In our modern age we are presented with a rapid amount of information that humanity has never been subjected too. Just on our phones we can get news alerts as a story is unfolding, communicate with our friends from hundreds of miles away, view media sources from all over the world, just in a few seconds between T.V. commercials. This unprecedented amount of information for us to take in has a variety of consequences, namely that information we are given may easily be fabricated, or altered, or even worse, disconnects us from what is really happening.
Take the example of the news. Just using a modern smartphone I can not only check the local news, the national news (which is not a new thing thanks to the utility of newspapers) but I can check the news from any country around the world as it’s happening. There is a certain rush for news nowadays that makes one skeptical of its validity, meaning it might have been so rushed to get out there that we don’t entirely know what’s accurate. Often enough, journalists will keep a story as vague as possible early on, and then develop the story in further editions as more details come in. But even then facts may be skewed.
Besides the news, there’s always people that are skeptical about a variety of things. Two most things in today’s society is skepticism over the government, and science/religion. So many people today won’t trust a word the government says, just the very idea leaves a dirty taste in their mouth, making them think whatever officials say is a lie. Just as many mystics are skeptical of science, and many scientific men are skeptical of mysticism. The theories of evolution and global warming instantly come to mind, as prominent debates between the religious and the scientific continue to rage on.
Skepticism goes even further. You can not trust the word of an individual because of some wrong piece of information they had given you in the past, or simply because you don’t like them. Teachers, friends, family, ect, are all on the table for skepticism. Even further than this, there are those among society that are the epistemological skeptics, those that believe all sensory data is an illusion, that the phenomena is not to be trusted no matter what! You can be skeptical of not only local events, but of reality itself! Oh what a life that is!
There is a multitude of problems with these attitudes toward life. I shall begin with the easy one: epistemology. I’ll say this, how can one actually live like a skeptic? When walking down the street you cannot simply avoid lifting your leg to step on a curb, even though you may reason with yourself that “My sensory data has deceived me before, the image of this curb may simply be another falsification, a misinterpretation!” It’s all good and dandy to say that to yourself, but I guarantee if you act on that thought, and instead of lifting your leg to step on to the curb you simply walk into it, I’m willing to bet that you will trip on the curb. Yes you can argue that the curb metaphysically may not exist, but in all pragmatic sense our sensory data is fairly accurate. For even as the philosopher Epicurus once said:
If you fight against all your sensations, you will have no standard to which to refer, and thus no means of judging even those sensations which you claim are false.
Now that’s out of the way, I can discuss the more pragmatic skepticism. First of all, a decent amount of skepticism is healthy to any individual. In fact we need it to survive. If we blindly trusted every single word that someone said to us, we’d end up running off a cliff in the mad frenzy thinking we could fly. Humans are both naturally curious and naturally skeptical. But as it turns out we cannot fly. Many times when someone makes a claim we have the ability to shake our head and say ‘No’. In fact this is how new scientific discoveries are made, but what a terrible life when someone rejects every single proposition made by someone else. You force yourself to mistrust the government, science, religion, friends, family, society, and mankind as a whole. In the end you begin to mistrust yourself. And, to go off on a tangent, this is my main problem with Nietzsche.
Here is a man who not only condemns religion, but is equally as skeptical to the realm of science and rationalism! What is left when both those are eliminated? Despite what anyone may defend, at that point it is mere opinion, a trust in the self and nothing else. And that is a very dangerous thing. One can read the quiet despair in his work, the contempt for every person that came before him and an only dim optimism for those that come after. It is not healthy to believe you are the only intelligent person that ever lived, which in many cases, is what extreme skepticism leads to.
Of course, many times people do lie, the same with science and religion. But one cannot simply live in skepticism, this attitude leads to an extreme nihilism. Which unfortunately today we do seem to be entering another age of nihilism, which more than anything, scares the living hell out of me. Certain things in life must be taken for a given. For instance I cannot go on a boat and call into the question the entire science behind buoyancy and sailing, simply on the grounds that it may all be false. I simply lay trust in the idea that those are a given. If not, the joke that people wear tin foil hats to protect from mind reading becomes increasingly relevant. But apparently even the validity of that can be called into question.
The hardest part comes now, of where to draw the line of what is given and what is to be under scrutiny. This is no easy answer. If the government says that event ‘A’ happened, I cannot simply tell myself that it’s all preposterous. The most simple answer is to merely accept it, not canonize it, until further evidence of event ‘A’ comes to light. Or make a judgement given the data presented on past events. Meaning if the government said events ‘B’ ‘C’ and ‘D’ happened, when they were later thoroughly proved wrong, then there are grounds for skeptical behaviour. Even then skepticism will still be reduced to a mere feeling, seeing how some are more naturally to question the government than others, or because of people’s political beliefs they will only question a government they already decided they disagree with. If not, the joke that people wear tin foil hats to protect from mind reading becomes increasingly relevant. But apparently even the validity of that can be called into question. In short, it is difficult where to draw a line, if possible at all, without reducing to feeling. And, if skepticism is to be reduced to how certain bits of information make us feel, then it is useful to call into question how the partiality towards feelings are created. What an awful subject.