Whilst I’m not a religious man myself (well not in any way you could define with mainstream religion, but that’s another complicated story) I do enjoy the Christmas/New Year period. It’s a great time to take stock of the past year and set goals for myself in the coming year. Still there’s parts of it that have started to give me a fair whack of cognitive dissonance, mainly around the whole Santa thing and the story that we perpetuate with our children. There’s one part of me that enjoys the whole wonder aspect of it and creating that awesome family experience that you can enjoy year after year (until they get old enough to ask questions) but on the other hand the skeptic in me rises up and starts asking me the most poignant question “Will you do the same with your kids?’. In all honesty I can’t say for sure what I will do.
If there’s one thing I’d like to avoid with my future offspring it would be intentionally making them social pariahs. I know what its like for kids who are just a little bit different and they’re going to cop enough flak as it is without me telling them all their friends are idiots for believing in Santa. So there’s a fine line to tread between being a good skeptic and being a good parent. Although there is the possibility that the people of the modern skeptic movement (who are by and large members of my generation) may instead take the alternative, meaning the social norm will shift. That’s not something I’m going to count on though.
I’ve had experience with this before as well. Working in childcare around this time of year usually garnered questions from kids along the lines of “Is Santa real”. I’d worked out the best line for this was “What do you think” with the majority of kids then giving me their own idea without me having to supply my own. It was a good tactic and served to keep the skeptic at bay whilst remaining approachable with the kids. There would be nothing worse than being a childcare worker known amongst the kids as the guy who killed Santa for them.
Is there a happy middle ground we can reach here? It’s deeply entrenched in most western worlds that we perpetuate this lie (don’t fool yourself, you’re lying to your kids), even to the point of getting companies like Air Services Australia to create websites and put their CEO on TV to spout this Santa nonsense. It’s great PR for them but it also shows how far we’re willing to perpetuate a fallacy for a very small section of the population. It’s been irking me every morning when I wake up to watch the news and I see fluff pieces like this on TV, but at the same time I don’t want to go around stomping on other’s childhoods just because I have a skeptical agenda to push.
It seems the skeptic and libertarian are duking it out again.
There’s another side to this tale to: the moment of realisation when you find out that Santa isn’t real and you begin to question what your parents tell you. Many of us have been through this moment and it usually comes at a time when we’re beginning to question the world around us. The realisation that your parents lied to you is astounding since you’ve been told from an early age that lying is unacceptable. Indeed to not perpetuate the Santa lie could very well be tantamount to denying your children a coming of age ritual that our society has been performing for several generations. Do we, as parents (or when we become them), have the right to deny them this? Maybe staying through the 5~8 years of perpetuating the Santa myth would be worth it to instill that lesson in your children that the only real facts are the ones you can verify yourself.
Gargh I’m still not comfortable with that proposition.
In the end what parent’s do with their children is their business and I’m not going to go about telling them what they should and shouldn’t do. Going against social norms is, especially for children, an easy way to see yourself ostracized and can be really devastating, something you’d want to avoid in those early years of a child’s life. After bashing this all out I still don’t know where I stand on all this and I’ll just have to keep letting the skeptic, future father and libertarian in my head duke it out until a clear winner comes out or they all collapse in on each other.
It’s going to be an interesting few days that’s for sure 😉
You know there are times when I’ve caved into a stereotype just because it was easier to work within those boundaries than trying to define my own. I remember some years ago being told that I took quite a keen interest in my appearance and had myself labelled as a metrosexual. Initially I fought back against this since I hadn’t really defined myself in such a way, still trying to grasp onto the last bit of teenage rebellion that I had in me. After a while though I realised that the label brought with it ideals that I found easy to align with, so I just went with it.
More recently though I’ve been fighting with the idea of caving into becoming a full blown ravenous skeptic. I’ve blogged numerous times in the past about the sceptical movement and how I support their ideas whilst criticizing their technique but it’s becoming more and more apparent that it might just be easier to join the cause and cave into the stereotype. Whilst the benefits of doing so are great (indeed joining their ranks would generate more blog traffic, possibly open up the opportunity to speak at their conventions and give me daily blog fodder) there’s still that little teenage voice of angst whispering at the back of my mind telling me not to conform to their standards. So where has all this cognitive dissonance come from?
Winding the clock back 3 weeks finds myself living the life of luxury on Turtle Island, lapping it up with my wife. I’d be lying if I said the people I was there with were exactly my kind of people, it was far from that. Indeed the majority of them were in their late 30s to 40s and many of them were highly successful people (in fact one of them was the CIO for Westfield Corporation) so the conversations often drifted far from areas I could talk about. One warm night having dinner on the beach the topic drifted to stories of how we all met, and one of them happened to involve a tale about homeopathic medicine. Fortunately the story teller was a cardiovascular surgeon and didn’t believe the stuff would work (and in truth was only trying it because he was at wits end and had resigned to just living with the mild shoulder pain it was trying to fix) but another couple perked up saying that they regularly saw a homeopathic doctor. Instantly two voices cried out in my head: the first telling me to shoot down homeopathy in a blaze of skeptical glory and the other warning me that that kind of conversation wasn’t going to win me any friends, something which on a private island designed for relaxation wouldn’t be looked on kindly from the other guests.
In the end I kept my mouth shut, but that didn’t make the skeptical voice inside my head go away. I quickly came to realise that whilst there’s a giant community of skeptics and endless support from the scientific community in the end being a skeptic isn’t going to win you any friends, save for those who are skeptics themselves. The fact that dulled the sceptical voice in my head was that whilst the couple said they visited such a doctor not once did they actually recommend anyone else go and see one over a regular GP and as such the only harm they were doing was to themselves. If they had started spruiking such nonsense to everyone else I don’t think the skeptical voice would’ve kept quiet and I’d probably be telling a completely different story.
There’s also the fact that the Global Atheist Convention is coming to Melbourne next year. Since I have many friends who would identify themselves as either Atheist or Skeptical I’ve already had a couple invitations to come down for the weekend and spend a day or two touring the event. I am tempted to, since many of the people lined up to speak are interesting in their own right and the Atheist convention may be my only chance to see them speak in Australia for a long time to come. Plus I’ve always wanted to try my hand as a blogging mogul running around a convention trying to break stories to the world like a real journalist 🙂
I think this internal debate will rage on for quite some time and I don’t see any side of it winning out. I’ll stick with my idea of the casual skeptic who makes it their job to point out bullshit when it has the chance to do harm to others whilst quietly letting people do their own thing. Of course you regular readers here will always be told that you should think for yourselves, but you’ve come to expect that of me over the past months that I’ve spent rambling at you 😉
I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a libertarian when it comes to matters of politics and personal freedoms. I strongly believe that for the most part the government or any large establishment generally has no right to poke around in my private affairs unless I’ve explicitly allowed them to first. That or there’s a potential for me to do harm to others through my actions. There’s also this other part of me that can’t stand misinformation like what we see coming from the anti-vaccination movements that seemed to have popped up everywhere. However more recently I’ve been dealing with a bit of cognitive dissonance when it comes to the rising sceptic movement and their dealings with religious folk.
Whilst I’ve been struggling with the idea for a while this video I saw yesterday caused the dissonance I had felt previously to rise up again:
There’s also this post for a little bit more background on the matter.
First off let me say that if I was walking into that creationist museum I’d probably be doing the same thing as their group was doing. When it first opened I saw some of the pictures online I can’t say I didn’t make fun of them (this one is particularly amusing) and I probably would have been laughing the whole way through. Walking into a creationist museum wearing a Dawkins t-shirt was probably stirring the pot a little bit but I’ll concede that they could have reacted in a much more dignified way. But this is where everything starts to get all murky for me as the libertarian and sceptic in me start to duke it out.
The museum itself really isn’t doing any damage to anyone nor impinging on the freedoms of those who visit it. The funding to build the museum came from Answers in Gensis a non-profit organisation who makes do mostly on donations and for all intents and purposes are a transparent organisation. People giving money to them know what they will do with it and there seems to be no ill intent from them. In fact I had never heard of the organisation prior to this date (I somehow missed it in the first press releases) so they can’t be too bad.
Sceptics would probably argue however that the museum itself is a tool to spread misinformation. Now whilst the museum title is a little misleading you’d have to be relatively naive to be able to blast past the fact that this place is firmly rooted in Young Earth Creationists ideals. As such something that states its goals so plainly before everyone can hardly be classified as a tool of misinformation. It would be like saying the National Air and Space Museum is nothing but a tool of the aviation industry, it’s not quite like that.
I guess the problem I have here is that when some sceptics come up against people don’t believe in science is that on the surface they appear to be fighting for fact based reasoning but once you get down to it, they’re just zealots for another cause. I’ve come to realise that sometimes you can never convince someone of your viewpoint and that it is better to just lay out the facts as you see them and then leave it at that. At least that way you’ve had your say, they’ve had theirs and you can all agree to walk away from it. If either of you have a compelling argument it will stick in your opponents mind and you might end up with another ally rather than someone who dismisses your ideas as petty zealotry.
Religion does have its place and I came to accept that many years ago. Destroying people’s faith is not something I’ve seen help a lot of people but if they are presented with some facts and they decide to do some research on their own then that is the true power of an idea. Ravenously campaigning against people’s faith does nothing but strengthen their resolve and the best method of defense is to their the facts stand up for themselves.
Maybe I’m just a pacifist at heart.