Regulation and licensing of businesses is considered a normal part of government bureaucracy. Some libertarians may disagree with any form of government interference in commercial activities, however, it is generally accepted that regulation is a proper government function, even if the type or level of regulation is controversial.
One area that has created some discussion is the licensing of psychics. In Canada, the act of pretending to practice witchcraft falls under the Fraud section of the Criminal Code of Canada:
365. Every one who fraudulently
(a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,
(b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
(c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found,
is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
The last time this law led to an arrest was in 2009, when Vishwantee Persaud allegedly defrauded a Toronto lawyer of tens of thousands of dollars by telling him she was the embodiment of the spirit of his deceased sister. Ultimately, she plead guilty to fraud and the witchcraft charge was dropped.
In the US, the situation varies by state. In Oklahoma and New York, and several other states the practice is illegal except for those expressly identified as exclusively for entertainment purposes. In others, those laws have recently been repealed. In some areas, psychics of all sorts are required to be licensed. In Salem, Mass, there are several different types of business licenses for different categories: those who have stores, selling over 75% metaphysical items, those without storefronts, and visitors for psychic fairs.
In law, cases where large sums of money are involved are treated as instances of basic fraud without invoking any anti-witchcraft laws. Even in the existence of these laws, the possibility of enforcement is completely ignored by both the practitioners and the various justice departments. Licenses, on the other hand can really only be used to limit competition as there is no possible way to determine who may, or may not, have actual supernatural powers.
Wendy Kramer in Free Inquiry Magazine examines the issues from a US constitutional point of view,. but her conclusion is much more general
It’s hard to know if licensing schemes are effective in deterring intentional scams. It might be better simply to prosecute individual instances of fraud when they occur (and the victims are willing to report them). Focusing on the criminal conduct of particular fortune-tellers and not the practice of fortune-telling in general respects the right to believe, which includes a right to be deceived.
This is the crux of the issue: it is impossible to limit any but the most egregious cases of deception. In the minds of many of us, it would eliminate all types of pseudoscience, magical thinking, and religion; however, establishing and policing the level of proof required to determine the validity of claims would necessitate a huge bureaucracy, and would not serve society in any positive way. In fact, this approach provides a veneer of official support for the licensed practitioners. Besides, any large scale testing of psychic power would be subject to gaming and manipulation lending the most effective frauds the most legitimacy.
Even some psychics are concerned about allegations of fraud and pseudo-psychics. Here’s a breakdown from a psychic who wants you to know the difference,
She talks about hot reading, releaving curses, returning lovers, claims of fame, manipulation, and continual requests for money that are common among con artists of all stripes.
Then she adds information on how to recognize a real psychic.
- Genuine psychics give you the good news and the bad news; they do not leave out the bits they think might lose them precious reviews or rating points. A genuine psychic will give you an honest reading that does not sound like something straight out of a fairy tale. A genuine psychic will not mind you testing them by asking them a few questions of your own choice.
- A genuine psychic will give you some personal information about you that is not common knowledge to prove they are truly connected with you.
- Genuine psychics do not give you false hope; they do not charge high prices or promise you anything more than an honest reading. A genuine reader will never try to manipulate you into returning to them for other readings, a genuine psychic will not ask for any information other than your first name, real psychics don’t ask questions, they give answers.
- Genuine psychics never talk of evil spirits or energy attached or around a person – a real psychic is not out to scare you or make you afraid.
- A genuine and professional psychic does not divulge information like deaths, accidents or anything like this during a reading – this is unprofessional behavior for any psychic and is another fear and manipulation tactic of the fake psychic.
- Genuine psychics do not need your date of birth, star sign or the country you live in, because a psychic reading is very different to an astrology reading, if the information given sound like its astrology from a newspaper or magazine then you have found a fake psychic. A genuine psychic will only ever recommend a reading every 6-12 months.
Of course, anyone familiar with the techniques of cold reading would recognize what is happening here. Many people truly believe they have psychic abilities and do this subconsciously. These people will treat their clients with the respect she describes above. All this demonstrates is that the psychic is either a believer or an expert con.
There is just no practical way to determine a criteria for licencing psychics.
Another area where the issue is almost exactly the same is the licensing of CAM practitioners. They may truly believe in the treatments they are giving and the nonsense they are saying, but that doesn’t mean there is any validity to their claims. Naturopaths are licenced on several US states and Canadian provinces, and looking to legitimize themselves more. They have achieved the ability to legally prescribe certain medications and are attempting to gain coverage in employee medical plans. This would increase their reputations as well as their incomes. Naturopaths do have educational standards, as weak as they are. Homoeopaths and practitioners of TCM don’t have that much.
Naturopaths, Homoeopaths, and others know that licensing and attaining professional status adds credence to there claims, just as psychics know the same. What is important to remember is that there is no qualitative difference between the claims of psychics and alternative medicine, no way to determine the effectiveness of any practitioner, and no recourse when you realize you’ve been taken.
Rather than giving them legitimacy, the best approach is to save your money and avoid them all together.
Cross posted from my own blog.