The New York Times tells us today that approximately two dozen people were injured -- some reporting second- and third-degree burns -- after doing a firewalk on Thursday at a seminar in San Diego sponsored by motivational guru Tony Robbins.
The New York Crank sees the story as a metaphor for U.S. politics ("What the hell did those morons think was going to happen when they went for a promenade across a pit of hot coals?... Hey, you wanna know why people, against their own self-interest, will vote for Willard Romney in the coming presidential election? You wanna know why Michelle Bachmann hasn't been laughed into oblivion by her own constituents? You wanna know why batshit crazies believe global warming doesn't exist and dinosaurs walked the earth with people a mere 4,000 years ago? Just fill a pit with burning coals and invite some gullible nincompoops out for a stroll.")
I look at it somewhat differently. I've seen explanations of why firewalking is supposed to be harmless (here's one from the Skeptic's Dictionary), so I guess it's not entirely crazy to do it. And, after all, Robbins has been pulling this stunt for decades.
But what I find striking is how unwilling these people are to consider the notion that perhaps Robbins and his crew prepared the firewalks improperly, or coached the walkers improperly. They all seem to believe that any injuries are the injured people's own damn fault:
Madina Kaderi, 18, who walked over burning coals and suffered blisters during a Tony Robbins seminar here, returned to the San Jose Convention Center on Sunday for the fourth and final day of motivational talks.What's the matter with Kansas? Why do so many voters favor politicians whose policies hurt them? Why are we possibly on the verge of electing our second reverse-Robin-Hood Republican M.B.A. president this century? Why is a guy like Rick Scott in the governor's mansion rather than prison?
She called the fire walk a positive experience and blamed herself for her injury. "I got scared," she said.
... Carolynn Graves, 50, a real estate agent from Toronto, ... suggested that the people who burned their feet "were out of state," a term that participants said meant having the proper mental attitude.
... Ms. Kaderi's sister, Safaa, 16, said Mr. Robbins had "worked all night to prepare people" before the walk. If some people were injured, she said, "it's not his fault."
... "The media wants to concentrate on the bad news, when so much good goes on," said Danny Davis, 43, who owns a roofing company in Denver....”
"It was 20 people out of 6,000," he said with a shake of his head....
Because a lot of us are much too willing to believe whatever a rich, successful guy tells us -- especially when he tells us that our problems are exclusively our fault and not the fault of people like himself. If a guy is rich, and he tells us he and his class are helping us when they're really hurting us, a lot of us just believe him -- after all, he helped himself, didn't he? If we're not being helped, it must be our fault.
It's crazy, but that's what a lot of us believe.