Skeptics and Other Hedonists
I'm home, now, from APW. As I drove away from the hotel, I started to feel more stable, more ready to think. I'm still feeling a little raw, as if I'd start crying at the slightest provocation.
I simply observe that as a symptom to be set aside, for now, while I try to make sense of my reaction.
Part of it may simply be that I'm tired. Two very different - and differently challenging - conferences in one weekend is almost certainly too much. The academic conference alone is enough to last me a few months, at least. There is a mental and emotional exhaustion that comes from an intensive weekend of workshops and discussions in my particular discipline, and it usually takes some time to recover.
That's surely part of it.
I wonder, though, whether something else is going on in my response to APW in particular. As I drove home, mulling it over, I made one connection that may fill in some part of the explanation.
I am a skeptic, but of a peculiar sort. I am automatically suspicious of dogmatic claims of any kind including, or perhaps especially, those made by self-identified skeptics. (Hence "hyperskeptic".) There was a session on skepticism and poly at the conference this morning, and I found myself sparring with the panelists over just this point.
I don't want to get too far into it, but I see them as being dogmatic about inquiry itself: by their lights, only the scientific method drawing from quantifiable empirical evidence can arbitrate what is real. The words "real" and "truth" and "fact" and "evidence" and "logic" and "objective" and "subjective" were bandied about as if their meanings were simply obvious.
Suffice it to say that, for a lot of complex reasons, I don't take the meanings of those terms to be obvious. The scientific frame is one, very powerful way of making sense of our experience, but its writ only runs so far; there are questions it cannot answer, and there are other forms of rigorous inquiry that can be brought to bear.
Whew. Sorry about that. I could go on and on about this, dropping names (Kant! Husserl!), but I'll refrain.
I was unsuccessful in convincing them because, like all dogmatists, they insisted that any argument I make conform to their understanding of proper method . . . even though that method is itself is just what I was questioning.
Moving on now. Really.
At that session, another member of the audience pointed out that there seems to be a split in the poly community between "hippies" and skeptics, between mysticism and science. Both groups, it was said, are overrepresented in the poly community compared to the general population.
The skeptics clearly hoped - though they wouldn't say so directly - that the hippies would either convert or go away. One panelist inadvertently used the skeptical put-down, "woo", to refer to some of the mystical beliefs and practices of the hippie types.
While I don't have a lot of patience for mystical beliefs and practices, myself, I'm at least willing to acknowledge that human experience is rich enough, and our cognitive abilities limited enough, that people may be entitled to find meaning where they can.
If the skeptics get off on the meaning and wonder of the sciences, as they understand them, that's just fine. (I just wish they weren't so damned arrogant about it.)
As I drove home, I realized there is a deep connection between hippie mystics and skeptics, and with other elements I observed at the meeting: hedonism.
I mean by this simply the belief that all value ultimately boils down to pleasure or to the fulfillment of desires. For deep historical reasons, scientific skeptics (aka dogmatic empiricists) are bound to this view because the only value-related phenomenon they can compass is one that is empirically observable and, perhaps, measurable: pleasure.
This came out in the session with the skeptics, today, when I pushed the panelists on the question of value. We have desires, they said; that is a matter of fact. All we need to do is to find the most effective way of getting what we desire.
(I almost cannot express the inadequacy of this response!)
In a previous session - actually a live recording of a podcast - the panelists and the audience were piling on monogamy, mainly on the grounds that it keeps us from getting what we want, fulfilling our desires, experiencing pleasure.
I tried to put in a pitch for monogamy as perhaps securing other values, perhaps as securing longer-term satisfaction, that may make it worth working through the dissatisfactions of the present moment.
The main response was that we need to live in the moment, and do what we want.
Combined with my observations from last night, part of the revulsion and distress I started to feel today may have been in reaction to what seemed to me an unreflective embrace of hedonism on the part of many, and a smug, almost condescending insistence on hedonism on the part of some.
Now, don't get me wrong. All else being equal, pleasure is a good and fine thing. All else being equal, we should seek to live a life of rich and satisfying experiences.
But there are other values to consider, as well, other kinds of obligations to which scientific skeptics may be methodologically, systematically blind.
Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-17-2013 at 07:36 PM.