entertainment, general silliness, media, Skepticism, Things We Should Know

Aiding and Abetting: or, How to Insult my Intelligence While I’m Still Waking Up

So, there I am, first thing this morning, enjoying the Breakfast of Champions (coffee and a cigarette), watching Breakfast Television like I do on most weekdays.

You must understand, Dear Reader, that I am completely aware of the intellectual void that is local news programming. I watch for the simple reason that I am completely non-functional from an intelligence perspective until I have my morning coffee. Plus, sports scores and weather are generally immune from bias, as far as I know. The hosts are genial, the content generally inoffensive if not completely unstimulating. No problems with those pesky neurons firing too early and using up all my brain power before I reach work.

Until this morning.

Apparently, the story goes thus: A family lost (misplaced, randomly catapulted, whatever) their family dog somewhere in the wilds of rural Nova Scotia. Although some owners would give up hope after seven months (assuming either road pizza or Predator Chow after all that time), the owners in question kept hope alive, and were convinced that the dog would return at any time. Not without precedent, of course. Stories abound of pets reappearing after a long period of time and joining their owners in tearful reunions – in fact, I believe that’s a whole sub-genre of Disney films.

What Uncle Waltsicle and the folks at Disney haven’t so far written into their scripts is the part where the family goes to the one person they believe can help in their hour of sadness.

The pet psychic.

I’ll wait until the laughter subsides on that. Ready? Good.

Evidently, with the aid of only a photograph of the Beloved Canine Family Member (BCFM), this self-styled ‘energy reader’ was able to somehow communicate with the BCFM and convince it to stop rolling around in whatever it had been rolling around in for seven months and come home. The filmed piece had the husband saying, “You know, I was a little bit skeptical at first…” Not nearly skeptical enough for long enough. Instead of heading for the nearest divorce attorney and having him work his magic powers to make your complete crackpot wife go away, you give in and let this idiocy take place in order to get your BCFM back.

Ok, fine – I hear the New Agers saying, “But the dog came back thanks to this angel working her psychic mojo on the picture!” (or words to that effect) Nononononoooo…Let me introduce you to a little thing we like to call…coincidence! That phenomenon that has led to so many mis-attributed cause-and-effect relationships throughout human history. Also known by pretentious latin speakers through the phrase “post hoc, ergo propter hoc”, which means “Did you see that? Cool! I betcha that guy did that ’cause it happened after he said or did that thing that was totally unrelated but was totally before that cool thing happened! Dude!”

You may by now have caught the subtlest hint of skepticism here.

Believe it or not, it gets worse from a ‘responsible broadcasting’ perspective. After the charlatan ‘psychic’ gets to give her little spiel about how she believes we all communicate through energy in the filmed bit, we cut back to the studio where, for our edification and unadulterated awe and enjoyment, surprise! the psychic joins us live in the studio for further discussion of her ‘talents’.

As an aside, I watched this lady throughout the filmed and live segments – the poor thing seems to sincerely believe in the reality of her claims. I had mixed emotions about that – ‘feel sorry for’ fought furiously with ‘wants to slap the sh#t out of’ for supremacy, emotion-wise. As she was on my TV, and not anywhere that the slapping would actually accomplish anything, I decided to let my emotional discord go unresolved…until I could get to the computer and rant mercilessly and at length about it. Lucky you, I say.

Anyhoo, the Mensa candidate interviewer, the otherwise bland Jason Baxter, started the interview with two phrases that started me well on the way to where we are now. I actually got to the point where I was shouting at the TV, something I have been known to do in the past (much to the annoyance of family and friends – I’m…challenging to be around at times). The exchange went something like this:

Jason: “It’s easy to be skeptical about these sorts of things…”

Me: “Yes it is!”

Jason: ” But you can’t argue with the results…”

Me: “Yes you CAN!”

At about the point where the poor deluded lady started into the pseudo-scientific claptrap about how thoughts are energy (yes, I know – they are, just not energy that broadcasts like this unfortunate segment, but chemical reaction-type energy), and claimed that she had been doing this for eight years, I was off. I went on about the complete idiocy and irresponsibility of the show, its producers and its network for so long that I didn’t even hear the rest of the interview.

Several questions are begged here:

Whose idea was this? Does this seriously even remotely resemble news, or even minutely useful information, other than at least I know what this knucklehead looks like so I can cross the street if I see her coming?

She’s been doing this for eight years? If this is such a miraculous story, and illustrates the power possessed by this lady, then why haven’t we heard about this before? I’ll tell you why – she has such an abysmal success rate that the one time she gets it right and some gullible pet owner is impressed by her mysterious ‘talents’, somebody calls the TV station and asks the dumbest producer for some airtime. And gets it.

How can BT and CTV be so irresponsible as to promote this as reality? Does this one-sided awe-fest mean that this lady’s phone will be ringing off the hook with families desperate to find their lost BCFM? The money she stands to make from this free advertisement is probably limitless, as is the blissful ignorance and gullibility of the ‘average’ viewer. How much does she get paid, and does she return the money if it doesn’t work, which it will not? Earning money through patently false pretenses has a name: FRAUD.

    In no properly designed tests has there ever been, nor will there ever be, evidence to support the existence of psychic powers of any sort. Period. And don’t gimme that horse hockey about ‘science not having all the answers’. Of course it doesn’t, but the answers it has are the right ones. Once we manage to ask all of the questions, science will have all the answers – of course, that day will never come, since humanity is by nature a questioning species (although not nearly questioning enough, it seems). Science shows us the world and explains it as it is, not as we wish it to be. Certainly not in any way that supports any type of psychic abilities. Science, believe it or not, can even explain how and why television panders to the lowest common denominator and perpetuates harmful myths that distract from the real issues in our communities, our countries, our planet.

    But just because we can explain it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

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    12 thoughts on “Aiding and Abetting: or, How to Insult my Intelligence While I’m Still Waking Up

    1. I don’t know dude. You’re the one that got yourself so addicted to your morning stimulant that you can’t function without it. You’re the one yelling things at a screen that can’t hear you. You’re the one who is admittedly difficult to be around. You’re the one getting violent urges toward people you’ve never met. You’re the one who’s wasting your time watching moronic tv in the first place.

      And you’re the one subsequently blogging about it, likely increasing their viewership.

      Maybe instead of pointing fingers at what other people are doing you should think about getting yourself in shape first.

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    2. You are, of course, completely entitled to your opinion of my writing. I think you have missed the point, quite frankly, but thanks for taking the time to read it anyway.

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    3. I’m not sure why being addicted to caffeine and nicotine disqualifies someone from having (and airing) their opinion. As for moronic television, if we disqualified viewers an opinion, we’d be largely democracy-free. (and high on life!)

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    4. Flash, it’s good to read one of your funny and intelligent posts after far too long an absence. Unlike D above, I get it.

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    5. Here was my point:

      Despite Flash’s good understanding of science and skepticism, s/he’s yelling back at the tv screen. Not because the tv screen will be able to pass the message on to BT, but because venting and yelling back feels good. Despite Flash’s understanding of science and chemistry, s/he has somehow gotten to the point of being completely useless in the morning before getting hir fix.

      These comments weren’t meant as ad hominem attacks. I was trying to point out that regardless of how scientific and skeptical we can try to be, people are not strictly rational beings. If you enjoy your coffee and cigarette in the morning who am i to trash you for this? If it feels good for you to yell at a tv screen, who am i to trash you for this? I believe you got this part of the message. But in the same manner, if this family feels good about the correlation between going to an animal psychic and having their doggy friend back, who are you to trash them for it?

      As far as the fraudulent pet psychic, fleecing all these good people out of their money, i don’t know, dude, it seems like on the grand scale of screwing other people over, she’s pretty small potatoes. I mean, compared to other businesses that you may be supporting with your dollars *cough* tobacco industry *cough*. I mean who’s the bigger sucker? The family that plunks down 200 bucks to go to a pet psychic or the smoker with a pack a day habit?

      One of your pet peeves happens to be psychics, and one of my pet peeves happens to be scientific materialists who can only see irrationality in others. *shrug* I’m not trying to be mean here, i’m just giving my honest response to your honest writing.

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    6. My habits and the questionable ethics of tobacco companies aside, the person in question has committed a crime by soliciting money through false pretenses. Period.

      As anyone who knows me can tell you (including my compadres here), I am quite comfortable with my own flaws, be they physical or otherwise. I recognize my own irrational urges for what they are: the end result of thousands of years of biological evolution, leading to the expression of behaviours that, while perhaps functional on the veldt while trying to stay alive, are less useful now – nevertheless, we are hard-wired to behave in certain ways.

      Among these patterns of behaviour is the misattribution of cause-effect relationships, which can manifest itself in such phenomena as systematized totemic worship, or in non-ideological random superstition. I rail against the persistence of these types of irrational, non-functional behaviours, while fully understanding the motivation behind them. I believe quite confidently in the necessity of pointing out absurd, nonproductive and harmful behaviours and beliefs (YES, I smoke – get over it), particularly when it gives some individuals the ability to take advantage of others when they are vulnerable due to grief, anxiety or physical illness. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not merely pointing out irrationality, it’s crime prevention. I trash these people because they have made a stupid decision, and their doing so, combined with the fact that it is being reported (in complete ignorance of journalistic responsibility), may lead others to make the same stupid mistake. As I would warn someone who was about to step on a banana peel, I, by writing this piece, attempt to warn others against a grievous error.

      And, I (which is to say the male author) have obviously taken some liberties in the storytelling by inserting self-deprecating humour. I am not ‘completely useless’, but I do certainly feel better in the morning after a shot of caffeine. I do not partake in drugs other than those prescribed to me, and have a few beers one night a week. My vices are limited, but they’re mine.

      I do sincerely thank you for conceding my level of understanding, and it would generally appear as though you object to my style as opposed to the substance of the narrative – references to myself are for the most part irrelevant to the main point of the original item. Your comments have, for the most part, taken the form of objecting to the picture I have painted of myself as a character in the story rather than to the substance of the argument. From that premise, it’s not difficult for Dan to interpret your criticism as being ad hominem, at least superficially.

      The distinction must be made, however, between the writer and his ‘character’ in this case. At the end of the day, I appreciate your honesty, but I still think you’ve missed the point.

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    7. I focussed on the style of your post rather than the substance because your post was a rant, and it was the style that stood out for me. However, i do feel that you didn’t think very carefully about the substance itself, either because it was early in the morning or because you had an emotional reaction to the content of the show.

      First of all, i don’t see any evidence here for crime or fraud. In your evaluation this animal psychic seems to sincerely believe in her ability to communicate telepathically with people’s pets. Fraud means knowingly misrepresenting herself or her services. If she believes that she can do what she says she can do, then it’s not fraud. This a pretty clear and simple point, and i don’t know how an articulate person such as yourself so easily missed it.

      Now it’s possible that even if she believes she can communicate with animals, she could still be committing fraud by, say, knowingly misrepresenting her success rate. But since we don’t have access to her purported success rate (either through shoddy reporting by BT or by a lack of attention on your part), i don’t see what evidence we have for alleging any criminal activity on her part.

      You imply that she is some kind of vulture, taking advantage of people while they’re in a state of grief. But if she believes that she can help these people by communicating with their pets, she is probably motivated in no small part by feelings of altruism. Doesn’t she think she is helping people? I didn’t see the show here and all i have to go on is your evaluation of her system of beliefs. You seem to think she was sincere.

      If she has been making a living as a professional pet psychic for eight years, even if only as a part time pro psychic, then i guarantee you that this is not the first time that she can claim results. I don’t know if you have any direct experience with self employment, or if anyone close to you owns their own business, but as a freelance web developer i know that almost all of my work comes through repeat clients and referrals. The amount of people who would’ve found her by looking through the yellow pages or googling for random pet psychics would be miniscule. Unless she is independently wealthy she would not be able to keep at this for eight years without having satisfied customers. It’s tough to establish a stable client base in most industries without delivering results and i’m sure something as fringe as what she does would be quite difficult indeed. I’m just sayin’.

      As i alluded to above one of my pet peeves happens to be scientific materialists who get irked by irrationality in others. What i find with these people in general is that despite going on about science and skepticism they themselves tend to display a pretty poor grasp of logical fallacies. Your misuse above of “begging the question” might be an example of that (i recognize that this is a minor quibble). You yourself may be guilty of begging the question when you state that there will never (ever) be evidence to support the existence of psychic powers. This is not a scientific claim–no experiment can be proposed to test its validity. It is simply your opinion, and you state it as fact.

      Now it’s not an opinion that i’m necessarily looking to debate–i’m simply explaining how i’ve developed a pet peeve for internet rationalists. As a general rule their hyperbole seems to exceed their rigour. And yeah, i see much of the substance of your post as not adequately justified.

      One thing i will agree with you on is that i probably have missed the point. To me, the story seems to be about how you (and here i mean you, the character in the story, which is a distinction that i’m fully willing to accept) watch BT in the morning, TV programming which you fully acknowledge as trash. You watch it because you are too sluggish in the morning to concentrate on anything more advanced. On this particular morning the content was so vapid that you found yourself having violent urges toward the guest and you spent half the program yelling at the TV. And you disparage the ignorance and gullibility of the average viewer. And then you have the gall to take offense to your intelligence having been insulted! HAHAHAHAHAH!

      This is funny f’n shit, dude! You are a cartoon character! You (and now i am switching to you, Flash, the writer) have some skills! Bravo! I could see the spittle all over the tv screen.

      If you do indeed feel, as i do, that television programming does not have any journalistic integrity, and insults your intelligence, then i recommend simply not turning the tv on. Get rid of it, or even better yet, smash it!

      I’m not much of a morning person either. If you’re not in decent enough shape to get real news (as well as sports and weather) online, then hey, just sit and listen to some music as you sit and wake up and drink that first heavenly coffee and smoke your cig. You may find it’s a much more pleasant way to wake up than screaming at the tv.

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    8. Perhaps fraud isn’t the right term – perhaps it’s simply elaborate self-deception. In any case, I would not in any way equate what she’s doing with the activities of a legitimate business person.

      I think at this point we’ve arrived at an impasse – pet peeve has collided with pet peeve, and we’re not liable to accomplish anything constructive by my defending my opinion, or the way my opinion was presented, versus your perception that I have created something that does not measure up to the standard you have set. I suspect the conversation has begun its downward slide into acrimony, and I’d prefer not to go that route.

      Intelligent people should always be able to intelligently disagree, and perhaps we should leave it at that. I didn’t set out to write a scientific paper, I set out to write an amusing rant about something that annoyed me, simple as that. The significance you have gleaned from the text just isn’t there, nor is any true picture of me as a real, complete person, although you have obviously drawn your own conclusions. I take your compliments in the spirit in which they are offered.

      I’m happy with what I’ve written, and that’s good enough for me.

      Cheers.

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    9. Actually, what she’s doing is a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada, namely statute 365:

      Every one who fraudulently

      (a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,

      (b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or

      (c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found,

      is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction

      And, BTW, the Supreme Court has already ruled that ‘honest belief’ doesn’t constitute a defence:

      http://csc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/1987/1987rcs1-310/1987rcs1-310.html

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      1. Great examples of a world already overloaded with verbal clap trap, and people seeking a venue to show off their “intelligence” and dubious comedic ability. Any intelligent thoughts on the Alberta Oil Sands? The proposed shipping of nuclear waste on the Great Lakes?

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        1. So, assuming that you actually come back to check for replies yourself I have a question for you. Did you decide to reply to a 2.5 year old (and long deceased) thread to impress us with how deep you are or to impress yourself? I’m curious, because even on a blog that is primarily political in nature we don’t often see quite this level of self-reverence and humourlessness. Now, go show off how concerned you are to someone would you please.

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