Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Skeptivism: Take 3

Posted by Ethan Clow on October 2, 2010

As we mentioned on the show last week, James Van Praagh, self proclaimed psychic and medium came to the River Rock casino in Richmond to apply his trade on Saturday and we at CFI and Radio Freethinker were there to hand out flyers and encourage critical thinking. You can see and download the flyer here.

This is actually our third skeptivism event in Vancouver but unfortunately, the most challenging as well.

For those that don’t know, skeptivism is a word used to describe activism of a skeptical nature. It may seem like proselytizing or even evangelicalism but skeptivism is about taking the message of critical thinking to the streets. It’s a step that isn’t often taken by skeptical/free thought groups but I for one, believe strongly in.

I don’t have a high opinion on people like James Van Praagh at all. This man takes people’s money and performs some mentalist tricks and provides nothing but wishful thinking and false hope.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to hand out flyers at the Van Praagh event, the problem was, compared to the time Deepak Chopra and John Edward visited, Van Praagh was in a casino.

If anyone has ever been to a casino they know that these places are built like a fortress and by design are built to protect the anonymity of the people going there.

This made it very difficult to navigate that area and be effective at getting our flyers to those who actually were attending the event. Unlike at the Deepak Chopra and John Edward events where the entrances were very close by.

We were also hampered by the fact that we had a very small group with us at this event. Essentially we had a huge, maze like area to cover and only about seven people.

Deciding to be direct, we started handing out flyers in the lobby of the casino right next to the theatre. We got about 60 or so flyers out, mostly getting scowls from those taking them and one person even said how she didn’t believe us because she was a psychic too.

Within about fifteen minutes, casino security tossed us out and then warned us of “further action” if guests continued to be bothered. We retreated to public property and continued to hand out flyers. After about an hour of that, we retired to some drinks and hope that we got through to some people.

I was disappointed by the low turnout. Compared to the Chopra event, where we had more than twenty, this was quite a small group. Of course part of the reason is that this is not a pleasant thing to do. Handing out flyers to people saying the person they came here to see is a fraud doesn’t leave a great after taste.  We certainly feel strongly about this but the average person doesn’t know (or care) about the harm psychics can cause.

Some people are so bought into the supernatural that the idea that others would rather embrace skepticism is downright insulting. (By the way, for more on my thoughts of this check out my post on Skeptic North “Do We Have a Problem“)

Feeling nervous and uncomfortable are common place at these events and it’s not a surprise to me that many skeptics simply don’t want to take part. I don’t blame them at all. Many people have told me they admire the idea but couldn’t take part because they’d either break into tears or want to smack some sense into the people they meet. Their frustration is understandable and I do wish that I could convince them that sometimes the truth hurts and sometimes we skeptics have to be the source of that truth. Ultimately it’s a choice each individual has to make about what sort of person they want to be and how far they want to take their skepticism.

Aside from the difficulty of confrontation itself there many who feel that skepticism is a personal life choice and trying to convince others to be skeptical is not part of the deal. I’ve been pretty vocal in my disagreement with this. We are silent at our peril.

There are others too who want us to be even more direct. While I understand the passion and can sympathize with the frustration they must feel, getting ourselves arrested is no solution. If we become the ranting raving person on the sidewalk people are going to cross the road to avoid us. We must make an effort to be diplomats. I’m not talking about the divide between so called “asshole skeptics” and “olive branch skeptics.” I’m talking about being aggressive or disruptive literally. I’m talking about the kind of behaviour that gets you arrested and talked about in newspapers.

As rational thinking people, we can’t let that happen. We can’t become the wing nut wacko’s who throw red paint and scream at passer bys. As soon as we do that, we give leave to any hope of convincing anyone.


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