The value of comment sections and debates in digital spaces

Regular readers will know that I’ve recently been wondering whether to continue hosting comments here on Synapses, as well as about their value in a more general sense.

downloadI’m not shutting comments down, but will move to moderating them, meaning that it might take up to 24 hours for any comment to appear, and some comments will not appear at all, if I deem them abusive or idiotic. The decision to do so is precipitated by two coincidences, featuring two friends who raised overlapping conversations on Facebook, both of which I engaged with.

The debate on Nathan Geffen’s wall about trolls on GroundUp, and how to deal with them, raised the point that without full-time moderation, comment sections can easily become toxic.

Also, I’ve been led to believe that there’s a potential for legal liability for things posted on one’s own site by commenters, while no such liability exists on Twitter or Facebook (for what other people say, I mean).

Then, Eusebius McKaiser asked for a view on Nick Cowen’s IOL piece arguing that we can’t have productive debate in online spaces, and much of what I say below is a response to that piece (in short, I think we can, but that it takes more work than many of us care to do. In my case, I get few enough comments that the necessary moderation is possible).

Before I get to responding to that IOL piece, just a note on how things will work here with regard to comment and debate. Individual posts will have a moderated comment section, but please also feel free to do one of three things instead, if you prefer:

  1. The old-fashioned “letter to the editor”, where if you’re amenable, and I think your contribution might be of broader interest, I’ll post it as a separate entry.
  2. If you’re on Facebook, there is a page for Synapses. Every entry appears there, and you can comment as much as you like, unmoderated. The same is true for Google+.
  3. Lastly, there’s Twitter, which isn’t ideal for debate, but certainly gives you the opportunity to call me names (if that’s your thing), or to make more friendly noises.

On to the IOL piece, which you don’t have to have read to follow what is about to follow. To quote myself:

it seems to my mind at least plausible that we’re living though an era in which ideas themselves are not that welcome. Where, as Neal Gabler recently put it in a column John Maytham was kind enough to alert me to, the “public intellectual in the general media [has been replaced] by the pundit who substitutes outrageousness for thoughtfulness”.

Despite the demise of postmodernism in academic circles, it still lives and breathes in the popular viewpoint that everybody’s opinion is equally worthy of consideration, and that individuals are under no special obligation to set aside their opinions in favour of what the evidence points to.

The Internet, its potential anonymity, and the sheer volume of both opinions and outrage don’t encourage thoughtful reflection and engagement. I find that the overall quality of discourse and openness to correction is poor on the Internet, and as a result, I tend to only read comment sections to confirm that they are places where people seem unafraid to express their racism, sexism and (other forms of) stupidity.

There are pockets where people do engage earnestly and sincerely, and where there is a chance of shifting peoples’ perspectives. Eusebius’s Facebook wall is itself one small example of that. It’s true that people don’t often say “you’ve changed my mind”, but it’s something that can be intuited from how the tone and content of a conversation shifts.

Second, I’m not sure that the situation is significantly better in meatspace. There, just as on the Internet, people are stubborn, prone to confirmation bias and the backfire effect, etc. It’s partly the fact that there are more participants – with those participants not being carefully selected – in the online space that creates the impression that it’s more chaotic there. In other words, if we were to have an open house in meatspace to discuss something contentious, we might more often have the same impression of shouting past each other.

By contrast, if you do online what you do in meatspace, i.e. carefully select your interlocutors, you’d have the same “civilized” conversations (at least in a relative sense). The problem is that a) you don’t always get to select who talks to you online and b), all the non-verbal cues, such as smiles and body-language, aren’t available to us online.

Complicating this all is my sense of the conversations in both spaces being less civilized than they used to be, because everyone is now an expert in everything. The idea of democracy has been illegitimately expanded into epistemic territory, where the average person has been persuaded that their views are as legitimate as any other person’s view, and where they are somehow attacking you as a person when they criticise your view, rather than us simply having a contestation about the facts or interpretation of them.

We’ve become too personally invested in our beliefs, to put it simply.

Should the City of Cape Town rename a street after FW de Klerk?

If you’re too busy to read the full post, my answer (as per Betteridge’s Law) is “no”.

And, in case you don’t know what I’m talking about at all, the issue is this:

FWFrom today and until the end of October, the public have been invited to participate in the City of Cape Town’s deliberations on whether to rename Table Bay Boulevard in honour of FW – so, it would become FW de Klerk Boulevard.

If you want to read the full request for input, it’s on the City’s “Have your say” website, along with a fillable form. You could also email (or submit something by fax, and therefore presumably by carrier pigeon also).

We don’t get to see the full proposal – all we can read by way of motivation is the following:

The proposal for renaming Table Bay Boulevard (the first section of N1 from Cape Town), FW De Klerk Boulevard, is motivated by the role that Mr. De Klerk played in the transition to a new dispensation in South Africa. He is a Nobel Peace Laureate recipient who has not received any recognition for the role he has played in the recent history of South Africa.

“He is a Nobel Peace Laureate who has not received any recognition“? I’m guessing they left something out there, like “not received any recognition in the form of a road being named after him”.

And it’s not just the Nobel that he’s been awarded: there’s the Prix du Courage Internationale, the UNESCO Houphouet-Boigny Prize, the Prince of Asturias Prize, and the Philadelphia Peace Prize.

On top of those (and others I haven’t listed), I’ve found reference to 8 Honorary Doctorates, and then the Order of Mapungubwe (Gold) – South Africa’s highest honour – too. So, it’s really only the City of Cape Town who seem to have forgotten to give this man a token of their appreciation.

Here’s why this Capetonian (me) thinks that they should keep on forgetting to do so, and why I’d encourage you to express your disapproval of the plan too (assuming you do disapprove, of course).

First, an objection in principle: it’s irrational to name things after living people in general, especially when naming and renaming costs money. If you don’t already think FW de Klerk unworthy of having a road named after him, he’s still got time to demonstrate his unworthiness to you.

I have no reason to expect that we’re going to learn unsavoury things about him in his remaining years, but it’s certainly possible – so I’d at least want to wait until his full story has been written, in case we end up naming a road after someone who has been exposed as a [insert something unsavoury here].

And second, because it was always absurd that he was awarded the Nobel alongside Mandela. Sure, the 10%-ish percent of white South Africans had a disproportionate number of guns and Rands, so were perhaps taken more seriously than they might otherwise have been, but any of you who were in South Africa in the late 80’s would know that FW had two choices: blood in the streets, or handing power over.

You don’t get to play at magnanimity if you never deserved to be the boss, and also, it’s no great achievement to do what anyone in your position would have needed to do, in order to avoid further bombings, murders, international ostracisation and the like.

I’d perhaps feel differently about de Klerk if he had a history of being a democrat, and someone committed to a non-racial South Africa. But he was the leader of the National Party in our most conservative Province, the Transvaal, and served a succession of racist white Presidents loyally. As Minister of Education, he supported the continued racial segregation of our universities.

To quote from a Telegraph piece with the unassuming title of “The day I ended apartheid

Black Africans had basically lost nearly all of their human rights over that period [the second half of the 20th century].

Nothing in De Klerk’s Afrikaner background suggested he was about to reverse all that. He had been in the job just four months and was still an unknown quantity, but what was known about him suggested he was no reformer. After a lifetime in the National Party (he was 54), he was generally regarded as on the verkrampte, or unenlightened, side of the party, although he always saw himself around the middle, neither verkrampte or verligte (enlightened), but certainly conservative.

“Negative expectations hinged on the fear that FW, far from being an innovator, was a hidebound disciple of apartheid,” said his own brother, Willem, later. “He never formed any part of the enlightened movement in South Africa. It was even rumoured he had tried to put the brakes on all the reforms PW Botha had made.”

He’s not a great man. He’s a man who was in charge at a great moment in history. It would have made some sense to honour him at the time, as one of those reconciliation gestures South Africans seem to be fond of. But in de Klerk’s case, we’ve done that already, and there’s no constituency (that I’m aware of, at least) that’s clamouring for de Klerk to be given any more medals or prizes.

On the other hand, there are still scores of less celebrated but important South Africans who haven’t yet had a road named after them, never mind being awarded honorary doctorates or Nobel Peace Prizes.

You’d think we’ve simply run out of ideas, in proposing to name a road after de Klerk. But sadly, this might be another indication of Cape Town, the Western Cape, and (by extension) the DA’s obliviousness to aspects of political messaging.

When you’re constantly criticised (often unfairly) for being a racist City, renaming prominent roads offers an opportunity to subtly shift the character and reputation of the City either closer to or further from those perceptions. Why choose the former?

Should you give to people on the street?

A guest post by Greg Andrews, following my asking him for his thoughts on this article in Cape Town Magazine. Greg has worked with vulnerable people in South Africa for the past 20 years. He is currently the Operations Manager of The Service Dining Rooms and Convenor of the Street People’s Forum in Cape Town.

Should you give to people on the street? In general I would discourage giving, but a simple “no” cannot do justice to the complexities inherent in this issue. Here’s why:

Euthanasia and the permissibility of moral debate

One should, in general, be able to discuss controversial moral topics without it being assumed that you support the worst possible consequences of the topic under debate. I add the “in general” because it’s rather difficult to imagine someone arguing in good faith when they ask that we debate whether one race is superior to the next, or some similarly prejudiced proposition.

And, there’s a distinction worth retaining between stating that something is right or wrong, and having sympathy for someone who is placed in the position of having to make a difficult or controversial moral choice – whether or not that person ends up making the choice that you’d make, or hope that they would have made.

No, voyeurism is not a “human right”

Much of what I end up writing here has to do with the nuances of some or other situation. Whether I get things right or wrong is your call to make, but hopefully many of you read what I post because you at least agree that the simple or instinctive reaction is often wrong, or incomplete at best. And in another example of how hype and hyperbole can people to switch off their brains, this morning I heard a caller to Redi Tlhabi’s show trying to make the case that his human rights were being violated, as he was unable to watch or listen to all of the Oscar Pistorius trial.

I don’t know the details (I’m not following the trial, except through the occasional summary recap or meta-commentary like 6000’s archives of the “insight” our journalists are occasionally displaying on Twitter), but some things can be seen and some not, some can be live and some delayed, and so forth. Cricket bats sound like gunshots, and if you’re a white model, you get to have your “dignity” preserved in death in a way that Anene Booysen never could.

The caller thought it grossly unfair – a rights violation – that he couldn’t follow the soap-opera, even though the outcome of it makes no difference to his life. Furthermore, the fact that two courtrooms had been set up for journalists to be able to observe proceedings was also grossly iniquitous – why them and not me, Lord? As I’ve argued in a different context, if you train people to expect sensation instead of subtlety, you should shouldn’t be surprised if they keep expecting more of the same, and eventually, become capable of understanding nothing less.

Hamba Kahle, President Mandela

NYorker cover

My friend Jonathan Faull has already written a piece that captures the significance of Mr. Mandela’s death for most of us South Africans, and for many elsewhere in the world, better than I’d be able to. As 6000 remarked, British audiences could perhaps contextualise this as “the equivalent of a hundred – a thousand – Dianas”. Commiserations to all who are feeling somewhat bereft, today and in the coming weeks.

My contribution is simply to briefly state that if you’re concerned about honouring Mandela’s memory, or making his life mean something beyond the significance already captured in history, then remember that the symbolic force he generated was all about understanding why we are in disagreement, and trying to find a way out of that disagreement. It was about reconciliation, and hope, and progress. He offered a genuine source of energy for moral courage, and for effecting change.

Regardless of the details of history, and whether you think certain factual details should be emphasised or de-emphasised, that’s the effect of Mandela the icon rather than Mandela the man. So when idiots like those at the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) say that they will be coming to picket his funeral (Mandela supported gay marriage, thus will be in hell, thus WBC are happy), the last thing you should do in honouring Mandela is to threaten them with violence.

Some hyperventilating types from the tabloids and Twitter (often indistinguishable, I guess) are worried about the fate of SA now that Mandela is dead. But that’s bollocks – we’re in as good or bad shape as we were yesterday. We’ve been saying goodbye to Mandela for months if not years already, and besides, the South Africa he presided over is not the same one we have today.

Our success, or our failure, rests more in whether democrats (and generally, ethical voices) inside today’s ANC can rescue it from the likes of Jacob Zuma. Jacob Zuma is not my president. I’ve not had one since Mandela, but hopefully I’ll have one again, sometime soon. And if you want Mandela’s death to mean something, then consider using it as a motivation to think about what his life meant, and the legacy he left us, and then to buckle down and renew your efforts towards helping us achieve his vision.

Dennett’s ‘seven tools for thinking’

In 2009, I had the great pleasure of sharing a number of meals and pub-sessions with Dan Dennett, when he visited South Africa for a series of lectures. The picture captures his first encounter with something called a “bunny chow” – a hollowed-out section of bread, filled with curry. Since meeting him then, he’s always been exceedingly generous with his time and thoughtful input when requested, as I’m sure any of you who have dealt with him would concur.

In case you hadn’t noticed, he has a new book out which looks well-worth our time and attention. It’s titled “Intuition pumps and other tools for thinking“, and is certainly next in line for consumption on my Kindle.

The Guardian recently carried an excerpt detailing “seven tools for thinking”. Number two on that list is certainly one I wish more of our “community” would take to heart, and deals with the tendency to caricature our opponent’s positions. I’ll paste a snippet below, but please go and read the rest – we could do with a reminder in many of these respects.

Dennett notes that “the best antidote I know for this tendency to caricature one’s opponent is a list of rules promulgated many years ago by social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport”, and then proceeds to list the rules:

1. Attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your target says: “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”

2. List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

3. Mention anything you have learned from your target.

4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

One immediate effect of following these rules is that your targets will be a receptive audience for your criticism: you have already shown that you understand their positions as well as they do, and have demonstrated good judgment (you agree with them on some important matters and have even been persuaded by something they said).

I get (real) mail

It’s been very many years since I’ve received a handwritten letter in the mail (not counting letters from the UCT Registrar, who sometimes prefers to record official business on paper, with pen. I’m afraid I have little idea as to his heuristic for deciding when email is sufficient and when pen and paper are necessary, and in realising this, resolve to ask him that question soonest.) It’s probably been at least 10 years since any other correspondence has arrived in this format, though, so I was quite surprised to find this in my postbox at work today.

Seeing as the Daily Maverick has a real names comment policy, and this was intended as a comment to my column last week, I’ll presume that it’s okay to post it here, before briefly responding. I’ve shrunk the images, so in case you can’t read them, the covering letter includes the question:

If you could single out what distresses you most about life in South Africa, what would it be? For me, it is the Aztec-like acceptance of violent death in civil society.

This gave me little indication of what was to come, considering that the question is sensible even if (to my mind) put somewhat hyperbolically. The letter itself reads:

Failed attempt to submit to the Daily Maverick, in reply to Jacques Rousseau’s article on culture.

Our ‘sentient and compassionate’, ‘affirming and inspirational’ culture condones ‘oppressive and restrictive’ attitudes towards those it deems ‘inferior and unworthy’ for questioning its orthodox principles.

A paid-up member of this ‘groupthink’ culture is required to:

  • Replace puritanical attitudes to sex with puritanical attitudes to thought.
  • Endorse strident feminism.
  • Support pugnacious homosexuality (see Pierre de Vos’s bitchy reply to the unfortunate Mulholland).
  • Be sceptically deconstructive (see Richard Poplak’s diagnosis of J.M. Coetzee as a substitute for examining his sensible speech at the Wits graduation ceremony).
  • Excoriate the government but sanctify The People, and increasingly untenable position.
  • Curse colonialism, Christianity, apartheid and big business (modish apocalyptic horsemen, past).
  • Lament racism, poverty, inequality, and unemployment (modish apocalyptic horsemen, present).
  • Embrace multiculturalism while proselytising his own.
  • Hound the carriers of our plagues, usually conservative, white, heterosexual men or black men who understand the efficacy of patronage within their own culture.

A tall order, but then virtue was never easy.

To be honest, I have no idea what to make of this. I was hoping that typing it out would make it more clear, but I still have little idea whether Ms Vorster thinks I am either a member of this ‘groupthink’ culture, or a campaigner against it, or neither.

It seems that her first paragraph introduces a dissatisfaction with political correctness and groupthink, and that her letter is concerned with some negative effects this culture could have in allowing for unfair judgements against ‘outsiders’. The quoted bits describing culture are plucked from various paragraphs of my original column, though, where some were descriptive, some aspirational, and some facetious. She seems to have read me as describing an actual and extant culture, which I certainly wasn’t. The major point of my column was that we normally can’t be prescriptive about culture, and that it’s as meaningless or meaningful as you’d like it to be. We can be prescriptive about behaviour, though, and if your culture involves harming unwilling participants, I’ve got no problem with saying that aspect x of culture y is reprehensible, and must change.

If it wasn’t for her covering letter, where she refers to reading my columns “with pleasure”, I’d have no problem interpreting this letter as a rant against lefties, and an appeal for less wishy-washy tolerance of various cultural norms. Because this seems to imply that she thinks me an ally. Fair enough, I might say as a general response to many lefties, in that I hate the soft relativism of not making judgements as much as some of you might do. But then, this doesn’t need to be accompanied by an endorsement of bigotry, as Ms Vorster seems to be demanding when referring to my colleague Pierre de Vos’s “pugnacious homosexuality” and his “bitchy reply to the unfortunate Mulholland”.

Mulholland deserved all he got from de Vos, and more (though I preferred Rebecca Davis’s response myself). To pick up on a few of the other points Ms Vorster makes, I’ve got complicated responses to feminism, in that we’d first need to agree on what the term means. If “strident feminism” entails pointing out the pervasive privilege afforded to men in society, and campaigning to eliminate it, then I’m a strident feminist myself – even though the need for feminism as a special cause can be interrogated, seeing as this particular inequality could be captured in a general assault on discrimination. But if strident feminism means thinking that “The Rule of Men” informs any potential experience, then we speak very different languages (and, live on different planets).

If Poplak’s critique was flawed, Coetzee would – from the little I know of him – be concerned with the flaws, but nevertheless applaud the attempt at a challenging and interesting reading. As for excoriation, I’m happy to excoriate both or either of the government or the people, depending on which of them do or say the most stupid things while I’m trying to come up with a column idea. Of all the horsemen listed, I don’t like any besides big business, which can be good or bad depending on what it does and how it spends its profits (if any). If groupthink means it’s bad to not like apartheid, poverty and so forth, I really hope that Ms Vorster thinks I’m a victim of it.

I don’t embrace multiculturalism. I embrace the idea that people should leave each other the hell alone, regardless of culture, that arguments should be judged on their merits (with cultural longevity or popularity certainly not counting as a merit), and that if we end up agreeing (“groupthink”) it should ideally be because we’ve all considered the issue, and come to the same reasoned conclusion. Maligning our general agreement on something like anti-sexism as “groupthink” obscures the fact that reasonable people tend to agree on what’s reasonable, for good reasons.

As for the “carriers of our plagues, usually conservative, white, heterosexual men or black men who understand the efficacy of patronage within their own culture” – it’s little surprise that these categories are responsible for most of our social ills. For much of white South Africa, those conservative, white, heterosexual men wrote the rules, and the rules are bad ones (because they are aimed at inequality and perpetuating privilege). For much of South Africa, the same is true for powerful black men, who dominate through similar networks of patronage. Are we supposed to be blaming the poor for our misery, or the otherwise disenfranchised?

Back to the covering letter:

If you could single out what distresses you most about life in South Africa, what would it be? For me, it is the Aztec-like acceptance of violent death in civil society.

That too many people seem to think that complaining, signing a petition, or Tweeting furiously is going to make any difference to anything. If you have a skill, you could donate some of it to a civil society movement. If you can teach, do so. If you have time, give some of that. If you have money, find a worthwhile charity. That’s the high-minded answer. The more banal answer is that it’s distressing to have the same debates, each and every year/month/day, where (sometimes) it seems that nobody is doing any listening at all.

Covering note Page1 Page2

Halaal cross buns and Christian hypersensitivity

That Sheffield-refugee 6000 has beaten me to the draw on this one (and also on Red Bull pulling their blasphemous ad) – both posts are worth a read. Errol Naidoo’s outraged newsletter regarding Woolworth’s latest offence against women, children, God, Naidoo, decency and family values hasn’t arrived yet, so we can’t be sure just how much offence Woolworths have caused, but it seems to be quite a lot. You see, they had the unfathomably insensitive idea of putting a Halaal certification on hot cross buns.

Yes, hot cross buns – those delicacies eaten over Easter, a religious festival that some Christians refuse to celebrate because of its pagan origins. But no matter how offensive it might be to have the obvious pointed out to you (and it often is), these buns have always been halaal. And kosher. And the relevant stamps have been on the packaging for years now. From next year, you’ll be able to buy the buns without the relevant stamps, but they will be the same buns as before – still kosher, still halaal. But the hypersensitive Christians among us will at least then be able to go back to burying their heads in the sand, and forget about this full-scale assault on all they hold dear.

But since when have hot cross buns been considered a religious food, in any case? For quite a while, at least according to Wikipedia, which tells us that they were “eaten by Saxons in honour of the goddess Eostre”. We should certainly boycott those blasphemous Saxons, then. And how is this worthy of a boycott threat to Woolworths in any case (not to mention a front-page story in The Mercury), when all Woolworths are doing is reminding a significant proportion of their client-base that these buns won’t result in whatever damnation the eating of something without a halaal stamp is supposed to cause?

There are more serious things to worry about. Not only genuinely outrageous things, like the occasional evils committed in the name of religion (like the girl who recently died during an attempted exorcism) , but also (less serious, of course) things like consistency. These buns are sold year-round, and again, have been for years (with the halaal stamp). If hot cross buns have special significance to Christians, I’d imagine that significance to be strongly linked to Easter. So, if you want an extra thing to hyperventilate about, dear Christians, consider boycotting Woolworths until they also agree to only sell hot cross buns between certain dates, specified by you (or God, if you can get her on the line).

The fact that Woolworths have capitulated to this hypersensitivity is absurd. The complainants should simply have been told to grow up and remember that they live in a multicultural society, where they can’t demand special respect for grievances such as these. Judging by the jokes and mockery from other Christians on Woolworth’s Facebook page and on Twitter, this threatened boycott would probably have resulted in approximately a dozen fewer hot cross buns being sold, and surely that’s a worthwhile price for Woolworths to pay to avoid lowering the bar on what counts as significant offence even further?

On a related (albeit tangential) note, consider this billboard I spotted in Camps Bay recently:

We probably won’t see any claims of copyright infringement emerging from Tiger Brands, because of the default respect that is afforded to religion. Perhaps if the Laugh it Off folk had used this logo on a t-shirt there would be some complaint from the copyright holders, but here it would no doubt simply be considered a light-hearted and excusable appropriation of their logo. They wouldn’t mind this usage, in other words, because the association with this church is by default a positive association. Well, seeing as I’m an anti-natalist as well as an atheist, I’ll henceforth boycott All Gold until they sue that damn church. Perhaps.

Of course I won’t, partly because I don’t care, and because I might have done the same thing if I were involved in the billboard’s planning, and the same (no-) thing if representing Tiger Brands. It’s not worth a fuss, and can only be considered offensive from a position of deep insecurity (and of course, the same sort of response can be found among atheists also). And if Christians want to boycott Woolworths over this, all they will achieve is diminishing their own credibility, as 6000 points out in the link above. As for me, this Easter I’ll hopefully be able to enjoy some hot question buns, as in previous years, thanks to my blasphemous wife:

Insha’Allah, of course.

Char Margolis back to astound SA audiences (apparently)

A Sandton community newspaper reports that this “World-respected intuitive medium” will be in town this weekend to take some money from gullible folk to talk to the dead and teach people “to connect with their own intuitive gifts”. The article reads like a straight copy-and-paste of something written by Margolis’s PR team, such is its breathless enthusiasm for everything she claims to do. It’s really quite amusing what counts as a virtue when it comes to promoting woo-woo like this. Like the equally exploitative John Edward, one of her gifts is talking to the spirit world. Like this:

But if those impressive skills don’t persuade you, Margolis is clearly something special seeing as she “is a frequent guest on Dr Phil. In fact Char recently appeared on an episode of Dr Phil along with her colleague John Edward”. Dr Phil? The problem with him is less that he temporarily lost his licence to practice psychology (1989 – 1990) after (certainly) employing one of his 19 year-old clients and (allegedly) having a sexual relationship with her – rather, it’s that he doesn’t seem to apply very high standards when it comes to what he’s prepared to endorse. (To avoid a Federal Trade Commission investigation into this product, Dr Phil pulled them from the market in 2004, and settled a class-action lawsuit from some disgruntled users for $10.5 million.)

Another of her claims to significance rests in the fact that she “not only works with everyday people but she also assists law enforcement with missing person cases and solving crimes”. Apparently – although her most widely publicised success in this regard (helping to locate a missing pilot) appears to have involved a dollop of common sense and obvious inferences, rather than anything mystical.

But it’s your R350. If you do decide to attend, there’s a final snippet of good news over and above getting the chance to have someone lie to you about getting messages from your dead relatives: the venue (a beauty salon!) “was selected by John Edward, International Psychic Medium as he felt the energy that owner, Shelene Shaer had created was excellent.”