An entry against skepticism.

This entry, and indeed the whole site as far as I can tell, has disappeared since I first found it, but I got it back on Internet Archive because it’s so rare that you see a rational criticism of skepticism that it’s worth saving. There’s a lot of thoughtful material here and I can’t really summarize it into one good quote, but here’s something:

Skepticism, of course, is only one of the many online interests which attract barely-closeted sexists. But the particular attraction of skepticism is also its particular problem: it allows the sexist to disguise his prejudice as rationality and “common sense”. You can spot guys like this easily on skeptic forums: the word “feminism” brings them crawling out, like slugs after a downpour. For them, feminism is an unscientific discipline (but how could it be otherwise?), as nonsensical as astrology or Roman Catholicism, and as ripe and essential for debunking. They’re okay with women’s lib, within reason; but now it’s gone too far, and the firm hand of reason must rein it in. Reason, weirdly enough, never seems to disrupt their own grip on power. It’s always on the side of the patriarchy.

To be fair, such unabashed sexists are a minority on skeptic forums, but to be fairer, the general attitude to women isn’t exactly healthy. Women are present on skeptic forums in much the same way that women are present in early Star Trek episodes: while the men can take on a variety of roles, the women are always sex characters. Their every attribute is sexualised and objectified. Intelligence in a male skeptic is taken for granted; intelligence in a female skeptic is a turn-on. When a male scientist knows about science, it’s expected and goes unremarked; when a female scientist knows about science, she’s hot! And she’ll be barely visible beneath the throng of nerds trying to fap off over her lab coat.

Too often, the skeptic nerd who tries to display his women-friendly credentials ends up revealing himself only as a sexist creep. He’s all in favour of women, as long as they satisfy his own ideals of what a woman should be.

5 thoughts on “An entry against skepticism.

  1. Brad Reddekopp October 25, 2014 at 23:51

    This isn’t about skepticism. It’s about certain online skeptics. There is nothing about skepticism per se that should reasonably be expected to lead to sexism. There are plenty of things about being poorly socialized, entitled males (especially but not exclusively young males) that might be expected to lead to sexism.

    • Francois Tremblay October 26, 2014 at 00:09

      It seems to me that the criticism he presents applies to skepticism per se. All ultra-rational ideologies are inherently privilege-friendly. That does not mean that all advocates wield their privilege badly.

      • Independent Radical October 26, 2014 at 02:17

        What exactly do you mean by “ultra-rational”? I think radical feminism is a perfectly rational ideology, in that its central tenants can be justified through rational arguments and evidence. There is plenty of evidence that hyper-sexualised imagery has harmful psychological effect, as does violent imagery and pornography, of course, combines boths. There is also plenty of evidence in favour of the claim that stereotypically feminine practices (e.g. beauty practices, playing with Barbie dolls, etc.)

        Liberal feminists and MRAs are the irrational, science deniers in my view. Some of them, namely those who are into post-modernism, don’t even claim to be rational, they insist that science and rationality are patriarchal.

        So why would it be a bad thing for someone to be too rational? People can falsely believe that they are rational and this can cause them to overlook their own errors, which would be a problem, but the sceptic movement is in part about recognising human fallibility. I think the sexism that occurs within the sceptic movement is largely a result of the sexism that exists throughout society (the idea that radical feminists are “crazy” is widespread) combined with the fact the men are encouraged to be rational more so than women are (which is itself a result of societal sexism.) I don’t think the sceptic ideology encourages sexism outside of the context of a society which already promotes the domination of men over women through promoting gender norms.

        • Francois Tremblay October 26, 2014 at 02:24

          No no… when I say ultra-rational, I mean people who buy into an ideology that makes them believe they are very rational (more rational than the general population) when they are not particularly more rational than the general population. I do think skeptics are in this category. Skepticism tells people that they “get” the falsity of all these various beliefs that many people follow and does cause people to think they are more rational than most. Atheism is definitely in that category as well.

          Radical feminism is not ultra-rational because there’s no particular emphasis in radfem on being more rational than most people. There is no epistemic elitism. Radfem believe that what they believe is pretty simple stuff that most people can and should understand pretty easily if they take the time to examine it. And I think they’re right!

        • Francois Tremblay October 26, 2014 at 02:26

          I actually wrote an entry on this that’s in the queue. But just so you understand what I am talking about, I will paste my list of criteria here:

          * The reframing of their emotions as “rational” and their opponents’ emotions as “irrational.”
          * The over-reliance on specific empirical data points, even when such data is insufficient or irrelevant.
          * The invalidation of personal experience, even when said personal experience is credible and not used to justify any scientific statement.
          * A tendency to either reject altruism altogether or to be suspicious of people’s motives to an obsessive degree.
          * The assumption that human actions are, or should be, logical/rational/selfish; The reduction of humans to logic and/or Universal Reason (“man as rational animal”/homo economicus).
          * The over-reliance on detecting logical fallacies (especially when no argument is being made) as a substitute for critical thinking.
          * Assumption that the status quo requires no further evidence, but the demand that anything that goes against the status quo, no matter how obvious, be proven beyond doubt.
          * Radicalism and constructionism are inherently suspicious and are sometimes lumped in with some vague idea of “Communism.”
          * The over-reliance on “just so” stories, imaginary narratives, stories, parables, and other attempts at exploiting the imaginary.
          * As an extension of the previous point, hiding subjectivity under a veneer of objectivity, and denouncing the opposition’s objectivity as subjective.
          * The pretense of being high confront.
          * Hiding one’s values under the guise of being “value-neutral,” “free from bias” and “just looking at the facts.” Rejecting empathy, compassion and other interpersonal considerations is called “rationality,” and of course such considerations are framed as feminine.

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