That Child Who’d Vote UKIP

ukip child

A British schoolchild has been filmed telling Tristram Hunt that he would vote UKIP in the upcoming General Election because they’d “get all the foreigners out of the country.” The video is really difficult to watch because it’s awful to see a child repeating what he has probably heard adults saying. As children we trust our parents to be right even when they’re not and it can have a devastating effect in many ways.

Watching the video was a chilling experience and took me back to a very similar and embarrassing experience that I had at school when I was younger. I can’t remember the exact context but we had been tasked to write a letter to the Prime Minister about something that we felt needed to change or improve and I wrote about the number of foreign people coming into the country. The teacher was walking around the room and engaging us children about what we had written and when he got to my desk he asked me why I held that view. The words I said are still very clear in my mind to this very day, “I think they need to sort things out their own countries before they come over here and use up our resources.”

Wait, what? Thirteen-year-old Hayley Stevens didn’t know immigration statistics and policy, she didn’t know anything about public resources or the benefits system in the country, so what on earth was she talking about? Well, I was parroting what I had read in The Sun newspaper that my parents would buy and read on an almost daily basis. I was parroting what the biased media tell us with scary headlines and I was parroting what I’d heard certain older relatives saying (in fact, a certain relative said the exact same thing Thirteen-year-old me said just last Christmas.)

Today a child of that age can connect to the internet and gain access to all sorts of information in minutes to help develop an informed opinion but when I was Thirteen we didn’t have that luxury in our house. I think we had a dial-up modem on the family computer at that point but we certainly didn’t use it 24/7 and I was limited to the media that my parents brought into the house which came mainly in the form of The Sun and ITV News.

But even with the internet access of today it is still possible to be misled and tricked into thinking incorrect things are true by the media who provide unfair balance to those who are not experts, and by twisting facts or simply making them up to suit their agenda.

political compass result graphic

I don’t hate immigrants. In fact, I now try to champion immigration and foreign aid as the good, positive things that they are and when I took The Political Compass test recently I was in the left libertarian quadrant (the red dot on the picture above is me, apparently.) So what changed?

I learned how to question stuff people claimed was true…

…and I’m glad that I didn’t grow up to view the world with a mindset shaped by such limited, biased input because I believe that every act of intolerance lessens what it means to be a human. When we are intolerant of another person we are intolerant of humanity.

Yet, that could so easily have been different because we’re taught what to think and not how to think as kids, and watching the young boy tell Tristram Hunt that he would vote UKIP reminded me of this. Children want to learn but when they’re not taught how to properly evaluate information it can impact their ability to think reasonably.

Let’s not hate the child for saying what he did, and let’s not even hate the parents for potentially making him thing this way intentionally or unintentionally – let’s hate the biased media that creates an echo chamber full of lies to twist the way people view the world around them and to turn good people against other good people. Fuck them.

Leave the ghosts alone

A follow on to this post: Leave the ghosts alone part II

I don’t believe in ghosts because of the lack of supporting evidence. I also don’t know what a ghost is because of the lack of supporting evidence for any one particular definition (and there are many definitions.) One thing I am certain of is that the majority of people who go ghost hunting believe they are communicating with the ‘spirits’ of the deceased. It’s evident in the apparent conversations they hold with what they think are spirits.

This raises numerous problems. The biggest problem being that most ghost hunters are being disrespectful and unethical with their intentions to communicate with the dead. I have had this problem with ghost hunting for a long time, ever since I first realised in 2007 that I was acting unethically. I’m writing about it now because today an article over at The Guardian about the discovery of a buried cottage and entombed cat discovered in the Pendle Hill area has brought out the Yvette Fielding wanna-be’s, who are drooling over the potential of chasing the ghost of a witch.

It’s strange behaviour considering that no paranormal activity has been reported at this discovery – and the only thing to link it to a ghost is outdated and inaccurate folklore. To investigate such a thing as a ‘paranormal researcher’ is illogical.

Pendle Hill has long been a focus for ghost hunting groups because of the folklore and the infamous witch trials and executions that took place there.

I don’t know how the two examples, Don Philips and Richard Case, operate and the ways in which they work – but the fact they’re investigating a ‘case’ where there’s nothing to investigate calls into question why they’re even bothering and is an excellent example of the eagerness of thrill seeking ghost hunters to jump on the potential of a spooky story simply because of associated folklore.

It’s not just that though. Many other teams and individuals (not necessarily the two mentioned above – I don’t know…), go crawling all over Pendle Hill trying to challenge the ghosts of the witches to do something to them in vain acts of ghost hunter bravado. It’s horrible, especially when you consider the fact that the majority of them truly believe they are speaking to the spirits of the deceased.

Even though they’re being illogical they’re also being extremely disrespectful.

I used to behave in a similar manner… when I was 18 and 19. Then I grew up and stopped trying to be some sort of paranormal super hero. It’s not okay to behave this way, the potential thrill and confirmation bias is not worth more than some respect for the deceased and their surviving family. It is not worth more than the ethical behaviour a ghost hunter owes the location owner and those they are misleading through their behaviour.

I do not believe that the spirits of the so-called witches are still on Pendle Hill. I do not believe they do exist, I do not believe they can exist, but those who go looking for them do. I think there is something very wrong with this behaviour – to pursue what you genuinely believe is the earth-bound spirit of a person who was executed, or died in such horrendous circumstances for no real crime is horrid. To taunt them and challenge them is even worse. It doesn’t make you very special. In fact, I think it makes you a bit of a coward.

Not only that, but it makes potentially makes you a closed minded and illogical researcher. 

If you genuinely believe that the spirit of a deceased person is still here they should be left to rest in peace, or at least treated in a respectful manner.

Leave the ghosts alone. 

A ghost hunters privilege

The hundreds of ghost hunting teams in the UK create a unique market that can be sold products and services that the normal consumer wouldn’t consider parting with their money for.

From Iphone applications and devices that are supposed to be able to help you work out if a ghost is causing a reported oddity, books on how to hunt ghosts and personalised team clothing, to guaranteed time at the top haunted hot spots across the country.

Ghost hunters tend not to worry about having to pay for the kit they use, or the personalised clothing they all wear because these are things they choose to have. However ghost hunters often kick up a fuss when it comes to being charged to enter certain famously haunted places across the country.

These tend to be buildings that have featured on paranormal television shows, or are listed in ghost folklore books or on websites dedicated to ghost lore. They often have infamous ghosts such as ‘the blue boy’, or ‘the grey lady’, or ‘the brown monk’ or ‘the judge’ and so on… often the ghosts are named; ‘Nanny rabbit’, ‘clogs’, ‘Burke & Hare’, ‘Mr. Boots’. These are the things that whet the appetite of the ghost hunter and ultimately makes them part with their cash.

The ghost hunter who happily pays to visit such locations is essentially a tourist who happens to like having the lights turned off. Yet there are ghost hunters who believe they have some sort of privilege that means they shouldn’t have to pay, or pay as much, to access these locations ; many complaining that they’re being “out costed” from being able to fairly access places to investigate.

Ultimately though, ghost hunting in such places is done so as a hobby as the associated ghost stories are often decades old with no new experiences from independent eyewitnesses to study (i.e. not ghost hunters having experiences on ghost hunts, but location staff/owners). There are only a handful of groups that study anomalous phenomena for educational or scientific reasons in the UK and those tend to be charities or linked to universities and similar – if they need access to locations that are famous for ghost lore then it’s usually for academic reasons and a mutual agreement between researcher and venue is met.

Having to pay to visit a location to carry out a hobby is not an outrageous demand, and to accuse supposedly haunted places of charging ‘too much’ and ‘out-costing’ people is unfair.

Many ghost hunting groups (but not all) have public liability insurance to cover them while they visit locations that they do not own, but insurance isn’t always the only thing on a location owners mind when it comes to letting in a group of people who aren’t professionals at what they do and, ultimately, are tourists.

I’ve personally researched in venues for years at a time and happily handed over cash because of the extra electricity we’re going to be using while there. Most ghost lore is linked to ancient buildings owned by charitable trusts that look after our wonderful and important heritage sites that need constant funding to keep them maintained.

Should such venues not ask for money when people want to visit them? Should ghost hunters be allowed to visit for free or next to nothing when it is the very heritage of a site that has attracted them in the first place?

I’m not sure what the justification for such a demand is, and for those who are skeptical that ghost groups make such demands a quick search on google or facebook will reveal that I’m not lying.

Many ghost hunters blame commercial groups who make a profit from ghost hunting enthusiasts for the rise in the fee that locations charge, often citing profiteering ghost groups as bad people who need to be tackled.

It is often said that by groups making a profit from charging members of the public to go on ghost hunts with them at these locations, it makes the locations aware of how much people are willing to pay – thus “out-costing” the regular ghost hunter.

I don’t agree that this is something that profiteering groups should be tackled for though. I would suggest that we should be looking at the claims such profiteering groups make to the general public about what service it is they provide (e.g. a serious paranormal investigation when it isn’t? Proper scientific research when it’s not? Just for entertainment?) And we should tackle misleading claims and bad behavior if the need arises.

Making location owners aware of the amounts they can charge people isn’t a terrible thing and in some cases is actually good (charities, for example).

It bugs me when ghost hunting groups complain about having to constantly pay loads of money to visit apparently haunted locations because it shows that they’re not really very serious about researching anomalous phenomena. In the six years that I have been studying ghosts and the places they’re said to hang out, I’ve only ever visited a handful of places that requested money and the money paid helped towards the running of the site.

Most places that I visit don’t charge because they’ve never had the need to ask paranormal investigators to visit. The experiences have mostly been recent and current and not founded in ghost lore books and websites.

One problem that arises from venues being able to charge people to access them is the rise in the number of venues claiming to be haunted when they’re not, just so that they can make money from Yvette Fielding wannabe’s. This is a serious problem, and one I’ve encountered first hand when investigating what appears to be a genuine report, only for investigators to catch people faking activity.

However, if such fakery is occurring, then asking the right questions and looking for the right signs should help investigators rule out ‘genuine’ reports from those that are fraudulent. If you simply hang on to every word of a story and let that be what drives your curiosity – to experience the ghost the story centres around – then you’re an easy  target for such frauds.

If you are open minded in your approach and consider all possibilities (and not just that there’s a ghost there that could be contacted) then you’re less likely to be caught out.

It is possible to conduct paranormal research without being charged phenomenal amounts of money to do so, but if you’re simply in it for the thrill of the hunt and the folklore stories that excite you then you’re a tourist and paying is inevitable.  That isn’t a product of the profiteering paranormal companies – it’s a product of your approach to ghost phenomena.

Photo credit: Tristan Barratt

When ghost hunters cross the line

thumb ethics

I just read this news story from the US about some teenagers who were caught trespassing in a Hubbard Park in Connecticut which is near the former Undercliff Sanatorium for children. They were found by police, and the group of “amateur ghost hunters” set off on foot to try and escape the police. Instead, they fell off of a cliff and became trapped at the bottom, seriously injured.

It really annoys me when I hear stories like this, as this sort of behaviour gives “ghost hunters” or paranormal researchers a really bad name. I know of groups here in the UK who trespass on private land to get their fill of ghostly thrills in the dark and there are two major problems with this sort of selfish and destructive behaviour.

1) It is dangerous.

There are horror stories of people who have gone “ghost hunting” being really hurt. The story I linked to above is a good example, and another would be the girl from Toronto who fell from a roof to her death in 2009, or the girl in Ohio who was shot in 2006 when she trespassed on somebodies land because it was supposed to be haunted.

I honestly do not understand how the need to get scared or spooked in a haunted park or building can be greater than the need to be safe. Is it really worth putting yourself and other people at risk by placing yourself in dangerous position, in locations that you shouldn’t be in the first place?

Not in my opinion.

2) It is unlawful

To enter property that doesn’t belong to you, or that is closed off to the public (derelict buildings, graveyards that have visiting curfews etc.) is classed as trespass to land. The term ‘trespass to land’ refers to the “wrongful interference with one’s possessory rights in property”. While most trespasses to land are intentional, British courts have held liability holds for trespass committed negligently – but if you were to intentionally enter a location to look for ghosts, that’s not tresspass through negligence.

Several locations are aware of the fact that people trespass on their land to “ghost hunt” and it causes bitter relationships between those locations and all paranormal researchers.

I recall my co-founder being told to ‘fuck off!’ when phoning one location to enquire about the apparent haunting because of the trouble that location had experienced with unruly “ghost hunters” in the past.

I will never understand how people who hunt for ghosts and go thrill seeking in haunted places without the owners permission can justify doing so. It isn’t that hard to gain entry to locations with permission, and if a location says no then people should just deal with it.

It isn’t difficult to research paranoral phenomena while staying safe and within the law. You just have to be able to control yourself and know your limits and it’s a shame that so many people don’t.