I’m been having a bit of back-and-forth with commenter OaringAbout on skeptic extraordinaire Steven Novella’s Neurologicablog. They brought up the increasingly tangentially familiar (and very plausibly artificial) equity–gender divide among feminists, in response to which i asked for some examples within the so-called “community of reason”. They obliged, somewhat, and while checking their claims, citing sources, and formulating my response, i synthesized some ideas i’d not taken the time to before—though admittedly with limited confidence in some of it. So, it seems appropriate to put it here as a touchstone, even (especially) if i’m forced to recant some of it in light of new evidence. But do read the background of the conversation first (and apologies in retrospect for the opportunistic moralizing at the outset).
@OaringAbout, thanks for responding. I have a few problems with your setup, though i don’t think they need to tint the rest of this exchange. One is that, while you seem partial to literalism (judging from the links you provided), you are willing to conclude from circumstantial evidence that people believe things that they have not said. The other is that likening the drawing of provisional conclusions based on circumstantial interpersonal evidence, perhaps analogous to journalism, to a bona fide science strikes me as unnecessarily haughty and perhaps hazardously self-assuring. (If i understand the chronology, for instance, evolutionary theories existed before fossils were understood as such, and Darwin’s early work was not based on fossils at all.)
To put us more in alignment: I don’t doubt that several feminists are antagonistic toward and perhaps even in denial of the science of sex and gender differences. What i doubt is that any prominent feminists identified with atheism or skepticism as movements or communities are so antagonistic. There is, however, widespread criticism among these feminists of the tendency of other feminists or atheists or skeptics toward biological determinism, loosely speaking the opposite extreme from tabula rasa along the traditional nature/nurture axis (itself, i understand, outdated in the face of such interactions as gene-environment interactions).
Via the Skeptically Speaking interview with Bruce Schneier, i’ve learned of the hubbub over Sam Harris‘s latest flirt with leftist disavowal, on the topic of ethnic profiling at airport security. The short, short version goes like this: Harris said “If it works, do it.”, Schneier replied “Here’s why it doesn’t work.”, and Harris shrugged. Harris and Schneier summarize the exchange with admirable concision in the intro and outro to their email debate. (If you haven’t yet, read it; it’s better than this.)
This was one fascinating hubbub. And it touches upon a few nagging issues i’ve had with the discourse i’ve been spectating. First, the reaction.
You might have no idea that a local group called Fluoride Free NRV, spearheaded by Dan Steinberg, is attempting to rally public support for an end to the fluoridation of our water, which they denounce as “ineffective for preventing cavities”, “harmful to public health”, and “unethical forced medication”. (But then i would conclude that you must not live in Blacksburg.) In November a friend of mine handed me a copy of this flier at the Farmers Market, asking if i’d join the campaign, and Mr. Steinberg got a blurb on the last Environmental Coalition newsletter of the semester. I’ve been doing some research in response to a few of the scarier (and stranger) claims the group has made, and, suffice to say, i’m not panicking.
The topic of our last Free@VT meeting was global warming. Somewhat unfortunately, i now reflect, by my opening discussion comment i steered the conversation into the question of our obligation to take what steps we can to mitigate the destruction of the ecosystem, rather than (for instance) how we might accomplish that, and more specifically how me might mitigate the corrosive impact of climate change deniers.
I was delighted to find myself surprisingly moved by a comment made by our Vice President, Daniel. He shared a brief history of his family’s long association with the same region — and much of the same land — and expressed how important it felt to him to reciprocate, by his treatment of this land, the bounty and space and home that the land had provided his ancestors for several generations.
This is where a lot of skeptics, myself included, feel their skeptic sense tingle and react by dismissing the comment outright as emotional, anthropomorphizing, and, indeed, not even an argument at all.
But i think there’s room for us to be a bit more nuanced than that.
. . . was, of course, my Dad. No question there. He got me to be skeptical about arithmetic, for chrissakes: After i grasped that — that is, that — he asked me, “So what would be?” I promptly answered, ““! Hmm, he responded, i’d better write that out.
Oops. (Yes, this is what it was like for me growing up, and i wouldn’t trade it for the world.)
But we tend not to realize just how radical an idea — like science — or skepticism — or naturalism — is before we’re confronted with its preponderant detractors.