Jamy Ian Swiss is precisely what is wrong with society, if the reaction to his last talk on Skepticism and ‘identity politics’ is anything to be believed.
I haven’t watched the talk, so recognise what I am talking about is how other people perceive what he said.
Now I had watched his previous talk at TAM and figured that Swiss isn’t a skeptic’s backside – mainly because he took one of his measures of being a skeptic as knowing who James Randi is.
Randi is awesome, and you really should look up his stuff, but it isn’t like he brought down two tablets from mount Sinai bearing the rules of what defines a true skeptic.
Skepticism is not simply about not buying into bigfoot, it is about questioning all claims. This is not only claims that are testable, but also claims which at first appear not to be.
When we think of claims which are genuinely untestable what we actually mean is that they have precisely zero implications for being true. An untestable god is an irrelevant god and the principle of economy demands one get rid of it.
And besides, how do we know something isn’t testable? In the 1960s the Higgs Boson was an untestable claim, then we tested and found it a year ago.
Skepticism isn’t a big tent movement. It is a movement that demands certain standards be applied to one’s beliefs. It demands that we question things in a genuine manner.
That supports feminism – because when push comes to shove the best data on gender inequality we have in society is furnished by feminists.
Feminists can point to the net benefit greater equality has had for societies that are more feminist, they can genuinely point to data detailing how gender inequality harms women and as a consequence harms all.
Heck feminists are even the ones who supply the best data on how patriarchy is harmful to men – with concepts such as toxic masculinity arising out of feminist gender theory.
When we turn to the Men’s Rights Activist side of the debate, we tend to find claims which are often outright lies, or that feminists had pointed out the same things forty years ago.
Genuine skepticism sides with feminists because when you actually listen to the arguments and assess them ignoring that cancerous urge to shut down the complainer, the feminists have the facts on their side.
It is not because MRAs tend to disagree with feminists that makes them objectionable to skepticsm; while despising women and thinking of them as another inferior species makes them bad human beings, what makes them bad skeptics is their tendency to lie their asses off.
The same goes for anti-racism, the same goes for environmentalism. While one may bemoan the “greenies” who are less than scientific about it, global warming is a fact and so are the dangers of heavy metals in your water supply.
It is not about liking nature, it is about one side presenting facts mixed in with a little bit of bullshit, and the other side simply presenting bullshit.
One of the great slogans of the last decade or so was Stephen Colbert saying “Facts have a liberal bias.” Skepticism is about weighing up facts, trying to figure out what is true and considering the data set before us.
One cannot exclude social and identity issues from skepticism, one cannot proclaim that ‘politics’ is ‘divisive’ to unity within the skeptical movement. Skepticism is by its nature discordant, it is the voice asking for evidence as everyone else cries their assent and it is the voice that demands basic honesty.
Silencing that voice because it seems divisive is killing skepticism in the name of the skeptical movement. It is groupthink by definition, it is putting unity ahead of the goals of the skeptical movement.
And that is the cancer that eats at society’s core, the idea that it is better to be unified than correct. The idea that one shouldn’t “switch horses mid-stream” or that reality is by its nature democratic and that even if they are technically right the complainer is always wrong.
We see this in every single debate, whether it be something as trivial as video games or as large as civil rights. If you are demanding somebody leave identity politics at the entrance to the tent, then you what you are saying is in essence “stop thinking about it because thinking is hard.”
And that is precisely what the skeptical movement should oppose.