From: SKEPTICMAG@aol.com
From: Michael "Fairy Flattener, Rand Banned" Shermer (read on)

Check out the October issue of Vanity Fair and Christopher Hitchen's brilliantly-written (aren't they all) essay about a new film being released next month entitled Fairy Tale: A True Story, starring Harvey Keitel as Houdini and Peter O'Toole as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

It is about their spectacular debate over the famous fairy photos debunked in Randi's book Flim Flam. Hitchens and I saw the screening of the film together, so he gives both me and Randi a nice plug, praises mine and Randi's books, and endorses Randi's 2000 Club that has now raised over $1.1 million challenge to the psychics to collect if they can really do what they say they can do.

To his credit Hitchens even made this rather unusual pledge to the club: "As my contribution to the millennium celebrations, and the tsunami of piffle that is about to break over us, I have pledged my apartment to the 2000 Club, and I expect to be living there, reading stories of enchatment to my children, but with no pixie-ridden brook to excite any feebleminded adult neighbors, at least until I move, or until I have passed over to that undiscovered region that is beyond the reach of Tinkerbelle's hideous vengeance."

Hitchens is such a great writer. What I wouldn't give to be able to write like this. He describes Houdini: "He toured far and wide, exposing and denouncing the callous hoaxers of the ectoplasm-artists and of those who dealt, for coin, in burblings from the beyond." He describes me as a "fairy-flattener" and writes: "But it's not so easy being a fairy-flattener.

You take your shovel, you squash them like roaches and ignore their tiny yells, and then they leap up again giggling and gibbering in some other part of the garden."

Of modern belief in pseudoscience, Hitches observes:

"It sometimes seems as if the world's most advanced modern society has collapsed utterly into the worship of pseudoscience, with people possessing just enough education to get everything spectacularly fouled up in their minds. What could be more enthralling and awe-inspiring than to follow the adventures of Stephen Hawking, a genuine devotee of science and history and literature?

Yet people will spurn this chance in order to gape at a palpably confected video of alien autopsies. It's like throwing away the truffle in order to gulp down the wrapper."

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

On another note, the Sept. 4 issue of Nature has a full-page review of WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS (unusually long for them). It is neither negative nor positive. It is, well, weird. That's all I can say, it's weird. He can't understand, for example, why I think it is strange that Ayn Rand's Objectivism movement became a cult, when I spent three full pages explaining PRECISELY why I think it is weird. Hear is yet another reason:

I've been banned by the Randoids. Just before departing on a holiday to Lake Powell last month, the producer of a radio show hosted by Leonard Peikoff (Rand's hand-picked intellectual heir, defender of the faith, and keeper of the truth), called to book me on the show. I figured they were not too happy with my chapter on Rand and were setting me up to be trounced by Peikoff, who is a brilliant guy and can cite Rand chapter and verse. I figured I would be eaten alive, but that I would buck up and take it like a man since I said what I said.

When I returned from my vacation I discovered that my appearance had been cancelled. Why? Turns out that they had only HEARD about the book but had not read my chapter on Rand. When they read it they immediately cancelled me. The reason given was that they did not want to promote a book that "contains libelous statements about Ms. Rand." They would be happy to debate me on the metaphysics of absolute morality (they believe there is such a thing and that they and only they have the absolute moral answers), but there is no way they want to give any recognition to a book that is critical of Rand as a person or philosopher (this despite the fact that I spend an entire paragraph explaining that one must separate the philosophy from the philosopher and that I agree with much that is in objectivist philosophy).

The irony of this is that THE MAJOR POINT of that chapter is that one of the signs of a cult is the inability or unwillingness to consider criticisms of the leader or the leader's beliefs. So they played beautifully into my hands by doing the very thing I said they would do if they were a cult!

When I spoke to the producer upon my return I told him that I actually have a photograph of Rand on my wall, next to other photographs including Martin Gardner, Penn and Teller, Randi, Steve Gould, Richard Dawkins, Isaac Asimov, Frank Sulloway, G. Gordon Liddy, Houdini, my wife, a galapagoes turtle (just so I cannot be accused of being speciesocentric), and the Hubble Deep Field photograph of galaxies (just so I cannot be accused of being MilkyWayocentric). Well, upon hearing this he said he would reconsider booking me. Now THAT'S intellectual integrity!

(There is, by the way, a very reasonable group of folks called THE INSTITUTE FOR OBJECTIVIST STUDIES, headed by David Kelly, who are very open to criticism of Rand and do not hold her in worshipful esteem as "the greatest human being who ever lived" as do the other folks.)

I also pressed the producer to please tell me what is libelous in my book, because in a later edition I would certainly want to correct any mistakes. After going round and round in generalities about how "practically everything in the chapter" was wrong, he couldn't cite a single example and said he would have to reread (more like read for the first time) the chapter. I'm not holding my breath.

Michael "Fairy Flattener, Rand Banned" Shermer


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