Scepticism does not surprise anyone nowadays. It has been known for a long time that everything is bad in our country, so there is nothing wrong in making a wry face about it. It has been also known that nothing can be changed anyway, so there is no sin in enjoying one's life, mischievously sticking out one's tongue at anyone. Today, such an attitude is considered to be independent.
Such «independence» is based on a phenomenon which Russian people wittily call «pofigism» (the «screw it all» attitude). It is this attitude that is usually mistaken for scepticism, and not only by average citizens, but by the majority of intellectuals as well. They mislead both themselves and each other: in reality this pofigism which they cherish so dearly, and the conformism which they try to avoid so carefully, are twin brothers. As a result, instead of real freedom they only get an illusion of it. Real scepticism means the disclosure of this and of other illusions, which have become more and more obtrusive; this is the key purpose of our magazine.
We understand scepticism in its broad sense: as a constructive doubt, as a basis for critical rationalism and, above all, as a key to scientific knowledge. Any theory, in which the author is seriously planning to revise, should begin with criticizing the prevailing dogma in science and society. Scepticism is the thing that unites all scientists and all philosophers. Even if they have opposite scientific or political views: Plato and Aristotle, Newton and Einstein, Marx and Nietzsche — you will not find any exceptions. «Critique of Critical Criticism» is the foremost task of a scientist however strong his rejection of the Marxist origin of this slogan might be. Any human being who wants to think independently will face the same task.
At present, if you declare yourself as an advocate of strict rationalism, you are unlikely to be popular in intellectual circles. It may also seem that those who declare that their publication is scientific and educational are foredoomed to an even chillier reception. It is currently fashionable and expedient to identify the idea of enlightenment with imposing one's opinion on others and to do so with officious Soviet Marxism, almost with totalitarianism. Our modern society is shot through with myths from ancient ideologies. Thus critique of rationalism is considered to be good form. This is done both by those who try to impose the myths «for the poor» (e.g., ancient trinity of «Orthodoxy — Absolutism — National ethos») and those who adhere to more «enlightened» post-modernist versions of irrationalism, according to which «anything goes». Only trained critical thinking, i.e. sceptical thinking, can hinder confusion and chaos — and then only to a limited extent.
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Dear Reader, you may be familiar with some Russian intellectual journals. Naturally, you may ask: what is the difference between «Scepsis» and other similar projects? The problem is that there are no similar projects. There are post-modernist journals where you can discover a lot of amusing intellectual quirks, though they are rather strained compared to western originals. There are magazines, which incessantly discourse on such vital issues as «conciliarism», «Manichean roots of bolshevism», «philosophical insight of pochvenniki» (a kind of Slavophiles). One very influential philosophical edition has subsisted on these issues for many years. And there is the third kind of journals, which we treat with much greater respect than the previous two. These are, in the first place, Logos and Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie (New Literature Review), which continuously publish refined analytical texts and splendid translations. Unfortunately, almost all these materials are comprehensible solely to the narrow circle of initiates who alone can appreciate their importance. Such restraint is also characteristic of a few other very significant projects. The niche of scientific enlightenment continues to be nearly empty. It is high time to fill it. We realize how difficult, almost hopeless this task is.
«There are some periods when even enlightening the people continues to concern so few people that their activities look like esoteric folly».
These are the words said by M.L. Gasparov (renowned Russian philologist); no one could have more accurately described our time.
In such conditions, an enlightening journal just has to be aggressive and choose the most dangerous topics, including political ones. It is obvious for us that deterioration of the educational system, threat for freedom of conscience, crisis of human sciences and popularity of charlatans who proclaim themselves «natural scientists» — these are the problems that have much more right to be called political than the rat-race of politicians at power's feeding troughs. We believe that an attempt to build an impassable barrier between social science and politics is a dangerous delusion, if not an attempt at ideological fraud.
Hence, this journal has the following key themes:
- attempts to find a way out of the dead end in which human sciences are now;
- giving an atheistic point of view on religious propaganda;
- giving an atheistic and critical point of view on religious propaganda and on the creation of a new Orthodox
- analysis of the situation with Russian education — from adjusting it to the market standards to clericalization.
- We also, we cannot ignore the wide-scale social changes that have a very obscure name: «globalization», and the shapes these social changes will take in Russia.
The range of subjects we canvas is very wide but these are the subjects that desperately need a scientific and skeptical view.
No doubt, it is impossible to talk about all the declared subjects without receiving harsh polemics. But we try to be open for criticism. Any opponent's strong arguments will only be welcomed. Moreover, there is a special column in the magazine, «Stricken Field», which is intended for readers to offer dissenting viewpoints and to facilitate discussion. Naturally, we welcome not only criticism but also the support from those people whose thinking is similar to our own. We need such people to be the fighters that can fight on our side.
Finally, the last but probably the most important thing is: who would we, the Russian Skeptics «esoterics», like to have as our readers? First of all it should be young people — from high school students to scientists. We try to increase the number of sceptics amongst young people in general, because the situation in our country's education is such that only skeptics, critically minded people, can become really educated. It must be said that in modern Russia young people have been catastrophically unlucky. It is ridiculous how the situation described by Alexander Hertzen in the middle of 19th century repeats itself:
«We should not be worried for the future of science. But I feel sorry for the generation which, having if not perfect daylight but certainly sunrise, is suffering in the dark or juggling with trivia because its back is turned to the East. Why have those been removed that run away from welfare of both worlds: past, dead world that is sometimes called back by them but always appears in grave-clothes, and present one that has not been born for them?».
It is unlikely that we will be able to play as great a role as Hertzen played in a similar situation more than one hundred years ago, but we will try to do those few things that we can.
This text is a revised preface to «Scepsis» No. 1 (Final version — April 2003).
Translated by Ludmila Thornett.