“In a secular age, an authentic miracle must purport to be a hoax, in order to gain credit in the world” – Angela Carter
One of the few advantages to having a relatively small audience is that you can take a controversial stance without mortal fear, unless snarky comments on social media pose some sort of existential danger to you. Now I recommend against testing this by going out and mocking Mohammed before you dip your toes into something slightly less likely to get fatwahs issued. For an aficionado of strange phenomena such as myself, a juicy subject of contention is hoaxes. For the record, I think hoaxes are awesome and the savvy anomalist should learn to love them.
Obviously, hucksters will huck, and conning the credulous of their hard earned currency is a deplorable way to earn a living, although governments have been working that hustle for a few thousand years and relatively few have raised an eyebrow. Or rather, when they did, it ended kind of bloody. You are not required to ignore the moral depravity of a con man in order to appreciate his confidence, just as you don’t need to believe in magic to enjoy a good round of prestidigitation. In the enlightened Western world, revenue agents of the state take a sizable portion of your income and spend roughly 55% of it on the military (while bridges collapse and homes are foreclosed on) and vanishingly small portions on anything else, meanwhile telling you your system of government is by the people and for the people. It’s a neat trick, and while I would prefer a few more dollars in my wallet (whiskey isn’t cheap these days and how else can I be expected to maintain a stiff upper lip in the face of a big, scary universe), I can still appreciate the scope and grandeur of a good military-industrial Ponzi scheme. Between you, me, and the Internal Revenue Service, I’m a big advocate for fighting the oppression of “The Man”, but unfortunately most of my ideological neuroses are a little closer to home.
This is why I find it especially puzzling when the rarified community of those of us who slobber over the latest strange phenomena that makes the rounds are horrified by a hoax, from the Piltdown Man to the slides of the “Roswell Dream Team”. Believers decry the damage done to honest inquiry and hurry to point out that a single hoax doesn’t invalidate millennia of observations. Skeptics smugly point out that they were right all along, and feel superior about their skepticism. And the object lessons we could have learned are consciously co-opted by our existing belief systems. A hoax is a social engineering experiment, plumbing the depths of what you are willing to accept as a possibility, skirting the edges of science and skepticism while daring them to offer up an explanation or ludicrously explain away. An unmasked hoax forces us to face both our desire to believe, as well as the poverty of the scientism that rejects all oddity a priori and the dubious nature of scientific explanations offered. A hoax attacks us where we are weakest, at the fundamental level of our philosophical axioms. I know my axiom is sore. In unmasking the hoaxer we reveal our own biases, predilections, theologies, and also the perspectives of those who disagree with us. And collectively, believer and skeptic alike, we hate the hoaxer, as nobody likes a smart-ass.
We spend a lot of time fitting things into our respective philosophies, categorizing our experiences, and wondering how other folks fail to believe what we believe despite all the evidence that seems patently obvious to us. A well-executed hoax demonstrates the premises we proceed from and properly used, makes us examine why we are willing to believe or disbelieve, or as anomalist Charles Fort said, “Lies, yarns, hoaxes, mistakes—what’s the specific gravity of a lie, and how am I to segregate? That could be done only relatively to a standard, and I have never heard of any standard, in any religion, philosophy, science, or complication of household affairs that could not be made to fit any requirement. We fit standards to judgments, or break any law that it pleases us to break, and fit to the fracture some other alleged law that we say is higher and nobler. We have conclusions, which are the products of senility or incompetence or credulity, and then argue from them to premises. We forget this process, and then argue from the premises, thinking we began there” (Fort, 1941, p10). So, hug a hoaxer for they help us grow. Then punch him in the face and take your money back.
Fort, Charles, 1874-1932. Lo! New York: Ace Books, 1941.