Hi, I’m Keith. This is my first post. I encountered Skepolitical while reading Dan Carlin’s Common Sense twitter feed, and I was intrigued by the prospect of a skeptically-based blog about politics. Those are perhaps the main threads that tie me and Marc together: an interest in thinking skeptically about politics, with an affinity for Dan Carlin’s “neo-prudentist” worldview. At least, I assume Marc shares those inclinations with me. After I commented a few times, Marc invited me to join the blog. I hope to post every week or two and add a slightly different perspective. I’ll let Marc to the heavy lifting of providing a high-volume of content. This is one reason I prefer joining this blog to starting another blog of my own!
So, who am I? I have a BA in mathematics and have been playing poker professionally for seven years. If you’re interested my poker career, you can learn my about my experiences at my poker blog
. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to educate myself about politics and philosophy in order to find something more meaningful to do with my time. This has helped me hone my ethical belief system and led me to skepticism and something akin to liberalism. I eventually became unsatisfied with a career in poker, and I applied to grad schools in applied math/statistics/biostatistics/economics this past fall and should be hearing back shortly.
Skepticism is central to my worldview. To me, being a skeptic means, primarily, being willing to change my beliefs based on new evidence. However, it goes far beyond that. It means being curious about the world and wanting to have the most accurate possible view of it. It means being rational. It means actively trying to ward off my psychological biases in the pursuit of truth. It means learning the rules of logic and not letting myself or others get away with logical fallacies in arguments. When engaged in an argument, it means putting truth above winning. It means having the humility to never be 100% certain of my beliefs.
The skeptic movement is a program that tries to encourage skeptical thinking in our society by teaching people about psychological biases, logical fallacies, and the rules of discourse. It also promotes science and scientific thinking, which is basically just structured skeptical empiricism. Another branch of the skeptic movement (which I consider less urgent) tries to inject skeptical ideas into our politics.
So, why do I think the skeptic movement is so important? It does not have to do with belief in ghosts or even alternative medicine, although those are both symptoms of a lack of skepticism. It doesn’t even have to do with the awesome economic potential of a scientific society. No, it is the importance of skepticism to our democracy that interests me most. Let me explain.
Arguing about ideas with a non-skeptic is often fruitless. If you are “right,” his psychological defense mechanisms will likely prevent him from accepting your side. If heis “right,” he is likely to engage in demagoguery, logical fallacies, and other sophistry that will force a good skeptic to disengage from the argument in order to establish the ground rules for productive argumentation. The non-skeptic will not be inclined to abide by these rules, and thus no progress is likely to be made. Skepticism generally lags behind sophistry in political discourse. Inevitably, this leads to the best sounding ideas winning out over the best ideas for society. Historically, this seems to lead to either some sort of oppressive equilibrium, where the manipulated accept their lot (as in China), or an increasingly discontented populace finally revolting (as in France and America in the 18th century).
If we want to avoid one of those fates, the skeptic movement is of the utmost importance. Even if my stark historical parallels are off the mark (attempts at historical parallels are inevitably at least a little off the mark), we need the skeptic movement in order to make good decisions as a democratic society. Until we reach some critical mass of the citizenry that is skeptical, there is limited value in arguing about anything on a societal level. Until we establish a system in which arguments are won by appealing to our brains instead of our guts, why should we bother arguing? Arguing does not generally lead to good solutions in the absence of skepticism. Skepticism is the prerequisite for all other intellectual discussion, political or otherwise.
Skeptics do discuss politics amongst themselves, and, indeed, consensus seems to be forming on some important points. Of course, this is largely irrelevant because the number of skeptics has not reached a critical mass that can influence our politics much. With little hope of influencing policy, discussing politics among skeptics can be seen as merely a diversion or a hobby. In order for political discussion to become worthwhile, we need a bigger audience. This requires one of two things. Either skeptics need to figure out the best answers amongst themselves and then try to win arguments with non-skeptics, or we need to increase the number of skeptics. The first option is popular in the skeptical community, but I view it as hopeless because winning arguments with non-skeptics requires sophistry, which is anathema to skeptics. Thus, the solution must be that we need to convert more people to skepticism and to work to inject skepticism into school curricula. A critical mass of skepticism in a democracy might be a sort of “singularity
” of political progress.
That said, discussing politics among skeptics is a fun diversion, and I hope to do some of that here on Skepolitical, as well. For a sense of my politics, I am usually in line with Dan Carlin. My strongest belief is in honesty. I will always support an honest politician over a corrupt one. The problem is I can barely think of any honest politicians. Ron Paul is close enough, and I would vote for him over Obama despite Paul’s condoning of racism and my preference for Obama’s economic policies and rhetorical style. (On the other hand, I am much more in line with Paul on foreign policy except immigration.) However, I would also prefer not to support a candidate from either of the two major parties because I think they are intrinsically corrupt. By associating with one of these parties, a candidate lends his support to the oppressive tactics of that party. I also believe the parties are really two branches of one corporatist party. America does not have a labor party or a populist party. Both parties are run by big money, because big money is what buys ads and ads buy votes. (The reason those ads buy votes, by the way, is that people fall for their sophistry and demagoguery, and skepticism is the solution.) For these reasons I support the Occupy movement, which seeks to diminish the power of corporate money in politics. (However, I again believe the better approach to solving the money=power problem is to work to spread skepticism.) I believe in robust civil liberties and restrictions on executive power. In short, my central political concerns are exactly in line with everything written by Glenn Greenwald
(who I found through Dan Carlin, strangely enough). I love reading Greenwald, and I would recommend him to you, but I think he (like Carlin) is barking up the wrong tree. I consider his work to be “diversionary” stuff, fascinating and infuriating but barely worthwhile absent the power to do something about it. The important work is in the skeptic movement.