How to find the best conspiracy theories
A technique that protects you from being suckered into a false conspiracy theory
Conspiracies happen. Lincoln was killed by a conspiracy. Edward Snowden exposed a more recent one. There are both real conspiracies and false conspiracy theories. That’s a problem that can cause us to err in two ways…
We can be too skeptical and miss the real conspiracies, or we can be too gullible and see conspiracies that aren’t there.
How can we protect ourselves against both of these errors? And what role can a Philosophy of Human Respect play?
Step One: Be humble
Recognize that there are more ways to be wrong than right. Knowledge is hard, while error is easy. This is why uncovering the truth is a practice and a responsibility.
Our legal system requires a presumption of innocence and a unanimous verdict.
Scientists use double-blind trials, peer review, and statistical analysis.
You should presume innocence when it comes to conspiracy theories. Hold your conspiracy theory loosely and provisionally until you have sufficient actual evidence.
And keep it to yourself until you really have the goods. If you care about your moral character, then you don’t want to be a slanderer.
Step Two: Recognize you have bias
Conspiracy theories are frequently a form of therapy for the frustrated and the powerless. They seemingly confirm just how terrible one’s enemies are. But the arguments tend to be circular…
It appears something evil happened
Only someone as bad as my enemy would do something so heinous
Therefore, my enemy must be responsible
We see the same thing in personal relationships. It’s common for angry people to assume the worst. You’ll hear them say something like, “Bob meant to harm me. He’d sell out his mother.” Live long enough, and you’ll come to recognize that Bob probably wasn’t even thinking of the person who now feels insulted or injured!
Causation and intention are both hard to prove. Ask a scientist. Ask a prosecutor. Even worse, your inherent bias makes you vulnerable to making unjust accusations. Recognize your bias and do something specific to address it…
Step Three: Steel Man
A Steel Man argument is the opposite of a Straw Man argument. Don’t put lousy “straw man” arguments in your opponent’s mouth. Instead, put yourself in their shoes. Devise the best possible “steel man” arguments for their position. Use arguments they might make for themselves.
Then, you can test your own beliefs, including your conspiracy theories, against the strongest challenges. This will help you avoid making unjust accusations.
When you do this, smart and even influential people will respect your fairness. You will seem more intelligent to those around you. Plus, you’ll find that you’re more persuasive and powerful — people will even seek out your opinion.
Best of all, when you apply the steel man technique, you’ll quickly lose interest in weak, highly speculative conspiracy theories. This will win back time for addressing the real conspiracies.
Step Four: Practice a Philosophy of Human Respect
Conspiracy theories exist on all sides. Politicians of all parties traffic in them. The media promotes them too. Conspiracies often help drive the Conflict Machine. They’re used by the permanent political class to keep us at each other’s throats and divided into warring tribes.
Conspiracy theorists typically want politicians and prosecutors to “do something.” But government employees use coercion, backed by violence. The Principle of Human Respect predicts that coercion always diminishes happiness, harmony, and prosperity.
There’s only one acceptable circumstance for violence, and it’s not in bending people to your will. Violence is only acceptable as an act of defense. Flippantly accusing someone who is innocent is not self-defense. It’s slander, and if you traffic in unsavory and speculative rumors, you’re guilty of defamation.
Better yet, if you Exit the Conflict Machine, and never ask politicians and the government to impose your personal preferences on others, you will be demonstrating respect that you can then request from others.
Secret or speculative conspiracy theories are typically not matters of self-defense. That’s because the most sensational ones are usually based on a straw man argument that is obsessed with the bad motives of a chosen enemy. The whole thing might be invented B.S.
Getting caught up in these speculations wastes time and energy, and will tempt you to act unethically. Weak and highly speculative conspiracy theories also distract you from the real conspiracies. To avoid the speculative and typically false conspiracy theories, practice the Human Respect technique of steelmanning.
Jim Babka is the Host of The Exit Network. Joanna Blaine and Perry Willis edited this piece. Our website is Coming Soon!
Well said, and though I know these principles, I often get swept up in the moment, after reading something particularly heinous; at least, as I see it. I've missed many opportunities to convince someone, because I gave up, and started using underhanded tactics.
Therefore, even if my opposition has been using such tactics, which they most often are, I feel it's best to practice the Human Respect technique above all else. Then, my character at least, will remain untainted.
Excellent article; thank you for writing it..