We are the Monsters

all monsters are human

We all consider ourselves to be rational, ethical people, and we wouldn’t dream that we were potentially harming others with our behaviour. As a previous blog post showed, ghost hunters who do unethical things do not always realise that they’re being unethical.

How then do we ensure that we don’t make the same mistake? I pointed out in that blog post that it’s important to work to a code of ethics – either one that you’ve written up yourself, that an investigator/team you’re working with has written, or perhaps one a venue has in place.

It’s easy to think that irrational people are unethical investigators and that rational people are ethical investigators but this is false. Nobody fits those pigeon holes so perfectly.

A code of ethics covers your back, but it primarily works for the people you come into contact with. It protects them from you doing harm to them through your actions, it guarantees complete confidentiality and it enables them to stop the investigation at any time. No questions asked.

I don’t speak for other paranormal researchers but I am terrified that I am going to do the wrong thing when I deal with somebody who has asked for my help and so I’m glad that I have a safety net that limits the harm I can do.

I have today made public my code of ethics [PDF] in the hope that it will inspire others to actually use a code of ethics that exists outside of their head*. Skeptics (myself included) talk often about the harm they want to protect others from but if we’re not careful we can become the monsters that we’re trying to chase away.

*please contact me before replicating, redistributing, or using my code of ethics as your own.

 

Are Poor People Who Report Ghosts Just Fakers?

ghosts and hauntings

In days gone by if something weird started happening in a manor or home belonging to a wealthy family the finger of blame would probably be pointed at the servants because ghost nonsense has always been something that poor people bother themselves with.

When Peggy Hodgson told her neighbours, the police and the press that odd things were happening in her council house people suspected the working class family were trying to get moved to a new house by faking activity. There’s evidence to suggest that there may have been foul play in this Enfield Poltergeist case but who knows what the motive could have been if there was one? Today in the 2010’s when the press write outlandish articles about a family dealing with a terrifying “ghosts” people are still quick to point the same finger of blame… but on what foundations are such accusations based?

In episode 7 of The Spooktator we discuss research by Inside Housing in which it is shown how many council and housing association tenants reported to their landlord that their house was haunted between  2003-2013.

There is a chart on the Haunted Houses article that shows how many reports of this nature responding councils received and how they were dealt with. A total of 73 cases of paranormal activity (possibly ongoing activity of one-off occurrences) were reported to the associations or councils in the ten year time frame – 6 of these resulted in an exorcist or medium being called in, and just 9 of these resulted in the tenant moving out.

These figures are not that staggering when you consider that recent polls measuring the belief in paranormal subjects suggest that anywhere from 30% – 50% of the general public believe that ghosts exist. You would actually expect there to be more cases of people contacting their landlords to report that their houses are haunted.

Obviously there will be times when people don’t report stuff to their landlord and contact a medium, their religious leader, or local ghost hunter directly, but these are not recorded and it is the recorded data I want to focus on here.

The statistics from this report show that the accusation of having an ulterior motive is pretty baseless, so… are people just being classist when judging the poor who claim to see ghosts? Possibly (and as someone who lives in social housing who has witnessed prejudice I’d suggest “probably” was accurate.)

Worryingly though, Inside Housing were unable to gather a full set of data from all councils as ‘the vast majority of councils said the information was not available because either it had not been recorded, or there was no relevant complaint category in their computer systems.’ None of the councils had a policy regarding how to deal with reports of this nature meaning that if something strange happens in your house the outcome of this could literally depend on where you live. This is bad news considering that for many the real cause of paranormal activity can be underlying or undiagnosed/mistreated mental or physical health issues.

So the next time someone who lives in social housing reports that their house is haunted and your gut reaction is that they just want a new house maybe ask yourself what alternative you would prefer – perhaps it’s the one where the housing association leave someone living in a house that terrifies them without offering help, and perhaps you think that because you’re actually satan?

The North Wales Incident: Lifting the lid on unethical ghost hunters

ethics

When you are a ghost hunter it isn’t always obvious when your behaviour is about to become unethical. You can become so caught up in the moment, truly believing that you’re finding evidence of ghosts that it’s the hunt for more evidence that’s at the front of your mind rather than a sense of what is right or wrong beyond the ghost hunt.

This is probably what happened recently in North Wales when a paranormal research team moved their ghost hunt from inside a pub and across the road into the local parish church graveyard. I imagine that the investigators didn’t think twice about standing among the graves and asking for spirits or ghosts to make themselves known. What could possibly go wrong?

Yet, a local resident who has family buried there was mortified and deeply upset when she heard what had happened from a friend who took part in the ghost hunting event.

I heard of this from a paranormal researcher that I know through mutual friends after the researcher was approached by the upset woman for advice. The researcher told me ‘she had spoken with her relatives and was afraid what occurred would become common knowledge in the vicinity. There are a few people she knew that would be deeply upset by what happened.’

I was asked to write about this as a warning to other paranormal researchers, and to point out that this isn’t the way to behave. Yet, although I agree that what happened wasn’t right, part of me wondered what had driven those people from the pub where they were invited to be, and across to the graveyard where there was no such invitation.

I contacted the team in question to tell them what had been reported to me and to ask why they had made the decision to do that. I wondered if perhaps I would receive abusive messages in response as I often do when being critical of ghost hunters, but instead I received a remorseful response.

‘We as a team would like to take the opportunity to send a sincere apology to all concerned’ they wrote, going on to explain their conduct. ‘We are deeply sorry though … and we do take this opportunity to apologise to all. We would have ideally liked to apologise directly but that is not to be the case. We shall bare the concerns raised in future and make it public that we will not visit this type of location again.’

There are lessons to be learned here for all.

Harm has occurred because of the behaviour of these paranormal researchers. In their email they explained that ‘every paranormal team at sometime or another have visited a church yard’ which is false (I’ve never visited a graveyard with any team I’ve been involved with) and is also potentially indicative of their decision making process.

As humans we attempt to live in accordance to what is and isn’t moral but our own senses of morality can be compromised by biases. This is why it’s important to have a previously-agreed-to Code of Ethics and Conduct that doesn’t get compromised because of what other teams do and what you’d like to do.

The code of ethics that I personally use as a researcher wouldn’t allow me to enter a graveyard to look for ghosts. Hell, it wouldn’t even allow me to involve paying members of the public in something I marketed as an investigation without the use of an entertainment disclaimer. It’s these things that set us apart as researchers – those who give a shit about others before themselves, and those that don’t.

Even so, the team involved in this incident seem to be genuinely sorry about what has happened and I think many critics of unethical ghost hunters can learn something important here too. These incidents are often not malicious in origin and are instead the product of ignorance. Attacking ghost hunters for being unethical does nothing to fight that ignorance and does nothing to lessen the unethical behaviour being criticised. A number of people would do well to think of that when they next take to Facebook for a very public rant about the latest team they’ve seen doing questionable things.

If anyone reading this would like to chat about creating a code of ethics for their team you can contact me here.

Death.

flowers

It was 8am in the morning. I was blurry-eyed and I had half an hour until I needed to catch my bus to work. I’d overslept. Again.

I grabbed my phone as though I had all the time in the world (an illusion I am guilty of living under every single day) and I noticed I had a message on the Facebook page for my blog. It was from the husband of a friend to tell me she had died.

Would I write some words to be read at her funeral? She thought highly of me.

It was 8am in the morning when I began to cry and I didn’t stop until the next day. I sat at my desk at work secretly crying. I cried on my walk home from work. I’d never met my friend in person but she was ingrained in the everyday existence that I call life. I miss her. She was my friend and I had known her online since I was about 16-years-old.

I have thought about her and her family every day since her death.

I usually find myself thinking about her during my 20/20/20 breaks at work. My optician insists that every 20 minutes I should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds to rest my eyes. I look at the trees outside of my office window, they surround the building I work in. It’s a concert hall and it is built on grounds that used to belong to the school next door.

The grounds that are now the foundations of the concert hall were once taken care of by a groundsman. When I was a child that groundsman was my grandfather and I have very-basic-yet-real memories of going to work with him and walking among the greenhouses and sheds that once stood where my office now is.

My granddad died last November.

Something I have learned from all of this grief is that it’s easy to be haunted by the ghosts of those who were once with us but no longer are. It’s easy to cling on and find meaning where there is none and it’s hard to let go. Yet we have to let go otherwise we risk living under the illusion that we have all the time in the world.

Strangely (some would say) I made an impulse purchase of a book called Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty and I began reading it shortly after my grandfather died. I’d amassed enough points on my reward card for a free book (or ten) and the cashier insisted I pick one up “as a christmas gift to yourself”. It was 1 month after my grandfather died and 1 month until my friend would die.

I am pleased that I read the book though because it confronts the subject of death with a truthfulness that, although at times is harsh, is right. Is deserved.

Simon Davis interviewed Doughty for his Vice column. Davis writes about death a lot and it’s good because we humans are at risk of ignoring our mortality and to do so comes at the cost of not living. As an atheist I’m often told that to not believe in an afterlife is to give up hope but I never know what I’m supposed to be hoping for that’s so important it has to wait until death. The only thing I do is regret the things I did not do and this gives me hope that I can take steps to lessen my eventual regrets with each day that passes.

So this is me telling you to read the book and think about the lessons within. It’s worth it. There’s a saying… ‘how terrible it is to love something that death can touch’ but this quote is wrong. It’s not terrible at all.

The Snubbing of Tatchell

censorship-image

The Guardian report that the LGBT officer for the National Union of Students (NUS), Fran Cowling, declined to share a platform with Peter Tatchell at an upcoming talk on the subject of ‘re-radicalising queers’.

The first I heard of this was from various social media posts from people outraged that Peter Tatchell, of all people, had been no-platformed. This wasn’t the case though as he hasn’t been denied a platform and Cowling has simply stated in correspondence with the event organisers that she would not share a platform with him.

Cowling claims that Tachell is transphobic and this is her reason for this decision – a claim that Tachell says he has asked her to back up with evidence which she has not done.

Refusing to share a platform with someone you disagree with is the easy way out and achieves less that confronting what you believe to be bad or false information with good information and evidence. That said, we are all entitled to be able to choose our responses. If anything, Cowling has no-platformed herself here, and has denied herself a voice which is an interesting choice to make.

It could be argued that refusing to share a platform with someone is a demand that they not be allowed to talk, but unless Tatchell is refused a platform as a result of this it isn’t equal to being denied a platform as people such as Kate Smurthwaite, Julie Bindel, and others have experienced recently – often for the protection of so-called safe spaces at universities. Such actions are in direct conflict with the safeguarding of free speech. They are forms of censorship and in a world where people are being murdered for expressing dissenting opinions it is vital that such censoring actions be challenged and that free expression isn’t silenced by a minority who would seek to not hear an opinion they do not agree with- whether feminists offended by alleged transphobia or muslims offended by atheists.

But in the process of defending freedom of speech we must ensure that we do not paint targets on the backs of those who are not attempting to censor others for fear of building Straw Men when in reality there are enough enemies of reason out there already happily censoring others.