"Chutzpah" means brashness, cheekiness, being unrepentantly bold; but those words don't capture the full nuance. Better than any dictionary definition is the definition-by-example I remember hearing years ago: "Chutzpah is a kid who kills both of his parents, and then appeals to the court for clemency because he's an orphan."
I ran into an excellent, if not quite so violent, alternate example of chutzpah yesterday. It's a website that has a page with the following cautionary advice:
HOW TO AVOID PSYCHIC SCAMS!
The top states for internet crimes are California, Florida and Texas. Remember that psychic scams occur across the country, and are not relegated [sic] to these three states... the World Wide Web is often a go-to place for psychic scammers to make their money.
Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn't it? The problem is that the source of this advice is "PsychicSource.com."
Yup. The whole message here is to avoid fake psychics; let us put you in touch with a real psychic. And of course, my question is: there's a difference?
Oh, but yes there is, according to PsychicSource.com. Real psychics have "well-established psychic companies that use several rounds of interviews to identify authentic psychics from frauds." They are up-front about customer reviews. "Psychic Source," they write, "has over 300 authentic psychic advisors you can speak to by phone or chat online with, who have been verified through rigorous screenings and interviews."
In other words, don't go out there and get ripped off by charlatans; come here and get ripped off by our charlatans.
Because, of course, what they're claiming is the same thing that every other psychic in the world claims:
Why get a live psychic reading? To know yourself better and face your future empowered. Knowledge is power, and live psychic readings from our gifted psychics give you the insights, self-knowledge, and forecasts you need to plan for success and achieve happiness.
And these people have amped up the chutzpah even more, by actively discouraging clients to come face-to-face with the "psychic" they've hired:
You do not have to be physically present for the best psychic readings - When we ask our Advisors about this issue, they invariably tell us that their intuitive response to a person does not depend on that person’s physical presence in the same room. In fact, sometimes a person sitting in front of a live psychic feels apprehensive and is not easily readable, while a person getting a live psychic reading by phone or online chat may be much more open and in tune with the experience.
Nope. Just give us your credit card number, and we can rip you off in the privacy of your own home.
Sleazy. Clever... but sleazy.
I've been asked by readers why I care so much if people go to psychics, astrologers, Tarot card readers, and other such snake-oil salesmen. Most of these questions revolve around two general contentions: (1) if the clients come away feeling happier, then there's no real harm done and it might be money well-spent; or (2) if the clients fall for such unscientific nonsense, they're just stupid and deserve whatever they get. I can't really argue with (2), but I still do object to (1). I think it is always better to face reality, however harsh it is, than to soothe oneself with a view of the world that is, at its basis, false. Or, as Carl Sagan put it, "It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."