Stop the Plague of Pseudoscience From Contaminating Anarchism

In anarchist communities, there are many more self-help and spiritual gurus gaining popularity. Anarcho-mystics are the primary personality. They have become acceptable enough to become a counterculture meme within anarchism.

Everywhere I look, I see charlatans, snake oil dealers, tricksters, and quacks. The only difference between garden variety new age folks and these people is the label. They wear the title “anarchist,” but they sell everything from alien overlords to dowsing rods to a smorgasbord of other conspiracy theories and pseudo-medical practices.

I refuse to target or name any specific individual here, because I do not want to start a pissing contest or attack a single person. This is just my opinion gleaned from observations of the community.

No Better than Phrenologists

As an anarchist, I do not have a moral problem with metaphysical and spiritual traditions. People can practice what they want and believe what they want. I even accept some of the tenets various spiritual traditions as valid. I am particularly interested in psychedelic drugs for enhancing brain functioning and mindfulness meditation for self-growth, especially since these practices have been fleshed out by evidence.

The problem I see is that some anarchists do not have their ideas couched in science or research. In other words, they have not balanced emotional impulses with rational analysis, and they cannot defend their views with empirical literature. They simply dismiss science. And as a placeholder for concrete truths and research, they utter pseudo-scientific nonsense and popular spiritual memes.

In their defense, it is true that many spiritual ideas and concepts elude scientific inquiry; but if liberty lovers fail to exercise caution in their application of these notions, they would likely pass off woofuckery as fact.

This makes those anarchists no better than phrenologists who believed that the arrangement and shape of bumps on people’s heads determined their personality, or the pseudo-psychologists who believed in outmoded fluff like Wilhelm Reich’s orgone energy theory.

And in my estimation, the last thing anarchists need is to be associated with any anti-scientific erotica. Intellectual laziness can really damage credibility, and anarchists are not a group that have the home court advantage in regards to credibility. The name is already associated with mistrust and suspicion. Therefore, we must gently point out the pseudoscience anarchists are using lest it contaminates our community.

My Views on Science and Statistics

As a counselor in training, I am concerned with evidence-based practice and being a “practitioner-researcher,” which means that I want to bring interventions to the therapy room that have relevant research backing. I want to do everything I can to make sure that what I am doing to help others is not written on a fortune cookie or embedded in the astrology section of the papers.

This, however, does not mean I will not try new things, speculate about possibilities, or be so anal retentive that I can’t talk about the odd and mysterious. It just means not to let the imagination go so wild my brain falls out. I think about science the same way Carl Sagan did:

“It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

   -Carl Sagan

Grasping the universe as it is should be everyone’s goal, but it is also important to note that not all phenomena can be causally understood. In research psychology, usually the best we can do is find associations between variables, also called correlations. And correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Matter of fact, a correlation does not even mean two variables vary together or are related.

Statistical analysis of correlation can only give the appearance that two variables are related, and they may or may not be related depending on whether extraneous variables in the research design were properly controlled. Without getting too technical, statistics can be used to determine if variables are related and how strongly they relate together, also called statistical significance.

But why is scientific inquiry and statistics important if it is not absolutely certain?

If anarchists have an understanding of correlation versus causation, statistical analysis, and scientific scrutiny, they can self-evaluate their ideas and read relevant research on those topics. This will prevent them from blurting out wrongheaded ideas, which may be based on rainbows-and-unicorns rather than science and evidence—like phrenology and orgone.

How many times have anarchists talked about certain kinds of healing and self-growth without any kind of evidence regarding their efficacy? This kind of stuff happens too often, sadly enough.

It is true that statistics are not perfect, but they can certainly eliminate those new age ideas ideas that have no bearing on reality.

Staying Sophisticated and Rational

I am glad that I come from a psychological perspective, because most new age platitudes and airy concepts that anarchists peddle are constructs that would likely fall under psychological research, since they relate to human functioning. Tragically, some ideas—like alien conspiracies—might not fall under any legitimate branch of science, since one cannot employ the scientific method to test those notions.

The takeaway here is for anarchists to stay sophisticated and rational in their agendas, but to likewise balance rationality with a lust for speculation and cautionary use of imagination. Science is built on exploration of our world, as well as our inner worlds. But if anarchists talk out of their asses, there is a chance they will convey pseudoscience to people and damage the credibility of themselves and the anarchist community.

Simply doing a little research and understanding that subjective ideas and beliefs in regards to self-help, growth, healing, and other mystical notions, will give the anarchist a birds eye view of what may be truer or more factual. If they are being gauche in their acceptance of ideas, intelligent people will notice and anarchist communities will appear saturated with classless sophistry.

And I believe anarchists need to be as honest, rational, and scientifically sophisticated as possible. However, this does not mean anarchists have to sacrifice all their ideas or lose their ability to empathize. Connecting with other people is of primary importance, and that is really what I was hoping to accomplish here. Honesty through science is indeed a form of interpersonal connection.

“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”

~Albert Einstein



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  1. Dave on March 15, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    Where do we place our trust? Humans crave certainty. If we discover that society has lied to us about one thing, we are tempted to embrace new, even less reliable certainties. Many skeptics have merely embraced a different kind of dogma. Even using labels like “anarchist” tends to limit our ability to evaluate the credibility our beliefs. My efforts to avoid dogma both entertain and exhaust me. When considering nutrition, I have to compare old science, new science, alternative science, this fad and that, all with claims of scientific evidence. Or I could imitate Tim Ferris, and turn myself into my own lab rat. Frustrating!

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