In this day and age, with internet memes and political extremists spouting accusations through cable TV and talk radio, it is very good to be a skeptic.
But there is one difficult requirement: You have to be a skeptic about things you desperately want to be true. Otherwise, you’re a hypocrite.
When I was in high school, I was the skeptical kid who challenged the mainstream, especially about religion. I thought that being cynical and skeptical was the duty of an intelligent thinker. That’s how science works, after all.
“I refuse to believe without proof,” I’d say. And then I’d go and read all the books about UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle and Chariots of the Gods.
Over time, I started realizing that I could not claim to be an intellectual skeptic if I was only skeptical about things I really didn’t believe anyway. I needed to be skeptical about everything, and especially the stuff I wanted to be true.
I see this all the time in the political and religious debates I have. People are skeptical about claims made by their political opponents but blindly swallow anything said by those whose views match their own. Liberals believe all sorts of crazy memes that pop up about Sarah Palin even though most of them are false. Conservatives believe all kinds of stupid things about Obama that they would never accept if said about one of their own politicians. Religious folks believe all sorts of things said by their God while laughing at the crazy things people in other religions believe about their God.
You can’t have it both ways.
Being skeptical is an important part of life — it’s how you don’t fall prey to charlatans and people who want to take advantage of you. It’s how you learn, because you research and find out for yourself what the truth is.
But you have to be an equal opportunity skeptic and realize that people on your side exaggerate and lie, too. And you have to be smart about it.
“I am a skeptic,” you may say. “I am skeptical that 97% of all climate scientists think there is climate change.” No, you’re just being willfully ignorant. You are aiming your skepticism only in one direction. You are only being skeptical about things that benefit you and are refusing to be skeptical about your side. You need to inform yourself and look at the evidence you like with the same skeptical eye as the evidence you don’t like.
Otherwise, you’re just a hypocrite.