Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Snake in the Grass

When someone asked me why I thought Michael Shermer had done more to harm modern skepticism than just about anyone else in the modern age, I wrote this. I've added some other quotes of mine in the text and reworked some things for emphasis and clarification - to turn it into a blog post. :)

Michael Shermer (among others) wants us to think skepticism is only about empirical matters and is irrelevant to ideology and other prescriptive matters. He thinks classical skepticism, which also included defence against dogma (not just a particular dogma, but dogma itself) is worthless, and has convinced far too many that this is so.

This is in "Why People Believe Weird Things," which he uses as an extended, modified quote ("What is a skeptic?") for each and every issue of his "Skeptic" magazine. The wording is not identical, but the meaning is the same.

He did this in order to try to press his idea that skepticism = Libertarianism, and with skepticism hobbled as he tried to do, we were left defenceless against ideological considerations.

His "4 book trilogy" was a self-professed morality series (Cato Institute talk, pushing "The Mind of the Market"). His goal, all along, was to weaken skepticism to make it amenable to his Libertarianist ideology. In the process he left it open for every dogma that wanted to try its hand.

Fortunately for us, enough people realized, at least partly, what he was trying to do, and hit him so hard with critique that he has been licking his richly deserved wounds ever since. Unfortunately, we never really did finish the job. Many of Shermer's critics were just people wanting to assimilate skepticism into their dogma instead (and Shermer is reported to be a particularly unfortunate person, according to some).

Unfortunately, Libertarianism is not the only dogma that has attempted to exploit this weakness Shermer and friends (including Randi, who likely had and still has absolutely no idea what a pawn/tool he was) have carefully crafted. Radical Feminism attempted to equate skepticism with their dogma (hence Atheism+, which is related) and the so-called Freethought Blogs group (Blayton, Myers, and their ilk) tried to equate skepticism with their so-called "Enlightenment values." Both have adopted secular shunning as a methodology to create a dogmatic confirmation bias echo chamber. Can you say "excommunication?" Sure. I knew you could.

Nothing screams dogma like shunning people. We atheists and skeptics had been trying to build a larger, more inclusive, more welcoming umbrella, but now we are rife with internal division along ideological lines, in large part, because of Shermer (and others) opening that previously closed door protecting us from dogma. And the dogmatic, their minds bound up tight around their prescriptive ideology, are never interested in compromise, learning, or growth.

There may be enough of us left to fight off the ideological demagogue wannabes, but it is not going to be an easy battle. Skepticism must not become just another battleground between competing ideologies. That way leads to eternal conflict. We can only hope the rational will prevail, or we will end up following the historical pattern of emerging from one dogma just to be engulfed by another. Over, and over, and over again - forever. I, personally, think that is not good enough. Not for you, not for me, not for anyone, and not for humanity.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Cycles of Dogma

This article caught my attention the other day, so I thought I would write about it - and then repost it here.


Has the echo chamber/confirmation bias bubble over at so-called "FreethoughtBlogs" finally begun to pop? Really, it should have happened much earlier. Someone should have reigned in or discredited the dogma much earlier, especially given that actual "skeptics" would be most expected to have at least some resistance to ideological demagoguery.

Was a time, stretching back through history to ancient Greece, skepticism was synonymous with anti-dogma. In recent years, many ideologues sought to redefine skepticism in order to annex it in the name of this or that normative cause. From Shermer to Watson, it's all the same. Skeptics should have seen them for what they were from the very get go, but people are weak sometimes, especially where cherished notions are involved.

So, where did we, as skeptics, go wrong with the demagogues and authoritarian SJW looney tunes brigade? Well, it starts with the distinction between scientific skepticism and philosophical skepticism. Scientific skepticism had its place in the realm of the verifiable/unverifiable, but unfortunately, at the behest of people like James Randi and most especially, Michael Shermer, we started to see a mindset in which scientific skepticism was seen not as skepticism applied to a particular realm, which is a proper and valuable understanding, but as wholly replacing philosophical skepticism - to the point where a generation of scientific skeptics became openly derisive and dismissive of philosophical skepticism.

People came to an understanding that because scientific skepticism had nothing to say about ideology and morality, no skepticism of any possible sort could, because other skeptical thoughts were not scientific and were therefore thought of as utterly invalid. So when the time came for us to have any defences against dogma, there were none to be found. We had thrown them away in the name of A.J. Ayer like logical positivism. Well, it turned out that claiming "if it ain't science, it ain't interesting" not only failed to protect people outside of skepticism, It also failed to protect most modern skeptics from insidious dogma. Skepticism no longer had anything to say about ideology and so the only defence was a competing ideology - and thus began the new era of skepticism. The old marketing campaign of "defenders of the faith" became a new marketing campaign of "social justice," and in the case of the rat-infested oubliette that is FtB, "Enlightenment."

So why would anyone want to abuse the definition of skepticsm this way? Well, in the cases of the less careful, a new empirical understanding would provide us with facts to cling to and give a much more solid foundation for critiques than the more difficult to understand reasons of anti-dogma skepticism. And then there was Michael Shermer, who made the most dramatic push for eradicating philosophical skepticism from the discourse. In "Why People Believe Starnge Things" and in every issue of "Skeptic" magazine, he pushed the obtuse opinion, untempered by skepticism, that scientific skepticism was the only legitimate skepticism and philosophical skepticism was incoherent garbage. The masses lapped it up.

But why would Shermer work so hard doing this? Well, Shermer is a Libertarianist and wanted to place the ideology of Libertarianism above and beyond skeptical critique. The only way to do that was to restrict the scope of skeptical inquiry so that ideological consideration were untouched. He then went on to write a 4 book trilogy in which he ultimately concluded that Libertarianism *was* skepticism. This is why I refer to Shermer as a disingenuous liar. One of the first - certainly not the last.

I imagine there has been more people who followed Shermer's path, but it would take Watson to really show us how to exploit a bad idea. Watson (yes, "Elevatorgate" Watson) had an ideological cause as well - radical feminism - possibly spiced up with her own personal glory. She was only too willing to use Shermer's ill-conceived distinction for her own purposes, and so began the war within skepticism featuring her radical feminism and leading to people like Jen McCreight advocating kicking people who did not agree with the radical lunacy to the curb, shunned from the public discourse. Secular shunning became a thing, and the community became divided. Skepticism came to *mean* attacking the bad people and supporting the good people, where bad meant opposing radical feminism or even opposing ideology itself (that would be me, folks), and good people meant Watson and her ilk. Science be damned, and science was soon forgotten in the haste to replace any consideration with the radical feminist dogma, previously systematized in some academic circles (which would itself eventually lead us to the decimation of academia underway today).

And we had no defences against it because those years earlier, people like Randi and (especially) Shermer had worked so hard to artificially limit the scope of skeptical inquiry. Skepticism, which should have offered us protection against ideological dogmatism, became a mere tool for the ideological demagogues. And thus we see deformed abominations like Atheism+ and FtB coming to the forefront of our considerations.