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.