Woo Part Two: A Personal Testimony

If I had to take a shot at the interests of my typical blog follower, I would normally think of things like secularism, biology, physics, etc.  Nope.  There are quite a few Christians – and devout ones, if I interpret their blogs correctly.  Don’t get me wrong; you all are more than welcome to read as much as you like; it just wouldn’t have been my first guess for the typical ranting atheist’s audience.

Oh, speaking of, my two porn star Twitter followers left.  Such a shame.  On with the countdown.

Anyway, I was having a discussion earlier with a friend of mine about yesterday’s post, and a few interesting things came up that I thought I would touch on today.  I originally had intended to write as a response, but given the ever increasing length of my comment and the need for me to have something for Wednesday, I figured I would write it here.  So in other words, Dan, I’m not picking on you 🙂 … you just gave me a couple of things I wanted to think about and it took on a life of its own.

My requirements for “tolerating” any religion or other belief system relates to whether or how they interact with secular society.  As long as you don’t legislate it or teach it as science, then I really don’t have a problem.  That covers the institution of religion pretty well, but not the kind of New Age stuff I wrote about yesterday.  Why, then, would I take issue with any of the stuff they say or the products they sell?  It’s not as if these folks are forcefully converting people like we’ve seen as a result of religion throughout history.  Potential customers can simply say, “No, thank you” and walk away.

It’s true, most will likely do that, especially if they see what’s being sold as nothing more than snake oil.  I’m not worried about them; I’m more concerned about people who think, for example, like my uncle.  His “ya gotta have an open mind” mentality and willingness to spend money he doesn’t have is fertile ground for these New Age “alternate healing modalities” to take root, regardless of any evidence to support them.

A few years ago he tried to get me and my brother into a multi-level marketing scheme selling energy drinks.  The company was called Nutrazon, and the company provided videos of “proof” that they worked by running before-and-after tests of balance, coordination, energy level, strength, and a few other things. (Imagine the old snake oil pitches you’d see in movies.  Remember Pete’s Dragon?).  I can only assume that the clinical trials were in progress, which is why they hadn’t published anything about their miracle beverage up to that point.

The guy in charge of selling Teh Magik JOOS was the same scam artist who also sold these little “energy” crystals that were supposed to block “harmful” EM radiation like the stuff that comes from power lines, cell phones, and UV radiation, but let the “good kind” pass through.

My uncle was telling about all of this.  Over a goddamned cell phone.

OH YEAH there was also a “homeopathic” spray.  I don’t recall what was in it, but you weren’t actually supposed to spray it on yourself … but about six inches above your head where one of your chakras would derive the best benefit.  I have no idea where to even start unraveling that one.

And the less said about the energy water, the better.

Before going further, I think some background is in order.  This is a guy who’s had pretty much all of his ideas dismissed or squashed by every family member since childhood … but for good reason.  Such gems include but are not limited to:

  • Grabbing cases of free sunglasses from the Dollar Mart and selling them for $5 each.
  • Asking me to compile the UFO info he gave to me a while back, so he could burn them to CDs and sell them … for $1000 each.  This stuff is all on line, free of charge.
  • Purchasing oil drilling rights in Antarctica
  • “Patenting” a way to gulp air in order to stop the hiccups.
  • Stocking up on food supplies (reasonable) because of the impending Pole Shift (WTF).
  • PanAfNet – some African satellite startup company where he wanted $10,000 from me and my brother for “investor costs”, to be paid back by him, guaranteed.  With what money I have no idea.
  • Layers of Light, International (MLM scheme 1), which is the crystal pendant / brain spray company.  (I think this is a mirror site or something … the original is gone.)
  • Well … Nutrazon (MLM scheme 2) … again, created by the same guy.  This is still up and running.

… and the problem is that no one else listens to him when he starts in with these ideas, so I’m his only sounding board.  However, this very same person

  • Held a paying job of one form or another since the age of 8
  • Biked across Europe
  • Went to school for what he wanted to learn, like massage therapy, opera, acting, etc.
  • Met members of my family that the rest of us haven’t heard about both here and in Europe, and has stayed in touch with them.
  • Been an extra in dozens of movies and met most of the stars in them.
  • … so he was able to mail me a birthday card signed by Levar Burton, Ben Gazarra, Jim Belushi, Liza Minelli, and Jack Klugman
  • Visited every continent (minus Antarctica)
  • Maintained the physical fitness of someone half his age.
  • Stressed the importance of appreciating people, love, life, happiness … because you don’t know when that person or situation will go away forever.

So we’re not talking about some do-nothing loser with no motivation.  This guy has lived a life that others would envy, at least in some ways.  He was a dreamer, an adventurer, and an explorer … but a God-awful judge of how and where to spend his money.

As I said before, his willingness to believe the nonsensical mechanisms through which the crystal / spray / joos acted (quantum mechanics is involved.  Seriously.), plus a near-panic level desperation to get out of debt and free himself from other problems caused by smoking and drinking were the motivating factors.  Since I was also having some health problems at the time, he also thought of the benefit these things could have for me.

Before I knew what was happening, he told me he bought a membership and six months’ supply of product.  He fell for the whole thing, hook line and sinker.  In the beginning, he couldn’t stop telling me about how great the crystal was and how it was changing his life, regardless of how many times I countered that it was his own motivation that was behind it.  Whichever it was, it didn’t last long, and his business, such as it was, petered out.

My uncle lost thousands of dollars because he trusted these people and believed in the possibility that he could derive some benefit from their products.  He subsequently fell even deeper in debt, prompting him to get into some of the same bad habits that made him to seek alternative healing methods to begin with.  Maybe this would have happened anyway with something else entirely – as I said, he was no good with his finances – but he threw his money away chasing fake remedies.

This is why I care about the effects of people mashing up mysticism with poorly understood scientific terms to peddle to the unsuspecting public.  First, the average person is so scientifically illiterate that they may have no idea they’re being lied to – deliberately or not.  Second, it’s human nature to want to believe in something.  Make it sound interesting enough and you’ll get people curious to learn more.  Third, there are people out there who are at the end of their rope, and they are desperate for something to help them.  It could be money or relationship trouble, addiction, or health problems to which doctors just shrug their shoulders because they don’t know the answer.

Whatever the cause, people will latch on to anything that sounds like it could help their condition when the normal routes don’t appear to be delivering.  What they get in return is not only nothing – in the form of whatever alternative cure they purchased – but less than nothing because now they’re out hundreds or thousands of dollars that could have been used to invest in a much more useful and practical solution.

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4 Responses to Woo Part Two: A Personal Testimony

  1. Dan Adler says:

    Woot, I’m an inspiration. Or something. (no worries, I’m not feeling picked on). One thought, and it’s probably just an unfortunate juxtaposition of clauses:

    “He was a dreamer … an adventurer … an explorer … and a God-awful judge of how and where to spend his money.”

    This makes it sound like being a dreamer, an adventurer, and an explorer are bad things. And they’re not.

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