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Tags: English, politics, opinions, essays, life
Created on Thu, 19 Aug 2021

I've been listening to a lot of arguments lately about the "safety of the vaccine", "the lie about the Corona". My last five or so blog posts (since about 3 months ago) are all about me going as deep as I can tolerate into some conspiracies and questioning truth, reality and authority. Now, I am spending my summer vacation in the worst country in EU regarding vaccination rate (~15% fully vaccinated as of writing of this post in August 2021) but also one of most corrupt - 69th/180, and with least press freedom - 112th. Correlation doesn't imply causation of course. So let me causate it using my observations.

In my view there are three types of conspiracists. Take "The Earth is Flat" conspiracy:

  1. The first group might be schizophrenics and other categorically mentally ill people for whom is hard to discern reality. This is not a small group of people - prevalence of schizophrenia alone is 0.33-0.75% of the population so maybe up to 1 in 100 people might be having physiological issues with understanding what is real and how to judge any sort of truth.

  2. Trolls - people that know the Earth is Round but for whatever reason want to put fuel in the fire. Their motivations can be as bening as for Lulz (i.e. just for fun, to see people freaking out and going over their heads to prove) and as bad intended as the proverbial Russian (or American, Australian, Chinese, Macedonian or pick-your-blame-country) state agent trolls hired to spread misinformation and undermine trust in science, authority or democracy. Possibly there may also be a group of corporate trolls that make it hard for other companies but nonetheless - these are people that are paid to spread missinfo.

  3. The last group is otherwise seemingly healthy and rational people that have genuinely started believing the Earth may be (or is) flat - either due to the influence of the other two groups or (more dangerously) other people that are close to them that are already in group 3 (i.e. self-group influence).

The last group would be most interesting to me. What makes people throw away sanity, rational thought and start believing insane things such as the Earth is flat?

Well, maybe let's start that they may not be throwing away sanity or rationality. Especially from their perspective, they may believe they are totally coherent in their thoughts, beliefs and views. How come?

First of all, some conspiracies have been correct: The NSA tapping our computers and networks, the Opioid crisis, the Volkswagen test cheats - just to name a few.

Second - a lot of the elaborate conspiracies, the ones that survive are driven by forces similar to natural selection - they have answers to a lot of the standard rebuttals. They are also deep rabbit holes with lots of "proofs", some of them may require high technical knowledge, math and science skills that would be out of scope for "otherwise rational people". Even if you are good at math and some science, you for sure are not an expert in all of Physics, all of Biology and Chemistry and all of their subfields like Astronomy, Medicine, Pharmacology; or the more "softer" sciences such as History, Anthropology, Economics and Politics. Common misconceptions that you don't know in the science may be thrown at you and even if you notice one of the arguments in the field that you know that is off, you may not notice the other ones which are off your expertise, unless you are ready to become an expert in all of humanity.

But what would be the kind of person from the third group that would even consider following the initial link sent by a friend or found in a Facebook group, "news" website or other source? Well, not everybody, but a lot of people trust their friends and give a lot of credulence to someone who they knew were usually previously right about things. Remember - people from the third group are usually "otherwise rational".

So it's just the slippery slope, the slow boiled frog? I think there is one more ingredient.

General distrust in authority and/or people.

This could be at a lot of levels. A person may generally distrust the government and the information "they" are saying. Maybe they lived through a transition period of regimes and things didn't get perceptually better - what many people would say in Bulgaria that lived through the 90s. It could be distrust in "mainstream media" because of perceived corruption, lack of freedom of expression or influence. This can also be societal problem of the whole nation, percolating up and down groups of people. Or it could be that the individual in general distrusts people now or in the past. Perhaps their parents got divorced when they were little. Perhaps they had a long string of bad relationships, cheats by significant others, betrayals by friends. They now don't believe what people tell them and want to find "alternative" truths elsewhere. Or the reveal of the truth about Santa was somehow particularly harmful during a vulnerable period of their life.

Whatever the case may be, logic will probably not win. Explaining the geometry of the Earth, safety of the vaccines or anything else will inevitably trickle down to "why do you trust authority ?!" (either or all of NASA, ESA, WHO, EMA, TheGuardian, The Government of Country etc).

There is no point in explaining the workings of the mRNA vaccine, the rates of covid, transmissions, hospitalisations if one doesn't trust the numbers that are produced worldwide for an ongoing issue that is highly politicised and affects daily lives of pretty much everyone on the planet in the past year. I mean - people can believe something as inconsequential as "the earth is flat". Think about it - most people would not be really affected if tomorrow they woke up and indeed it turned out there was a big lie going on in all the science books and observations that one can do - sure a lot of trust will be lost, but in general people will still be able to order their Venti latte or whatever. And convincing people about a currently unfolding event, having huge consequences to their personal lives where the data from each country are with literal error bars - some almost unquantifiable… it's almost impossible, especially if there is no trust somewhere down the line.

So my point is: when you see an antivaxxer, climate change denier, flatearther or an astrologer - kill them, they are useless part of society that are just slowing down progress and we need a nation of rational beings that understand science.

JK. Try to think if you personally have ever gone down a path that you believed something that turned out to be false. I have. Many, many times. If you've never done it perhaps you are not as critically thinking as you would wish to be. I've been wrong many times and it's shameful to come out on the other end, admitting you were wrong and you were spreading bad information to your friends, family and other social groups.

Try to be more empathic towards the history of that person - where are they coming from, what made them go the "wrong" paths, give them the benefit of the doubt - maybe you could even find a nugget of truth in all the crap they are telling you. Maybe one of the 50 "facts" they tell you, you could even agree is somewhat correct. Hold on to that, show that you are on their side at least for one thing. Everyone wants to hear that they are smart and have found a "different truth", that they are unique, that they are special. It's now easier than ever to find an opinion of experts that agree with yours - whatever yours is. It is easier for them to confirm their beliefs that the world is evil, corporations and governments are lying and untrustworthy - some of them actually are!

I'm preaching but this is also advice for myself - I'm the worst at this. I am not that empathic, I dismiss bullshit and run away from it like fire. I stop talking to people even when I notice they may be obsessed with shit beliefs. It doesn't help me in the long run although it's tempting to show intellect superiority. I hope this is as much advice for me as it is for you, dear reader. I know it's some how more correct to be patient with people, not dismiss them and live among the ones with different opinions. But I'm not good at that and some days/weeks I'm not even trying. I hate irrationality, probably because of some of my own trauma somewhere in my life that I'm yet to realize. Who knows.

Hope this helped a bit. Till next time!