One thing I truly despise is orthodoxy. When free thought is not expected, or it is even scorned, you have a major problem.
The reason why this is on my mind stems from some conversations I’ve had recently. I’ve been reading a lot of research on nutrition because of how unorthodox my diet is. The thing is, this is the only diet I feel healthy on. Since I’ve been low carbing, I’ve noticed ONLY improvements in health, both objective and subjective, including decrease in total cholesterol, decrease in blood pressure, increase in HDL, improved sleep quality, less incidence of illness, and fewer allergy symptoms.
However, the “party line” of the health industry (medicine, dietetics, pharmaceuticals, etc.) seems to be “low fat, and minimal saturated fat.” I realize there are a lot of studies on the benefits of fat consumption, and there is a growing low-carb movement, but… could so many people be wrong? Could so many people who have gone through a lot more schooling than me be wrong, and I be right? It seems almost arrogant to think so.
But still I can’t deny my own experience, and I keep coming across studies that validate what I’m doing. So what should I do? Deny my experience and the evidence I’ve found and go with the experts, or trust my own capacity for reason and go against the grain?
I would like to submit that skepticism is one of the greatest virtues that anyone could possess, simply because of how insidious orthodoxies can be.
Skepticism doesn’t mean totally counter-cultural. Certain things are done by most people because they’re good or reasonable things to be doing. You can be skeptical about the efficiency of America’s infrastructure, but don’t take that to the point of testing whether it’s a good idea to drive on the left side of the road in America, or at least warn me before you try it out.
Skepticism DOES mean being wary of anyone who tries to sell you on an idea without providing sufficient evidence. Ultimately, no single person has a monopoly on truth. Orthodoxies start when people stop being watchdogs and questioning the peddlers of shoddy information.
Why would anyone fear skeptics? I see no reason to fear questioning unless you know you are wrong, or at least don’t have sufficient evidence for your claims. Whenever someone makes an appeal to authority, ask yourself why they feel the need to appeal to position rather than evidence.
Skepticism also means always being open to change. Just because you disagree with a majority opinion, you’re no better if you then become entrenched in your belief. You’re just sewing the seeds of a new orthodoxy. It may be a better approximation of the truth than the prior one, but there’s always room for improvement.
I understand the need for orthodoxies. They’re convenient. They’re not dissimilar to stereotypes, except functioning on an ideological level. Stereotypes, though wrong in many instances, DO serve a purpose. The brain doesn’t function at the level of being about to consciously analyze every independent variable about a person in each independent situation, giving you the luxury of engaging someone with a completely open mind. Stereotypes provide a “short cut” that gives you some pre-set information to work off of, just so you won’t become overwhelmed with the minutia of existence. Orthodoxies function in a similar way. It nice to have a common position that everyone holds to be true to fall back upon. Imagine the life of a doctor who had to totally revamp his thinking on nutritional advice each time a new study came out. That would be exhausting.
However, just as we (rightly so, I think) try to marginalize our prejudices in our dealings with others, we should also question the commonly-held, even “untouchable” beliefs when we have the luxury to do so. People have reasons for believing things. They may be rational, they may be social or emotional, or they may be out of weight of habit. Dig for those foundations of beliefs (including, or especially, your own) to discover if they should be kept, modified, or discarded.
You’ll find some dead ends. Many things are commonly accepted as true because they are the best approximation of the truth that we’ve found so far based on the evidence. However, you’ll also find some incongruencies, some slights of hand, some hardy but unsupported traditions, and some outright lies. Then you can develop a better understanding, and come closer to understanding your own body and the world we live in. That, in my opinion, is what makes skepticism worthwhile.