Vanakkam. Last week, I posted my decision to let go of the word “skeptic” as a personal descriptor. Not just because of bad skeptics who’ve tarnished the brand, there’s that, but also out of respect for the good skeptics, and I mean bad and good not necessarily in the ethical sense, that too, but in terms of the methods and thinking used by either.
It should be apparent by now that I have always had deep issues with labels. To me, labels should mean something. And there are those with definable criteria.
“Skeptic” is one of those. It has an implied rhetorical power even recognized by the enemies of science and skepticism. It has force. That’s why even science rejectionists try to cloak themselves in the mantle of “scientific skepticism” of well established scientific or historical findings using wholly dishonest means to deceive the rhetorically vulnerable.
But it’s not just because of a few bad apples, science deniers, and conspiracy cranks. It’s also why I left Twitter some months ago, likely for good, barring some unforeseen future need to use the platform. That, and some poor personal decisions that weigh heavily on me, even without lasting and serious consequences.
No TMI though. I’ll spare you that.
Here’s the thing: the word “skeptic” is more than just a label: it’s also a promise, implying the adoption, and the striving for, a definable set of intellectual values, intellectual strategies, and an approach to evaluating testable claims of fact, the “Three Faces of Skepticism.”
When you call yourself a skeptic, you are telling others something about yourself, intended or not, to different people, things positive and negative, and what general sort of intellectual strategies you might be expected to use. On the positive side, some level of intellectual honesty, open-mindedness, and intellectual humility is implied, individual thinking styles aside.
This ties into my leaving Twitter on December 4 of 2018.
Since starting on Twitter in March of 2010, up until the end, I had far too often experienced the loss of those no longer with us from various causes, ranging from those leaving organized skepticism for less community drama, harassment, and fractiousness, to the actual passing of good people from a number of causes, usually illness, but some few by their own hand. The last nine years have not been kind in that regard.
I make no secret of the fact that I don’t take that kind of personal loss well, even with a fair degree of resilience when problems are my own, when striving for equanimity in the face of losing those I care for, when knowing them mostly or solely online. Empathy and the loss of others has been brutal on me, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’ll take my lumps as they come, thank you very much.
In the meantime, I won’t call myself a skeptic, not in the near future, but also won’t take it as an insult even if and when it’s intended as such. I’ve gotten much better at meeting things like that with humor, and again, there are those I greatly respect who do the skeptic-thingy well indeed, with and without the label.
So from now until then, still skeptical in outlook, just not a self-described skeptic,
Tf. Tk. Tts.