Dear Skeptical Community,

I’ll keep this open letter brief, unlike most of my posts. Just three quick things, said entirely generally and not directed at anyone in particular, except, you know, the people I’m obliquely talking about.

  1. It’s all well and good to talk about being reflective and critically examining our beliefs and practices to determine whether or not they’re right and well-supported and rational. But it’s just empty words if you don’t follow through with it. As skeptics, we ought to be willing almost to the point of eagerness to be criticized, to be proven wrong with evidence, and to admit our mistakes, change, and move on. You can talk about the value of critical self-examination, but it’s worthless if you don’t actually do it.
  2. To the Don’t Be a Dick crowd: from what I’ve seen of the vast majority of you, we have a very strong disconnect regarding what it means to be a dick. I get it, Phil didn’t clarify, and so you were forced to read into his comments whatever you think is dickish behavior, and assume he was calling out the same kind of things you would in that position. Me, I think that Rorschach Test quality of his speech qualifies it for the recycling bin, but your mileage may vary. The one thing I’d caution, though: when avoiding being a dick, try not to be a douche.

    See, you have dicks, right? Dicks are pointy and kind of simple and not really much to look at. Dicks are often hard and unyielding, and they have a tendency to pop up at the most inopportune moments, and sometimes they overstay their welcome. Dicks sometimes go where they’re not wanted, and they often make a big mess. Some people really like dicks, and some people don’t, and that’s fine. Dicks are an acquired taste.

    But then you have douches. Douches go in most of the same places as dicks, but they tend to look very different. Douches are sleek and clean; they’re more flexible than dicks, and they’re a lot easier to handle. Douches smell better than dicks, and they say they just want to make everything better, to clean things up with their refreshing, summery demeanor. The problem with douches, though, is that they really aren’t adding anything. In fact, they’re generally pretty unnecessary. They thrive in large part because they’ve convinced a lot of people that they need douches, because everything has just gotten so dirty recently–mostly because of those awful dicks. Douches might look and smell nice, but ultimately they’re just cold, artificial plastic, and outside of their limited realm of actual necessity, they subsist on feelings of self-loathing and dirtiness that they’ve helped cultivate.

    In more specific terms, I don’t see how false politisse, passive-aggression, holier-than-thou moralizing, and hegemonic “ur doin it wrong” edicts are any less negative than the name-calling, screaming, and whatever else gets attached to the “dick” label. Whether or not you call them retarded, passive-aggressive bullshit like criticizing people in general terms and making veiled insults is at least as dickish as calling them out to their face and being forthright with your beef. Don keeps reminding me of this quote from “Hamlet”: “That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” It’s true, and the veneer of polite discourse and moral high ground doesn’t turn passive-aggressive attacks into non-dick behavior.

    By the way, if you read between the lines there, you might have noticed that this “open letter” to a general-but-specific set of people falls under that description as well. So yes, this time, I’m intentionally being a dick. At least I’ll own up to it.

  3. Finally, I think this is the only reasonable response to the “Don’t Be” crowd–hereafter referred to as the DBs. It’s really amazing how apt this is:

Sincerely,
Tom

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12 Responses to Dear Skeptical Community,

  1. TheLabRat says:

    You're beautiful.

  2. Ryan W. says:

    I can't tell you how much I love this:As skeptics, we ought to be willing almost to the point of eagerness to be criticized, to be proven wrong with evidence, and to admit our mistakes, change, and move on. You can talk about the value of critical self-examination, but it's worthless if you don't actually do it.Exactly. If I didn't feel that way, I'd never talk to any of you guys. It's the ultimate in self-improvement.

  3. Don says:

    Profanity FTW.

  4. Skeptico says:

    Tom, that's hilarious. I'd completely forgotten that "dicks fuck assholes" piece. Very apropos.

  5. Greg says:

    Suddenly it all makes sense!!!!

  6. Doubting Tom says:

    Thanks for all the praise, everyone!

  7. Pleisiarsaw says:

    So if I understand you right you're saying1.) The people saying that we shouldn't have this debate are bad skeptics2.) But you DBAD guys, you're really really passive aggressive, and that's not great. Because talking about general principles is actually "holier-than-thou moralizing, and hegemonic "ur doin it wrong" edicts" and being polite, y'know basic decency like you should have been taught as a kid is in fact "false politisse, [and] passive-aggression".Basically it looks like you just can't believe people could express themselves without being dicks, so you're either aggressive, or passive-aggressive. Here's a reality check for you: It's possible to just be polite, even to people who are wrong.See, I didn't call you a dick once in this post, even though you are wrong.

  8. Don says:

    Basically it looks like you just can't believe people could express themselves without being dicks, so you're either aggressive, or passive-aggressive.Straw man. He was speaking specifically about dickishness. That doesn't mean he thinks its the only thing that exists.Also, that last line of yours, "See, I didn't call you a dick once in this post, even though you are wrong," was pretty goddamned passive aggressive, so, ironically, you're reinforcing an incorrect interpretation of the post.

  9. Doubting Tom says:

    So if I understand you rightYou don't. 1.) The people saying that we shouldn't have this debate are bad skepticsI don't even know how you could get that message out of the post. The first paragraph was a specific reply to certain people who talk a big game about critical self-examination of our beliefs and practices, but are unwilling to admit mistakes even when shown, with evidence that they have committed one. It's only tangentially related to the DBAD talk, in that the people who talk this big game also tend to be the DBAD proponents. If you'd like more of the context of that paragraph, try looking at the previous few posts. But you DBAD guys, you're really really passive aggressive, and that's not great. Because talking about general principles is actually "holier-than-thou moralizing, and hegemonic "ur doin it wrong" edicts" and being polite, y'know basic decency like you should have been taught as a kid is in fact "false politisse, [and] passive-aggression".No, I think it's quite possible to talk about general principles without being dicks or passive-aggressive. Us "dicks" do it all the time. I just have yet to see the DBAD folks come at this discussion without being condescending, passive-aggressive, or willing to consider that we may have different priorities, general principles, goals, and senses of what "basic decency" entails.

  10. Doubting Tom says:

    Basically it looks like you just can't believe people could express themselves without being dicks, so you're either aggressive, or passive-aggressive.No, in fact, I think it's quite possible to try to express oneself without being a dick. I think some people will still interpret that as dickishness due to the content of the expression, and I think that some people fail to realize that all the decency and politesse in the world will not keep some people from thinking you're a dick just because of the positions you hold, but it's certainly possible to express yourself such that most people, or perhaps reasonable people, will not view it as dickishness. What I'm further saying is that some people seem to think that dickishness is all about tone and screaming and directly insulting people, and that being passive-aggressive–obliquely calling people children and strawmanning their arguments to make them look unreasonable, and so forth–is not "dickishness." Fine then, it's douchebaggery. And if you're going to act like a douche when you're telling me not to be a dick, then I see very little reason to listen to your advice. Here's a reality check for you: It's possible to just be polite, even to people who are wrong.Wow, no shit, Sherlock. Surprisingly enough, every person that any of you DBs calls a dick already knows and practices this. The fact that we have different standards and make different choices about which tones work best for which situations doesn't mean that we approach Grandma's "God bless you" the same way as Ray Comfort's "If you've ever told a lie, you're a liar." Here's your reality check: it's always possible to be polite to people; it's not always useful, especially depending on what goal you're trying to accomplish. If my goal is to convince an audience that the raving lunatic conspiracy theorist I'm debating with is a raving lunatic, then being polite as he launches into ad hominems and so forth might be useful. If my goal is to maintain peace at the Thanksgiving table, then politely keeping my mouth shut while Uncle Marty blithely states that acupuncture healed his gangrenous toe might be a good idea. If my goal is to raise consciousness about the unjustly privileged position that religion and religious figures have in our society, then treating the Pope with all the deference and respect that others would normally ascribe to someone of his stature would be missing the goddamn point. Instead, the useful thing would be to call him a fucking motherfucker for protecting rapists.We should learn how to tailor our tone, approach, and specific content to our particular situations and goals. Some of us have already learned that. Others seem to think that this would be best accomplished by adopting some common standard of behavior for all situations, which I think, again, is missing the goddamn point. Incidentally, how did I end up on the other side of the framing debate?See, I didn't call you a dick once in this post, even though you are wrong.And yet throughout, you were a passive-aggressive douche. Thank you for so succinctly proving my point.

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