I recently wrote on my social media accounts that I no longer identified with the skeptic movement and followed this up with a blog post explaining what I meant. A small group of people from the skeptic movement claimed I was merely seeking attention and I took the blog post down because I didn’t want to be forced into a dialogue defending why I do or do not identify with certain groups of people.
The attitude I encountered from those particular people wasn’t at all surprising and is in fact one of the reasons I have slowly come to realise that the skeptic movement isn’t my thing – that these people aren’t my people. Now that some time has passed since the bizarre backlash on Twitter I decided to write on this subject a little more to explain that my divorce from the skeptic movement.
I realised a while ago that the skeptic movement wasn’t my scene when I investigated whether Will Storr had really quote-mined James Randi regarding what Randi had said about Social Darwinism. When I saw the accusations about Storr I decided to see if the allegations were evidence based and discovered that they weren’t. The reaction from some regarding what I did was appalling, with one particular high profile Australian skeptic telling her fans that I was a trouble maker simply for questioning the claims that were being made.
As questioning things is at the heart of my approach to rational inquiry I found this quite confusing. It felt as though I was expected to know my place and that by investigating whether Storr was lying or not I had stepped out of line. Nobody is off limits when it comes to being scrutinised, even as famous a skeptic as James Randi. It made me quite angry to think that others felt they could dictate what I should or shouldn’t be questioning.
My journey into skepticism started around 2007 when I came to realise that my belief in ghosts, an afterlife, psychics etc. was irrational. I started to scrutinise the claims I had accepted as true and soon found others who were like-minded who referred to this process as skepticism. In 2009 I was invited to co-host a skeptical podcast called Righteous Indignation and it soon established us in the skeptic movement and gained a lot of followers, subscribers and listeners. In fact, it was because of the popularity of the podcast that I began to receive speaking invitations from skeptic organisations, and as a result of this I started attending skeptic conferences and events.
I still use scientific scepticism and rational inquiry in my research, I value evidence, and I still look up to a number of skeptics and their work of course, there are just a number of factors that have led me to deciding that organised skepticism just isn’t my scene.
I often speak about how my involvement with ghost hunting came about because I was looking for something comforting to replace my belief in god and heaven with after I rejected religion in my late teens. I realise now that the skeptic movement acted as a similar crutch for me as I moved away from a belief in ghosts, and I have come to realise that it isn’t a movement that I belong to any more.
Becoming involved with the skeptic movement was part of a cycle of non-belief where an newly discovered atheist replaced her belief in god and heaven with ghosts and an afterlife, which was then replaced with a sense of belonging in a movement that valued reason. As part of the skeptic movement I have made good friends with people from around the world, I improved my critical thinking skills and understanding of biased and illogical reasoning, but in the process I discovered that although some people want to engage irrational claims and nonsense throughout society in a proactive and empowering manner, more often than not people who champion the skeptic movement don’t want to do that at all.
They want to silence those they do not agree with, to ridicule them, to isolate them without a second thought. Many people I encounter in the skeptic movement don’t consider the world around them from any other perspective than their own, and that isn’t a movement I can play any part in.
I’ve come to learn that it isn’t what I know but what I accept I do not know that empowers me. By admitting that I am fallible and that I have biases I can continue to develop my own critical thinking skills and encourage that very same change in those around me (just as they do with me), but in the skeptic movement the only lesson on offer is knowing my place, and it’s a lesson that I have no choice but to decline.