Like most other people today, I spend a certain amount of time perusing social media. Not because I particularly enjoy it, but because it’s a good source of material for this blog. But the down side is that the impression one gets from such outlets is that the present human condition, and the outlook for the human race, are very bleak indeed.
I know someone who literally believes the earth is flat. Literally. She posted the above photo on Facebook not long ago, and declared that the concept of a round earth is a myth promoted by the Great Conspiracy to turn us into mindless drones. And the astronauts? They never really went anywhere. The government has expended billions of dollars and millions of man (and woman) hours and even several lives to advance a “myth” that nearly everyone has already believed for centuries. Oh and she also believes that chemtrails are used to control us, that global warming is a myth, that vaccines cause autism, and probably that Obama is still trying to take away her guns.
I wish I could tell you that she’s alone, but there are many others out there too. Most of them spreading an endless supply of misinformation that swarms the Internet like a plague of locusts. What is perhaps even more troubling is that even the positive and accurate information circulating out there in the hivemind paints a rather grim picture.
For instance, another link I saw posted from the website Daily Kos offers an illuminating explanation for the way “conservatives” in particular are so frequently ensnared in the web of what used to be called fake news before that term was stolen. Basically, right-wing manipulators are playing a game of telephone. And whatever the participants hear, they believe. Unshakably. And permanently.
As yet another link explains, any attempt to introduce verifiable facts to a devotee of alternative facts results in what is called the backfire effect:
As a rule, misinformed people do not change their minds once they have been presented with facts that challenge their beliefs. But, beyond simply not changing their minds when they should, research shows that they are likely to become more attached to their mistaken beliefs. The factual information “backfires.” When people don’t agree with you, research suggests that bringing in facts to support your case might actually make them believe you less. In other words, fighting the ill-informed with facts is like fighting a grease fire with water. It seems like it should work, but it’s actually going to make things worse.
Wow. If this is true, and given everything else that we’ve seen on Facebook et al, what conclusion can we draw except that we’re all doomed?
Well, someone else online posted at least a glimmer of hope. And it comes from comments made 300 years ago by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, whom we’ve encountered before:
When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true….People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.
In short, if there is any hope at all of encouraging the delusional to actually realize that they are delusional, it lies not in challenging their delusions, but in humoring them as far as possible. That may sound like a slender thread of hope. But it may be the only thread we have. At least if the culture of social media presents an accurate reflection of society at large.
I’ve spent a lot of time on social media trying to convince one true believer after another that they are simply wrong about certain things. It is true that if I attempt to see any given point from their point of view and manage to find in it something I didn’t know prior to the discussion, I do get much more favorable replies, but at the same time, I am totally perplexed about how obvious proofs, and documented facts, only seem to convince most of my debating opponents that they are once again being fleeced by some damn liberal. Wouldn’t one be prone to expect that, when confronted by reason and logical proofs that any of us would at least, grudgingly admit to being mistaken?
There was a time in my life and in the lives of most others, when facts and truth really did seem to mean more, and to hold more weight. Now a sure clue that someone is pigeonholing me is in their responding badly to what seems so humanly valuable and obvious to me. But indisputable and enlightened facts, only means to those that deny them, that their enlightened and self-pro-claimed beliefs are under assault form the forces of darkness or by some propagandist armed with lies? It also seems fairly certain to me that organized conservative attacks on progressive beliefs, such as those provided and pursued by ALEC, have been fairly successful during the last four decades and are lately trying to demean the very idea of truthful information and/or that facts can sometimes be supplied by competent and trusted authorities. I wish that kind of political manipulation was only a paranoid conspiracy, but it isn’t!
Although liberals and conservative commenters both tend to become insulting and demeaning when their points are not accepted, I do find in general that the first person to accuse me of being a mere drone, or a shill for scientists, the government, or my liberal puppet masters, etc. etc. are usually those with the least logical and most bizarre beliefs.
I experienced an unexpected break from this formulaic way of attacking and defending when commenting about gun regulations on a conservative website, and arguing from the point of view that the government does have a responsibility to protect its citizens from dangerous and potential threats. I agreed with an opponent that, the fact that some liberals can argue with ideological zealousness, while insulting an opponent’s views and continuing to hurl insults at them. I also made it perfectly clear that I did not object to everyday citizens owning guns, just the fact that one can easily obtain semi-automatic rifles, and huge 100 round barrel magazines to use with them. And of course, that any private citizen who orders personal body armor online has aroused my suspicions up already, whether they have a permit of not. My basic argument was that, even though the government should have the right to step in at times to enforce regulations, that doesn’t mean that citizens need to surrender all of their weapons and be prevented from acquiring others in the future. It’s just the degree to which the government enforces regulations that’s at question, and which should not be draconian in any way.
However, anyone who has commented on social sites could immediately label me as a liar, if I didn’t also admit that I too, can react to others badly and sometimes add to the lack of communication skills that one needs to possess in order to change the views of another.
I am just as amazed as you are POP, about the many people who entertain quite wild and bizarre beliefs, such as 911 conspiracy believers, global warming deniers and anti-LGBT fanatics, as well as new earthers. One reason all of these organized movements may be so easily accepted is that the advocates for them, often feel like they are among a select group of true believers and that it’s their duty to end the illusions that have been placed on the rest of us. It also means that when they are ridiculed by ordinary people, knowledgeable scientists, politically Liberal antagonists, dangerous transgender bathroom rights crusaders, or what have you, they will also reward themselves with the privilege of considering themselves personally persecuted for their unshakable beliefs. In the case of 911 truthers the presence of a few, as yet unexplained anomalies in evidence, means that if even one of these remains unexplained, then that means that all of the scientists, the architects, the physics professors, those who study fires, actual firefighters, and NYPD police force (as well as tens of thousands of others) are therefore completely wrong? And when I confront them with their own cherry picked statements or deceptively edited videos, they only fail to answer and continue to pursue their righteous crusade.
If one is merely believed or contradicted in regard to the facts, that means such a person apparently holds no more in common (status wise), than someone with an appetite for common hamburgers, but if one believes others are persecuting him or her for trying to speak the truth and trying to convince others that what they say is true, suddenly they become gourmets who eat only triple big macs smothered with tons of secret sauce.
Strangely enough there is a great deal of status and self-importance for those who defend long ago disproved theories that they simply refuse to let go? Even the fact that they may in some miniscule way have the smallest chance to be acknowledged as right, is reason enough for them to continue on and on, and never give up their beliefs.
There is however one significant difference about those who refuse to acknowledge AGW—eventually reality itself will prove them right or wrong—unfortunately the rest of us will never be truly listened to by them, until that unavoidable eventuality finally arrives. And it’s looking like that won’t happen soon enough.