Although I tend to cover and involve myself in politics at a more local than national level, I have recently been asked by friends and family who I am supporting in the U.S. presidential race. After responding that I was definitely “feeling the Bern” (as it were), I was challenged about why I was supporting Sanders’ campaign. Given that my reasons for supporting Senator Sanders are based on my identification as a secular humanist and a scientific skeptic, I thought some of my readers might also be interested.
First, some operational definitions, in case you aren’t familiar with these terms. Consistent with the definition put forward by the Council for Secular Humanism, being a secular humanist is about adopting a life stance that focuses on having a naturalistic worldview which is rooted in a scientific understanding of the world. But it is also about having a consequentialist ethical system (meaning what is “right” or “best” to do is decided not by some higher authority, but by the impact of one’s actions on the people around you).
As for being a scientific skeptic, that is a mindset defined by a the balancing of being open-minded towards new ideas with simultaneously demanding (proper, empirical, logical) evidence in support of claims made by anyone. The scientific skeptic relies on the methodologies of science to help sort sense from nonsense, while making sure to avoid cynicism.
Now, how does being a a secular humanist and scientific skeptic cause me to support Sanders? For a number of reasons, actually.
- Directly related to the consequentialist ethics central to secular humanism, I believe that a more equitable society results in a better society. I think that we, as decent human beings, have an obligation to try to make the world better for all of us, not just some of us. Here in the U.S., this would include having access to education and healthcare for all people, regardless of their income. Further, I believe a society is strongest when all of it’s members are better off. On the skeptical side of things, my belief in this is based on the overwhelming amount of evidence that shows higher income inequality in a society results in a less healthy society as a whole, both physically and economically. In other words, the nation grows healthier based on how the lowest rungs of society do, not the highest. “Trickle down” economics simply does not work.
- Related to my skepticism, particularly in terms of understanding how easily manipulated we are to believe things that are at odds with reality, I find the emotional manipulation and loose relationship with truth displayed by the top GOP candidates very disturbing. Too much of the GOP’s appeal to voters is based on fear and hate (see for example Trump, Cruz), which certainly gets people all worked up but goes against basing policies in evidence and not rhetoric. I also find it highly disturbing how many of the GOP candidates react to being called out on their misinformation, which is not to check themselves and correct if necessary (as a good critical thinker would do) but instead to double down or insult the people pointing out their lies, as Cruz recently did in a debate.
- Speaking of evidence, in terms of the economy I think that the data are pretty clear that we have historically (last 50 years) had a much healthier economy with a Democrat in the White House. Can this be guaranteed with a Sanders’ presidency? Of course not, but life has no guarantees. As a skeptic, I need to base decisions on what’s probable, based on the evidence available, rather than on what I want or wish to be true.
- I greatly admire Bernie’s honesty, openness, and integrity. Although we all can change in opinions and beliefs (and we absolutely should if presented with compelling evidence to do so), Bernie has stood very firmly for policies that are aimed at decreasing social injustice and increasing equality for decades, from his time as a young man fighting in the civil rights movement to his time as a politician fighting against LGBT discrimination. As a scientist and humanist, these are qualities I embrace and strive for myself and find needed in politicians…and yet are lacking in many of them.
Now, for some honesty on my part: I think that Bernie’s proposed policies have little chance of being implemented as he has proposed them any time in the near future. But, I think that they are what our country needs to be moving toward. What I could see a Bernie presidency actually doing is getting people more interested in a fair tax code, a more equitable society, and getting us on the road to becoming a better society, not automatically giving everyone “free stuff” and turning us into a nation of lazy bums.
So, as a scientific skeptic I think the data supports our nation doing better with a Democrat in the White House, while other data supports the notion that many of Sanders’ proposed policies would greatly benefit our nation as a whole, making it stronger for all. And as a secular humanist, I believe in trying to make the world a more fair place for all of us, and also that religion should not be used to decide public policy. Therefore, I support Bernie Sanders for president.