This is a post about those people. You know the ones. Sometimes they are/were good friends or old friends you haven’t seen in while. Sometimes they’re your own family. Perhaps it’s someone you just met who seemed on first meeting pretty sound. Or maybe it’s that colleague who sits four desks away, she’s a bit twitchy and looks like she might come in one day with a trench coat and machine gun screaming about the repression of homeopathy. Whoever it is the same outcome ensues – they feel compelled to unleash a tonne verbal of diarrhoea.
It’s at this point you find out they are the conspiracy believing, chemtrail, anti-vaxxer, merovingian lizard people David Icke worshiping , one-world-government, anti-science, wannabe hippy, 911 truthers and so called outsiders-to-system who rail against the all-knowing…
So much utter bullshit is spoken at you by those people that you sit unable to retort, zoned out, paralysed by a wall of idiocy because there is literally nothing you can say back. It’s not a conversation it’s polemic with an occasional pause to see if you agree. When you hear what those people have to say you’re so flabbergasted at the lack of logic or forethought you are quite literally dumbfounded in disbelief.
They love sharing their small, hilariously incoherent and ridiculous view of world with you… or on Twitter… or Facebook… or, in my case, while stuck on a beach with nowhere else to go. They congregate together to pat themselves on the back congratulating themselves in their idiocy. This post is for those people who think they’ve figured out who the grand puppet masters are behind every little shadow. They ones that assault you with pseudoscience and metaphysics dressed up as #facts or better yet #theirexperience to explain phenomena they barely comprehend.
It’s gonna be a long one so perhaps you should settle in for this. Get a cup of tea… I can wait.
Let me take a step back a second or two and give some context. I recently had an extremely frustrating experience TWICE with the same old friend and his partner. I love my friends and I love my family but I do not suffer foolishness gladly and I cannot listen to bullshit and then not respond. I’m this dude…
That’s not to say I think I’m right 100% of the time, just most of the time, okay let’s be realistic it’s probably 70/30 if we’re gonna put a number on it. I also don’t give a shit about whether someone agrees with me at the end of an argument or corrective statement. I don’t need the final word… its nice but I don’t have the patience. Many of my friends have seen my epic Facebook comment threads and most agree they are super dumb.
At the end of them I always ask why?… why did I even bother? It is such a waste of time (except those times when I learn I’m wrong then its definitely not wasted).
Arguing on the internet is the verbal equivalent of knife fighting with bananas. No one wins, and you both end up looking stupid.
But the spread of bad memes is a real problem. By memes I’m not talking about:
I’m talking about the spread of an idea, specifically of bad ideas that propagate through the human collective psyche. Despite being disproven time and again these bad memes rear their ugly heads like some sort of hydra or zombie horde. They refuse to die, because some idiot that cannot accept a valid, objectively proven explanation. Hard evidence, or what I like to call reality, is rejected because #reasons (mentioned above). Typically they will look at you and say, “Oh so you’re one of the sheeple buying the “official” story.” As if there alternative narrative by its very essence of not being the ‘mainstream version’ is somehow more valid.
These ideas are actually threatening to derail modern civilisation because they undermine our ability to see the facts, not alternative facts, not statistics that correlate with something and then are presented to us as a cause of something. NO. I mean simple observable objective facts. E.g the Earth is round as in spherical not a flat disc, the sun will rise because we orbit it in ellipses. It’s a burning ball of fucking hydrogen and we can tell whats its made of by the composition of light emanating from it. We landed on the moon but given the rate of drop-off in intelligence we might never return. Oh yeah and viruses still kill a truckload of people everyday, you should really vaccinate your kids.
I’m not going to attempt to debunk all the crazy crap that my friend came out while I was stuck that beach with him in Crete. I’ve been disputing his claims for half a lifetime. I have better things to do like stare at the sun until I go blind. Apparently in most cases it’s pointless as it has been shown that arguing the case is useless even if you can sway the person. They are still being unduly influenced by the original false information or their original beliefs.
When there’s no immediate threat to our understanding of the world, we change our beliefs. It’s when that change contradicts something we’ve long held as important that problems occur…
…correction did cause some people to change their false beliefs. But, when the researchers took a closer look, they found that the only people who had changed their views were those who were ideologically predisposed to disbelieve the fact in question. If someone held a contrary attitude, the correction not only didn’t work—it made the subject more distrustful of the source…
…If information doesn’t square with someone’s prior beliefs, he discards the beliefs if they’re weak and discards the information if the beliefs are strong.
– Maria Konnikova, New Yorker
Some of these bad memes are formed from campaigns by lobbyists, political groups, government propaganda and other parties with vested interests. They served to cast doubt on objective facts usually for a political or economic purpose. These insidious ideas take hold in our minds and become a the ‘true facts’, the ‘real story’ in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
There is staggering irony in the way people are choosing to believe in conspiracy theories or just plain misinformation planted and created by special interest groups conspiring to sway their opinion in their favour. Of course special interest groups don’t always start or propagate these memes. See 911 Truthers who are are quite capable of deluding themselves, choosing to believe in something even more complicated than reality because they cannot for a second see the gaping chasms in their logic.
There is a ray of light of though, a very famous ex-Truther, Charlie Veitch, changed his mind after going on an organised tour and meeting with experts. Of course he was vilified for changing position by his former Truther comrades, as if changing your mind is a crime. People accusing other people of orthodoxy while at the same time promoting their own orthodoxy is hypocritical and ridiculous.
Of course in an ideal world I wouldn’t care what anyone else believes, especially about science because
The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.
– Neil DeGrasse Tyson
But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in an imperfect and challenging place. Those people, the armchair pundits with grand theories of everything, are more certain about the truth of their statements than any scientist would ever be about the their own work. It’s one thing to believe something plainly stupid it’s quite another to spread it, worse still to bait ME in argument so you can satisfy your ego.
I find these people fall into three camps or are a combination of these three things:
- They’re normal people like you and me but they don’t have the time or inclination to fact check. They see something from what they believe to be a credible authoritative source and take it at face value.
- They’re emotional and all their thinking is predicated on their ideology or their petrified value system with no recourse to logic or reason. Decision making is about their feelings.
- They are libertarian alt-right and alt-left or supposedly anti-establishment, they consume media prolifically, quote Chomsky but support Trump, appear with hippy-heirs but don’t practice what they preach they have too much time but don’t spend enough focusing on hard reasoning or concrete action.
In all cases I find it hard to believe that any of these people can have read even one book of non-fiction, let alone a popular science book, recently. They certainly have not done any intensive study of anything outside a humanities topic or a YouTube channel for, well let’s be kind and say an extended period. They all have monumentally epic problems of confirmation bias, a fundamental lack of understanding of the empirical method, are unable to to get their head around basic statistics and prefer to behave as if they are powerless in a world stacked against them all the while claiming they’re woke to it.
The amount of knowledge I have accumulated through simply reading just a little bit more non-fiction than the average person, has exceeded the capability of some of my peers and my older family members to catch up. My memory is pretty good too which means facts tend to stick. So does false information you’re probably thinking. You would be right but there is reason I can discard false information faster. It is because I don’t cling on to some need to simplify the world.
I accept there are somethings that are either very complex or hard to explain or imagine. I don’t believe in a “god of the gaps” to account for stuff we just don’t know the answer to presently. I don’t need to put things into a box. I don’t need to feel safe. I don’t need for there to be a deeper meaning to things. I just can’t stand the sheer stupidity anymore. It makes me wish for that future where a super-intelligence would just turn us into its pets or turn us into paperclips. Either outcome would be preferable to listening to bullshit.
When I get into a discussion about a topic I largely zone out until someone says something new and interesting – unless its my girlfriend in which case I listen intently always 😍. This sounds arrogant I know but in programming there is a maxim you follow when you code: DRY or Don’t Repeat Yourself – it’s wasteful and inefficient. I feel the same way about discursive conversations. Why, when my counterpart has not taken the time to learn even the most trivial information due to stubborn pig-headedness or sheer laziness, should I take the time to listen or explain said trivial info just so they can get to the point where they understand enough to able to take part in the discussion.
Current wisdom on debunking cock-eyed theories says you should resort to these tactics:
- keep emotions out of the exchange,
- discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum),
- listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately,
- show respect
- acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion
- try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.
There is now a handbook on debunking! I read it. I really tried with my friend. I counted to ten. I tried not to get frustrated. I tried not to get emotional. I tried not to let my eyes roll in backflips or shoot another incredulous look at almost everything that came out of his mouth. Honestly I can only try so much before I start fundamentally questioning whether I was actually speaking to a sane person or indeed if I had gone insane myself.
Alas I’m not a patient person. I am not a great educator. I rather lack the ability for witty retorts when the person I’m verbally parrying with is actively ignoring reality. Then when the make that I don’t understand them because I’m one of the mass of brainwashed idiots, buying into consumerism and so-called establishment thinking, designed to keep me oppressed.
In two words
Education has failed you and all of us because now we have to deal with this crap.
If you’re one of those people I’ve described and you want to be taken seriously. You should know it’s not incumbent on me to try and convince you that vaccines are beneficial or that we’re not being sprayed by chemtrails. No you’re making those claims so understand one thing: if you make a claim you better be able to back it up.
You are going against scientific consensus. You are challenging the status quo. If you feel the odds are stacked against you and it’s unfair that’s because they are and it is. You probably think it’s unfair because your point is valid, it’s probably not. Or maybe you believe your freedom of speech is curtailed, clearly it’s not if you are speaking freely enough to provoke this ridiculous blog post from me. Or perhaps you think your argument should not be judged by established scientific or rational norms because of inherent bias.
Well then if you don’t believe your ideas should NOT be judged on the same level as other ideas but unquestioningly accepted by us then are you not guilty of the same crime you accuse the scientific establishment of? You are accusing the establishment of peddling false ideology, science etc. You also say that me and people like me are blindly accepting it while at the same time you ask that we blindly accept your ideology, pseudo-science or other such mumbo-jumbo. Nobody is repressing you, they just think you haven’t done your homework.
I don’t care if you think homeopathy is a valid and effective form of therapy for cancer. You can go out to a store and buy that crap. Just don’t make me pay for it with my taxes on the NHS until your so-called miracle cure has gone through the same rigorous standards of testing as the drugs that are allowed as official treatments.
I don’t care if you believe that cancer was designed in secret labs for keeping the population low. Prove it with hard facts.
I don’t care if you believe GMO is bad because you’re under the mistaken impression that you’re going to mutate into a cabbage due to the food you eat.
I don’t need to hear another diatribe about corporate power – I am already aware of the psychopathic nature of these institutions which were designed that way by humans. We gave them the profit motive and they pursue that above all else – what are you doing to change their motives?
Instead of trying to change your mind I’ll tell you how to change the mind of a reasonable, rational thinking skeptic. Here are some ground rules:
Use objective facts rational thinkers are not interested in your subjective opinion unless what we are discussing is Art or Culture etc.
Don’t bait us we can’t be bothered we are not all Ross from friends.
Don’t rob us of our agency by saying we’re brainwashed.
When you do this you’ve already lost because you cannot convince anyone of the validity of your argument. You’re resorting to an ad hominem attack on your opponent or their sources and not challenging the validity of the evidence being presented.
Don’t dismiss every argument because you don’t like the source of the evidence.
Attack the evidence with other evidence – pretty straight forward really. But be ready to have your evidence thoroughly examined.
Don’t talk about science unless you understand how scientific discoveries are made.
If you cannot understand how observation and experimentation along with the peer review system have produced all the technology and the vast swathe of knowledge we have built over the last four hundred years then don’t… just don’t. Yes there are issues with systemic bias or scientific funding channeled towards frankly dubious research but it does not mean ALL science is bad – that’s another logical fallacy.
Don’t give me your anecdotal experience or anyone elses as evidence.
It’s the lowest form of evidence for backing up a claim. It’s less than useless. I will laugh at you for your naivety especially if you should know better because you have a university level education.
Don’t talk in certainties.
Ross, in the video above, actually did what any self-respecting scientist would do when challenged about the possibility he may be wrong – he conceded that yes there is the tiniest chance he might be wrong. He is a true scientist who, despite overwhelming evidence in his favour, is still open minded. If new evidence were to prove the scientific consensus wrong he would be open to changing his view. Phoebe attacks his character for this ‘admission of doubt’ the same way the tobacco lobby or oil lobby pour doubt on the majority of scientific consensus. We laugh but unfortunately that is where we are.
…It is our responsibility to leave the people of the future a free hand. In the impetuous youth of humanity, we can make grave errors that can stunt our growth for a long time. This we will do if we say we have the answers now, so young and ignorant as we are. If we suppress all discussion, all criticism, proclaiming “This is the answer, my friends; man is saved!” we will doom humanity for a long time to the chains of authority, confined to the limits of our present imagination. It has been done so many times before.
Don’t play the Hitler card.
See Godwin’s Law (also known as argumentum ad Nazium, reductio ad Hitlerum, or a Hitler Card
Don’t jump from topic to topic or argument to argument.
Just because you can’t coherently stay on topic or win on one point doesn’t mean you should going on to try and connect it to some unrelated point.
I do like clarity and exact thinking and I believe that very important to mankind because when you allow yourself to think inexactly your prejudices, your bias, your self interest comes in in ways you don’t notice and you do bad things without knowing that you are doing them: self deception is very easy. So that I do think clear thinking immensely important.
– Bertrand Russell
Don’t talk and the do nothing.
If the point of your argument is to effect change stop talking about what’s wrong and go and implement a novel solution. Even if your solution is crap and you fail at least you tried to help and you learned that you were wrong. Life is about experimenting and taking risks in order to learn. Don’t hide behind vapid statements like “I’m leading by example by leaving no footprint” or “I’m just pointing out the issues so people can look at the right place”. If you’re example is to leave no impression on the Earth at all then what’s the point in your existence? Worse if you’re a pundit and your information is incorrect, outdated or simply adds to the sea of voices lost on the tidal wave of social media bullshit again I ask what’s the point in opening your mouth. If you hate the things as they are so much and you want to change it, get off your arse and stop making excuses.
We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on
– Richard Feynman
Anyway better get back to expanding my mind with establishment facts and working like the drone I am in this consumerist nightmare world that oppresses me. Oh woe is me I’m such a brainwashed slave. If only I could see the shackles of my psycho-social disposition I might break free…