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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A bad shopping experience

For my birthday, I was lucky enough to be given a couple of Exclusive Books gift vouchers. It's awesome, because if you look at my Kalahari.net wishlist, there's a list of books in there as long as my arm.

Of course a bunch of them are books about Star Trek, but most of them aren't. They're the works by people who have inspired and guided me on my path in crossing over from a faith-based to a reality-based world view: people like Phil Plait, James Randi, Carl Sagan, Scott Adams and Michael Shermer.

I'm forever coming across references to those books in my online travels, so intrigued am I that I would very much like to buy and read them.

So, with gift vouchers clutched in my grubby little fists, I trekked off to my local branch at Sandton City. This particular one is one of their flagship branches… it’s big. Like, a lot big.

I spent about an hour in the store before I was able to find just one of the many books I was looking for: The Science of Good and Evil – Michael Shermer. And it wasn’t where you would expect to find it either. I would look for something like that in a section marked “Science”, “Psychology” or even “Philosophy”. But that’s not where I found it. I found it under “Esoteric”. Esoteric? On the same bloody shelf as the lunatic ravings of Zecharia Sitchin!

It was no surprise to me that it was there. This shop has a “Science” section made up of three racks. About half of it is actually about science… and even then, only indirectly. That half consists mostly of biographies of people like Darwin and Einstein… clearly not interesting enough to fit into the “Biography” section.

The other half is decidedly not science. It’s all kinds of crap disguised to look like science… nonsense about alien abductions, intelligent design and all manner of woo-woo rubbish masquerading as “Quantum Mechanics”.

The “Esoteric” section consists of nine racks. NINE! I know the woo-woo fringe are prolific writers, but so are scientists and sceptics! If I was looking for a book by crackpots like David Icke, Sylvia Browne or Neal Donald Walsh, I would’ve been in book heaven. But because I happen to prefer a perspective grounded in reality, I have very little to choose from.

I can’t really blame Exclusive Books. They’re a retailer – they make their money by selling people what they want. It’s not their fault if they can’t sell “Flim Flam!” or “Bad Astronomy” to a public who chooses to believe in the mystical powers of John Edward or that there really is a human face on Mars.

The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind. --H. L. Mencken

It is at times like that when I am reminded of just how true that is. Standing in that store, looking at the carnage of reason before me, I felt so sad, and so very, very alone.