Same puzzle – different pieces

Dinner party conversations can go from cacophonous to complete quiet in the blink of an eye (that could also be a disparaging wink in disguise). While people are processing what to say or how to respond – a loud voice booms out in a mocking tone “so you’re a conspiracy theorist” followed by rocking back in their chair and eyeballing the innocent participant who has just realised they have met a skeptic.

Chances are the conversation will slip back something more mundane, but if the awkward pause continues it could be that dessert will be served with a cup of hot posturing. Time to volunteer to do the dishes? Or place bets on who will win. But what might appear on the surface as a ‘healthy debate’ or ‘robust arguing’ in actuality represents ‘drunken boxing with a cobra’. Or something like this:

Not everyone is comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas, views about sensitive or controversial themes. It’s kind of like stripping in front of your grandmother. But others find it a bit of a sport to toy with those daring to step outside the usual or more commonly accepted ‘truths’ of the world. I grew up with a few in my family and learned very quickly when to exit the scene before getting bitten. It left me questioning my beliefs and it wasn’t until I stumbled upon this little gem on skeptics linguistic ‘slight of hand’ that creates the illusion of knowing what they are talking about:
http://www.discord.org/~lippard/stupid-skeptic-tricks.txt
That I finally felt confident to become a ‘snake charmer’ – although I would still rather avoid them if possible.

It is a very useful set of observations about the tactics skeptics use to create the illusion of skilled debate without actually offering any of their own thoughts or ideas. It’s also a balanced view. To be fair most people who are skeptical are also open minded, but the closed minded skeptic is definitely not EVER going to agree that the pieces of the puzzle might fit together differently. There is a list of 10 tactics but my favourites are:

1: Continually ‘raising the bar’ on the evidence needed. They ask for the evidence – you give it – they require more – and no matter what – it’s never good enough…like drunken boxing, you know you are swinging but the punches never connect.
2: Defaulting everything to ‘Occam’s Razor’ – that the simplest explanation – that fits all the ‘facts’ is preferred. But that requires the facts to be agreed on.
3: Proof – ‘I don’t need to prove it – I’m not claiming XYZ’ – They assume they can win by default – that doubting the other side is enough. Carl Sagan put it best when he said “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

The other 7 are variations on the above as well as, character attacks and the use of body language (sneering). I have a couple of my own to add:

1: The personal is proof – or the ‘I know I’ve been there’ argument. A classic example I have encountered is someone who is absolutely certain (closed minded skeptic) that life ends when you die because when they had a heart attack and they had to be defibrillated – they didn’t see a white light. There is the proof ‘I’ve experienced that – and that’s not how it is’.

2: Shoot the messenger and you shoot the believer – if you discredit the person or the source of the view point (David Ike is a good example) – then the target is also anyone who subscribes to what the messenger espouses. The more radical, extreme and unusual the idea helps here and if that is combined with someone who ‘seems’ a bit weird then to follow that person means that ridicule is as contagious as herpes. Going back to Mr Ike – he was media fodder in the early 1990’s

He has not backed down and never diluted his theories no matter how obscure or ‘bizarre’ they seem to the general public. I respect people who think for themselves and brave the cold social outskirts of respected ideas. We could do well to remember other visionaries, extremists and revolutionaries who were imprisoned and outcast only in later centuries to be revered.

But if we can all find the balance of the skeptic and conspiracy theorist within we might all have richer lives. I suppose it is another form of adventure and some might feel able to travel within their country, others might seek wider experiences – but one doesn’t have to mean the other is less valid. The advent of the world wide web means we can explore all sorts of radical ideas and possibilities. Discerning ‘fact from fiction’ can be tiring and is perhaps the reason why people ‘throw out the alien baby with the bathwater’.

One technique I have found useful is ‘triangulating information’ – that is I wait a few years and see what sources and themes are strongest and how other forms of knowledge might support this. I’ve also realised something can be located in multiple paradigms and this doesn’t need to be resolved. The intersection of spiritual and scientific ideas is a curious place that is worthy of anyone with an esoteric adventurous streak.

So if anyone is looking to spice up their next social occasion – don’t bust out the 1000 piece jigsaw, try throwing in a wild card such as ‘what about the illuminati, and the Queen being a reptilian shape shifter?’ and let the fun begin.

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