My interests are in paranormal topics, coalition building, policy, and problem solving. Having visited the paranormal side on several occasions, I’m one of those skeptics that is not hated or despised by those that disagree with the “skeptical” scene. Distilled rom those interests, one of my goals is to find a way to interact effectively with the paranormal community and maybe come up with new ways of doing things. In order to do that, you can’t just jump in and expect change. It’s complicated so I try to explore the issues.
That serves as an introduction to an introduction…
I started reading Jeremy Northcote’s The Paranormal and the Politics of Truth: A Sociological Account. It’s already marked up from when I referred to it for my thesis project but it was time I read it through. Odd that sometimes you pick up a book years later and it resonates with you in a completely different way from the first encounter with it, thanks to life experience and current events.
So, I digested the introduction and I found some zinger ideas that I wanted to write down and contemplate anyway so I might as well share them and see how everyone feels about it (in consideration of my propensity to be collaborative).
The following are notes and ideas taken from the Introduction, pages 1-11.
We now have “micro-public spheres” or areas where we can gather and talk about certain topics of interest. Every participant in these spheres (or fields, such as the paranormal or skepticism or whatever), thinks they are cooperatively searching for the truth. Those darn “Others”, the detractors with their biases and agendas, hinder progress in society.
The author sees “intransigencies” on (both/all) sides that are not the result of power/authority struggles or inability to understand what the other person is saying, but about this demonization of the “Other”. (I think in part it certainly does have it’s fame, control and power aspects, but not for the average interested person.) The Others are a threat to the preferred order of things. For example, we can go back to the Skeptic straw-man idea – a wall exists between reason and unreason. The irrational and gullible believer will bring about the downfall of society and send us back into the Dark Ages. (If anyone pays attention, they will recognize that I don’t subscribe to that idea and I do not resemble the Skeptic straw-man though some love to suggest that is so, you’re mistaken.) The UFO believers are adamant that if we do not subscribe to their ideas, global catastrophe will result. Christians (or other religious spheres) fear that the forces of darkness will overtake us and plunge society into despair. Not only do the spheres demonize the “Other” who do not subscribe to their order of things, but they will act against those within the sphere that stray from ideals. (Sound familiar? Atheists? Skeptics? Feminists?)
With this setup, ideological differences are reinforced rather than overcome.
Whether you choose to believe it or not, paranormal beliefs are part of our larger society. Are paranormal beliefs deviant? They are portrayed that way but many people accept them so they aren’t that unusual.
The patterns of interaction of paranormal participants are not specific to paranormal matters. They are human interactions we see in many places. There is an appeal and a power to be had in the cultural and social fabric of a host society – whether that be paranormal or skeptical – there is a sense that “I found my people” where people share principles and social practices.
The author talks about discourse and the discursive. This is the metanarrative and I can’t say that I grasp this concept fully. This is described as the assumptions or truth claims that underlie a person’s understanding of reality, society and self. (What is the difference between that and a “worldview”?) The paranormal discourse, for example, lends itself to a certain interpretation of events. But this is self-referential appeal to facts, which are discursive themselves.
A certain discourse defines how someone might interpret an event as paranormal while others would view it as religious or rational. Where is objective reality in all this? Is it all shifting sand or is there some solid ground somewhere? I want to count on the fact that there is some objective truth.
Why does the author consider the paranormal as having to do with “politics”? Well, politics is simply a mode of contestation and negotiation in social settings. It is a sociological process of truth construction. The paranormal debate is political because it challenges the boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate knowledge in modern society.
Can there be consensus building in such a situation? Considering the entrenched beliefs of paranormalists and nonparanormalists? Hmm. Now I’m wondering. Is this possible? I’ve been approached by some to consider giving this “bridge building” a try but maybe our assumptions are too far apart. If we reject some of each other’s basic premises, can we find common ground and move forward? (Note atheists, feminists, skeptics, again… it all applies).
Progress can only be made when participants are able to see past their preconceptions of one another and overcome feelings of “the Other” as a threat.
I keep thinking about this. Are the participants, the stakeholders, in a process (secularism, feminism, anomalistic phenomena) READY to give up preconceptions, wipe the slate clean and try again?
Man, this IS politics. Congress currently can’t do this. I see a great many parties that have a very long aisle to reach across. I don’t know if progress can be made. But I’d like to try and see. I’ve contacted a scientific paranormal research group and volunteered my services. The response… was promising. Stay tuned.