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Philadelphia Bans Psychics: Awesome.
"We are simple men; we do not know what's brought to pass under the profession of fortune-telling..."
~ The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act IV Scene 2

Not in Philadelphia!

People that believe in the supernatural generally think that since there’s no proof to the contrary, such things as ghosts, UFOs, and mind readers must surely exist. Following their train of logic, since there is no proof otherwise, I am going to take credit for the fact that Philadelphia, my home city, has recently begun shutting down psychics. There’s no proof otherwise, so why not?

Apparently, a week or two ago someone in the police department brought an old law to the attention of prosecutors: reading tarot cards, gazing into crystal balls, or pretending to be able to read people’s thoughts “for gain or lucre” is a 3rd degree misdemeanor. This law was passed sometime in the 1960s, but everyone had forgotten about it. Happily, it has returned out of obscurity to shut down no fewer than 16 “psychic” businesses. No arrests were made, but the psychics were firmly instructed to find a new line of work, and if they don’t, it’s off to the pokey with them.

Deputy License and Inspections Commissioner Dominic E. Verdi put it best when he said that most of the “psychics” in our fair city are not elderly gypsy ladies, but rather, cunning con artists that swindle inordinate sums of money out of the gullible and vulnerable.
The owner of a psychic shop who was interviewed by a local newspaper bitterly lamented that “what we do is entertainment.” Since the same argument could be made for both drug dealers and transsexual prostitutes, I’m not impressed. However, I was just as surprised as the psychic was when L&I shut down my ring of drug dealing transsexual prostitutes. I guess “we entertain people” just isn’t a sufficient justification for milking away some damn fool’s life savings.

You may think I’m overplaying the danger that psychics pose to modern society. I’m sure that there are some of them out there that genuinely want only to entertain people. I can imagine someone coming to Philadelphia as a tourist, stopping by a psychic’s den, and leaving with a little less money and a couple of funny stories. Hell, pound for pound, it’s probably cheaper than a m ovie. But these are surely far in the minority, since psychics are like tobacco companies: they thrive on repeat business.

Few people just up and decide to go to a psychic. They usually go when they’re having trouble in a relationship, their professional lives, or are just not feeling good about where they’re at. They’re already vulnerable, and if they’re the sort of person that believes in psychic mind reading, they’re probably already inclined to take a psychic’s word with little or no critical thought. For the psychic looking for a repeat customer, the battle is already half won. The other half of the battle isn’t knowledge, as GI Joe always told me, but a rudimentary understanding of psychology.

Present a friendly, almost flattering demeanor, and the person asking you for a psychic reading is certain to relax and give you a little more leeway. Mention some things that have occurred to everyone (every person on earth has likely been in one bad accident or know someone who has; we’ve all had someone dear to us die; no matter how happy you are with life, there’s something all of us wish had a bigger part in our lives, etc.)

It’s all downhill from here. If you seem like you’re coming to the psychic for more than just whimsical entertainment, the tarot cards may hint at something important that can only be more thoroughly revealed in future sessions. Perhaps you’re cursed and the only way to get rid of it is through expensive sessions that the psychic just happens to be qualified to give. Psychics have gone so far as telling “cursed” people that money is ruining their lives, and that things will improve if they wrap all of their money in special silk cloths and throw it into a river. (The psychic, of course, will be waiting in a rowboat.) Or that they will burn the person’s life savings as an offering to the spirit world. (A little slight of hand, and the psychic is well on the way to buying a shore house.) My absolute favorite is when a psychic convinces someone they have a disease and that modern medicine won’t help. However, for a modest price, they can perform “psychic surgery” to get rid of it. It’s a terrible, terrible thing, but it’s my favorite because the person inevitably defends the psychic by saying “He must be real! I don’t have cancer!”, completely oblivious to the fact that they were never actually sick.
Much less of a laughing matter is when people are genuinely sick, and are convinced to put their trust in psychics and mumbo-jumbo new age remedies. There, the psychic industry resembles the tobacco industry even more, because not only do they thrive on repeat business, but eventually they kill that business.

It goes on and on like this. There are more ways for them to empty your wallet than crazy-ass ingredients on the original Iron Chef. (For those unfamiliar with the show, that’s a lot.) It goes far beyond talking you into buying some crystal tchotchke to harmonize your spiritual imbalance.

I’ve occasionally written about psychics in the past: con artists like Uri Geller and Sylvia Browne make their living by pretending to be able to see the future and read your thoughts. And they don’t just make a living: they each currently live in a solid gold palace, perched high atop a cloud, dining on naught but ambrosia and nectar. So you’d think I would greet this blow to the psychic industry in Philadelphia with applause and giddiness. But I don’t.

Two weeks ago, Philadelphia hit 128 murders after a blood soaked weekend that left 12 people dead. This is a 17% rise over our total from last year, and puts us on track to again meet our 2004 record: of the top ten largest US cities, we had the most murders. Of the top 25 cities, we were #3. Looking at all the numbers, if we continue on this trend, in 2012 the population of Philadelphia will be 4 wounded drug dealers. It’s not a city. It’s a slaughterhouse.

Suffice it to say that while I consider the dismantling of the various paranormal industries to be fairly important, since they’re a tapeworm on the small intestine of society, there are some things that take precedent. Bravo on shutting down the psychic parlors, Philadelphia. I really mean that. But I’m also sort of concerned that every night I fall asleep to a symphony of gunfire.
The psychics make the same argument, but they try and make it look like this is some sort of big conspiracy to take public attention away from our cities problems. It wouldn’t be the first time: Last year, the mayor signed a smoking ban that doesn’t apply to rich people so that he could get the poor peoples’ minds off of those four hollow-point .380s they’re going to meet walking to the supermarket. But this isn’t the same thing, unless you buy into the hysterical theorizing that the Mayor ordered this to ensure people have more money to spend at Philadelphia’s casinos, which haven’t been built yet. Actually, that wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Anyway, the point is that you can recognize a psychic by the trail of butchered dreams they leave behind. Philadelphia has taken a step against them, and MSNBC can put this news in all of the peculiarities columns they want: Philadelphia should be applauded, and others should follow our example.

Be seeing you.