skeptical movement growing pains?

Without going into details, because much of what I'm hearing is gossip, I'm feeling a bit demoralized today.  I'm learning many disappointing things about people whose work I admire.

I’m a skeptic and in a very small way I consider myself a part of the skeptical movement that has been growing over the past few decades.  The big fish and the little fish in the skeptical pond are making a difference in advancing critical thinking around the world.  That growth should be (and is) something to feel good about, and, yet, today I’m feeling a bit demoralized.

Is this just the kind of growing pains every movement goes through?

I’m hearing about petty jealousies, turf battles, sexual harassment accusations/denials.  There’s been poor behavior on elevators or maybe it was innocent behavior.  We’ve been advised not to be dicks, but there were some who treated that message dickishly.  I’ve learned about people being so upset by something said, an idea offered, an opinion suggested to start a discussion, that they take their ball home and refuse to play.  They seem to be saying, “I don’t like what you said, so I quit you!”

Does that help?  Does that advance the movement?  Does that change minds?

Skirt chasing.  Objections to t-shirt slogans.  Witch hunts.   Identity politics.  You’re not an atheist, so you can’t be a skeptic!  (I’m sure Martin Gardner would appreciate that attitude.)  Accusations of hypocrisy.  Lawsuits.  Indictments.  Prison sentences.  I mean, aren’t you feeling demoralized?

What probably gets me most upset is the apparent glee derived by some in the skeptical movement when other skeptics are embroiled in controversy.  “See?  I told you that person was a dick!  Haha!”

Maybe I’d feel better if I had been able to attend The Amazing Meeting this past July.  Maybe I’d feel energized.  Maybe I’d be glowing with the warm feeling of having spent time around like-minded skeptics, agreeing that we must fight the fakers and how silly it is to believe in the paranormal.  But then I hear of people wishing it was like the TAM of old.  Whatever that was like, I wasn’t there either.

I have seen some attempts to calm the waters.  There have been calls to recognize our common ground and to understand that as skeptics our goals are largely the same.  There have been examples of cooler heads opening dialogs to address misunderstandings.  But there have also been those who pooh pooh the common ground idea.  I guess you just can’t win with some people.

I’m not giving up.  I will continue to do my little radio show on a little paranormal internet radio network.  I’ll continue to tell my 10 or 12 listeners that there probably isn’t any paranormal and, maybe, the message will get through to one of them.

I’m still learning about logical fallacies.  Perhaps I’ve engaged in a few of them in this post.  I don’t know.  Maybe someone will gleefully demonstrate how naïve I am or that I’m being a dick.

I need to remember the one thing this and every movement in the history of human endeavor have in common: the movement is populated by people and where more than one person is involved there are going to be disagreements, misunderstandings, meanness, rudeness, and on and on and on.  It’s a wonder we get along as well as we do.

And I also need to remember, when it comes to the people whose work I admire, I shouldn’t confuse the artist with the art. 

The movement has much to be proud of and, obviously, much more work to do.

1 comment:

  1. Have there been denials of the latest sexual harassment allegations? Best I've been able to figure, CFI determined that their incident report was "private", did their little 'punishment', and went on their merry way.

    Yeah, some of the arguments in skepticism can be a bit of a bummer. But people of good will, even when grounded as well as they can be in reason, are going to have arguments, differences of opinion, differences of strategy. It might be fractious and annoying, people will get aggravated at one another. But I'd prefer that we keep talk of actual harassment in a totally different category of discussion. When stuff like this happens, we can't just wrap it up with all the other arguments.

    It's time to make a concerted statement about these incidents and people, to not let organizations sweep things under the rug to avoid a public relations problem.