I write about game theory, a concept built on rational thinking. Still, I do keep a few friends and relatives around who are conspiracy theorists. They believe the wackiest stuff and are convinced they are right. Now, two are annoying me, saying that the 2020 Presidential election was rigged. How do you deal with people like this?
I actually find talking to people who think this way both amusing and entertaining, though also a little intellectually challenging or rather un-intellectually challenging
I have a close family member, Bob, who I really care about. He is a left-leaning, gun-toting, hip hop-rapping, Ebonics-speaking, white, Jewish dude…and an extreme conspiracy theorist.
Bob, as with many conspiracy theorists can offer up a conspiracy-based explanation for virtually any situation or event; Wars, the banking system, Deep State, chemtrails, the Illuminati, who runs the world, the trilateral commission, COVD, vaccines, etc. He will say emphatically that various events have been caused by a conspiracy of powerful sinister groups. I don’t want to debate any of those issues in this article. One thing Bob always seems to lack are facts to support anything he believes.
Conspiracies can cover a wide range of subjects but over the last four years, the floodgates opened for conspiracy theorists, who like Bob were also supporters of Donald Trump. Many of these theories have been stoked by Trump himself, convincing, maybe hypnotizing many of his followers that there has been a conspiracy to steal the 2020 election that Trump lost.
There are many explanations of why things happen in the world that have nothing to do with conspiracies. Just don’t attempt to sell that idea to Bob. Of course, you could always ask the conspiracy theorist a simple question concerning the election — if the election was a fraud how did Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and a few dozen Republicans get re-elected. Most Trumpian conspiracy theorists never even considered that question, when they weaved their confused web and got caught in it. They will likely refuse to answer the question.
After reading the 10th or 11th nonsensical FB post by Bob, who really does seem to be a nice guy, I could take no more and decided to write him, Below is the note I composed. I e-mailed it to him, texted it, Facebook messaged it, and posted it as a comment on one of the wacky conspiracy theories he had posted. I wanted to make sure he saw it.
“Dear Bob (not his real name)
I love you and respect you. I even respect your intelligence which makes what I am going to say more difficult.
Much of what you are posting on Facebook is either naïve, misguided or just plain evil. Darth Vader evil. You have lots of influence on the social network, and what you are posting; rumors, gossip, fake news, and seemingly real news stories that are blatantly false can lead to real chaos.
This stuff is not just evil. It may cost people their lives. There are unstable people out there (hopefully you are not one of them) who have gotten in Hummers with weapons and decided to act on the kind of stuff you post. They attempted to kidnap the Governor of Wisconsin, their peers decided to intimidate poll workers, and actually send a vote counter into hiding (see the connected article by clicking on the link). https://www.yahoo.com/news/georgia-poll-worker-hiding-false-035008939.html.
I have been a radical my entire life so I totally sympathize with your frustration with the status quo but in the end, the people who ultimately pay the price for your misguided FB are not just society, but the actual people who post this stuff, such as yourself. Do not think that you can do this kind of stuff and not have it come back to somehow bite you on the ass. If you wish I can teach you how to be an effective influencer and a skilled critical thinker. However, the stuff you are presently posting violates the rules of common sense, logic, rational thinking, and panders to the type of people that wouldn’t Google a simple factoid to verify it is so. You once posted something as fact that turned out to be from the “Onion” Satire magazine. That alone does not show you how misguided your thinking is. You can’t or won’t distinguish between fact and satire, I really don’t know what to say. So if you insist on thinking this way your life wil go doen hill. Of thid I have little doubt. That’s unfortunate because you seem to be a nice guy. I imagine you can continue doing what you are doing. You can commit to being so wrong about your need to be right, that you get lost in the nether-world of complete anti-intellectualism. Of course, there is another option, clear thinking.
You can choose to move on to the next level in personal improvement — embracing facts that have written evidence. Are things in the world that are true and which are not written down? In art, spiritually, physics, and culture…Yes? In politics — very little and certain not the stuff you are playing with.
Please WAKE-UP. You are on a dangerous path.
I answer a lot of questions. It’s what I do for a living. I was driven to write Bob for a number of reasons but one of the main ones is that I am seriously concerned about his well-being. Research suggests that conspiracist ideation — belief in conspiracy theories — may be psychologically harmful or pathological and that it is correlated with paranoia and psychological projection. Psychologists actually have a name for the condition where someone finds a conspiracy where there is none; It is a mental condition known as Illusory Pattern Perception, a type of cognitive bias.
More often than not the beliefs of a conspiracy theorist are generally based on prejudice, cognitive bias, logical fallacy, insufficient evidence, or deluded sense concerning the accuracy of their intuition. The saddest part of all this is that though the evidence-based facts are readily available with a computer click and a 3 minute Google search, the conspiracy theorist (Bob included) is unlikely to make the slightest effort to verify what they believe.
Here is one of the most comical examples, of the absurdity of this way of thinking. This relative of mine, posted a news article on his Facebook page supposedly proving that in the 1920s the US government sold the entire country and banking system to a group of 5 billionaire families. I’m serious that he believed this. The headline looked real enough and when I asked him where he got it from demanding evidence who wrote back that it was a story in Reuters a Canadian-based and highly respected news agency. I looked up the article that he recommended and of course, it was nothing like what he had claimed. There was an article in Reuters about that. But it wasn’t what my nephew claimed. The story in Reuters was actually about the fact that the Onion a satirical magazine had written that story and that conspiracy theorists all over the world had accepted it as a news story, and had made it go viral on the social network. I was amazed that Bob, and all his conspiracy theory spouting peers, could not even tell the difference between an actual news story and a made-up satirical news story printed in The Onion. I pointed this out to Bob, but as usual, he never responded to my inquiry. Instead, he simply moved on to another conspiracy theory and another story that also had no facts behind.
All I could do besides throwing my hands up was send him the definition of satire. I added with a bit of sarcasm “in case you are too busy to look it up the word ‘satire’?”.
Definition: Satire: The use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc. a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule. a literary genre comprising such compositions”. Got it?
The challenge for anyone seeking to have a conversation with conspiracy theorists is that they have little respect for facts, statistics, deductive reasoning, critical thinking, or experts. When presented with actual facts they have a ready excuse to deny what is likely to be so. They will tell you, as they hold their biased ground “The statisticians are corrupt and have an agenda,” The conspiracy theorist will tell you this as they hold onto ideas based on false premises, etc. The conspiracy theorist is likely to reinforce whatever conspiracy they are promoting by circular reasoning. Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy in which the reasoner begins with what they are trying to end with. The components of a circular argument are presented as logically valid because it is assumed by the conspiracy theorist that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Of course, this does not bring you to the correct conclusion — it feeds conspiracies. It is almost impossible to convince a conspiracy theorist that they are incorrect. This is because they are likely to use and reinterpret both evidence against the conspiracy and an absence of evidence for it as evidence of its truth. In a mind that thinks like this, the conspiracy becomes a matter of faith, rather than something that can be proved or disproved. The conspiracy theorist to convince others they are right will promote the Big Lie (an idea codified by the Nazis) and worship at the altar of those who have a passion for falsifying information. People like Trump, Steve Bannon, Antifa, some so-called influencers on YouTube, and others like them on the right and left of the political spectrum.
Do conspiracies exist? If what you mean by this is some cabal, or a secret political clique or faction with an agenda to expand their power, influence, or territory, then the answer is an unequivocal yes. This is the history of humankind. But” believe me”, I say to my Bob, “if you know about this secret society, it is obviously not very good at keeping secrets is it?”
So if a particular Conspiracy Theorist, happens to be a friend or a relative approaches you to sell you a nonsensical idea the only solution may be to get them into counseling or psychotherapy, even going with them if necessary. Send them articles and videos about Cognitive Bias. Then make them tell you what they believe, and tell them over and over “I’m confused. I don’t understand what you are saying”, “Tell all this again?” Then repeat back what they said to you, and then say again, “I don’t understand what you are saying. Tell them all this again.” Then add “You really believe this? It doesn’t make any sense” Then tell them you love them, and move on as fast as you can to a conversation with someone with a thirst for knowledge and some basic rationality and common sense.
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