The Politics of Truth

Jeremy Northcote. The Paranormal and the Politics of Truth: A Sociological Account, Imprint Academic, 2007.

Why disputes between 'believers' and 'sceptics' in the paranormal and related topics become so heated is the subject of this book, which is clearly based on a PhD thesis, now revamped for public marketing. Northcote interviewed a number of people on both sides of the debate and attended various conferences, etc. He explores the processes by which both sides demonise each other, and comes up with a call for a more gracious dialogue.

In a sense this very polarisation masks the complexities of both sides, and it has to be said that at its most raucous this argument seems to be largely confined to the United States and Australia - from where Northcote is writing - and may be contingent on specific cultural circumstances.

From the testimony of people like Susan Blackmore we can see that the various activist organisations are not, despite their lip service to 'unbiased scientific investigation', actually much bothered about finding out exactly what causes anomalous experiences, but by defending rival ideological infrastructures.

In the past I have argued that both sides in these debates are essentially rival religions, both heir to different aspects of the Judaeo-Hellenic heritage, whose disputes are fuelled by opposing ideas of the sacred and of pollution. For each the rival ideology is seen as threatening the very core of their being. For the 'believers' the sceptics seem to be attacking the existence of the transhuman and transnatural realm which they regard as the repository of real values; for the 'sceptics' the believers seem to be polluting the harmonious world of the natural order and right thinking with intrusive and transgressive anomalies. -- Peter Rogerson Magonia 95, May 2007.

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