Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Point of Inquiry, Skeptical Community* Moment

The latest Point of Inquiry turned into a mini Hardball episode, but instead of fast talking manic Philadelphian Chris Matthews as host, it was Australian Josh Zepps talking politics with Howard Fineman.  The impetus of the interview was the recent primary loss of Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor to Tea Party member David Brat.  Really, the talk was the current state of the Republican Party and politics in general in the United States.  Unsurprisingly, Fineman's outlook is grim.  Not just for the Grand Old Party to get out from
Congressman Cantor
Out of a job
under the sway of the Religious Right, but also for political discourse in the U.S. in general.

What I found compelling is that Fineman is able to draw a distinction between the Republican Party as a whole that is made up of various constituents and the Republican Party as controlled by the religious right.  It is not a monolith although many outside of the GOP and those on the Religious Right wing of the party sure like to think it is a single entity.  Fineman noted the party has parts of it that really don't care to block up issues and to an extent are willing to go along with gay marriage and other social issues for the sake of gaining ground on other items.  Unfortunately, the Religious Right wing of the party, which has a pretty good grip on the Tea Party element of the party, can strike fear into the leadership of the party and might cause its loss as a Presidential contending party in the near term.  It was a very refreshingly objective and fair critique of the Republican Party and politics in the US today. 

Over at Sharon Hill's blog Doubtfulshe has invited Skeptics (and others) to share their thoughts on What do you want or need from the "Skeptical Community."  As of this writing, there is a healthy dialogue occurring and it is generally rather civil. I added in my two cents, and many others have noted their thoughts on this topic with some interesting and thought-provoking comments.

I do not know if it is so civil because Hill is strongly moderating the conversation, but so far, so good that the trolls have not shown up.

I would like to note that with all that is wrong with the Skeptical Community,*  to the point of internal schisms and people leaving it, there is a lot to admire about skepticism and the people who advance and/or consume it.  On the most basic level, this loose confederation of people gives solace to those who are annoyed by much of the nonsense that bombards people from day to day.  Some things annoy some people more than others, but just to know there are like-minded people makes life more bearable.  This is no small thing to thousands (or perhaps tens of thousands of people.)  Recently, I had a bit of an emotional burp when a friend brought in the use of an animal communicator (animal psychic) to aid them in a tragic family issue, which arguably I feel made a bad situation worse.  At least skepticism allows me the mental pillow that not everyone readily believes in such dubious notions.

Skepticism gets information out about harmful medical practices from anti-vax advocates, acupuncture, fad diets, and retreat to pure magical thinking in healing crystals and salts.  We promote science, the engine of our modern world, and the only thing that will keep civilization going given current energy and environmental constraints.  We try to education the public on best evidence in interesting topics such as Big Foot, Loch Ness Monster, which can calm fears about ghosts, hauntings, and spiritual intercession in the physical world.  Skeptics provide the knowledge and the brainpower to investigate conspiracies which if believed would have us living in a world that is controlled by "them."  

All this is important work.  I don't believe it necessary for all people or even a sizable minority of the population to be skeptics.  I do think that a reasonably functioning skeptical community is helpful in keeping a lot of dubious stuff in check.  Not to denigrate those who promote a lot of the above noted stuff especially the victims.  In some areas such as ghosts and UFOs, I would hope skeptic and proponent could at least strike up more cordial relations.  A reasonably healthy skeptic community can be a resource to those who have to make decisions on how and where to place resources.  We can deflate unnecessary wasted effort in fear of the paranormal or other dubious personal beliefs in people's lives.  We ought to be able to rely upon each to keep our chins up when we're low.  The above is quite basic, and there is no brilliant insight, but sometimes it is with repeating.  The skeptical community is something worth maintaining.  

*Yes. I know the term 'community' itself is loaded.  I am using it in its broadest, least constrictive sense.

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