Why It’s Never a Good Idea to Engage Conspiracy Theorists

Yesterday I broke one of my cardinal rules on the Internet; I responded to a Facebook post suggesting the US government conspired to murder an unknown director and his entire family because of a Youtube video. In this post I will break down the conversation to show how maddening these kinds of discussions can be. This post is not overtly critical of religious ideas; however, the original poster is extraordinarily religious (she’ll block you for not capitalizing “God”), which kind of makes sense considering that high religiosity correlates with belief in various conspiracy theories. This (tedious) post illustrates why it’s futile to engage conspiracy theorists.

Our exchange began the usual way. A friend posted an article about a small-time film director and his family found dead in a suspected murder-suicide. Her own commentary insisted it was not a murder-suicide, but rather a government-conspired and orchestrated murder to silence dissent.

government conspiracy a

I tend to never trust someone who ends their claims with “WAKE UP!!!”

Here the claim has been laid out. Use of quotations around “killed” suggests to the reader that another explanation exists. She follows with a wild conspiracy theory: The Government murdered a man and his entire family. I read the article and, even though it wasn’t particularly unbiased, it didn’t provide me with any indication that nefarious government actors were behind this. In fact, the only indication that another explanation could exist in the article is when the author said of murder-suicide, “If indeed proven true.” So I replied, which, I confess, was a mistake. (I’m Purple).

government conspiracy b

First Blue jumps in with irrational justification to support Red’s original conspiracy theory. Some other stuff. Then my comment. For whatever reason Blue replies by suggesting he personally has evidence that law enforcement agencies disregarded. But he ignores my request that he provide it. He then claims that because the government has the capability to carry out extrajudicial killings, that means it must be involved in extrajudicial killings. But then he says something peculiar that I think best sums up his attitude.

The people are to judge for them selves.

He appears to suggest knowledge is gained only when people agree on an issue.

government conspiracy c

I feel like I’m being too nice to Blue. At this point I’m getting incredibly frustrated. Blue then breaks my number one commandment. He tells me I can’t prove him wrong (a classic move).

government conspiracy d

At this point Red finally jumps in.

government conspiracy e

In other words, the only reason I don’t agree with her is because I’m an idiot. I next explain to her why that’s an odd statement.

government conspiracy f

Note: This should say “I gather data and THEN make conclusions.” I apologize for this oversight.

She then claims to have a lot more knowledge than the average person. My frustration is peaking, but I try to be as civil as I can about it.

government conspiracy g

Red proceeds to drop a nuclear bomb.

government conspiracy h

Holy shit. Just walk away. Slowly. 

At this point I attempted to leave the conversation, but Blue (who’d spent the intervening time typing, apparently) jumped in with a schizophrenic anti-government rant disguised as a series of questions. It was so long I had to break it up into two images.

government conspiracy i

What the fuck does “nationalize our borders” mean?

government conspiracy j

I don’t expect you to read all of that. Pick any two sentences; they will sum up his entire argument.

government conspiracy k

After Blue’s second rant I decided it was well beyond time to bow out of the conversation. I tried to do so respectfully. I closed out Facebook and didn’t check the status again until this evening. Blue had one final comment.

government conspiracy l

I thought about replying, “Knowing something in your heart is different from knowing something for fact,” but I couldn’t bear to continue this conversation when clearly it was impossible for me to win.

This post is not merely to show off my ability to use reason against unreasonable people — quite the contrary. I mean, look. I got pummeled by conspiracy theorists! My ability to convince them that evidence is necessary when making a claim was outmatched by their abilities to hold tight to their sincerely and deeply held beliefs. I do not feel victorious after this conversation.

And that’s my whole point. There are certain people out there — we all know one or two — who must believe a malicious and powerful force is behind everyday occurrences. When we try to reason with them we’ll only be left licking our wounds.

While most people — even religious people — are open to reason (even if they accept it with a caveat: “It’s a matter of faith”), not all are. And those who are not are not worth our time and energy. Instead of engaging them we should be ignoring them. If I had ignored this post, which was my initial impulse, I would’ve saved an hour of my life, which could’ve been spent doing something infinitely more constructive, like watching re-runs of Beavis and Butthead.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political and social activist.
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