Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Avowal of Prior Skepticism"

From skeptic Sharon Hill, of Doubtful News, who interprets a device used in paranormal/supernatural narratives within a skeptic construct: I used to be a skeptic, but then… . She also writes about this topic here.  In citing a paper that appeared in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, Hill discusses the use of qualifiers within supernatural narratives by the speaker, specifically referring to one's previous skeptical take on life. ("avowal of prior skepticism." It's all about perspective, world view, mind set. Hill sees the following devices used in personal narratives of encounters with the anomalous as devious, up-to-no-good, even dangerous manifestations of delusions. No, she doesn't say that, in fact, does concede that the "sheep-goat" aspect of disclaimers within narratives is "inflammatory." However...

In these kinds of narratives, the speaker (informant) usually begins the story with "I used to be skeptical of these things…" and this phrase is often used throughout the telling.

The skeptic views this device as shady. Parsed and analyzed to an amazing degree of typical dog-with-a-bone skepticism, this narrative disclaimer has been broken down into parts, including the "sheep-goat:"

Sheep-goat – the divide between “believers” (sheep, suggesting followers) and “skeptics”(goats, suggesting stubborn rejection). I prefer to use advocates versus counter-advocates. It’s less inflammatory. Also, I didn’t know that was a real thing people understood but I must have heard it a dozen times the past few months with regards to psychical research.
Nice that Hill thinks the sheep-goat label is "inflammatory" but "advocates versus counter-advocates" is equally condescending, implying that the narrator has an agenda or trying to recruit members for some nefarious club.

From another perspective, say folklore investigations into supernatural narratives, it is interesting to note that qualifiers exist in narratives. "I'm not crazy," "I wasn't on drugs," "I hadn't been drinking, I was stone cold sober," and of course, the "I was a skeptic about these things until…" are sprinkled throughout the tale. Naturally the narrator wants to be believed, -- for the most part. Of course, none of us can speak for others, and that includes myself. I cannot speak for other UFO, Bigfoot, ghost or other paranormal witnesses. It's a fair assumption to think that those witnesses who are open about their stories want to be believed, and so, understanding all too well, painfully in some cases, that such stories will not be believed by most, the individual has to use such qualifiers.

There are also those witnesses who don't give a damn if others believe them or not. I put myself in that category. I've seen UFOs, had missing time, encountered ghosts, and have had a life time of paranormal experiences. I'm telling the truth, and that's that. If you believe me that's nice, but I don't care if you don't. That's your issue if you disbelieve me, not mine. So I don't use those expressions as a rule, although it is such an ingrained idea in our culture that such things are not to be believed, it's hard to avoid using them.

As the saying goes: "A skeptic doesn't believe in ghosts  -- until they've seen one."

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