This is the seventh in a series on what I have started referring to as “2nd Wave Internet Skepticism”. 2nd wave internet skepticism seems to fold tribalism in under the guise of critical thinking. It includes a lot of rhetoric that I first saw in the “Men’s Rights Activism” movement. The same rhetoric can be seen in the modern neo-nazi movement known as the “alt right”. These guys (and I do mean guys, mostly white guys) seem to think that because they’ve figured out that 9/11 truth and chemtrails are bullshit that anything they dislike, ranging from feminism to trans rights and beyond, is also bullshit. I imagine many skeptics will disagree with the ideas I am presenting here, and that’s fine. I have found that the cult of 2nd wave internet skepticism generally hates criticism even though many of those in the movement suggest that “safe spaces” are ruining everything. Hypocrisy and perceptions of one’s own victimhood are on full display in this, the war of bad ideas.
Delusions of grandeur: The critical thinker
In my last article I talked about how the Actually Guy wants to police your tone. In that same orbit are the people on twitter with handles like @criticalthinker33993. The other 33992 criticalthinkers™ were already on twitter apparently. It seems all the rage these days, being a critical thinker. You get to quote Tiny Dancer Ben Shaprio: “facts don’t care about your feelings”. You get to claim that your position is rational because, well, you’re rational and the other party obviously is not. You get to suggest that people who don’t come to the same conclusions you come to are emotional, and you basically get to argue from your own authority as the critical thinker.
Don’t get me wrong here, we all need critical thinking. I think there should be more focus on critical thinking in education, especially early on, because it’s the best tool we have for separating out what’s real and what’s not. With all of the fake news going around it might be a good idea for all of us adults to brush up on that shit too.
We are at a moment in history where a hysterical man on the verge of tears who spreads conspiracy theories about some marxist plot in academia and denies climate change is looked to as a thought leader. Our current crop of “public intellectuals” are basically just cults of personality who shall not be criticized, but will of course freely criticize others. We have “free speech warriors” who will be quick to threaten lawsuits against professors and journalists for criticizing them, seem to be okay with lying about their qualifications in interviews in response to criticisms, and even suggest that entire segments of academia should be done away with because those segments of academia tend to be populated by people who disagree with them. It has never been more important that we apply a bit of critical thinking when we evaluate what we see, hear, and read.
The thing is, you are not a critical thinker. I know, I know, I am already being unfair or unreasonable or taking something you never said out of context or maybe I am committing the ad hom fallacy or breaking some other rule you made up about how I need to express myself on my own blog, but you can just stop reading, I don’t need you to finish this article, after all I am probably wrong because I am not a criticalthinker™. You aren’t one either, you just claim to be one so you can tell yourself that your bias is not bias at all, because you’ve dispassionately taken in the facts, which, yes I know, don’t care about my feelings. I am probably just “triggered” or something. Because suggesting that people who don’t come to the same conclusions as you must be some kind of emotional wreck isn’t a talking point from the so called Men’s Rights Movement or anything, right?
Every one of us, even you, okay especially you, and especially me, bring our life experiences with us to every idea we consider. To believe otherwise about yourself is to believe that you are not a human being. It is to believe that you (and maybe one or more of your ridiculous heroes) are fact munching robots that take information in and spit out “the correct conclusion”. This is a bonkers ass thing to believe about yourself, bordering on delusions of grandeur. And to believe it about some other person?
I can’t tell you how many times people have given me their opinion and told me that if only I understood logic I would share their opinion. I quite commonly see people referring to themselves as a critical thinker as they essentially demand that I or someone else agree with their opinion. These dudes (I do mean dudes, let’s not kid ourselves here), often in defense of other folks like the ones mentioned in the 2nd paragraph, just make the argument from authority: either the authority of one of their little cult leader “intellectual” heroes, or even more absurd, their own authority as a critical thinker. But it’s not the argument from authority when a critical thinker does it, right? And credulity is not a virtue, except when it’s demanded by someone who is ostensibly a “skeptic”.
Critical thinking is a tool we use, not a thing we become. It’s a process we go through, not some kind of goal where you have to fight whoever manages Sam Harris’ trust fund in order to get the signed copy of The Bell Curve which will help you destroy the final boss of irrationality. So next time you see some “free speech warrior” suing someone for criticizing them or talking about how certain areas of academia should be abolished, explaining why they edited out parts of their podcast at the behest of a white supremacist, or simply attempting to dress down a journalist for having the temerity to disagree with them, flex those critical thinking muscles. Consider their biases, and consider your own. Don’t just decide that they’re a criticalthinker™, and since you agree with them you must be too. After all, you’re not a fuckin Scientologist, and while there are lot of similarities in some cases, none of your heroes are L Ron Hubbard. Joining a cult is probably not going to help anyone in this, the war of bad ideas.
And one last thing. I am not some casual observer of bias here, I brought plenty of it to this article. But do feel free to complain about it if you like :)