Thursday, September 28, 2006

Skepticism is a Virtue

My all time favorite postcard is one I found in the rack at my local bar. It says:
Skepticism is a weapon.

It deflects spin, propaganda, P.R., B.S., press agents, publicity seekers, hearsay, unnamed sources, and anyone with a hidden agenda.

Skepticism is that little voice that tells you you’ll never be a millionaire with little or no money down.

Skepticism is that sneaking suspicion that all aspirin are alike.

Skepticism is a quality shared by truth seekers, freethinkers, and realists.

Skepticism demands that proof and facts be unsanitized, uncensored, and unembellished.

Skepticism makes the world accountable.


The card is an advertisement for Brill’s Content magazine, a short-lived media magazine since acquired and closed.

The skeptic should suspect a definition of skepticism published as an advertisement for a media magazine. I still find it a fine manifesto even if the authors did not believe what they wrote. In addition, the manifesto fits on the front of an easy to reference postcard.

Sometimes, it is not ideas that interest me, but the stories behind the ideas. Who believes what and for what reasons? When do ideas become ideologies and narratives that try to explain more then what they are capable? What sorts of events do ideas and ideologies cause? Why do people cling to their beliefs despite evidence to the contrary of their truth?

These questions are part of what fascinates me about the Iraq war and occupation. Many people have told just about every imaginable untrue story about it, and many have believed the stories. Healthy skepticism is on holiday.

To be a good and productive skeptic you must understand the stories behind the ideas. The good skeptic understands that the human species distinguishes itself by its collective imaginative power and its seemingly limitless creativity. People will always create a good tale in their attempt to convince.

The skeptic is suspicious of essentialism and foundationalism. Those most wedded to ideologies encourage us to choose sides. The skeptic realizes that ideologies are never as perfect as their devotees make them out to be. Absolutist ideologies never manage to fulfill completely the desire for happiness. Skepticism is not nihilism, but recognition of the limits to certainty.

The skeptic has every right to be wary.


At 7:41 AM, Anonymous j tavlin said...

i wrote that. i definitely believed every word of it.


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