Open letter to Michael Shermer

You are the editor of Skeptic magazine. It is true that I’ve praised Paul Kurtz, who died last year and I used to call a mentor for his work in a similar magazine, Skeptical Inquirer. Kurtz’s debunking of the pseudoscience called “parapsychology” helped me a lot in the past.

But after Kurtz died I discovered this video, where, in the last five minutes, he said that “America is a universal culture” and, mentioning the immigration fauna in the US, he added the phrase, “We are part of the planetary community.”

Kurtz then agreed with the interviewer that “the genetic makeup of the human race is all one” and, incredibly for someone who made a career defending real science vs. pseudosciences, he added: “There are no separate races. We are all part of one human family.”

Looking directly at the camera by the end of the interview, Kurtz concluded that “the First Principle in planetary ethics is that we ought to treat every person on planet Earth as equal,” after which he mentioned the races and the ethnic groups.

Elsewhere I have already said that even after these findings I am still grateful that Kurtz’s organization helped a lot of people who, like me in the past, went astray in parapsychological cults. But when I met him personally in 1989 and 1994—in the 1994 Seattle conference of skeptics I also met Carl Sagan and shook hands with him—I ignored that Kurtz was the proverbial “liberal Jew.” (To see why this is germane, please take a look at this magnificent preface to an academic study on Jewry.)

I trust you are not Jewish, Mr. Shermer, are you? I ask you this because I have just read Denying History: Who Says that The Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? which you wrote with a self-proclaimed Jew, Alex Grobman.

My first impression about the content of your book was expressed in my previous post. But I must take further issue with you for the extraordinarily similar thoughts to Kurtz’s you expressed by the end of Denying History.

But first let me say that, on page 261 of Denying History, you guys wrote, “Yes, the Allies killed innocents on the road to victory, but the killing stopped the moment the Allies won.”

You are monstrously misinformed, Mr. Shermer! Haven’t you heard that between twenty and twenty-five million Germans and collaborators perished in the years after the war had officially ended?

Of course not: had you heard about this other Holocaust you would never have written a book like Denying History.

If you really are the objective rationalist who applies strict methods of historical research as you claim in the first chapters of Denying History, my recommendation is that you read a couple of books to see the truth of what I said above: that even after 1945 the Allies committed more numerous crimes that those attributed to the Germans in times of war: Solzhenitsyn’s abridged Gulag Archipelago and Thomas Goodrich’s Hellstorm.

Furthermore, in the final paragraphs of the final chapter Grobman and you indulged in the grossest imaginable unscientific claims. This surprised me because, like the late Kurtz, you are a professional debunker of pseudosciences, which means that you should know better. On page 269 you wrote:

The similarities between Australian aborigines and Africans, and their differences with Southeast Asians, are literally skin deep. The principle holds for all peoples around the world, and our racial similarities vastly outweigh our racial differences.

And in the very final sentence of Denying History you guys said: “We are one race, one folk, one people.”

Phils_book

The same lie that Kurtz said at eighty! What a shame of concluding thus a book which purports to debunk the debunkers! Do you know Mr. Shermer that there’s a continuum of sixty different anatomical and behavioral differences from Orientals at one end to Negroids at the opposite extreme, with Caucasoids in the middle (see e.g., Rushton’s book)?

Of course you don’t: on the subject of race you seem to be as ignorant as my former “mentor.”

If similarities are “literally skin deep” as you and Grobman claim in that spectacular, final sentence, how do you explain those photographs of Albino blacks that, even with the fairest of all possible skins and blond hair due to their absence of pigment, and even the black women, still look like Neanderthals?

Ten books that changed my mind


1. Maxfield Parrish Poster Book

2. The Sickle

3. Laing and Anti-Psychiatry

4. Childhood’s End

5. A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology

6. The Relentless Question

7. Final Analysis

8. The Gulag Archipelago

9. For Your Own Good

10. The Emotional Life of Nations

Parapsychology

Or:

The ten books that made an impact in my life
before I became racially conscious

5.- A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology
(autographed inscription 1989)

6.- The Relentless Question
(autographed inscription 1990)

In “The Sickle I said this Tuesday that I arrived to the San Francisco airport in 1985. Living in San Rafael the very first days after my arrival to the US, I paid a visit to San Francisco and found in a bookstore the just released A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology. I remember a pic of James Randi on the dust cover among other notable skeptics and wanted to purchase the book. Alas, I didn’t since I had very limited economic resources and was only starting to look for a job at Marin County.

I mention this little anecdote because had I purchased the book I could have been spared from the extremely agonic stage in California. As explained in “The Sickle,” when I lived there I was immersed in the fantasy to “force the eschaton in history.”

But how do I know that my Quixotic—to say the least—endeavor that so much suffering caused could have been avoided by a book? Because when I returned to Mexico, in 1989 the main contributors to the skeptical handbook, Ray Hyman, James Alcock, Paul Kurtz and James Randi visited my native town and, finally, I could afford to purchase A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology: which started a cognitive process that completely and absolutely disabused me from my “eschatological” beliefs.

Well, it’s more complicated than just a single book. In fact, after these skeptics visited Mexico City I subscribed The Skeptical Inquirer and ordered many books on the paranormal published by the skeptical contributors of Kurtz’s group. If I chose a single book to convey the fact that the process of reading them started an apostasy process of my belief in ESP and PK (again, cf. “The Sickle”) it’s because the copy of A Skeptic’s Handbook that I own was signed by Kurtz in front of me on November 12, 1985 (the photo at the left is Kurtz at Buffalo, NY).

My previous post was about Childhood’s End, the novel that most influenced my life. I recognize that it must sound crazy that someone took a novel so seriously as to believe that the eschaton could be forced by purely psychic means in the real world. How could I have fallen into such grandiose delusion? (A couple of days ago Deviance, a commenter put it this way, “When I read you, Chechar, I wonder if intelligence is a blessing or a curse—smart people seem to be drawn to sects, cults, pseudosciences and false theories of all sorts…”) The answer is devastatingly simple.

A pseudoscience is a system that pretends to be scientific but that is not. In other threads of this blog I have stated that the process of debunking a sophisticated pseudoscience requires an extraordinary input of energy. You need to be a specialist in a specific pseudoscience (e.g., a skeptical specialist in parapsychology, another in UFOlogy, still another on a very specific conspiracy theory such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy, etc). The sheer mass of literature and conferences on purported conspiracies of, say, the assassination of JFK, is such—thousands of books—that it took Vincent Bugliosi twenty years of research to address and refute each claim.

Generally, people who believe in pseudosciences, cults or conspiracy theories never dare to seriously study the critics of their cherished beliefs. That’s precisely the religious mindset: never listen to the critics. Although I was ready to listen when, standing in a San Francisco bookstore I learnt that a skeptical handbook had just been released, I was so sure that parapsychologists had demonstrated the existence of “psi” that I didn’t bother to listen the other side even when I finally got a job in California.

When I believed in the existence of paranormal phenomena, John Beloff of Edinburg University (right), who eventually became my editor in parapsychological matters, was the single most important author that convinced me of the realities of such phenomena. Again, just as I chose A Skeptic’s Handbook as a paradigm of the literature that eventually would became a vaccination for my mind, if I mention Beloff’s The Relentless Question it is only because he sent me by mail a copy of his book with his longhand inscription: “For César Tort who has the courage of his convictions from John Beloff, June 1990.”

When I received The Relentless Question I had already read much of what Beloff had written in professional journals, including some of the articles contained in his book. Just as A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology is representative of what I may call a vaccination, The Relentless Question is representative of the continuing infection that took place in my cognitive process since I left Eschatology for the more “scientific” parapsychological research.

To answer Deviance, that “smart people seem to be drawn to sects, cults and pseudosciences” has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with the human mind’s strayed ways of trying to cope with the unprocessed trauma of earlier experiences at home. This of course goes beyond the reach of this entry, but I nevertheless mention The Relentless Question because it is written in the terse, academic language by a respected professor of the psychology department of a well-known European university: the only university that held an academic chair of parapsychology in the western world.

In the previous incarnation of this blog Lawrence Auster discussed with me the subject of parapsychology: he as a believer and I as a former believer (now turned skeptic). For those who have not made their minds as to whether paranormal phenomena might be real or not, these two books, one edited by the founder of a skeptical group, the other authored by a late professor, are good starting points to listen to both sides of the debate.

For the other eight books see here.

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