Sunday, April 22, 2012

Magical Thinking, Magical Healing

If there's an ultimate truth of the human condition, I would not be surprised if it was something along the lines of "a fool and his money are soon parted." A willingness to believe in foolish things is one of the things that makes us human, and that willingness is expressed in a million different ways in modern society, from Ponzi schemes to poorly-written emails from Nigeria. Most of us, after all, want to become wealthy and powerful, and when what seems to be an opportunity presents itself a lot of people are unable or unwilling to appraise it critically. After all, opportunity knocks and so on.

Then there are the ones that prey on our health, one concern that everyone shares. You see it in homeopaths, who dilute remedies in ordinary water by thousands and thousands of times and claim that the resulting snake oil is just as efficacious as ordinary medicine because the water "remembers" what was diluted in it. You see it in antivaxxers, whose wild obsession with the idea that vaccines cause autism has resulted in a disappearance of herd immunity to diseases in some areas, as in the case of Dana McCaffery. You see it faith healers, who take advantage of people desperate or eager to believe that they can be cured by something as simple as a laying on of hands.

Then you have the ones that, while apparently harmless, are just out there. A few days ago I found an account in the Vancouver Sun about Braco the Gazer, a "healer" who has reputedly healed people of "cancer, cardiovascular illness, financial wows, addictions, depression, allergies," and a host of other things. How does Braco do this?

By looking at you.


The Braco website, which is chock-full of New Age mystical shit, goes into detail about the "gazing sessions" he offers. Apparently he's "like a conduit for a remarkable gift that has been proven through the testimonials of those who have been helped," because who needs the scientific method when you've got hearsay and conjecture on your side? He can help you find "a new life outlook, a physical healing or transformations in [your] relationships" - not only that, but he can help your loved ones, and they don't even have to be there! Seriously, all you need to do is let him stare at a photograph of a person, and "transformation, and even miracles" will ensue!

Dang, maybe I should give this a go. Meet my photographic gaze. Meet it, be healed, and send me your MONEY. Non-sequential large bills, please.

This isn't the first time I've encountered this idea, but it is the first time I've seen it in the wild. Again, I'm thankful that my mom got me a copy of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World when I was young and impressionable, so that I could immunize myself against things like this. When I hear of "healers" like this I immediately think of the 1988 Carlos hoax, and I reflect on how some people are so desperate for relief that they'll latch onto anything that even pretends to offer it to them.

But, you might be asking yourself, what's the problem? So he helps other people, so he brings them feelings of wellness and contentment. What could be the problem with that? If he was actually advertising himself as that, there wouldn't be. But he isn't. He is presenting himself as some kind of conduit for some kind of energy or positivity that helps people while he gazes at them, and in the limited information I've found doesn't shy away from going into detail about what ills he can help cure just by looking at you.

Do me a favor - go back toward the top of the post again, and read that litany of things that his press release claims he can cure. What was the first thing on the list? Yeah, that's right, cancer. A very destructive, very dangerous condition. There are people close to me who have reckoned with cancer, and even with the full array of modern medicine at hand, cancer can sometimes be a close-run thing. Now, what if they had gone not to a hospital, but to someone like Braco? Perhaps the placebo affect would take hold - they'd feel better because they expected they were supposed to feel better, but only for a time. A man's gaze cannot destroy tumors. "Healers" like this not only give false hope, but redirect people from actual, efficacious treatments to mystical performances based on magical thinking.

Some people just want to believe, and sometimes it is at their peril. Magical thinking like this is a remnant of our ignorant, superstitious past, and it will kill if we let it back in the door.

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