15 January 2009

The Indigo Children: My Confession of Cultural Illiteracy

Do you ever have a moment when you're watching the news or reading a magazine and a reporter mentions something in passing that leaves you saying, "Huh?" I had one today when the new issue of Harper's arrived in the mail. This month's "Notebook" lead article is a piece by Mark Slouka on Americans' increasing willingness to equate belief with knowledge and reject expertise in favor of gut feelings. It's Slouka's way of warning us that we can't expect much change from the Obama years if Americans don't change their own attitudes. About a third of the way in, he offers a litany of U.S. credulity that was pretty familiar to me, up to a point.

One out of every four of us believes we've been reincarnated; 44 percent of us believe in ghosts; 71 percent, in angels. Forty percent of us believe God created all things in their present form sometime during the last 10,000 years. Nearly the same number -- not coincidentally, perhaps -- are functionally illiterate. Twenty percent think the sun might revolve around the earth. When one of us writes a book explaining that our offspring are bored and disruptive in class because they have an indigo 'vibrational aura' that means they are a gifted race sent to this planet to change our consciousness with the help of guides from a higher world, half a million of us rush to the bookstores to lay our money down.

Huh? I'd never heard of such a thing. I thought I'd kept pretty good track of crackpottery, but this one swooped under my culture radar. What on earth is an indigo vibrational aura? One Google search led to another, this time for "indigo children." That revealed a notion dating back to an alleged discovery by a purported psychic back in the 1980s, which was elaborated upon by Lee Carroll during the 1990s. Carroll claims to have gotten the straight dope on the indigo kids from the great and powerful Kyron. In Wikipedia's words, Kyron is "a disembodied entity of a different order than human, who has "been with the Earth since the beginning."

This ties into the "bored and disruptive in class" bit this way: Indigo kids, according to believers (again, as reported by Wikipedia) are "strong-willed, independent thinkers who prefer to be self-guided rather than directed by others." Perhaps coincidentally, "Indigo children are often labelled with the psychiatric diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Dyslexia, and also Autism, and that they become unsociable when not around like-minded people. They are also believed to be prone to depression and sleep disorders such as insomnia and persistent nightmares."

Wikipedia also reports that debunkers are on the case. I get a kick out of this critique: "Others have advised that many of the traits of Indigo children could be more prosaically interpreted as simple arrogance and selfish individualism, which parents with certain New Age beliefs may misperceive." To the extent that these kids express the wisdom attributed to them, critics hint strongly that the brats are just coughing up concepts they've caught from anime programs and other media fantasies.

Belief in indigo children seems to be the kind of coping device that a growing number of anti-atheist writers identify as a positive, necessary function of religious thought. A bunch of parents need to tell themselves or have told to them a myth about their kids in order to deal with the problems the kids are enduring or enacting in school. I wonder whether Chris Hedges (whom I'll deal with at length shortly) would endorse the indigo mythos or condemn it as perhaps too literal for his taste. Mark Slouka's point, however, is that American is too tolerant of such stuff. He blames the usual subjects, from incompetent educators to populist anti-elitism to postmodernist questioners of objective knowledge. I think he missed one, however -- possibly the most important one. That would be the generations of propaganda that define "freedom" understood as "individual liberty" as an end unto itself. Why wouldn't people assume that, just as they can do as they please with their property without taking others into account, they ought to be able to think as they please without answering to anyone? Isn't that what separates us from the commies or the Islamofascists or the [fill in the blank]? All too often, I fear, the only people who'd challenge that viewpoint are the ones who'd say that we're answerable to God, Kyron or some other imagined power, which makes them no help at all. When you're confronted with a phenomenon like the indigo children, you want to stand up and say that there are some things that no one has a right to believe. That's precisely what Chris Hedges tells us in I Don't Believe in Atheists that we shouldn't say. So consider this little essay another preface or rolling up of sleeves prior to my dealing with him.


The Crime Think Collective said...

People will believe what they want to believe. It isn't a matter of "rights", it is simply a matter of fact. And I, for one, don't have a problem with that. I do have a problem with people's beliefs when they try to foist them on others as "fact" or "reality" when they bear little resemblance to either.

Samuel Wilson said...

The real issue may be whether society has an obligation to foist "fact" or "reality" on the believers, preferably during childhood, in the hope of cultivating an intellectual immunity to fantasies like the indigo mythos.