Skeptic Fail #1: Michael Shermer fails to debunk the Law of AttractionSeptember 28, 2013
I probably should have started this series a long time ago. but I didn’t. I guess I wanted to “focus on the positive”. For many years I’ve only felt able to shake my head at some of the things that professional skeptics do, and simply focus on the good skeptic work — done mostly by amateur “skeptic” bloggers or by professionals who aren’t dependent on skepticism for their income.
I also don’t pay much attention to what professional skeptics and their organizations are doing, and I don’t see any reason to start. But some of their failures do need to be pointed out, as do the blind spots inherent in the usual skeptical approach to many issues.
So let’s start with a generally disgraceful piece of failed skepticism which looks more like a pathetic attempt at self-promotion by Michael Shermer. He attempts to debunk the — dangerous and wrong — “Law of Attraction” as presented in The Secret. Unfortunately he ignores one of the most basic rules of skepticism, in that he didn’t sufficiently research, and therefore doesn’t understand, the idea he is criticizing. The result is that he winds up making a video that would be more likely to reinforce the belief in the Law of Attraction. This is known in the business as a failure.
The segment starts with Shermer and another professional skeptic Brian Dalton having a mock argument about whether or not the law of attraction applies to sick people or people who have had an accident. Did they attract it? Dalton pretends to believe they must have done, and Shermer plays the role of the believer who says it doesn’t apply to sick people.
Had they done a modicum of research they would have discovered almost instantly that, yes, the law of attraction says that you will attract anything you focus on, wanted or unwanted. Every single law of attraction teacher on the planet insists that you do indeed manifest negative things if you are not careful. Thus —
“The law of attraction works whether you believe in it or not, just like the law of gravity, so buy this product and learn how to use it for yourself.”
I’m stunned that neither Shermer nor Dalton have heard that line….. That’s the basis of the whole fucking scam!
They suck you in with promising to show you how to manifest your dreams and then try to scare the pants off you with the information that you are manifesting things all the time whether you like it or not, so you better watch what you think.
This is why the idea is such a trap. All criticism of it is considered by a believer to be inherently “negative” and therefore dangerous and to be avoided lest one attract negativity into ones life. And it is based on fear — the fear that your greatest fears will become a reality if you don’t strictly control your thoughts. The Secret was carefully designed both to disable critical thinking (by presenting it as if it’s a gift from a child) and to trigger deep-seated fears in people (with numerous images of people being hunted and burned alive), without the viewer realizing what they were getting themselves into.
And Shermer and Dalton missed all of that. They don’t know what they are up against. And they are clearly oblivious to the amount of damage this idea has caused to the lives of millions of people who have tried to use it.
These two have clearly invested a lot of time, effort and money in making this video. It’s filmed in a professional studio and has obviously been scripted. They even went to the trouble of queuing up footage of chickens for the exact moment in their scripted banter when Dalton calls Shermer a “chicken”. Really funny guys. Jeez, you blokes are a laugh a minute aren’t you.
More disturbing is their sequence in which they try to “manifest” a parking space.
Shermer introduces the sequence with a smirk: “So we’re here in a parking lot with Jen…. who’s a big believer in the law of attraction.”
That’s right, two guys, both of whom have a bad reputation for manipulative dealings women have got “Jen” in the back seat of a car in a parking lot and are leering at her from the front.
This pointless and unfortunate sequence has an added piece of stupidity from Shermer which is more in the realm of normal every day poor educational practice than sexism or incompetence. Namely, he says that with Jen visualizing a parking spot, that if they find one “then clearly something is going on.” For Shermer this is just a normal over-stated “strictly for TV” Penn & Teller style mock experiment for entertainment purposes only. But it is also exactly the kind of half-baked “experiment” that millions of law of attraction believers have carried out themselves and experienced “success” with. Any believer in the LoA will simply be nodding their head at this and wondering when Shermer is going to challenge their beliefs. Again, I am stunned that Shermer doesn’t know this.
The scene ends with an abrupt cut back to the studio, with the joke that Jen was so worried about Dalton’s driving that she manifested an accident. (A further bit of patronizing and sexist tastelessness has Dalton joking that the only reason she didn’t want to work with them anymore was because she didn’t like Shermer’s beret.)
Then it gets even more tasteless and disturbing with a sequence in which they get a small child to visualize a bike, and she winds up (fictitiously) getting hit by one and taken to hospital. Again, a believer would be nodding at this and saying, “Yep, that’s why you gotta learn to do it right.” Why are they doing this?
They sum up.
If good things happen because people will it, doesn’t that mean bad things also happen because people will it? Do you really think that things like disease and terror attacks happen because people will it on themselves? I don’t think so.
Excuse me, is this supposed to be skepticism? Is this the best you guys can come up with against the most malevolent, ruthless and above all most successful piece of spiritual mass manipulation in decades? — An unwitting confirmation of its main premise; a replication of exactly the kind of experiment that appears to confirm it; and lamely countering it with the phrase “I don’t think so”?
It’s so easy to assume that the only reason why people believe “weird things” is because the human brain tends to make logical fallacies. But that is to ignore virtually the whole of behavioral psychology. It also underestimates the role of manipulation and above all the ruthlessness of people willing to exploit others by what ever means are possible. Shermer and Dalton are way out of their depth with these issues.
Part 2 looks more closely at manipulation
Posted by Yakaru