Thursday, December 2, 2021

How to Respond to Conspiracy Theorists

We've become a society of easy, lazy labelers. Once I've affixed a sticker on your forehead, I'm done. Uttering certain words earn you a monster label, regardless of intent or context. Once the pattern matches, and the label's been affixed, the work is done.

This treatment is by no means confined to the Left. Someone called me a Socialist the other day for pointing out that Trump's attorney general Bill Barr and Ben Ginsberg, the top Republican elections expert, both declared there'd been little voter fraud in 2020. Forget the easily-provable truth of my statement, or its utter lack of reference to anyone or anything on the Left. I'd said the thing that makes me the thing. No further consideration is necessary. Having received my sticker, I now was my sticker, and it was time for the good little Socialist to walk away, humbled. Good day, sir.

People aren't whole people for many of us. They're highly reducible. This is expected given the swelling narcissism of a society afflicted with immense wealth and comfort. Each of us, naturally, represents the center point of it all, so its up to us to annoint or reject from our position of casual supremacy. It's suprising that we don't walk around with pricing guns in our hands.

Speak to me soothingly and you get a "Nice Guy" sticker, even if you'd never come get me when my car breaks down at 4am. You don't need to be nice, just seem it, like a TV character. We blandly scrutinize the facade, condense it - good or bad (shades of grey no longer exist) - into meme form, and move on to processing the next incoming object. We're sort of like Vogons.

It's always been thus, of course. Hair-trigger, superficial, lazy stereotyping. But in the past we mostly kept it to ourselves, unless emboldened by a kindred mob. Now one's kindred mob is always live-connected via a slab of glass perpetually within arm's reach. This emboldens us to flamboyantly reduce fellow humans to memey stickers without mercy or shame.

This explains the common reaction to conspiracy theorists. I mostly see people blurt out "That's a CONSPIRACY THEORY!" and, voila; done! You, conspiracy shmuck, have been vanquished, and it's time for you to go crawl up and die!

Unsurprisingly, that's not actually effective. And that's one reason conspiracy theorists encounter so little resistance these days. A label is not the titanium-tipped poison spear many of us imagine it to be. Few of us have any desire to speak to conspiracy theorists like full-fledged human beings. But I've pondered it, and concocted a way of articulating it. that’s far more substantial, and respectful, than strident erasure.

I'm not saying the following has the power to necessarily shake anyone out of their stupor. But it does make them think. It plants a seed. It addresses the actual flaw in conspiracy thinking, prying open some space for reflection:
The conspirators must be smart. I’ve met a lot of supposedly bright and accomplished people, but none seemed remotely capable of pulling off a tightly-orchestrated conspiracy.

Do powerful people do awful things to seize opportunities as they arise? Absolutely! But massive premeditated conspiracy would require smarts and vision and power and seamless silent stealth that humans only imagine themselves capable of. 
Consider this: How have our trillion dollar attempts at nation-building panned out? That’s a pretty useful high water mark for societal orchestration skills. In the end, I think Gary Larson had it right. We are slightly clever livestock. And often not even that clever.

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