Monday, February 05, 2007

It's about more than ghosts...

A brief quotation from Dan Agin's "Junk Science" serves here as some chewy food for thought:

"As a rule, the more polarized the political stance, the more likely realities are twisted to suit the arguments, and at the extremes of polarization it's no surprise to find that those on the extreme left and extreme right essentially practice the same methods..."

These are words worthy of being taken to heart. Though I devote a lot of my attention to the questionable actions of the political (and especially the religious) right, the left is far from sinless. From the irrational fear of nuclear energy to the spread of rampant and choking "political correctness", the left has woven its share of threads into the tapestry of the ridiculous that now hangs over the United States and the world.

The defense against this is a skeptical and critical worldview, a demand that claims be backed with verifiable evidence and that policies be dictated by reason rather than impassioned wishful thinking. Skepticism isn't just for dealing with psychics and ghosts and Mothman. The value of skepticism would be sorely limited if its application was constrained merely to the paranormal. After all, Sasquatch isn't in charge of allocating federal money for medical research and the Loch Ness Monster doesn't keep a blog about the alleged evils of transgenic foods. While paranormal charlatans can fool us, steal our money, and use our emotions against us, political and corporate entities can do all these things and more on a scale that is almost unimaginable- but only if we let them.

I've come to see the examination of these more fantastic claims as a sort of practice, a skepticism 101 that lays the foundations for one's ability to deal with the more insidious flummery that surrounds us. The mechanisms for examining the claims of a psychic are not much different than the mechanisms for examining the rationale behind political or corporate policy. Though the subjects for consideration may be very different, we must still strive to reach conclusions based on the evidence and solid, neutral reason.

Because we live in a representative democracy, the public must learn to protect itself from specious reasoning. On its face the equation is simple: The better the powers of reasoning that the voting public can bring to bear, the more rational public policy and governance will become. The real application is unlikely to be quite so perfect, but it's a mark to strive for nonetheless.

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