Friday, September 24, 2010

screwing it up

Dear Apathetic and Cynical Democrats:

If anybody screws up our momentum and advantage, it's going to be you. You're sitting there, wallowing in your learned helplessness, telling yourself that you already worked hard, and it didn't make everything all better. Can't you just sit this one out? You'll have the bonus of being right about yourselves: you can't do anything, nothing that you manage to do will matter, and nothing that you do which matters will last.

I don't want that. Do you? Maybe. Does it have to be that way? No. You were laying groundwork before, and you were laying it for this. You think it won't make a difference whether you work to get more Democrats in office or not? You think it won't? Why? It did last time. Six months ago we got the first piece of our health care reform passed, and a lot of it goes into effect today. Right before the mid-term election, things have changed.

Health Care Reform Changes Effective Today

Starting today, for example, insurers won't be able to exclude children from coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Rescission, which led to many Americans losing their coverage when they needed it most, is forbidden. Young people can now stay on their parents' plan until age 26. Preventive care -- including colonoscopies, mammograms, and immunizations -- must now be covered without co-payments.

Republicans intend to take all of this away, of course, and will fight tooth and nail next year if voters reward them with a majority.

For more details, the White House has a website dedicated to the new law, and you can probably find some good stuff in there.

I'm posting this as a reminder to everybody that this, new credit card regulations, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Tribal Law and Order Act, and a host of other things are why you guys need to get up off your asses and make sure that the Republicans don't take back the House this November. The few small reforms we've managed to get done are all things that they hate, and they absolutely will take them away if we invite them in the door. You know it and I know it.

Yeah, I know that a lot of Democratic candidates aren't really anything special. Frankly, though, you have two choices. You have one party that's going to pay lip service to your interests, and another part that gets itself re-elected by telling their constituents you are a bunch of greedy, lazy, godless, ignorant, freedom-hating terrorist sympathizers. There's a limit to what the Democrats are going to give us, but learned helplessness is not the answer.

This November, I need you to vote. You remember what it was like when the Republicans got their way. You remember Bush's second term when he could do whatever the hell he wanted, push whatever partisan horseshit came to his mind, and just in general actually do what his insane voter base had put him in office to do?

I want us to have that too. Don't fuck it up. It's about more than the Presidential elections. Some of your Congresscritters are up for re-election, and Indiana, I am looking at you when I say this: You aren't going to make America more progressive by getting lazy and letting Republicans get elected. We're only going to get more truly-progressive Democrats in office if we make it clear that they don't have to play to the radical right wing to get elected. The more Democrats there are overall, the safer it is for the progressives to come out and do what we voted them in office to do.

So do not fuck it up. We need more than a majority. We need a supermajority, because right now, a minority of the house can block things like common-sense election reform. We need there to be fewer Republicans in the House and Senate. This is not a time to rest on our goddamn laurels and say, "Well, we got really close! Good for us!" Now we're close enough that we can see the finish line, so don't fuck it up.

President Obama made a good point last night, and I wanted to close with it.
“The single biggest threat to our success is not the other party,” the president said at the Roosevelt Hotel. “It’s us. It’s complacency. It’s apathy. It’s indifference. It’s people feeling like, well, we only got 80 percent of what we want, we didn't get the other 20, so we’re just going to sit on our hands. We’re not going to go out there. It turns out bringing about change is hard. I thought it was going to be easy. I liked the cute poster of the Obama campaign. I enjoyed the inauguration. It was great when Beyonce and Bono was singing. I didn’t know that we were actually going to have to grind it out, that sometimes we’d have setbacks.”

He's got us nailed, guys. I thought we were proud of finally standing up and fighting for something. Remember how excited we were to use the words "President Obama?" You know why? Because we fought. We fought for something, and realized that we're more powerful than we thought we were. That little voice in our heads telling us nothing we do matters? It was there then, too, and it was dead wrong. It's still wrong.

Remember how Candidate Obama absolutely destroyed his opposition to become President Obama. That was you! What you did once, you can do again. You're no weaker now than you were then. You're no less now than you were then, and you're starting off much closer to your goal. Don't sell yourself short. Selling yourself short is the only possible way that you're going to fuck this up. So don't.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

About Plait's "Don't be a dick" admonishment to atheists

Okay! Since I can't watch Youtube videos (at least not with the sound) due to some odd problem with my OS's Adobe Flash, it's taken me a while to get around to hunting down a transcript of this so that I can respond to it, since evidently it's vital I do so. Seems I missed quite a blowup in the skeptic blogosphere over it as well, while I was off not having the tubez.

The transcript I'm using is from here, so any potential misquotes should be taken with a grain of salt. However, Plait himself linked to this entry on his Twitter account, so it can't be that bad.

My Starting Point

The thing that I wanted to say going into this is that my big concern about this talk is that it was going to come down to a longer and better-rationalized edition of The Tone Argument (which, for those who haven't been hit with it before, is the assertion that the reason nobody listens to women, people of color, trans people, gay people, poor people, etc. is that these people are all too angry from years of not being listened to, and if they were just nicer, people would listen to them. It's a great way to dismiss somebody for being angry at being dismissed). Hopefully this doesn't turn out to be the case, because it's possible to make the practicality and delivery argument without sliding into The Tone Argument. It's just hard.

What Plait Said

The generic person out there, somebody not in our group, they tend to hear a message that science is hard and that it’s boring. And worse, skeptics and scientists, we tend to be thought of as being stuffy and stilted, antisocial, if not evil and downright sociopathic. Atheists eat babies, don’t you know? So it’s a tough sell.

Also, how do believers think of themselves? Many times, their self-identity is wrapped up in their belief. One of the most important things people use to define themselves is their religion or their belief. They might say, “I’m a UFO person” or whatever, doesn’t matter what the belief is.

Not only that, our society stresses faith. How many movies have as their final message something about faith? How many books, how many TV shows? The doubt in the movie is downplayed. The person who is doubting is shown as ineffectual, even bad. And the belief is the highest ideal. [...]

So all of this is stacked against us. And this is a lot of stuff stacked against us. Why in the hell would you want to make it harder to deliver that message?

Practicality here. Not bad. It is worth noting that there is a little bit of a discordant message for a second here: "Don't patronize believers. Don't treat them like they're stupid. Because, you see, believers are fragile soft-minded creatures who are easily swayed into believing (or not believing) things based on what makes them feel good. They don't think very well, but you can't tell them so, because it will only make them think worse and frighten the skittish believer away. Instead you have to seduce them into thinking straight by making sure it's not threatening or difficult at any point."

Personally, I am indeed of the opinion that people who believe crazy things are probably not really solid on their "it's safe to apply critical thinking to everything" analytical backbone.

Frankly, it's demonstrably true that everybody is inclined to believe things which make us feel good and disbelieve things which make us feel bad, and religious believers are the natural result of this. It isn't that what he's saying is inaccurate; it's that he's effectively saying all this in the same breath that he's telling skeptics not to treat believers as though they're lazy critical thinkers. The message seems to be, "We all know that they're not good at thinking, but don't tell them that. They don't think well enough to handle it properly, so let's just keep that our little secret.

What is your goal? What are you trying to accomplish? Before you talk, before you leave a comment, before you engage a pseudoscientist, before you raise your hand, before you sign that email, ask yourself: is this going to help? Is this going to allow me to achieve my goal? And you also need to ask yourself: will this impede me from achieving my goal? Is this just to make me feel better, or am I trying to change the world?

I think that this kind of reflexive engagement is something that a lot of people wrestle with. Frankly, it seems to me that anybody who isn't afraid of conflict will often find themselves enlisted as an attack dog by those who are. That's certainly been my position. As a result, I sort of got the idea eventually that people keep me around to defend them.

This is why I've often had to step back, sit down, and get straight just what I'm trying to accomplish. Am I trying to persuade the person I'm talking to? Generally not. Am I trying to offer support to the people who agree with me, to prevent them from getting burnt out and exhausted? Frequently. Am I just trying to strike out at somebody saying something stupid because it'll make me feel better? Sure, now and again. I don't think that any of these are necessarily terrible motivations, but it is important to be certain which one is actually the goal at hand, so that I don't regret my failure to achieve something that (if I'm honest with myself) I didn't care about anyway.

Meta-Response! IT'S SO META.

This particular blogger gives a lot of excellent point/counterpoint bits at the end of this, and they themselves are noteworthy. This is the one that I happen to agree with. I wanted to give it some special attention, because I've seen first-hand that mockery is a better response to ignorance than engaging with it as though it were an equal "side of the story." See Creationism. See homeopathy.

Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Community of Austin has pointed out that while many children stop believing in Santa Claus because they catch their parents putting presents under the tree, others stop believing because they get teased about it by the older kids on the school bus. Or at least, this can start them on the road to doubting Santa Claus and figuring out the truth.

More generally, people don’t want to feel foolish. If they think their opinion will get them laughed at, they’re more likely to keep quiet. Now, this doesn’t stop them from believing foolish things, but it does help keep them out of the way when you’re trying to teach someone else. There are still people out there who believe in flying saucers, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, crop circles, and the CIA conspiracy to kill JFK, but they have no real sway in society because at this point they’re little more than a punchline. 9/11 truthers are, I think, rapidly heading down that road as well.

Along the same lines, while there’s still a lot of racism in the US, at least it’s gotten to the point where it’s no longer socially acceptable. This doesn’t stop people from being racists, but it does mean that anyone who wanted to, say, reintroduce segregated schools would quickly be booed out of the town meeting. If we could get to the point where creationism and ID are widely perceived as being a joke, then that would at least stop people from trying to subvert the teaching of science in public schools, which in itself would be a step forward. So I’ll score this as a point against Phil.

I'm a heavy user of mockery when I'm trying to make a point. Why? Because people who believe or disbelieve an empirical hypothesis based on how it makes them feel are thinking poorly, but what's really fun is to make fun of thinking poorly and then watch them wrestle with, "Thinking poorly is evidently ridiculous. I don't want to be ridiculous; thinking poorly is therefore a threat to my continued happy-feelings. However, thinking poorly is how I often preserve my happy-feelings. ZOMG POSITRONIC LOCK."

And before anybody asks, "Yeah, it's fun to watch, but does it work?" Yes. Yes, it does. It worked on me.

More on Mockery as a Rhetorical Tool

I can't even count the people I know who count themselves paragons of free thought, disobedient enlightenment, and independence because they don't believe that God created the world in six days, but who nonetheless believe that the way they spin their chakras can influence their rate of recovery from physical ailments. Why? Because the people they know (and I know this, because I know them too) mock Christian Creationists, but don't mock chakra-spinning, shen-balancing, fairy-consulting, chi-channeling distance reiki master chiropractor homeopaths who can cure anything that ails you by staring into your eyes, touching your skin, thinking really hard while on the phone with you, twisting your neck, or doing any of the above in the presence of magical water and then diluting that water a hundred times and then giving you the result.

People only protect from critical thinking the ideas which their social and cultural environment allows them to. Yes, I realize I am creating an environment hostile to ideas about Santa Claus, Creationism, fairies, and crystal-healing. Do you know why? Because people only protect ideas from critical thinking to the extent that they can get away with it without being thought ridiculous. Pointing out that what they're protecting is just as ridiculous as what they mock is not counterproductive, it's just uncomfortable for them.

If we're afraid of making people uncomfortable, then we're doomed from the start.

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them… -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 30 July, 1816

Even More on Ridicule... This Time as a Deprogramming Tool

However! Calling someone an idiot to their face doesn't work. You have to target someone else. It's not scapegoating, because a "scapegoat" is an innocent target being made to pay for the sins of the guilty (see: Jesus, or the literal goats from which the term originates), which isn't the case when you're going after a faith healer who encourages parents to pray away diabetes (to give one example), or a woman who drowns her children because she believes that God talks to mortals and tells them to kill their children (see: Abraham and Isaac). Make someone who is not your conversational partner an object of ridicule for being ridiculous and you give them a powerful social and emotional incentive to not do the same thing. If you consider that we're probably talking about someone who got themselves into their beliefs by similar means (rather than by reason and evidence), then pulling the "social and emotional incentive" lever is a remarkably pointed approach.

The author of the blog entry I'm reading makes one very very good point that I think everybody needs to be aware of, so I'm giving it its own section.

BE EFFECTIVE (even when doing so requires unfair amounts of effort)

Having said that, there’s a lot to be said for doing what it takes to win. When insults and vitriol work, use them; when they don’t, don’t. One problem, though, is that this is not a war, where you destroy the enemy’s army and go home. Or a game, where you score the most points and go home. Or politics, where you only need to worry about one election at a time. What we the skeptical movement are doing is more like homesteading. The problems we face today — ignorance, superstition, and the like — are never going away, because each new generation starts out ignorant, and because our brains are wired for superstition. We need to be in this for the long haul. (...)

Don’t forget that you’re representing the team.

1. Yes. Do things because they work, not because they give us some kind of emotional release. This is true whether we're figuring out how to treat an illness, or we're trying to figure out how to accomplish our goal in a discussion.

2. Duh. A lot of people forget that atheists are like any marginalized group: there's a portrayal of us that a lot of people accept for two reasons: it gives them a convenient way to handwave us, and frankly they often just don't know any better.

We are stereotyped as being angry joyless assholes with a superiority complex. We have as much work to do against that stereotype as any group (which is why being a "nice" atheist is a little like being an "articulate" black man), and the fact that it's not fair doesn't make it any less the case. We have to do extra work to get heard. It's not fair, it's exhausting, it sucks, but we are starting from a rhetorical disadvantage. We either need to compensate for that or be okay with failure.

This is the difference between the practicality argument that I think Plait is making, and The Tone Argument. The Tone Argument says, "You are to blame for the fact that you're still being stepped on, because you've never been nice enough about it for anyone to want to listen to you."

I think Plait is making a different argument, and one that I can indeed get behind. It gives a nod to the truth behind The Tone Argument without laying the sort of blame that this conversation-stopper is known for (and which is basically its only purpose).

People don't want to listen to us, and that's not fucking fair. Unfortunately, wishful thinking isn't gonna make that disadvantage go away, so if we want to be heard, we're just gonna have to prove them wrong about us all being assholes. Which sucks, because once again the marginalized group has to be the "bigger person," while the people in power get to behave however they like. It's always like this, and while it's unfair, wishing it away won't make it go away. Maybe once they've deigned to listen to us, they'll realize how unfair it was to put us in this position to begin with.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Why is the city of Montgomery condemning the property of African-Americans along a civil rights trail?

Over the last decade or so, dozens—perhaps hundreds—of homes in Montgomery have been declared blighted and razed in a similar manner. The owners tend to be disproportionately poor and black, and with little means to fight back. And here's the kicker: Many of the homes fall along a federally funded civil rights trail in the neighborhood where Rosa Parks lived. Activists say the weird pattern may not be coincidence. (...)

Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange didn't respond to my request for an interview, but he has insisted in other outlets that the reaction from Jones, Beito, and other critics is overblown. "I want property owners to act responsibly," Strange told an Atlanta Fox News affiliate last month. "If they don't care about their property then I want them to sell it to somebody that does care."

And yet one city resident, Jimmy McCall, was in the process of building a home when the city declared his property a public nuisance in 2008. When the city said the construction wasn't moving fast enough, McCall got restraining orders from both state and federal courts to prevent the city from destroying the building. The city tore it down anyway, then sent McCall a bill for the destruction. McCall won a court judgment for damages. The city is appealing.

Jim Peera, an Atlanta real estate developer, fought the city for six years over eight acres of low-income housing he owned that the city declared a public nuisance. After he won two court victories, two of his buildings mysteriously caught fire. He says the fire department never investigated, though a city official publicly suggested Peera set the fires himself to collect insurance. Peera eventually broke down and sold his land rather than fight the city's appeals. The property now belongs to Summit Housing Group, one of the country's largest developers of subsidized housing. Mayor Strange told ABC News last month that the city of Montgomery's involvement with these properties ends once the rubble is cleared—that the city isn't taking land from residents and selling it to developers. But in Peera's case, the city of Montgomery, not Summit, wrote the check for his land. (...)

Jim Peera filed an open records request for all of Montgomery's demolitions in 2008, then plotted them on a map, which he presented at a rally earlier this month sponsored by the libertarian public interest firm the Institute for Justice. The first thing you notice about Peera's map is that the vast majority of 2008 demolitions were west of Court Street, a part of the city that's mostly black. Within this area, the demolitions seem to fall rather consistently along the Selma to Montgomery Trail route. Hurst speculates that the city is trying to condemn and seize properties along the trail instead of buying them at fair market value—as eminent domain would require. I wasn't able to substantiate that claim (and short of a smoking gun document, I'm not sure how I could). But even if the demolitions are more generally about keeping eyesores out of a tourist area, it's hard to ignore the context: The city of Montgomery is destroying the homes of low-income, African-American residents along a trail commissioned to celebrate the civil rights movement.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Buddhism," "Faith," "Confirmed Confidence," and Scare Quotes

Defining "faith" here as "the belief in something without needing or even in spite of a persuasive empirical case." Therefore believing in Germ Theory is not an article of faith, but believing in a God, or ghosts, or reincarnation, or heaven, or karma, is.

(Notable aside: I've seen it suggested that the word "saddha" which often gets translated "faith" in English is closer to "confirmed confidence" in meaning. This means that "saddha" refers to the kind of faith we have that rain is caused by condensing water vapor, rather than the kind of faith we have that rain is caused by cracks in the firmament.)

Dharma practice is good, because it's a set of tools to accomplish certain things. The rest is there basically for explanations and examples. Dharma practice is a process that can do some good for just about anybody. However, the things that Buddha taught which are actually tools to advance and improve oneself (4NT and the 8FP) don't require the practitioner to believe anything that flies in the face of evidence.

Lots of Buddhists say that Buddhism requires faith (in reincarnation, in metaphysical "what goes around comes around"-style karma, in bodhisattvas, etc.) but doesn't require blind faith. Frankly I've heard the same statement from followers of the big monotheist traditions which nevertheless require adherents to build their lives around assertions like "there's a wish-granting moody man in the sky who likes you best." People who believe this don't believe they're being irrational or believing things which fly in the face of evidence, and I don't see the people who believe in things like karma or rebirth to be all that much different.

Not everybody who has an opinion about a subject has an opinion because of "faith," but everybody who believes something supernatural, superstitious, or otherwise metaphysical most certainly does, because there's no empirical support for the existence of those things (or it wouldn't require faith to believe in them). As a result, "faith" (which is always blind wishful thinking, imo) plays a large role in a lot of people's dharma practice, but not in mine.

After I explain this, I often run into a few questions/objections (more the latter, since people of faith seldom think to ask me anything), and rather than go through this conversation again for the millionth time, I'm just gonna post the FAQ and hope that it saves a little labor for all of us.

OBJECTION ONE: "But there is no truth but personal truth, and nobody has the REAL answers, so one answer is as good as another, right?" (AKA Argument from Postmodernism)

The common question at this point is "what is evidence?" "What kind of evidence can you find which isn't subjective and on some level taken on faith?" I say it's a common question because I've had some of the same conversations with Buddhists now that I have had with Christians on this subject, and since it always comes up eventually, I'd better just address it.

It's occasionally an interesting thought experiment to say "nothing is objectively true, there is no reality outside of our perception of it, and there's no such thing as truth," but it's not particularly useful in the here and now. When I ask my doctor whether I'm sick because of a bacterium or a virus, this viewpoint is not useful. When I ask my partner whether we have enough money to cover our expenses, this viewpoint is not useful. Why? Because these are practical questions.

Questions of suffering are practical questions. This is why I often refer to my particular path as "dharma practice" and not "Buddhism." I've seen too much suffering caused by belief systems that come packaged with beliefs that must be taken on faith for it to seem plausible that yet another one is the solution.

Until anybody who believes in karma or rebirth fulfils their burden of proof and persuades me, I'm not going to live as though they're true. Why? Because I have actual problems to solve in my actual life, and I can't do this unless I'm only factoring in things which are likely to be true. Considering that the tools of dharma practice that Buddha laid out deal with actual problems for my actual life, I see no reason to distract myself by clinging to past lives or yearning for future ones. I see no reason to worry about them at all. Aren't we, as Buddhists, supposed to be living in the present and aware of what's going on around us now?

OBJECTION TWO: "But everybody has faith in something." (AKA Argument from I Know You Are But What Am I)

First off, see the beginning of this little ramble. If my answer to this isn't already clear, then I'll elaborate, becaue this one is actually a big pet peeve of mine.

On a personal level, I honestly find it rather distasteful to muddy the discussion by referring to everything that everybody gives weight to as "faith." I don't have "faith" in Germ Theory the way my dad has faith in Jesus. I don't have "faith" in natural selection the way some people I know have "faith" in Young Earth Creationism. By the same token, I don't have "faith" that I'm capable of disciplining my own mind the way that some Buddhists have "faith" that praying to a Bodhisattva will acquire them merit.

I think the difference between "faith in Jesus/reincarnation/etc." and "faith that gravity pulls objects toward the center of the Earth when we are standing on its surface" has been adequately covered earlier in the thread. After a while discussing this issue with various people in various places, it's starting to seem to me that the people who say, "well, everybody has something they take on faith" are either deliberately fudging the way evidence-based beliefs are formed so that they cease to seem different from articles of faith, or they don't actually understand how people form opinions without faith-based assumptions.

I'm going to argue again that belief in things without (or even despite) evidence is a bad idea, because we have more than enough problems in the real world to think we're going to solve anything by starting with a misapprehension of the conditions around us. We're not going to solve human suffering by inventing superstitious ideas about the sources or implications of suffering any more than we can cure disease by inventing superstitious ideas about how it spreads or its symptoms.

I don't mean to be harsh, but it's sort of a pet peeve of mine when people say, "Oh, well, everybody takes things on faith." It may serve to smooth over differences by implying that we're all doing the same thing when it comes down to it, but it's unfortunately demonstrably untrue, and lasting peace and tolerance can't be built on that sort of friendly dishonesty. I'd much rather believers think I'm strange and overintellectualizing and missing the point than have them be friends with a figment of me and my path that I don't really recognize.

Again. A lot of people make use of faith. However, it is extremely important to note that not everybody does. Assertions to the contrary don't help people get along despite their differences any more than misapprehensions about any other part of our human experience. Faith plays a large role in many peoples' Buddhist practice, but not in mine.

OBJECTION THREE: "Well, there are just some questions that aren't for reason and rationality to solve." (AKA Argument from Inapplicability of Arguments)

Dear Humanity: Stop conflating faith and confirmed confidence. These two things can only be conflated if you do one of the following things:

A. Create separate categories for things which may be decided upon with faith-based reasoning, and which must be decided upon with empirical thinking. For example: Most people (though not all) place medicine in this category. They'll pray for recovery, but they'll take antibiotics as well.

B. Allow faith to subvert empirical reasoning all the time. The Church of Christian Science is one big one. They'll pray for recovery, and be insulted by the suggestion that they need antibiotics as much as they need the protection of the Lord.

Option A seems to imply that there are questions which are "safe" to apply limited critical thinking and empirical examination to, and questions for which that's not good enough. I say that even that much faith is too much faith, because if you have to exclude something from the most important decisions, then it probably isn't helping the lesser ones either.

Again. Finally. In summary. Etcetera. Faith is wishful thinking. Period dot. Nothing I've read of the Buddha suggests that he thought very much of wishful thinking as a problem-solving tool. This doesn't mean that it has no place in Buddhist religions or cultures, but it does mean that it's probably something of a departure from what Buddha himself actually suggested. Furthermore, Buddha's opinion aside, there's nothing that suggests to me that it'd be worth including at all, which is why (once again) I don't.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

cultural divide

Reading Bridging the Chasm Between Two Cultures was an interesting experience for me. I found it on axelrod's Dreamwidth journal. It's about the gulf between the culture of New Agers and the culture of skeptics, and how those cultures create ways of communicating which do not meet in the middle at all.

In all the din, people in my culture hear what they deem to be hyper-intellectual and emotionally charged attacks upon their cherished beliefs, while people in your culture hear what they deem to be wishful thinking, scientific illiteracy, and emotionally charged salvos in defense of mere delusions.

This is of course a tragedy, but after reading through the skeptical literature for the last three years, I feel that this tragedy may be avoidable.

On the one hand, I felt at first like her point might be that skeptics like James Randi actually fuel a backlash against critically-evaluating cherished and fun metaphysical beliefs like Uri Geller's spoonbending. I sort of... tilted my head and got ready for the Tone Argument, the one that says "nobody is listening to you because you're an angry unlikeable asshole, and angry unlikeable assholes deserve to be ignored no matter what the merit of what they're saying. New Agers won't listen until you're not an asshole."

It didn't come. So here are a few sections from this very thoughtful article. I know it's long, but I read it, and anybody who's had conversations as either a skeptic or a believer should read it. In fact, anybody who has refused to have those conversations for any reason should definitely read it. I know that I've chopped it up into odd quoted sections and put it out of order, but this is at least partly so that when you get to the parts I've quoted you'll say, "Ah. There's that paragraph," and you'll have a chance to read it a second time like (in most cases) I did.

I've been studying the conflict between the skeptical community and the metaphysical/new age community for a few decades now, and I think I've finally discovered the central issue that makes communication so difficult. It is not merely, as many surmise, a conflict between fact-based viewpoints and faith-based viewpoints. Nor is it simply a conflict between rationality and credulity. No, it’s a full-on clash of cultures that makes real communication improbable at best.

Something the skeptics in the audience should note:
I couldn't find myself in the skeptical lexicon. I couldn't identify myself with the uncaring hucksters, the wildly miseducated snake-oil peddlers, the self-righteous psychics, the big-haired evangelists, or the megalomaniacal eastern fakirs. I couldn't identify my work or myself with the scam-based work or the unstable personalities so roundly trashed by the skeptical culture, because I was never in the field to scam anyone—and neither were any of my friends or colleagues.

I worked in the field because I have a deep and abiding concern for people, and an honest wish to be helpful in my own culture. Access to clearheaded and carefully presented skeptical material would have helped me (and others like me) at every step of the way—but I couldn't access any of that information because I simply couldn't identify with it.

Something the New Agers in the audience should note:
One of the biggest falsehoods I've encountered is that skeptics can't tolerate mystery, while New Age people can. This is completely wrong, because it is actually the people in my culture who can't handle mystery—not even a tiny bit of it. Everything in my New Age culture comes complete with an answer, a reason, and a source. Every action, emotion, health symptom, dream, accident, birth, death, or idea here has a direct link to the influence of the stars, chi, past lives, ancestors, energy fields, interdimensional beings, enneagrams, devas, fairies, spirit guides, angels, aliens, karma, God, or the Goddess.

We love to say that we embrace mystery in the New Age culture, but that’s a cultural conceit and it’s utterly wrong.

This one I was saving for last, because it hurt a little to read.
I've discovered in just the few (less than ten) conversations I've had with faith-based people that skeptical information is absolutely threatening and unwanted. What I didn't understand until recently is that when you start questioning these beliefs, there’s a domino effect that eventually smacks into your whole house of cards—and nothing remains standing. Opening the questioning process is a very dangerous thing, and people in my culture seem to understand that on a subconscious level. In response to their extreme discomfort, I've become completely silent around believers—which is hard, because they make up most of my friends, family, and correspondents.

This one hit close to home for me. I actually physically winced away from my screen as I read it the first time, because it hurts.

It's very isolating to be the one who can't stop herself from applying intellectual rigor where it's not supposed to, because when you make people uncomfortable like that, it feels sometimes like nobody wants you around. I've wrestled with this one a lot. Sometimes I come out on the side of, "Just don't say anything, because everybody already knows what your opinion probably is and if they wanted to hear it, they'd ask. But nobody is asking, because they don't like the way you think and can only be friends with you if they can pretend you don't think like that." Sometimes I come out on the side of, "Goddamn it why is everybody allowed to give their opinion but me! Screw it, I'm saying something like everybody else gets to do. If they don't want to hear from me, then they should stop acting like I'm allowed in the conversation."

I still wrestle with it, though. I don't know what the answer is. Sometimes I just want to crawl all the way into a culture where people like me who "over-intellectualize" the questions we find are considered okay, and useful, and maybe even desirable. Sometimes I'm afraid I'll miss the people I'll leave behind who used to love me, back before they realized that I'm the enemy.

I think that last quote is why I posted it. It's an apology for the fact that I can't unthink the things I've thought, and for the fact that it means I don't feel wanted anymore. Sometimes I want to slip away quietly so that I don't destroy anybody else's house of cards like I destroyed mine, but sometimes I just want to wreck it all because I know that in the long run that the tricky balance between reason and faith isn't sustainable anyway, and I hate feeling something so stupid: hurt that I've been kicked off the sinking ship.

I guess what I'm saying is that skeptics aren't angry all the time. Skeptics don't hate New Agers all the time or even very much of the time, honestly. We understand what New Agers are getting out of their culture, because a lot of us used to be there. Some of us even miss it. We just can't have it anymore. We can't unthink what we've thought, and we can't pretend we didn't see what we saw. We stared into the void of suspended assumptions, and it stared back, and now we're... not like you. And we know you can tell. Sometimes that hurts.

I didn't mean to make this about me. But... the article really resonated with me, and I didn't expect it to do that. As a skeptic, but more importantly as a social scientist, I am saddened by my inability to bridge this gap. I feel, as an anthropologist and a crowd-pleaser class clown, that I should be doing better. I should be the one who can be anywhere, who can fit in with anybody, who can figure out what everybody wants from her and give it to them no matter how complex and unexpected the demands may be.

I'm not doing it. I'm failing.

It's unsettling, and disappointing, and hasn't ever happened before to me. No wonder believers are afraid to ask certain questions; they're afraid they'll turn out like me. Maybe they should be. Sometimes it kind of sucks.