“Arguing with a conspiracy theorist is like playing chess with a pigeon. It’ll just knock over all the pieces, shit on the board, and strut about like it’s won anyway.”
Did you ever see a post on social media from someone who you thought of as a smart person, with a statement that made no sense at all? Or maybe this person shared a far-fetched conspiracy theory from a completely unreliable source?
What’s happening here?
Well… one of the things that could be happening, is this:
Sometimes smart people will make a nonsensical argument with absolute confidence, just to cover up the fear that lies beneath.
And often it’s not even about covering it up it for others, but more so for themselves.
Most people don’t like to talk – or even think – about their deepest fears. And even if they do acknowledge this fear, they might consider it as ‘weak’ to share this openly.
A common way people cope with emotional fear, is by giving a rational explanation for the thoughts they have and the actions they take (or don’t take) due to this fear. Even if this rational explanation isn’t rational at all.
As a result, they’ll briefly look like a ‘pigeon playing chess’.
Your natural reaction when you see a nonsensical argument like that being made, might be to play chess with the pigeon within the boundaries of how you perceive the rules of the game to be.
However, the fact is that the pigeon doesn’t give two shits about your perception of the rules of the game.
When you start to use valid arguments against a ‘rational’ cover for an emotional state of mind, you’re breaking down an illusion this person is not ready to let go of.
The reaction you can expect, is the opposite of what you’re hoping for: this person will often hold on to their argument for dear life. Your counterpart will desperately cite any source, no matter how unreliable, to help them defend the cover.
And the wonderful thing about the internet is… you can find a source that supports whatever it is that you believe in.
All hopes of having a constructive conversation will quickly get lost, leaving both parties frustrated and ever more grounded in their preexisting believes.
So the best way to play chess with a pigeon, is to NOT play chess with a pigeon.
Recognize the fear beneath the argument, label it, and – when acknowledged as such – let this person know it’s OK to have fears. We all have them. It’s part of being human. There’s no need to rationalize our emotions.
Maybe your counterpart will accept it for what it is, maybe they’ll continue covering up the truth with ever more determination… but at least you didn’t waste your energy on a frustrating argument with someone who isn’t ready to listen.
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