Two minutes on Facebook is all it takes to remind us of how gullible so many of us are. Fake news stories generate outrage. Church signs and protest placards are photoshopped to say outrageous (and sometimes outrageously funny) things. We have an appalling local phenomenon as I write this: somebody posted a picture of a thin puppy at a local pet store, claimed that the dog is malnourished and maltreated. Suddenly thousands of people are believing everything that is on Facebook. Even after the examining veterinarian provided a letter explaining that the dog is thin, but healthy and is being treated for a parasite, the indignant simply post that the veterinarian must be wrong. Worse yet, the public began entering the store and verbally abusing the staff. This isn’t open-mindedness; this is simple and vile dogmatism fed by willful gullibility. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I wrote the other day about the glories of being open to new experiences. When trying to understand or to know, it is important to be open-minded. What we currently believe might, indeed, turn out to be wrong. And in all kinds of situations, we aren’t open-minded in the sense that we are trying to gain knowledge by considering alternatives, we are being open to whatever the experience presents to us. I still believe this; today I want to temper openness and open-mindedness with a refusal to be gullible.
The big deal is an awareness of consequences. In many of my shows, I perform feats of “thought reading”. While you’re in the room with me, you’ll swear that I can tell what someone is thinking, that I can predict the future, that I can move physical objects with my mind. From the distance of a blog, it’s pretty easy to see that I’m a house hippo. It’s theatre. It’s entertainment. While I’m on stage and you’re psychologically engaged in the show all those things happen. Not only is it OK to let your mind go there; it’s great. It’s really great to be held in the great open space of wonder while the impossible occurs. But don’t go opening your wallet to everyone who gives you this experience. Pay for the ticket to get in, and don’t join the cult.
You see, in the theatre, the only thing that is at stake is your experience. And the stronger you can believe in the experience while it’s happening, the stronger your experience will be. You have nothing to lose, and a fantastically moving experience to gain.
But when someone posts a picture and accusation on line, there’s everything at stake. Someone can be hurt. The truth matters in the real world. In the safe and secluded psychological space of the magical arts, the truth is a barely noticed observer on the perimeter. In the physical world, the health of the dog and the care it’s getting is decisive; how we feel about it is only a matter for our own experience.
Enjoy the show. Love the world. Love it, guided by reason, by reasonableness and with a sense of fairness.