Skepticism

Who am I?

Three things happened on this blog this week that got me thinking. That’s not really unusual. The posts on Skepchick get me thinking just about every day. But this week, the things that got me thinking were about me.

  1. A commenter said this to me: “You know, Donna, I alternate between thinking you are a brilliant breath of fresh air to thinking you are bat-shit insane.” I took this as a compliment.
  2. Someone misinterpreted one of my posts and accused me of supporting genocide. I took this as an insult and considered whether I might need to take more time to edit my posts before publishing them.
  3. A reader wrote in and suggested that Skepchick puts forth an anti-religious stance. Since I write most about religion, I took this personally.

So, who am I, anyway? And what the heck am I doing writing for this blog?

I don’t really consider myself a skeptic. There are two ways to define “skeptic.” One is using the dictionary definition and the other is using the definition of the skeptic subculture. Here are both:

From the first dictionary that came up on a Google search:

Skep·tic also scep·tic
n.
1. One who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions.
2. One inclined to skepticism in religious matters.
3. Philosophy
a. often Skeptic An adherent of a school of skepticism.
b. Skeptic A member of an ancient Greek school of skepticism, especially that of Pyrrho of Elis (360?-272? b.c.).

The Skeptic magazine site has a very long discussion about this. Here are a few points that I find pertinent:

Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, that involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions.

While I do agree with this basic definition, it’s the nit-picky attitude of many skeptics, the tendency to turn every discussion into a debate, and the way many skeptics have to be “right” that makes me uncomfortable attaching myself to the name or the subculture. I am more interested in exploring how to think than I am in being told what to think — even about religion, homeopathy, psychics, and other topics that seem to enthrall many skeptics.

I try to base my opinions on data and evidence, and I try to do as much research as I have time for before coming to a conclusion on any specific issue. But I am a human being and I know that my ideas are often laden with emotional baggage. That’s OK with me. I wouldn’t want to live a life where I couldn’t be passionate about things, and my passion comes from my personal experiences which are seeped in emotion. I don’t feel that I need a Ph.D. in a given topic to voice my opinion on an issue. I like using personal stories and anecdote to communicate my ideas. I believe this is often much more effective than vomiting up facts onto the page, especially when speaking to people outside of the skeptical community. I get really tired of people telling me to “be more skeptical” as if I pull my opinions out of my ass with no consideration for facts. 

I consider myself an unbeliever. I actually prefer the term bright to the term atheist. Not because of any negative connotations surrounding the term atheist, but because bright has a wider meaning. Calling myself an atheist simply says that I don’t believe in God or gods. Calling myself a bright says that I have a naturalistic world view, that I don’t believe in the supernatural at all. Unfortunately, the Brights experiment was seems to be a dismal failure (I’m checking into this further due to the comments) and it’s basically a waste of breath to call oneself a bright today. I guess I could call myself a materialist, but too many people get that confused with materialism, as in Madonna’s Matierial Girl (embedded here in case you’re not old enough to remember). 

So why am I writing on Skepchick? Because a few years ago, Rebecca asked me to. First I wrote a few articles for the magazine before the blog was started, and then I started the book discussions. After other bloggers came on board, I started slipping in more personal posts as well. But mainly I write here because I want to be part of something that encourages people to think for themselves, that brings women into a community that is often dominated by men, and that gives a voice to unbelievers, particularly in America where society is dominated by religion in general and Christianity specifically.

In a way, I enjoyed writing the articles more than I enjoy blogging because I only submitted once a month, and I was able to put a lot more time into each piece. On the other hand, I enjoy being able to throw subjects out there on the blog for discussion without having to take weeks to fine-tune my prose or even to decide what I think about the issue before posting. It’s fun to toss an idea out to the blogosphere and see what people have to add.

I hope that many of you enjoy my posts and that I can add to the discussions about skepticism, religion, and many other topics. I would like to think of myself as a skeptic and become more involved in the skeptical community, and maybe some of you can help me figure out if that’s appropriate for a bat-shit insane woman such as myself.

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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55 Comments

  1. I’m sorry I suggested that you were a supporter of genocide. I didn’t mean it in the sense that you would support outright murder, just that you would favor the sudden death of 75% of the population through disease. But in truth, I’m sure that you would be as horrified as I would by the sudden death from disease or starvation of huge numbers of people, and it was wrong to set you up for ridicule and excoriation when my actual target was elsewhere.

    Believe it or not, there are people who would welcome the sudden collapse of the human population. It is my opinion that these people are evil scum, and it was at them that my post was aimed.

    It was also rude to come onto your blog and start a flame war rather than a discussion. There are real issues revealed by your post, and I think that it is important that you understand why you are wrong, a goal that is not furthered by making fun of you or insulting my fellow commenters.

  2. I typically try to avoid the term ‘atheist’ myself, depending on what company I’m in. I prefer not to categorize myself if I can avoid it, but I’m sort of a non-theistic Buddhist. I don’t adhere to any particular Buddhist school, and I’ve really only been seriously studying and practicing for about a year and a half. And a real Buddhist might call me a “poser”, if Buddhists were inclined to call people such things.

    But I’m not really much of a “skeptic” either. After all, I’ve been actively engaged in spiritual exploration, and I’m married to a lapsed pagan. Scientifically, I’m rather lazy. I try to keep an ear to the ground, but I really only skim the surface.

    I think that in spite of what suffix it ends in, we run into danger when we start considering skepticism a philosophy. When it becomes a world view instead of a tool, then it runs the danger of being summarily dismissed.

    One does not need to be non-religious, or even an atheist to be a skeptic. Climate change deniers might call themselves skeptics. Personally I think they’re more akin to a metaphorical ostridge, but on the surface, they’re approaching the topic from a skeptical point of view. Their lack of acceptance has more to do with poor understanding than lack of actual data, but what they’re really asking for is a better scientific understanding, or at least more approachable explanation of the phenomenon. Misguided though it may be, I’ll submit for your consideration that it is a form of skepticism.

    I think you’ve been actively engaged with other skeptics for longer than I have, so you’ve probably got a better handle on the distinction. But I don’t think that skepticism is at all incompatible with religion or spirituality. Occasionally it seems to graze the surface, and come across as a little anti-religious. That’s an occupational hazard. But I don’t think that it needs to be. Just because someone believes in an unseen deity doesn’t mean that they can’t rationally ask for proof that a particular brand of pill works, or figure out if a blur on film is an alien spaceship or a reflection in a pane of glass. From my understanding, the “skeptics movement” was never intended to be a club, or a school of thought that we have to sign up for and carry a card in our wallets. It’s simply being awake and aware enough to ask questions when something seems amiss, and not take everything at face value.

    And for what its worth, I enjoy your posts. I gather that you and I have had a similar experience with respect to our upbringing and eventual deconversion, and maybe that’s one of the reasons I’ve stuck around here as long as I have.

    Life is a voyage of self discovery. The journey doesn’t end just because you’ve settled on something. And what you describe happening to you this week is one of those rare occasions when you actually notice something. It’s good to have your preconceptions knocked out from under you every once in a while. Revelations like this are a great opportunity for self examination and discovery. You might end up right where you started, or you might discover something new. What matters is that you have the courage to explore. And whatever you discover, try not to judge, or dismiss it, or cling to it. Just hold it in your attention and examine it.

    Myself, I notice that I occasionally have moments of great lucidity, and come up with something rather profound. When that happens, it too easily goes to my head, and I come up with something else that I think is profound, whether it is or not, at which point I recoil, and stop saying stuff and listen for a while, and now might be a good time to do that. So everything I’ve just said comes with the usual disclaimers attached.

  3. I think you’re right. There is a tendency for skeptics to debate with a sort of condescension using a combination of debate terms and snarkiness. It amazes me how easy it can be to turn into a bloviating arrogant jerk when defending your own skeptical ideas.

    Part of me thinks that we argue so passionately for fun, and part of me thinks that we have a subconcious desire to inflate the ego of our intelligence. In the end, though, we’re talking about sensitive or contentious topics, and we are all trying to use the skills of logic and scientific reasoning. It might be unfair to dismiss those tools that skeptics rely on to fight for the truth. But at the same time, I think we should all remember to be nice and not to pounce on believers… or else we do skepticism a disservice.

    On the topic of Brights, why not call yourself a secular humanist? Or is that too clumsy? It seems to fit your self-description.

  4. I am fairly new to this place but I must say I have enjoyed reading all of your blog posts, and while I may not be alone in disagreeing with a number of your points you are always thought-provoking. The one you did on free will made me re-examine my own position on the subject and I think that’s great. I like how your articles are not simply reinforcing our bias by telling us things we already agree with.

    As for skeptics having to be “right,” I believe that is simply a result of a bunch of people who love factual information getting together. Because everyone likes to think that their opinion is based on the best evidence, then that means everyone who disagrees simply has not examined all the evidence. Or something. I know I was like that for years and it’s a very easy pattern to fall into.

    I look forward to reading more of your opinions and views.

  5. I actually fairly recently had a discussion with a friend of mine on why nerds like to argue, and why we tend to be harsh about it. Personally, I think it’s partly because most of us had the kind of rough childhoods where most of our social interaction was in the form of agressive name-calling and such and partly because it’s a contests of intelligence. I constantly argue with the vast majority of my friends, and they are mostly the same way, it’s easy to forget that the world is full of people who DON’T interact that way with most people. The arguments really are rather like two martial artiss sparring. They don’t really want to hurt each other, it’s just that after spending so much time and effort to get at something, you want to test your skills and maybe show off a little. The problem here, is that our chosen form of confrontation is verbal, so pretty much anyone who talks to us can be mistaken for a challenge. In a way, having geeks argue at you is a show of respect… If only because they think you’re important enough to bother trying to change your mind. Anyway, I’m pretty sure most of all this is far below the surface in most people, and I only came to it through a great deal of introspection and talking it through with a complete outsider. Of course, this is all based on speculation and I could be way off here, but it’s at least food for thought.

  6. “And a real Buddhist might call me a “poser”, if Buddhists were inclined to call people such things. ”

    Oh boy. When I was in Nepal 12 years ago with a “real” buddhist friend, I was surrounded by western “real” buddhists. I had read the basics, which seem to be all you need,and was overwhelmed by the irony of all these “real” buddhists being so attached to rinpoche so-and-so’s teachings or their prayer beads or whatever…I think that the beauty of buddhism is that it’s just some simple ideas to get you thinking. People who endlessly parrot lamas’ teachings are no different than the automaton minded other religious folks.

  7. I’m fairly new to Skepchick, just a few weeks as a registered user. And I just realized that half the posts I commented on were yours. I guess that means I’ve really liked your work in particular.

    About that latest “misinterpretation” by a reader: It wouldn’t have happened if he had just gone by what you had actually written and not his far-out inferences about what you’d written. Nowhere were the words “mass culling” or any similar words in your piece. The fault was entirely his, not yours, for inferring too much. Sorry if my observation reopens “old wounds” in any way for anyone. That’s not my intention. I just felt it had to be said.

    Keep on truckin, writerdd.

  8. Sorry if my observation reopens “old wounds” in any way for anyone. That’s not my intention. I just felt it had to be said.

    ———–

    Well, you were wrong. It didn’t have to be said.

  9. Sometimes I get a bit frustrated with the community of skeptics (or people interested in skeptical topics if you prefer) that is formed here. As someone from a fairly progressive religious background sometimes I feel an anti-religious sentiment here, or that there’s far too much of a polarization between “religionists” (a word that is typically used pejoratively by atheists) and atheists. My religious humanist mindset shares far more common ground with people here than almost anywhere else, but sometimes I am left feeling a bit like an outsider.
    That being said, I don’t think Donna tries to foster to anti-religious sentiment, she just levies some valid criticisms on religion now and again. If that’s bat-shit insanity, I like it.
    Consciously trying to be nicer and respectful to one another is usually a step in the right direction and I’m happy that this thread seems to be a positive development towards that end.

    Thanks Donna (and all the other skepchicks plus skepdude), for doing what you do and being who you are!

  10. I’m seeing a pattern emerging with this Seth character.

    “[To writerdd:] There are real issues revealed by your post, and I think that it is important that you understand why you are wrong, a goal that is not furthered by making fun of you or insulting my fellow commenters.”

    “[To DMS:] Well, you were wrong. It didn’t have to be said.”

    What is it with this guy telling people they’re ‘wrong’ all the time?

  11. It’s the nit-picky attitude of many skeptics, the tendency to turn every discussion into a debate, and the way many skeptics have to be “right” that makes me uncomfortable attaching myself to the name or the subculture.

    No it isn’t! That’s totally incorrect! Where’s your data?! ;-)

  12. carbon, I don’t need no frakking data. I’m never wrong! :-)

    BTW, everyone, great discussion and food for further thought, thanks! I don’t have time to post detailed responses to everyone this week, but I appreciate your input.

  13. anyvainlegend,

    We should be thankful he (Seth) is here.

    I mean, it isn’t everyday that one gets to bask in the greatness of an intellect so grand, so flawless, so all-knowing, that every though it has deserves pure, worshipful, unquestioning, adherence to the certainty that is is absolutely correct. Certainly, any position that is in the slightest conflict with the position taken by such a mind is beyond flawed and should be discounted without any further consideration.

    So, be thankful that this mighty tower of intellectual greatness has deigned to share his thoughts with us. After all, any other position is clearly WRONG.

  14. Writerdd, you’re doing just fine, and we all appreciate your entries, your wit, and your stalwart defence of yourself.

    Phil Plait, as I’m sure you noticed, had to put up with something similar. So did Rebecca and Jay Novella a few weeks back on the SGU forums over some silly-little semantic battle regarding sex/gender.

    Where did all this hostility come from lately??? I thought we were all friends here? Funny, intelligent, witty, (and in my case, stunningly handsome!) skeptics. As some awful Italian-American stereotype in New York probably once said, “fahgedabouddit!”

  15. “What is it with this guy telling people they’re ‘wrong’ all the time?”

    ———–

    Ironically, its clear that you think I’m in the wrong.

    So what is it with you and telling people how to behave all the time?

  16. “So, be thankful that this mighty tower of intellectual greatness has deigned to share his thoughts with us. After all, any other position is clearly WRONG”

    ———-

    ROTFLMAO.

    I’m sorry, but pretty much every post that isn’t a quickie on skepchick has a position that the author is right, and some other people are wrong. And pretty much every comment, including yours, has a similar position.

    So if my big crime is thinking, occasionally, that I am right and other people are wrong, I plead guilty as frackin charged. And I laugh at your hypocrisy.

  17. There’s a difference between flat-out calling someone wrong, and merely questioning the constructivity of a behaviour – which is all I did. The most important thing I have gained from the skeptic movement is the understanding that rarely is anything ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and the use of those terms is fairly redundant as they are so unyieldingly subjective. I may be wrong though.

    You know, we should really behave, or they’ll ban males (and any other testosterone-laden animals prone to masculine posturing) from skepchick.

  18. To writerdd:

    Unfortunately, the Brights experiment was a dismal failure and it’s basically a waste of breath to call oneself a bright today.

    Please provide data for this? I’m on their mailing list and the project seems to be gathering momentum. New terms and movements require time to take root, they don’t happen overnight – calling it a failure seems premature.

  19. “So if my big crime is thinking, occasionally, that I am right and other people are wrong, I plead guilty as frackin charged. And I laugh at your hypocrisy.”

    Actually, it isn’t the position that one is right and another is wrong that I am lambasting. It is the hostile undercurrent of ‘I am better than you’ linked up with the poor logic exhibited by your post.

    You are too ready to attack other posters on the sly, as if you don’t think we will notice your rather blatant moves to pre-bias the direction a ‘debate’ will take by the form of your questions.

    Your last two post are great examples of this.

    “Ironically, its clear that you think I’m in the wrong.
    So what is it with you and telling people how to behave all the time?”

    In that one to, anyvainlegend, and your lead in to me, you start by snarking off a supposed defense/justification of your position: “I’m sorry, but…” and “Ironically, …”. However, in both cases your position starts immediately from clear logical fallacy.

    You may not be familiar with this particular classing of logical fallacy, but it is called, ‘Tu quoque’. To shamelessly quote the “Skeptics Guide to the Universe”, Top 20 logical fallacies page [Great show.. Great Page ;) ] –

    Tu quoque: Literally, you too. This is an attempt to justify wrong action because someone else also does it. “My evidence may be invalid, but so is yours.”

    This is a well known logical fallacy and resorting to it should be beneath any sort of skeptic. However, you then go a step further and use the position generated by your fallacy to try and spin your ‘opponent’ into being the bad guy. Your entire post to me is nothing but an elaborate attempt to ask me the classic push poll question of “When did you stop beating your wife?”.

    I’ll give you credit that you have been a bit more subtle than most push-pollers, but the form, structure, and logical mis-constructions you have used are all the same.

    So, laugh all you want, but you might want to find a dumber crowd to try that sort trick on in the future. My I suggest any of the Creationist Forums? They tend to be filled with appropriately credible people.

  20. anyvainlegend, really? Cool. I just haven’t heard much about it in a long time besides people complaining about not liking the term “bright.” I thought I was on the mailing list but I haven’t heard anything in a very long time. Maybe I was using an old email addy. Are there any new updates on the website?

  21. “The most important thing I have gained from the skeptic movement is the understanding that rarely is anything ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and the use of those terms is fairly redundant as they are so unyieldingly subjective. I may be wrong though”

    ———–

    When I say “wrong” I don’t mean in a subjective sense. I mean that the person has made a statement which I do not think is supported by reason or by evidence. By my definition, you think that writterdd is wrong about the bright movement.

    Skepticism is a way of looking at things. It is a way that requires a measure of correct (right) and incorrect (wrong) about the world. That these conclusions are provisional does not make them meaningless or subjective.

  22. “Tu quoque: Literally, you too. This is an attempt to justify wrong action because someone else also does it. “My evidence may be invalid, but so is yours.””

    —————

    Actually, I didn’t say that my evidence may be invalid, but therefore so is yours. What I said was that your evidence is utterly valid, I do think sometimes that I am right and other people are wrong. So do you. So does everyone. So what?

  23. writerdd: I get the email at least once a month and it certainly doesn’t read like the Brights folks are quitting anytime soon. Honestly, I use the term, I like what it represents, and I’d like to see it stick around. Besides some dubiety towards it in some circles, I’ve seen no evidence of ‘Bright’ being dead and buried.

    What’s your email address? I’ll forward you a couple of their most recent newsletters.

  24. I do think sometimes that I am right and other people are wrong. So do you. So does everyone. So what?

    I believe there is a subtle but important distinction between critical thinking and skepticism. Seth sounds more like the former – the tone leaning more towards relentless nay-saying than harmless enquiry.

    By my definition, you think that writterdd is wrong about the bright movement.

    The distinction, is that I do not submit a question – such as that to Donna re: the Brights – with the a priori assumption that she is wrong and I am about to correct her. The Brights movement may really be as finished as she keeps saying, and I would genuinely be open to seeing evidence for that; just as I am open to evidence for magnet therapy or ghosts or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  25. I hope I am wrong about the brights movement. It’s a very interesting experiment and I like what they are trying to do. I intend to look into this further and may write a post about what I find.

    I don’t think skepticism is about who is right and who is wrong. It is about how to decide what it real and/or true by using evidence instead of faith, wishful thinking, or folklore. It’s not about winning an argument but about making decisions that yield effective and positive results for individuals and for society. That’s my take on it, anyway.

  26. Who are you?

    You’re great. That’s who.

    And you have a 50 year old cripple, ME, that will fight anyone who says different.

    If THAT doesn’t give you confidence, you’re, well, really, really smart…I’m not mad at you…

    Well,

    I’m not what I once was; if I can live with that, so can all y’all.

    rod

    PS: I can still hit them with my cane…I throw a mean cane…

  27. I believe there is a subtle but important distinction between critical thinking and skepticism. Seth sounds more like the former – the tone leaning more towards relentless nay-saying than harmless enquiry.

    ————

    Do I? Bummer. Because really, I spend a lot of time thinking very careful thoughts about pretty much everything I write about. And while I am quick to assert that I think people are wrong, I’m just as quick to bow to evidence that I’m wrong, as would be clear to anyone who read my original comment in this entry.

    What is interesting to me is that in all of this, no one has brought forth an argument that I’m actually wrong about something that I haven’t already apologized for.

    My style has been critiqued, I’ve been accused of using a logical fallacy that I didn’t use, and I’ve been accused of being arrogant. But none of this is substantive criticism of my actual statements.

    As far as evidence that the bright movement is finished… of course, this would be difficult to provide. Sort of like the Libertarians, the Brights can claim rapid growth without making real progress. But whether they are or not is probably not important, because the word “bright” is used much less frequently than the word skeptic or the word atheist.

    If the gay movment is a guide, as Richard Dawkins claims, than the term that the reality based community needs to adopt as a descriptor should be one from common usage. This makes sense from a PR perspective. Introducing a new term means that you have to convince people to self-describe using the new term and then convince other people to use it. Adopting something from common use is simpler. If nothing else, your opponents are already using it.

    Atheist is not a dirty word, and atheists should not allow other people to own it. Skeptic is not a dirty word, and skeptics can, by embracing the descriptor, alter its meaning. “Bright Pride” begs the questions “What’s a bright?” “Atheist Pride”, on the other hand, needs no extra explanation.

    I should point out that “Skeptic” is more successful culturally as well. We sit here on The Skepchick’s site. I listen to “The Skeptics Guide to the Universe” and “Skepticality”. We can recieve “Skeptic” or “Skeptical Enquirer” in the mail. There is a New England Skeptical Society. A recent pilot was shot for “The Skeptologists”.

    Bright may be the word that some people want to package, but Skeptic is the word that people are actually using.

    So writerdd… embrace your Skeptitude. Be a Skeptic with a capital “S”. Sure, it means being in the same tent as an asshole like me, but on the other hand, it provides other people with a different impression of “Skeptic” than they would get from interacting with assholes like me.

    Skeptic doesn’t have to mean that you fight all the time, or that you have to be right all the time, or even that you are always 100% critical about everything all the time.

    It just means that you are a member of the reality based community, the evidence based community, not the faith based community. And I think that by that definition, you’re a skeptic.

  28. Hi everyone,

    This is my first post, but I’ve been reading for a bit. I like this site and I come back and try to keep abreast of what is going on. I was the guy who implied that this site has an anti-religious tinge to it. I tend to seek our debate in order to clearer define my own views. I do feel that while skepticism and atheism are not necessarily always associated, they often tend to be found together, I believe that is just the nature of skeptics. So it goes. I asked the question because I wished to hear more about it. I apologize if I came off as argumentative or flat out annoying, I just wanted to explore parts of this topic. I think your doing a great job writerdd and your replies were very helpful.

  29. I don’t like the term “bright”. Where I come from it is quite common to refer to someone as “bright” meaning intelligent. Using this term implies to me that everyone else is stupid – and I just don’t believe that everyone who isn’t a Bright is dim. I would not use this term to refer to myself, and I would not want anyone else to use it either.

  30. Seth:

    I’ve re-read my earlier post and have to say that I hate when I’m in a hurry, and I don’t think I was at all clear in what I was saying. Also, I was needlessly snarky.

    That said, I want to say that I mostly agree with anyvainlegend in regards to his last post. I agree almost entirely with your most recent post. My one point of disagreement has to do with the following.


    “What is interesting to me is that in all of this, no one has brought forth an argument that I’m actually wrong about something that I haven’t already apologized for.

    My style has been critiqued, I’ve been accused of using a logical fallacy that I didn’t use, and I’ve been accused of being arrogant. But none of this is substantive criticism of my actual statements. ”

    I disagree with this because it is the clearest point in your last post where you continue to do what I was attempting to explain before. That said, I will see if I can explain my point more clearly this time.

    For this, I am only going to look at your direct exchanges with me. I’ll start again with the one I attempted to address before where you said, “ROTFLMAO.

    I’m sorry, but pretty much every post that isn’t a quickie on skepchick has a position that the author is right, and some other people are wrong. And pretty much every comment, including yours, has a similar position.

    So if my big crime is thinking, occasionally, that I am right and other people are wrong, I plead guilty as frackin charged. And I laugh at your hypocrisy.”

    This really is an excellent piece of manipulative, (read persuasive, or political), communication. It is also fundamentally an attack matched with a claim of authority but I’m getting ahead of myself there. Let me start from the beginning, (this will be longer than I like, but I want to be precise).

    You begin the entry by quoting my entry and then giving a standard sign of extreme mirth. Two things are accomplished here –
    first, you make sure that the source of your mirth is known (important in an environment such as this. Not important when you are laughing in someones face since there the chain of events is obvious. Context is always important) and establish context.
    Second, now that context is established and it is obvious that I wasn’t telling a joke, you respond as if I had. This is actually a fairly standard disarmament technique. In some ways, it is the verbal equivalent of some of our primate relatives beating their chests and making noise to let other males know that they don’t feel threatened and they are prepared to defend their place in the hierarchy, (or their act attempting to climb it). The reason the technique is so standard is because it is so effective at implying that whatever was stated previously has no value in the slightest, without having to actually come out and say that. The second part is useful because it gives the person using the technique a plausible position to deny that they ever had the intent of insulting the other person if called on it by an authority figure. All they have to do is pretend that they were laughing at something else, (doesn’t work in forums), or state that they really thought it was a joke and apologize.

    All of this works to very concisely, and very effectively, remove value and perceived validity from the post it is aimed at. The follow up is even better.

    Next you start laying the groundwork for both your counter-attack, and your advance. I use these terms, by the way, because the tactics you use in your communications here are the tactics of debate, not discussion. So, you set your position by making a double statement of fact, and implying that you only have to do this because you are now teaching or explaining the obvious to someone. This is accomplished by two short interjections into the statements of fact.
    The first fact is presented after the introduction “I’m sorry, but ….. ‘fact stated'”. This particular construction is used to address the fact that the person being spoked to obviously doesn’t know the fact being presented. When coupled with a blatantly obvious fact, “I’m sorry, but water is wet”, “I’m sorry, but the sky is blue”, “I’m sorry, but pretty much every post that isn’t a quickie on skepchick has a position that the author is right, and some other people are wrong.”
    The presentation you used there is actually really sneaky, because not only does it use an English language standard ‘I am correcting an idiot’ construction, but you then use that construction to present a conclusion as if it is a given fact, (the conclusion you present is that virtually all post can be reduced to the author claiming ‘right’ and describing some other as ‘wrong’). This, is the first logical fallacy presented in your post since I actually haven’t seen any evidence to cause me to accept this conclusion as correct without further support.
    The second ‘fact’ is also presented in the same vein.
    “And pretty much every comment, including yours, has a similar position.”
    This takes the presumed acceptance of the previous ‘fact’ and extends it. Then, instead of stopping there it makes a specific point of being inclusive of the person being addressed. This is important because it is the sort of language used to address someone who is perceived to be unable to make the link between provided information and themselves without having it explicitly stated. In this usage, it is a similar construction to the, “I’m sorry, but…”, and is generally used to similar effect.
    Once again, concise, effective, and very well done.

    Lastly, is the actual counter-attack.

    “So if my big crime is thinking, occasionally, that I am right and other people are wrong, I plead guilty as frackin charged. And I laugh at your hypocrisy.”

    This really is nice because you accomplish so much so quickly here.
    First you acknowledge that you are seen to have done something ‘wrong’, and you then provide a definition of what you are being accused of. It is really sly because it takes advantage of the fact that nobody had actually stated anything concrete about any wrong action on your part so you are free to define it however you wish within reason.
    With that freedom, you promptly define your ‘crime’ as having done nothing more than what everyone else has done as set up with your previous statements of ‘fact’. Basically, it is clear that, according to you, you have done nothing wrong because what you have done is the same as everyone else. This is the logical fallacy in your position that I spoke about before and failed to expand upon clearly, it is, of course muddied somewhat by the presence of the introduced straw man, (your self defined ‘crime’, so easily addressed).
    My favorite part, is how you finish off by directly attacking with the accusation of hypocrisy, even as you tie the end of your post back to the beginning with the reintroduction of the theme of laughter. The beauty of attacking at that point is that it should force me to go onto the defensive. The most common response to such a tightly developed attack is to either go on the defensive, “But… I’m not a hypocrite! None of that is what I said!”, or to just go away.

    Seth, really, it is obvious from this entire thread that you are very, very sharp. I also don’t think that you are intentionally an intellectual bully. However, that is what you come across as to me. The communication techniques you use are the techniques chosen by those seeking to invalidate the people they are talking to. They are not chosen by people who want to cooperatively communicate amongst equals. This is the ‘crime’ I think that you committed and continue to commit. I am presuming that your style of communication is based upon habit, (perhaps formal debate, perhaps an aggressive lawyer for a dad, or perhaps a million other ways *shrug*). The key, for me, however is that you do choose to stick with this style.

    The post I’ve been looking at could have just as easily been presented without the attack. However, it wasn’t. And neither has any other post you have made in this thread. Even in your most polite, constructive, post, you still took the time to advance your cause and drive the attack on those who had disagreed with you previously on.

    “What is interesting to me is that in all of this, no one has brought forth an argument that I’m actually wrong about something that I haven’t already apologized for.

    My style has been critiqued, I’ve been accused of using a logical fallacy that I didn’t use, and I’ve been accused of being arrogant. But none of this is substantive criticism of my actual statements. ”

    So, clearly, I disagree. I think that you have used various logical fallacies to further your own position. I agree that your style has been critiqued, (certainly by myself), because it is fundamentally confrontational in nature and I don’t think that has a place here.

    *sigh* So now I’ve wasted an evening writing a post that will probably result in nothing. However, I think that the issue of communication STYLE is very important. It represents part of how we use language to convey a host of meanings and subtleties that otherwise would require minutes and hours instead of seconds to impart, (just look at the length of this post required to address a short five sentences).

    Even more important is the fact that when we use the wrong style we don’t manage to succeed in communicating what we intend. If you are trying to explain skepticism to non-skeptics, leaving them with the feeling that you think you are better than them is guaranteed to result in a negative response.

    I take full responsibility for my earlier snarkiness. It was not only un-needed, but it got in the way of what I was trying to say by distracting from the fact that I don’t really care what your original point was.

    The reason I waded into this is because I was offended by your delivery. I still am, and I still think that you have approached most of your communications the wrong way given your stated intent for them.

    I will acknowledge that it could be me that is out of line. Usually, I wouldn’t have waded into this at all. But I’ve just gotten sick of people hiding from what they actually SAY when they say things by trying to pretend that tone, context, body-language, and etc are all either trivial or not what they ‘ment’.

  31. it’s the nit-picky attitude of many skeptics, the tendency to turn every discussion into a debate, and the way many skeptics have to be “right”

    Ah, but this isn’t a skeptic thing. I was like that long before I was a skeptic. It’s simply that nit-picky personalities who tend to turn every discussion into a debate and just _have_ to be right will, by their very nature, tend to produce more posts per person than someone more reasonable.

    http://www.xkcd.com/386/

  32. arthwollipot, just as the opposite of gay is straight (not sad), the opposite of bright is super (not dim).

    Mr. Jones1327, thanks for the concern but your email was not argumentative or flat out annoying. It just made me pause to think.

    seth, your crime isn’t being right or wrong, it’s being a rude prick. If you want respect, it’s not enough to have valid points, but you also have to be polite enough for people to want to engage in conversation with you.

    No, this is not ad hominem. I am not saying that none of your arguments are valid because you are a prick. I’m just saying that most polite human beings won’t want to bother talking to you when you act like a prick, so you lose your ability to influence others even when you are right. Your most recent post is very well written and in a tone that shows you respect the people you are talking to. Your past posts here have not been of the same ilk. I agree with MoltenHotMagma about how you come across. If you want to actually influence people, I suggest that you work on honing your presentation.

    If you don’t get it that your presentation is at least as important than your actual statements then you won’t get very far. No one is discussing your actual points with you because they don’t think it’s worthwhile. You don’t act like you care what anyone else has to say.

    If you think someone is wrong, you should ask them to clarify what they mean before attacking. In fact, you should not attack. You should engage people in a way that does not make them feel defensive, so they are willing to listen to what you have to say. That way, if they are wrong, they might be willing to change their minds based on your evidence. If you just attack, they immediately shut you down and you are wasting your breath.

  33. seth, your crime isn’t being right or wrong, it’s being a rude prick.
    ——————

    I prefer the term “asshole”, but if you want to use “prick” instead, I’m not going to argue.

    MHM, I appreciate the analysis. That took a lot of effort. You made several good points about the importance of being polite, and I agree that I could be a much nicer person than I actually am.

    If I may return the constructive criticism, I don’t see how Tu Quoque is fallacious in this case. If you read the wikipedia entry, you will see that my defense was a legitimate use: you are guilty of the crime you accuse me of, therefore your criticism is confusing. Either my behavior is not a crime or we are both criminals.

    That is not a fallacious argument. It is also a well supported argument: we are both clearly guilty of the crime of being assholes who think that we are right. To quote you:

    “it isn’t everyday that one gets to bask in the greatness of an intellect so grand, so flawless,”

    Clearly, you are being an asshole. Moreover, you are belittling me. Further, you are asserting that you are better than I am. Finally, you are implying that I hold a point of view that I do not. And your substantive critique seems to be that I am confident. To quote you again:

    “So, be thankful that this mighty tower of intellectual greatness has deigned to share his thoughts with us. After all, any other position is clearly WRONG.”

    So your follow up, that you weren’t saying that the problem was that I am confident of my positions, is not well supported by your initial hatchet job, and if this is the sort of rhetoric that you think is acceptable to use, it isn’t a logical fallacy for me to point out that my rhetoric is acceptable by your standards.

    So regardless of whether my crime is confidence or confrontation, if it is a crime, you are a criminal, and it is no fallacy to point that out.

    Now, in your latest post, you claim that confrontational communication has no place in this forum. I submit to you that this forum is in fact a place where confrontational communication is common and accepted. There was your post to me, which was mocking, rude, and inaccurate. No one has called you on that but me. There was also anyvainlegends post to me where he was passive aggressive and took two tiny snippets out to create an entire character study… again, nothing but approval from our host.

    Nor is it merely my presence that causes confrontational communication. In a recent post on “How Should We Talk To Believers” Donna describes biblical literalism as a “ridiculous” belief, and further implies that fundamentalism is not a legitimate lifestyle choice, but rather some sort of disease that requires “recovery.” The discussion on that thread between whitebird and stevet is, while polite, certainly confrontational. For example, steve calls whitebird a “cynical cindy” and says that he finds her comments “presumptive and insulting.”

    Writerdd agrees with whitebirds insulting and presumptive position in the next post, but at no time calls for a less confrontational tone from anyone.

    So basically, the problem is that I’m confrontational, capable, and crucially, you don’t agree with me. If I were bitch-slapping down some fundie and mocking his ridiculous beliefs, would you be offering succor? Or would you be silently cheering? Or would you be piling on?

    I would predict that you would be piling on, based on your previous suggestion that I try my rhetorical tricks in a creationist forum, where people would be dumb enough to fall for them.

    I would suggest that we all lay off the “shoulds” and the literary critique. We aren’t (sadly) editing a book I’ve written. The initial exchange between writterdd and myself, where she indicated that she took offense and I apologized for my behavior, should have more than settled the situation. This sort of exhaustive post-mortem of a trivial situation is only good for wasting all of our time and taking us off topic.

    That topic is, for those who may have lost it, whether writerdd is a skeptic. I have suggested that, based on the gathering momentum of the sketpics movement and on her own positions, that she is a skeptic. Further, because the Skeptical community would benefit from her presence, I’ve encouraged her to throw in her hat and do what she can to change the ascerbic culture of skepticism by example. What say all of you?

  34. I’ll throw in my ten cents with a quote that I feel is somewhat appropriate. “…profanity and obscenity entitle people who don’t want unpleasant information to close their ears and eyes to you.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

  35. “If you think someone is wrong, you should ask them to clarify what they mean before attacking. In fact, you should not attack. You should engage people in a way that does not make them feel defensive, so they are willing to listen to what you have to say … ”

    Good advice.

  36. Seth,

    Actually, now… I think your just being belligerent.

    If I may quote myself –

    “I take full responsibility for my earlier snarkiness. It was not only un-needed, but it got in the way of what I was trying to say by distracting from the fact that I don’t really care what your original point was.

    The reason I waded into this is because I was offended by your delivery. I still am, and I still think that you have approached most of your communications the wrong way given your stated intent for them.”

    Once again.. yes.. I was wrong.. I did wrong… that does not make your equivalent wrong, right. I’m really not sure you get the point of this, but the logical fallacy is not that we weren’t both wrong.. It is in the assumption that somehow, that makes the wrong a right.

    Additionally, you have taken my lack of agreement with you completely out of context to try and support a position that isn’t accurate, (that position being that I wouldn’t care about your vitriol if it were directed at an audience I didn’t like). I stated my area of disagreement very clearly by giving specific quote to what you had said previously that I was disagreeing with.

    from you –

    “What is interesting to me is that in all of this, no one has brought forth an argument that I’m actually wrong about something that I haven’t already apologized for.

    My style has been critiqued, I’ve been accused of using a logical fallacy that I didn’t use, and I’ve been accused of being arrogant. But none of this is substantive criticism of my actual statements. ”

    I have explained why I disagreed with that, and how before that statement, my problem was only with your presentation technique.

    Also, just to be clear, I have addressed the wrong of my earlier attitude and agree with you that I was completely in the wrong. I suspect, however, that the reason no-one jumped on me has less to do with my target or my purpose, and more to do with the fact that I moved away from that behavior pattern. You still seem to be trying to justify how there was nothing wrong with it.

    Also, *sigh*, and I hate this… but actually, in spite of my earlier comment. I would have come to the defense of creationist who were targeted with the same tactics you have been using. And I HATE creationist.

    The reason I brought them into it is the same reason I have been addressing you. I abhor bad logic and poor critical thinking skills being used to justify illogical, and sometimes socially harmful, positions. My unfortunately phrased comment was really intended to imply that your tactics would find themselves more at home in such an environment of illogic, (with the Creationist) than here.

    Once again, it was a poorly made, rushed point that was needlessly rude and I apologize for it. However, you still haven’t given me much reason to think its basic sentiment still holds.

    That all said, your are right.. we should get back on point, and on this I think we are currently in complete agreement. I do think that writerdd has a strong place in the Skeptical community and I do agree that she could only be good for the culture.

  37. Dang it.. I need to ban myself from hasty post on the way out the door.

    Seth,

    Also. I appreciate your apparent openness to constructive, logically based, corrections. I know from personal experience that such a course can be tough. I just wanted to say that, whatever my other points and however the discussion goes. I do respect your stated goal, (much earlier), of always being willing to change your position to match the facts.

    It is a noble goal that all Skeptics should hold themselves to, and I don’t think you are doing any poorer a job of applying it to yourself in this than any of the rest of us ever do.

  38. @writerdd

    I am more interested in exploring how to think than I am in being told what to think — even about religion, homeopathy, psychics, and other topics that seem to enthrall many skeptics.

    I think any responsible skeptic would agree with that statement. That’s certainly what I think of when I think of skepticism, and that definitely what the SGU, Michael Shermer, and others advocate.

  39. arthwollipot, just as the opposite of gay is straight (not sad), the opposite of bright is super (not dim).

    Not in any dictionary I’m familiar with. The opposite of bright is super? Never heard of it, and it’s certainly not the connotation that I would draw.

  40. How long did it take for “Phwoaa” to be added to the Oxford? Less than ten years?

    Anyway. My point is that this is not what I think of when I hear the term “Bright”. “Super” suggests to me something over and above the ordinary – like Superman, or Ubermensch. I certainly don’t think of it as the opposite of “bright”, and I would definitely not have thought of it as a contraction of “supernaturalist” if you hadn’t suggested it.

  41. How long did it take people to think of “straight” instead of “sad” as the opposite of “gay”?

    Arguments like this are what ruined the brights movement. Too bad. Why are skeptics and atheists such belligerent, crabby, spoil-sports? Yes, sometimes it does seem that way to me.

    Anyway, I still (unfortunately) kind of think the whole brights movement is basically a failure but I’m checking into it further and will let you know if I change my mind.

  42. Of course we’re belligerent! I mean look at us. We’re beset on all sides by the woo, and sometimes ridicule is the only weapon that works.

    I absolutely support the intentions of the Brights movement. I just wish they’d chosen a different word to represent them. As it is, I cannot in good conscience join them, even though their goals coincide with my own.

  43. I was called a skeptic for the first time a few weeks ago… and it surprised me. I had to do some careful thought about what the word means to me and I came to conclusion that I am not sure if I am a very good skeptic, but I am proud to claim the title when possible and that I don’t take offense to it, even if that was the intention behind thee guy who ‘yelled’ it at me in all caps (on a diff blog.)

    I love Skepchick… and I am so very glad to be able to question, wonder, postulate, and learn along with other open minded folks.

    As for the atheist/bright thing… I must be sheltered indeed to be dating an atheist but have never heard the term “bright” before outside of the more common definition.

    Dating an atheist by the way has opened my mind to so many things…. -one of which was skepchick- I recommend this totally life changing experience to everyone.

    Just my 2cents.

  44. anyvainlegend,
    “Lame…”

    Presuming your talking about my previous post.. I have to agree with you. Even worse, since your the only person who called me on it; my next, hoped for, point is now proven to be unsupported.

    Bummer.

    writerdd,

    “Arguments like this are what ruined the brights movement. Too bad. Why are skeptics and atheists such belligerent, crabby, spoil-sports? Yes, sometimes it does seem that way to me.”

    I think it’s a defense mechanism. The simple fact is that we are powerfully outnumbered by people who wouldn’t know logical thinking if it slapped them in the face. Because of this, often times, our only recourse in the face of apparent madness can be to dig in on the positions we KNOW are right because we have the logic and facts to back them up.

    The unfortunate part of this, however, is that we are still human, so still get our positions wrong occasionally. When this happens, however, we are so habituated to trenching in on a position that it often takes a crowbar build of facts and a small lot of explosives made of supporting data and statistics to dislodge us.

    Still, after the charges go off and the crowbars have been applied, we do generally get up and move. Much of the rest of the world just digs in further under such circumstances.

  45. How long did it take people to think of “straight” instead of “sad” as the opposite of “gay”?

    ——————–

    This was a common usage before Stonewall. Gay, Straight… they had more to do with being flamboyant or a swinger (or not) than being homosexual per se, but the homosexual rights movement grabbed terms that already were in common use.

    That’s why I consider myself a skeptic. Not because bright is a bad word, but because Skeptic is already a common term. Skeptic vs. Believer… there’s even a hair care commercial that uses these terms.

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