Search This Blog

Monday, November 22, 2010

8 Stages of Arguing With a Conspiracy Theorist

Before we delve into the breakdown that this title promises, we should begin by defining our terms.  What exactly is a conspiracy theorist?  I should temper the definition by remembering that there are conspiracies and they abound.  The government is pillaging your freedom; corporate America is actively trying to control your mind; Congress is filled with crooked liars and Big Brother is watching you (and when you go to the airport he’s looking at your junk).

That being said, the “conspiracy theorist” that I refer to in the title is a unique and enigmatic creature that has elevated the true conspiracies that align against him to ridiculous and often comical proportions.  It’s not enough that levels of American defense were criminally negligent on 9/11; there has to be a vast and far-reaching conspiracy that implicates virtually every governmental representative that you’ve ever heard of.  It’s not enough that the government is hiding cutting edge technology; it has to come from the space aliens they are in league with.  It’s not enough that a group of corporate interests are exerting an unforgivable amount of control over our “democratic” government; this group has to wear black robes and align themselves with ancient pagan gods.

Sometimes, they're easy to spot.

And while we’re defining the terms of the title, let me clear up what I mean by “arguing” as well.  The type of conspiracy theorists of whom I speak are not the kind of person anyone can really argue with.  You can talk to them and they will respond with words that are neatly bundled in sentences, but there will be no attempt to use demonstrable facts in order to strengthen a hypothesis.  There will be no movement toward the center.  There will be no logical connection between points and counter-points.  You will communicate with them and interject occasional notes of logical fallacy, but it will be for your own amusement only.  There will be no argument.  What does transpire will probably be something like this:

 Stage One: Concurrence 

Discussions with conspiracy theorists start the same as conversations with regular people.  There is no legal requirement that these people be labeled and so you as the casual inquisitor have no way of knowing the hornet’s nest you are in danger of disturbing.  The discussion will likely begin as would any other.  When it takes its first turn toward absurdity, odds are that you won’t even notice.

The first signpost will be innocuous enough.  You or he will likely begin by expressing some fairly common opinion and some fairly well establish egregious behavior by some fairly communally disliked group.  It could be an innocent remark on the invasiveness of TSA screenings, some general condemnation of campaign finance, a denunciation of a recent Supreme Court decision or (and God help you if it is) any mention of any relevant historical occurrence ever in the history of time.

Directed by Stanley Kubrik

The conspiracy theorist will begin with something small and soon it will snowball into a maelstrom of madness.  Note that thus far I’ve referred to our hypothetical antagonist as “he”.  I’m not simply succumbing to the language’s inherent sexism.  He will be a he.

 Stage Two: The Reveal 

The transition will be invisible and swift.  One moment you will both be agreeing that there is too much money intertwined with American political campaigns.  You will be formulating some comparison with various European systems in your head when all of a sudden your conversational partner will blurt out something like, “And it’s all just a way to distract us while NASA tests their sun spot technology” or “And notice that the election cycles always correspond with the quarter points of the Incan calendar.”

When the reveal comes, it will usually manifest in a way that you never saw coming.  Your brain is still busy doing the math on how the hell he got from one to the other and as it strains to do so, he is expounding on it.  Each new sentence draws you further and further from the familiar dimension and deeper into a vast network of nonsense and pareidolia.  By the time you can think to say “what?” he has already invoked the Bilderberg Group, the G8 summit and the Rothschild family.

The Rothschild Family: Domineering the
future of seemingly random events since 1743.

Eventually, it will be your turn to respond and when it is, he will likely earn a blank stare.  He will be on the fence about this.  You might be awestruck by the wisdom he just revealed, or you could be a doubter so ensconced by the “official story” that you’re calling his explanation of the world into question.  Whatever your expression or his interpretation of its meaning, his next statement will contain a telltale two word preamble:

 Stage Three: “No, Seriously…” 

It’s usually around this utterance that you realize what you’re dealing with.  Up until then you reserve the hopeful notion that he is joking or satirizing the more extreme misinformation you’ve seen online.  When he utters these words it will be with conviction.  He will somehow manage to simultaneously postulate the most insane scenario while invoking the incredulous tone of somebody offended by those who would think otherwise.

“No, seriously” is something of an admission of guilt.  The conspiracy theorist often invokes it in an effort to suspend reality for the purpose of the next few minutes.  They mistakenly believe that the very fact that they take this crap seriously obligates you to humor them by doing the same for even the slightest fraction of a second.

Silence is taken as an invitation to explain deeper and you certainly don’t want that.  The very nature of whatever is being suggested is at odds with all observable phenomena in the known universe.  For example, it might rest on the precept that world governments are able to flawlessly accomplish things.

I guess they just do stuff like this to throw us off the scent.

 Stage Four: You React 

You know that you should distract him with the old Scooby-Doo, “Hey, what’s that?!” before sprinting, but something stops you.  There is an itch in your brain at the incongruous strands of phantom connections that he is weaving together and if you nod along for another moment you fear that your cerebrum might turn against you.  So you formulate some kind of response and it is usually something fairly mild.

Pictured: Unabashed Lunacy (aka Alex Jones)

“But how would they keep the eyewitnesses from knowing it was really a missile and not an airplane?” you might ask.

Here he will shake his head, expressing with his most pedantic gesture just how little you really know.  “You can’t trust the testimony of eyewitnesses,” he will offer, “anybody can tell you that.”

“But isn’t your whole argument thus far just an exercise in stringing together the most inconsistent testimonials from the least credible sources?” you might respond.

It’s at this point that the dedicated conspiracy theorist will pull out the big guns.  He will trump the “No, Seriously” with the utterance that opens the floodgates of fallacy.  “You don’t understand,” he will say. 

 Stage Five: The Tapestry Widens 

Your innocent question was meant to deflate some particularly egregious lapse in logic but it has been mistaken for an invitation to be your Sherpa on Mt Bull Crap.  The conspiracy broadens to incorporate ever more disparate groups.  What might have begun as a discussion on gerrymandering has now expanded to include revelations on JFK, Bigfoot, aliens and the truth behind 9/11.

"...and that's how I know that Bigfoot killed JFK."

As the conversation continues you begin to wonder if everyone is in on this thing except the theorist himself.  He might argue that the moon landing was a hoax and thus imply that, among others, the worldwide science of astronomy would have to be in on it.  Somewhere in their ranks you would suspect someone would have some gambling debts or a mortgage that was underwater and be tempted to use this knowledge to make a few dollars.

As you silently do the math on exactly how many people are in on this world-shattering attempt to make the planet ready for our reptilian monarchs, he continues undeterred.  Motives only exist occasionally and when they do there seems no relation between them and the scale of the means.  Thousands or millions of your fellow citizens are all too willing to turn a blind eye toward unfathomable levels of deception for things like getting bills passed or covering up the sexual indiscretions of certain tycoons.

 Stage Six: Logic’s Last Stand 

At this point, whole governmental agencies are indicted from the janitors up.  Enitre disciplines of science are deemed to be “in on it”.  The testimonies of eyewitnesses ranging from dozens to millions are discarded because they were “probably threatened or paid off”.  Up to this point no real evidence has been offered beyond a bizarre string of semi-logical deductions.  The government has, it seems, managed to silence everyone except for a few astute bloggers and authors who are somehow able to spell out the entire vast conspiracy without the slightest hint of reprisal.

Jesse Ventura's payoff got lost in the mail, I guess... 
By now you’ve probably already manufactured an excuse to leave.  You’ve faked a phone call or severe internal hemorrhaging and politely excused yourself from the rabbit hole.  But sometimes this is not possible.  If you’re in a car with this person or perhaps punitively sentenced to sit next to them on an airplane there is no simple exit strategy.  If, for whatever reason, you can’t escape, you will eventually make the mistake of interjecting again.

This time you won’t use logic because you tried that and it didn’t work.  Instead you’ll find a glaring flaw in the internal workings of the purported conspiracy.  He might convince you that all geologists are “in on it” in act one and then offer the findings of some geologist in act three.  He might discount all known medical science to make one point but then offer the findings of a recent cancer research to demonize Dupont.

No matter the tone or nature of the question, the conversation will now take a decidedly adversarial turn.  If you’re still doubting the hypothesis at this point it can only mean that you’re either in on it yourself or too stupid to see what he has so clearly laid bare for you.  That’s okay because he’s seen this kind of opposition before.  He knows how to handle it.

 Stage Seven: The Loaded Question 

By now the labyrinth of lunacy has widened so much that you can’t keep track of which conspiracy he’s talking about.  Your futile attempts at connecting his world of secret councils and alien overlords with the one that you wake up in are being cast aside before you can even put them into words.  He is addressing massive contradictions in the theory before they even occur to you and he is doing so with the flimsiest band-aids available.

In his attempt to take control of the conversation, he will likely pose a question.  It will be carefully crafted to be both unanswerable and irrelevant.  The query will likely be highly technical and involve knowledge that neither you nor he possess.  It might take the form of a question about chemistry, physics, metallurgy, anatomy or astronomy.

Doubt his “Robert did it for his GI Joes” JFK conspiracy?  Well how do you explain the trajectory of this bullet?  And don’t go using that “neither of us knows the first damn thing about ballistics” excuse.  Doubt his “George W. Bush personally wired the twin towers with C4” theory?  Well how do you explain the presence of some chemical he can’t pronounce found amongst the wreckage of two buildings big enough to have a sample of virtually every chemical construct known to man in them?

"So how do you explain this seismological data then?"

It goes without saying, of course, that your inability to posit an alternate scenario on the spot that takes into account insane and unrelated elements is iron-clad proof of his accusations.

 Stage Eight: Castigation 

You are now the enemy.  You may not realize it, but you are very likely an agent of this vast corporate/government/spiritual/pagan/alien group of shadowy puppet-masters.  You’ve been hopelessly indoctrinated or directly compensated but either way you’ll never accept the truth.  Your fall from grace will likely come right after you notice a hole in his theory that is so big that even he has to wonder if he’s full of crap.

At this point, he will wash his hands of you and he will do so with a curious choice of words.  A person who clearly gets all of his information from the most random, unvetted, dubious, profiteering and mentally unhinged sources will accuse you of being gullible.  They will deprecate your insistence on supporting evidence or logical coherence as evidence that you are unable to think for yourself.

You (artist's rendering).

They might not use these exact words (they usually do) but you will receive some variation of “Well there’s no point in talking to somebody who just believes everything they’re told.”  Despite the overwhelming evidence offered to the contrary, i.e. you actively not believing what they are telling you, they will simply lament and hope that one day you will come to your senses.  You will be lumped in with the “sheeple” and forced to spend the rest of your life wondering if the singular is “Shperson” or “Sherson”.

Aaron Davies

I find this difficult to say without coming off as a cult-leader, but you should follow me.  It’s easy to do and you’ll receive an email every time I post a new blog so I won’t have to come looking for you.

1 comment:

  1. Great Blog as usual! Thanks for the entertainment! Let the Lunacy ensue!