EDIT: A couple readers have pointed out that I’m wrong about skepticism not being the claim that we can know nothing. Apparently the definition of “skepticism” that I am familiar with – and honestly, the only definition I’ve heard after years in the skeptical movement – is really methodological skepticism. The author at Feministe is likely talking about philosophical skepticism. I believe my misconception came from the fact that the former is the more commonly accepted, modern definition of “skepticism” alone, and that post modernism also claims that there is a problem with objective truth. But I’m a good scientist, so I’ll admit where I’m wrong. She’s using the term fine, though I still think her views are utter hogwash.

It pains me whenever anti-science claptrap surfaces in feminist blogs I typically enjoy. It’s more evidence that feminism isn’t some monolithic entity or hive mind that constantly agrees. It’s also more evidence that we need to keep talking about how skepticism can aid feminism, because some feminists are writing rubbish like this:

As you may know from the numerous threads in which I’ve gone about it ad nauseum, I’m a skeptic (an fallibilist, existentialist …sort of). Without boring you to death, here’s the short version. I don’t think you can know things. I mean know them, know them. Not feel them, not experience them…but KNOW them. We (humans) cannot (probably) be absolutely certain of anything.

Skepticism is not some ideology where one cannot know anything. And before someone runs in screaming “No true Scottman!” – you could claim skepticism means you enjoy picking your nose while riding elephants, but that wouldn’t make it so. Skepticism is, at the very core, the application of the scientific method. To relabel it as some bizarro philosophy in where there is no such thing as knowledge is ridiculous. I can’t help but think of Tim Minchin’s wonderful Storm:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhGuXCuDb1U&w=500&h=311]

Conversation is initially bright and light-hearted

But it’s not long before Storm gets started:

“You can’t know anything,

Knowledge is merely opinion”

She opines, over her Cabernet Sauvignon


Some unhippily

Empirical comment made by me

Hint: You don’t want to be making the same arguments as Storm.

There are a lot of reasons that Certainty, or at least certainty of the world outside ourselves, doesn’t work. There are the limits of human cognition. The limits of human perception. The unbridled arrogance of dogmatism. The centrality of certitude in the oppression of many, many people. But the one I want to talk about today is that dogma means that you stop learning, you stop listening to other people. In that sense I see certitude as antithetical to social justice.

Ok, I’m with you so far. Dogma = bad. Our brain messes up sometimes. That’s why we have science, right? To get around the limits of human cognition and perception. She then goes on to talk about how this sort of dogma that’s accepted as the most popular belief often gives privilege to those groups and oppresses others. Sure, I can see that. But then the argument goes back into lala land:

In my view, we can tear down all of the institutions, create perfect equality of resources or equality of opportunity, reshape the external world to our liking, but unless we reshape ourselves, address the underlying flaw in our understanding of the world and each other we will simply recreate the same power dynamics over and over again. One group will see their collective perspective as truth, as more valid than the perspectives of others, then they will once again attempt for force that reality on to others.

Which brings me back to skepticism. If we accept that we (probably) can’t know what is real, that as much as we consider, think, feel, explore we will (likely) never grasp the totality of truth, we are free to accept or learn from other people’s perspectives. We are free to accept contradictory perspectives, holding each as true for that person in that moment. We dismantle not just the current dominant narrative but also the very concept of a dominant narrative.

That to me is the goal of social justice.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

The idea that we can’t definitively know what’s 100% true, therefore we must accept all people’s views of reality as equally valid is fucking ridiculous. You can’t simultaneously accept that there is no god and that the Christian God is sitting up in the sky hating on gays, just like you can’t simultaneously accept that gravity exists and doesn’t exist. Reality is independent of whatever delusional ideas our brains come up with.

But her views (not valid) make a lot more sense when you see what she says in the comments:

“Science to me contains the same claims to certainty (in many instances) as the most fundamentalist religion.”

Hooooooooo boy.

Science is the antithesis of dogma. We don’t base our views of truth and reality on whatever idea pops into our poorly evolved ape brains. We collect evidence, perform experiments, and repeatedly try to correct our view of the world so it’s close and closer to reality.

The fact that you’re making the same arguments as in-character Stephen Colbert should be a giant red flag:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Michael Shermer
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Shermer: The only way to tell, really, the difference between these true patterns and false patterns is science.
Colbert: Really? You think science is the answer? But isn’t that just your belief? You are a skeptic. You are inclined to believe that skepticism is – the scientific method – the right idea, so you look for evidence out in the world that evidence is a good thing to luck for. But isn’t science just another belief system?
Shermer: It is another belief system, but it’s sets apart from another belief systems because it has built into it self correcting machinery, that says if you don’t look for your disconfirming evidence that debunks your own beliefs, someone else will, usually with great glee in a published form.

To claim that that science is bunk, or worse, just another religion, is to obviously not understand how skepticism, science, or the universe works. You may label yourself as a skeptic, but you’re the complete opposite.