After my recent blog post about listening to the interview that Will Storr did with James Randi, it would seem that people from the JREF have listened to the same recording after I put them in touch with Storr. Over on the Doubtful News post where Randi initially denied making the comments he was reported to have said during the interview, he has recently left a comment retracting the allegation that he was quote-mined by Will Storr. James Randi wrote
The unfair suggestion that Mr. Storr tried to provoke me, or that he’s a “bad guy,” is something I must dismiss, since I believe I would have remembered that sort of behavior. In any case, I now know much more about the described encounter, and I maintain that I would never have said I was a Social Darwinist, since I only recently learned in detail what that term really means, and in fact I was quite ignorant of the history of the movement organized around that false idea. I’ve been surprised that this was not obvious to people discussing the matter, but I accept that the conversation with Mr. Storr went just as described. No problem with that.
I think that confusion has arisen around being an out and out Social Darwinist, and holding views that have roots within Social Darwinism, which Randi admitted to during the interview with Storr when he spoke about believing drug users should be able to ‘do themselves in’ and if that was what Social Darwinism was, then he was a beliver. Randi can maintain he didn’t say he was a Social Darwinist, but nobody has suggested he did. Randi goes on to say
Though my Foundation is small, we’ve had a measurable and important effect on both young and old, internationally, and countless persons have expressed their thanks to us for educating them against false beliefs and attitudes. There are few greater rewards than that. Now, contrast that with the fact that there are massively-funded, very widely publicized, very active charities and agencies that constantly demonstrate to the public the damage done to them by narcotics or alcohol, the dangers of using them, the dire results on individuals and on families, and the very real penalties – health-wise and financially – that are thus incurred. I have always believed that people should be held accountable for the bad decisions they make, especially when society spends so much in time and resources to warn them of the likely consequences. I cannot understand how any informed adult who is aware of the facts may still choose to misuse drugs or alcohol. I believe that they should simply get out of the way of those who want a cleaner, better, safer and productive environment in which to raise their families.
This is a horrible, horrible opinion of people who are addicted to drugs. I have family members and old school friends who’ve battled addictions who weren’t successful the first or the second time they tried, but went on to successfully turn their back on an addiction that had a vice like grip on them and their lives. To suggest that they should ‘simply get out of the way‘ is insulting. People turn to addictive substances for a number of reasons, and a blanket judgement of this nature is very ignornant.
I’m well aware that I sometimes “shoot from the hip” and speak on things about which I know very little. In this present situation, I published my personal opinions about drug addiction without knowing very much about the neuroscience behind addiction, or the addiction recovery field. Not only did I say some deeply regrettable and insensitive things, but as I’ve learned more about the questions and issues at hand, I accept that I have been wrongheaded on a number of topics related to these issues. Even at 84, I’m still learning. Please bear with me, folks.
This is a very good point. No matter how intelligent you are, no matter how long you have been around, no matter what things you may have experienced or encountered during your life there is still so much to be learnt, and so much of our personal worldview is built on biases that we don’t even register. This is why you have to turn you skepticism inwards as much outwards – being honest about the limits of your knowledge isn’t a weakness – it’s a strength.
However, I do think that somebody of Randi’s standing should already be taking time to afford the ideas that he thinks are true the same skeptical scrutiny that he affords other people and their ideas. After all, this isn’t the first time that Randi has publicly shared opinions that are irrational and unsubstantiated. However, don’t worry, I won’t be suggesting he should simply get out of the way any time soon.
Those who have stuck their fingers in their ears and denied it possible that Randi could have said what he was quoted to have said, those who have angrily pointed fingers, and those who have accused people (including me!) of trying to demonise James Randi have the most to learn here. Hold nobody as an infallible super hero in your mind and you’ll never be disappointed by them. For those who have used this drama as an excuse to trample on James Randi’s name & to tarnish the JREF and their work I’m going to adapt a bible quote here – let he who is without faulty and biased reasoning cast the first stone. You’re human too – dig deep enough into the past of anyone and you’ll find something equally as irrational and disturbing.