Knowledge from a Vending Machine

You pay someone, you get knowledge/enlightenment.  Wheee!

Something that people my age say a lot is, “The older I get, the more I realize how little I know.”

I mean, people my age who are not pompous asses.

Today, I am thinking about…thinking.

I got an email today from a website called “ESkeptic”, announcing their conference in southern California.  Well, sure, I know I can’t possibly go but I thought I would see what they’re up to, anyway.

The first thing that caught my attention, actually, wasn’t even the conference itself.  The item above the announcement did: “Waking Up” with Sam Harris.

I don’t know who Sam Harris is.  I do know that “waking up” is a common phrase used amongst people who want to promote self-awareness, myself included.  I ran a group whose main focus was self-awareness, and on the chalkboard in the room I had written, “Wake Up!”  So I am familiar with this concept.

I have never, however, heard a skeptic use language like that.

I would love to tell you what he meant by that, but I am not paying $4.99 to rent his lecture, the full title of which is “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.”  The description reads as follows:

“In these talks, Harris discussed a range of experiences that have traditionally been considered “spiritual”—in particular the phenomenon of self-transcendence. Although such experiences tell us nothing about the origins of the cosmos, they confirm some well-established truths about the human mind: Our conventional sense of self is an illusion; positive emotions, such as compassion and serenity, are teachable skills; and the way we think can profoundly influence our lives and the lives of others. (This video consists of a one-hour lecture and an hour of Q&A.)” (email from Skeptics Society, 2/4/2015)

Our conventional sense of self is an illusion?  That’s a truth?

Sounds to me as if the skeptics are kind of desperate for members, and are resorting to promoting their own special brand of woo.  Tsk tsk.  And charging for it.  Just like they scream at others for doing.

So then I went on to read about their conference.  It costs a lot of money to attend.  Even just the open bar and lecture session is $75 (I assume the bar is extra).

I don’t see any difference between this conference and the myriad of UFO/Bigfoot/Enlightenment conferences that are held on a daily basis somewhere in the world.  Except I think the UFO and Bigfoot conferences might at least have entertainment value for the money (and they are usually cheaper).

Nope, the skeptics are after the same snob-appeal crowd that the modern-day gurus are after, except they talk about different subjects.

Do I hate skeptics? Noooooooo.  Most of my family are skeptics.  Some of my friends are skeptics.  I am occasionally skeptical about a great many things, which is why I refer to a lot of things as “woo”.

No, I just hate elitism in any form.  I don’t like anyone who thinks he/she has the market cornered on “the truth”.  Because, to me, unless you are referring to relating testimony (telling the truth about something/someone), I don’t think ANYONE knows “the truth”.

There are scientific principles, to be sure, and I do not argue against those.  I guess that’s “truth” in a sense.  But the word “truth” has almost a moralistic ring to it.  I would rather say, “It is likely that…”, or “It most probably is….”, or even “with a 95% confidence level” (as is written in peer-reviewed journal articles).

When I see someone charging for content that I often have taught for free, or blog here for free, it makes me mad.  Could I ever go on a lecture circuit and talk about things I write about here?  Not likely.  I could make money at it, for sure.  But it would be hard for me to do that without feeling like I was ripping people off.

Self-awareness et al is easy to teach – that part of the quote about Mr. Harris’ lecture is quite accurate.  In fact, you can teach it to yourself (in the 60s and 70s, lsd/peyote/psilocybin were used for that sometimes).

You do not have to pay $4.99 to rent a lecture (gee, you can’t even own it, what a ripoff), or pay $20.00 for a book (oh, it’s autographed, I know, but still…), or attend a $75 dinner party, or pay $225 for a Saturday conference session ($199 for Skeptic Society members) in order to become self-aware/learn about pseudoscience/be entertained by magicians with agendas.

If people pay for that, I think it’s much more likely they are paying for the chance to be around others of like-mind, so they can all feel smug and smart.  It’s really not like you would learn anything, like, say, you would at an academic conference.  And I guess you need to be a certain kind of person to enjoy a smug-fest. *cough* elitist asshole *cough*

What’s my point today?  I don’t know.  Maybe I am just fed up with people ripping off the public.  Maybe I am disgusted by elitism in its many forms.  Maybe I am appalled that someone would have the nerve to charge for something that’s so basic and so obvious.

Maybe I just feel that, with all their protestations that they are skeptics in order to advance science and educate people, they are still basically people out to make a buck.  And these folks do not live at subsistence level – they make quite a wealthy living from this.

I just think that’s shameful.

This week’s weirdness comes again from Gizmag, that wonderful website that clues you in on all the latest technological advances in all kinds of different areas.  This article is called “Fungi Mutarium Fuses Plastic and Fungi into Foodstuffs”.  Oh, those wacky Austrians at Livin Studios!

And…a recommendation from Hulu.  It’s another Hulu-produced series called “The Booth at the End.”  A man sits, well……….in a booth at the end (of a diner).  People come see him, tell him what they want, and he has them perform a task – then they come back and tell him about what they did and how they got what they wanted.  Is he a bad guy?  Seems so, at first, as he has people kill other people and what-not.  But sometimes people don’t do the task and they get what they want anyway.  So is he a good guy who makes people consider their actions and how those affect others?  I don’t know yet.  But it’s entertaining.

Be good.  Be kind.  Teach someone something…for free.





2 thoughts on “Knowledge from a Vending Machine

  1. charlies5169

    Hmmm… Enlightenment AND admission to the Elite… in one weekend! And all for one low, low price. Call before midnight and receive this handsome set of steak knives.

    No doubt, Mr. Mencken would approve.



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