I re-read some of Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things this morning, to refresh my memory. I’ve read that and Why We Believe and the odd article here and there. I’ve never liked his writing much. It’s not bad, but it’s a little loose and lazy. Characterless. Journalistic.
I was interested to see that chapter 7 is titled Epidemics of Accusations: Medieval and Modern Witch Crazes. The modern ones are the panics about “Satanic” abuse in the 1980s and about “recovered memory” in the 90s. They’re interesting subjects and ones I’ve read a fair bit about, thanks to Frederick Crews and Elizabeth Loftus among others. It’s terrible stuff – people’s lives ruined by ridiculous beliefs about Satanic rapes that never happened and “recovered memories” of Daddy committing a murder for which he was sent to jail with no other evidence. (He was let out after more than six years.)
While re-reading that chapter I became quite…annoyed that Shermer had accused me of witch hunting. He compared me to people who put innocent people in prison on the basis of absurd beliefs.
Think about it. I said he had perpetuated an insulting stereotype about women by saying that wanting to stand up and speak about atheism and be intellectually active about it was “more a guy thing.” He said I was a witch hunter.
Not quite proportionate.
And this is what it comes down to.
This is why the skeptical movement has been largely so unsuccessful. If Lee, or Shermer, were at all interested in the putative goals of the skeptics movement, namely to make the world a more rational place, they’d be much less interested in justifying why they think skepticism is a “guy thing”, and much more interested in making it as much an “everybody’s thing” as possible.
But of course, they’re not.
The skeptical movement has never been about outreach. It’s never been about helping to make the greater community outside the skeptics movement itself more skeptical, or rational.
It’s always been a clubhouse for those who think of themselves as smarter than average.
This is why Jenny McCarthy cleaned the skeptical movement’s clock. This is why Sylvia Browne still makes money hand over fist.
Good luck with your little guild, Shermer.
It’s all leather chairs and humidors.