Television hosts make millions by demonstrating their supposed ability to communicate with the dead or predict the future. These extraordinary abilities are often presented with general life advice about “moving on” from past relationships or seeking out new relationships to fill voids. Due to the sensitive nature of such topics, it is sometimes considered insensitive or offensive to state the obvious: anyone who claims the ability to know the future or correspond with deceased human beings is either deluded or a liar.
We have many laws in this country protecting consumers from fraud and false advertising. One cannot sell a container labeled as a gallon of milk if it is in fact a gallon of poison. Most people generally trust that when they pay for something, they will receive exactly what was advertised. Without oversight and regulation of products, consumers would likely be constantly deceived by businesses small and large that are eager to make a quick profit. Indeed, history shows that such snake oil salesmen run rampant before authorities crack down on their schemes.
In principle, most people would probably agree that fraud should always be punished. Society can’t function properly if we have to view every sales transaction with paranoid suspicion. And yet, the frauds of fortune telling and communicating with the dead are ubiquitous. It is a multi-million dollar industry of deceit, preying on the fear of death and the sorrow experienced after a love one has died. It largely escapes criminal repercussions because it can be difficult to prove that psychics are knowingly deceiving their customers. But when such criminal acts can be proved, and it must be provable in many instances, it should be aggressively prosecuted. Psychics and mediums simply should not be able to claim to have a supernatural ability that can be (and has been) debunked.
This proposal, despite how it might appear at first glance, is ultimately a mild one. People can still have a “fortune telling” experience but it must at least be called something else (perhaps something that connotes a ritualistic but not realistic experience) to prevent false advertising. The distinction is a semantic one but it’s important. To charge a customer for a service that doesn’t exist is clearly deceptive, if not a case of outright fraud.
There are some honest people who rely on pseudoscience to make money. I don’t doubt their sincerity, just as I don’t doubt that some salesmen really did believe in magical cures for baldness and impotence. Self-deception is a powerful force but it shouldn’t be tolerated in a country that values justice, truth, and fair play. We can’t expect our fellow citizens to be scientifically literate if we allow superstition to be sold to them.