Thursday, October 1, 2009

It’s Imperative to Maintain a Science of Humour

I was recently listening to Richard Wiseman's podcast and the notion of skeptical-burnout was mentioned.
I'd heard of skeptical-burnout before, but it was this mention where it really penetrated my consciousness. The idea that the on-going act of banging your head against the wall of credulity can take its toll makes perfect sense. Feeling that you aren't being heard; aren't making a difference; are only singing to those who already have the libretto – that's going to wear upon you.
Some of us will have the jam to last it out and some won't. I have no idea what the stats are or even how to start measuring them. I would posit that the established explosion of the skeptical community will have a significant effect on the attrition rate, and keep more of those of us who stay active from turning bitter about 'all the rest of those fools' who we share the big blue marble with.
There must be things we can do to ward off or at least ameliorate the psychological effects of feeling like your rational efforts are falling on deaf ears. There is likely a smorgasbord of tactics we can employ for ourselves – one would hope so, it's likely we all need to concoct our own personal emotional cocktail to suit our own particular needs.
I have to think that keeping a sense of humour about it all is going to be the most effective thing I can do. I have precisely zero empirical evidence that keeping a sense of humour about it all can benefit anyone, let alone myself in this situation. I'm simply relying on my mommy instincts, and rolling with the anecdotal evidence that James Randi himself has maintained the whimsy and at 81 years old and decades of debunking he's still a firecracker for skepticism and remains the movements' pater actum*.
Randi's age is over twice what mine is and I have really only become an active skeptic in the past few years, it's a long-haul to make it that far and still have the fire burning so bright. The mere thought of it is kind of daunting. There is no telling whether I'll maintain my passion or not. I'd like to think I will. And will the approach I take today last me through or will I adjust as I go on? I expect I shall adjust, the question is to what degree and in what direction?
I can and do get spitting angry over a number of skeptical issues. For example: anti-vaccination is top of my skeptical hit list; I haven't got much time for serious 9/11 truthers; people who get in the way of science education make me so angry I find that I have to remind myself that there are some really great religious people out there – some are even in my life. There is a 'second-tier' of issues which I take pretty seriously, but typically I don't get emotionally wrought over. Things like: moon-hoaxers, Scientology, Sylvia Browne, "Quantum" spirituality, Oprah and a scatter-shot of various fear-mongering and scamming efforts. Which is not to say that I never get annoyed by anything else, but when it comes to "all the other crap" I don't think it's worth my energy to get particularly upset about it. Indeed, the more ridiculous it is the more likely I am to simply laugh at it. Cryptozoology? Is a wonderful playground for the imagination. Ghost-hunters? K-lown show! Homeopathy is so completely absurd that I really have trouble doing anything but mock it – except when it seriously impacts upon public health. UFOs, Raelians, Lizard Overlords, 2012 and the Bosnian Pyramid? ...I seriously wonder how these people even got to the invention of pottery.
I simply can't take everything with the same level of passion which I take my big three. Fact is that even with Anti-vaccination I tend to laugh a lot. I have to. It's a painful and ironic sort of laughter, but if I didn't laugh, there is no way I could carry on. I'd spontaneously combust.
*Do not take your latin from me I made this term up with the help of an online translator, just to sound cool. I was aiming for 'inspiring father' but that's not what you'll get if you translate it back. ("You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.")

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