Freethinking, You Keep Using That Word.
August 4, 2012
I’d like to talk about Freethough today. Specifically, what Freethought is, the legacy it has come to us through, and the philosophy related to it. And the two pictures I have here are people rooted in what Freethought is – the Infamous Agnostic, Robert Ingersoll, and Ernestine Rose (who I am pretty sure my partner is turning into, which is cool).
So, let’s define Freethought.
Wikipedia – “Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds opinions should be formed on the basis of logic, reason and science and not authority, tradition, or other dogmas. The cognitive application of freethought is known as “freethinking,” and practitioners of freethought are known as “freethinkers.”
This is, perhaps, my favorite definition as most of the others you can find at Dictionary.com and the like are woefully incomplete. So, let’s go with a shortened definition – Freethinking is forming thoughts and beliefs through logic, reason, and examination rather than tradition.
It is not “thinking whatever the hell one wants”. It is not “unrestrained by any form of logic or reason”. It is not “thinking about things to contradict those around one’s self”. This is apparently what a lot of people on the internet think it means, however, and this is seriously starting to piss me off. I am not a professional philosopher, nor am I a professional theologian, nor am I a professional ethicist, nor am I a professional politician or lawyer or any other kind of think-tank persona. I am a writer, I am a blogger, and I’m an opinionated person who subscribes to a rational and natural worldview. I should not be the one explaining these things to people.
Despite me not being a professional, however, there are things that are pretty easy to understand if you study them for a bit. And, in the interests of education and being rational, one must defer to the more educated members of the community to study these things. Given that, for some reason, I’m better educated despite not being a professional, I’m going to have a brief set of rules here –
If you come in here to tell me I’m wrong about what freethought is without having a counter argument or having a set of data to draw upon, fuck you. I won’t even post your comment.
If you come in here to argue with me about harassment policies or Skepchick or Rebecca Watson, fuck you. I’ll tear into because I’ve got the time for it and I seriously could use a little steam venting. These rants tend to turn into something comfy and happy by the end. I haven’t had the chance to really let loose in any appreciable fashion, positive or negative, in quite some time.
If you want to come in here and say, “Well yes, freethought” and then attack Freethought Blogs, fuck you. I am not FTB. I have no sway over their organization. I am not criticizing them, either, as they are a collection of over 30 blogs with different bloggers doing different things. I agree with some of them. I do not agree with others. They are too diverse to call anything other than a community (and even then there are times where it’s nearly in name only). This has nothing to do with what Freethought Blogs does but is rooted in Freethought Blogs adopting the word Freethought and people forgetting what Freethought means.
If you want to come in here and discuss what freethinking is and why I think that feminism is inherently tied to it, as well as why I think that most of the reactionary people posting on the internet about being “freethinkers” are just troll asshats who don’t know north from up, then yeah, we can talk about that. But you must realize that if you, at all, fall into the prior three categories then I have no reason nor will I entertain a reason to post your comments.
To explain why, a brief foray into the first amendment.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
I can pass rules abridging your freedoms all over my blog. It’s my right as a private entity in a non-exclusive forum. Just as it’s your right to go to another forum and call me an asshat.
Freethought is a philosophical system that encourages inquiry and examination of beliefs and suppositions regardless of traditional or prior views. It’s, essentially, walking a mile in another idea’s shoes first. To butcher a metaphor. Freethought, though, is married to the ideas of critical reasoning and logical examination. Not just looking for data in the same fashion as science but also interesting and useful information. Corollaries do not provide evidence of anything scientifically, for example, but a freethinker will explore corollaries to find why two things have a high instance of association even if they are not causal. This very form of examination and rational thought is the basis of sociological sciences, in fact. Freethought does not mean entertaining any idea, therefor, only ideas that have merit. Establishing merit is pretty easy to do – if you can find a bit of information supporting the idea, then it’s got merit. Then follow the idea until it no longer has merit or requires more statistical and informative examination before continuing with the thought exercise.
In a vacuum, a freethinker (in my opinion), will eventually become a feminist due to the examination of gender roles and the examination of data about sex, gender, and the differences between members of the resultant group (hint; there aren’t many and they’re almost all physical dimorphic differences). Freethinkers seek to move away from bias and will go through several thought exercises to ensure that the results of the thought exercise is unbiased (or as unbiased as possible), as well as running it past other freethinkers to ensure that the exercise is as unbiased as possible. These exercises and systems of trading exercises frequently cause freethinkers to agree on certain things.
So freethinking does not mean disagreeing for the purposes of being disagreeable. Over time, freethinkers won’t disagree with each other on most things and definitely wouldn’t on big things. Things like skepticism, atheism, and even feminism. The earliest freethinkers (like Ingersoll) who happened to be men also frequently happened to be feminists. Though this was also the beginning of men who identify as feminists who concern-trolled radical feminist woman activists because “men are fragile creatures and cannot handle this form of protest” and the like. So when you’re accusing a group of groupthink (like Freethought Blogs) consider the possibility that they really agree on these things for their own reasons and it isn’t some kind of pod-blogger conglomeration that is seeking to rob you of critical thought.
Disagreeing with the “group think” does not make you critical. It does not make your position radically rational. It does not score you any points with any intelligent thinkers or rational people. Especially when, by doing so, you’re throwing your lot in with people who are demonstrably threatening, dangerous, fanatical, and irrational.
Further, being a freethinker is an extension of being an autodidact, a self educator. It is your responsibility, as a rational person, as a student of life, as a skeptic, as a commentor, as a political entity, as a human living on this planet to constantly educate yourself. Especially when it comes to discussions about groups that you are a part of regardless of your preferences and that you are forced to represent or distance yourself from consistently and constantly. This means you need to be aware of your privilege as well as your oppressors. You need to be aware of how much oppression you actually experience and how much you perpetuate. You need to be aware of the effects others have on you and the effect you have on others. It especially means that when you enter a discussion about these things you have no one to blame but yourself if you do not know what is going on or who is being blamed for what. If you don’t know what privilege is, look it up. Don’t ask. If you don’t know what ‘white guilt’ is or why apologetics is bad for the discussion, look it up. Don’t ask. If you don’t know what institutional misogyny is, look it up. Don’t ask. If you don’t know something, avail yourself to Wikipedia, Google, and the wide variety of blogs on the matter. Once you have some information and can be conversant in a concept, then you can ask how it’s being used and participate in the conversation.
Do not, however, assume that it is the responsibility of the conversation to educate you. That’s lazy. Don’t be lazy. Be efficient, don’t waste anyone’s time, especially your own.
So, you want to call yourself a freethinker? You want to walk in the footsteps of Ingersoll the Agnostic or Ernestine Rose the radical feminist? Do so. Educate yourself. Consider other people’s positions. Examine statements. Give those making statements the benefit of the doubt and way reasonable information.
Don’t stick with the side that seems most comfortable and gives you the most power because they might, in fact, be wrong. Always be open the idea that even you might be wrong.