Confessions of a not-so-skepchick
It’s time for me to come clean about something. What you are about to read may disappoint you profoundly, causing you to shun me and abandon your regular visits to my blog. But I feel I have to come forward with this anyway.
I would so like to dance around this terrible truth, thus perhaps preserving your innocence and idealism a few moments longer, but then it will hurt all the more when I finally spill it. So here goes…
In case it hasn’t always been abundantly clear to anyone who has actually taken the time to read some of my posts, Whirled Musings is (oh, here it comes…get ready) not a "critical thinking" blog.
It is not a science blog.
It is not even a particularly rational blog.
Whirled Musings is, for the most part, a humor blog, and the humor mainly targets New-Age/New-Wage culture, pop spirituality, self-help, and the silly side of the business world.
In other words, Whirled Musings is pretty much what the description in the left-hand margin says it is.
It’s true that I get a little sarcastic here sometimes, even, alas, a bit mean-spirited at times, though I try to keep the latter to a minimum. It’s also true that although my comments are mostly light-hearted and intended to be humorous, the discussions they raise sometimes get a little serious.
But by and large, WM is an entertainment blog. Lightweight. Fluff. I’m not out to prove or disprove the claims of anyone, be they New-Wage gurus or scientists.
If you’re saying, "Duh!" or asking "Why does this matter?", then you haven’t been privy to some of the online exchanges in which RevRon and I have been involved for the past few days. I am coming clean now because I have, apparently, grievously disappointed another blogger. This is a person who started out as a fan of sorts, and quickly changed his mind when I committed an act that he felt was "lame" and "intellectually dishonest."
It occurred to me that if this person was disappointed by my lameness and intellectual dishonesty, some of y’all might be similarly disillusioned. So we might as well put it on the table.
The disillusionment of my former fan, a guy named Richard who goes by the name Skeptico on his blog, began when he made a supportive comment on my February 2 post about Gregg Braden. If you follow the link you’ll see that after some mutually supportive back-and-forth, another frequent visitor to WM, who'd also visited Skeptico's blog, addressed a remark to him that was critical of his take on acupuncture. Skep answered, and then the Rev joined in the fray. Skep answered again, the Rev answered, and it seemed to grow progressively more acrimonious. Finally Skep sent in a response in which he said that the Rev is no better than "new age bozos" such as Deepak Chopra. Yeah, I took that a bit personally. Not only is it not true, but upon analysis I honestly didn’t think he offered anything new to the discussion, and I felt he’d already made his point, so I made the decision to reject his comment.
When he asked me why, I told him it was because I thought his post was acrimonious, added nothing new, and seemed to be little more than an attack on the Rev. Rational or not, those were my thoughts and feelings, I explained. And that’s what he felt was intellectually dishonest and lame. In his own blog post about the incident, he wrote:
Sadly, it seems we have here a group of people who are happy to make fun of Deepak Chopra when they want, but who presumably didn’t arrived (sic) at their views on Chopra through the application of critical thinking. I’m not surprised they are teed-off at my comparing them to Chopra. I’d be annoyed too. But the correct response would be to reevaluate your own arguments, and re-couch them with valid arguments in place of the dopey rationalizations of the kind favored by Chopra and his followers. Readers of Whirled would apparently prefer simply to disallow arguments against them they don’t like.
The method by which you evaluate claims is as important as the conclusions you arrive at. Maybe more so – if you have the wrong method, you will come to the wrong conclusions on some questions. Sadly, Whirled may be an anti-new age blog, but it’s clearly not a critical thinking blog.
Ooo, that stung (no, not really). In my comment to that post, I told Skep that he was correct in stating that Whirled Musings is not a critical thinking blog. "But it was never intended to be so and was never advertised as such," I added.
I elaborated, saying that although I have been a critic of the New Age/self-help/pop spirituality subcultures for many years, I have always based my criticism and satire more on the silliness and annoying qualities of the cultures than on their bad science. "It’s not that I'm unaware of the psuedoscience and faulty reasoning that prevails in these cultures," I explained. "It’s just that I am not a scientist and don’t pretend to be; rather, I am a person who was once very much into the stuff I now make fun of, and for various reasons grew disillusioned and then disgusted with it."
In case you are interested, I tell the story of my disillusionment, in my usual superficial way, on my Cosmic Relief web site.
In any event, as I also explained on Skeptico’s blog, I leave the "heavy lifting" in the areas of science and critical thinking to Skeptical Inquirer, et al. When poking fun of or criticizing the various forms of metaphysical madness and motivational infotainment that have been embraced by so many today, I have often stated that I am not qualified to evaluate the "science" behind any of the claims. And I’m not.
But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t come by my disillusionment honestly.
Nevertheless it seems obvious from the remark I quoted above that Skeptico believes his disdain of Deepak Chopra, et al. is somehow superior to mine, because he arrived at his conclusion through the application of critical thinking, and I obviously did not. In other words, WM doesn’t pass muster with the big boys in the critical thinking community – at least not in Skep’s critical thinking community.
And…um….so what? My blog may not pass the purity test in the world of rationality and critical thinking, but it wasn’t intended to.
And here’s the thing about purity tests. No one can live up to them, not even Skep and gang, who surely put as much emotion as rationality into their arguments with the Rev and me. As for me, well, obviously I fail miserably in the eyes of some skeptics. I am not the "skepchick" that some might like me to be. Though I’ve been a loyal fan of Skeptical Inquirer since the late 1980s, and have even done some freelance work for CSI (formerly CSICOP) in the past, I have never been a hardcore skeptic about everything. Maybe not about anything, come to think of it. (Although the Rev likes to say that I was once a hardcore skeptic-in-training, and I think he’s right.) In fact, as I have stated before on this blog and on comments on other folks’ blogs, there are a few areas in which I am a little bit at odds with the general views of the skeptical community. These areas are mainly in the realm of non-Western, i.e., non-allopathic, medicine (including acupuncture), as well as nutritional supplements and herbs.
Nevertheless, I am quite comfortable with the skeptical p.o.v. and always felt I was more or less a part of that community. As for acupuncture, I think more studies need to be done on that and other non-Western methods. More importantly, I think that CSI and similar organizations perform a worthwhile service. I even told Skeptico that despite our disagreements about this one issue, I thought his blog is valuable.
Yet – and you may call this lame and intellectually dishonest if you wish, and you may even say I’m copping out – I remain a fence-sitter in the area of science vs. metaphysics and belief vs. disbelief. Not that this hasn’t caused me my share of interior conflicts, which I touched on very superficially (as usual) in my Christmas post last December. In case you don’t feel up to reading the whole post right now, here’s the paragraph that, for some reason, I felt was most significant:
There are times I wish I could just glide between the world of belief and the world of disbelief at will. Some would say they’re all part of the same world anyway, and in a sense they are. And I know that many people comfortably embrace both faith and science. I also know it is possible to live a moral life without believing in God at all. But on a practical level, you can’t really flit between belief and disbelief in the way I’m talking about without ending up terribly disoriented at worst, and, at best, being considered a royal flake.
In any case, my praise of Skeptico’s blog fell on deaf ears, and did nothing to sway him in his mission to prove that Ron and I are hypocrites and flawed thinkers who refuse to listen to what he has to say. His fans joined in on his blog, one of them calling Ron a name that I will not repeat here because I do like to maintain some minimal language standards.
Skeptico took this whole incident as a lesson in "how not to do critical thinking," and built a blog post around it. Well, I’ve taken a few lessons from this incident too.
One of them – and the one with which I am somewhat on the same page as Skep – is that I shouldn’t have let the debate begin in the first place if I wasn’t willing to let it run its course. The fact that I cut it off, and the reasons for which I did so, were what he felt were "intellectually dishonest." The fact that I let the Rev have the last word apparently didn’t set too well with him either.
But, as I explained to Skep, I was tired of the acrimony and felt the discussion was deteriorating. It had become, in my view, little more than a pissing contest, a head-butting, a dick war, if you'll pardon the crude expression. I had to cut it off somewhere. (Oops, poor choice of words.) That I would err on the side of letting Ron – the most important person in my life – have the last word…well, that may be "intellectually dishonest," but it was emotionally honest. It was, in other words, what I felt like doing.
And I think everyone should keep in mind that this is my blog (forgive me if I state the obvious). Not only am I under absolutely no obligation to even allow comments at all, but as the moderator I have the right to pick and choose which comments I publish and which ones I don’t. The truth is that in the six months I’ve been online with WM I have published, unedited, every comment that has come my way – even the ones that were sharply critical of me – except for Skep’s last comment, and one other comment that used racial epithets I don’t want on my blog. (In the latter case, I paraphrased the person because I felt he had something new to add to the discussion. And he was not actually using these epithets against any group of people; he was quoting racists.)
As for my obligations, if I were in a position in which I was dictating public policy, and I showed any sort of favoritism to Ron, that would, obviously, be a conflict of interest. It might even be argued that if WM were a legitimate news outlet, I would be failing my readers by "censoring" Skep’s remark. But none of this applies to the silly little world that WM is. And really, the whole firestorm seems so unnecessary, especially since Skep scored one for the First Amendment (or freedom of expression, for you non-US residents) and published the rejected comment on his own blog.
But this incident has also reminded me of something that has long bothered me about the reality and the burden, if you will, of being a self-described skeptic. All too often, when one holds absolutely everything and everyone up to some "critical thinking" or "skeptical" purity standard, one becomes – quite without realizing it, and certainly without intending it – as rigid as the most dogmatic of religious fundamentalists. Yes, I know that "true" critical thinkers are supposed to keep an open mind about the possibility that their ideas may be wrong. And many do. Skeptico even said as much, but, not surprisingly, he accused Ron of being lacking in that kind of open mind. And Ron said Skeptico was similarly lacking in an open mind…and so on, and so on. I’m not going to reiterate the entire argument here; you can see for yourself by following the links.
The Rev, more than anyone else in my life, has taught me the value of balance between the world of belief and disbelief. In those areas, he is one of the most open-minded folks I've ever known.
In the old days, when my satirical output was confined mainly to my little-read BLP (book-like product), Cosmic Relief, I was praised by both sides – the skeptics and the new-agers. Even though CR is a mite racy and is easily as sarcastic and snippy as my blog sometimes is, there was one big difference: I never used real names. Most folks knew which guru or personal-growth method or spiritual path I was talking about in my parodies, but I didn’t actually use their names.
Then came this blog. I was never surprised by any of the criticism from fans of The Secret, but I was momentarily taken aback by the vehemence of that little group of skeptics. But then again, the tone was set early on for a heated discussion. I am responsible for the way things unfolded on my blog. Besides, I guess if you aren’t making someone irate, you aren’t doing your job right.
So maybe I’m not doing such a bad job after all, even though this is…oh, now I can say it freely, and I am so relieved!…not a critical thinking blog.
Or a science blog.
Or even a particularly rational one.
But it’s my blog.
And speaking of blogs, I’ve saved the best for last: Pop on over to Rev Ron’s Rants and see what he had to say about our little tempest in a teacup.
PS – In case you were wondering, the woman pictured above is not yours truly, although she certainly mirrors my attitude towards life, the Universe and everything. I found the pic on a hypnosis site, of all places.