Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bridging the chasm between two cultures (New Age and science-aligned)

This May 2004 article (link) by Karla McLaren came up in conversation recently, and is still well worth reading.

(though it's a bit jarring to read, since it uses the term "skeptical" in the old (and truer) sense (i.e., "skeptical of claims not backed by scientific evidence") rather than the more recent, unfortunate (but brilliantly, from a tactical viewpoint) , hijacked sense ("skeptical of claims that are backed by scientific evidence").)

In the article, "A former leader in the New Age culture—author of nine titles on auras, chakras, “energy,”...—chronicles her difficult and painful transition to [science-aligned] skepticism. She thanks the... [science-aligned] community and agonizes over how the messages of scientific and critical thinking could be made more effective in communicating with her former New Age colleagues" -
...It is not merely, as many surmise, a conflict between fact-based viewpoints and faith-based viewpoints. Nor is it simply a conflict between rationality and credulity. No, it's a full-on clash of cultures...
Does anyone else get the feeling upon reading this article, that it - or something very much like it - served as a chapter in the global warming delayers' playbook?

The article is also powerfully reminiscent of another culture-clash treatise, Joe Bageant's excellent Deer Hunting with Jesus ("dispatches from America's class war"), now being catalogued at the Nevada County Library - it's a gift from me, and everyone, but everyone, should read it.


Don Pelton said...

Here's a nice remembrance of him after Bageant's death this last March, by his friend, Fred Reed:

"Bageant Moves On"

And here's a treasure trove of Bageant's writing:

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

Anna Haynes:

My understanding is that the 'original' meaning of the word "skeptic" -- as Socrates himself meant it -- has always been the prevalent one outside of discussions about global warming, and I see no reason to avoid that word just because some inactivists have hijacked it in that particular field.

Interestingly, while McLaren calls for a 'culturally-sensitive' approach towards people with unscientific beliefs, she also unwittingly describbes why that's so hard:

"In my culture, personal attacks are considered an example of emotional imbalance (where your emotions control you), while deep skepticism is considered a form of mental imbalance (where your intellect controls you). Both behaviors are serious cultural no-nos, because both the emotions and the intellect are considered troublesome areas of the psyche that do very little but keep one away from the (supposedly) true and meaningful realm of spirit. When I wrote my books and recorded my audio programs, I had to write and speak so carefully that it took most people two or three readings to figure out that I was directly challenging many of the foundations upon which the New Age is built. Actually, my culturally sensitive capacity to attack without attacking and criticize without criticizing was so effective that some avid readers still don't know what I was saying."

Does this sound eerily like the climate inactivists' charges of "elitism"? How does one encourage intellectual effort without, um, actually talking about intellectual effort? I suspect that if there were a magic formula for 'converting' global warming inactivists in a 'culturally sensitive' way, it won't be an easy one.

-- frank

Anna Haynes said...

(sorry Frank, just now saw & rescued your comment, which #$%^& Blogger in its brilliance had filed away as Spam. Grrrr.)