The Skeptic Community.

I used to think there was a skeptic community. Then when I saw people being assholes to other people, saying stupid stuff, or focusing on things I didn’t think were important I decided that I didn’t belong to ‘the community’. I was naive. Then I came to the conclusion that the community that I had thought existed – the all-encompassing community that contained everyone who called themselves a skeptic, didn’t exist and so I proclaimed that there was no such thing as a community. It seemed to me that the idea of The Skeptic Community was inconceivable given the variance of people and ideas involved. Again, I was naive.

There is such a thing as a community within skepticism, but I don’t believe that there is just one community that we all automatically belong to. Okay, I guess technically there is a wider global community of those who identify as skeptics, but that’s a loosely defined community that I personally don’t feel overly connected with. The only connection people within that community have is that they apply the term ‘skeptic’ to themselves. Nothing more.

I feel more connected with smaller skeptical communities – communities of people who research and investigate the paranormal, for example. I feel connected with some British skeptical communities, I feel as though I am a part of a community of people who attend QEDcon every year and meet up to talk, think, and laugh. I feel connected to a community of skeptics who nobody has really heard of who, despite this, are asked to speak at big events, I feel connected to a community of skeptical paranormal bloggers and podcasters, I feel connected to those who write for certain publications, those who are evidence based feminists, or a community of skeptics that I am mutual friends with that I speak to online.

Yet those communities are not clearly constructed – you wouldn’t find a list of rules, or a list of members, or a guideline on how to become a member of said communities. They shift, they’re things you self identify with, but they’re not necessarily representative of you – just as you’re not representative of those who also identify as belonging. What an individual takes from or invests in identifying with those communities probably changes from person to person. As do ideas on ‘what works best’ and ‘what is right’. So when I see people on Twitter, Facebook, and on blogs talking about how certain negativity has brought down ‘The Skeptic Community’ I remember how easy it is to think that everything is connected by a concrete bond, and how actually, it really isn’t like that.

This is a point that was hammered home for me late last year. I used to be very involved with the online fighting involving groups such as FreeThoughtBlogs, Skepchicks, and what are often coined (in some cases unfairly) as trolls and misogynists within ‘The Skeptic Community’. I used to think ‘this really makes us all look stupid and intolerant‘. I used to write in support of those involved that I agreed with, because I felt that as a member of ‘The Skeptic Community’ being spoken of, I had a role to play in defending good ideas. Then one day, by simply retweeting as ‘worth a read’ an article that was critical of a member of the Skepchick blog, I got unfriended on Facebook and unfollowed on Twitter by all of the Skepchicks I had been previously connected with and supportive of. I wasn’t told why, and I guess it was because the article was by someone that was accused of having been unfairly critical of that Skepchick in the past. However, I didn’t know that, and I guess by not knowing that and retweeting the critical article I had broken some unknown rule that was expected of me. However, I still identify as part of skeptical communities, even if others would shun me from their communities because I have opinions or ideas they don’t agree with.

The point I’m trying to make with this example is that just because some people within a community you identify with act in a way you don’t agree with, doesn’t mean the community as a whole is corrupt, broken, to deteriorating. There are certain things said and done that are wrong, but don’t be mistaken in thinking they represent you, don’t be mistaken in thinking you don’t belong simply because others would have you think you’re not welcome, and don’t be mistaken in thinking that differences of opinion aren’t compatible within the same community.


Community (plural Communities)

1[noun] a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common
2[mass noun] the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common

About Hayley Stevens 434 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

9 Comments on The Skeptic Community.

  1. This puts into words my own thoughts. I’ve skirted around saying anything properly outside of the occassional Tweet but I agree with what you’ve put here.

    One thing that annoys me is the generalisation that all of “X” must have the same opinions on “Y”. It’s why I find words like Christian unhelpful and when people say tehy ahev a problem with Christians it is meaningless- with 30,000 denominations ranging from small cults believing every Biblical word right down to Christian Atheists who don’t even believe in god or even encessarily that Christ existed at all.

  2. I’ve never commented on any of the ‘Skeptic Community’ disagreements. It gets too personal! Anyway, I’m not happy with the word ‘community’ in that context.

    I would rather keep to discussions that attempt scientific or commonsense rebuttals of ludicrous claims and avoid the politics.

    I imagine that to draw a Venn Diagram of what constitutes a ‘Skeptic Community’ would be an impossibility.

    The further one refines the definition then the closer one would come to a cult-like group. And, as in any cult, members expressing the slightest nonconformity would be likely to become ostracised. As often appears to be the case.

  3. Rule? No, if there were a rule, people would tell you you’d broken it. Humanity is very, very good at doing that. What you’re seeing is disengagement by people who are at the limit of what they can deal with. It doesn’t attack you. It simply protects them.

    • If they are at their limit maybe they need to move on to something less strenuous than that area of blogging/activism or try a different tactic.

      Criticism comes with the territory. Many can’t handle it. Several court it.

    • This isn’t about “criticism”. This is about harassment. This is about making “parody” sites that exist to call you a cunt and spreading defamation around the internet for more than a year. That isn’t criticism, it isn’t a job requirement for being a skeptic either on or off the internet, and not one person solicits it.

    • I knew nothing of that harassment, yet was disengaged with anyway. You think that’s rational? I don’t, but to be honest, it’s neither here nor there. What’s done is done, I simply used it as an example of how communities exist despite personal differences, and how those differences don’t necessarily shape communities. It doesn’t matter how what happened is justified, it still happened, and serves its purpose as an example. I see no point dragging the comment section of this post into some attempt to justify what cannot be changed.

  4. I select my own society. From what I can tell, you’re in my community of “the good ones.” I don’t waste a lot of time telling people when they’re *not* in my community as I am the only arbiter of membership and don’t need anybody telling me who I should allow in or kick out of my personal circle of trusted folks. You keep your chin up and don’t get discouraged by all the nonsense. I’m going to get back to basics in 2013 – doing the work that skepticism inspires in me. I don’t care for the in-fighting drama and will leave that to those that have nothing better to do. Maybe I’ll find a ghost while the twitterpocalypse continues. 😉

  5. These are good observations. “Community” is a convenient word to use and it’s not quite right because, as you suggest, the real world is too complicated, boundaries are so fluid they are often not boundaries at all.

    But I think it’s still useful to use just not with all the grand expectations that come with it. I’d bet this same fogginess applies to other labeled “communities” of all types.

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