It’s difficult arguing with people whose sole objective seems to be to refute, refuse and confound established facts. Even when presented with what is generally considered to be the truth arguments are brushed aside with either scorn or sarcasm (or both) to make the calmest of people want to go and kick a dustbin. Prove that the footprints and waving flag thing weren’t fabricated in some film studio lot. You can’t. You weren’t there. You lose.
Dealing with such a rationale requires special skills such as the ability to think and debate analytically even critically with split second mental agility. You could even be one of those mercilessly sharp tongued people who relish going head first into such debates with a troll but for the others, the rest of humanity, getting haplessly involved in such exchanges often ends confoundingly in bruised egos and blocked connections.
So what’s the solution? How do you reason with such logic without sacrificing firmly held beliefs? How to get out of it? Well, you could try psychology but like with teenagers it invariably backfires, antagonists are obtuse but not systematically stupid.
You could also try philosophy but again, you never know who you’re really up against and unless you know your Zeno of Elea from your Zeno of Citium it invariably ends badly.
You could also try neutralizing the Troll by letting him know you know where he lives/works, as one English rugby player did, which is OK if the troll lives down the road… You could try figuring out how you got there in the first place and discreetly leave the forum, comments section or thread. That usually works on Social Media, unless they know where you live.
A wise person once said, “I’d rather be in trouble a safe distance away, than to die here for something stupid.”… Someone else said if you want to get out of trouble don’t get into trouble in the first place!
So why share opinions on the Internet? Why get drawn into a debate with a total stranger about something that isn’t worth it, that you have nothing to gain from – no really, you don’t – and no time for?
Is it because people think the Internet offers a safe haven in which they can create an avatar and be bolder, freer … more vitriolic, more aggressive in their opinions than in the real world?
An article in the Irish Times offers some insight into why and while yes, I was often mad at my parents it was a long time ago and I just don’t feel the need to rant and argue the whole day (and night) long with some stranger, surrogate parent or partner to exorcise some demon. But then, that’s what most rational people say.
So how do you explain why a nominally rational person gets all irate when a conspiracy theorist tells you that Apollo 11 was faked? Why? Mind games could be one reason. Some people just live for getting under other people’s skin and dangling a bait in some Twitter or Reddit thread is their idea of fun… Mind you, there really are people who believe the earth is flat or hollow or maybe both and that Chemtrails really are biological weapons or NASA geoengineering the weather.
Apples & Pears, a question of context
Following yet another shoot up at an American school, one social commentator, “thought leader” and prolific author commented on LinkedIn about the number of shootings in the USA comparing it with equivalent data on mass shootings in other countries. The use of statistics here was demonstrative, it was also, as one person pointed out, flawed cherrypicking, apparently lacking data on rapes in Sweden, stabbings in London and bombs in Paris.
I don’t know if the author had given any thought to comparatives, I imagine he had but his article didn’t reflect it. It would have been even more powerful, more demonstrative had he presented a complete set of statistics (Apples for Apples). It may also have neutralized the critics and deniers, although in the words of one manager from a previous job: Statistics show what you want them to show.
Fuzzy context and cursory research invariably lead to an unconvincing outcome, not to say the mother of all “pig in the muck” fights on Reddit. This is not how you are going to convince any Flat Earther, supporter of the US 02nd amendment or Ancient Alien theorist that their theory is hairbrained, faulty and debunkable.
Also, be very wary of Confirmation bias, cherrypicking and comparing Apples with Pears. Context, parallels, comparisons, and data go a long way towards shutting down bias.
But the Internet, cyberspace, is more than reactions to some biased thread or some bot generated fake news article. To the joy of Internet utopians everywhere, serious, productive, altruistic, exchanges do happen, and while Master Yoda might say “For the dark side it will find you, if you look” he might also say “Others to promote good on the internet, encourage”
Yodish translations courtesy of http://funtranslations.com/yoda