To many, “skeptic” is a dirty word, and if you try to explain to somehow how they’ve been mislead into believing a deception, it’s common for them to then complain that you’re just trying to burst their bubble.
In regards to the “debate” about vaccines, a friend of mine suggested that it’s important “to hear all sides of the story,” despite the anti-vaccine side being a concoction of fabrications far more deadly than vaccines could ever be.
When another friend proclaimed on Facebook that fluoride is toxic, I shared a couple of articles for further reading. She said, “Wow, David, those articles are really defensive,” and then never responded to the claims within those articles. (She then changed her job to “Being a Good Person” and unfriended me.)
I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when someone says something that’s long been proven false, but that feels absurd.
Won’t they be glad to hear that “no reports of ill effects have been documented in the human population from genetically modified food”?
It’s not exactly a thrill to discover that you’ve been wrong about something, especially if you’ve held onto the belief for a long while, but it’s glorious when you’ve got a new thought to play with. It’s like someone’s held out their hands and said, “Here’s a fragment of the universe that makes a little more sense…”
A lot of the time though, skepticism is confused with pessimism. It’s regarded as a morose way to view the world. Supposedly, skeptics suck happiness out of the air and derive pleasure from ruining the fun of open-minded “free spirits.” They pop balloons, spoil movies, and fail to find the humour in any punchline.
But in reality, being skeptical is about asking questions.
Taking things at face value and “having faith”, or having an open-mind that remains unobserved is regarded as lazy and submissive, not enlightened and progressive. The search for truth becomes an adventure and survival tool.
No longer do you rely on fleeting emotions and flakey intuitions to guide your perceptions, nor do you allow common failings of critical thinking to lead you astray. Skeptics are still human, of course, and can just as easily succumb to bias and poor logic as anyone else, but by identifying as someone who wants truth and not simply someone who wants to confirm their own beliefs, they’re able to find a sturdy foothold on their journey toward becoming someone who can navigate through mountains of lies manipulation, and discover the actual truth from the evidence at hand. (This includes accepting that, when there’s a lack of evidence, the actual truth should remain undetermined, rather than feeling compelled to decide on a temporary half-truth for the sake of comfort.)
Skeptics are eternal students and everything is a question. What do I believe? Why do I believe it? Why do other people believe it? Does this belief stem from a place of study and research? Or is there a bias that’s clouding my view?
Their goal is to see the world for what it is, not for what they wish (or merely think) it to be. This in itself could be argued an impossibility as the goal implies objective truth but, at the very least, trying to see the world for what it is can help prevent you from getting suckered into schemes and scams that distract from the higher, philosophical questions that some care to ponder.
Knowing this, it’s amusing that people consider skepticism to be synonymous with pessimism, as that in itself is a pessimistic view. It assumes that the world isn’t good enough. That reality is dull. That there’s a value — even honour — in “having faith” about things that are proposed without evidence, despite the fact that we’re surrounded by enough reality to fascinate anyone forever.
To paraphrase Douglas Adams, it’s not enough for people to see that a garden is beautiful. They have to believe there’s fairies at the bottom of it, too.