Why I Call Myself a Skeptic (Who Watches the Watchers?…and who watches those watchers? Watchers all the way down!)

I’ve bounced around the political landscape, often alone and to myself.  Depending on who I discuss or debate with, I can be seen as a radical or one of the sheeple.  Of late, I find that ‘skeptic’ is the best term for describing my life philosophy.  I’ve traveled around from faith and conservatism to political apathy; from trendy anarcho-capitalism to concerned but confused by just about everything.  I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of political and philosophical believers and I’ve generally discovered that people have real reasons for why they believe as they do.  In most instances people are not evil, bigoted, hateful, even if they do hold some opinions I find detestable.  I remain the kind of skeptic that is concerned but can only be confused (a healthy dose of “I know that I very well can be and will be wrong”).

I read a book titled ‘The Watchman’s Rattle’ that outlines some sobering issues that our society faces.  Things some people completely deny.  Things which other people have completely ridiculous solutions towards solving.  But it’s hard to blame anyone.  Mostly people just want to help.  Most of us DO want the world to be a better place, even if we disagree on how to go about DOING that.  The dilemmas we face, for me, are apparent and stark.  The main take away I got from the book is this idea of the cognitive threshold.

The cognitive threshold is where things become too complex for human understanding.  If we think we’ve pinned down a solution or found a causal relationship, we may very likely have missed or consciously ignored a host of other variables that make our conclusions completely misguided.  I believe many of our problems are past the cognitive threshold.  Which is why I may be coming around to the pluralistic and democratic process.  But not the so called democracy we claim to have here in the States.

When I think of this democratic/pluralistic approach, I think of the free exchange and open challenging of all ideas, beliefs, and systems.  Put them to the test, call them into question.  And even when something appears to be working, be willing to acknowledge when it’s deeply flawed or in need of dismissal.  Reject dogma in all its forms.  Avoid hero worship. Everyone is fallible.  Respect actions and ideas.  Generally, it’s good not to revere people because they will let you down…and that’s okay, we are all freakin’ human.  It’s better to know that our leaders make mistakes like anyone else and holding them up as exceptional is dangerous, as history has shown time and time again.

One thing that has been frustrating about the skeptic community as I’ve explored it is that many people have embraced this label of skepticism that I wouldn’t strictly term skeptics.  It is important to distinguish between skeptical inquiry and naked cynicism.  Many who take on the skeptic tag are skeptical of only certain organizations which they have an obvious and apparent disdain for. The government, religion, western medicine, alternative medicine, psychiatry, etc.  It’s easy enough to have an out there belief and call yourself a free thinking skeptic because it’s in denial of the mainstream.  This is a trendy thing to do.  This is not skepticism.

Skepticism is not a faith, it is an approach to ascertaining the truth with a clear understanding that getting at the truth is messy and sometimes you can never fully have it.  Many people will spout stuff as if it is a priori self evident truth, and it simply isn’t.  A theory is something that has at least some justified reasoning for the possibility of it’s truth…a belief is not a theory, and a theory is not big T truth.  Many people who felt they were getting at the big T truth have become exactly the things they set out to denounce.  Julian Assange eventually had people signing non-disclosure agreements…say WHAT!!!  I really enjoy listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, but even they at times get emotional and outright dismiss people with snide remarks.  People who may very well be kooks.  But there has been enough of choosing sides where loyalty trumps responsibility, us against them, I’m right and they are wrong, we are good and they are evil.

We don’t live in the Star Wars universe.  There are no Jedi or Sith Lords.  If an Empire exists, they aren’t sinister lizard people taking blood oaths in secret rooms.  They’re part of the same collective delusions, prone to the same incompetence.  If a noble cause isn’t so noble anymore, they’ve fallen victim to power and done what people normally do when revered and not questioned.  I suppose my point is, if you feel you are a part of some truth movement, you have to guard against those things which can easily make you the very thing that you detest in the first place.

I think some radical thinking is required if we want to get to the places that so many people are trying to work towards.  But I think where a radical shift hasn’t come is in the area of understanding.  Jesus had something going and I wish he’d expounded more on this idea of “loving our enemies”; if indeed it was Jesus who said that (regardless, the concept is intriguing).  I’m not so sure about love, but accept and understand that there was something that lead people down a path of becoming an oppressor or a bigot or a racist.  If we understand that, we can guard against it.  We can keep others from going that route.  We can radically accept our fundamentally flawed human nature instead of playing right into it as we have predictably done throughout history.  And, for goodness sake, stop calling people “enemies”.  That’s extremification, that’s similar to reverence, just on the other end of the spectrum.

I’ve ran on for some time, I hope this sparked some deep thought.  I hope this is challenging and that it clarifies how I see the world to some degree.  We need to better understand how people come to the beliefs, ideas, and opinions that they hold.  Withhold judgement, and if we go about refuting or challenging one another, it’s not about crushing your competition or destroying your enemies.  It should always come from a place of compassion.   Because right now I see a whole lot of team picking and tribal touting with the irony being that no one is winning.

-Watch the watchers and watch those watchers, watch everybody.  Skeptical, not cynical.

-Free minds does not mean acid addled brains opening the third eye going to the 5th plateau and believing that I can partake in multi-dimensional travel through quantum thought bridges.

-Don’t create grand conspiracies where a lot of incompetence is clearly to blame

-Addressing the many collective delusions that exist starts with self awareness and compassion

-Recent media I’ve partaken in (Bioshock Infinite, True Detective, 2nd viewing of House of Cards, Parks and Rec, Louie)

Goals: take walks, write more, read more, filter and limit my internet browsing