Minding Our N00bish Egos
More seasoned skeptics may be rascally and self-avowedly vociferous, they may express themselves much more humbly, both, neither, or somewhere in between, and this is a matter of individual style and personal perspective. Different techniques apply to different audiences more or less effectively.
Rather than go over the already well-trod territory of Phil Plait’s now-famous talk, Don’t Be a Dick, an interesting counterpoint to it on Jerry Coyne’s blog, with a post titled Are We Phalluses?, and Skepdude’s post The Skeptic Delusion?, I’d like to offer some commentary of my own on a related tack as well.
I’ve said this before: skeptical thinking takes work and practice, and there is a danger to occasionally getting sloppy in our thinking, which sometimes spills over into our attitude, demeanor, and our tone.
While most of us are fairly good at monitoring ourselves and the more experienced and skilled skeptics are good at avoiding fuzzy thinking, for those of us n00bies there’s sometimes a danger to letting ourselves succumb to pride from a combination of undue enthusiasm, poor introspection, and inexperience.
This is something that’s happened to me on more than one occasion.
The danger to this is that it hampers our objectivity and provides fodder for the rhetoric of our critics, as well as lending an element of seeming truth to accusations of arrogance, fervently dogmatic adherence to an ideology, sometimes true incidences of knee-jerk skepticism, and of absurd conspiracy-theory claims of skeptics as a whole being a monolithic New Inquisition.
It is my view that nobody is an island. What we do publicly as individuals can sometimes reflect well or poorly on all skeptics, depending on the person hearing of it.
It can lead to a sort of false dichotomy of true skeptics versus the true believers, only one of which is thought to be correct, and result in strife within the skeptical community itself from the polarization of those of us who self-identify as skeptics into separate and opposing camps.
Diversity is good, divisiveness is not.
Is this something we can avoid, so that we can effectively deal with our overall goals of promoting scientific literacy and countering the spread of irrational claims?
I think so, and I think it’s especially crucial to remind ourselves that we, as humans, have the same general sort of brain as any believer or the uncommitted, with the same amazing capabilities and the same standard flaws and means of committing errors as theirs.
It’s important to avoid the delusions of “I’m too skeptical to be fooled,” and that very same thing we frequently criticize believers for by convincing ourselves that, “I/My beliefs can’t possibly be wrong.”
There’s evidence to suggest, some of it (Here), (Here), and (Here), that the brains of skeptics are wired maybe a bit differently than those of believers, but barring the possibility and occurrence of us diverging into separate species, the overall structure and functioning of our brains, and what the brain does, this thing we call mind, is the same for all of us barring individual quirks and neurological conditions, at least for the time being.
We all believe something, even without believing in something.
One thing I can suggest, take it or leave it as you wish: Watch your ego, be mindful of yourself, lest you become hard for others to distinguish from even the most ardent and gullible true believers.