poison pill "How to pull a friend out of the conspiracy theory rabbit hole"
Mick West at Metabunk.org has published a book! It's called "Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect." The early reviews at Amazon.com are brutal.
I publish a fair-use excerpt from the introduction to the book published last month at Salon: How to pull a friend out of the conspiracy theory rabbit hole | It’s not a blue pill or a red pill, but a poison pill
I've added highlights to parts of the excerpt that might be helpful to OLers struggling with the entailments of conspiracy-ideation --in friends, family, and perhaps in themselves ... as those of us who have read the Rob Brotherton classic understand ... "Its not THEM, it's US" ... no one wing of political or social groups is more vulnerable to the harms of conspiracy ideation than another.
False conspiracy theories—child actors, 9/11 as an inside job, global warming as a hoax, Flat Earth—are becoming more mainstream as they increasingly pervade our political landscape and public consciousness. Mick West, a leading debunker and the author of the upcoming book "Escaping the Rabbit Hole," draws from years of experience in telling us exactly how to help the conspiracy theorist in your life escape that rabbit hole.
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Pulling Your Friend from the Rabbit Hole
Conspiracies are very real, of course. The fact that powerful people make secret plans at the expense of the general public should come as no surprise to anyone. Nixon conspired to cover up Watergate. The CIA staged “false flag” operations in 1953 to bring down the Iranian government. Powerful men in the Reagan administration conspired to illegally trade arms to Iran to finance the Nicaraguan Contras. Enron conspired to shut down power stations to raise the price of electricity. Executives from Archer Daniels Midland conspired to fix the price of animal feed. People within the second Bush administration conspired to present sketchy evidence as conclusive proof of WMDs to justify the invasion of Iraq. Politicians tacitly (and sometimes overtly) conspire with wealthy individuals and corporations, helping pass favorable legislation in exchange for campaign contributions, or sometimes just bribes. The prison industry conspires to get those politicians to incarcerate more people simply to maximize their profits.
Nobody is denying that conspiracies happen. These are well documented and undisputed facts. Conspiracies very clearly have happened, and they will continue to happen. Nobody is asking you to trust that the people in power always have your best interests at heart, because they clearly do not. Nobody is asking you to blindly trust the government, or big pharma, or any large entity with a gross amount of power, wealth and influence. A key aspect of a well-functioning democracy is that the government should be subject to scrutiny.
Conspiracies are real, but with every one of these very real conspiracies and plausible potential conspiracy there are a slew of false conspiracy theories. These theories are efforts to explain some event or situation by invoking a conspiracy. They are theories that are either very likely false because they lack the significant evidence needed to improve over the conventional explanation, or are simply demonstrably false.
There are conspiracy theories like the idea that the World Trade Center towers were destroyed with pre-planted explosive, or that the moon landings in the 1960s were faked, or that planes are spraying toxic chemicals to deliberately modify the climate. There’s less extreme but still false conspiracy theories, like the pharmaceutical industry covering up how well homeopathy works (it doesn’t), or the car industry covering up motors that can run on water (they can’t). At the far end of the conspiracy spectrum there’s the claim that the Earth is flat (it’s not) and the government is covering this up (how would that even work?). There are old conspiracy theories, like the idea that Jewish bankers rule the world, and new conspiracy theories, like the idea that the government stages shootings of children in schools to promote gun control.
My premise is very simple. These false conspiracy theories are a problem. They hurt individuals by affecting their life choices, like money, health, and social interactions. They hurt society by distracting from the very real problems of corruption and decreasing genuine participation in democracy. False conspiracy theories are real problems and we can and should do something about them. My work discusses the nature of the problem, why people get sucked in, how they get out and what pragmatic things can be done to help individuals escape the conspiracy theory rabbit hole.
Maybe someone you know—we’ll call them your friend for the sake of this exercise—is a conspiracy theorist, or at least believes one of these false conspiracy theories. The fundamental technique in helping them is maintaining effective communication and presenting your friend, the conspiracy theorist, with information that they are lacking, and doing it all in a manner that will encourage them to look at what you are presenting without rejecting you as an idiot or a government shill. Given time, this additional information will help them gain enough genuine perspective to begin to question what they thought they knew and to start their journey out of the rabbit hole. [...]
My book, "Escaping the Rabbit Hole," is written mostly assuming that you, the reader, are trying to better understand or help someone who is down the rabbit hole. Perhaps it’s a relative, maybe your spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling. Perhaps it’s a friend, a close friend or a casual acquaintance, or someone you sit next to at work, or even just someone you know online. With this in mind I’m going to refer to this person — the target of your concerns and your attention — as “your friend.”
Of course, they might not currently be your friend. Especially in family situations, a strong belief in something that another person finds preposterous can lead to frustration, anger, and possibly even to deep-seated animosity or disgust. Your friend might find it ridiculous that you think people landed on the moon. He might consider you borderline insane for entertaining the notion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. He might grow angry when you refuse to watch all four hours of “9/11 — A New Pearl Harbor.” He might turn his back on you when you refuse to be concerned about the white lines crisscrossing the skies.
But if you wanted a book for dealing with an enemy, a list of tricks you can use to annihilate someone in a debate, something that will make him look like an idiot, then I suggest you look elsewhere. I want to help people, not mock or belittle them. If you think you can only help them by beating them in every argument and making them look stupid, then I respectfully disagree. Showing your friend their faults is only a small part of helping them out of the rabbit hole, and if you apply such a blunt tool to someone you consider your enemy, then you will probably achieve the opposite of your goal, only hammering them deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole as they harden their heart against you and their mind against your facts.
So even if they are actually in some sense your enemy I will still refer to them as your friend. Try to think of them as such, a good person who means well, someone who is simply mistaken about certain things, and rather set in their ways. As we will shortly see the first stage of helping someone out of the rabbit hole is to understand them, and then to gain their trust. You cannot do that by waging a war of words against them.
There is a significant danger that I will reiterate throughout my work and my book. The danger is that advice like “treat them like a friend” and “gain their trust” might be viewed as advice from a manual on brainwashing. Conspiracists are obviously suspicious of people like myself who spend time investigating and refuting their theories. I get accused of being a paid government agent, someone trained in “disinformation,” someone skilled in implanting false ideas in people’s heads. They may look at this book, and my body of work on Metabunk, and decide I’m lying, trying to gaslight them away from the truth.
The best defense is to be as open and honest as possible. Yes, I think treating someone like a friend makes it easier to convince them of their errors. But the only reason they are acting like an enemy towards me is because they are mistaken in their beliefs. If I’m engaging with someone it is because I think they are a good person who is just stuck down a rabbit hole. If they think I’m the enemy, and they act as my enemy, then it’s only because they are a friend who has lost their way.
Finally, “your friend” might in fact be you. Perhaps you are reading this because you recognize you are a little lost down a rabbit hole and you want a little help out, or at least a look outside. Perhaps you don’t think you are down the rabbit hole, or you think that your beliefs show you are wide awake to the truth. Perhaps you are reading this because you think I’m a government shill, and you want to get the lowdown on this new government shill handbook, so you can help your friends not get tricked. Or maybe someone asked you to read this book as a favor, and you begrudgingly agreed, because they are your friend.
If you are actually a conspiracy theorist, then you can think of “your friend” in one of two ways. Firstly, you should be your own friend. You might start out reading this to try to figure out my mind games, but I hope you end up with some better perspective on both where I am coming from, and on your own view of how the world works. Maybe you’ll find you’ve got something wrong somewhere. Maybe you will at least find this perspective helps you better communicate your own ideas. Maybe this will confirm what you already knew. Whatever the outcome, I hope you find it useful.
The second way a conspiracy theorist might use this piece and my book comes about because conspiracy theories exist on a spectrum. If you are a conspiracy theorist (and we all are to some degree), you consider yourself a reasonable person, and you believe only in conspiracy theories that you think are well founded, backed up by evidence and common sense. While you might disagree with my attempt to debunk your theories at wherever level you are at on the conspiracy theory spectrum, you might find common ground in trying to help those who are further along. I’ve had several 9/11 Truthers thank me for helping debunk chemtrails, and I’ve had chemtrail believers thank me for explaining to their friend why the Earth is not flat. Read this book to figure out how to help your friend who’s down a deeper darker rabbit hole. If it seems reasonable then maybe at some point you can see if anything in here applies to your personal beliefs.
Or, if you like, go ahead read this as a brainwashing manual for government shills. Try to figure out my tricks. I’m not trying to brainwash you, but if it will get you to read the book then go ahead and assume it for a while, check back again later.
"Try to figure out my tricks." What good advice ...
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