Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
A few years ago, when I first started blogging on psychic stuff I did some research on characteristics of psychic people and realized in the process that the description I was able to put together included me. Being psychic wasn’t about being a professional and doing readings or hearings, it was a set of characteristics that made people highly sensitive in a variety of ways. It had nothing to do with what I did, but rather it was about my physiological and psychological characteristics. It wasn’t a skill or a superpower so much as an identity. In this way, it’s a lot like being gay.
Once I had gathered the information together and understood this for the first time, I came out of the closet. Just like that.
And it was no big deal. My family didn’t care. It wasn’t important to them one way or the other. It was like when one of my nephews came out as gay. It didn’t change how any family members thought of him as a person. There was a collective “oh, OK.” and that was it. I got the same treatment. Outside of family most people who knew me were not exactly surprised. And those that were surprised didn’t really care beyond mild curiosity. I’d been into this stuff for years, including a couple of years trying my hand at psychic healing. I’d always felt that I had psychic ability, but never described myself as psychic. In real life, when I’ve told people who don’t know me, they are usually just curious. Beyond that, no one seems to care.
On line where people hide behind anonymous screen names, the situation is somewhat different. I’ve encountered more hostility in a day on the Internet than in the entire rest of my life. That’s a whole different article.
My story comes with several caveats. I was in my late forties and I was self employed when I came out and I knew that from a career stand point, this wasn’tt a problem. I was not going to seek out jobs where I might face discrimination; I was not going to run for President or put myself in a position where this mattered. My life was never going in that direction, so coming out was utterly without risk for me financially.
I had also run my own business for many years by this time, which included constant contact with customers. It toughens you up. As a consequence I could tell people I was psychic, but not really care what they thought. If anything, it was a way to weed out people I wouldn’t want to associate with anyways. People pick up on our attitudes and this I-don’t-really-give-a-shit approach, may have lessened the temptation of anyone who might have been inclined to say something unpleasant to me. If people have had bad things to say about me and being psychic, they’ve kept it to themselves.
But judging from the other stories I’ve encountered, the single most important feature that made coming out easy for me was that I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is extremely diverse racially and culturally here and ferociously tolerant. What do I mean by that? It is very hard to find a church around here that does not get along with other religions. We have too many different ones for that to be an option. I’m sure the fundamentalists are out there, but they keep a very low profile. Fundamentalism, racism and bigotry of any sort is treated with all the enthusiasm of venereal disease here. It isn’t culturally acceptable . . . at all. As an example, many many years ago the anti-abortion crowd came to town with the idea of putting up a show of force at a Planned Parenthood clinic and possibly terrorizing them. This was around the time a couple of abortion performing doctors were shot and killed.
The demonstration never happened. No one showed up, probably because the clinic was defended by a wall of over a hundred people. The anti-abortion crowd hasn’t tried since. We were also ground zero for the AIDS epidemic which radically changed the gay community’s interactions with the rest of the world. And all this came around the time that the New Age Movement reached its peak and again, the SF Bay Area was the center of that. The skeptics have never caught on here. We have a few organizations, but they are very marginal despite the huge amount of educated people who live in this area.
If you’re psychic, in other words, you couldn’t possibly find a better place to come out in the entire Western world. The area not only enforces tolerance culturally, it draws in people who already think that way. Had I come out nearly anywhere else, my story might have been substantially different. A prosperous psychic who (I think) lives in or near Las Vegas, Nevada had a very different experience from mine. Psychic medium Erin Pavlina described her experience in this blog post:
I immediately got a bunch of nasty emails from readers who told me I was doing the devil’s work, and that the Bible expressly prohibited them from interacting with me in any way, shape, or form. They told me they were going to stop reading the magazine, even though they’d been loyal readers for years and found the information great. That surprised me.
Then I got an email from a woman who had contributed several articles to the site over the years – a woman I had exchanged many pleasant emails with – who asked me to remove all of her articles from the site because I was going against the Lord and working for Satan.
(. . .) Next, a couple of my web clients stopped doing business with me because I was a psychic. And some members of the vegan community with whom I’d been doing business suddenly stopped responding to my emails. None of them called me devil-spawn, they just drifted away or gave me the cold shoulder. So coming out publicly as a psychic negatively impacted my businesses and to some extent my income.
(. . .) It took me a while to figure out why some of my friends and acquaintances were treating me so coldly. I found out quite by accident that they were wondering why I’d turned to a life of crime. Yes, crime! Apparently, and I’m not sure you’re aware of this, all psychics are frauds, charlatans, and criminals who prey on people who are gullible enough to think that psychic abilities and talking to dead people is even possible.
What was the worst reaction you ever got after telling someone you were psychic?
That would probably be when I told a Catholic PhD nuclear physicist about the work I did. He was at the same university as me and was vigorously against what I do, and told me that I was doing people harm. I went to a very traditional ‘Ivy League’ kind of University (but a British one). Many of the students there seemed to be total believers in whatever science can prove. If it hasn’t been proven by science, it can’t be taken seriously.
These are people who have come out as a necessity for their business, but there are many more people who have no pressing need to come out other than they might feel better about themselves. For them, they have far more to lose than to gain. I know a man a bit older than me who lives in rural Georgia and the atmosphere is nearly intolerable for him. He is extremely psychic, but he only dares tell a very few people about it. If the whole small town knew he might have to leave due to harassment. It is very much a secret for him. I also have received many comments on my blog on various articles from people who confess that they have a great fear of coming out. This usually means that a close family member is almost fanatically bigoted against psychic people for some reason, usually religion.
Patrick John Coleman, who came out as gay found that coming out as being psychic was harder.
Since I came out as gay 25 years ago, I’ve watched the rest of America acclimate to what was natural and right for me and millions of others. Do I have to wait 25 MORE years for this next part?
In fact, it was fairly easy to search for psychics coming out of the closet to see what people had written. There were several pages in Google Search addressing the topic including articles on how to come out of the psychic closet. Most of this material is fairly recent. 2009 was the oldest I saw. It’s definitely an issue that gets talked about and treated as legitimate among psychic people.
But let’s assume that in the future there is a big protest and psychics everywhere stand up to “The Man” and demand respect. “The Man,” seeing the big protest, asks a sensible question:
What do you want?
What are we going to ask for? It’s all very well and good to ask for respect and legitimacy, but these have to be translated into concrete terms. For gays, it’s the right to marriage and freedom from job and housing discrimination. There are important civil rights issues involved.
But with psychic people this is more of a grey area. No one is going to stop us from getting married for being psychic or discriminate in housing. It’s not like being gay where in order to live a normal life with their partner a gay person has to be obvious about it. Being psychic isn’t something that has to be out in the open for a person to live a normal life.
And people reject psychics for entirely different reasons. A religious person considers psychic ability to be real, but rejects it as evil. A skeptic does not consider psychic ability to be evil, but rejects it as fraud or delusion. This is harder to deal with.
What do you want?
I know that subtle discrimination exists, but unlike with gays, much of this discrimination is a result of a natural human tendency to isolate those who exhibit traits of otherness. For instance, creativity is a trait strong associated with psychic ability, yet it is routinely rejected.
Online job boards burst with ads recruiting “idea people” and “out of the box” thinkers. We are taught that our own creativity will be celebrated as well, and that if we have good ideas, we will succeed.
It’s all a lie. This is the thing about creativity that is rarely acknowledged: Most people don’t actually like it. Studies confirm what many creative people have suspected all along: People are biased against creative thinking, despite all of their insistence otherwise.
It’s an indication that while gays and other minorities have been accepted over time, we might never be. The most important thing our hypothetical protest is supposed to achieve, acceptance, will be forever beyond our reach. So . . .
What do you want?
I can think of a few things that would help:
1. Scientific acceptance of the evidence for psychic ability. It’s overwhelming at this point and the lack of acceptance is hurting people.
2. Public rejection by the mainstream media of skeptical organizations and calling them out for what they are: bigotry machines.
3. Creativity and psychic testing for children so that they can be identified and helped along the way to be healthy, successful adults.
4. General awareness of psychic ability as a normal human function.
The first point is probably the most important and easiest to achieve. The second should follow from the first and the last two are probably the most difficult to achieve. It’s hard, very hard to get people to change.