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They Need to Grow Up

Entry 2070, on 2020-08-18 at 11:38:01 (Rating 3, Skepticism)

What's the best answer to the numerous problems we seen in modern society? It seems to me that most of our problems arise from ignorance and a lack of ability to evaluate evidence. Here are a couple of examples I have experienced recently: a debate with an anti-vaccination advocate who had no idea how to evaluate evidence from various sources to reach a fair conclusion, and a social justice warrior type who specifically said she didn't want to see the stats I had found which contradicted the black lives matter narrative she supported.

People need to be more skeptical, but that isn't the whole answer, because even the people who self-identify as serious skeptics have flaws in their perspectives. One group of skeptics I rate quite highly (I won't say who because they don't really have the right of reply here) regularly show extreme political correctness, and rarely exercise any real skepticism when it comes to issues concerning feminism such as "me too", or racial controversies such as those which are allegedly the reason for the existence of "black lives matter".

I heard a news article today where a teacher was teaching skeptical thinking skills. I have to say I am, in turn, a little bit skeptical about how genuine this might be, considering how exceptionally politically correct the teaching profession tends to be, but at least it is a good idea in principle.

I don't remember any teaching I had at school which could be classified as about "how to think critically". I did experience some of that when I was at university, but even then it was from just one lecturer in one subject. In my case it was about paranormal psychology from a researcher who specialised in investigating claims of phenomena such as ESP, psychokinesis, etc.

At that point I realised that reality was more interesting than fantasy. The way people fool others, and sometimes themselves, into believing stuff that isn't true, is interesting in itself, and the ways the truth can be uncovered are more interesting again. For example, another part of my psychology course covered the ways that some classic social psychology experiments were used to uncover weird aspects of human behaviour.

Before I discovered skepticism I did believe some fairly wacky things, especially in the area of UFOs. I have two excuses for this: first, I was young and naive; and second, I had never been exposed to any instruction on critical thinking.

So I was lucky that my previous naivety was replaced with the cold, hard critical skills I have today. Actually, I try not to let skepticism get in the way of being a normal, well-balanced human, but who knows whether I really succeed in that aim, because I am often accused of being too much like Mr Spock!

It's all about balance, of course, and here are a few situations where I think critical thinking is required: evaluating social media posts, mainstream news items, advertising, and political commentary. In particular, I like to examine claims which are often accepted as being true with little scrutiny, such as the claims of the me too and black lives matter movements, as I mentioned above. It is all part of the sort of iconoclastic service I offer!

When I see any claim in sources such as these I immediately try an internet search using as neutral a wording of the question as possible. I also use DuckDuckGo as my search engine instead of Google, because it is a bit less biased. During my search I pay attention to sources and avoid anything with obvious bias. I also look at the source of the information, because it often turns out the same (often fake) story is just endlessly repeated by different outlets with no checking.

And finally, I do this: I read material both for and against the conclusions I presume to be true. Yes, I have to admit that I have biases just like everyone else, but by conceding those exist I can manage them to some extent. If you look at my blog posts I hope you will see some acknowledgement that every issue has two sides, and even for the subjects I get most "ranty" about (management, for example) I do try to admit that interpretations contrary to mine exist.

In fact, along with my skepticism for the material I listed above, another way my thought process has improved is in accepting that the world isn't black and white. In the past I was totally against conservatism and neoliberalism, for example, but now recognise that the politics of both the left and right have merit.

It's all part of growing up, thinking for yourself, and realising the world is complex and usually not quite the way it seems at first glance. While I am a bit embarrassed by my previous lack of nuance on these subjects I can at least gain some satisfaction from knowing that I have moved on. I see so many people out there - especially people my age who are university educated and who still believe the simplistic leftist narratives common to that group - who have never got past those beliefs, who never think for themselves.

They really need to grow up!

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