About Tanoro

Christopher "Tanoro" Gray is a web programmer and science advocate especially concerned with resource management technologies, biology, and artificial intelligence. He is a student of epistemology and philosophy as well as an Atheist competent in Christian theology.
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Conspiracy Theorists: Crazy and They Don't Know Why
Posted by: Tanoro - Feb 7, 2013 10:23PM

People often ask why I am so hard on conspiracy theorists. Many of the posts I make on Facebook take shots at conspiracy theories, from chemtrails to anti-vaccination, and I am often quite aggressive in my handling of them. Earlier this evening, one of my friends made a post about survivors of the Aurora, CO shooting being harassed by conspiracy theorists who claim the shooting never happened. I could say that I am hard on conspiracy theorists because of their unscrupulous breach of taste, but that actually isn't very fair. If the theorists just happen to be right, then it is not entirely unreasonable to behave as they do, with some exceptions.

I believe conspiracy theorists are either dangerous deceivers or have a mental screw loose, but it has nothing to do with the fact that they are conspiracy theorists, despite what many of them like to claim. It has everything to do with their habitually irrational approach and willingness to fly off the sanity handle when they meet a rational thinker impervious to their nonsensical claptrap. I can describe my issues with them in a general sense, but I am not personally familiar enough with the Aurora conspiracy theorists to comment specifically on their arguments. That said, let's talk conspiracy theories in an epistemological sense.

Let's start with what a "conspiracy theory" actually is. When I use the term, I am referring, very specifically, to: "A claim supported by the absence of evidence justified by the follow-up claim that said evidence for the primary claim has been made unavailable for examination by a biased or deceptive third party (i.e. the conspiracy)." That is a mouthful, so let me break it down.

In the world of rational discourse, a debate would go something like this:

  1. Party A makes a claim that X is true.
  2. Party B demands evidence.
  3. Party A provides evidence.
  4. Party B assesses the evidence, offers rebuttals where appropriate, and may or may not reach a conclusion.

In the inane world of the conspiracy theorist, the exchange goes something like this:

  1. Party A makes a claim that X is true.
  2. Party B demands evidence.
  3. Party A has no conclusive evidence and, therefore, presents a follow-up claim in an attempt to excuse the requirement for evidence. The follow-up claim is that Group XYZ (i.e. the government, the Illunati, the NWO, etc.) has rendered the evidence for the primary claim unavailable for examination.
  4. Party B is unable to reach a conclusion on the primary claim.
  5. Party A attempts to prove the follow-up claim as if doing so automatically proves the primary claim as well.
  6. Party B concludes that Party A is a deceiver and/or mentally disturbed.

As part of step 3, the conspiracy theorist will utilize anecdotal evidence, non-expert testimony, cherry-picked sources, the single paper fallacy, and attempt to claim authority for themselves as per the Dunning-Kruger effect. In pursuit of step 5, the theorist may be able to make a legitimate case for the follow-up claim. The government definitely keeps secrets! However, not being able to examine the content of those secrets invalidates any claims based on them. Without evidence to examine, a conclusion cannot be reached. This is the baseline fallacy of the conspiracy theorist -- "I do not have evidence to show you, but my claim is still true!"

In reaching step 6, the theorist will utilize every logical fallacy conceivable and attack the examining party with unjust criticisms. They will accuse Party B of having reached the opposing conclusion, such as when a 9/11 twoofer accuses a skeptic of "believing the official story." In truth, this is an unfair attempt to deceive on the part of the theorist. Party B is not obligated to accept the opposing conclusion simply because the theorist sucks at presenting their case. This accusation leaves no room for withholding conclusion and alienates the listener by attempting to force them into a false binary position of "believing me or believing them."

The conspiracy theorist will utilize the appeal to fear fallacy, such as when an anti-vaxxer provokes a skeptic to, "just keep getting your flu shot and see what happens!" This is explicitly an attempt to encourage the suspension of critical thinking rather than persuasion with evidence -- a brain-washing tactic. This also insults the listener by suggesting that failure to comply will necessarily lead to regret. This is not the case, even if the theorist is right. For example, if I weighed the risks of getting vaccinated, agreed to get my vaccines, and my body exhibited a devastating reaction to one of them, I would not regret getting the shot because I know I did everything right. Misfortune happens. The appeal to fear fallacy, as used by conspiracy theorists, is all about instilling the fear of unwarranted regrets when a presumed outcome has yet to happen.

The approach of the conspiracy theorist fails from top to bottom. It violates the basic principles of epistemology, utilizes terms like "truth" in ways no thinking person would, and is an insult to everything rational. Yes, conspiracies happen. They are a social reality. That is not the issue. The issue is that conspiracy theorists are incapable of assessing reality properly and serve to maintain the life of bad ideas while doing real harm to others. Ignorance is not nearly as dangerous as those who are ignorant and believe they are not.

This blog is an editorial and contains only the opinions of the author. The author claims no expertise on most topics of discussion and this blog is not to be cited as an alternative for properly vetted journalism or scientific sources.

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