Monday, September 10, 2012

shoehorning

Shoehorning is the process of force-fitting some current affair into one's personal, political, or religious agenda. So-called psychics frequently shoehorn events to fit vague statements they made in the past. This is an extremely safe procedure, since they can't be proven wrong and many people aren't aware of how easy it is to make something look like confirmation of a claim after the fact, especially if you give them wide latitude in making the shoe fit. It is common, for example, for the defenders of such things as the Bible Code or the "prophecies" of Nostradamus to shoehorn events to the texts, thereby giving the illusion that the texts were accurate predictions.

A classic example of psychic shoehorning is the case of Jeanne Dixon. In 1956 she told Parade magazine: "As for the 1960 election Mrs. Dixon thinks it will be dominated by labor and won by a Democrat. But he will be assassinated or die in office though not necessarily in his first term." John F. Kennedy was elected and was assassinated in his first term. This fact was shoehorned to fit her broad prediction and her reputation was made as the psychic who predicted JFK's violent death. In 1960 she apparently forgot her earlier prediction because she then predicted that JFK would fail to win the presidency. Many psychic detectives take advantage of shoehorning their vague and ambiguous predictions to events in an effort to make themselves seem more insightful than they really are.


Court TV exploited the interest in so-called psychic detectives with a series of programs, one featuring Greta Alexander. She said that a body had been dumped where there was a dog barking. The letter "s" would play an important role and there was hair separated from the body. She felt certain the body was in a specific area, although searchers found only a dead animal. She asked to see a palm print of the suspect—her specialty—and the detective brought one. She said that a man with a bad hand would find the body. Then searchers found a headless corpse, with the head and a wig nearby. The man who found it had a deformed left hand.* The letter 's' can be retrofitted to zillions of things. Many scenarios could be shoehorned to fit "hair separated from the body" and "bad hand." (Fans of psychics will overlook the fact that Alexander's reference to the bad hand was supposedly made after looking at the palm print of the victim.)

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, fundamentalist Christian evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson shoehorned the events to their agenda. They claimed that "liberal civil liberties groups, feminists, homosexuals and abortion rights supporters bear partial responsibility...because their actions have turned God's [sic] anger against America."* According to Falwell, his god allowed "the enemies of America...to give us probably what we deserve." Robertson agreed. The American Civil Liberties Union has "got to take a lot of blame for this," said Falwell and Robertson agreed. Federal courts bear part of the blame, too, said Falwell, because they've been "throwing God [sic] out of the public square." Also "abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God [sic] will not be mocked," said Falwell and Robertson agreed. [Hear these men talk it out in mp3.]

Neither Falwell nor Robertson has any way of proving any of their claims. But such claims can't be disproved, either. Their purpose is simply to call attention to their agenda and to get free publicity in the news media. It is a way to take advantage of the fear and anger of people without fear of being proved to be a liar. It is a hit and hide tactic, as no rebuttal is possible. One might respond, though, by saying that if there is an omniscient, all-powerful being who governs the universe, the likelihood that such a being would be allied with people like Falwell, Robertson, or suicide killers seems absurd on its face and unworthy of serious discussion.

After one has been roundly criticized by nearly everyone on the planet for egregious shoehorning of the Falwell/Robertson type, it is typical of the hypocrites to issue denials and claim their statements were taken out of context. Falwell issued the following statement: "I sincerely regret that comments I made during a long theological discussion on a Christian television program yesterday were taken out of their context and reported, and that my thoughts--reduced to sound bites--have detracted from the spirit of this day of mourning." Robertson, however, is unrepentant, and has added Internet pornography to his list of things that have so angered his god that He had to murder thousands of innocent people to express His almighty displeasure. If we don't change our ways, he says, his god is going to kill a lot more of us. Thus, when the carnage mounts in the years ahead as the U.S. and its allies try to eliminate terrorism and the terrorists continue murdering the innocent, we can look back at the dead and say that Pat Robertson predicted it.

Finally, astrology is probably the most widely practiced superstition and most popular Tooth Fairy science in the world today. Nevertheless, there are many who defend astrology by pointing out how accurate professional horoscopes are. Astrology “works,” it is said, but what does that mean? Basically, to say astrology works means that there are a lot of satisfied customers. There are a lot of satisfied customers because, thanks to subjective validation, it is easy to shoehorn any event to fit a chart. To say astrology "works" does not mean that astrology is accurate in predicting human behavior or events to a degree significantly greater than mere chance. There are many satisfied customers who believe that their horoscope accurately describes them and that their astrologer has given them good advice. Such evidence does not prove astrology so much as it demonstrates the Forer effect and confirmation bias. Good astrologers give good advice, but that does not validate astrology. (They also make ambiguous claims like the oracle of Delphi who told Croesus before he attacked Persia: “If you cross the river, a great empire will be destroyed.” So armed, Croesus attacked, resulting in the destruction of his own empire.) There have been several studies that have shown that people will use selective thinking to make any chart they are given fit their preconceived notions about themselves and their charts. Many of the claims made about signs and personalities are vague and would fit many people under many different signs. Even professional astrologers, most of whom have nothing but disdain for sun sign astrology, can’t pick out a correct horoscope reading at better than a chance rate.

4 comments:

  1. Robert, could you please clarify what you mean by (as you call them) "professional" astrologers, as compared to -- I'm assuming -- amateur astrologers.

    Is it simply that the former is a smart individual who obtains money by deception from fools, whilst the latter is simply a fool?

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    Replies
    1. Neither are necessarily fools. The one gets paid for doing astrogical charts and considers astrology her profession; the other doesn't get paid and considers astrology a hobby or an avocation.

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  2. Hey! What is yous point of view on advertisements of all kinds placed on regular blogs?

    ReplyDelete