer.  Spend a couple of hours a day writing out spells, have my wife do the illustrations (because my drawing skills maxed out somewhere in third grade), and spend the rest of the day on the beach soaking up the sun and drinking mojitos.  There's the inevitable downside of knowing that I was taking money from people who possess the critical thinking skills of road salt, but hey, if eBay isn't going to worry about that, why should I?

1 comment:

  1. If you'd ever handwritten a whole book in calligraphy, you'd know that you're not making much per hour at $550. Of course, based on the illustrations, this one doesn't seem to have all that many pages, so it's really more of a Pamphlet of Shadows.