The new free speech zone: a dusty storefront full of crystals
July 26, 2010 8:26 PM   Subscribe

 
Surely they foresaw this.
posted by resiny at 8:38 PM on July 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


Hm. I commented before seeing the WashPo article, which opens up with pretty much the same thing. I'm kind of shocked that this was actually an issue. I mean, I think that fortune telling is loony, but I'm not sure fortune tellers' record is significantly worse than a lot of investors'--both seem to be pulling it out of their ass more often than not.
posted by resiny at 8:40 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Surely they foresaw this.

I guess they weren't on the ball.
posted by edguardo at 8:41 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fraud is not the same thing as free speech.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:41 PM on July 26, 2010 [15 favorites]


Well, if you can prove that not a single fortune-teller sincerely believes in what they are doing, feel free to pass a law this broad. Otherwise ... no.
posted by kyrademon at 8:46 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm with resiny here -- if it's legal for Jim Cramer to continue being Jim Cramer, it should be legal for someone to read your tarot cards.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:46 PM on July 26, 2010 [17 favorites]


Fraud is not the same thing as free speech.

People sell all kind of services. Betting advice, seduction tips, wardrobe makeovers. Many are next to impossible to verify empirically. Sometimes people pay more for the placebo effect than they do for any tangible benefit. Calling fortune telling fraud would be playing pretty fast and loose with the definition and would easily result in "fraud" encompassing a broad range of services, some of nobody could have any problem with.

Hell, high school guidance counselors claim to have the ability to tell you what college you should attend in order to maximize your happiness. Based on...SAT scores, GPA, and what side of the bed they got out on.
posted by resiny at 8:49 PM on July 26, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'd like to see them required to prominently display their predictive success rates in their places of business, like how McDonald's is required to provide nutrition information. Mostly because that's a job I would love to have, prognostication inspector.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 8:50 PM on July 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


Fraud is not the same thing as free speech.

Mm, but if they really believe they can see the future, then the intent to defraud is absent, at least.

I wonder if we could determine what they really believe by, oh, I dunno, dropping them in the river with stones tied to them, or perhaps tying them to a stake and lighting tinder beneath it.

Come on, mefi, brainstorming time.
posted by edguardo at 8:50 PM on July 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


Surely Marylanders already have laws about false advertising and fraud.
posted by phliar at 8:51 PM on July 26, 2010


I think you just need to demonstrate mass equivalency with a duck.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:52 PM on July 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


The title of this post is misleading, crystal-healing is still illegal in MD.



(except in hampsterdam)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:55 PM on July 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Similarly, that same hypothetical law should require churches and other religious organizations to prominently post their scorecards of success. Seems reasonable.
posted by adipocere at 9:01 PM on July 26, 2010 [12 favorites]


So, how is this different from allowing people to sell any other empirically-unsupported, pseudoscientific product or service?

I realize that the state reserves the right to prosecute fraud in cases like these, but doesn't that semi-tolerant attitude just encourage fortunetellers to be more creative (or less ambitious) in how they trick people into giving up their cash?

I can see an argument from the right such that victims of fraud had it coming by sucking at skepticism, or that any such losses and injustices are well worth the freedom afforded by the lack of government oversight in matters like these.

But, ah, equally consistent with our ideals of liberty and personal autonomy is the position that fraudulent deception is malicious and aggressive coercion, and should be treated as such and legislated against.

A just government can't expect everyone to know better, because everyone doesn't.
posted by edguardo at 9:02 PM on July 26, 2010


Well, a "good" tarot reading will be a set of blank symbols which the reader and readee use together to create a kind of Jungian mirror into which the circumstances of the readee can be projected, and out of which they can gain perspective.

Fortune tellers who are telling people how to live their lives are not doing this.
posted by hippybear at 9:03 PM on July 26, 2010 [24 favorites]


Hell, high school guidance counselors claim to have the ability to tell you what college you should attend in order to maximize your happiness. Based on...SAT scores, GPA, and what side of the bed they got out on.


My high school guidance counselor must have slept in a round bed, then, because his advice was uniformly crappy.
posted by darkstar at 9:07 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


It seems to me that laws like these have less to do with fraud and/or charlatanism than they do with ensuring that Christian fraudsters and charlatans need not share the market with "the occult" (which the rest of the world spells "competition").

Tarot is (often) no more than card-based talk therapy, anyway... and if that's fraud, then there are a whole lot of people in the same boat.
posted by vorfeed at 9:11 PM on July 26, 2010 [12 favorites]


Fraud is not the same thing as free speech.

It's not always about predicting the future. Fortune-tellers often perform the same sorts of services and help that counselors do - they listen, and offer advice.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:11 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or what vorfeed and hippybear said.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:12 PM on July 26, 2010


Fraud is not the same thing as free speech.

No, it's not. But do we want government attempting to look inside foretunetellers' heads, to determine if they truly believe?

Or to say that even if they do, some beliefs are illegitimate?

No, we don't, because then we allow government to regulate private conscience, and it's a small step to yahoos like Ron Ramsey, the sitting Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee, who opines
Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult whatever you want to call it....
I don't respect Creflo Dollar or the personal prosperity he's wrung out of his impoverished followers with his mumbo-jumbo "Prosperity Gospel", I think it's probably outright fraud, but a government that can outlaw Creflo's perversion of Christianity scares me far more.

For it would inevitably lead to Protestants trying to outlaw the "mummery and popery" of the Catholic Church, executive orders demanding "[t]he Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state", and the internecine sectarian warfare that convulsed Europe for decades, and which to avoid repeating America adopted our First Amendment.

Better individual fraud than tyranny and sectarian violence.
posted by orthogonality at 9:19 PM on July 26, 2010 [15 favorites]


Things like tarot cards can be very useful, even though they obviously can't tell the future.

They give the users a new framing for their lives. Everyone tells themselves stories about who they are and what they're about and where they're going, and while those stories can be empowering, they can also be imprisoning. Things like tarot cards and the I Ching can give the users a new story to tell, a new framework to explain their life, and it can let them be creative and come up with novel solutions to whatever problems they happen to have.

It's a bit like the placebo effect, in a sense -- the belief that it will help makes it more likely to help. Shrouding it in mysticism is bullshit, but it can be useful bullshit. There's a lot going on in our heads, and if voodoo helps people connect with new ideas and new approaches to old problems, who cares if they think that crystals will help them?

They're actually just helping themselves, but attributing it to an outside force can give them the courage to trust the new ideas.

You can certainly argue that fortunetelling is fraud, but that's a limited take on a deeper thing. Even being utterly bullshit, it can still be useful, especially for people who don't have very well-developed rational thought processes.

Ultimately, is it any different from praying for guidance in a church? From my perspective, that's exactly the same fraud from a different perspective, but an awful lot of people think that church is pretty great.
posted by Malor at 9:19 PM on July 26, 2010 [21 favorites]


I'd like to see talking heads, lawyers, doctors, accountants, financial advisers and ad agencies held to the same rigid standards as fortunetellers. No more, no less.

We could excise a thick and fatty layer of predictive fudge from the economy.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:24 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even being utterly bullshit, it can still be useful, especially for people who don't have very well-developed rational thought processes.

Just because lots of people don't know any better doesn't mean they cant. Recommending bullshit in the place of actual science doesn't help that cause.
posted by edguardo at 9:24 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If they outlaw pulling future predictions out of your ass... how will the Daily Mail tell me what will give me cancer?
posted by qvantamon at 9:24 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]



Tarot is (often) no more than card-based talk therapy, anyway... and if that's fraud, then there are a whole lot of people in the same boat.

It's not always about predicting the future. Fortune-tellers often perform the same sorts of services and help that counselors do - they listen, and offer advice.


So they are therapists practicing without license or training, not fraudsters, got it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:26 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fraud is OK as long as you believe in what you're doing? I have to say no. There are a whole lot of anti-tax lunatics out there, some of them convinced Wesley Snipes that he didn't have to file income taxes. They seem to believe in it, doesn't make it OK.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:26 PM on July 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


Zoltar says ......
posted by bwg at 9:28 PM on July 26, 2010


> Ultimately, is it any different from praying for guidance in a church?

You're free to walk into most churches and pray or whatever you like for free then walk out. Sure, members of congregations are expected to tithe and whatnot, but it's "ultimately" much different than paying an individual. Surely you recognize this.

Anyway, people should be able to piss their money away on whatever they please.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:29 PM on July 26, 2010


Better individual fraud than tyranny and sectarian violence.

And I'm sorry, holding people accountable to their claims under the law is hardly the slippery slope toward tyranny and anti-Muslim bigotry.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:30 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Has anyone ever done a real study of tarot's utility as a psychotherapeutic tool? That would be interesting.

I'm for tarring, feathering, and riding so-called "psychics" out of town on a rail, but a good tarot reader opens you to opportunity for insight, and that can't be a bad thing.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:31 PM on July 26, 2010


I can see an argument from the right such that victims of fraud had it coming by sucking at skepticism, or that any such losses and injustices are well worth the freedom afforded by the lack of government oversight in matters like these.

Better individual fraud than tyranny and sectarian violence.

Predictive success rate (PSR): 100%
posted by edguardo at 9:33 PM on July 26, 2010


So they are therapists practicing without license or training, not fraudsters, got it.

No. Confusing tarot readings with therapy is bullshit.

Tarot, at its best, is a set of blank symbols which a skilled reader can use to help the readee gain perspective on whatever they are going through at the moment. Because of the random nature of the tarot deck, and the blank nature of the symbols, the projection of the readee into the pseudo-narrative created by the reading is crucial in whether the reading will be useful for that instance, or not.

It's not therapy, unless you think that therapy involves a lot of randomness and blank projection by the patient.

Either can be useful, but what they do is entirely different. If you've ever been in therapy, and you've ever had a tarot reading from someone who isn't a charlatan, then you know how different they are.

Like with many such things, it's a tool, and can be used or misused. If you don't see the usefulness in blank symbol, random, Jungian symbol exploration, then avoid tarot. But don't discount it entirely as some kind of amateur therapy or fraud. It's not. There's a lot more going on in a 10-card spread than simply someone out to pull a fast one over on the unsuspecting. And a lot more going on than some yoohoo offering life advice without basis.
posted by hippybear at 9:36 PM on July 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's not therapy, unless you think that therapy involves a lot of randomness and blank projection by the patient.

Preposterous.
posted by edguardo at 9:38 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you don't see the usefulness in blank symbol, random, Jungian symbol exploration, then avoid tarot. But don't discount it entirely as some kind of amateur therapy or fraud.

Where might I go to find a tarot reader who describes themselves as a reader of blank jungian symbols in their promotional material and commercial claims?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:43 PM on July 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


holding people accountable to their claims under the law is hardly the slippery slope toward tyranny and anti-Muslim bigotry.

I'm afraid you're seeing a bright line I don't see: sure, if Frank Fortuneteller says I'll win the lottery tomorrow, when I don't, that "proves" he's wrong.

But when Jesus of Nazareth (as attested by three of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke) predicts circa 30 AD that "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.... Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened", does that prove he's a fraud?

Where's the bright line you see that allows you to so sharply distinguish Frank from Joshua? Or would you also outlaw Christianity?

And what if Frank is more subtle and less specific, more like an avuncular Anglican vicar: "things are looking up for you; just hold onto your faith in Jesus/Tarot and you will be rewarded hereafter"? Where do you find your bright line now? Whom besides you can we trust to "correctly" punish Fraudulent Frank and yet hold the kindly vicar harmless?
posted by orthogonality at 9:45 PM on July 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


And to you guys talking about success rate: Their predictions are always correct, it's just that God hates astrologers and divinators (check it out, it's in the Bible!), and always changes the outcomes predicted, just to fuck with them.
posted by qvantamon at 9:47 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


So they are therapists practicing without license or training, not fraudsters, got it.

Again, when we say the same thing about religious counselors, then I'll give a shit.
posted by vorfeed at 9:47 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you don't see the usefulness in blank symbol, random, Jungian symbol exploration, then avoid tarot. But don't discount it entirely as some kind of amateur therapy or fraud.

It either works or it doesn't.

No. Confusing tarot readings with therapy is bullshit.

No tarot is bullshit. Why on Earth anyone would believe that a deck of cards can tell them anything about anything is beyond my comprehension. It's not even wrong. This is fraud.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:47 PM on July 26, 2010


Where's the bright line you see that allows you to so sharply distinguish Frank from Joshua?

At the cash register.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:48 PM on July 26, 2010


We can't get Jesus, I'm afraid. Statute of limitations AND jurisdiction. Of course, if he comes back...
posted by lefty lucky cat at 9:50 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]



Again, when we say the same thing about religious counselors, then I'll give a shit.


Why? Shouldn't you give a shit about both? That said, religious counselors are frequently well trained and don't claim to know the future beyond anything claimed in religious texts.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:50 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


furiousxgeorge, so, does Barnes and Noble have different cash registers when I'm buying Joshua's Predictions 33AD, or Horoscope 2011?
posted by qvantamon at 9:52 PM on July 26, 2010



furiousxgeorge, so, does Barnes and Noble have different cash registers when I'm buying Joshua's Predictions 33AD, or Horoscope 2011?


The bible is freely available elsewhere, are the contents of the horoscope book? Sure there are other horoscopes, but they will be completely different horoscopes of course.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:54 PM on July 26, 2010


So having a little knowledge about this sort of thing....

The reason that police departments are against fortune tellers is not primarily the fortune telling - it's that quite a lot of the fortune tellers are in fact serious con artists who manage to steal tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars and get away with it.

In this business model, the reading itself is quite cheap, and is only pocket money for the fortune teller. What she's looking for is a mark - who is almost always an older woman with a rich husband and adult (or no) children.

The details of the game vary a lot but inevitably the mark is convinced that their money is cursed or tainted (and let's be realistic, shall we? this is in fact true for many rich people in the US, because they have in fact acquired their money from doing things that are pretty ethically shameful). The marks bring in the money, the fortune teller seals it in a bag and then gets the mark to hold the bag, telling her that in a couple of months all the curse will be gone IF the mark doesn't open the bag.

Of course, whenever the mark opens the bag she will find just paper. This is where the expression "left holding the bag" comes from.

You'd think that in 2010 this would never happen but if you haunt page 20 of your local paper, you'll see these come up all the time...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:54 PM on July 26, 2010 [13 favorites]


Scientology is a religion too, and they certain don't give their shit away for free. Although people always try to make the same argument that somehow that makes them not a religion... I don't buy that being free is what distinguishes something as a religion and thus somehow exempt from normal limitations.

(To be clear, in this case I think both religions and psychics should be free to say and charge whatever they want -- I don't think psychics are necessarily committing fraud, if they believe it they are no more deluded than clergy, and either are free to accept compensation for their services)
posted by wildcrdj at 9:57 PM on July 26, 2010


The budget of the Vatican City alone is $130 million annually.

That ain't just tourists paying for tours of St. Peter's -- there's the small matter of a certain export (which export, to be fair, gives some measure of comfort, and it is argued, hope of eternal salvation, to over 1.1 billion people.)
posted by orthogonality at 9:58 PM on July 26, 2010


Presumably, lupus_yonderboy, they don't need any special laws for that? I mean, that would seem to be clearly illegal regardless of any issues about whether psychics should be allowed to do their thing. And certainly not all psychics do that.
posted by wildcrdj at 9:59 PM on July 26, 2010


Scientology is a religion too, and they certain don't give their shit away for free. Although people always try to make the same argument that somehow that makes them not a religion... I don't buy that being free is what distinguishes something as a religion and thus somehow exempt from normal limitations.


Got a better place to draw the line? Yes, Scientology is a clear fraud as well.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:00 PM on July 26, 2010


Why on Earth anyone would believe that a deck of cards can tell them anything about anything is beyond my comprehension.

Well, that's because it's not about the deck of cards. It's about the interaction between the randomness of the cards, the reader, the readee, and the Jungian concept of the collective unconscious, and how the readee projects their own situation into the cards during the reading.

But if you don't grok that, then you probably reject any and all methods of psychological work, whether Jungian, Freudian, or other. And if that is your attitude, then nothing I say would ever convince you to give a tarot reading by a non-fortune-telling card reader a chance. So walk your way, and I'll walk mine, and we'll be content to disagree.
posted by hippybear at 10:01 PM on July 26, 2010 [6 favorites]



That ain't just tourists paying for tours of St. Peter's -- there's the small matter of a certain export (which export, to be fair, gives some measure of comfort, and it is argued, hope of eternal salvation, to over 1.1 billion people.)


Get the fortune teller to give you your readings for free. Now, see if you can get into church for free. There is a difference between a fee and a donation.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:02 PM on July 26, 2010


Where might I go to find a tarot reader who describes themselves as a reader of blank jungian symbols in their promotional material and commercial claims?

Actually, I could point you toward several.

It either works or it doesn't.

Funny, plenty of drugs don't even hold to that standard. Sometimes some things work for some people. If something works for x amount of people y amount of the time, with only z side effects, that's "medicine.

No tarot is bullshit. Why on Earth anyone would believe that a deck of cards can tell them anything about anything is beyond my comprehension. It's not even wrong. This is fraud.

You basically don't know what you're talking about. There are good points to be made about why fortunetelling isn't useful for lots of people, but the history of Tarot (and religious/mystical symbolism in general) isn't really in question here, though it is fully available for you to peruse. That's okay, we go through this just about every time the cards come up.
posted by hermitosis at 10:16 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Got a better place to draw the line? Yes, Scientology is a clear fraud as well.

It's protected as a religion, though.
posted by desuetude at 10:16 PM on July 26, 2010


Actually, I could point you toward several.

Do so. Such readings would not be fraud in my opinion.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:17 PM on July 26, 2010



It's protected as a religion, though.


Doesn't make it right.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:20 PM on July 26, 2010


Do so.

Check your memail.
posted by hermitosis at 10:21 PM on July 26, 2010


Of course, whenever the mark opens the bag she will find just paper. This is where the expression "left holding the bag" comes from.

I'm not so sure about that.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:21 PM on July 26, 2010



Check your memail.

I'm looking for commercial readers making claims absent mystical or psychic powers. I have no problem with people doing it for free or well advertised as simple amusement, a link to a FAQ about tarot is just not relevant.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:24 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


The page I sent you is my own, and I actually make a fair bit of money from reading Tarot cards, most of which I donate to literacy charities.
posted by hermitosis at 10:26 PM on July 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Funny, plenty of drugs don't even hold to that standard. Sometimes some things work for some people. If something works for x amount of people y amount of the time, with only z side effects, that's "medicine.

This depends on the definition of "works", sugar pill works for a lot of people but it's still classified as a placebo. Anyway, I didn't say anything about medicine, that's your strawman. I'd like to see some actual evidence that tarot works for some people. Are there any studies about this? My standard is simply evidence. Most fortune-tellers cannot stand up to the rigors of science. Knowledge of the history of tarot doesn't back-up the argument that it's actually independently verifiable to work. But yeah, I mostly agree to disagree.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:27 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Presumably, lupus_yonderboy, they don't need any special laws for that?

Of course, the actual scam is illegal, but it's usually weeks if not months before the mark figures it out and then the fortune teller is usually long gone.

And often enough, the victim never reports it to anyone - because they're ashamed, but often because they feel that they were responsible for the money not being there because they looked in the bag too early. It's astonishingly common for the vic to open the bag, come back to the gypsy - who then gets MORE money to put with the original money and the vic goes home with a new, improved bag! There was a case in Brooklyn a couple of years ago (which I can't find right now :-( ) where the victim was (atypically) a man, and they got away with $100K in two separate events with the same victim.

I'm certainly not justifying the abridgment of our Constitutional rights because of this, just explaining why cops are down on fortune tellers.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:27 PM on July 26, 2010


Pater Aletheias: I find that uncorroborated article unconvincing (no insult intended) and the other etymologies online that seem to agree with it, seem to be copied from it.

There are numerous other scams that end up with the vic with a bag full of nothing - in fact, you see a classic one at the start of The Sting - whereas the actual mechanics behind the derivation in the link are very dodgy (if you end up losing the swag, what was the point of the con in the first place, eh?)

I'm going to stick with my derivation until I find something a little more solid.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:32 PM on July 26, 2010


Are there any studies about this? My standard is simply evidence. Most fortune-tellers cannot stand up to the rigors of science.

That's a good question. Is anyone currently studying this? I somehow doubt that there is much study going on now; most of it would be pretty redundant because of Jung's prolific work, and frankly it's not really an area of scientific interest beyond that point. As others pointed out upthread, from a practical perspective there are lots of fields that don't "stand up to the rigors of science," mainly because they aren't particularly scientific. That doesn't mean they're bad or pointless, it just means that their value is incredibly subjective and therefore limited within the mainstream.
posted by hermitosis at 10:33 PM on July 26, 2010



The page I sent you is my own, and I actually make a fair bit of money from reading Tarot cards, most of which I donate to literacy charities.


Apologies, you do seem to be up front enough to qualify as non-fraud, though certainly reeking of new-agey BS. :)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:33 PM on July 26, 2010


Dunno. When I lived in the area, near the corner of Commonwealth and Harvard in Allston, there was a little old Romany lady (a real one, not a pretend Gypsy) in an electric wheelchair and a little folding tea table set up on the sidewalk who would tell your fortune for five dollars. At the time, her little granddaughter was with her, learning the trade.

I had a female acquaintance visiting me, who's a lot more skeptical and hard minded than most, who thought this was precious, and paid five bucks for the novelty.

Let me tell you, I wish half the shrinks I saw as a kid had their act down half as well as she did. This woman, in less than a dozen questions, had my friend figured out, for true. She knew exactly what was bugging her, why it bugged her so much, and how to think about it going forward, couched in hand-waving "I see in your paaast..." mumbo-jumbo. Strip out the mumbo-jumbo, and this is folk psychiatry.

Man, it worked - it got right past my friends's "I'm smarter than you are" obstruction to therapy, simply laid everything out in ways she could understand, without preaching to her or pushing her. Got her on her way to crawling out of a deep hole in her life.

This is probably why fortune telling is still so popular - in the hands of a skilled and trained practitioner with good motives, it can do a lot of good.

On the other hand, there are a lot of evil motherfuckers who will use those same skills to soak the unsuspecting for a lot more than five bucks on the sidewalk.

I paid five bucks myself so the kid could tell me there was a blue car I should watch out for...

... which isn't silly at all, when you consider MA State Trooper cruisers are blue. Kid was getting a good education.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:35 PM on July 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


> Apologies, you do seem to be up front enough to qualify as non-fraud, though certainly reeking of new-agey BS. :)

There's really no need for you to keep at that. You've made your same point several times in this thread already.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:36 PM on July 26, 2010


you do seem to be up front enough to qualify as non-fraud, though certainly reeking of new-agey BS.

Hey, it keeps the mosquitoes and the Mormons away.
posted by hermitosis at 10:37 PM on July 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


i hear that there are machines that regularly lie and mislead people into spending billions and billions of dollars fraudulently and swallowing load upon load of specious bullshit - in fact, i bet most of you watch those machines happily

but someone with a deck of cards who wants a little money for talking about them, yeah, that's outrageous

i have a deck of tarot cards - i don't have a television

i'm bombarded by a lot less crap than YOU are, i'm sure

tarot cards happen to be full of psychological and spiritual symbolism to the point where it's not just a question of freedom of speech, but of religion, too

they will not, however, get your clothes whiter, attract girls around your beer cooler, or make you 10 years younger as you travel down the highway

i call that walking a mile to swat a gnat while getting run over by a truckload of camels

hell, this whole country was populated by people who were promised a land of milk and honey and were given mosquitos, hard scrabble and exploitation

fraud, my friends, is what made the usa great

trust me, someone shuffling a deck of cards isn't the worst thing going on by any means these days
posted by pyramid termite at 10:40 PM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


In another thread I mentioned that my father-in-law was, for lack of a better word, a fortune teller. And, people who believe in Science! called my father-in-law a crook, a thief, and a criminal. He was a sweet, gentle man, who, although he liked his whiskey and his women, also took care of his family, and he also developed a national reputation, in Japan. "Uranai" in Japan is more than putting on a swami hat and peering into a crystal ball. Fortune-telling is ancient, and involves numerology, astrology, and, to some extent, the belief in "kami", or gods.

The one thing that people who believe in Science! do not get (they're shouting too loud and are too busy denigrating other points of view is that there are different ways of looking at the world. I suppose in this case you could call belief in fortune telling "magical thinking", which sounds ridiculous, because it's possible to possess, and operate under, two different systems of belief at the same time. It is possible to believe in Science! while also at least accepting that there is some value in fortune telling. In fact, anyone who has ever lived in two different cultures (ideally, where you speak a different language) can understand that there are different points of view out there, and it's possible to hold two different points of view at the same time, depending on which language you speak.

My mother-in-law, like many people of her generation in Japan, leaves water for household spirits, and also tends the kanndanna or "god shelf", where the god of the house resides. When my father-in-law was sick and dying, she and my wife went to the shrine to pray for him. Not to a god with a robe and a long beard in the sky, but to Isasawake-no-Mikoto.

Now, I don't personally believe in all those gods, but I don't disbelieve in them either. My sons are both Japanese citizens, and I encourage them to respect these traditions and to at least hold an open mind.

I don't know if my father-in-law's predictions were all that right, but people willingly came from all over Japan (and this was in the days before internet) to listen to him. If you call that fraud, you have some real issues to work out - perhaps you were attacked by a fortune-teller as a child? Stole your candy? Stomped on your sand castles?

When you shout down everyone with the words Science!, you're missing a great opportunity to understand other points of view.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:42 PM on July 26, 2010 [13 favorites]



There's really no need for you to keep at that. You've made your same point several times in this thread already.


I'm just responding to the material I was given. I have no problem with a fair exchange of services that are accurately described. That I think of it as new-agey BS is no different than that I think Christianity is old-agey BS but it is still far away from fraud.

It all comes down to, pardon the horrible pun, putting all of your cards on the table before demanding a payment. What makes Scientology a fraud is that you don't know what you are really paying for, the same thing with fortune tellers who claim mystical powers.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:45 PM on July 26, 2010


If you call that fraud, you have some real issues to work out - perhaps you were attacked by a fortune-teller as a child? Stole your candy? Stomped on your sand castles?

When you shout down everyone with the words Science!, you're missing a great opportunity to understand other points of view.
'

Heh. My grandfather claims the ability to dowse. I did a science fair experiment on dowsing in elementary school. He can't.

There is indeed value in both points of view, but when you demand money from someone in exchange for mystical services that are clearly impossible, you are just kind of a jerk. Again, I lay down the line at religions requesting donations for mystical services and frauds demanding payments. Like any line there are people and organizations unfairly on each side of the border, but no categorization like this can be perfect.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:55 PM on July 26, 2010


Let me guess: they never gave you a ribbon for your science experiment.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:27 PM on July 26, 2010


Awesome post, Malor. I consult the major arcana before every MeFi post (I reserve the I Ching oracle for matters of the utmost importance, such as: how should I dress myself today?).
posted by thescientificmethhead at 11:31 PM on July 26, 2010



Let me guess: they never gave you a ribbon for your science experiment.


3rd place. :)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:34 PM on July 26, 2010


There are usually better things to do with a grandfather than call him a fool, furiousxgeorge.

If he's still alive, I advise you to seek him out and give one of them a try, providing he's willing to speak to you.
posted by jamjam at 11:39 PM on July 26, 2010



There are usually better things to do with a grandfather than call him a fool, furiousxgeorge.

If he's still alive, I advise you to seek him out and give one of them a try, providing he's willing to speak to you.


Hahaha, yeah he does other cool stuff and amazingly does not disown grandchildren based on elementary school science fair projects.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:48 PM on July 26, 2010


but seriously he can't find water with a stick.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:54 PM on July 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Maybe he got a little mixed up when it turned out that blood wasn't as much thicker as he'd thought.
posted by jamjam at 12:08 AM on July 27, 2010



Maybe he got a little mixed up when it turned out that blood wasn't as much thicker as he'd thought.


I admit it, it's true, the elementary school experiment my grandfather assisted and advised me on is the secret source of years of bitter anger and resentment that has poisoned our relationship and drowned us in hatred and sorrow.

Which blank jungian card has gifted you with this amazing insight? Maybe tell me later, I have two doctors appointments to drive him to tomorrow, the bitter silence of long repressed rage that overhangs all of our interactions is very tiring, so I must have my sleep before undertaking this horrible task.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:21 AM on July 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


No one tell Brian Eno that a deck of cards can't tell him anything about anything, OK?
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:33 AM on July 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


jamjam -- I somewhat disagree with furiousxgeorge on the main topic here, but quit implying he's being disrespectful to his grandfather. Not Cool.

You do not know them, and you therefore do not know what you're talking about.
posted by kyrademon at 2:57 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


but seriously he can't find water with a stick.

I think there's a difference between "I can find water with a stick" and "If you sit in front of me and talk to me as we sort through these cards, I can learn enough about you to deliver a narrative that frees you from certain worries and is in some ways surprisingly accurate, considering you're not thinking about the psychological games I'm playing as you're shuffling these cards."
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:28 AM on July 27, 2010


In my very limited experience, that was always my problem--I couldn't stop thinking about the psychological games.
posted by box at 5:36 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm looking for commercial readers making claims absent mystical or psychic powers.

Based on reading his book Tarot and Psychology, I've heard of one licensed psychologist who uses tarot cards in his practice. With some googling, it looks like at least some insurance companies will cover him.
posted by Durin's Bane at 5:44 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm completely unconvinced that there's anything remotely supernatural in the world, based on the prevailing lack of evidence to validate such things, but at the same time, I use decks of cards to create the future all the time.

I use an Eno & Schmidt's Oblique Strategies deck, a copy of the Tao Te Ching on cards, Naomi Epel's Observation Deck, and a huge stack of Dharma cards that basically splits the Dhammapada into randomly-distributed units.

On mornings when I've been feeling aimless and unfocused for a stretch, I'll pull a card or two, read them, let them brew, and use the resulting swirl of non-linear informational intervention break down my habits and slaughter some of my sacred cows for the remainder of the day. I don't think the stars, the gods, or the overall cosmological order really has a hand in the whole thing, but the end result is almost always positive. That's the sad part about the purveyors of oracle systems; that the cards can tell your future, inasmuch as they help you to make it happen.

I do this a lot in my music, as well, which is why the instruments I love best are the ones that let me create these immense, slow-moving oscillators that influence other immense, slow-moving oscillators, that then influence the other oscillators that influence every other part of the chain, ultimately resulting in a kind of autonomous, organic mess that I can shape and corral into something worthwhile.

It's the random element, the outside-yourself bit of data, that feeds the system, and we need such things more and more these days. There's a real magic in that junction between what you know and what you don't expect, and I honestly don't get why people need invented magic when the real stuff works so well.

Now, if I just pull a scrabble piece out of my bag here...

W-H-A-T-D-O-Y-O-U-G-E-T-I-F-Y-O-U-M-U-L-T-I-P-L-Y-S-I-X-B-Y-

Oh, never mind, we already did that one.
posted by sonascope at 6:08 AM on July 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's protected as a religion, though.

Doesn't make it right.


Isn't this thread about a legal case?
posted by desuetude at 6:52 AM on July 27, 2010


When divination is outlawed, only outlaws will have access to divination.
posted by localroger at 7:00 AM on July 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


WWCSS (What would Carl Sagan say?)
posted by bwg at 8:03 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


> WWCSS (What would Carl Sagan say?)

Probably something about not coming across as a bullish dick when trying to argue against something you don't care for.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:07 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like to think of consulting the Tarot as a vector analysis. Each arcana and card is symbolic of a particular force of personality, the world, or events. Those symbols are somewhat static. When pondering a situation laying out a set of cards provides one with a set of forces that may impact the situation.

If one takes an engineer's approach to the experience then you are provided with a randomized set of forces that exist in the world that could impact your situation. If one takes a more mystical approach then the set of forces that are revealed would be taken as meant for you rather than completely random.

In either case, you are given the opportunity to ponder a situation that concerns you in some way and consider various external forces that could be in play. Even if you take the process as being completely random there is value to be found in using an external source of inputs to ponder the forces at play in your life and what they mean to you.
posted by Babblesort at 9:13 AM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


KokuRyu:

In another thread I mentioned that my father-in-law was, for lack of a better word, a fortune teller. And, people who believe in Science! called my father-in-law a crook, a thief, and a criminal.

No, people who lack civility called your father-in-law a crook, a thief and a criminal.

The one thing that people who believe in Science! do not get (they're shouting too loud and are too busy denigrating other points of view) is that there are different ways of looking at the world.

No, the one thing that people who believe in science do get is that there are different ways of looking at the world. That's why data are shared - so they can be carefully scrutinized and verified by fellow scientists. The scientific method welcomes and encourages other points of view.

Shouting and denigrating other points of view are tactics generally used by people who believe in things that will not stand up to careful scrutiny and verification.

When you shout down everyone with the words Science!, you're missing a great opportunity to understand other points of view.

And when you shout down everyone who believes in science, you're missing a great opportunity to discuss other points of view with civility and mutual respect.
posted by stringbean at 9:20 AM on July 27, 2010


To be fair to KokoRyu, "science" and "Science!" are two separate things. The former is the actual methodologies and disciplines and the latter is the snide attitude of people who are convinced that they are rational, enlightened beings.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:25 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


To be fair to KokoRyu, "science" and "Science!" are two separate things. The former is the actual methodologies and disciplines and the latter is the snide attitude of people who are convinced that they are rational, enlightened beings.

Sorry. I was not aware of the "Science!" reference. Please ignore my comment.

Thank you for the clarification, Burhanistan. And please accept my humble apologies, KokuRyu.
posted by stringbean at 9:49 AM on July 27, 2010


Again, when we say the same thing about religious counselors, then I'll give a shit.

I say so, and I'm a religious "counselor." And I certainly don't dole out pseudo-psychological advice, or claim anything said in my office facilitates Jungian projection or anything of the sort. I'm not qualified to do that. I took a few very cursory counseling courses as part of my graduate degree - enough to convince me beyond a reasonable doubt that when my parishioners need counseling, they need to speak to a licensed professional counselor. I am not a counselor, I am a pastor. I often help facilitate counseling by referring them to affordable licensed professionals - but it would be the absolute height of stupidity for me to offer them any sort of psychiatric therapy. This is where I draw the line.
If you are an LPC, or an LP, and you utilize Tarot as a part of the therapeutic process, more power to you. But if you claim that you can "counsel" people utilizing this 12th century flim-flammery and aren't a degreed professional, your "clients" should be warned.

Incidentally, this is also why I refuse to refer my parishioners to "Christian" counseling services, LPC or otherwise. The Bible is not a counseling handbook. Nor a science text. Nor a history book. Nor a geology book. Nor a political manifesto. Nor a magical tome.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:49 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


(It seems rather convenient for some folks, frankly, that they are spelled the same way.)
posted by darkstar at 10:51 AM on July 27, 2010


considering you're not thinking about the psychological games I'm playing as you're shuffling these cards.

And there you have it. What qualifies you to play "psychological games" with people? How do you know you're doing them any good at all? Show your work.
This is all just a lot of magical thinking, until someone shows up and does the actual legwork of gathering evidence. This is why I advocate strongly for DBT, because it's evidence based. Apply the scientific method and see where it gets you.
And I can see you saying, "Whatever Balrog, you can't tell me what to do, I believe the deck helps and so it does." And that's fine, for you. But as soon as you start charging people for your services, standards and practices should come into play. I guess, maybe, I feel so strongly about this because it so closely mirrors much of shell-game my peers in the clergy play with people regarding their material success. Pray this way, or do this exercise, or tithe such-and-such an amount before taxes, and *boom* everything will work out for you. This is magical thinking - it is uncritical and, frankly, an insult to the capacities of the human mind. Jesus never promised us anything other than a hard road, derision and mockery, a high chance at a painful end, and unconditional and eternal love. And now I'm just ranting so I should go back to work.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:00 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The most fundamental, most basic, most misunderstood, and most important aspect of Free Speech is that it protects unpopular speech.

We can determine that an idea is valid or not based on science, or based on hurf durf religion, or whatever we want, but it's not our right to prohibit someone else from believing it is valid or not.

It is however, within our rights as a society to prevent, or make illegal, actions that are or may be considered to be clearly harmful by a "reasonable" person.
posted by Xoebe at 11:07 AM on July 27, 2010



I think there's a difference between "I can find water with a stick" and "If you sit in front of me and talk to me as we sort through these cards, I can learn enough about you to deliver a narrative that frees you from certain worries and is in some ways surprisingly accurate, considering you're not thinking about the psychological games I'm playing as you're shuffling these cards."


And as I've said, as long as you accurately describe what you are doing when you require payment I don't have a problem with it.


It's protected as a religion, though.

Doesn't make it right.

Isn't this thread about a legal case?


PSA: Sometimes people disagree on the right legal interpretations on legal matters!


The most fundamental, most basic, most misunderstood, and most important aspect of Free Speech is that it protects unpopular speech.


But not fraudulent speech.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:18 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


A fool and his money are easily parted. I have no problem with fortune tellers, priests, or Nigerian princes taking money from the fool.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:26 AM on July 27, 2010


Smart people get taken in by scams all the time. Being foolish or stupid isn't the main vector, they go after the greedy or the naive. A ton of the victims of scammers of all types are senior citizens being taken advantage of, you should have a problem with that.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:33 AM on July 27, 2010


This is all just a lot of magical thinking, until someone shows up and does the actual legwork of gathering evidence

What evidence is there to be gathered? If someone wants to pay someone to sit down and explore questions with them such as "What are the likely outcomes of this situation at work?" or "What am I doing wrong in my love life?" what exactly in the responses are we even measuring?

I could see your point if it was directly in reference to people who profess psychic abilities or sell predictions. But if what you have is a conversation between two adults in which thoughts, feelings, and life experiences are shared as a basic problem-solving exercise, I'm not sure how you could evaluate the results in any meaningful way. If the querent walks away feeling understood, soothed, inspired, or advised, that's great; these are common outcomes of a good Tarot reading.

Sure, there are lots of ways to obtain those feelings, perhaps even more reliably. I guess it depends on what you want to hear and who you want to hear it from. If a Tarot card reader becomes someone's primary source of psychological counsel, I'd say that's unwise and unethical. I actually agree with you quite a bit, BB, about the way things change once money begins to be involved. In the time I've spent charging people for my services, I've avoided doing readings for people whom I perceive as needing professional mental health care, I've learned how to talk frankly with people about their expectations, I've learned to make myself unavailable when I sense people becoming too dependent on this kind of support. My site is covered in disclaimers and information about how the cards work (to the extent that you could say that they do at all).

What's left underneath that constitutes a sort of quasi-secular confessional booth. What I sell is an opportunity to discuss your problems with an open-minded stranger, and just so you don't think I'm just saying whatever pops into my head, or whatever you want to hear, I have this pack of cards which are, as Babblesort eloquently said upthread, symbolic of particular forces of personality, the world, or events. Together we pick through the mess of the present and try to decide what ought to be done next -- how, as sonascope said, you will create the future.

That's why I don't get what results you would even study to determine the effectiveness of the practice. It's not a results-based service, it's a process-based service, and many people are eager to go through this process, knowing full well that the responsibility for manufacturing results lies in themselves alone.
posted by hermitosis at 11:36 AM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


True story: I can locate fire 100% of the time using only a forked stick.
posted by stet at 11:40 AM on July 27, 2010


True story: I can locate fire 100% of the time using only a forked stick.

Attach marshmallows and I'll do better than that.
posted by edguardo at 12:00 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now, I don't personally believe in all those gods, but I don't disbelieve in them either.

I do not believe in the Pookah, and I highly doubt that he believes in me either.
posted by thescientificmethhead at 12:58 PM on July 27, 2010


But not fraudulent speech.

There are only a handful of industries that require proof that their services/products are scientifically proven to be exactly what they say they are and that all claimed benefits be effective. This is generally done to protect health and safety. FDA, USDA, various agencies that evaluate safety testing for products for children, for machinery, etc.

There's a lot of leeway in the veracity of marketing, though -- "Tastes Great, Less Filling" is, as far as I'm concerned, a horribly fraudulent claim.
posted by desuetude at 2:01 PM on July 27, 2010


Fraud is not often protected by free speech, well except corporate speech, but fraud is commonly protected by freedom of religion. Scientology very nearly wasn't protected as freedom of religion, but they blackmailed the IRS & others.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:16 PM on July 27, 2010


If the argument is that fortune telling is akin to talk therapy, then I think it's pretty important -- critical, really -- for both parties involved to view the ritual itself as a prop. That this is the case is not at all clear, and really I don't buy that argument. That is not any kind of defence to a charge of fraud.

If the argument is that fortune telling is akin to religious ritual, and therefore should receive the same protections from people wishing to engage in its practice, then I don't think there's really any argument you can bring to bear. Any distinctions you draw between mainstream religion and various forms of fortune-telling are going to be arbitrary. If you're going to permit one, I think you have to permit the other.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:40 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


jamjam -- I somewhat disagree with furiousxgeorge on the main topic here, but quit implying he's being disrespectful to his grandfather. Not Cool.

You do not know them, and you therefore do not know what you're talking about.
posted by kyrademon


I said what I did for what I consider to be two primary defensible reasons, kyrademon (as for the indefensible, who am I to say?).

First, it's clear that elementary school science fair project was a formative, positive experience for furiousxgeorge, and afforded him life-changing insights. I thought it was conceivable, though admittedly not likely, that it might be helpful to him if I pointed out that, from my perspective, there might be other life-changing insights left to molder on that long-ago science fair table, and that he and his grandfather might benefit if he were to pick those up, blow off the dust, and give them a good hard look.

I couldn't blame you for disagreeing (though I might be heard to mutter something about obtuseness), but I think my points were amply ratified when furiousxgeorge essentially repeated right here and now whatever public humiliation may have been involved for his grandfather then by linking to pages which clearly identify his grandfather by name.

Second, fxg has attacked people in this thread with what I experience as casual abandon, and my message to them (meant to be of comfort) was something like 'don't feel too bad-- look what he does in his own family!'.

My main reservation was that it was all too obvious to bother posting in the first place.

Thank you for reassuring me on that score.
posted by jamjam at 4:14 PM on July 27, 2010


pyramid termite: "...they will not, however, get your clothes whiter, attract girls around your beer cooler, or make you 10 years younger as you travel down the highway..."

The revolution will not be tarotized...
posted by symbioid at 5:11 PM on July 27, 2010


My main reservation was that it was all too obvious to bother posting in the first place. Thank you for reassuring me on that score.

If your idea of contributing to the debate is to make a thinly veiled, ad hominem attack on fxg via what you imagine his relationship with his grandfather to be, then, indeed, it would be better if, in future, you didn't "bother" with such "obvious" rhetorical flourishes.

Totally in agreement with kyrademon on this.
posted by darkstar at 5:45 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are only a handful of industries that require proof that their services/products are scientifically proven to be exactly what they say they are and that all claimed benefits be effective. This is generally done to protect health and safety. FDA, USDA, various agencies that evaluate safety testing for products for children, mental health professionals, for machinery.


First, it's clear that elementary school science fair project was a formative, positive experience for furiousxgeorge


No, that would be something you seem to assumed since you seem hell bent to attack me for stating my opinions. I hadn't thought of it in years till now, I posted about it as a counter-example to KokuRyu's experience with his own grandfather's fortune telling.

The point being, you don't have to have weird issues to investigate the world around you with science even when your family is involved.

there might be other life-changing insights left to molder on that long-ago science fair table, and that he and his grandfather might benefit if he were to pick those up, blow off the dust, and give them a good hard look.


See, this is a great example for the thread of why amateurs should not pretend to be therapists.


but I think my points were amply ratified when furiousxgeorge essentially repeated right here and now whatever public humiliation may have been involved for his grandfather then by linking to pages which clearly identify his grandfather by name.


Again, you are assuming there was public humiliation involved for god knows what reason. I linked to his woodcarving and the mention of him in the NY Times because he is fucking awesome.


Second, fxg has attacked people in this thread with what I experience as casual abandon, and my message to them (meant to be of comfort) was something like 'don't feel too bad-- look what he does in his own family!'.


So you falsely perceived some sort of personal attacks, and felt the best solution would be to respond with false personal attacks...right.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:49 PM on July 27, 2010


Burhanistan: "> WWCSS (What would Carl Sagan say?)

Probably something about not coming across as a bullish dick when trying to argue against something you don't care for.
"

My point exactly. Sagan never cared for pseudoscience, but he didn't beat you over the head with his viewpoint, unless you were talking about witch hunts.
posted by bwg at 6:39 PM on July 27, 2010


Uhm, the I CHING is kind of a big deal in China, (and elsewhere) and it it amounts to a tool for divination.

Carl Jung called both the I Ching and Tarot "mantic procedures" - I'm not sure I understand what that means but I'm pretty clear that different cultures and people at different levels of advancement may see and seek different things from the same basic mechanism.
posted by newdaddy at 7:35 PM on July 27, 2010


"mantic" from μαντεία (manteía) = prophecy, divination
posted by darkstar at 7:38 PM on July 27, 2010


orthogonality: “Better individual fraud than tyranny and sectarian violence.”

There is no such clear-cut choice. It is nice to believe that there is; it's fine and idealistic and proud. But reality isn't like that.

Freedom is only a means to an end. Justice is the purpose of human society. Sacrificing justice in the name of freedom only makes sense if you've idealized the situation so far that you can't tell the difference between the two.
posted by koeselitz at 9:15 PM on July 27, 2010


Justice is definitely not the purpose of human society. Human society has no purpose. Species have no purpose. Individuals even only have short term purpose.

Only genes and memes/ideas have purpose. Freedom are justice are nothing more than tools to prevent evolutionary stagnation, protecting themselves by helping groups that practice them gain technological and cultural advances.

You need a sound epistemological basis for claiming that anything abstract has a purpose. Evolution is the only epistemology that has not been throughly discredited at that level of abstraction.

I'd expect freedom shall always carry vastly more weight than justice, well "nature [is] red in tooth and claw".
posted by jeffburdges at 10:41 AM on July 28, 2010


As said above, I'm pretty sure there's already a law or two regarding fraud and false advertising on the books that could be used in these cases. No need to demonise the whole practise.
posted by batmonkey at 11:11 AM on July 28, 2010


jamjam, I am pleased that I have reassured you that not everyone finds your point of view "obvious". I don't. I sincerely hope others do not as well.

Moving back to the topic ... Even if some forms of divination can be used as psychological tools, certainly not all of them are being marketed that way. Many are being marketed as flat-out predicting the future. If this doesn't seem to apply to your cousin with the tarot cards or your dabbling with I Ching, think about Psychic Help Line or 900-Dial-A-Horoscope numbers.

And I have no doubt that some -- maybe not even all, but certainly some -- of the latter are entirely cynical endeavors, with neither employers or employees thinking they're doing anything more than making a fast buck.

But should all of it be illegal?

Maybe some should. Maybe some should be in the same category as Nigerian banking scams and snake oil. Some of it, which falls into the category of blatant fraud and theft, already is illegal.

But saying that all divination should be illegal is too broad. People believe all kinds of things. People spend their money on all kinds of things. If both a buyer and a seller sincerely believe they have passed something of value, one to the other, and both are satisfied, then I don't see how that's fraud, and I don't see how it can be made illegal.
posted by kyrademon at 6:41 PM on July 28, 2010


jeffburdges: “Justice is definitely not the purpose of human society. Human society has no purpose. Species have no purpose. Individuals even only have short term purpose.

Only genes and memes/ideas have purpose. Freedom are justice are nothing more than tools to prevent evolutionary stagnation, protecting themselves by helping groups that practice them gain technological and cultural advances.

You need a sound epistemological basis for claiming that anything abstract has a purpose. Evolution is the only epistemology that has not been throughly discredited at that level of abstraction.

I'd expect freedom shall always carry vastly more weight than justice, well ‘nature [is] red in tooth and claw’.”


Well, first of all, what "level of abstraction" are we talking about? I'm not trying to be abstract at all. And to be honest, "evolution" as an end, or as a goal, is so incredibly abstract as to be almost completely absent from human life in any direct way I can imagine. When was the last time you heard someone say "I need to pick up some beer on the way home, because it'll be good for my ability to pass on my genetic material to my forbears?" When was the last time you even heard someone say "I need to have sex, because my need to pass on my genetic materials to my forbears is very intense right now?" I don't even remember the last time I heard about somebody who was eager to have sex to procreate; clearly evolution isn't really present as an end in human life in any way on the level of intention.

In fact, evolution doesn't make sense as an epistemology at all. It certainly wasn't an epistemology to Darwin, and it isn't an epistemology to most evolutionary scientists. To scientists, evolution is simply a statistical phenomenon whereby genetic mutations which happen to be generally advantageous in a particular circumstance tend to live on in succeeding generations, whereas genetic mutations which happen to be generally disadvantageous in a particular circumstance tend to die off. Again, it's a statistical phenomenon; it doesn't attain the level of epistemology at all. Evolution as a scientific idea doesn't even include the notion of "advances;" a creature which evolves to survive in a methane atmosphere may be perfectly suited to live in that particular environment, but if the atmosphere changes to oxygen, that creature would become immediately extinct, no matter much evolution had taken place previously. That is to say: evolution as a scientific idea doesn't include a scale of quality, a gradual "improvement" or "advance" of a species. There is only change, and that change does not even tend to be advantageous necessarily for future environments.

Much less does evolution attain the level of an actual epistemology. Evolution as a scientific idea does not claim that "nature" is trying to "improve" creatures and "make them better-equipped." All of these are misapprehensions about evolution usually made by philosophers of science. Evolution as a scientific idea is not a way of thinking about the world, even if it's become a way of thinking about the world for most modern human beings. It's only a statistical phenomenon. Moreover, it's more than a little odd to claim that genes have a "purpose." That sounds to me a little like saying that rocks have feelings.

What I guess you're trying to argue is some sort of detached, Weberian aloofness as far as so-called "values" are concerned; you want to argue away the Good, but you're still unable to formulate an epistemology (which, I repeat, is the last thing one should try to do with evolution as a scientific idea) without reference to qualities of Good like "advance" and "stagnation." That's why you say that genes have a purpose; because you see them as aiming toward an end, whereas in truth they're chemicals which react to their environment, and you can't really ascribe intention to them any more than you can ascribe intention to "ideas" or to human beings or to badgers or to rocks.

I think at this point that Nietzsche would probably laugh and point out that your attempt to be aloof toward the Good is an utter failure, and that maybe this method of trying to reason our way out of the Good scientifically might be a mistake. There is probably a better way to remold epistemology, if that's what you're hoping to do.
posted by koeselitz at 7:14 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The purpose of human civilization isn't "justice", because you can't come up with a concrete definition of any such thing. Justice does not exist until we create it.

Civilization exists to improve reproductive success, and that's all. Everything else is stuff we add to that basic truth.

If it didn't improve reproductive success, we wouldn't be civilized, because humans that didn't spend energy being civilized would outcompete us.
posted by Malor at 7:34 PM on July 28, 2010


Malor: “Civilization exists to improve reproductive success, and that's all. Everything else is stuff we add to that basic truth.”

Again, this makes no sense to me. I don't know anybody who's trying to "improve reproductive success," or at least not many; and even those who are aren't really doing it in order to extend the species or pass on their genes. This doesn't exist as an end for human beings at all. Most (all?) people live aiming at their own pleasure; that generally has nothing whatsoever to do with improving reproductive success. That's why birth control is so damned popular.

When you say that "civilization exists to improve reproductive success," you sound distinctly like you're saying that nature created civilization in order to ensure that creatures were more likely to pass on their genes. But nature didn't create anything, has no intentionality, and didn't make civilization in order to do anything. Nature, if it exists, is not a creature, and is not capable of intending anything at all. Ascribing purpose to civilization, or to nature, or to genes, or to a species, is utterly irrational (and unscientific) because genes and species aren't things that intend or have purposes or aim at some goal. They just are. They are things. They follow rules. They're not trying to do anything.

'Justice is the purpose of human society' insofar as 'justice' is the greatest good for the greatest number, and insofar as we all enter society with the aim of getting some good out of it, regardless of what any person might define 'good' as. It's that simple. I don't see how anyone could dispute this. Do you know anyone who enters society to get some bad out of it? Intention only makes sense at this basic human level. I'm not saying that anybody agrees on what justice is; I'm only saying that whatever it is, no matter what our opinions about what it should be defined as, we all want it for ourselves – and that's why we enter society, to get something good out of it.
posted by koeselitz at 7:56 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure that the descriptions of genes using civilization to improve reproductive success is based on ideas from Dawkin's The Selfish Gene, which is a pretty good read and worth picking up even if you think the basic conclusions are crap.
posted by hippybear at 10:50 PM on July 28, 2010


It's not a terrible book, hippybear; but sometimes it overreaches with metaphor. The thing is, genes don't use anything. They don't have intention. And I think one of the major misunderstandings about evolution in our time has to do with the way people seem to think there's some cosmic force involved in it.
posted by koeselitz at 10:55 PM on July 28, 2010


I do think it's interesting that there have been more than a couple of FPPs which seem to suggest that none of us have intention at all, that there is no free will, etc. And I'm not sure that anyone in this thread has suggested that there is any cosmic force involved in evolution. But if we have brains that crave social organization and civilization and justice (whatever those terms mean), surely those brains arose out of millennia of selection of the most successful genes.
posted by hippybear at 3:13 PM on July 29, 2010


When you say that "civilization exists to improve reproductive success," you sound distinctly like you're saying that nature created civilization in order to ensure that creatures were more likely to pass on their genes. But nature didn't create anything, has no intentionality, and didn't make civilization in order to do anything.

No, what I'm saying is that humans (or whatever preceded us in the evolutionary chain) that cooperated had better reproductive success and health, and thus outcompeted those that didn't. From the standpoint of evolution, reproduction is all that matters. If civilization didn't improve reproductive success, the energy spent being civilized would be wasted, and humans not wasting that energy would have reproduced faster and outcompeted civilization.

They didn't. Civilization exists, and in fact is utterly dominant. That's because it improves human survivability. Everything else we add to that is an afterthought.
posted by Malor at 4:01 PM on July 30, 2010


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