The one thing that will always, always make someone less intimidating is when you realize they’ve been seduced by woo. I don’t mean, like, “The Woo of Lost” as a recent essay by Adam Roberts is titled. I mean full-on Deepak Chopra, Derrick Jensen, Shakti Gawain, Shambhala publications woo. The obvious stuff, when you realize someone is woo-sceptible.
(Disclosure: I do, myself, own a couple of Shambhala books: both are related to Buddhism, one of them a present from a friend in high school — which is in some box in Canada, I think — and the other primarily about Buddhism and ecology. )
The thing is, I’m not bashing owning those books. After all, what’s wrong with owning a book? Especially since, hell, for example in academia, a wall full of books very clearly can, and often does, serve as a kind of phallocarp-like adornment.
The thing is that, well, look. I myself was woo-sceptible when I was a high schooler. When I went to the library, I didn’t just pick up books by Budd Hopkins, Erich von Däniken, and Whitley Strieber (oh, yes, I did), but also by people like Jane Roberts/Seth, Shakti Gawain, and charlatans of that ilk.
I was talking with a friend about the revulsion I feel when I encounter books by these kinds of authors today, and mentioned this background context about my own woo-period, and how I used to write some random stuff like that too, as a teenager, and even into the first year of university study. My friend laughed and said something like, “Aha! The road not taken! Well, it’s not too late!” He quickly explained that he was teasing me, but that probably on some level I see the crap-churning New Age book industry as a kind of road-not-taken, and resent the intellectual slouches who did go that route less than I resent myself for having been capable of doing so myself at some point. (And I think he’s right.)
But I think woo-sceptibility is a different thing when you’re 16 or 17 and trying to find a way of conceptualizing the world outside of the religion in which you were raised, from when you’re age 45 or 50 and just basically into woo as if it were “philosophy.” When you find yourself being handed an 800-page book of schlock, and it’s the third book of schlock, and you look in it and your woo-dar goes berserk on the first page, you have to wonder: what’s wrong with this other person, that his or her woo-dar is so unformed as to just swallow this junk wholesale?
That’s when you suddenly feel zero intimidation. It melts away in the face of the fact this person in front of you is able to believe in some ridiculous thing: spirit prophets who are communicating from beyond the grave about the fifth dimension, or about some grand synthesis of biology, philosophy, spirituality, and mindfulness, which of course is being performed by someone who hasn’t even been accredited in (and online is debunked as having no understand of) any of those fields.
It’s not that certification is everything. But it is something. Given a choice between Richard Dawkins and some self-styled philosopher schmoe who thinks he knows enough to prove evolution by natural selection a flat-out hoax, I’m sorry but I’m down with the guy who collected his bits of paper, did his research, and has the better arguments… which, by the way, is Dawkins.