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.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Headbands, Hollow Earth, and hoaxes

Much has been made about how impolite our society has become.  In some ways, this may be true; certainly, the conventions of social etiquette that prevailed a hundred years ago have largely been discarded.  But in one respect, I think, we've become more polite -- and maybe too polite.  And this is in situations where individuals are clearly talking nonsense, and no one seems to have the gumption to look them straight in the eye, and say, "I'm sorry, but at the moment you are babbling like a lunatic."

Witness this conversation, between a guy named Blake Cousins and 12-year-old Johnny Zoltkowski of Australia.  Zoltkowski makes a bizarre claim; that a copper headband that he made himself, and which sports a silver coin and a quartz crystal, allows him to "communicate with interdimensional beings."  Zoltkowski goes on for several minutes, encouraged by Cousins and under the watchful eye of his proud and supportive mother, about how he can "channel" these beings.  "The stuff that I can do is quite amazing," Zoltkowski says, "but it's a part of me now."  The headband, he says, allows him to "ask spiritual questions from people in other dimensions."

But it gets better.  Because Johnny didn't learn how to make the headband, or do all of this "amazing stuff," alone; he had the help of a guy named Billy Woodard -- who comes from inside the Hollow Earth.

"Billy Woodard came to Earth on a mission to get the people awakened on Earth, so we get more awakened," Zoltkowski told Cousins, which sounds like a pretty profound mission statement to me.  "With this mission he has told us how to make the Atlantean crystal headband... He worked in Area 51, and he said the government was hiding lots of stuff... in Area 51 they worked with alien Grays and Reptilians."

Well, that all sounds pretty believable, don't you think?

As far as Johnny's mother, she seems to be entirely in favor of the whole thing.  When asked if her son has changed since he started wearing the headband, she says, "I don't think he has, he meditates a lot and is very calm and quite wise.  For a 12-year-old to be able to evaluate... a situation like this, to me it's really amazing...  I'm learning so much through him."

At the end of the video, we find out that we can purchase headbands ourselves from www.hollowearthnetwork.com -- for around $200 (not including the coins and quartz crystals -- those cost extra)!

Might I just say that when I heard that, I had a sudden "AHA" moment?

I don't know for sure if Johnny or his mother actually believe what they're saying, or if they're yet another pair of hucksters trying to turn a quick buck (two hundred of them, to be more specific) via the gullibility of others.  Hucksters, after all, are all too common, as are the delusional (and the gullible).  What appalls me more is Cousins, who sits there calmly discussing the whole thing with the two of them, acting as if they're talking about something as ordinary as Johnny's Little League Baseball team winning the regional championships.  Not once does he say, "Oh, come on, now.  A copper headband from Atlantis that allows you to talk to alien beings?  A guy who comes from inside the Hollow Earth who worked with aliens in Area 51?  You sound like you need to get back on your meds, kid." 

Of course, Cousins himself is kind of suspect; apparently he's appeared on other clips, usually having to do with UFOs and other woo-woo claims.  It might well be that Cousins was not just being polite -- he might be part of the whole publicity stunt.

But whichever it is, my point stands; you see all sorts of things pop up in news reports these days, in which reporters seem to give serious credence to people who, from their claims, should probably not be walking around unsupervised.  And no one much objects.  It's as if our current desire to avoid offending anyone at all costs extends to ideas -- that somehow the (proper) impulse that encourages us to be kind to people implies the (ridiculous) claim that we should never point it out if an idea is complete bullshit.

It puts me in mind of the words C. S. Lewis placed in the mouth of his arch-demon Screwtape, in The Screwtape Letters, regarding how thinking had changed since the previous century: "At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it.  They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning."  While I don't share Lewis' opinions regarding much else, I have to admit that he struck that one spot-on.  We seem, as a society, to have lost our ability to recognize, and our will to point out, specious reasoning and foolish claims.  And since this lies at the heart of critical thinking, it is no wonder we so often fall prey to hoaxers and charlatans -- even to the extent of spending $200 for a copper headband in the hopes that we will be able to speak with "interdimensional beings."

1 comment:

  1. I don't think politeness is a bad thing; where it goes too far is when we accord nonsense equal respect with sense. It's possible to politely disagree, e.g. "I'm sorry, sir, but you are so full of baloney that you really should get in touch with a supermarket chain."

    There may be other factors, but I attribute this in large part to Cultural Imperialist Guilt. The West tried to impose its way of life on much of the rest of the world, and people of any sensitivity feel bad about that. Academia, in particular, has abandoned its former role of figuring out what's true, and has decided that all points of view are equally valid. This relativist attitude has led to all sorts of dumb-ass beliefs being given much more credit than they're due, in many cases including college degree programs. It's a case of keeping your mind so open that your brains fall out.

    The real vitriol, as you've seen, comes from people who at some level are well aware that their beliefs are completely goofy. People who revise their opinions based on evidence, experience less cognitive dissonance; when there's a conflict between reality and their mental model, they have a way to resolve it. But the more committed someone is to a particular set of beliefs, the more they turn their (sometimes considerable) mental powers away from the task of revising their model to match reality, and toward the task of explaining away or discounting contradictory evidence. They can manage to cling to those beliefs, but at the price of internal conflict and deep-seated insecurity. Anger is one good way of not having to think about the points someone else is raising. They're evil, therefore it's not necessary to listen to them.

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