The Insecurities of Scientism

How to Make a Materialist Hiss

I have noticed something, and in making this observation I am not being provocative; I simply believe that it’s true. The followers of scientism (and, if I may conflate the two, the followers of materialism) are intensely insecure about something.

I will not be so inflammatory as to suggest that these people are insecure because of suppressed, unacknowledged fears that they are wrong (although that is plausible). However, somebody will eventually have to make a diagnosis, because the condition is obvious.

Whenever it becomes apparent that someone holds a viewpoint that does not conform to the criteria that scientism requires, the enforcers are quick to react. Their diatribe is overly dismissive, sweeping and defensive, as if something sacred has been tread upon. If you were to remove all the assumptions and pontification, very little persuasive content would remain. They refer to themselves as “rational” and their beliefs as those of “reason,” as if they have a patent on the concepts. They use these words so often that one must wonder. When do people feel the need to repeatedly call themselves something that they actually are? When does a person give himself his own nickname?

While the rationality and mental health of millions may be at stake, altruism is not an explanation for this behaviour. It is my personal belief that this rabid skepticism—the new atheism—has made many people feel as if they are part of something larger than themselves. I think that in many of their cases, this is a first. There is something to believe in, something to fight for, something to live for, and even a feeling of exclusivity. Membership implies intelligence. The word “science” is tossed about like the ace of trump, and it is tossed about by everyone. The adherents run little chance of being humiliated on account of their position, because incredulity is always a powerful thing in the face of spectacular claims.

Of the original founders of this attitude, I perceive slightly more complex motivation. There is some honesty reflected in this expression of their views. Of the followers, I perceive that many of them have merely found something to cling to, and, in some cases, something that will get them attention. My primary critique is not an original observation—I observe that, having said so much about what is not true, they have said very little about what is.


How to Make a Materialist Hiss


4 Responses to “The Insecurities of Scientism”

  1. I’d like to suggest, at the risk of sounding like an enforcer for the followers, that your observation applies to any identifiable group / mentality / affiliation. You can replace keywords such as “reason” and “rational” with their counterparts in other systems.

    I also think we can be both founders and followers depending on our mood or specific expertise in the subject matter being discussed. I’ll defend environmentalism to the death. I may sound like a zealot when I have to dabble in the economics of future change but I’ll have no problem telling you why it’s better to recycle aluminum than to produce more from unrefined goods.

  2. This first point of yours may well be right. But does that make it any less of a problem?

    Keep in mind that I am not taking issue with the general “shape” of the phenomenon. I wrote that only to describe it. My point in all this is that while your environmental fervor can be explained by… say, concern for the impending death of the planet… I believe that a larger portion of this pop-culture atheism can be explained by a sense of belonging, self-importance and exclusivity than ought to be the case. I might dare compare them to people who have grabbed the coattails of the environmental movement in order to feel better about themselves for being green, but who are not actually very green.

    And by the way, I think you’re rather above this kind of thing–there are (as far as I know) no aspects of your thinking that I would have intended to criticize in this particular post.

  3. wabasso Says:

    I agree–doesn’t make it less of a problem. And I agree with your observation in general. I’m also flattered that you feel that my thinking is generally “above” this. That’s not always true but I’ll take the compliment 🙂

  4. I keep forgetting what name I use on here.

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