I have decided that it is time to leave the skeptics. I have poured myself out trying to give the benefit of that doubt, and hoping to someday have trust and understanding with the core members of this group, seemingly to find myself toiling alone on a fool’s errand.
When I first joined I was at a new phase in my life. I had just found the courage to escape an abusive marriage, and took it as the impetus to reevaluate many unbalanced and unhealthy dynamics in other relationships. I was shedding the shackles of religion and was also prompted through new friendships and relationships to tackle many unchallenged beliefs, both inside and outside the realm of science. I found it difficult yet rewarding, and continue to do so. My hunger for continued change lead me to this group: The Winnipeg Skeptics.
I was very excited to get involved and eager to build relationships with these new people who were not afraid to question their beliefs or discuss ideas. I am sure this still happens and to some extent will continue to. I have no delusions that groups or even individuals are either all good or all bad. I am not broad-brushing every person, but for me overall, the bad unfortunately has come to outweigh the good.
It’s all fine and good to advocate for scientific literacy, and critical thought on scientific matters. Not that that there aren’t any concerns on that front, but that is not really what brings me here. I am here to say that when it comes to operating as a community it fails at being what it declares itself to be. It is not progressive. It is not inclusive. It is, in short, not welcoming; at least not in the way it would have to be to even begin to reach the goals it claims to care about: being a movement that aims to win over a culture rife with irrationality and ignorance.
You cannot win over the world with science alone. Before you get to the science, they people need education. To get that they need schools, physical safety, food security, healthy psychology (good home life), adequate income and many other things. You want to change the world towards scientific enlightenment? This is where you start. Get rid of desperation and hopelessness, and you’ll have granted some immunity to the siren call of delusion and woo.
Certainly a skeptical community can’t tackle every social issue themselves, but at the very least it needs to be aware of the reality behind them or you risk being complicit in their harm. You cannot simply opt out of reality no matter how unfair or uncomfortable. A skeptical community needs to be accepting, welcoming and open to understanding the experience of others. It should be obvious that to win a culture means being aware of culture, including your own. If these are indeed your goals then you’ve carved yourself one big damn piece of pie to chew on. If they’re not your goals, then all you have is a lot of self-serving, disingenuous hot air.
So what do I see instead? I see a community of people where the most active members with few exceptions are not interested in these things. I see a number of people who regardless of their conscious intentions and intuitions about themselves are, in practice, are working to make a group that is safe and comfortable… for themselves. Damn anyone else.
Over and over I see arguments where members take disingenuous stances against those who voice real concerns in order to gas-light and discredit them, only to flip-flop 5 minutes later on that same issue when someone from their in-group expresses that same sentiment or argument. This is just one recent example. I’ve seen this and various other tactics made in the effort to discredit, dismiss, and shut down discussion. Points are not addressed. Efforts are not made to understand or engage. Rationality is appealed to as a concept rather than practiced: like a holy text to beat people over the head with like a cudgel. Is see people fighting, not to whittle out the truth, but to win at all costs. Not dialectic, but debate. I don’t see scientists. I see lawyers.
Rather than a community. I see a mob. Drop one of the trigger words like ‘homeopathy’ or ‘privilege’ and watch the dog-pile. Too many views are merely borrowed from the giants on whose shoulders you stand. You pass them around with congratulations and pats on the back for being masters of the universe as though you came up with them yourselves. Looking at your actions, I would have to conclude that you do not really want to change the world, only to carve yourself out a little piece of it, and sit in your huddle with your pointed sticks and fearful hearts. If someone has something to say that gives you pause that maybe you’ve done something hurtful, you react like they are trying to steal your home, your clothes, your food, and your life. It’s a fight to the death. You can always win your battles on your home turf and always make the rules.
Social privilege? Body-positivity? Class division? SENTIMENTALISM! SKEPTICISM FAIL!!!!!!1!11!eleventy! Skepticism done this way is just another warm blanket in the cold dark of the universe, like any other over whom you would claim enlightenment. In the end its your own war that you’ll lose, not that of the people you drive away. Unless of course your goal really is to create your own elite.
Time and time again I have tried to advocate for those you say you want to include. Time and time again you have shown yourselves to be more interested in protecting yourselves from the straw-people who are apparently at your door to dilute you and enfeeble you, and perhaps even destroy you. You don’t see would-be kindred minds who cared enough about truth and honesty to take a stand for it. You seem to only see persecution and the slippery slope of your own destruction. Not everything that brushes past you or goes bump in the night is a monster come to get you. Sometimes there is a reasonable explanation. Sometimes that explanation may require that we give up the illusion that we know ourselves, that we are rational beings.
Until you are ready to shed the warm blanket of rigid worldview and your pointy stick of self preservation, you will never be congruent with your own values. Science is only as good as the questions you can ask of it and if you are clouded by the delusion than your love of rationality makes your intuitions rational, then science can only give you a biased answer to your biased questions. The point is not to deny the existence emotions and biases. The point is to recognize and counteract them. You cannot shed yourself of these shortcomings like having your tonsils removed. You can only be ready to make up for them when they present themselves and be diligent in working against them to the best of your ability for the rest of your life. That’s life.
I remember saying in the documentary “The Non-Believer’s Beliefs” that you can take rationality and with the right inputs, boil it down and come out with love. I’ve also recently borrowed a quote in my a recent blog post shared on TWS Blog:
Empathy is about seeing things from another person’s perspective, not imagining yourself in somebody else’s situation. The former is the first step to understanding others; the latter is a kind of naive narcissism that does more harm than good.
Unfortunately, the reality is that a few loud voices within The Winnipeg Skeptics’ seem to fall into the latter category. You imagine yourself within a trite reconstruction of what you think is someone else’s experience, only digging deep enough to discredit and disarm. You don’t investigate where your ideas and feelings come from. At worst you cut down straw-persons, disingenuous positions, ad hominem attacks, backtracking and sliding goalposts, right from your first breath. Everything you supposedly despise in others. At best, you take your intuitions and work backwards building a trail of pseudo-logics, and then tell yourself you’ve done it with RationalityTM, because you’re a Real SkepticTM, not one of those sentimental trolls.
Every bit of progress in social justice and every bit of social enlightenment you currently enjoy from was won by people who grasped this concept and poured their lives out in its pursuit. Any progressive views you have (except those that serve your group or score points against your enemies) have been tacked on after they’ve gained great momentum elsewhere. It is argued that skepticism and lack of religion leave much room for all kinds of wonderful humanity, but you don’t practice it. Not really. Not enough. Not if you feel that it brings your character into question. Not if it really challenges you.
In your fervor to build the name of Skeptic, you deny your emotions. You deny your own biases and false intuitions. You deny your irrationality. You have done so to try and escape them, but you have only made yourself more captive to them. Instead of rationality I see straw-Vulcans. You pay lip service to these things in a kind of pro-skeptic dogma, but your actions don’t follow.
I am not above reproach, and this isn’t about who’s better. I’m sure there are things I could have done better. I’m sure I’ve picked the wrong battles at times. Perhaps I have misinterpreted a thing or two, but I have not been disingenuous and I’m not a fool. I have made rational cases which have been for the most part, either twisted or ignored, but no more.
But, tell you what. You don’t really need to listen to any of this. I’m sure one of your trusty SSRs will tell you what you want to hear. You can just get together at the next Skeptically Drinking and agree how “I never really was a very good christian… oops I meant skeptic” (see what I did there?). Just repeat those trusty old narratives of the valiant intellectuals (Crusaders?), shoring up the barricades against the unworthy, uneducated, touchy-feely masses (unwashed heathens). Remind yourselves not give anyone a foothold with their wishy-washy sentimentality (evil self-indulgence), or they may just destroy you from within! Remind yourselves how rational (good/holy) you are. Everything will be just fine. It’ll all go back to normal. No more uncomfortable dissent. No more questions to challenge your self-image. No more scary unknowns. Just a nice, warm, comfy blanket.
I came here looking for critical minds. I came here looking for empathetic hearts. I came here looking for self-aware human beings. I found a few, but I also came here looking for a community. I doesn’t seem to be that yet. Not for everyone. Not for me. You have hurt me deeply. Maybe one day it will be different, but until then…