My Exposure – Thu 19th Apr 07

There are plenty of examples in this society of people and companies exploiting other people’s ignorance and credulity. An excellent example of such a social parasite (but by no means the worst) is Derek Acorah. Derek Acorah is a self-professed spiritual medium who claims he first discovered his spiritual powers by communing with an Ethiopian from 1500 years in the past. (I would like to see Acorah translate ancient Ethiopian writing with no help whatsoever apart from the help of his ethereal friend).

Some people are ignorant. Some people really believe in a spiritual world. Some people are emotionally invested in a belief of divination. And some people are just plain gullible. The real thing all people (but especially these types) need is education. After all, you can never know too much; you can never be ignorant of too few things. But what Derek Acorah does is exploit people’s emotions, ignorance, and gullibility. He makes a very healthy living at the expense of other people, and offers nothing of substance in return. This is the very definition of parasite.

Acorah, like all “mediums” achieves his affects through cold-reading, the Forer effect, and/or simply fraud. Not only is this simply the best explanation, but every time anyone has been tested for supernatural or paranormal abilities in controlled conditions, they have failed, and any success they have in regular conditions can be dismissed by the three explanations above.

The irony I have discovered is that, if you dismiss spiritualism or the paranormal amongst lay-people (that is, people who have no strong opinions either way but lean towards the possibility of the occult, whilst having few critical thinking skills), you are considered close-minded, or perhaps arrogant to think that you have this life sussed; to be certain that there is nothing else beyond it.

This is an incredible irony because if critical thinking was applied, i.e.: if society was generally better educated, and fraudsters, horoscopes, and psychics were rigorously criticised the way other less-sensational issues are, people wouldn’t actually give conmen like Uri Gellar and Derek Acorah the time of day. (I say conmen, because they are either dishonest leaches, or belong in a mental institution – I think I’m being generous by using the former descriptor). So, contrary to the ultra-liberal “we can’t be too sure about everything to let’s say nothing in case we’re wrong or piss people off” politically-correct mentality that pervades society today, you have to remember that if you’re a sceptic and somebody suggests that you are close-minded or stubborn because you think the woman down the road who wears a dress made from leaves and listens to Enya all day can’t talk to your dead mother by using a glass sphere, this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. They think you are stubborn and refuse to believe, but in reality they are the ignorant close-minded stubborn ones.

The proof? Ask any psychic to demonstrate their abilities in controlled conditions. I challenge anyone in the world to tell me something about a dead loved one, or myself, that they couldn’t have known from information fed back to me from myself, or a bit of deduction. A simpler way to do this when having a “reading” is: don’t talk! Say nothing! Show no reaction! See how well the medium does when he/she cannot get feedback from the mark or gain any insight into his/her fishing for clues.

Most “psychics” and “mediums” like Acorah are not interested in proving themselves to the world though. They paint a picture of tortured talents, rejected by the heartless “I’ll only believe if I see” scientific community. The reality is quite the opposite. And here is why: if any human being could really communicate with the dead, or apprehend knowledge from non-natural means, it would be one of the single most important discoveries in human history. It would change the way people interact and think, and change how we believe the world works. It might prevent a great many crimes (through predictive insight). We would probably have to introduce laws to make sure the psychically-gifted didn’t acquire information that they shouldn’t be privy to.

Why bother with archaeology and history? Clairvoyants could commune with the dead and tell us everything we need to know about the past. Where is Hitler’s ghost? Where is Napoleon’s ghost? Where is JFK’s ghost? Surely his immortal soul could reveal who really assassinated him? But they aren’t forthcoming are they? The world we see is not the world we should see if people like Acorah were genuine. Mediums reveal nothing of interest to the arts or sciences, only to emotional people who are desperate for a connection with a deceased one. Psychics tells us nothing about the human brain or telepathy, only that cold-reading can be very effective for reading body language to acquire information – but we know that anyway. No casino in the world bans psychics. Why? Because there is no need!

Psychics don’t win the lottery. Why not? And if it’s because they don’t want to use their “powers” for personal gain, (a laughable suggestion at best given their business), they could win the lottery and donate all the money to charity. But this never happens does it?

Compare Acorah, who uses his rather human skills for deception and exploitation, to another entertainer who uses similar skills (albeit better and broader) to please, baffle, stupefy, shock, scare, and enchant his audience. A disengagingly-charming man who freely admits he has no special power at all, and admits to sometimes deceiving to achieve his goals – but part of a being a magician is that the audience knows they are being deceived. I refer to Derren Brown. There are too few Derren Browns in the entertainment world and far too many Derek Acorahs.

Doesn’t Derek Acorah give people hope and happiness? Don’t people like him touch peoples’ lives? Perhaps they do. If a lie is cathartic then may the victim never know the truth. But whose decision is that to make? What right does anyone have to exploit another human being on the grounds that “it will make them feel better”? For the lie to be effective anyway, the person can never know the truth, which requires keeping them ignorant and deluded. Again, is this really in the person’s best interest, and either way, who makes that decision in the first place? Surely not the victim! Do we grant the exploiter the role of judge, jury and executor?

Let us return briefly to the issue of proof. It is not my job to prove that “psychics” and “mediums” are liars, although I happen to think most of them are. (I say most and not all because it’s possible some “mediums” out there really believe they have special abilities.) I work in the pharmaceutical industry, where the tests and trials for drugs are rigorous: a company cannot bring a drug out with supposed benefits A, B, C, if it cannot clinically prove the efficacy of said drug. False advertising in most industries is a crime. Why are these demanding tests not applied to people and businesses that make a fortune out of cheating people out of their money?

If a person wants to advertise their ability to read minds or speak to the dead in exchange for money, that is, if they want to make a business from it, they should have to prove this ability beyond a reasonable doubt. What do they have to fear? It is not everyone else’s job to prove them wrong – it is their job to prove themselves right. The burden of proof is on them.

And yet, all Acorah can come up with is a deserted house with the lights off, leading a group of people who are already susceptible to his spurious bullshit abilities around, pretending to be in union with a spirit, with spooky music playing. His game of scare amounts to no more than children’s stories, or when you turn the lights off on your younger sibling and try to freak them out by making frightening sounds or telling imaginative tales. But these are grown adults we are talking about. Acorah is making a lot of money, not just by being an over-rated cheat, but by exploiting people and pretending to have powers that he simply doesn’t have. This is unfair, but also a slap in the face to anyone who respects hard work, and making a living the honest way. People like Acorah are losers. They couldn’t make it in life with real jobs, so they had to resort to using what skills they had to get rich quick at the expense of the ignorant and emotionally vulnerable.

Just to put another electronic nail in the coffin of this selfish obnoxious buffoon, here are two links which highlight that, even for a “medium”, Acorah isn’t particular impressive and even less honest:

http://www.randi.org/jr/200511/111105derek.html#i1

http://www.doublexposure.co.uk/

I don’t like the idea of telepathy, mediumship, or clairvoyance. I don’t like it because it is so flagrantly false. (I might be proven wrong, but I don’t think I will be. I don’t like to beat around the bush and I’m not afraid of nailing my colours to the mast. I welcome argument. I welcome reason. If I am proved wrong, great! I’ll freely admit it.) The reason I dislike these things so much is because they are based, not on evidence, reason, logic, understanding, or intelligence, but because they are based on faith, superstition, ignorance, deceit, and delusion. I cannot possibly see what long-term good can come from the perpetuation of the latter.

If these things did no harm, and if people like Derek Acorah hurt no one, I could live with my distaste. But my distaste is based solely on the effect superstition and faith have on people and society. When people like Acorah rake in millions for being a fraud and lying to people, and another single mother has to work three jobs just to pay the bills, I feel society is really losing out. And individuals are losing out. Real people are being fed a lie, that their loved ones are still alive and watching over them. As comforting as this can be – (the notion of eternal life appeals to everyone!), that doest make it right; it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a lie.

Parasites like Acorah might better be described as symbiants, because they do meet demand with supply. As long as people believe in the supernatural because they don’t know any better, there will be those like Acorah to take advantage of that ignorance. From an evolutionary point of view, this places mediums somewhere alongside pathogens and viruses. This is rather apt, since most mediums have the conscience and morality of a pathogen or virus.

The short term solution? Demand controlled tests for anyone who tries to make a living out of offering a product or service. And it doesn’t have to be psychics; some companies will sell you ordinary household products on the notion that they have special metaphysical powers. Why are these companies allowed to operate unfettered? I have no idea.

The long term solution? The mass media should stop sensationalising the paranormal and supernatural, and have a modicum of scepticism and responsibility. Critical thinking and scepticism should be taught in schools – there are no possible disadvantages to this and society has everything to gain. Remember – there is nothing to fear from the truth. If a product works, it works. If a claim is true, it is true. If someone cannot prove what they are claiming, they do not deserve to make that claim.

Critical thinking solves so many problems and has absolutely no side-effects. It educates people. It enlightens people. It restricts the operation of fakes and exploiters. It promotes understanding and respect. And these things better mankind, and better society.

Somehow I think the likes of Derek Acorah don’t care one bit about that.

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