In simpler times, before the virtual courage of social media trolling, if you stood your ground in stupidity, there was a chance you would get punched in the face. In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, its publication was the result of an argument between its founders; part of their objective was for the book to settle disputes in pubs.
This year, conversations with friends and family over the holidays are peak prone for arguments which result in serious fractures. Due to the adjacent reality of “alternative facts,” many of today’s disagreements are harder to resolve and more problematic. This is because public opinion is now strongly tethered to augmented distrust – hence, the proliferation of conspiracy theories.
Growing up, when books like “Behold the Pale Horse” was a primary source reference, conspiracies of establishments were based more on secret societies and fraternal orders with Masonic origins. There was a clubhouse exclusivity just to compete for avarice domination of power. I’m not saying that’s no longer the case, I’m saying it’s no longer rooted in sponsored elitism. There’s less evidence that connects the machine-makers to the Manchurian candidate, fewer diagrams that follow the money of industrial titans down the food chain of natural resources. Yet, there are way more questionable events where motive is congruently aligned with coincidence. In other words, nowadays, a persuasive lunatic can create “Pizzagate” on social media and it will gain more traction than a legitimate theory. Leaders of today’s conspiracies are less about truth revelations and more about exploiting the C-O-N within the word.
I’d love to deep dive into this pseudo-phenomenon but for now, I’ll just focus on method rebuttals I’ve found useful for everyday encounters.
Rule #1: Don’t argue. They already believe what they want to believe and will often use more absurd reasoning to support the main argument.
Rule #2: Give them the benefit of belief. Let them know you have doubts but make them explain the execution of the theory so they understand the far-fetched degree of difficulty. This is done in one sentence: “Assuming that’s true, how would that work?”
Rule #3: End with a same-subject question. This is somewhat different than answering a question with a question or the “What-about-ism” commonly used as a tactic of deflection. Ending with the RIGHT question allows you to play ‘curious’ while making them look not-so-smart. Chances are you’ll come off as a condescending prick but that’s part of the game in this irrational climate of debate.
Ok, let’s run down some scenarios:
Theory #1: The Flu kills more people per year than Covid-19.
Retort: Disproven. However, I start here because the same people who made that argument back in the early “hoax” stages of the pandemic now spew the next theory.
Theory #2: The number of cases and deaths are inflated for hospitals and doctors to make more money.
Retort: I agree, how much do you think they inflated it by? 50. 60, 70%? With over 250K deaths that’s still only…well you do the math. By the way, I heard a lot of healthcare workers are getting sick too, I don’t totally believe it but that’s what they get for spreading exaggerations.
Theory #3: Masks Don’t Work/Breathing in masks is bad for you.
Retort: This debunked theory goes against all modern medicine; but assuming it’s true, should doctors and nurses, who have been wearing PPE for long hours pre-Covid, now conduct medical operations in street clothes? If the hospital staff said wearing a mask infringed on their civil liberties, would you sign a patient waiver allowing this exercise of freedom?
Theory #4: Climate Change isn’t real.
Retort: The same tools used to predict the weather down to the hour surely couldn’t be a useful indicator of climate change.
Theory #5: BLM is a political organization.
Retort: Yeah, just like the Tea Party, who’s the main person running on the ballot again? I think the only reason they’re protesting is to get money from that liberal billionaire…
Theory #6: George Soros
Retort: That’s the guy who financed Antifa, Black Lives Matter and the immigrant caravan, right? Yeah, he must be making a killing from financing all these socialist anarchy. More importantly, do you think he pays cash or check?
Theory #7: They want to…
Retort: Hold up, I’mma let you finish but before I do, who’s “They?”
So there you have a few examples of how to angle engagement, please distill the sarcasm to fit your own personality. Remember, these are stick-and-move strategies. Topics such as the coronavirus being a Chinese biological weapon are obviously more complicated – because it can’t be proven; at least not by us. Proceed with caution when discussing geopolitics. Comparing countries can lead to robust dialogue but most people lack objective global perspective or simply don’t know what the f-ck they’re talking about.
Also, notice how I excluded the theories of election results because they debunked themselves. Ballots of dead people seemed plausible until it became too simple to disprove in a widespread manner. Same goes for most intricate plots we heard from the far right, some of whom are (or were) on Trump’s legal team. When Fox News finally conceded to bare minimum political science, Trump supporters went to a deeper state of news outlets that share their beliefs. That’s really all it boils down to – what one wants to believe.
Recently, a 24-year-old named Abbie Richards got fed up with the saturation of conspiracy theories and took to TikTok to do her part in stopping the hemorrhage of disinformation. She created a chart that categorizes levels of conspiracies in correlation with rationale. While I would modify some designations, the tier flow is spot-on; and with all the science deniers out there, in this moment, her chart feels more important than the Periodic Table. The endless intersections of these arguments are exhausting, disappointing and sometimes worthy of bodily harm. Maybe her video will land in the Guinness Book of World Records for most viewed on Thanksgiving.
Trevor is a creative mercenary and ethical lobbyist born and raised on Beale Street. Follow him on Twitter @trevbetter.