“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer” – William S. Burroughs
William Burrough’s recurring character Doc Benway (Naked Lunch and Nova Express), best demonstrates the relationship of skepticism to the paranormal. Both share a strangely warped conscience and manifest more concern with their own surgical performance than they do with the well-being of the patient. In Burrough’s spoken word piece, “The Unworthy Vessel”, we can see the archetype of every argument I’ve ever had with those who consider professional doubt to be a calling.
Daddy Long Legs looked like Uncle Sam on stilts and he ran this osteopath clinic outside East St. Louis and took in a few junkie patients. For two nights a week they stay out at night in green lawn chairs and look at the oaks and grass stretching down to a little lake in the sun. The nurse moves around along with her silver tray feeding the junky and we called her ‘Mother’ wouldn’t you? Doc Benway and me was holed up there after a rumble in Dallas involving this aphrodisiac ointment Doc cooped on ether mixed in too much Spanish Fly and run the prick off the police commissioner. We come to Daddy Long Legs to cool off and we find him cool and casual in a dark room with potted rubber plants and a silver tray on a table where he likes to see a week in advance. The nurse shows us to a room with rose wallpaper and he had this bell any hour the day or night just ring and Mother charges in with a loaded hypo. One day we are sitting out in the lawn chairs with lap robes and Doc picks up a piece of grass he said ‘This junk turns you on vegetable, its green see?’ ‘Now green fix should last a looong time’. So we check out of the clinic and ran a house and Doc starts cookin’ up this green junk. The basement is full of tanks smell like a compost heap of junkies. So finally draws off this heavy green fluid and loads it into a hypo big as a bicycle pump. ‘Now we must find a worthy vessel’ he says ‘And we flush out this old goofball artist and tell him it is pure Chinese H from the Ling Dynasty’. Doc shoots the whole pint of green right into the mainline. Yellowjacket turns fibrous grey, Green withers up like an old turnip! And I say ‘I’m getting outta here, me’ And Doc says [cough, cough] ‘an unworthy vessel obviously’ (“Unworthy Vessel”, from You’re the Guy I Want to Share My Money With, 1981).
Just as there is a certain teleological elegance in Doc Benway’s peculiar brand of experimental design, there is an undeniable, cold beauty in the surgical precision of the nihilistic doubter that slices away those elements of an anomalistic experience until all that remains is the moribund corpse of ignorance, hallucination, or insanity. And make no mistake, even when couched in the argot of scientism, it is a special strain of nihilism that maintains life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Those who prefer to engage strange phenomena as having existential import beyond the bare facts of any given case are simply regarded as “unworthy vessels”, which is most assuredly why Romanian philosopher Emile M. Cioran remarked that, “Skepticism is the sadism of embittered souls”.
Skepticism is a joyless industry. It requires an answer, and it requires it right now. It is about impatience in the guise of protecting us from ourselves, and when not explicitly trying to save us from the presumed error of our befuddled consciousness, it sells itself as the champion of those who it fantasizes lack mental capacity to distinguish between the real and unreal, a distinction that any anomalist worth his salt will point out is rooted in the arbitrary choice of ontological physicalism. We hear echoes of “What about the children?” – The eternal cry of the social and philosophical conservative, but don’t be fooled. When they say “children” they mean you. They mean the poor deluded folks that have the gall to believe or suggest anything outside the currently accepted paradigm.
If you choose to engage the weird, the strange, the unnatural, and the inexplicable, you must be prepared to search for the pure freedom of existentialism that places the human subjects at the center of meaning in all its absurd glory. The skeptics decry such a perspective as embracing absurdity, rather than engaging the possibility that the world is at root both meaningless and absurd, but only by an extrinsic standard that glosses over conscious experience as a physical artifact, and meaning as derived only from interactions in an atomistic universe. Skepticism is nihilistic whack-a-mole. The strange pops its head up and must be battered down, as quick as you can, and their shouts and curses are just hymns and praises to dull little lives with dull little things.
Doubt for doubt’s sake, the intellectual gainsaying of infinite possibilities in an existence for which we have no satisfactory explanation is not enacted as an exercise in suggesting “It is unlikely that it is so”, rather a firm a priori statement that “it cannot be”, tied with a bow of intellectual superiority. Why one would choose to take no interest in the anomalies that surround us is understandable. Probably well adjusted. Taking an interest in the strange with the primary goal of rending and tearing chunks of meat from the body of meaning until only scraps of bone and flesh hang limply, or deftly slicing away the absurd, incoherent, and unprovable as flotsam and jetsam washed up by diminished minds, is the work of rendering existence invalid.
The anomalist does not need “a truth”, rather strives for understanding and to avoid falling into the trap of a codified belief system requires more of an existential wariness as exemplified by Craig Benzine, who warned, “Be cautious of bears at all times, even when being mauled by a tiger.”