Selective Skepticism

Ron Paul being told Cory is in his house.
Image via Wikipedia

Through my friendfeed channel I was surprised to find (an author of) the skeptic blog 2 days ago post an article promoting (right-)Libertarianism, of the Rothbardian type. That is, what the US Americans now call simply “libertarianism”1.

This is becoming a trend recently it seems to me. From Penn & Teller to Bill Maher, many self proclaimed skepticists seem to also take a second role of promoting right-libertarianism. Similar to how this “libertarian” movement has taken over the freedom-promoting words of Anarchism, they seem to be eager to strongly associate skepticism with themselves.

It is also weirdly ironic that many (most?) of them also are eager to claim themselves as “Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) skeptics” or that the 9/11 truther movement is primarily of the Ron Paul libertarian school, or the Fed conspiracist theorists generally tend to also be Austrian-economic school anti-central-bank.

But in truth, there is a very particular common denominator in all of these skeptics. While they seem skeptical of all the usual stuff (ie anything contradicting science, or having very little empirical evidence) They also tend to be skeptical of whatever is not compatible with what neoclassical economics would suggest.

This explains why so  many of these skeptics are very eager to jump to evidence against AGW, or even if they accept it, they wish to downplay its severity significantly in order to suggest that it would be solvable through “free-market solutions”. The reason for this is that neoclassical economics suggests that the role of the state should be reduced to simply to protector of private property. As such, request for the state to implement environmental solution or to jump-start the private market, go totally against the edicts of “free market knows best” and trigger an automatic denial instinct for all the skeptics espousing them.

But why does this particular bias emerge? After all Anarchists don’t seem to have (at least from my experience) any such blinds. And similar applies to Social Democrats (“Liberals” in the US). The reason why this is of course is because libertarians have absolute faith in economics, a faith so powerful that the bias it created is enough to overwhelm even empirical science.

Libertarians of course will wish to defend this by claiming that Economics is a form of science, and as consistent skeptics, they have to side with that. But the sad truth is that Economics are not scientific. Quite the contrary actually, with its insistence on theories that are empirically disproven it is rather the opposite and resembles a religion. Unfortunately, unlike normal science which is actually empowered by skepticism (which prunes false theories), Economics’ flimsy basis makes them particularly vulnerable to it.

Now it is actually possible to have skeptic theists. It is inconsistent on their part, since they are quite capable of rational skepticism over most concepts but as soon as a topic reaches close to their religion of choice, all skepticism flies out of the window. As such, a Christian might be skeptical of ghosts, UFOs, Muslims miracles etc, but will quite happily accept some basic absurd articles, such as resurrections, existence of demons, afterlife etc. This may in turn spill over to other matters that although generally rational, might skew their perspective. So for example they may be extremely “skeptical” of evolutionary theory or abiogenesis etc. This is selective skepticism at work.

And this is unsurprisingly very similar to the libertarian brand of skepticism. A skepticism that avoids looking at a whole school of thought (economics) with the same critical eye that it directs to theism and woo-woo and rather acts like apologist to various wrong practices, even in the face of scientific evidence.

  1. For the rest of the article, whenever I mention “libertarianism” I will mean the right-side one for brevity) ((I then spend the last 2 days arguing with the Rothbardians in there. Take a look and laugh []