Thursday, December 14, 2006

Monokroussos on Lewis and the occult

Finally, a thought about your posted link on CSL as the gateway to witchcraft. There’s plenty that’s ridiculous and objectionable about that particular page, but I’m not convinced the general concern is unconditionally crazy. I’ve read that interest in the occult and Wicca spiked when “Bewitched” was on TV (yes, correlation doesn’t prove causality, I know), and I think the same has occurred in the Harry Potter era. To the extent that CSL’s work is seen as an instance of that genre, it might help funnel some who wouldn’t otherwise go that route into an interest in the occult.

Must it? Obviously not, and I suspect that it happens pretty rarely. But I suspect it’s like drinking alcohol, trying cigarettes when young and smoking pot. Sometimes those activities lead to horrible outcomes – becoming an alcoholic, a smoker and a user of more serious drugs – but usually not. In those cases, the worry is serious enough that we try to steer kids clear of those dangers in various ways. Is there a difference that makes the website’s concern ludicrous? Is it that the link is more tenuous? That the Christian-ish aspects of the Narnia works are more likely to predominate?

I’m not really trying to defend that site, I don’t think there’s any causal link between CSL’s and JRRT’s work and the occult, and I think that on balance their works are far more likely to lead to positive effects than negatives ones. It’s also a mistake to proscribe good things because they could lead to bad results. I’m just suggesting that their concern isn’t either goofy or necessarily even trivial.



Blue Devil Knight said...

Who cares if it does? Most Wiccans I know are very gentle kind people. I don't think kids getting into the occult or witchcraft is comparable to using drugs.

Jason Pratt said...

Well, among other people, Richard Dawkins and his various allies would seem to care pretty strenuously about kids getting into the occult or witchcraft (Wiccan varieties or otherwise), in principle. {g} Wasn't there someone here on the boards just a day or two ago who fulminated about how we need to recognize that 'religion' is the only great evil?

(Besides which, even the Wiccans recognize there are variations of this sort of thing that they themselves strongly disapprove of.)

Bilbo Bloggins said...

I'm not sure what "gentle and kind" has to do with anything. I doubt that those people concerned with others joining occult groups are particularly worried that they will be come rough and unkind. Its pretty obvious who cares. If certain Christians think Wicca is a false spiritual belief system, and thus, as ultimately dangerous as anything can be, it is expected that they'll, at the very least, not be predisposed towards giving a lot of exposure to the work of another Christian author they see as acting as a gateway (not to say that CSL's writings do this in any way of course).


The Uncredible Hallq said...

Maybe I over-estimate the rationality of how people come by various beliefs, but I have a hard time seeing Lewis, Tolkein, Harry Potter, or Bewitched causing anyone to embrace a belief in the occult. They're obvious fantasy. More worrisome are shows that play with things people really believe--like the show "Medium," to take a recent example. (Skeptico recently did a nice TV vs. reality comparison.)

But no matter what exactly we're dealing with, I cannot find much sympathy for Christians who flip out because they see all positions other than their own as "as ultimately dangerous as anything can be." My attitude towards the occult is we should offer up education for those who'll take it. For those who won't listen to reason, I'm perfectly happy to leave thtem alone in many cases, though when it comes to defrauding the sick and preying on grieving families we ought to raise hell.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Bilbo: it was a rhetorical question, which in retrospect is a literary device mooted in the blogosphere.

Bilbo Bloggins said...

hallq: Maybe I over-estimate the rationality of how people come by various beliefs, but I have a hard time seeing Lewis, Tolkein, Harry Potter, or Bewitched causing anyone to embrace a belief in the occult.

Bilbo: I agree. Initially, I am strongly inclined to say this is nonsense. I can't fathom even the most imaginitive children watching this stuff and coming to believe that "wizard" is a career option for later life. Who knows, though? I guess I'd have to see some studies.

Its an interesting question, in general, to what degree our lifestyle choices are affected by ways in which we exercise our imagination in forms of escapism. If you'll forgive me a bit of "grassy knoll"-type speculation here, I've often wondered specifically about video games. I haven't played them much since I was a kid, but I do have alot of middle-aged friends who do. I'm always surprised at the level of life-like detail the war games in particular are incorporating. I was walking through an electronics store the other day, and I saw this 5-7 yr. old child sitting in front of a 50 in. TV, with a playstation controller in his hand. On the screen there was a first-person perspective of his own virtual hands holding an extremely lifelike military rifle, and the manner in which he would aim, shoot his enemies, and reload shocked me for its accuracy.

I thought back to the simplicity of the Atari games I had played at his age. It also brought to mind the excessive *amount* of these types of games on the market and the fact that they are usually the preferred games of even my middle-aged friends, who get on their PC, put on their headsets, and link up with all of their online friends/fellow troops in their virtual batallion, proceeding to coordinate and execute a multitude of simulated military operations encompassing everything from hand-to-hand combat to flying helicopters. Many of these friends seem to be just *into* war in general - fascinated with and knowledgeable of all things WWI and II, and tend to be a bit unreflective and dismissive when it comes to the horrors of war, particularly our current involvement in Iraq.

Maybe these things are all unrelated or causally related in the opposite way that I'm inclined to suppose, but it is just a fact that some of the most popular games are (a) very similar to, if not actual early versions of, current simulators used by the military in training and (b) recruiting tools for the U.S. Military. Take one of the most well-known, America's Army, for instance. This extremely popular and free game is a product of the U.S. Army and the site you download it from is entirely geared towards recruiting. Military officers who also happen to have advanced degrees in computer science, like
Michael Macedonia, work on these games for these specific purposes. As Macedonia says, "America’s Army is focused on recruiting. It’s really a marketing tool in a lot of ways--marketing and education, I should say. We develop true simulations, such as Full Spectrum Warrior and also Full Spectrum Command, [the latter a game] which has not been released to the public. And we also have a new game in development, a massively multiplayer [game] called AWE, which stands for Asymmetric Warfare Environment. It’s a project we’re doing with There Inc."

The Institute for Creative Technology was founded by the army for "the development of the art and technology for synthetic experiences that are so compelling that the participants will react as if they are real. The goal is to bring synthetic experiences. Participants will be fully immersed physically, intellectually, and emotionally, and will be capable of full three-dimensional mobility...the high quality of the virtual characters will make it impossible to distinguish them from real characters. The ICT is exploring the development of synthespians (synthetic actors) and intelligent tutors that represent smart opponents, allies, friends, and even robots in the future. The ICT is working closely with the game community (Sony Imageworks/Pandemic Stuidos and Quicksilver Software) to develop two games for PC's and game consoles that incorporate these concepts."[ Games, Simulation, and the Military Education Dilemma]

As the article shows, the gaming community members are prime candidates for recruitment because they have honed certain skillsets necessary for tactical warfare far beyond previous generations (multi-tasking, attention span-variation/context switching, engagement with a community of practice, etc.)

Other than influence through video games, the military obviously thinks even fictional movies will have a major impact on public perception. All of those fictional movies you see where they are using actual military planes, tanks, aircraft carriers, etc.? There are whole divisions of the military devoted to reviewing and doctoring the movie scripts of those film-makers to meet certain acceptable standards before they will loan the equipment.

Anyway, back to the occult, from a skeptic's standpoint, I think shows like "Medium" are harmless relative to reality shows like "Psychic Detective" and "Crossing Over" (not to mention researchers at Princeton drawing conclusions in favor of the reality of things like remote viewing or mental affects on mechanical objects at a distance). The blog you link to about one psychic being inaccurate in an investigation is great I guess. But, from your point of view, the real problem would seem to be that police departments employ them in the first place. According to what I've seen on these shows, they seek them out often in instances where they feel all normal avenues investigation have been exhausted, in many cases are initially skeptical of them, and often their views are overturned and they become convinced that the psychic has helped solve, if not solved, the case. I'd like to see some really in-depth skeptical treatments of some of this stuff.

As for mediumship, I used to watch "Crossing Over" with Jonathan Edwards, and I've seen some of the debunking. Now, bearing in mind that I am predisposed by virtue of my worldview to believe that this guy *cannot* talk to the dead either, but the standard tricks of speed-talking, asking vague questions that can have multiple affirmative answers (e.g. "I"m seeing an older woman. Did you recently have a grandmother or mother die?"), etc., while often employed, didn't seem to account for alot of the instances. For instance, Edwards would allegedly know about items that were, unbeknownst to the bereaved, left behind by the deceased and post-show interviews often had the families (even initially skeptical members) talking about how they found the specific items (a gold ring for instance) in the exact location they were pointed to. In alot of these instances, there would have to really be some shady stuff going on (like full-on actors hired for these shows or at least heavy pay-offs of the bereaved). Though I'm weary when it comes to the quality of the work of "debunkers" as well, I'd be grateful if you could point me to some sites that give skeptical treatments of these kinds of "reality" shows.

And Blue Devil Knight, its not so much that I was answering your question, but that when someone says "Who cares if x?", I usually interpret them to mean "people ought not care about x". Sorry if I misinterpreted you.


Bilbo Bloggins said...

Speaking of television's effect on our youth, the following article which discusses a survey of children under 10 might be of interest: Being a celebrity is the 'best thing in the world' say children.