Response to “Conspiracy, Theory”

A reader asked something like the following in regards to the article “Conspiracy, Theory” published on 20 November 2020: Why are some people so dismissive when they hear something they can’t agree with, almost immediately resorting to dismissive responses pretending to be logical arguments without actually assessing the data and coming to a reasonable conclusion?


Reply: I don’t know, because I try not to be like those people. I don’t presume to know what goes on in their heads (if anything at all).


I was then requested to speculate.


Reply: Firstly, just because someone almost immediately rejects information does not mean they are dismissive. It could be because they are fast and agile thinkers and/or what is presented is something they have assessed before and therefore, in their minds, there is reason for their previous conclusions to stand.


But let’s go back to the question and assume that is not the case; that is, the data presented is new and their rejection without serious consideration is therefore dismissiveness.


If one is to give the benefit of the doubt, then one can say that they are skeptical. After all, why should they simply believe you or me or anyone?


They shouldn’t, which is why they should assess the data and come to their own conclusions.

But some people don’t. These people are dismissive.


In the context of “conspiracy theories”, they are by definition secret, nefarious plans that involve at least two people, typically regarding how the world works (or doesn’t work). And the reason anyone who is half-honest discusses these things is to warn others about it.


Now, if one is skeptical, it is because they do not want to be tricked. Therefore, the spirit of (honest) skepticism, driven by prudence, is the desire to sift out the truth (from the lies) or at least get closer to the truth and to benefit from that knowledge, said benefits including not being tricked. And if one is to be skeptical, then one should be consistently skeptical with everything.


And yet, some people are selectively skeptical. They are skeptical against “conspiracy theories” almost exclusively. This contradicts the spirit of skepticism. After all, if one is to be selectively skeptical, then at least not be skeptical against data about how one may be screwed over.


The refusal to seriously consider data is not honest skepticism (and therefore arguably not skepticism at all). Skepticism is doubting the data. This is denial.


And why this denial?


If I have to speculate, it could be because no one wants to admit that they are being screwed over. This is pride.


Another reason could be because we all know that knowledge compels responsibility. (Some try to be in denial about that, but I suspect that deep down they know.) The more we know, the more we are expected to act on that knowledge. Maybe not today, maybe not for years even, but one day. Some people simply want to avoid that responsibility. Perhaps laziness is a factor. Either way, it’s as if they think that all this is beneath them, that they are entitled to their indifference. This indifference is arguably also pride.

Another angle is that some describe “humility” as the willingness to first submit to the truth. Humility is not necessarily about being nice to people. Therefore, this form of denial can be described as the opposite of humility, which is pride.


None of this should be surprising. Christian thought traditionally lists “pride” as the first of the cardinal sins. It is pride that leads to other errors. Clearly, better men and women have thought through this like one or two thousand years ago.

 

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