Unity in the community: Another paranormal delusion?

“...can we all get along?”

Rodney King

“Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy”

John Trapp

It seems there are ever increasing appeals for unity within the “paranormal” world.  Well, to be more accurate these calls tend to originate with amateur paranormal and ghost hunting groups.  Typically couched in phrases MTV would be proud of, we’re told:

“…we’re all looking for the same thing…”

Or

“…we need to work together…”

And urged to

“…stop the negativity/increase the positivity…”

There is no question, at least superficially, that one could argue against unity between groups or individuals involved in the paranormal in any way.

…however, I will.

Taken in its widest cultural context, the word paranormal could be said to be a descriptive umbrella term for a whole litany of phenomena including psychics, PSI, UFOs, Bigfoot, ghosts, aliens, poltergeists, angels, demons, miracles, and clairvoyance, to name a few.  Additionally, think of the different types of people involved in this wider paranormal context – cryptozoologists, ufologists, parapsychologists, academics, skeptics, believers, agnostics, people who investigate, people who don’t, people who read, people who write, people on TV, people who want to be on TV, people who question, people who accept….do we still think we’re all looking for the same thing?

Maybe that’s somewhat unfair, to place the calls for unity in too wide a context.  So let us then narrow the arguments down to where the calls for unity tend to originate – amateur paranormal investigation and/or ghost hunting groups.

Although we have narrowed down our focus, we can easily see that are a wide range of people involved here.  In fact most of them from before (…skeptics, believers, agnostics, people who investigate, people who don’t, people who read, people who write, people on TV, people who want to be on TV, people who question, people who accept…).  We can also add a few new ones – people who run commercial events, people who attend commercial events, non-commercial research based groups and groups who are a mix of all of the above.  Actually while we’re on, why not add venues to the list – venues who see an opportunity to boost finances, venues who see an opportunity to raise their profile, venues who seek zero publicity, and venues who seek possible answers to genuine questions… do we still think we’re all looking for the same thing?

I would argue that, not only are we not looking for the same thing, there is no consensus on how to look for the thing, and how we know if we have found the thing – or even if we haven’t found the thing.  Come to think of it there may even be several things.  

That’s a lot of things to think about.

Not all amateur (or non-amateur for that matter) groups agree on what would constitute as evidence for paranormal phenomena.  Some are not looking for evidence but openly state they are “trying to prove” the existence of the phenomena.  Some wholeheartedly agree with this while others find it ludicrous. Many groups use self labelled psychics or mediums or sensitives.   Some question what the difference is between them, let alone why they would be on an investigation.  Some groups declare themselves a “scientific group”.  However, it actually turns out they are merely using equipment – misunderstanding, or not caring – what would constitute a scientific group.  Some groups don’t use equipment or apply the scientific method. Some groups do apply the scientific method.  Some groups can afford to hire a venue, some can’t.  Some want a high profile while some want to keep it quiet.  Some want to be the next Jason & Grant, or the next William Roll, or the next Chris French…

With this in mind, are the calls that we need to work together without foundation, or at best, no more than a worthy mantra?

Should we simply accept each other’s differences, stand together and move forward as a united front?

Well…no we shouldn’t.

It can already be seen online what that paranormal world would look like.  Countless pictures of orbs captured by digital cameras are posted online.  Many or even most times, another group or individual will leave a comment such as “nice capture” or “wow! Well done”.  All very positive.  Or uncritical, depending on your perspective.  Indeed, questioning comments on such things usually draw the “negative sceptic” card. However, if you don’t ask a question you don’t get an answer, right?

The bottom line is that most people involved with amateur groups are believers.  Most people that attend commercial ghost hunts are believers.  It is human nature to be defensive of one’s beliefs.  Furthermore, beliefs tend to polarise.  You’re either believer or sceptic.  Your mind is either open or closed.  Ghosts either exist or they do not.  You’re either negative or positive.

Interestingly, most of the calls for unity that I’ve seen come from individuals or groups who would be classified as believers.  I’m guessing evidence doesn’t need unity.

So what’s so bad about paranormal unity? Well, taken at face value, not much.  It’s a nice utopian slogan that sends a positive message.  Scratch the surface however and real questions and impracticalities arise.  Can a belief driven team unquestioningly support an evidence based team, and visa versa? Will a group or individual that assumes they know what they are looking for, open themselves to valid questioning from a group or individual who wishes to asses the basis of that assumption?  Should we self congratulate for simply being a member of a paranormal group or try to be better investigators? Should we simply support each other’s belief systems or generate questions?

You pays your money and takes your choice. 

So what about real unity?  If we’re talking about sharing findings appropriately, transparent evidence based claims, sharing experiences, learning from different perspectives, meeting people with similar interests, improving methodologies or soliciting alternative opinions – sounds good.  Unfortunately, I don’t see these as the motivations behind the calls for unity, at least not in any real sense.

Paranormal Unity – sounds good, if a little impractical or ill-defined.  

Come to think of it, sounds like a ghost…

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