How to cure people afflicted with conspiracy theories

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/09/25/how-to-cure-people-afflicted-with-conspiracy-theories.html

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In other words, mockery and/or rational counter-arguments from a trusted source are more effective than good ol’ fashioned empathy. That’s interesting! If not a little disheartening.

Colbert: ‘Challenge accepted.’

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Sometimes the goal isn’t to cure the conspiracy theorist, but rather inoculate potential listeners. In terms of social media especially, since all interactions are done before an audience, the best and often only reason to confront them at all is to prevent their outrageous statements from convincing and infecting everyone else who may come across them. If the victim is a lost cause, you still have to treat the contaminated room.

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Rational and ridiculing arguments were effective in reducing CT, whereas empathizing with the targets of CTs had no effect

So much for those “centrists” who are “deeply concerned” that we’re being counter-productive and uncivil by mocking these dullards or by confronting them with the reality they reject (to be clear, this includes all supporters of Il Douche).

I’ll empathise with someone so far as to determine if there’s a personal trauma that made them particularly susceptible to the woo in question, but I quickly move on from there to rationality and ridicule. Ultimately, though, my goal isn’t to cure them but to make it clear that they’re not welcome to talk about this nonsense around me.

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Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea inoculated me against conspiracy theories by using ingenious Discordian tactics. The Illuminatus! trilogy took me down a rabbit-hole of conspiracy theories and then after a number of re-reads of that and their other works, all the way through to the other side.

It would take a whole thesis to fully explain, but the kernel of it is that I finally noticed they had deliberately sown seeds of trivial misinformation in the books (especially RAW’s) that made me realize I couldn’t trust a word they wrote, but had to actually think for myself.

By trivial misinformation I mean it was just little things like misquoting famous lines and stuff like that, not anything that was maliciously misguiding.

The clever bastards.

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Couldn’t agree more–I think there is little point in wasting time or mental energy trying to convince someone who truly believes that Trump is secretly rescuing thousands of tunnel-children to disrupt Democrats’ adenochrome harvesting operation, but mocking those people and making every effort to prevent their ideas from being accepted as legitimate is worthwhile.

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I’ve also seen people advocating for a sort of Socratic approach: “Why do the arrests have to be secret? If they have to be secret, why is Q leaking the information? How many kids do you think are going permanently missing every year? Have you known any families with missing kids? Why not produce adrenochrome in a lab? Tell me more about how that works?”, etc. It would be interesting to see if that is effective at all.

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Wait, wait, wait, @thomdunn, all that and no link to your novel release info or mailing list or something? Kudos for humility, but gimme a link. I want to read that! :slight_smile:

Probably unrelated but Amazon gave me an interesting Album Link for a search for How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart

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That meshes well (i think) with my favored approach, which i think of as Occam’s razor to the Nth degree. When you’re able to take a shot at talking them downwards (that is, when they aren’t just shouting fearfully “Do your research!” back at you) keep asking them sequential linked forms “Why would that happen when it would be so much easier for <the supposed evil subculture> just to do this?” or “Nah, that would cost too much, they wouldn’t bother.” or “It would be impossible that we wouldn’t also see reports of all the preparation for…”. Every absurd notion spawns the need of assuming three more absurd notions.

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I don’t base this on any scientific studies, but it sure seems to me that it’s turtles all the way down for these Q adherents. Everything I’ve seen indicates that contradictory information or unfullfilled predictions are always able to be incorporated into a revised theory that’s more complex and more all-encompassing.
It cannot fail, it can only be failed

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Citation needed.

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That’s my fear, too, that any holes could be filled by confabulation. But maybe it could work as a combo of ridicule and rationalism? I really hope people other than political scientists and social psychologists are doing empirical work on this-- especially anthropologists and sociologists. This conspiracy stuff is starting to get serious, and we are going to need some effective techniques to deflate it if we are going to continue living in the same country/world as these folks.

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Depends who it is. Some rando on the internet? Sure. Find out your mom believes in it, then you can do a focused, sit down deprogramming.

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Howzabout environment?
Sure, let’s ridicule that one person we’re connecting with for an outstanding lack of acumen, but just try going to the front lines in Portland, Detroit, LA, or wherever, and ridiculing these bastards when they’re in numbers, and heavily armed with a government actively financing, training, and being set loose on a law abiding populous.
Sure, let’s walk up to those helmeted truncheon wielding officers of the ‘law’ and we’ll ridicule them too.
Maybe those National Guardsmen, INS, prison guard, secret police rounding people up in unmarked vans, or gassing them so their leader can look good in his own bible wielding photo op, they could stand a little of that ridicule while were at it.
How do you convince someone that only pizza is being served at the local restaurant instead of dead children?
You can’t.
Ridicule?
I think not.

Totally fair point, with the depressing caveat that I’m not entirely sure that the sit-down deprogramming is any more effective in that context.

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Makes sense to me, as I’m convinced that narcissism is a key component of “Conspiracy Theory” (still don’t like that term) psychology.

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Ridicule is always an effective tool against right-wing authoritarians. It’s the one thing they can’t countenance effectively. For example, see this article and the comments:

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This makes a certain amount of sense and doesn’t quite dishearten me as much, because ridicule is a kind of empathy here. If you listen to CTs talk about non-CTs, they tend to fall back on ridicule immediately: Oh, those sheeple think the earth is round, haha. So using ridicule is using their preferred mode of discourse; it’s meeting them where they’re at. I’m actually more surprised that rational argument works at all.

As if Trump is capable of doing ANYTHING secretly. Dude brags about sexual assault, having a hard on for dictators, cheating small contractors, how hawt he thinks various female children are. Imagine him keeping a secret where he actually did something substantive: HE’D NEVER FUCKING SHUT UP ABOUT IT

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It’s easy: Just tell them, “That’s what they want you to think.”

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