Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hiding Behind Double Standards

photo by Jay Fine

K. Paul Johnson has added a communication from Leslie Price to his controversial post at History of the Adepts. Mr. Price, who is connected with a website that promotes mediums and spiritualism, adds his voice to the chorus (albeit a very small one) that K. Paul Johnson has been attacked, and probably outrageously so. Mr. Price’s communication indicates that in Mr. Johnson’s career this must now be for the umpteenth time, an issue he brings up after much angst over the way K. Paul Johnson should have been treated in the past because of what he wrote. So this is not the first time and we suspect not the last either. Though it has somewhat peaked our interest to what these attacks were, most of Mr. Price’s statements really have nothing to do with our post.

When Dr. John Algeo spent fifteen pages in a critique of Paul Johnson’s book, The Masters Revealed, noting: “The book’s thesis is not history. It is an imaginative reconstruction of the past on the assemblage of miscellaneous facts that have no demonstrated connection with each other. It is like a jigsaw picture composed from pieces of half a different puzzles that make a marvelous pattern, even if they don’t fit,” and adding that “a pattern of carelessness in such trivial matters does not inspire confidence in more substantive ones”Theosophical History, July 1995, p. 246—was this an attack? It couldn’t have been, for Leslie Price’s name appears as an Associate Editor of the journal where it was printed and he made no comment at the time.

Yet our simple observation of Paul Johnson’s post mentioning Blavatsky, “While giving a lot of material that may bias the reader against Blavatsky’s claims he does not cite any exculpatory evidence on her behalf,” is portrayed as an attack. We will not engage Mr. Price’s comments, preferring not to prolong this “unpleasantness” to K. Paul Johnson, but, since Leslie Price has chosen to interject himself into the discussion, only note that the Theosophical History Conferences he organized in London would not be our definition of an academic conference, belonging rather to that twilight zone that exists where theosophical research ends and academic inquiry begins. As far as the journal, it became so after Dr. James Santucci took over as editor, publishing a number of well-known academics. We say this with all respect.

The new thing that comes out of all of this (we already know that Paul Johnson has been attacked—we get it) is that Leslie Price believes that Blavatsky bashing is OK and should be able to be done with impunity. And that any questioning can be dismissed as an attack. This is no invention of our making. When she died the N.Y. Tribune of May 10, 1891, published an editorial that began: “Few women in our time have been more persistently misrepresented, slandered, and defamed than Madame Blavatsky.” If Mr. Price believes in fairness to Paul Johnson why can he not extend that courtesy to Mme. Blavatsky herself? Is K. Paul Johnson the only person to be protected?

We would draw Mr. Price’s attention to a paper to be published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, “Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory,” which we link to here:

Individuals thinking on their own without benefiting from the input of others can only assess their own hypotheses, but in doing so, they are both judge and party, or rather judge and advocate, and this is not an optimal stance for pursuing the truth. Wouldn't it be possible, in principle, for an individual to decide to generate a variety of hypotheses in answer to some question and then evaluate them one by one, on the model of Sherlock Holmes?

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