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Worldview and Identity
Posted: 24 November 2011 08:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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The problem for a libertarian like Shermer is that all his sacred texts (Ayn Rand, Von Mises, Hayek, Milton Friedman etc) and all his libertarian friends are absolutely convinced that the welfare state is a very bad thing. It makes people lazy and dependent. And of course libertarians spend most of their time railing against the welfare state in the US. How, then, should a libertarian respond to the clear evidence from places like Scandinavia that welfare state capitalism can in fact work really well? Even someone genuinely committed to critical thinking like Shermer will always find it easier to come up with some other explanation and so hang on to his libertarianism. On the other hand, Shermer might just admit that welfare state capitalism can work pretty well and that many of the central assumptions of right-wing libertarianism are wrong. But to do this is basically to reject the core principles of the tradition and therefore to reject libertarianism. If you reject all of this and still want to call yourself a libertarian then the word ‘libertarian’ just becomes something vague like ‘someone who likes freedom’ and pretty much nobody is going to disagree with this.

On the other side, you have radical left-wing egalitarians who want a society based on solidarity and cooperation rather than greed and competition. Now, these people have an annoying habit of refusing to admit that there could ever be anything good about competitive markets. They only ever want to talk about exploitation, sweat shops, and any other horrors they can find, and they never want to admit that anything positive could be lost if we got rid of market competition altogether. So anyway I don’t just want to single out right-wingers here. Both the left and the right are driven by their utopian visions and tend to ignore evidence when they don’t like it. 

The question here is whether skepticism is itself an ideology in the same way. Well, for one thing, I don’t think Skepticism has sacred texts. So in this respect it’s different. But there does seem to be a kind of faith that the mind is the brain (or that the mind is what the brain does), and there’s a kind of desperation to try to come up with materialistic explanations of things like logic and mathematics. There seems to be a fear that anything weird or spooky will just leave a space for theists to jump into. But surely we should be seeking the truth, and not just trying to come up with smart tactical decisions in the war against theists.  If, like many philosophers, we’re puzzled and confused about things like consciousness and mathematics, we should just say so. It’s much better to say we don’t know than to say God did it or try to come up with some desperate reductionist materialist explanation.

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Posted: 24 November 2011 09:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Dom1978 - 24 November 2011 08:40 PM

How, then, should a libertarian respond to the clear evidence from places like Scandinavia that welfare state capitalism can in fact work really well?

U.S.A. is not Scandinavia. People don’t mind supporting the less fortunate ones so long as they are one of them. It all comes down to biology, or more specifically, tribalism and racism.

[ Edited: 24 November 2011 09:44 PM by George ]
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Posted: 24 November 2011 10:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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The question here is whether skepticism is itself an ideology in the same way.

it isn’t. While people who identify as skeptics/rationalists/freethinkers are certainly capable of holding to idealogies, rational skepticism is a method for examining the world and sorting out identifiable fact from fiction.

Rational skeptics are not always right and don’t pretend to be, however, by using the tools of available, it tends to stack the odds of getting it right in our favour.

Until somebody comes along with something better which can be shown to work, I’ll stick with it.

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Posted: 30 December 2011 08:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Dom1978 - 22 October 2011 05:47 AM

I find it strange that skeptics don’t seem to like talking about worldview, whereas of course religious fundamentalists, postmodernists and others are always going on about it. Now, by worldview, I mean things like Christianity, libertarianism, socialism, feminism, scientific materialism, and the new age. These worldviews are closely bound up with a person’s identity, and also with a person’s sense of community and friendship. When one encounters evidence threatening to the worldview, it’s much easier to ignore it or dismiss it than it is to leave everything you care about behind.   

The question I’m interested in here is whether skeptics should have a worldview. Skeptics usually respond either by saying that they’re naturalists or by saying that they don’t have a worldview at all. Personally, I think saying there’s nothing outside the natural world is a bit problematic. I can’t help wondering how such people would respond if we did stumble upon some convincing evidence for ghosts or a soul or something. They’ve got so much invested in the naturalistic worldview/identity that they would probably have to dismiss the evidence, attack the research, and so on. The most extreme example of this kind of thing today is where you hear scientists saying we don’t need to bother looking into ESP or near death experiences because we already know these things are impossible. The second option of not having a worldview seems the most intellectually honest one, but it may not be psychologically possible.   

In any case, I always have to laugh when I hear people refer to Michael Shermer as a skeptic and a libertarian! It seems to me that the whole point of being a libertarian is to believe dogmatically that the free market is always right and is the answer to all our problems. What, then, would Shermer do if confronted with evidence showing that in some cases government programs actually work better than the market, or that competitive markets are just not appropriate in certain spheres? Well, he’s a libertarian! He could not accept this. He would say that real capitalism and a truly free market would always do a better job of everything in all circumstances etc etc. So I just don’t see how you could be BOTH a free-market worshipping libertarian AND an open-minded truth seeker who follows the evidence wherever it leads. In fact - and this is the whole point of this post - it’s difficult to see how any worldview could be compatible with free open-minded inquiry.

I think that there are problems identifying too closely with any “ism” (e.g. including skepticism) as this can have many of the same limitations as “having faith”.  I would say it is better to be a seeker of truth, whatever your specific or general worldview.

Personally, I think it is good to view, even a professional and successful skeptic like Shermer’s, pronouncements with some level of skepticism, despite my tending to think he is right most of the time in the things that he debunks empirically. (His political worldview is something else entirely. As far as political views, empiricism doesn’t go very far. I doubt that anyone can access enough data points to convincingly say that an unregulated free market system is ultimately better for everyone than any other possible system, thus in political views, I am left with taking my best guess, and going with what best fits my value system.)

If presented with “convincing” evidence of ghosts or a soul (as you suggested), I think I would find that extraordinarily interesting.  I don’t think I would need to abandon what I think is primarily an empirically based worldview, but I would definitely have some adjusting to do. If I couldn’t then I might need to change my worldview more radically (or consider whether I might simply need some anti-psychotic medication smile ). I do think it is important to not totally close one’s mind to what seems improbable.  (e.g., On rare occasions a person who seems to be acutely paranoid can actually be afraid of something that is reality based, but just not obvious to others.)

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 30 December 2011 08:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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...Dom1978:...But surely we should be seeking the truth, and not just trying to come up with smart tactical decisions in the war against theists… 

There is a war against theists???  Where have I been?  The theists don’t seem to have lost any ground, whoever it is that is warring against them.  I hope my taxes aren’t involved in supporting this war, as I think it sounds more futile than the war on drugs, or the war on terror. Drugs cannot be eradicated.  A human emotion cannot be eradicated.  An idea such as “there is a God” cannot be eradicated.  Still… if those theists come after me, I guess I better be prepared.

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 04 May 2012 09:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Dom1978 - 22 October 2011 05:47 AM

I find it strange that skeptics don’t seem to like talking about worldview, whereas of course religious fundamentalists, postmodernists and others are always going on about it. Now, by worldview, I mean things like Christianity, libertarianism, socialism, feminism, scientific materialism, and the new age. These worldviews are closely bound up with a person’s identity, and also with a person’s sense of community and friendship. When one encounters evidence threatening to the worldview, it’s much easier to ignore it or dismiss it than it is to leave everything you care about behind.

Any “ism” is not the true worldview since it excludes other perspectives that, coincidentally, live in the same world, aka, Earth. To those that you mentioned the more apt term would be bubbleview.

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