I’ve been involved in an interested email exchange lately with a friend who sent me a mass email about Reiki. My request to be removed from his “bullshit Reiki spam list” was admittedly a bit overly confrontational. However, the dialog since has been more cordial and has had the benefit of allowing me to better reflect on my attitude and behavior towards Reiki and other specious claims.
Of course, I could have just said a simple “no thank you” (or run a email filter of his name and the word “reiki”). This avoidant approach feels wrong to me given my desire to discourage medical psuedoscience, and my basic underlying goal of encouraging skepticism for unproven ideas/beliefs of all stripes.
In asking myself why this has become important to me, I came upon an answer that links with my artist/punk/freak roots: “Question Authority”
I run in circle of burners, artists, punks, and related freaks for whom the motto of “Question Authority” is often tossed about. Unfortunately, many of these same people end up mistaking the lure of sub/anti-culture authority for the noble act true questioning. While rebelling from mainstream thought, they fall for specious claims like reiki and astrology and echinacea and the utopian dreams of a worldwide gift economy. These beliefs are tantalizing due to the intrinsic draw of anecdotal experiences of ones peers or idols and the sense of freedom invoked by believing something seemingly novel.
True questioning is a search for answers beyond any authority sprouting it’s opinions‚ whether that authority is a priest, guru, teacher, politician, scientist, celebrity, tv, book, blog, parent, friend, lover, or even one’s self. Separating the underlying reality from the influence of authority, the tyranny of peer pressure, and our own cognitive biases is often a difficult process full of half starts and dead ends, but it is an admirable and worthwhile goal.
The motto of “Question Authority” may be rooted in punk, but it is grounded in scientific empiricism.