05 - Conducting Yourself
In my time debating alternative-thinkers, and indeed my time as one, I've come to recognise the three phases in a conspiracy theory argument. These three phases are almost always universal across every conversation.
In this phase, the alternative-thinker enters the conversation absolutely adamant that they're right. In this phase, claims of conspiracy will be given without evidence. In this stage, it's likely most ad hominem attacks will be thrown around.
"Wake up", "stop being a sheep", "you're so ignorant", "do some research". You'll also find that they will reply with, or react to your messages exclusively with laughing emojis. To them, you're being ridiculous and aren't worth engaging properly. Once you get through to them that you have a valid point to make, they move on to phase 2. Some people just never get past phase 1. Unfortunately, there's virtually nothing you can do. They stay in this phase forever and willingly thrive in knowing they're right.
People who operate Facebook pages or groups, or who are ingrained in the conspiracy community are very unlikely to get past this stage. They've shut themselves off so much that that door will never open.
In this phase, you've got their attention and they start going in one of two directions:
1. Either they demand you prove them wrong and stand their ground.
2. They start sharing their evidence in the form of articles and YouTube videos.
It's worth noting that the intelligent and collected alternative-thinker will usually start from phase 2 and will engage with you (usually quite intensely) from the start.
Once here in phase 2 you can start revealing evidence and exposing logical fallacies, not by pointing it out, but by providing sound and logical reasons their argument is flawed. A big problem with conspiracy theories is that they are heavily dependant on a mix of the black or white fallacy, and the composition fallacy. There are many elements to these theories, but you need to be able to reveal the reason their arguments are flawed.
For example. Recently someone sent me a YouTube video of a technician who installed a 5G tower. In the video, he acknowledges that radio frequencies can't ionize cells, and he's right, but he then says that it's been proven by the National Institution of Health to cause cancer anyway. He was upset and hurt that he added to the suffering of other people.
I looked up that study, checked the peer review, and read the words of the author. It turns out that it was related to 2G, using full-body exposure on rats and mice over a decade, and only male rats had a clear increase of cancer. The author even said that their testing doesn't relate to 5G technology.
I pointed out that it was wrong for these reasons. I provided direct links and quotes. That moved the conversation onto phase three. But examining the example above, this is a mix of the following fallacies:
The appeal to emotion fallacy - Using emotion to bolster the claim that 5G causes cancer
The black or white fallacy - There can't be any nuance. 5G either causes cancer or it doesn't
The anecdotal fallacy - Using a single person as evidence, and using their personal experience as proof
The composition fallacy - Because a 2G frequency caused specific cancer in male rats, 5G causes cancer in humans
There are others in there too, but I will go over these on the next page which will go over the two opposing simultaneous states I mentioned early on. Like I said in phase 1, some people never move out of this phase as well. Some people can only go so far.
At this point, you've provided overwhelming evidence and sufficient reasonable doubt that the conspiracy theory isn't just flawed, but is just plain incorrect. The alternative-thinker's way to deal with this isn't to then reform their opinion because the alternative-thinker's main goal is to preserve the conclusion by all means necessary. Losing is not an option.
From this point, the tone of the conversation will dramatically change, and they will try to do a mix of things.
1. They will try to leave the conversation by saying they're busy, "this is a waste of time", or they don't care anymore, or they're bored. They may try and say that you're too brainwashed to accept reality, or that you're closed-minded. They might even claim that you're just incapable of changing your mind and are only believing what you want to believe. These people aren't at the point of changing yet. Be patient, they might be able to in time. If they block or delete you, then you can only do so much. It would be worth reflecting on how you conducted yourself and how you spoke to them, but that's where your help for them ends.
2. They will completely disassociate themselves from the claims they're making and deflect and reject any and all responsibility for voicing potentially harmful conspiracies. They might say "I'm just the messenger", "I'm just sharing information", or, "He said it not me". By rejecting any responsibility for sharing incorrect or harmful information, they can disregard specific pieces of evidence they've used, without considering that the entire theory is wrong. They refuse to admit that they share the same opinion as the source they've used, that it has any reflection on their views, or that it means anything. It's dodging responsibility and is dangerous for them and everyone else if you allow them to get away with this.
3. The debate or conversation is a clear stalemate. Usual generic statements and cop-outs will likely follow. They might just say, "we're going to have to agree to disagree", or "you have your opinion, I have mine". Another tactic might be to say, "This isn't worth it, let's just drop it." This is a way to sneakily exit the conversation without admitting they're incorrect.
When you get to this point, I don't know how to progress from there. If you pursue it further, you risk them regressing by enforcing their view that you're judgmental and opinionated. If you don't pursue it, you allow them to keep escaping losing arguments. It's a tricky situation and probably requires a decent judgment call on a person by person, and case by case basis.