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.

7 thoughts on “Paranormal politicking

  1. “What is the difference between that and a “worldview”?”

    Demonstrating that one is up on current theory, especially to potential employers 🙂

  2. That said, there is a difference, and you note it. A ufologist might have a worldview that can be described like a set of stories, or a fantastical realm. But the beliefs of that ufologist also have themes to it that can be more broadly applied, or moved into new fields. See for example how the concept “the truth is being hidden by an elite conspiracy that bargains away our freedom to demonic entities” can be easily transferred to one “worldview” (say that laid out in the Dark Side of 1980s ufology with Majestic cutting deals with aliens) from another (take your pick, ranging from fictional examples to real-world conspiracy theories of all stripes).

    So the difference actually is important. It’s not how Lyotard’s followers would have used it, as all of this stuff is too gauche for critical analysis, but still.

  3. Sharon, there is a distinct difference between the Other here, and the Other in some more “real world” examples. A major influence on that term is of studies of colonialism and postcolonialism (though clearly that’s not all of it, but in many of the other ways the term has been used, my point applies). In these other (sorry) cases, yes the Other is constructed, but it is constructed largely as part of an already existing material struggle. Indigenous or colonized or Oriental (ala Said) people are not just randomly made the Other. They’re othered in the context of military/economic struggle, as well as culture contact and conflict, and other aspects.

    The Other in these circumstances are constructed as Other, no question. But they would be the Other no matter what because they are in a real conflict (generally not of their own choosing). There is a substructure there.

    But with skepticism, occulture, etc., is that the case?

    More importantly, most of the Othering here is all there is. Most paranormalists (and here I’m especially talking about authors) have purposely defined themselves as opposed to Academia or Western Material Rationality or whatever. Their entire identity as a paranormalist is wrapped up in such.

    This is not the case of most scientists. BUT it is the case for skeptics. Look at the name. Skeptics are literally defining themselves by what they are responding to (see also a-theists). Or para-normal. Or A-nomalist. The Forteans don’t get away either as their namesake’s entire claim to fame is spitting in the face of Science, with a smile.

    Why would someone bridge when the only reason their identity exists is to be in opposition to someone else?

    If you want to bridge, then the identity would have to be the subject matter. I can’t stop myself from praising Monster Talk again, so I will. Monster Talk. Yes, it is supported by Skeptic. But the name is Monster Talk. They’re interested in monsters. They want to know about them, the reality behind them, whatever it is.

    That’s how you bridge.

  4. My thought on this is simply: it doesn’t have to be a “binary” POV. Just because something is considered unexplained on some level, even on a broad scientific level, doesn’t mean that it is paranormal in the sense of what spiritualist or pop culture tradition tells us it is…it just means that work needs to be done to solve for the unknown.

    In my mind, then, one needs to come at it from an agnostic perspective, and then choose a methodology for gaining more data. The fault of the vast majority of paranormal enthusiasts is ignorance of proper scientific method and/or technical expertise. They gather data, but it’s horribly flawed and done with little or no criteria for analysis in place. Certainly there is an utter lack of viable documentation!

    The scientific method is a great place to start, but one big obstacle is the lack of scientists willing to apply their skills to the subject. Far too many paranormal enthusiasts that have a scientific background are willing to set it aside when it comes to their hobby. But if it’s less about validating traditional, pop cultural folklore, and more about just gathering more information to see if it provides a better basis for explanation (regardless of what that explanation might be), then it has value.

    My personal take is that there is a subset of paranormal enthusiasts that would prefer that scientific foundation, and wouldn’t necessarily mind if the data brought them to a perfectly natural explanation. Certainly that would be the kind of approach that would appeal to me!

  5. Good Luck with your endeavors Ms. Hill. You seem to have the type of skills to maybe win over at least a few converts to a more reasonable belief system. You’ve generally seemed quite fair and even handed in your treatment of people. Sometimes, it just takes a little coaxing to get someone to let go of a mistaken concept and get a firmer grip on reality. Even if they weren’t to manage a shift away from Bigfoot, Ghosts, or whatever, I’d think they would at least respect you for treating them with respect. I should probably try to be a little gentler in my assessments of people from time to time as well.

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