Guest post: Very Naturopathy »« Apologies and threats collide in midair

Time passes, people change

It’s a theme among the people who hate feminists dirtying up their atheism their skepticism their skeptoatheism and atheoskepticism, that we dirtying-up feminists are in some way outrageous for doing feminism instead of or in addition to skepticism or atheism or athoskeptolibertarianism.

Huh.

That’s a strange claim. What’s outrageous about it? I guess if they’re talking about people who have prominently displayed somewhere a solemn oath always to talk/write/tweet about atheism or skepticism and nothing else, then…those people broke an oath. But even then – an oath to whom? Who cares? Why would anyone swear such an oath anyway? And why would anyone else care about it?

I’m in a fortunate position, myself, because I never said or implied or hinted I was going to blog or website-edit or write about one thing only. I never signed up to anything in particular. I’ve always felt free to talk about anything I want to. I have a point of view, of course; I have a lot of strong opinions; I have interests; but I haven’t promised to adhere to them and only them forever and no matter what. Tomorrow I could develop an interest in hang-gliding or ballet. And? People could skip those posts, or not – but either way I wouldn’t have done a bad thing. I wouldn’t have cheated anyone.

I saw a post from the “they’re contaminating the clubhouse” school of thought, by someone called Shane P Brady. It’s full of this unreasonable indignation about other people’s changes of attention.

This desire to mix progressive politics has even creeped into the skeptic movement, highlighted first to me by a panel at TAM9 where the idea of expanding the skeptic movement to tackle issues like drug legalization or minimum wage might be good ways to expand the skeptical movement.  I could write lots on how wrong this is, but if you want to read something well done, check out Barbara Drescher’s website www.icbseverywhere.com.

Why is this push lately? Why are people wanting this?  Why are sites like Skepchick (a name that contains a word that many women I’ve worked with find offensive, btw) writing more and more politics and feminism and less and less actual skepticism?

So my question is this:

“Do you even really care about skepticism anymore?”

What a strange question – as if skepticism were an abandoned lover. People who talk this line seem to have a surprisingly emotional view of skepticism, one that would make more sense (to me at least ) about, precisely, a progressive political movement. Union organizing, civil rights campaigns, working to defend asylum seekers or immigrants, feminism, LGBT rights – movements like that inspire loyalty (for good and ill), but skepticism?

Meh. Skepticism is, basically, a tool. It’s a skeletal thing to get passionate about. It’s useful, it’s necessary, and all the more so in a combination of culture and technology that is so good at deluding and seducing people – but it’s not more than that. It’s not something we should be pushed to “care” about. Skepticism isn’t pissed off because we never bring it flowers any more.

And then, Skepchick…One reason Skepchick is writing more about feminism and (perhaps – I really don’t know) less about skepticism, is because people keep giving the women at Skepchick a lot of sexist shit.

Here’s an interesting fact: if you give women a lot of sexist shit, it tends to push them in the direction of feminism. Startling, I know, but true. I write a hell of a lot more about feminism now than I did three years ago. Sexist shit will do that to you.

But in any case: what of it? Why is anyone policing other people for the quality and quantity of their skepticism? Why is it an issue?

Comments

  1. says

    Feminism is skepticism. I’m ‘skeptical’ that this patriarchal sexist bullshit I’ve been putting up with all my life is in some way the natural and ideal order of the world.

  2. jagwired says

    You’ll be sorry Ophelia. If you turn your back on skepticism, even for just a few seconds, the world goes all helter skelter with Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) and aliens sleeping together.

  3. notsont says

    The reason is simple, skepticism is kinda easy, in fact I got into it years ago during a very stressful time in my life because it was relaxing, not really too much to think about it was all easy stuff, bigfoot UFO’s, water curing cancer… nothing hard about that. We got to pretend we were really smart and other people were really stupid. Pat ourselves on the back for pointing out the obvious and glaring faults of other peoples reasoning. It is totally unfair for people to point out the glaring holes in our own reasoning.it makes us uncomfortable.

    Btw, I don’t think your FTB posts are linking with butterflies and wheels the last post on there is “The link between status and virtue”

  4. jose says

    This is so reminiscent of an argument that took over the world of flamenco forty years ago. Bear with me, it is on-topic!!! Old schoolers were listening to new records and saying “this is flamenco, this is not flamenco” and criticizing each other and lamenting the imminent death of an ancient folklore. Lots of infighting. They went past that when one idea was generally adopted: let people do their thing and time will tell. Probably the good stuff will still be around fifty years later whereas fancy fads and posers will be forgotten soon after making a quick buck. Probably. Mostly, anyhow. But it did work. The audience was big enough for all. And old hits sound so funny now.

  5. Stacy says

    Meh. Skepticism is, basically, a tool. It’s a skeletal thing to get passionate about. It’s useful, it’s necessary, and all the more so in a combination of culture and technology that is so good at deluding and seducing people – but it’s not more than that.

    This. My idea of skepticism is closer to Carl Sagan’s (and yours)–it’s a tool we should be using to inform our opinions and decisions about important things. If it’s just a club for debunking Bigfoot–again–yeah, OK, whatever.

  6. HappyNat says

    Why is Shawn even wasting his time on this topic and not writing about “True Skeptical Topics”? Think of how many alien abductees and big foot feces stories he could have debunked while writing about feminism.

  7. says

    Another one from the “how dare you include something in the scope of skepticism that is beyond my personal view on what it should entail” school. I suggest reading Popkin and Neto’s “Skepticism, An Anthology”.

  8. Silentbob says

    I reckon notsont (@ 4) has hit the nail on the head.

    The official reason is that skepticism deals with testable claims about objective reality and should be unsullied by subjective values systems and ideologies. (Never mind that “pulling the wool over people’s eyes is wrong” is a value that’s been embraced by skepticism since Randi learned to bend his first spoon.)

    The real reason is that laughing at other people’s silly beliefs is fun; examining your own deeply-ingrained prejudices and exposing them to scrutiny is about as much fun as having your teeth pulled.

  9. Anthony K says

    So my question is this:
    “Do you even really care about skepticism anymore?”

    I wonder how often Michael Shermer gets this question when he pushes his libertarianism.

  10. Al Dente says

    Silentbob @9 is right. Skepticism, as performed by organized skeptics, plays safe. Sure, they say some useful things about homeopathy, the anti-vacc crowd, and other forms of alt-med. Since the alt-med crowd is small and not particularly influential (at least compared with religious and political groups), the Skeptics® can say unkind things about Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield. And nobody, outside a few fringe groups, cares if Bigfoot and Nessie really exist or not.

    But bring up religious or social issues and people pay attention. More people have heard of Pat Robertson than Uri Geller. More people care about what Robertson says than care if Geller can bend a spoon no-hands. Feminism is a similar hot topic. Because of right-wing and religious propaganda, feminism has a bad name in the US and other Western countries. Limbaugh can throw the term “feminazi” around and too many people shake their heads in agreement.

    So Skepticism® steers clear of religious and social topics. Sneering at psychics is acceptable. Sneering at fundamentalists or misogynists is not.

  11. says

    I was telling friends in the car the other night, that when Skepticism (nee critical thinking) involves identity politics, someone’s doing something wrong. There’s too many proud, self-identified, self-regarding, clubish Skeptics (nee people who use critical thinking) out there. Mistakes were made… etc.

  12. says

    Feminism isn’t “identity politics” as I understand either concept. But anyway.

    There have been arguments about the legitimacy of linking atheism/skepticism to wider concerns since forever.

    For skeptics, should skepticism apply to religious and/or political claims? For atheists, are there links between atheism and politics, or atheism and out-group-liberation? In the UK gay humanists organised for the first time in the late 1970s in the wake of the prosecution of Gay News for Blasphemy – Mary Whitehouse complained about a “gay humanist lobby”, which up until then did not exist! Ever since, they have had to argue for the legitimacy of making gay rights a central plank of the critique of religion and the campaign for a secular state against people who don’t like homosexuality being visible.

    But the best examples of freethought have always been linked to wider social issues.

  13. Maureen Brian says

    There’s a strand of freethought which was deeply intertwined with the fight for universal suffrage, back to the start of the nineteenth century.

    In the UK one of the early splits was over whether “universal” included women. Later there were women campaigning against the vote.

    See, nothing changes! A few history lessons would not go amiss, though.

  14. latsot says

    But in any case: what of it? Why is anyone policing other people for the quality and quantity of their skepticism? Why is it an issue?

    A lot of the people telling others how to do skepticism were among the first to say that the skepticism/atheism movement shouldn’t have leaders and everyone should do their own thing. Unless, apparently, it’s a thing they don’t like. When it’s a thing they don’t like, the movement suddenly becomes strictly defined to exclude it specifically.

    Skepticism is, basically, a tool. It’s a skeletal thing to get passionate about. It’s useful, it’s necessary, and all the more so in a combination of culture and technology that is so good at deluding and seducing people – but it’s not more than that. It’s not something we should be pushed to “care” about.

    The being able to laugh at crazy beliefs part is good, but skepticism is also about a commitment to the truth, which is certainly something to be passionate about. Skepticism itself though? You’re right, it’s a tool. You can be very fond of a tool. You can think of it with great affection. You can be enthusiastic about its qualities or nostalgic about the memories associated with it. But it would be pretty unusual to be passionate about it. More usual to be passionate about using it to build stuff.

  15. yahweh says

    “Meh. Skepticism is, basically, a tool. It’s a skeletal thing to get passionate about. It’s useful, it’s necessary, … but it’s not more than that.”

    An understandable viewpoint for those of us to whom scepticism came easy, but there are apparently many places where this is not so. There are people for whom scepticism was (or would be) a liberation.

    Which is why it is worth tackling distinctly from the many inequalities (including, but not only, sexism) which flower when teachings and customs are followed uncritically.

  16. latsot says

    An understandable viewpoint for those of us to whom scepticism came easy, but there are apparently many places where this is not so. There are people for whom scepticism was (or would be) a liberation.

    I think I’d argue that it is still the goal that’s the more appropriate target for passion here, rather than the tool. In this case, liberation is very much something to be passionate about. But perhaps I’m quibbling.

    Which is why it is worth tackling distinctly from the many inequalities (including, but not only, sexism) which flower when teachings and customs are followed uncritically.

    There is certainly room for the grassroots style of skepticism. It’s how I – and countless others – got into skepticism in the first place. Go Randi. But I’ve never considered it to be separate from social issues. Lots of people in skepticism are there to help people who are in danger of being conned and/or being peddled false hope. That’s an inequality: many people don’t have an opportunity to develop the tools they need to protect or free themselves. Many don’t know that such tools exist or that there’s even a need for them. The same is true of the bigfoot stuff: most old-skool skeptics I’ve spoken to see debunking things few people believe in anyway as a way to teach skepticism without having to also overcome the emotional investment people have made in the things they actually do believe. Once people see how skepticism works with crazy things other people sincerely believe, perhaps they can take the next step toward examining their own beliefs.

    I think that’s very close to what you’re saying, but I also think that skepticism has *always* been in part about social change and tackling inequality. A lot of people (skeptical and otherwise) complained when skepticism started to go after religion in a big way. This was mostly because even most skeptics were brought up to be unduly respectful of religion and found that leap difficult. But now, apart from a few stray accomodationists, religious skepticism is becoming more mainstream. Religion is both monstrous and wrong and a skeptic might go after either aspect or both. But both are social issues. Both are tackling inequality.

    I don’t see including feminism as a mainstream topic in skepticism as any different. This time, many people are complaining because sexism is so pervasive and pernicious that they can’t see that it’s happening or think they can get away with pretending they can’t.

    I don’t think anything has changed. I think skepticism has always been at least partly about empowering the disenfranchised. That’s a major reason so many people put so much effort into it. Some skeptics have always worked from the bottom-up: promoting skepticism to equip people with the tools to free and protect themselves. Others have always worked top-down: tackling particular social issues using the tools of skepticism to improve the world by getting rid of that particular nonsense.

    Nothing’s changed, but some people try to claim it is, presumably because they just don’t want society to change along this particular dimension. Maybe they think the equality doesn’t exist. Maybe they want it to keep existing.

    .

  17. says

    I just saw this.

    PZ Myers, well known atheist thug, has blocked me on Twitter, as have a few other well know atheists. People who I’ve never even tweeted at, mind you. Now, I’m not saying this for sympathy for being blocked, I’m pointing out how out of control and ridiculous it’s gotten if small fry like me are being caught up in it. I’m too unknown to be blocked.

    I have no idea who this guy is, but I can guess what happened. I block people fairly routinely, and you don’t have to tweet at me directly to get the click of doom: he was probably on one of the usual asshole bandwagons, saying stupid things on a hashtag I follow, or sniping at a friend. And I probably decided this was a guy I never wanted to see again, so I blocked him.

    That is not “out of control or ridiculous”. I don’t pick random innocent people out of the vast pool of twitter users and randomly block them. He got what he earned.

  18. shari says

    It’s monday morning and I can’t help it – are people Really Still Whining that “So-and-so Blocked me!! THEY WON’T LISTEN TO ME ANYMORE!’

    FREAKING DEAL WITH IT.

    My kids ‘audio block’ me all the time – the difference is I can take away the Wii-U if it’s intentional!!

    sorry.

    Is there any proof these…..level 3’s are NOT fifteen!

  19. shari says

    and how does ‘i’m too unknown’ = ‘not possibly annoying’??

    aren’t MANY of the harassers being objected to anonymous?

    sore brain here, i could be missing something…….

  20. latsot says

    Shari,

    We’re witnessing the sour grapes of someone who wanted to have the last word but couldn’t.

  21. Sili says

    I think these people should hold their breath until we listen to them – that way we’ll know they’re really serious.

  22. yahweh says

    latsot, this is food for thought, but I still see scepticism and the empowering of the disenfranchised as two different things.

    My interest in history is admittedly weak, but scepticism in Europe seems originally to have empowered the franchised. (I’m not saying this is a good thing, nor that empowering the disenfranchised is unimportant).

    Everyone needs to be liberated from inherited beliefs, even if people who are comfortable with their position have less obvious reason to change then others.

    The hope is that this will ultimately bring greater fairness, as well as material benefits. For example, arguments for sexism and racism become less tenable, in the light of reason. Rarely mentioned perhaps and rather démodé but, for me, this is what scepticism is about, and why it is a worthy subject for a single-issue pressure group.

  23. latsot says

    yahweh, it’s hard to tell whether we agree or not. I think we do for the most part.

    scepticism in Europe seems originally to have empowered the franchised.

    I think it might have been the other way around but I don’t intend to argue that point here.

    Come to my blog or twitter feed and we can argue about this more, if you like.

  24. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    What about ballet…. while hang gliding?

    Mind you, getting the orchestra airborne would be a problem.

  25. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    So, let me get this straight…
    Some people are too well known and credentialed to block and others are too unknown and insignificant to block? Is there anyone who isn’t entitled to your time and attention? Meanwhile, the same people do not think you are entitled to write about what you want. You owe them time, space and the content they approve of and many of these same people don’t think harassment or privilege are real problems. Glibertarianism is fine in Skepticism but Progressive politics and social justice are not? Misogyny isn’t a problem in the A/S community, but Feminism is? Interesting.

  26. says

    I don’t get the mindset of the skeptical wallbuilders, who erect these arbitrary boundaries around skepticism and say it can’t apply outside of a limited set of topics that coincidentally happen to be the topics that dominated discussion in the ’70s and ’80s, when “In Search Of” was on and these skeptics and their intellectual progenitors were starting their organizations and magazines. One wonders if, forty years ago, they were scolding Carl Sagan for his environmental and pro-marijuana activism, or Isaac Asimov for being anti-war and pro-gay rights. This notion that the standard skeptical topics were once the entire scope of skepticism until the Internet and atheists and feminists came along and tried to change things is patently and obviously false.

    Also false is the notion that the skepticism is only capable of applying to the “woo-woo” nonsense, and can’t apply to religious or political or social claims. If there is a claim about objective reality, whether it’s the existence of Bigfoot or the effects of gun legislation, then we can seek evidence for it and draw logical conclusions from that evidence. Politicians make frequent use of logical fallacies; does the skeptical ability to recognize and call out such fallacies fail because it’s outside the realm of scientific topics?

    The wallbuilders are caught in this Catch-22: if they could use skeptical methods of argumentation to prove that skepticism should be limited in its scope, the very act of arguing that political opinion would disprove their claim. So they rely on arguments from authority, tradition, and special pleading, and that’s equally problematic and transparent.

    For whatever reason, they’re content to have a toothless skepticism, enthusiastically gumming away at the softest, safest targets, with no desire to reevaluate priorities in light of forty years of social change. We could speculate on their reasons–fallacious reasoning, desire to avoid the discomfort of reexamining their own beliefs, hope that avoiding controversy means expanding conference ticket sales and magazine subscriptions–but the end result is a skepticism whose main social contribution is giving a small group of people a way to feel smugly superior.

  27. says

    Dan Bye and Maureen Brian @ 13 and 14 respectively remind us of the importance and relevance of freethought to this issue.

    No wonder I write a column for The Freethinker!

  28. deepak shetty says

    Can we please add all these people who say skepticism has nothing to say about feminism to the people who say skepticism has nothing to say about religion and refer them to the reply given in the case of
    Arkell v. Pressdram

  29. says

    This is a very outsider look, but I think skepticism has been getting a “commercial” vibe. In no way am I implying this is true for more than a small percentage of skeptics. But selling t-shirts, making conventions and even presenting cable tv shows about not believing in big foot or homeopathy is quite a lot more profitable than bringing social and inclusion issues. A skepticism focuses on such less important things, allows the privileged bunch to be comfortable with it, go to conventions and buy the shirts.

  30. MrFancyPants says

    An understandable viewpoint for those of us to whom scepticism came easy, but there are apparently many places where this is not so. There are people for whom scepticism was (or would be) a liberation.

    Which is why it is worth tackling distinctly from the many inequalities (including, but not only, sexism) which flower when teachings and customs are followed uncritically.

    Yahweh, from this and a later followup, it seems that you are saying that if we focus all our efforts on skepticism alone and remove any concentration on social issues such as sexism, then social justice would naturally follow. For example:

    For example, arguments for sexism and racism become less tenable, in the light of reason.

    I think you’re overlooking a couple of things. First, that this has clearly not been happening in the skeptical community so far, judging by the number of self-proclaimed skeptics who see no sexism in it at all. Clearly, their skepticism is not helping them see what is right before their eyes, and if they cannot see it, then how will it ever change?

    Second, a crucial aspect of introducing the topic of sexism in skeptics’ gatherings has been to promote more involvement by women. I don’t see how any movement can thrive if half of the possible participants feel excluded. Rather, it seems to me that by including feminism as a fundamental and crucial part of skepticism, then we strengthen both simultaneously.

  31. says

    I’ve never understood this “zero sum game” attitude toward activism, skeptic or otherwise. You could make the same special pleading arguments against having skepticism focusing on UFOs, bigfoot, cold readers and homeopathy that you can against social justice (feminism, gay rights, minimum wage, etc). The JREF can choose it’s areas of focus and use TAM9 to that end, but that doesn’t mean that they are the one and only definition of the skeptical movement and that the larger movement can’t be about more than one group’s focus. Why is the fact that more people are applying skepticism to politics and culture, rather than just shooting the same old fish in a barrel, a threat to the movement? Can’t we do all of it, letting each person focus their attention and dollars where they see fit? Seriously, this sounds so much like “ghey mawwidge will wooin my stwait mawwidge” BS that I’m skeptical that they’re really skeptics at heart.

  32. says

    Yes (@ 33). Within This Mind @ 1 said that feminism is skepticism, and that’s true…but it’s also true that anti-feminism is skepticism.

    It’s laughably easy to be skeptical about any kind of progressive or egalitarian or liberal idea / movement / “ideology”. Plato gave us the classic template in the Gorgias, or you could consult Thucydides’s account of what the Athenians said to the Melians. You just say “yes but get real, why shouldn’t I take all the good things for myself if I can?”

    Skepticism, by itself, can’t answer that question.

  33. ragdish says

    Ophelia,

    I think it is laudable that you and the colleagues at Skepchick have adopted the pro-feminist stance over the years. Indeed, I have been educated on so many aspects of women’s issues and I continue to learn. Yet I find that if I adopt your anti-postermodernist stance, I get a lot of vitriol from other feminists including the ones on skeptic websites.

    I uphold the claim that the mind is the result of the coordinated electrochemical activity of billions of interconnected neurons in the brain. Culture is therefore a product of many minds and therefore many brains. I was actually booted off a thread for making such a reductionist statement which according to the moderator of the thread, historically has been the cause of oppression among marginalized groups. Actually I was booted off with my retort that the “postmodernist should jump out of a Boeing 747 and proudly claim that gravity is a social construct”. Indeed, it appears to me that if I adopt the feminism of Daphne Patai or Noretta Koertge, I could be asked to walk the plank among certain feminist circles in the skeptic blogosphere. Ophelia, do you also get shot down by such “allies”?

  34. says

    I find it, frankly, a very bizarre notion that atheism, especially, is something that could ever exist in some kind of social and political vacuum, just some arbitrary and disconnected fact that has no implications. Like maybe it’s just a slip of paper (presumably reading ‘gods=no’) you curate as a standalone exhibit in the foyer of your mind. Perhaps you pin it to a piece of cork and hang on the wall and say look, this here’s a lil’ something I’ve worked out, and, umm, that’s as far as I got with it. Also, ‘bigfoot=no’, but really, that’s all I got.

    I mean, gods tend to have agendas. I don’t know quite how you don’t notice that. Take any of the big theisms, they all got pretty definite ideas connected to these gods, and the thing you also really have to work to miss, it seems to me, is they’ve got a lot of ideas in common. From Judaism through Christianity through Islam and you can also take a sideways stroll over to Hinduism, there’s class and caste and hierarchy woven through the canon and the practise and the institution like nobody’s business. Because religions are social instituations, very much so, and all of those have been and are state and imperial religions, and they’re tied into their cultures and they’re influenced by and likewise influence their host cultures, and they’re part of a larger whole, too…

    So what; how does this even work? You say we get that the gods aren’t there, but the fact that the gods keep allegedly saying all this crap about how women are subservient and you burn them on the husband’s pyre if they have the misfortune to outlive him and they have to do what he says and so on, you don’t stop to ask why it might be the gods are alleged to say all this and what it means about the same that they’re not actually there to say anything whatsoever?

    I opened by saying I find it ‘bizarre’, but, actually, that’s a word doesn’t really capture the sentiment. Better words are more ‘ludicrous’ and ‘revealing’. Because I think you actually have to work to keep that former fact, the nonexistence of gods, in isolation from its social implications. And that anyone works so hard makes me figure they’re actually more afraid of the implications, or not seeing them as so much going their way.

    Atheism, in addition, for me, is really just part of a much larger whole of what I am. Call it a classification. I’m that, obviously, with some passion and some emphasis, because of conclusions I’ve drawn, certain values I have. As in: I draw the conclusions because I put a value on trying not to fool myself, or be fooled, and on resisting so much as I can certain socially-transmitted fictions that, again, are attached to some of those same agendas above. You can reject the fictions just because they’re fictions, yes, that should be an adequate reason all on its own, but if you don’t also notice what those fictions compel people to do, the kinds of cultural arrangements they’ve historically reinforced, it seems to me you’re either very nearsighted or very incurious.

    Put another way, it’s maybe fair, as has been argued in this thread and elsewhere, to say a sort of prescriptive feminism, that envisions societies in which there’s a more equitable share of power between the sexes, that this doesn’t necessarily follow from skepticism or atheism. But if you don’t at least get to a sort of analytical/diagnostic feminism, in which you grasp how inequities are kept going and justified by fictions every bit as risible are those that kept the gods going (when they’re not, in fact, the same fictions entirely), I have to wonder how you even manage such a thing. Seems to me that’s not so much tunnel vision, as a tunnel vision that faithfully and cautiously peers around a few corners, through an occasionally crooked path, but somehow never takes a solid look at the walls themselves. How you do that unless you really just don’t want to look, again, I find quite hard to grasp.

  35. says

    In addition to skepticism being a tool (agree wholeheartedly), it’s also by definition a transitory state.

    I am not skeptical about the existence of Bigfoot. I know with reasonable certainty that Bigfoot does not exist.

    I am not skeptical about homeopathy, Nessie/Champs, vaccines causing autism, and a bazillion other things. It’s settled. The data are in. There is no reason to be skeptical any more.

    To say that one is a skeptic is to say that there there is still some evidence-gathering/sifting/analysis that needs to be done in order to reach a conclusion. If the conclusion is reached, you are no longer a skeptic about that thing. Whether in the positive or the negative.

    So, the reason Bigfoot Skeptics(TM) bore the shit out of me is that they apply this tool to settled issues.

    Now, let me also say that I’m not a skeptic about the existence of god(s), either. I guess when it comes to many, many things in my field of vision, I’m not a skeptic.

    I remain skeptical about whether a guy named Jesus from Nazareth lived in the First Century ACE. I don’t think so, but I’m still willing to be persuaded with new evidence. I remain skeptical that humans will ever find an effective diet that will result in long-term healthy weight loss. And on and on.

    But those other things…nope. I’m not skeptical about those things at all.

    Here endeth another rant, where I will scurry back to my particular salt mine.

  36. says

    Actually I was booted off with my retort that the “postmodernist should jump out of a Boeing 747 and proudly claim that gravity is a social construct”. Indeed, it appears to me that if I adopt the feminism of Daphne Patai or Noretta Koertge, I could be asked to walk the plank among certain feminist circles in the skeptic blogosphere.

    Or, possibly, it happens when you invite people to jump out of airplanes without parachutes.

  37. says

    That whole comment looks like something produced by the Repeat Troll Generator. Except for the first part, but maybe the RTG has learned to start with flattery before repeating the memes.

  38. says

    —You just say “yes but get real, why shouldn’t I take all the good things for myself if I can?”

    Skepticism, by itself, can’t answer that question.–

    Except it can, if you add a dose of rationality. Humans are a social animal. As a social animal, humans do better as all of society does better. Ensuring a social safety net, making sure everyone gets a seat at the table, etc… all ensures those things are there to protect you as well.

    Look at what happened when the economy started getting all fucked. All of a sudden there are a lot of privileged white men who never really worked all that hard who are losing everything, and they are all pissed off because they are losing their houses and jobs and realizing it sucks and what is the government going to do about it? Well, turns out the answer is nothing, because those same folks had such a ‘it can’t happen to me / bootstraps’ mindset that they destroyed the very safety net they are now wishing was there to catch them. And they still don’t have it as bad as the less-privileged who got hit with the same economic suck.

    If you eat all the corn, what are you going to plant next year? You have to save some for seed.

  39. A Hermit says

    25
    yahweh

    August 5, 2013 at 7:27 am (UTC -7)

    … arguments for sexism and racism become less tenable, in the light of reason.

    Which is why we should be making positive, reasonable arguments against them; ie making those subjects part of the skeptical program.

  40. says

    @41

    Humans are a social animal. As a social animal, humans do better as all of society does better.

    Absolutely true. And I agree. I take ethics to be the project of trying to promote well being and trying to avoid harm. Leaving aside how we might determine what constitutes needless or malicious harm, I would say that if you’re doing ethics at all, then you’re almost by definition forced to agree that we should generally do what what benefits human beings and avoid what harms human beings. That’s what ethics *is*: it says it’s better to do good rather than bad.

    But why should we do ethics at all? Why, when it comes down to it, should we prefer what benefits human beings over what harms human beings?

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a convincing logical argument for choosing morality over amorality (or, come to that a convincing religious argument either). I think it’s a basic existential choice everyone has to make (except we don’t really make it, do we, not explicitly?).

    If someone said, in all seriousness, that they fundamentally rejected ethics, how would you – rationally – persuade them that they should accept ethics? I’m not talking just disagreeing about ethical conclusions, like whether abortion is morally defensible or not, I’m talking completely rejecting the whole project completely. In practice “nobody” does this. But what if they did?

  41. says

    @14, Maureen Brian said:

    There’s a strand of freethought which was deeply intertwined with the fight for universal suffrage, back to the start of the nineteenth century.

    True. And the 19th century secularists (the word secularism being originally broader than the way it is often narrowly misunderstood as church/state separation today) split on whether birth control advocacy was part and parcel of the movement, or whether republicanism was… and so on. For some birth control was part and parcel of a “malthusian” approach to problems of poverty – linked to overpopulation or too-large families. Naturally those from a less individualistic political perspective regarded that analysis as misbegotten.

    In the UK one of the early splits was over whether “universal” included women. Later there were women campaigning against the vote.

    And interestingly, you had women campaigning against (or at any rate criticising on political grounds) the vote from both the left and the right.

    Sylvia Pankhust denounced parliamentarianism from a communist perspective and Emma Goldman attacked the right to vote from an anarchist perspective.

    Likewise, the early 19th century freethought movement in Britain was closely associated with the temperance movement, and local secular societies often met in temperance halls if they didn’t have access to their own buildings. Temperance was seen as a kind of “moral reform” route to controlling male violence against women. But of course temperance was also opposed on libertarian grounds by people who nevertheless were also opposed to male violence against women…

    Perspective, much?

  42. says

    Dan Bye:

    If someone said, in all seriousness, that they fundamentally rejected ethics, how would you – rationally – persuade them that they should accept ethics?

    I don’t know that you would. People who actually fundamentally reject ethics, and then act on that rejection, are rightly seen as threats to civilized society, and as such are removed from it, placed in prisons and institutions.

    The best argument is the pragmatic one: all people, even the amoral person, benefit from other people around them behaving in an ethical fashion. Ethical people recognize that unethical people might receive those benefits while also posing harm. So ethical people would be best suited by removing those dangerous elements from society and withholding the benefits of living in that society.

    In other words: if you want to reject the ethics of society, leave.

  43. says

    Tom – ah but you’re ignoring the free rider problem. The ideal there is that everybody around behaves in an ethical fashion while the free rider cheats.

    It’s not in the power of skepticism to explain to the free rider why that’s a bad choice.

  44. rnilsson says

    Dear Manslimba,
    Apelogies, I’m already somewhat cross-eyed and haven’t read all comments yeti. Butt I still wannto ad my ozervasion.

    I am in the habit of sleeping inna T-shirt with the legend “I am skeptical” which, when read in the bathroom mirror brushing my teeth reads (loosely translated) “Shit cap is gay”.

    Do I need to change my night shirt or my night cap? Srsly (hpp)

    (Check back in the moring, soberit)

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