The Poles in the Big Tent


George Hrab began his last episode of the Geologic Podcast with an approximately 9 minute long statement of frustration about the response he’d gotten to his previous week’s “Religious Moron of the Week.” What struck me as odd was the moment when George read one of the e-mails that said that because he wasn’t libertarian enough, that meant he wasn’t a good part of the skeptical movement. Now, first off, I’ve heard George do segments where he just talked for about 15 minutes over his amazement at the abilities of his local fire department, and actually ended the bit with pretty much telling free market people to suck it. So what podcast have those people been listening too? But what’s more than that, when the hell did skepticism become synonymous with libertarianism?

That should sort of be enough to put a little wedge in that theory, shouldn’t it? Look, it’s great that folks feel like they can put all their views into one basket, but believing that your basket is representative of everyone else’s is just… stupid and dogmatic. I am a skeptic. I also believe in European style socialism. The one does not mean that the other is incompatible.

I think there are a few constants in the skeptical movement. We tend to be confrontational. Many of us have a chip or two on our shoulders and can get heated about our particular pseudoscience of choice when the need for that arises. We believe in evidence based reasoning, and tend to have a love and understanding of logic. These are all traits that a skeptic needs. It’s what makes us so damn lovable. Our common views on evidence has given our society a place where we can agree. We all know that the evidence has shown no proof of homeopathy, acupuncture, ghosts, or psychics. But politics are not so cut and dry.

I believe as skeptics, we need to be able to embrace the big tent. There just aren’t enough of us to snipe at each other over those relatively minor differences we have. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t discuss those differences, obviously we should. We are a stronger movement because we are not homogeneous. We have libertarians, socialists, moderates, and who knows, maybe even a few fascists and communists too. We have atheists, agnostics, deists, theists, anti-theists, and spaghetti-monster enthusiasts. These are good things. As we all know, species with low diversity do not survive the evolutionary process. We need to hold onto those different genes that make us up so that we have more room to grow and thrive.

I am a Jewish agnostic socialist skeptic. At drinking skeptically, I regularly talk with anti-theist libertarian skeptics. What are you? Am I naïve, or would we still get along even if there weren’t glasses in our hands?


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5 Responses to “The Poles in the Big Tent”

  1. BJ Says:

    Shermer has written about his libertarianism quite a bit, in books as well as articles and the like. While he does seem to think that skepticism leads to libertarianism, he is very quick to point out that this is a fuzzy area where reasonable people can disagree. In fact, he spoke this summer at TAM and his theme was mostly about transcending these squabbles as a society.

    Just because he thinks libertarianism is better way to govern doesn’t make him the boogeyman. We can all learn quite a bit from his attitudes on political differences.

    I happen to generally agree with libertarians, but am deeply troubled about certain issues, like health care. We need to constructively work towards solutions that are both ethical and successful, and stop putting people in neat categories that allow us take sides and marginalize those we assume to be wrong.

    We’ll undoubtedly have to compromise with some of the people in those categories at some point, you know…

  2. Some Canadian Skeptic Says:

    I recently spent several thousand words deconstructing some of Shermer’s libertarian arguments here and here.

    I have a huge problem with libertarianism being treated like it’s the be-all-and-end-all of what it means to be a skeptic. This is to say nothing with treating free-market capitalism like it’s the natural state of Darwinian selection.

  3. mjr256 Says:

    Yeah, it’s definitely a source of tension within the skeptical community that hopefully won’t become too divisive. I know lots of great skeptics like Michael Shermer who happen to also be libertarians even though I feel that strong libertarian beliefs are fundamentally irrational.

    I mean, I get libertarianism to an extent. I remember in high school when I first heard the term laissez-faire, I thought that pretty much described my position. And early in college, I thought I was pretty libertarian. But once I met others who called themselves libertarians, I realized that while I had some libertarian leanings, I wasn’t a libertarian. I don’t really have a term for where I stand on this issue. I think maybe you nailed it with “European style socialism.” I think big government is important when it comes to protecting the welfare of its citizens. But I’m for very small government when it comes to civil liberties issues like free speech. However, I also think that there does still need to be heavy regulations to keep corporates honest so that they don’t bilk the public with fraudulent claims. It’s all very case-by-case.

  4. AJ Mell Says:

    Thanks for bringing this issue up. I have always been puzzled as to why the skeptical movement has a disproportionate number of libertarians–and I gave up watching “Bullshit!” because I felt like it was becoming a forum for Penn Gillette’s libertarian propaganda. Not that people of all (well, most) political stripes aren’t welcome to join the club — but what, exactly, is the connection between an evidence-based view of reality and an embrace of laissez-faire capitalism and unrestricted gun rights? I don’t get it. Is it all Ayn Rand’s fault?

  5. J. Says:

    While the skeptical movement may benefit from being ecumenical I suspect strategy breaks down when we must join with fascists and several other persuasions which have little quirks such as those which that would send me, my family and other undesirables to the gas chambers or even just limit our civil rights. I get queasy when it comes to making a bargain with the devil. As Ad Reinhardt said, “I don’t want to go to heaven if it’s with those guys.”

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