At the get go, let's define what skepticism is. Skepticism is a verb, a process. Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, defines the term as:
One who questions the validity of particular claims of knowledge by employing or calling for statements of fact to prove or disprove claims, as a tool for understanding causality.Skepticism looks for verifiable evidence to base decisions on. Of course, this places skepticism opposite of faith based reasoning (I apologize to Reason for any slight) where one relies on unsubstantiated information such as: revealed knowledge, hearsay, and all types of biased data.
Many political topics are "gimmes" - a vast majority of skeptics would vote for them because the evidence is clear. In this category I'd place:
- Not teaching Intelligent Design as science in schools.
- Not using schools as petri dishes to breed religiousity.
- Climate change - not per se what to do about it, rather that it is going on and is primarily man made.
- Insurance companies should not cover quack medicine like homeopathy.
However, being skeptical while voting on such complicated matters a few principles become clear.
|*What would |
Good Guy Greg do?
Whether it's new data coming in or old information being repackaged in a novel argument, a skeptic (if one is going to do skepticism right) needs to be able to alter their opinion. What is to be avoided is the religious stance where one maintains that they are right regardless of the evidence at hand. This faith based attitude is not the sole domain of religion either. Despotic political systems, whether it's the Committee for Public Safety which was responsible for the Reign of Terror, or Stalinism with its purges and orchestrated famines, one delusional characteristic is clear: The perfect society can be reached if we just keep trying and kill lots and lots of people. Though the Bolsheviks (the sect of communists who took power in Russia) were atheists, they certainly were not skeptics.
Skeptical voting means looking at your biases.
Most skeptics would scoff and say Of course! I've been reflecting on how my culture, gender, and class influences how I see the world. Right. However, if one is too certain of their bias less purity, then they easily run into a dogmatic cul-de-sac. For example, during the last days of George Bush's presidency many who consider themselves skeptics would find it hard to believe if the man said water is wet. Do you remember the debate about the Iraq surge? I thought, Christ, this guy has got to be wrong, no matter how much sense the plan makes. I was cautiously against the surge at the time, and now, well, it appears I was wrong. The surge didn't split the Red Sea, so to speak, but Iraq isn't burning to the ground. I think my judgement at the time was colored quite a bit on how I felt about W.
Get on with the results from the poll!
My pleasure. The first two questions were about abortion. Remember, the question was To Be A Skeptic Means Voting For...
Pro-choice - 88%
Pro-life - 2%
First, let me say that I am pro-choice, but I am not going to say that being pro-choice is obvious. That is not committing a sin against the pro-choice movement either. Rather, when one looks at what has seemed obvious at the time: witch burning, the world being flat, and the existence of God, having an idea assumed to be true is in and of itself no virtue. Activists need to remember that when discussing the topic.
Higher taxes - 29%
Lower taxes - 17%
I feel that this is a poor question, at least at this time. One of the biggest sins our politicians have committed is not telling the populace that Americans will need to pay more to get less. I was watching an interview with Harry Reid, leader of the Dems in the Senate, a few months ago and he said that Medicare and Medicaid would never be cut. Never. Benefits would continue at the same levels for the same age range of people. No worries. Nothing to see here, thank you.
Shrinking the military - 64%
Expanding the military - 8%
The most interesting thing I personally found about the military question is that 28% of those taking the poll chose not to answer. Now if a person doesn't have the adequate knowledge to make a decision on this topic that's one thing, but the US's military budget and troop deployment are subjects that need a skeptical analysis. Currently the US has approximately 86,000 troops in Europe, and for good reason, too. I hear the Ottoman Empire is getting restless. Here is a list of US military deployment circa 2007.
Obamacare - 29%
Single Payer - 47%
What is exciting about American style federalism is that the states can act as experimental labs to test different ideas and policies. While the federal government offers it's solution to the health care problem, Single Payer health care is going to be tried out in Vermont. Here is a piece from an article in The Economist concerning Vermont's plan.
The new law attempts to expand coverage and lower costs. The state will move forward in two steps. The first goal is to create a health exchange by 2014, as required by the national health reform. The second is to use the infrastructure of that exchange, such as a single system for paying claims, to introduce publicly-funded health care in 2017. An independent board will set payment rates for doctors and hospitals, as well as benefit packages for patients. Costs will be contained, Mr Shumlin says, by cutting administrative expenses, slashing fraud and rewarding doctors for the quality rather than just the quantity of care.
However, this progress may not proceed as hoped. Single-payer systems are not a panacea—health spending is growing at a faster clip in Britain and Canada than in America. Furthermore, the main aspects of Vermont’s plan have yet to be worked out. Most crucial, politicians have not decided how the scheme will be funded.
Observe - Hypothesize - Test - Analyze; a worth while endeavor.
Public Schools - 67%
Supporting School Vouchers - 17%
Many on the Left take the idea of supporting public schools as an Article of Faith. Fiscal, as well as religious conservatives often belong to the cult of privatization. What sullies the argument, of course, is the Democrat's reliance on teachers' unions and the Republican's reliance on an imaginary Sky Fairy.
I found this interesting article from The Economist about Sweden's private schools.
BIG-STATE, social-democratic Sweden seems an odd place to look for a free-market revolution. Yet that is what is under way in the country's schools. Reforms that came into force in 1994 allow pretty much anyone who satisfies basic standards to open a new school and take in children at the state's expense. The local municipality must pay the school what it would have spent educating each child itself—a sum of SKr48,000-70,000 ($8,000-12,000) a year, depending on the child's age and the school's location. Children must be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis—there must be no religious requirements or entrance exams. Nothing extra can be charged for, but making a profit is fine...I have no philosophical issue with publicly funded private schools as long as they do their educational job and are not co opted and used for religious indoctrination.
Well, that's it. Hopefully I have given at least a cursory look at skepticism and voting.
*What? You don't know the Good Guy Greg meme? After reading some of the responses to Elevatorgate I think the atheist community needs more of the Good Guy Greg attitude.