December 25, 1998 (Ira Pilgrim)

Nobody Likes a Critic

The world is fed with little truth and many lies.

Romain Rolland(1868-1944)

I have created my own special purgatory for phonies and hypocrites. They are my targets. I don't expect to make friends with this attitude, especially from the victims of these people. People who have been sucked in by the phonies become their disciples and when I attack a phony, I am also attacking the beliefs of the people who patronize them. I am, therefore, considered the enemy of both the phonies and their victims, who are also their disciples. Does it seem strange to you for me to refer to disciples as victims.

More often than not, if someone is about to walk off the edge of a cliff and you try to stop him, you will not be told "thanks," you will be told to mind your own !@@#!@#$ business. That's the way it is.

If I verbally attack a phony, someone will enlighten me and tell me that "He is sincere; he really believes in what he says." I have often been told that sincerity is a virtue. To me, sincerity is no criterion of much of anything. More to the point, sincerity is no indication of either knowledge or competence. I don't remember who said that "if you can fake sincerity, you've got it made."

I remember a physician in Oakland who was sincere. He believed that an alkaline extract of the pineal gland would cure cancer. I helped to test his extract on mice. When his extract was injected into a cancer, it caused some of the cancer to be destroyed. Why? because his extract was mostly a lye solution. It didn't cure or even slow down the cancer. I had no problem with this. Lots of us have ideas that don't work; many of mine don't. He was also injecting these lye solutions into children with leukemia and charged the parents big money for those worthless injections that destroyed tissue at the injection site. In my mind, this SOB made the average child molester look like a saint. Yet he continued doing what he did for some time because no one was willing to put him out of business, or even report him to the medical society. He was not one of a kind; there are others. And they are all "sincere." Most decent people can't believe that such as he exist, just as most Germans had trouble believing what went on in the concentration camps until they saw the photographs.

After reading one of several of my my columns on cancer quacks, a friend of mine asked me what I have against doctors. Actually, I am an admirer of the conscientious physician. I admire him because he does the best he can, often with imperfect tools and inadequate information. Another reason for my admiration is that doctoring, as with championship skiing or virtuoso violin playing, is something that I am incapable of doing. That a physician may be mistaken doesn't bother me. Given what he has to work with, that's inevitable. I have a special admiration for those physicians who recognize their limitations.

I tolerate the incompetent. I don't detest incompetents as I do phonies. As Ann Landers said, "half the doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class". It can't be helped. A certain percentage of every profession and trade is incompetent. Just as I try to find the best mechanic I can to work on my car, I look for the best physician I can find to work on my body.

Most phonies are relatively benign. They don't kill or maim anyone. They simply take money in exchange for nothing. I suppose if someone sells pet rocks, and someone else wants to buy them, who am I to object? If someone wants to throw his money away, that's his business; it's his money.

I like to poke fun at con men, advertising and public relations people, card sharpers and other liars, unless, like the tobacco pushers, their product kills people. Then, I go for the throat.

If you scratch a cynic, you'll find a disillusioned idealist. For most of my life, I believed in the basic decency of people. I still do; but I no longer believe that all people are decent. There are some real swine in the world. And some of them do very well financially.

I prefer the out and out thief or swindler to the hypocrite. I have known a few professional small-time con men. I rather liked them. They had a certain charm. I have never known any big timers. I don't move in those circles.

The con man knows that he's a thief; the hypocrite doesn't. Self-delusion is something that everyone indulges in, but the hypocrite trumpets it to the world as a virtue. I can even tolerate that, but I can't help feeling great pleasure every time that a hypocrite falls on his face.

Since I know that attacking phonies and hypocrites is going to make me some enemies and very few friends, why do I do it? The truth is that I am getting a bit old to do the things that I used to do for fun, and I don't care for golf.

This column is going to make some people angry. Since I haven't attacked anyone in particular, what would irritate someone? The answer is that someone is bound to try this shoe on and find that it fits.

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