Philosophical Tea Party 2.01

So here comes February. In addition to our Philosophical Tea Party we will be having a contest–details coming very soon!

Here’s my question for you today. A common complaint about teenagers–from the media, from parents, and from teenagers themselves–is that they feel an intense pressure to conform to the group. Hence, popularity contests and dumb fashion trends (Uggs with miniskirts in 80 degree weather, anyone?). Skepticism can be partly defined by non-conformity: it’s all about transcending social and psychological forces as best we can in order to find out the real truth about the world.

No sensible person would do this, right?

No sensible person would do this, right?

Do you think that the non-conformity of skepticism scares some teens? (If they were more confident, would they be more likely to support skepticism?) Do you think that skepticism would appeal to teens who already recognize the silliness and dangers of non-conformity?

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Vy is a recent graduate working in a neuroscience lab with children and monkeys. She likes sewing, knitting, lifting weights, and reading in her free time. Especially reading about science!


  1. MaggieMoo
    February 1, 2009 at 11:22 am —

    I think that skepticism does scare some teens. An example is back in my Theory of Knowledge class. I was the only one who would challenge the religious beliefs and not really be freaked out that I was completely different from the rest of my class. People have now started saying my opinions “Don’t Count” because I have differing opinions than most of the class. I find this HILARIOUS 😀

  2. Wendy
    February 1, 2009 at 12:41 pm —

    An emphatic YES! But, you could take “teens” and “skepticism” right out of the equation. People in general love to conform. Individuality scares people for some reason, so conform or be forced to conform! Those of us that don’t are ostracized for one reason: FEAR. …seems like it’s always been this way….

  3. February 1, 2009 at 3:18 pm —

    Probably, I mean humans are social creatures, so you know, conforming feels good. Another possibility is creating cognitive dissonance by stating virtues of skepticism, but not using it when it comes to their own ideas or not even questioning the virtue of too much conformity.

  4. Jenny
    February 1, 2009 at 5:43 pm —

    I think maybe it’s not the non-conformity itself that scares teens off but the kind of non-conformity skepticism involves. Sadly, standing out because you insist on rationality and question people’s beliefs isn’t as ‘acceptable’ as standing out because you dyed your hair blue.

  5. FFFearlesss
    February 2, 2009 at 11:10 am —

    I agree with Wendy that it has nothing to do with teens or skepticism specifically. But people in general are afraid to voice an opinion that they’re not quite sure at least one other person in their circle will back them up on. Then there are the people who almost thrive on finding differing opinions from the norm, who derive some kind of sick satisfaction from challenging the ideas that everyone else seems to take for granted. I myself, drew plenty of fire from a lot of friends back during the 2006 election cycle when I posted, what I thought was a very well thought out essay of why voting doesn’t matter nearly as much as we’d like to think it does. Holy crap you’d have thought I came out in denial of the holocaust. But no matter how much I backed up my ideas with facts, data and quotes, it was no match for the overwhelming deluge of strong emotions…

    okay, i’m sorry, that turned into a bit of a vent-fest for myself. Either way, I think the world needs more people who are skeptical and don’t worry about what people think. Those are the ones who change things.

  6. vreify
    February 2, 2009 at 12:08 pm —

    @ Jenny: I think you’re right. And perhaps, like the other commenters said, this kind of non-conformity continues to scare adults, as well. It’s not only a social non-conformity, but an intellectual one as well. Somehow that’s worse.

  7. kayla_unkempt
    February 2, 2009 at 4:00 pm —

    @Jenny: You are completely correct. Blue hair makes you cool, skepticism usually doesn’t – in a teenage world at least. But even blue hair is a form of conformity. Someone with blue hair is probably trying to fit in with the kind of kids that dye their hair blue.

    Since skepticism is not popular, though, no one will be a skeptic to fit in with the skeptics.

    Did that make any sense at all to anyone??? Or only in my own mind?

  8. kayla_unkempt
    February 2, 2009 at 4:01 pm —

    Also, ugly fur boots and mini skirts are a big no-no. I see it all too often here in Miami though.


  9. MaggieMoo
    February 2, 2009 at 6:43 pm —

    yeah the Uggs are bad in the summer, but i just saw some short shorts and Uggs in 15 degree weather….

  10. Dread Polack
    February 5, 2009 at 10:45 am —

    I think the worst sin a teenager can commit is to stand out; at least in the wrong way. If you can’t be cool, you better do your best to be unnoticed.

    Of course, it’s okay to be exceptional by being the most attractive, or having the nicest car, or best athlete, but until skepticism gets the cool stamp of approval (not likely to happen), you better keep your head down.

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