Is there anybody out there with Di?

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The Independent Online
One of the best jokes in the movie Men in Black is that the heroes of the film find out what's really going on from the supermarket tabloids. All the bizarre "Alien abducted my husband and returned him after 30 years" stories are, the film campily tells us, actually true. Having been on another planet myself recently where I had been involved in long, drunken arguments about the existence of aliens, I returned to the equally unbelievable Di-Dodi-psychic chopper story. Here at The Independent we are not preoccupied with such things, well, not officially anyway. That Diana has visited a psychic is further evidence of her mental imbalance seems to be the general consensus among my colleagues. Psychics are dismissed as feeding off ignorance, as doing harm, as frauds. Diana has finally gone mad but at least she has had the grace to do it in the midst of the silly season where her eccentricities fit neatly between crop circles and Elvis sightings.

While the tabloids go mad over this story, the serious media ignore it, concentrating on A-levels, gap years, college fees and the scrabble for university places. Diana's problem, obviously, is no A-levels and gap decades rather than years. Thus the world remains reassuringly split between the rational and the irrational, the intellectual and the emotional, sense and nonsense, between what we ought to read about and what we actually do read about.

Poor mad Diana, canoodling for the lensmen, dashing out of helicopters with Dodi, running through undergrowth, horribly mocked as " a fruit" by Andrew Morton who made a fortune out of her, surely this self-appointed expert on walking through minefields might need a bit of psychic guidance now and again. And before you sneer, you must admit that Diana has an uncanny ability to know just how and when to snatch the headlines from her ex-husband. Spooky really.

That she and Fergie should consult all sorts of peculiar people in order to find out who will love them and what their true destinies will be is hardly surprising. It goes without saying that they should be less susceptible than they are, but their desperate search for meaning in their lives, for any little clue or sign about how they should behave, is all rather harmless. It also strikes me as no more or less irrational than Charles's pompous ramblings about destiny, which are also articulated in semi-mystical language.

Those who see all this as "dangerous hokum" and bemoan our lack of faith in Christianity point out that no longer believing in God doesn't mean that you believe nothing, rather that you believe anything. Clearly the New Age abhors a spiritual vacuum and rushes to fill it with everything from aroma therapy to shamanism.

The relentless tabloid infatuation with Diana balances precariously between taunting her and tempting her. So it is presumed that psychics are barmy and not to be taken seriously, at the same time as wheeling in armies of "psychic experts" to give their verdicts on her new relationship. Most of these women say the same thing: that Di and Dodi will have a fling, maybe even marry but that it won't last - on the grounds that he is a playboy and she is too manipulative. Their general conclusion is that they are both in the relationship for the wrong reasons. Now whether this is psychic premonition or common sense, the use of psychic experts enables an entirely emotional discourse about the whole affair that by-passes any need for fact.

I predict that psychic experts will be increasingly used to commentate in this way, as they can drive a story forward by mere speculation. Indeed the media is full of people paid to speculate over our political and economic futures, the best of which rely on vague impulses and feelings that can only be classified as intuition; but this is considered perfectly acceptable.

Instead, then, of dismissing all this psychic talk as mere silliness, one might ask what it is allowing people to express that cannot be expressed in any other way. Instead of lumping everything from UFO sightings to spiritualism to Reiki healing together, one might begin a critical assessment of all these different belief systems. The boundaries between the mainstream and alternative world are now very blurred. For instance, acupuncture, which was once considered beyond the pale, is now used by NHS practitioners. This is serious stuff because we are talking about employing an entirely different model of understanding the way that the human body works that centres on energy flows. On which side then of the rational versus irrational divide does something like acupuncture sit?

It is also probably true to say that more of us now believe in the existence of life on other planets than believe that there should be a monarchy. Is this to be taken as a sign of fin de siecle hysteria or extreme irrationality? Does the end of organised religion automatically mean the kind of spiritual fragmentation that presents a kind of supermarket belief system in which one picks n' mixes? A bit of Buddhism there, a little Occult here, a sprinkle of old-fashioned spiritualism there? Well, yes it does and a visit to any primary school will show that much of what is done in the name of multi-culturalism does more or less the same thing.

The objection against the likes of Diana is that she is a rich woman with too much time and not enough brains who simply buys into whatever cult or therapy or quasi-spiritual experience is on offer. Yet this is to underestimate the real quest for some form of experience or faith, even, that is going on for people from all walks of life. We still have faith in faith even if we are not sure which one. Some of these dabblings are for pure entertainment, some are the result of grief, some may do more harm than good, some may be genuinely helpful. There exists a whole world out there which seeks connection with others, with aliens, with the dead, with nature, with gods of all descriptions. Some of these dabblers appear quite normal, and they live among us.

Are all of them as insane, as daft, as hysterical, as lost, as dotty as Di? Quite possibly. Yet the imprecise Gaia-inspired ramblings of an eco-warrior co-exist with the Blairite Families R' Us version of Christianity. This is part of the way we live now, why pretend otherwise? The real alternative is fundamentalism of the worst sort. I find pink-slippered psychic Rita no less credible or sinister than Charles's shadowy group of advisers. As we know, bad advice is not the prerogative of those claiming psychic powers.

Diana's iconic value, as she intuitively realises, is to symbolise pure emotion. If we were honest with ourselves we should admit that we don't want her to act rationally; we want her there to feel and cry and touch. Her psychic pursuits push her further into this weird and largely feminine world of intuition. We can if we like choose to deny the existence of this weird and wacky world and feel smugly superior that we know better. The truth is not out there, we say confidently as we locate it firmly in the realm of the logical, the coherent, the non-contradictory. But the truth is also that as we close our minds, our hearts continue to rebel.

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