photo blog_head_zpsonl8fonu.jpg
Meesa gonna kill you!

Get email updates of new posts:        (Delivered by FeedBurner)

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Why I am no longer a skeptic"

“Rather than seeing himself as human because he could make economic calculations, the hunter insisted that being truly human meant refusing to make such calculations, refusing to measure or remember who had given what to whom, for the precise reason that doing so would inevitably create a world where we began "comparing power with power, measuring, calculating" and reducing each other to slaves or dogs through debt.” --- David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years

***

Why I am no longer a skeptic

"Shared identities like skepticism are problematic at the best of times, for numerous reasons, but I can accept them as a means of giving power and a voice to the disenfranchised. And indeed, this is how skeptics like to portray themselves: an embattled minority standing up for science, the lone redoubt of reason in an irrational world, the vanguard against the old order of ignorance and superstition...

However, it's a narrative that corresponds poorly with reality. In the modern world, science, technology and reason are central and vital, and this is widely recognised, including at the highest level...

The nerds won, decades ago, and they're now as thoroughly established as any other part of the establishment. And while nerds a relatively new elite, they're overwhelmingly the same as the old: rich, white, male, and desperate to hang onto what they've got. And I have come to realise that skepticism, in their hands, is just another tool to secure and advance their privileged position, and beat down their inferiors...

It's never pleasant to watch a group of university graduates ganging up to sneer at people denied their advantages in life, especially when for some of them it's a full-time hobby. It's an unfair fight between unequal resources, and far too few skeptics care about this inequality or want to do anything about it. If anything, I'm convinced that most of them would prefer to keep the resources unequal...

One demographic skeptics are particularly uncomfortable with is the female of the species... it allows the sexist to disguise his prejudice as rationality and "common sense". You can spot guys like this easily on skeptic forums: the word "feminism" brings them crawling out, like slugs after a downpour. For them, feminism is an unscientific discipline (but how could it be otherwise?), as nonsensical as astrology or Roman Catholicism, and as ripe and essential for debunking...

Women are present on skeptic forums in much the same way that women are present in early Star Trek episodes: while the men can take on a variety of roles, the women are always sex characters... Too often, the skeptic nerd who tries to display his women-friendly credentials ends up revealing himself only as a sexist creep. He's all in favour of women, as long as they satisfy his own ideals of what a woman should be...

In the skeptic community it's much more common to find statements insinuating that all Muslims are women-hating, freedom-hating, clit-butchering, suicidal terrorists, and furthermore, find those statements accepted without comment. Under the guise of atheism, liberalism and rationality, ugly Islamophobia thrives... Like a lot of gentle liberals, [Dawkins] hypocritically declared himself against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while continuing to poison the atmosphere in their favour with his hate speech...

As we have seen, skepticism is a broad and varied church — welcoming, among others, elitist, sexist and racist views. One thing all skeptics have in common, though, is that they support the freedoms they believe to exist in present-day western civilization, and think those freedoms should be spread worldwide. In other words, all skeptics are neoliberals...

Skeptics, in insisting on the primacy of scientific knowledge, deny the value of non-scientific metaphors in future scientific advance. As far as they are concerned, western liberal democracies have made all the political, social, cultural and economic advances they need to. Western thought is already so free that anyone who tries can perceive reality direct and unmediated, with no obscuring metaphors in the way. To the trained western eye, the truth simply reveals itself, in as much detail as our scientific understanding allows. It's difficult to imagine a more absolute statement of confidence in liberal democracy.

Similarly, when skeptics insist that scientific thinking should be spread worldwide, they necessarily mean that liberal democracy should be spread worldwide. Which is to say, they are neoliberals.

This is not the place to describe the many problems and hypocrisies of neoliberalism. Suffice it to say that I do not believe that liberal democracy, which condemns the majority of the world's population to varying degrees of slavery, is a perfect system. I do not believe that the metaphors of liberal democracy allow us a perfect view of reality. And therefore I do not believe in the primacy of the scientific method as a source of knowledge. It might be the best we've got, but when it comes to human advancement — including the advance of science itself — other sources of knowledge can be just as useful, and often more important.

It is my hope that human beings will one day live in a more just society, a more free society, than any that has yet existed in our history. I am certain that the people of such a society would look back at us and regard our minds as clouded today as we regard those of medieval peasants, and look back on those who insisted we had it all — today's skeptics prominent among them — as we look on friars, preachers, despots and other historical enemies of progress...

SCIENCE ALWAYS HAS A POLITICAL DIMENSION

Evolutionary Psychology, Sociobiology, etc. These fields are largely bogus, and almost everyone associated with them, however tangentially, is a purveyor of poisonous bullshit...

Linguistics, Computational Linguistics. These have been dead-end fields for decades, chiefly because their practitioners are anally obsessed with syntax and semantics, the elements of language most easily tackled by scientific methods and of least importance to human communication. I'm convinced (and Wittgenstein agrees with me) that the pragmatics of language — its use in context — is much more significant; but a proper study of pragmatics (and not the quasi-semantic junk you usually see) would require dropping those clumsy logico-empirical tools and admitting the presence and value of non-scientific knowledge. Want to know why we won't be remotely close to a talking AI any time soon? Blame skeptics. [Ed: ???]...

WHAT'S SO BAD ABOUT FORTUNE TELLERS?

Even at their worst, the hucksters of mumbo-jumbo are only minor-league con artists. Their crimes pale next to those of our financial institutions, and all the others who convince the public to throw their life savings at the stock market, take out mortgages they can't afford, buy junk they don't need with money they don't have, and pay for the fuck-ups of bankers and the greed of speculators. But which skeptic is going to debunk these swindlers?...

It might be nonsense from start to finish, but alternative medicine helps millions of people get through the day, with no side effects apart from spouting the occasional line of bullshit. Real medicine is better at curing its recognised ailments, but alternative medicine seems to be better at helping with a chronic unrecognised ailment: daily life under the capitalist system. And so it shall remain until opiates are freely available in pill form...

Our political system, education and culture leave a lot of people marginalised, lost, impotent, irrelevant, and made to feel so daily... They look at the reality that has been dealt to them and ask, can this be all there is? Is this as good as it gets? And so, quite justifiably, they invent an alternative. An alternative reality where the people who marginalised them are reduced to easily-identifiable comic-book villians, plotting in underground hideouts. An alternative reality where, more often than not, they and their people are the heroes: the rebels, the fearless investigators, the pioneers of science, the true keepers of knowledge...

Objective reality in a liberal democracy might well be wonderful if you're a media personality or a tenured professor in a leafy college town. But for most people, reality sucks. And if they choose to reject it, I can't blame them...

Loudmouth libertarians like Penn Jillette, touchy-feely dorks like Randall Monroe, lazy comedy hacks like Robin Ince and Charlie Brooker, neoliberal thugs like Christopher Hitchens and David Aaronovitch, the sniggering philistines at reddit/atheism: no one I respect could hang out with this crowd"


Someone: I think the writer has had his feelings hurt and now his public denouncements is as unkind as the original behavior that affronted him. (Me: I am amused that there are 4,180 Google results for "I fucking hate rude people")

Someone else: this article is just another example of an emotionally charged left ideologue unable to separate his normative ideas from descriptive categories (just like many people on the religious right are unable to do that either).

Skepticism criticizes (contemporary) feminism, ergo it must be sexist. It criticizes Islam --> Islamophobia. It is neoliberal...(I'm neoliberal and I have no idea what he is talking about there) neoliberal = evil. It is trying to be apolitical --> does not fit the marxist worldview. It is positivist --> positivism is evil (but he won't say why)...


Though he has some points here and there, his complaint is not that skepticism is wrong (factually or epistemologically) but that it is elitist, macho, sexist, Islamophobic (ignoring the fact that Dawkins criticises Christianity plenty; crediting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to Islamophobia is possibly the most hilarious part of his diatribe), neoliberal (???), politicised (presumably more politicisation - as in his critique - is better than less), pro-capitalist and generally hurts people's feelings.

I am reminded of Dawkins's recounting of how Kurt Wise, with a Ph.D in geology, gave rationality up for Young Earth Creationism.

I want to get a lesbian, black, working class, Muslim, post-op transsexual from a Third World post-colonial country as my Secret Weapon - then I will be untouchable in Liberal circles.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Latest posts (which you might not see on this page)

powered by Blogger | WordPress by Newwpthemes