Monday, October 10, 2016

Interview with a Critical Thinker: Steven Streufert (Part 2)

Last week we began our 3-part interview with Steven Streufert of Bigfoot Books. This Monday Steven talks about the pros and cons of having the most crucial Facebook group for the study of Sasquatch, social media's influences, his involvement with TV/movies, and what gives him the biggest headache when it comes to being one of the most hated and admired personalities in the world of Sasquatch.

Click here to read part 1.

Your Facebook group, Coalition for Critical Thinking in Bigfoot Reasearch is very popular with science-based people following this mystery. Yet it has created you online enemies who harass and troll you on a daily basis. Why is that?
Well, you know, the Coalition is a critical thinking group. Skepticism is essential to critical or scientific thinking. We try to practice logic, within the melee of the debates on these crazy issues. We seek out the crazy stuff to discuss. There are many people involved in this Bigfooting thing who are practicing the craziness, believing in metaphysical things first, where it used to be about trying to be rational, trying to achieve credibility before the outside world, endeavoring to practice amateur “citizen science” in pursuit of an explanation to a mystery. OF COURSE, as those practicing skeptical agnosticism (generally, in the group) we piss off the true believers. We are doing the exact opposite thing as they are, even though both are involved with Bigfoot. We’d like to see proof of this thing, for sure, but we don’t try to mold reality to fit that desire. We are, and I am I guess especially, ruthless in the pursuit of the truth, and in applying logic and criticism to the claims, whatever they are. We won’t accept a “flesh and blood” footprint track any more readily than we will a gleaming Portal to Sirius or Lemuria.

Beyond the true believers, many of whom really just are afraid of us, there are rivals in the supposedly rational side of this thing, too. Mainly, they’re people we didn’t get along with in the Coalition group, those who maybe are used to being regarded as really smart in their private world of friends, but I suppose people who felt insulted at being questioned just like all the rest. I will say right here, I’m not into Bigfooting to make friends or to agree with a clique or faction, or whatever. I’m into it, as I said above, for the truth. If the truth is that Bigfoot simply does not exist, SO BE IT. Yes, then, they get angry, too. I think anyone who is trying to foist something on others which is unproven and potentially wrong or even fictional will always get hot under the collar when confronted. Even an otherwise rational person can have sacred cows. Most of them do, really, as they were drawn to this thing originally due to some need or other, perhaps because they think they have seen a Bigfoot, or because they have a deep inner attachment to paranormalist explanations of things, or even because they are already religious believers and have added the Bigfoot mystery to their bag of magical tricks. Many are just trying to feed their egos, or to feel “special” within a small subculture. Others are only out to make money or garner fame. 
I don’t have an easy answer to this, but I’ve found that Bigfooters can be the best of people, very smart and original in their approach to reality, or they can be the stupidest, most bullheaded, illogical dunderheads with terribly fragile egos. In fact, consider this: since none of any of this thing has been established as fact, with scientific and objective basis, it really IS an edifice that stands on ego and belief assertion alone, along with the other side of it that stands on mere fantasy without a physical-world correlative at all. This is, I think, why it is so hard for some to accept questioning, and why they will hate, make death or violence threats, obsessively troll for months or even years on end… because something deep at the core of them, some weakness that drew them into the “paranormal” world to begin with, has been wounded and threatened. Instead of dealing with these feelings rationally, or through a sensible debate, they instead form alliances and troll their enemies, often spreading the most vile and false slander and libel. It’s sad that they can’t just stick to the issues and the claimed evidence, as that is where I am and where Coalition tries to stay. Yeah, of course we often cross certain lines in the group, but that’s to be expected with a group of over 3,000 people, with new and often adversarial (trolling) members added daily.

As I said before about Johnson, you really can’t separate the claims and the process from the people involved, because the people seem to be the real source of the supposed evidence and stories. It’s not like studying something like the Humboldt marten, where you can actually find reliable data on a very rare subspecies. I do often wonder what the good old days of Bigfooting were like, before the internet. I can remember back to 2003, when I first got involved with the “Community,” and it was certainly different then. You had to meet people, know your shit, and earn any regard that you got. Nowadays, it seems it’s just a bunch of entitled brats and outright liars or fools, who expect to be loved with their first story or theory. You know what? Reality just doesn’t work that way. Maybe Romper Room did, but not out here where things have to be tested, verified, and dumped if they are faulty. The trolls can be the worst thing of it all, as it all goes back to “butthurt,” and they lose all accountability to the facts. All that matters to them is self-defense and propaganda. It’s a sad thing to see people so lose touch with reality that all that matters to them is vengeance over things that never really mattered in the first place.

Has social media ruined the mystery of Bigfoot? It seems to attract either the best or worst in people. Why is that?
You know, it certainly has made it more complex and bizarre, what with all of the trolling that goes on. You’d think the real quest were for a troll creature, not a so-called “Bigfoot.” I do recall the time before 2010 when the Facebook thing essentially took over the Bigfooting world, and it was different. People talked on the Forums sites, or through email lists. A lot of it was done anonymously, and there usually was a certain standard of mutual respect on these moderated venues. There were wars, mostly between the skeptics and the believers, but now the main war is within the believer camps, Bigfooting at war with itself. And now it is personal, as you can see all about someone on their personal pages. I’ve said it before, but short of some real, solid evidence, like a body that can be dissected, Bigfooter will dissect and tear apart each other.

Facebook in particular is almost too personal for this thing, because if your profile is open the trolls and enemies can really dig into one’s personal life. It can get rather disgusting, with slanderous accusations, bullying, harassment, stalking, Photoshop image manipulation, and just about everything else one can imagine happening. I think I’ve seen it all by now, including death and violence threats, someone shooting out a window in my bookstore, and whole troll alliances, with group names and pages, formed just to spread lies or harass. Back in the old days there was a focus on the *evidence* and *ideas*, but now it is all about the person. The substance of the thing tends to fall apart the more it is examined, too, especially with the claims made so often these days of things that cannot really be substantiated at all, or which are supported by the worst kinds of evidence. The blobsquatchers and mindspeakers tend to take any critical questioning incredibly personally, to the degree that all one can do in some of these groups is to agree with them and say “nice picture.”

Back in the older days of Bigfooting one could wait a pretty long time before something new came up, and those who were doing the work really had to earn their position of respect. Their claims and evidence had to be seemingly solid and at least somewhat convincing. Nowadays there are instant experts, and shoddy “evidence” presented daily. I think this thing tends to attract a lot of newbies whose lives have hit dead ends, those seeking some great new “Mystery” in their middle-lives, and those also who have some sort or other of untreated mental disorder. It’s really a sad thing to watch. People get so personally invested, when it really should be about the truth, about finding objectively real things in the world, in nature, and learning how to think and investigate. Social media has turned it into a circus.

The group, Coalition for Critical Thinking in Bigfoot Research, was formed in 2011 as a means to combat this, to confront the Woo-woos claiming unverifiable metaphysical things, but also the nuts on the “flesh and blood” side of the picture. Both sides should be accountable to factual reality, to present something that can actually be useful in learning about the real world; but, they aren’t. It’s become an anything-goes fantasy pursuit, and for me, the more I see of these claims the less I can believe them. Bigfooters have done a great job of convincing many that Bigfoot is NOT real, frankly. Bigfoot is receding into a haze of belief and faith, rather than into the clear light of real scientific and rational knowledge. The field of study, if it can be called such, has not progressed in the last two decades since the advent of the internet and the BFRO; it has gone backwards, now moving into the realm of a primitive, regressive, New Age nature religion, full of imaginary experiences and superstitions. Just like on the show, “Ancient Aliens,” people aren’t practicing science and reason. They are rejecting that. They are asserting willfully a belief system that has no real foundation whatsoever. And Facebook is there to unify their cults and cliques, at once connecting people across regions and even nations, but also giving them the closed and secret hiding places they require to cultivate their mental viruses and indoctrinate new members. These little groups are becoming the basis of a larger cult, one that is amalgamating various weird beliefs from the larger culture into itself.
It’s sad that people in the Bigfooting thing can’t just be forthright and honest, honest with themselves, and accountable to some kind of objective set of facts and the unassailable rules of logic. When charlatans can persist and prosper without questioning there will only be more snake oil and hocus pocus coming from this pursuit. To paraphrase Voltaire, If Bigfoot did not exist, we would have to invent him. (This was in fact confirmed after I wrote this by Christopher Noel, who made a desperate video addressed to Sasquatch itself, pleading for communion, where he used that very quotation.) That seems to be happening, to both sides of the camps, and it’s expressed by the endless formation now of warring Facebook groups. Not enough people are studying the history of this thing, reading the books and documents that would put all of this into context. Instead, it becomes a matter of instant gratification, where they need their dose of Bigfoot every day. Every time they go out into the woods they see sign of Bigfoot there. This thing, if it is real, cannot be so common and omnipresent. It has to be rare, uncommon, hard to find, and elusive, or we’d have them in zoos and museums by now. Bigfooting as a culture also cannot possibly be enough to fill a life with meaning, considering the seeming impossibility of even proving that it exists in the first place. So, what takes the place of any real substance is the social aspect, the bonding with fellow True Believers, or the angry trolling wars with those who differ in their beliefs or methods. Often enemies are mad over the simplest words, such as “ape,” “animal,” or “evolution.” 
There are stalkers and trolls out there, either coming from the believer side, or the skeptic side, and a position of agnosticism really seems to annoy them. They get really angry when their claims of “special” encounters or extraordinary “evidence” are criticized. For instance, it’s a popular troll thing to do lately to criticize me for being on FINDING BIGFOOT on TV. This stilly trolling effort was taken up by Michael Merchant, Kelly Shaw, Jeffery Kelley, and several others whose names are of even less consequence. Seemingly these people are so jealous of Bluff Creek Project, or so intimidated by my intellectual stance on the issues, that they have to lie and slander just to try to get revenge and reassure themselves that they are great. So, I appeared on this television show where some of my friends (real life) are the stars or on the production team. I didn’t change a word or aspect of my usual behavior, and I just talked with them as I normally do with people in my shop (like you saw me doing in that film, WILLOW CREEK). But lo, the trollers think I “lied” to get on TV. And they go around the internet saying this everywhere, that I lied. Really? Do you always believe what you see on TV? That segment they showed of me was highly edited. Also, it was recorded over five years ago, and my general approach and attitude have changed much since then. I told of things exactly as they happened, never claiming it was caused by a Bigfoot. They just removed all the parts where I said, "I didn't actually see it," and "I don't know what it was," and put an image of a Bigfoot coming down the hill in their place, with funny "awestruck" clips of the cast inserted as well. I don't know if what was in my yard that night was a Bigfoot, or not. It was an odd experience, and that is really all.

They lie in the very same way about Bluff Creek Project, saying we steal money from the donations or whatever. Really? That money is for batteries and trail cameras, which remain the property of those contributing a full camera setup, if they’d like. I don’t make a penny from those donation drives, and Jamie handles all the money, which is accounted for and spent on the needed hardware. We’ve published the small amounts of money needed and that given by donors. Saying we steal it is really slander, and frankly illegal, with real damages that can be accounted for, though the real damage to the project isn’t financial but rather to objective research efforts. Such trolling is incredibly anti-intellectual and opposed to scientific pursuit of the question of Bigfoot. Real science is funded by grants and institutional allocations for the most part, and that is all we’re doing. It’s a public research project owned by the donors and available free to all, with full data transparency. Who could complain about that? Idiots, that’s who, or people who are among the biggest jerks in the world. As far as the attacks against me personally, or against my bookstore, well, that’s just low, and it should stop if these people have any dignity at all.

You have been interviewed numerous times on TV, and have been seen on a Bigfoot movie. Can you tell us about it?
I don’t have much to say about all of that. It’s just a part of my ordinary life living here in the Bigfoot Mecca of the world. For whatever reason, the media from television, magazines, newspapers, and independents of all sorts constantly show up at my bookstore door. I just talk with them about the subject like I do with anyone else. What you see of me in the Bobcat Goldthwait “Willow Creek” movie is me, talking with the actor, both of us just improvising the conversation. The same thing happened when “Finding Bigfoot” came here, though those guys edited my segment to take out the skeptical parts, replacing the “I don’t know what it was” kind of statements with an image of a Bigfoot coming down the hill. It’s fun being in these things, though they will often misquote or poorly edit things, which can lead to misconceptions. They usually incorrectly spell my last name, say I was born in Boston, or that my store is in Salyer and not in Willow Creek, whatever it might be. Newspaper reporters usually take sketch notes, and then reconstruct what they thought they heard. Needless to say, this is exasperating, and costs me much time in explaining things. 
TV production companies are the worst editing offenders. In one Canadian show (“Boogymen”) that was played on the Destination America channel I was shown saying, “I am the one who knows the most about Bigfoot.” The real statement, unedited, was something like, “It is likely that those curious about the topic come here to my shop because I am the one who knows the most about Bigfoot out here on the main drag in town, and I’m active on the internet and in the community of Bigfooting.” See how that alters things? One old-timer out here saw me on TV and actually got angry because she thought I was saying I was the world’s greatest Bigfoot expert. What I really meant was far from that, but one ends up having to constantly explain things to all the people who’ve seen the shows… and there are millions of them. Even worse, trolls watch these, and then try to attack one over things that were altered by media people. All I can say is, Don’t always believe what you read, or see, or hear is silly gossip. 
I don’t get too impressed with any of this anymore. It was a bit nerve-wracking at first to be pushed reluctantly into these public appearances of various types when I’m really a private kind of person. But once I’d been on Coast to Coast AM live, talking before some 3.5 million people, well, I learned to get over being nervous, and to just let my thoughts roll. I’ve been on dozens of these online radio shows and podcasts, webcasts, blogs, YouTube videos, or whatever. It really doesn’t motivate me much, but yeah, it’s kind of fun. I’m more interested in basic truth and learning, you know, like facts, things I can learn about in the nerdy old books here in my shop. I’m always happy to meet people who can have good, long, rational and philosophical conversations. It’s also great to meet the old-timers, guys who worked in Bluff Creek back in the beginning of the local Bigfoot legend, the Natives who can speak of their culture, and the witnesses who claim they’ve really seen Bigfoot creatures around here. Those are the kind of visitors I most enjoy, and not the exploiters out looking for soundbytes and sensationalism. I wish that kind of stuff could get out there more, onto TV and into the other media on Bigfoot. I think that thinking about something like Bigfoot, whether or not it is real, can be a good way to consider the nature of human belief and the acquisition of knowledge. By learning how to question the concept of Bigfoot from all angles, we can learn how to question all manner of things, and learn to discern shit from Shinola, or snake oil from a real cure.
Rowdy Kelly, Jame "Bobo" Fay, Jamie Schutmaat, and Steven Streufert
You have quite a reputation as a walking encyclopedia when it comes to Sasquatch. What has been the biggest headache for you? The Woo?
Well, I have read most of the books on the topic, the decent ones anyway, and everything of quality I could find on the internet. I study everything related, too. This includes the generally related material, in Cryptozoology, Anthropology and Zoology, Mythology and Folklore, a lot of the Paranormal stuff like UFOs, Critical Theory and Philosophy, Cultural Criticism, History, World Religions, Psychology, Science in general, and the field of Skepticism in particular. You name it. As a bookseller and intellectual, I have to be eclectic and curious about everything. I tend to ignore the self-published Woo tall tale books, as I get enough of that already online, and on Facebook. At the bookstore I have to know a little bit at least about just about anything out there. It’s a habit I have, and I am endlessly curious. Those in the Woo-woo camp like to talk about skeptics (and intellectuals or scientists) being “closed-minded.” To hell with that, I say. I have read circles around all of them, and in the most wide-ranging topics. I’ve studied widely in the Parnormal stuff they believe in, but I do so critically, searching for the real answers. I respect scientists, and try to keep myself aware of the various fields of it, though I am not a practicing scientist myself.
With the Bigfoot topic I really started with local history, and worked my way outwards. As a youth I was very curious about the creature itself, but as an adult I have sought to understand the legend, as it plays out in human understanding and beliefs. Our pursuit in the Bluff Creek Film Site Project, which I founded with Ian C. and then Robert Leiterman in 2009, was more of historical facts than of the “Bigfoot” itself. We did look around trying various methods, and we do engage in field practice, but that wasn’t our primary pursuit. We’ve spent plenty of time out there camping in the most historical area of Bigfoot reports, yet we have never once seen one, or clear evidence of their existence. We didn’t just assume that Bigfoot was real, and then try to prove it. Rather, we looked for facts, for the truth, whatever it was. We still do this, with our current camera observation effort (now called simply, Bluff Creek Project), up there around the PGF site. When information and facts become a requirement, like they were for us in actually finding that film site again, and then in documenting it with our site survey, one learns to be accountable to them and to seek them out like diamonds buried in the muck of belief.
What really bothers me is not so much the Woo-woo by itself, but rather people who claim things to feed their feelings and their egos rather than to discover actual reality. I value truth and honesty over magic and sensationalism. The latter may be more “fun” or “spiritually inspiring,” but it is objective, real reality we should seek to know. One can spend one’s whole life pursuing something, but if one starts with the wrong assumptions and methods, and never questions or corrects them, then one is going to find oneself lost in the woods. I find every bit of actual knowledge and context of value, whatever the field of study. All parts of a scenario have value, so I advocate constant learning about real things, things that can be verified as real and found reliably in nature or the larger universe. I say there is only the natural world, including quarks and quasars, and there is no “supernatural” world separate from these things. Quantum physics, for instance, quite often referred to by Bigfooters of the Woo persuasion, is a set of ideas about the natural world, not an excuse for every metaphysical dream under the sun. No human being has ever gathered a single bit of real, solid evidence that there is such a thing as the supernatural. Everything we have ever discovered, known, and understood has been part of the natural world. “Paranormal” is another useless word. It only means that there are things that are not “normal” to us in our usual, ordinary lives. Well, this doesn’t mean that every banal human idea of things that seem strange and unusual is true. The universe as it is is far beyond what we can see with our senses or incorporate currently in our minds. That is reason to “keep an open mind,” but it is not an excuse just to believe anything, any whackadoodle idea someone presents as a “theory.”

What the rational person keeps an open mind about is all of the things that really can be discovered, known, and understood. The Woo method is the very opposite of this, fleeing from the difficulties of learning and the requirements of science and logic into easy answers and “feel-good” kinds of experience. Speculation and imagination have their places, but they cannot be relied upon as true guides in discovery. Learning is hard, and it requires honesty, and it will often show one things that are the opposite of what is desired. We dream of immortality, yet we are mortal biological organisms. Beliefs don’t make reality; reality exists independently of us, and indifferently to us. Much of human history has been dominated by false belief and fearful superstitions. In fact, despite the rise of modern science and civilization, the tendency to retreat into the dreamy world of the Dark Ages or the ancient past is very strong. Things have become too complex for any one person to really master it all, and this creates in many a desire for the simplicity of mere belief, a dream of magic, which is really an escape from reality rather than a discovery of it. Many seek to join belief-centered groups, which can become their own form of a cult, even in something so seemingly simple as the quest for an undocumented creature said to exist. Much of the current Bigfooting world is heading in that dreamy Woo direction. In part, Bigfooting culture was always like that, an old archetype from humanity’s earliest days, a symbol of a world we have lost to modern mankind, where a mysterious being unknown to science can roam freely, and may do whatever it likes. Many in this thing of Bigfooting secretly or subconsciously want to go back to that state, or at least to be closer to it, as they have rejected reason and objectivity and modernity for what pleases them more. I’d like to say that the easy way is not always the right way, and usually not the true one, either.
Come back next Monday for the conclusion to our interview with the most interesting man in the field of Bigfoot research. Be sure to check out Coalition for Critical Thinking in Bigfoot Reasearch and Steven Streufert's personal blog, Bigfoot Books.

Part 3 can be read here.

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