Sunday, November 22, 2009

Critical thinking and social issues

I've made my feelings known about how many alleged critical thinkers and skeptics abandon their critical thinking (or at least don't apply it stringently) when it comes to social and political issues, and then I saw this interesting article when browsing Pharyngula this morning. It's a good read. I didn't realise that not only is Bill Maher an insufferably smug, arrogant and anti-science tool it seems probable he's a sexist ass too (I avoid everything he films or writes after sitting through some of his shows and reading other articles about him, so I reserve the right to be shown he is definitely a sexist ass throughout the entirety of his material before I remove the 'probable' - I wouldn't want to be accused of quote mining afer all...). That Christopher Hitchens certainly seems to be too was a disappointment, and a surprise I have to confess - I certainly expected better from someone of his intelligence.

Anyway, the article stresses one of the things I was getting at in the flame war on that other post that will remain nameless - we claim to be skeptical, we claim to be critical thinkers, but often times only when it suits us to do so. Here's the money quote for me:
Should't being completely sexist be grounds for calling someones skeptical cred into question? Or is it more likely that when people say they are 'skeptics' they are referring to critical thought aimed toward a very specific set of beliefs rather than the world in general? It seems a lot more likely to be the former than the latter.

My thoughts exactly. And no doubt Skeptico is on his way over to Skeptifem as I write to excoriate another blogger for setting themselves up as a 'True Skeptic' for daring to question other critical thinkers' skeptical credentials when it comes to their opinions on social issues.

We know that the human mind compartmentalises, and we also know that intelligent people believe weird things and are good at rationalising and explaining why they do. We just don't think that happens to us. I mean, we're critical thinkers after all, right? Everything we believe must be correct, because we've thought about it critically. So bingo, my sexist views mustn't be sexist because if they were then obviously I couldn't have thought critically about them. Or my social views mustn't be flawed/ outdated/ wrong/ bigoted etc because that would mean I couldn't have thought about them critically. So the person saying I'm wrong must be the one who is, in fact, wrong and if I assert something should be the case then it must be. I'm a critical thinker after all.

So does the fact that someone has blabberingly insane views on one matter mean everything they say on another matter should be ignored or dismissed out of hand? Of course not. But, and I think this was the point of the Skeptifem article, it does mean the blabberingly insane shouldn't be ignored because we happen to agree with what they say on the other matter. No doubt the inevitable tide of "Oh stop whining you silly woman." responses to the Skeptifem article will serve to reinforce the overall sentiment:

Sometimes critical thinkers aren't.

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