One of the easiest ways to get pageviews is to write an impassioned screed against a celebrity for having done or said something stupid, outrageous, or offensive. Virtually all writers reliant on social media have done it at some point, either out of a sense of obligation to get hits or a genuine desire for some cathartic shaming. The most recent example of this is a frequent target in the form of Gwyneth Paltrow, whose kooky, New Age weltanschauung has been a reliable source of head-scratching statements.
Back in March, Paltrow and husband Chris Martin announced, not that they were breaking up, but that they were performing a “conscious uncoupling,” as opposed to when couples split up without even realizing it. Last month, she compared twitter fights to being in war. These transgressions generated considerable discussion on social media because they fit perfectly with the narrative that Paltrow is an out-of-touch celebrity who might as well be from distant galaxy.
“I am fascinated by the growing science behind the energy of consciousness and its effects on matter. I have long had Dr. Emoto's coffee table book on how negativity changes the structure of water, how the molecules behave differently depending on the words or music being expressed around it.”
This is woo woo at its finest, or worst, if you prefer. She’s speaking of Dr. Masaru Emoto – a pseudoscientist who peddles the idea that human consciousness affects the molecular structure of water. And in case you weren’t sure at first from Paltrow’s comment that Emoto practices junk science, consider the fact that this groundbreaking hypothesis is presented in the form of a coffee table book.
Clearly, Paltrow holds some weird and false beliefs. It's tempting to ascribe them solely to the fact that she has a net worth of $60 million and has spent way too much time in the fantasyland that is Hollywood with people just like her. And that’s certainly part of it. But for all the criticism of her – the snarky comments, the smarter-than-thou broadsides – the truth is, people in general believe a whole host of crazy shit that has no grounding in reality whatsoever. Belief without evidence is an American – and indeed a human – pastime.
You can see it in the polls. Just this week Gallup released a survey showing 42% of Americans think god created humans in their present form. That is to say, they don't believe humans evolved despite evidence to the contrary. Meanwhile, only 19% of Americans said humans evolved over time and god played no part in the process -- the most likely explanation based on available information.
Nearly half the country thinks the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.
Almost two-thirds think Jesus physically rose from the dead.
Some 36% believe in UFOs.
Half the country believes at least one medical conspiracy theory.
Three-fourths think paranormal activity is real.
One quarter of Americans think astrology is real. Weirdly, 23% of Christians do.
And a woman who thinks vaccines cause autism is a co-host of one of the most prominent daytime television shows.
So yes, Gwyneth Paltrow is something of a nutter, with a special kind of nuttery one is likely to see among celebrities, like Scientology is, for example. But the fact is Paltrow is unremarkable in this regard. She maintains firm beliefs that have no evidentiary basis at all, just like most Americans. And while it can be fun pick on her for these goofy ideas, many of her tormenters would be well-served by examining some of their own beliefs first.