BY: T. F. Murphy | November 2015 (edited October 30, 2021)
Knowledge is earned by evaluating conflicting data and determining the reliability of facts. Many bombastic presentations of truth have no foundation. We must be skeptical.
We follow political groups, religious leaders, and self-improvement gurus blindly sacrificing self-governing thought. We blindly act without scrutinizing information or objectively examining rhetoric. Some, conversely, reject all authority, thoughtlessly following their own chaotic impulses. Whether we blindly follow unscrupulous presentations of truth or ignorantly reject all authority, we lose liberty. We forfeit our amazing abilities to skeptically think.
Large groups function smoothly (for a while) when the herd unquestioning follow, listlessly submitting to the leader. Blind allegiance creates shallowness—a group of ignorant idiots, willing to rely on a sparsity of facts.
Many, driven hopelessly for group acceptance, fear self-expression that risks rejection. Individuality creates conflict within the herd. However, when more of the people willingly engage in skeptical dialogue, group leaders are held accountable for touting unsupported facts.
We seek a prophet for wisdom so we don't have to do the work of thinking.
See Search for Truth for more on this topic
When groups discuss neglected ideas and ponder possible alternatives, power hungry leaders recoil. They prefer simple, blind submission. Arrogant leaders proclaim “if you accept everything I say, you are smart; If you challenge, question or reject what I say, you are an idiot and must be stopped.”
Without skepticism, the vibrant colors of individual thought morphs into an ever-expanding sea of grey. skeptical examination is exchanged for ignorance and dogma passed on as knowledge.
Group think is a psychological term that describes a phenomenon that occurs among a group of people when the desire for conformity to the group has greater pull that rational individual thought.
What is Skepticism?
A healthier path requires, we examine facts, consider multiple sources of wisdom from history and experts, and then integrating discoveries with personal experience and values. Wise skepticism helps soften the impact of group think, bias, and dreamy desires on rational conclusions.
See Emotional Reasoning for more on this topic
Skepticism is a cautious examination of beliefs and dogma presented as uncontested truth.
Knowledge Invites Violence
Scientific discoveries are not universally accepted. Knowledge challenges the dogma of strictly structured organizations; threatening strongly held beliefs, and often invoking violence; recent and ancient history has repeatedly shown this. Galileo was imprisoned for his discoveries in astronomy, Michael Servetus burned at the stake by the orders of John Calvin for his medical book on circulation. We fear science. Healthy ethical debates invite manipulative threats from closed and simple-minded fools. Senators are threatened for skepticism; news organizations threatened for reports against a political figure. This is a form of domestic terrorism.
"Unhealthy skepticism is a tendency to believe everything is 'fake news' or wrong, which can lead to 'cynicism.'"
Democracy and progress are always under attack. If we are not critically minded, suspicious of large movements, we can get dragged into the morass, sacrificing knowledge for emotional movements. We must be skeptical.
Many groups encourage investigations that discredit opposition; but, simultaneously condemn internal probing. Looking into internal dysfunction is considered radical and disruptive. The group expectation is to critically analyze opposing doctrine while blindly accepting their own radical dogma.
Political and religious organizations that diverge from past practices, rebelling against dogma seek converts to their new platform, encouraging openness to new possibilities. However, when their members question, any skeptical follower is unwelcomed and expelled. Even in rebellion, skeptical thought is discouraged.
"Healthy ethical debates give way to manipulative threats from closed and simple-minded fools."
Invisible Emotional Forces
We need courage to skeptically evaluate facts and act outside of socially accepted paths. Loss of freedom occurs in the intimate realms of the mind, foregoing skeptical thought for habitual reaction. Outside influences trigger emotions and we thoughtlessly react, often diverging from intentions. We react; then justify.
Skeptical thought isn’t perfect. No matter how careful a decision, we never expose every underlying bias. We are habitual creatures. Habits serve evolutionary purposes, unconscious reactions free mental space. Many behaviors are unconsciously performed. Healthy routines direct behaviors, efficiently organizing time and accomplishing necessary tasks with little self-discipline required. When structured acts of habit are healthy, we seamlessly accomplish important tasks, leaving mental energy for other explorations.
These hidden motivations, while functional and essential, are also dangerous. Cognitive heuristics free resources but also are poisoned with bias.
Freedom carelessly squandered for the laziness of mind is costly. By losing the wisdom of skepticism, we aimlessly wander; victims to the unpredictableness of complexity. Our responses must be flexible enough to adjust with changing environments. Maximizing the freedom to skeptically examine a variety of contributing elements.
Many habits remain hidden, no matter how attentive. With purposeful explorations, we stumble on occasional revelations, exposing hidden mechanisms that require extracting and replacing. Many biases ominously obscure the darker corners of our being, leaving us blind to many evils lurking beyond the consciousness. This uncertainty of frightens us, losing the security of control.
Most Knowledge not Certain
Skepticism requires a momentary pause, considering goals, mulling over possible alternative explanations, and only then an action. This is, of course, is an ideal; life is more fluid—and complex. We usually can purposely pause before spiked emotions take over and in the quiet of a pause, our brief separation allows for more skeptical reasoning.
True freedom emerges from the fog of experience when we mindfully ponder different courses of action, recognize involved feelings, and then evaluate, realizing our conclusions often are tenable, but not certain. Skepticism follows the best path at the moment but understands that when new facts arise, we may be required to shift course.
Skepticism for Progress
Skepticism, continually practiced overtime, exposes many blinding beliefs. By understanding complexity, with the myriad of unknowns, we welcome intriguing explorations into our souls, expelling beliefs that breed harmful biases that unfairly attribute atrocities and fears to outside forces and groups, while missing horrendous inconsistencies in our self and our groups.
Many beliefs persisting over generations become embodied truth that we don't even consider skeptically examining. These are the dangerous beliefs, formed in ignorance and are harmful passed down. Misguided traditions joyfully are passed from family to family, and generation to generation.
True freedom skeptically works to separate healthy beliefs from harmful bias, carefully sorting causes and identifying motivations. Skepticism isn't to create bitterness and disagreeableness but to invite progress, establishing peace, in a compassionate and flourishing individual and society.
Be courageous, be skeptical, be free.
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