Drawing the Line with Criticism

There’s nothing better in my view than critical commentary to enhance the rigor of our arguments and the robustness of our claims to knowledge.

I find it important for keeping my head out of my backside, and for fixing what’s broken. As a skeptic, criticism of those ideas that warrant it is my weapon of choice.

It’s good for getting me out of a rut, and there are even times when I can be highly critical of myself.

But it’s important to modulate one’s tone for the nuances of a situation. Certainly, it’s not a good idea to be a pushover, but it’s also important to avoid gratuitous cruelty to those undeserving of it.

That last includes most believers who themselves are sincere in their belief, but not those who cynically promote those same questionable ideas for their own gain at the expense of their following.

Boundaries must be drawn. One should not be critical of everything, otherwise, life loses its joy.

The best approach, in my view, is to be found in a fuzzy region around the middle of two extremes, a healthy median between accommodation and confrontation in which the tone is selected according to needs of the listener or audience to be addressed.

This is not to say that one view is as good as another, that what anybody believes goes, but that no one approach will fit all situations, and the apparent reasoning processes of the audience must be considered.

For example: We skeptics tend to be a contentious, sometimes even dickish, lot, and sometimes we criticize each other.

Done well, and in the proper circumstances, this can be constructive, and improve the clarity and confidence of our positions. Sometimes, though, it is not carefully done, and this can be a problem.

Poorly thought out, it can also alienate potential allies and friends, and when it comes to friends I’m discussing a matter with, friendship is more important than pedantry, and maintaining a civil tone is more important when one is as poor as I sometimes am at selecting my words carefully.

An accomplished poet I am not.

It is true that in my earlier blogging days I have not always heeded this rule, and have learned the hard way how important it is when the consequences make themselves apparent.

Experience is a good teacher, but she is also a harsh mistress, and vengeful when spurned.

My hope is that the skeptical community keeps its critical edge, for if we lose that, we lose our metaphorical souls, lose what makes skepticism as effective a damage-control mechanism it is, and lose the very meaning of our existence in an increasingly crazy world.

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