MetaCognitions | Skeptic: A Problematic Label

I have something to tell you: I’ll no longer refer to myself as a skeptic, though I remain skeptical in outlook and practice. I will no longer use the label. I don’t need it.

2006 was a momentous time. I had come far during the twenty years prior, since the time between my late teens to my early twenties when my mind pretty much fell apart. It took the two decades in between then and 2006 to reassemble the pieces, remaking that mind and sense of identity with the help of a lot of good people, and on occasion, the unwitting “help” of some pretty awful people as well. Lots of life lessons from both, good and bad. In rebuilding a shattered self, there’s a certain amount of resilience that’s acquired, as you do. I don’t believe that’s at all exceptional or especially meritorious.

Yes, you can learn things from awful people too.

But 2006 was the first time I had enough understanding of modern scientific skepticism to adopt it as an adjunct to my treatment plan, to be followed in the 2010s by the addition of mindfulness and other meditative exercises.

And I still use these, with full intention to keep all for the foreseeable future. But the “me” that existed up until the 1980s and early 1990s is gone, replaced by the “me” from the late 1990s and early 2000s, to again be replaced by the current iteration, with a better sense of purpose and priorities, and enough of the mental toolkit needed to realize both.

Lately, some prominent leading skeptics have been behaving in less than reputable ways, associating with less than intellectually reputable company, and promoting a lot of alarmist sociopolitical nonsense as figures in the so-called Intellectual Dark Web.

Once good skeptics who’ve done valuable work in the past have gone to the Dark Side. “Why Darwin Matters: the case against intelligent design” informed my very first forays into scientific skepticism. I considered “The End of Faith” a masterwork of the writer’s craft. What the hell happened? But I’m much better informed now than then as to what happened along the way. It’s no longer any great mystery.

I no longer use the label “skeptic” for myself – it’s become tiresome to over and over explain what I mean by it, and that I’m not like those “other” guys who commit free speech hypocrisy and seem woefully unaware of their own biases while showing the same – forever whining about how persecuted and victimized they are, or how “naughty” or “forbidden” their “ideas.”

For those who are more headstrong than I am about using the label, those resolute enough to keep it despite its tainting by disrepute, then all the more power to you. I salute you and remain alongside you in the ongoing fight against woo, scams, hoaxes, and nonsense disguised as “alternative facts.” You have my support and my respect.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

3 thoughts on “MetaCognitions | Skeptic: A Problematic Label

  1. Interesting response to skepticism. I have been a bit out of touch and have heard hints of this from others, but not sure what it is all about. When you feel so inclined, I would like to know more of the opinions which turned you away. No hurry! I come from the old school of skepticism, firmly based on science and not politics. I don’t want to be associated otherwise.

    Thank you for the warning.

    Lynne

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Certainly, Lynne.

      Part of what led me to drop the label as a descriptor was constantly having to explain its use and accepted meaning to those whose only prior exposure to the word involved its co-opting by conspiracists, science and/or history denialists, and ideological zealots. It wore a bit thin for me.

      I’m perfectly fine with skepticism as the intersection of science literacy, critical thinking, and consumer protection, and organizations promoting these. If “skeptic” itself didn’t have all of the confusion and baggage it’s acquired, I’d still use it.

      I also want to avoid accusations of committing a “no true skeptic” fallacy in saying that some using the label aren’t “real skeptics” even though their intellectual strategies are neither scientific nor skeptical.

      I’ve been uncomfortable with labels for as long as I can remember, and have issues with fandom toxicity in some segments of Anglo-American celebrity skeptic culture, which seems a bit cultish to me.

      Key are the arguments of Sharon Hill and Massimo Pigliucci, and especially Massimo, who’s pointed out the philosophical problems of trying to empirically determine the correctness of subjective political ideologies or the answers to moral questions, in direct contradiction to both Shermer and Harris, who’ve both been criticized for scientism and philosophical naïveté.

      I’m not leaving skepticism itself anytime in the foreseeable future: I need it was a corrective to a tendency to fool myself and be fooled by others, though I’ve a much better grasp than before of my own weaknesses and the need for vigilance.

      For the last few years, I’ve preferred to call myself a student, as that covers all the needed bases as a fan of life-long learning, and fostering beginner’s mind as an attitude is useful for that.

      Like

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