The problem with organized skepticism

24 03 2009

Before I start, let me say that I know perfectly well why organized skepticism is important as of now, and I agree.

“Organized skepticism” is, broadly speaking, the (largely online) movement to promote critical thinking among the public. It is apolitical and areligious, although it does lean strongly in both areas for various reasons, some related to the whole “critical thinking” thing, some not.

Now, my problem with it: I think that the movement as a whole has missed the point of its own existence. There is a certain mindset that I see in the skeptical movement towards turning inward and preaching to the choir. That is a problem in its own right, but I think it stems from something larger: the skeptical movement has forgotten or not realized that it is a movement whose very goal necessitates that it be a temporary measure.

What I mean by that is this. Skepticism as a movement will, if it succeeds, become irrelevant. If critical thinking becomes widespread, and if it is brought into standard curriculums in schools, the movement is no longer needed, and indeed should begin to fade away. The problem with such movements after they acheive their goals is that they are often counterproductive and, quite frankly, insular because they have lost their purpose. They become a bit embarrsessing to everyone, and in fact create a push the other way.

The problem is that, as expressed by the “preaching to the choir” tendency I’ve noted, many skeptics seem to have every intention of continuing the movement whether its goals are acheived or not. My question, I guess, is “why?”

I’m not saying that we’re anywhere near the point where skepticism has become widespread (we’re not), but I think it’s worth keeping in mind that this is not a movement whose intent should be permenance.

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