So if you call yourself a skeptic, that means — or should mean — that you embrace the notion that no idea is sacrosanct, there is no dogma, and every idea and statement should be subject to criticism and rebuttal.
Crazy talk, right? But check it: there are some people, even in our august society of self-styled skeptics and freethinkers, who don’t actually hold to this. Oh, sure, they pay a great deal of lip service to it, but that’s easy to do as long as safe ideas are all that are brought under critical scrutiny: young earth creationism, Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing, UFO abductions and crop circles, “I had a three-way with Bigfoot and Slenderman,” or whatever fortune cookie word salad Deepak Chopra tweeted today.
But the minute they say something stupid, suddenly, the core principle of skepticism doesn’t apply. It is a thing to which they should be immune, because how could they be wrong!? Dammit, they are rationalists! Says so right there on their RD.net T-shirt.
So what happens is that sometimes a person like this will say something other folks think is really stupid, and instead of doing what skeptics pride themselves on doing — entering into a dialogue involving argument, rebuttal, and counter-rebuttal — they’re just so sold on the complete unassailability of their ideas that the only rational conclusion is that their critics must be just doing everything wrong in every way.
See? It can’t be that one of our own might be a fallible person who doesn’t actually get everything right all the time. You’re just getting something wrong. Haven’t we already established that we’re the skeptical community, which my character sheet tells me gives us an automatic +20 on our “smarter than everyone else” die rolls? Indeed, if someone from within the ranks is criticizing your ideas, well, they are simply malcontents and agitators who are looking to create…
So it’s like this.
Atheist YouTuber: Here is my new video in which I put on a wig and mock people I think are wrong.
Response: Okay, but this whole thing is a big straw man fallacy. If you’re going to criticize people, why not just criticize what they actually say?
Atheist YouTuber: SEE? CALLOUT CULTURE! And I totes predicted it. Where is my million dollars, Randi!?
All you have to do is slap a dismissive term on anyone critiquing your critique, and voila, you are immune from critique. Anyone who disagrees with me is just wrong about everything, because SKEPTICISM.
Let’s see how else we can play this game.
Creationist: “Look, I posted another video about how the universe is only 6000 years old, and evolutionist callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.”
Psychic: “Look, I went on Montel and talked to the dead relatives of everyone in the audience, and those James Randi callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.”
Moon landing hoaxer: “Look, Alex Jones posted another video about how the government totally faked all this shit, and the brainwashed sheeple callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.”
9/11 Truther: “Look, I posted another video in which I scientifically explained how exploding jet fuel burning at thousands of degrees could never in a million years structurally weaken a skyscraper and cause it to collapse, and the police state callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.”
Huh…when those people talk that way, suddenly it sounds kind of stupid.
Well, fuckin A.
Here’s an idea.
Be a skeptic.
Step one: realize that you could be wrong too!
If someone else’s ideas are stupid, then it should be enough to address them accurately, not misrepresenting them, and on the sole basis of their merits. And if someone thinks you are wrong, then you should listen to what they say, and pick apart their criticism based on its merits, rather than simply slapping labels on them that are little more than the rhetorical equivalent of “lalalala I can’t hear you!” Because maybe it isn’t “callout culture” coming after you after all. Maybe you actually just said some stupid bullshit. People do. And you’re a people.
I know. No one ever said this skepticism thing was easy, or that handling its sharp edges would mean you’d never get cut yourself.
Sorry if that’s what someone told you when you came on board. But some men will just tell a pretty lady anything. You should have been more skeptical.