Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Doggerel #118: "Helping"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

A lot of woos out there, when they're not trying to disguise the harm they do, will typically claim that they're helping, in vague, unverifiable ways.

Let's get the first one out of the way: Emotional help. Often, psychics will claim that they're helping the families of missing people by giving them hope. Alties will claim that they're handing out hope for an incurable condition. Religious types will claim they're handing out hope of the afterlife. The problem with this is that false hope can be very damaging. It can incur feelings of betrayal when things make a turn for the worst. It can lead people to deny an existing problem or promote inaction when steps should be taken towards a better outcome. Denial and false hope are not good for a person. People are entitled to know the truth. Emotional help is about helping people to face the truth, and a free shoulder to cry on will do far more than an expensive session with a psychic or quack.

Making decisions: This is the area where things are most demonstrable and measurable. So that means quacks have to work harder to obfuscate. Psychics will pick out any tiny detail that happens to match, whether or not the rest of their prediction was right. Alties will claim that worsening symptoms are a sign that the patient's body is 'rejecting toxins' or whatever, in order to convince them to keep believing and/or paying. Those who spout about the efficacy of prayer will claim that the answer is "no" or "not yet", buying time and encouraging further inaction.

What seems the most baffling thing about this defense is that their 'help' is what's typically under dispute: Instead of just whining that they're helping and we should just shut up, try actually showing us evidence that they're helping.

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