Friday, October 22, 2010

Can We Continue To Blame Hoaxers For Our Willingness To Believe?

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me over and over and I'm still going to absolve myself of any responsibility in the matter. Think about it: after the 900th time Lucy pulls the football out from under Charlie Brown, just how much sympathy can that little block-head in the zig zag shirt expect?

Sadly, to some, the answer would be a lot. As English novelist Angela Carter once sardonically observed: "In a secular age, an authentic miracle must purport to be a hoax in order to gain credit in the world." She couldn't be more right; the truth is a lie and the lies are all true.

The fringe fields of cryptozoology, paranormal investigation, ufology and the like have long been inextricably tied to a culture of hoaxing. For as long as man has made these claims, someone has been hoaxing proof of their existence to either support their belief system or to garner attention or even just to get a laugh out of duping the believers. I suspect that a very long time ago, Ug sat in his cave grunting out what he had seen hovering in the sky and that not long thereafter one of his compatriots was cave-painting hoaxed "evidence".

Like Charlie Brown, we shouldn't be so willing to believe and to tie our emotions to something we know full well will most likely be pulled out from under us. We should approach our Lucy cautiously. And yet, time and again, I encounter instances where individuals are absolutely upset that a particular video or photo or bit of physical evidence has been altered or fabricated. These individuals respond with ire that can only be matched by the weight of their emotional investment. How dare you trick me?

If it were up to individuals such as Matt Moneymaker of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, then there would be laws against it - at least the big ones that manage to sucker in TV crews so that it makes its way to his TV. As I have posted on here before, he was very upset by recent hoaxes such as Balloon Boy and the dead Bigfoot specimen in Georgia.

But can he really blame someone else for his willingness to believe? Had he not gotten so emotionally tied to the hopes that FINALLY! we have proof, then he would have possessed the dispassion to proceed with caution and await all the evidence before making any conclusion.

No laws are necessary. There were some very real laws that were broken in the process of Balloon Boy and they were addressed. There is no need for a Chicken Little Law. If we needed one, it likely would have been passed more than 100 years ago during the height of the newspaper wars and the plague of Yellow Journalism.

We simply need to keep our heads and check our passions. We mustn't be governed by a willingness to believe, but by strict logic and skepticism. It's okay for us to take a stance, to believe; but we can't let that need to believe blind us. Lucy will keep pulling the football out from under Charlie Brown if he gives her the chance.


Ken Summers said...

A lot of times I see hoaxes and can't believe anyone would actually fall for the things they see. Most are poorly done, in my opinion. But we can learn a lot from the hoaxes. Not only can we see how susceptible some people can be to fraudulent claims and gullible to almost anything, we can also see what is NOT paranormal.

The hard part is getting a lot of people to see both sides. Too many people think being skeptical is a bad thing. If you point out something isn't a ghost, then you're the enemy. You're working against them. But really you're trying to improve the field. By being more discerning and rational, you show yourself to be less of a fool and more level-minded. And if you want people to take you seriously when dealing with something not often taken seriously, isn't that the important thing?

Cullan Hudson said...

You're absolutely right. I don't know when or how it happened but some time ago, skeptic became interchanged with denouncer or naysayer and now it owns a four-letter-word reputation. There's nothing wrong with being a skeptic - far from it - and I encourage all the investigators and researchers I can that being your own worst enemy is the best thing for your work. You have to because there are already so many chomping at the bit to tear into every hole you have left behind.