I have been a skeptic for a number of years now. Skeptic's Guide to the Universe hooked me away from any esoteric leanings I might have had in my youth, and since then I've come to see that the rejection of ideology inherent in the community can itself be a uniting factor in a vanguard for evidence-based change. Now however, I am no longer as sure as I once was.
As skeptics, we try to use a set of evidence-based rules to evaluate information. But what do we use to objectively pick which information to evaluate in the first place? I'm sure many would reply that aim of skepticism's public face is to try and educate others and counter some of the many falsehoods that have the potential to cause suffering. Huge amounts of energy have gone into tackling Power Balance bracelets, anti-vaccers, climate-change deniers, homeopaths... any number of people that abuse reason and science. Well, I put it to you that if you really care about miss-information causing suffering on a massive scale, we have one massive elephant in the room.
The Neoliberal capitalist system the majority of us live under is founded upon false premises that have absolutely no evidence to back them up. Where else would we countenance such power on the scientific basis of a couple of slightly intuitive but evidentially lacking phrases (trickle-down, rising boats etc)? It causes misery to billions. We are real, society is real, the economic system is real... surely that's all we need to be skeptical? Where are the guests at TAM speaking out about the falsehoods inherent in the Neoliberal economic model, or their views on human nature? Is politics off the table, and if so why?
Scientific consensus is adequate to assure that the skeptical community trusts scientists regarding climate change. Why then do we patently ignore the consensus regarding the relative nature of the human mind? Both are conclusions born from complex systems. Both have deniers yet we go for the crack-pot and not the powerful. Have we all lost sight of what is most important in life? How else to explain the silence while a psuedo-scientific ideology structures societies in ways that are completely counter to what the consensus suggests makes humans happy.
Any other pseudo-scientific, profit-driven endeavour that caused this much suffering would be brought up all the time, on multiple podcasts and proportionately represented at TAM. Glancing through The Amazing Meeting line-up from London, I see one person, a blogger Greta Christina, who has politics among their interests. This is just wrong.
I have long thought that the skeptical community will grow and usher in a new age of (actual) rational, ideology-free thought. But the ideology-less taking on the BIG skeptical issue of our times are not the skeptics but the people of the Occupy Movement. Their courage to speak truth to power while rejecting ideology has made me question why the skeptical community seem content to tackle the little fish. As a community we have to discuss this glaring blind-spot and ask, honestly, why it is there. I sincerely hope that it is not to avoid controversy. If you don't feel like me, then all I ask is that the next time someone asks why you do what you do, just consider saying "mainly it's because I don't like the direct affront to the science I care about" instead.
Because people ARE suffering, and if we do not challenge this ideology and reverse this explosion of inequality, the science says it's only going to get worse if nothing is done to reverse this trend toward greater inequality.
I'm struggling to reconcile this now I've thought about it. Would sincerely live to hear your thoughts.
If you would like to read more on why Neoliberalism is the new organised religion, here's my take on it.