Guest Post: Alex from Amatopia and His Thoughts On “Skepticism”

Guest Post: Alex from Amatopia and His Thoughts On “Skepticism

Alex begins his piece by giving us a more “textbook” definition of skepticism to bring us up to speed on the problem societal skepticism presents us with -- for undoubtedly too many Americans are too skeptical and untrusting of their fellow citizen.

Now enough of the chat -- take us away Alex!


Skepticism is defined as

1:  an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object

2a :  the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain

2b :  the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism characteristic of skeptics

3 :   doubt concerning basic religious principles (such as immortality, providence, and revelation)

All good definitions. But I think Zigmund is onto something. One does not have to be a capital-S Skeptic, in order to use some of the skeptic's ideas in your own thinking. Skepticism can, as Zig puts it, be uplifting, be a conversation starter, and be the key to a more intellectual way of thinking.

One certainly does not--and should not, I argue--suspend judgment indefinitely. And I also disagree with the assertion that "true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain." That's a cop out for people who never want to make a decision . . . but we'll get to that later. Back to methodological skepticism.

Testing both sides of a given argument and treating each argument as de facto wrong, mustering actual, solid, and credible evidence to disprove each, is what I used to do for a living in my former work as a trial lawyer. No, I wasn't the judge, weighing both sides before making the call. I am a lawyer, and I obviously advocated for a certain position. But the best way to strengthen your own argument is to truly know and understand the other side's. Create an "iron man," as opposed to a strawman, to use Zigmund's parlance.

A part of the reason I am such a big fan of the mode of thinking Zigmund writes about is because . . . I happen to completely agree! In fact, I touched on the concept myself, albeit in different words, back in 2016:

         LESSON THREE: Don’t get into an argument unless you have all of your facts and the other             
         side’s facts, to the maximum extent possible.

One of the best things a more experienced co-worker taught me about trial prep was to always         know what the other side is going to argue and have your counter-arguments ready. No surprises is the name of the game. Now, this is a bit easier in the legal profession since either side has an obligation to exchange papers before appearing in court. But you’d be surprised by how many lawyers don’t read these things, or do a little more digging to anticipate their opponent’s moves.

An argument is like a chess match, so you have to think ahead.

What's better, even though you will have to come down on one side or another when you make a decision, your decision will carry more weight to yourself and others because all parties will know that everything, to the maximum possible extent, had been considered.

This brings me back to the idea of judgment itself.

"Judgment" has become a dirty word, as though making a decision--and sticking with it!--is somehow a bad thing. How dare we place value on anything that anyone alive on this world decides to do or say? Who are you to judge?!

I'll tell you. I'm a thinking human being.

Open-mindedness is good and all, but at some point you have to close your damn mind and discern and decide and yes, judge.

People, it seems, are paralyzed of making a decision, and it's not just paralysis by analysis/option paralysis. I believe it's fear of what other people will think of them coupled with avoiding the responsibility for making a decision in the event that it doesn't work out.

Oh, sure, there's the fear that risk-taking is bad, the constant dread of--gasp!--making a decision that has consequences and then having to deal with the consequences! Call it the result of perpetual adolescence, or helicopter parenting, or being coddled. Whatever. I've seen plenty of people who weren't raised by overprotective parents who cosseted them and gave into their every whim become absolutely crippled when it came to decision time.

Including me.

For a good chunk of my early adulthood, I was stuck in the cage of safety, that trap of a well-meaning society that wants to protect its children from all harm. Well guess what: Life is full of harm, and you're better off learning that sooner rather than later. Like most cures, the earlier you administer it, the better.

So what does this have to do with skepticism? This: it is far easier to make a decision--to close your mind, as it were--when you understand that each decision has a relatively equal chance of succeeding or going south.

"But wait!" you may say. "That just makes things more ambiguous! Help!"

That's right. The future's uncertain and the end is always near. Nobody can predict with mathematical accuracy how everything will turn out. Boo hoo.

Using methodological skepticism to make a decision can at least give the indecisive the understanding that both sides have the potential to blow up in their faces, and that at the end of the day the only thing to do is to over-prepare, roll the dice, and go with the flow.

In as much of an informed manner as possible.

In other words, the methodological skeptic's approach can help reassure the decisionmaker that, very often, there is no "wrong" decision, or at least that it's impossible to know for sure if it's wrong at the time the decision is being made. No one can predict the future. Everyone is dealing with imperfect information. There will always be opportunity costs. These universal facts should be liberating.

Maybe it's just a mental balm to soothe the anxiety. But if that's what it takes to make a decision, then is that really so bad?

That's where these "iron men" Zigmund talks about come in to play.

So be an iron man. Or iron woman. I’m inclusive like that.

Follow Alex on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and @DaytimeRenegade
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