Proving that I'm able to tolerate people who embrace absurd conspiracy theories, for several weeks I've been engaged in an exchange of emails with an acquaintance who also lives in Salem, Oregon.
His name is Jack.
In the past Jack and I have corresponded about subjects we agreed on, both of us being on the left side of the political spectrum. But Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine revealed another side to Jack.
He buys in almost 100% to Putin propaganda about the war. Jack's sources for this disinformation are web sites biased toward Russia, if not controlled by them.
When he started sending me links about how Ukraine is led by a bunch of Nazis, it took me just a minute of Googling to learn how those stories emanated from Russian sympathizers or agents. I figured that Jack would be grateful when I pointed this out to him.
I was wrong.
In the same way that religious fundamentalists often view an attack on their faith as a sign to redouble their commitment to God, the more I showed Jack the error of his Ukraine ways, the more adamant he became that he was right.
It didn't matter that reputable scholars, journalists, and intelligence experts all debunked Putin's lie that he needed to invade Ukraine to "de-Nazify" the country. Each time I pointed out the truth to Jack, he replied with more evidence from his unreliable sources.
Sort of like a Christian quoting from the Bible to show that the Bible is true.
Given how much crap exists on the internet, it almost always is possible to find a web page, or many pages, that supports whatever crazy idea someone has. One way to avoid this trap is to cast your intellectual net as widely as possible, so you aren't taken in by some barely-true specifics that can masquerade as truth.
For example, it's true that Ukraine has some Nazis. But so does the United States. So does Russia.
I sent Jack a FactCheck piece about "The Facts on De-Nazifying Ukraine." It quoted experts on this who said there's a higher percentage of right-wing extremists in the United States and Russia than in Ukraine. So if Putin wanted to de-Nazify a nation, he should have started with his own.
However, when someone is more attached to an incorrect view of an aspect of the world that, for whatever reason, they find more satisfying than learning the truth about that aspect, it's really difficult for them to admit that they're wrong.
So I'm about ready to give up on my email correspondence with Jack. There's just little value in communicating with someone whose mind is closed.
I'm not saying that my own mind always is open to the truth. Like everybody, I've got my biases and blind spots. However, in my religious-believing days, which went on for about 35 years, I wasn't so much denying evidence as embracing a lack of evidence.
Meaning, to offer one example, I couldn't prove that the guru I followed was God in Human Form, as his teachings proclaimed. But nobody could prove that the guru wasn't God in Human Form, which allowed my blind faith to rush in where evidence to the contrary was lacking.
What's much more problematic is when, say, a religious believer denies evolution, since there's lots of evidence that evolution is true.
Similarly, I've told Jack that the atrocities and war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine really bother me, citing Bucha as one example. Today I got this bizarre message from Jack.
Now, about Bucha. The Russians were gone by the time those bodies were getting scattered about. It was either two or three days after the Russians left that the mayor himself publicly noted that all was well in the town. No bodies were visible. But subsequent to that Ukies then began going house-to-house looking for evidence of residents who had been friendly with the Russians, killing them, and arranging their bodies neatly along the side of the street to make it handy for the photographers and to please Zelensky when he came to visit.
I have no idea where Jack got these totally false ideas. It seems almost too absurd for even the Kremlin to promulgate. though likely Jack's source was Russian propaganda. Because I can't stand lies that ignore the Russian war crimes committed in Bucha, I sent this reply to Jack.
Jack, you truly have bought into Russian propaganda 100%. The New York Times proved that bodies in Bucha were there weeks before the Russians left. The Times also did an in-depth investigation of the Russian atrocities in Bucha. Read and believe:
Unfortunately, Jack won't believe the New York Times, or the many other journalists who have reported on the horrors that the Russian military brought upon residents of Bucha.
Once a truth-denying mental virus has infected someone, it can be extremely difficult for them to heal themselves and be in touch with reality. At first I felt a duty to help Jack see the light of Ukraine truth. But I've come to realize that if someone is addicted to conspiracy theories, they have to want to be free of their addiction.
No one else can do that for them.
All that matters is what will end the war sooner than later, with both nations' autonomy in tact, but both sides needing to give something, like any negotiation. Is that a premise Jack is willing to agree upon?
What is that solution?
When dealing with a nuclear power, the solution cannot be escalation.
The solution is diplomacy. Whatever makes diplomacy possible is going to be the fastest path. And hopefully we will all figure that out before nuclear bonds drop and not after.
So, as to Jack, if you both cannot agree to something so fundamental, the rest is the dialogue is a waste of time.
Everyone, even in the scientific community, chooses what information to accept as factual and which information to doubt as unconfirmed.
Scientists do have a larger pool of accepted fact, just like those within a single religion.
But even there, it is difficult to have 100% agreement on all information. Our different conditioning assures that.
What are the points of mutual agreement? That may be the only basis of actual dialogue with Jack. And the best place to start again.
Posted by: Spence Tepper | May 15, 2022 at 02:43 AM
Sad to say Brian, but according to studies of conspiracy theories (or rather, conspiracy hypothesis), it is very difficult to change peoples' minds on this. According to the Addiction Centre (in America?), believing conspiracy theories can even develop into an addiction. Part of the problem stems from very human fears and emotions such as the desire for understanding and certainty and the desire for control and security.
Mostly, living in an uncertain world the need for certainty and security is firstly biological:- i.e. food shelter and clothing. But of course, with our ability toward abstract thinking it is natural that such thinking can develop into a 'mental virus' as you termed it.
Conspiracy theories often take flight during unsettling times. For example, in a pandemic, during a close election in a politically divided country, or after a terrorist attack – it all sounds too familiar!
Then of course there is the mass of information (and disinformation) on social media where such mental viruses can run riot. Through fear and insecurity it is easy to 'latch on' to a conspiracy theory for a self bolstering aid in and uncertain world. There is a need for help and education, but how do you educate people who have very personal investments that their beliefs are probably just that – beliefs.
Posted by: Ron E. | May 15, 2022 at 06:57 AM
"...both sides needing to give something..."
What utter rubbish. When a hoodlum with a gun robs you, you don't talk of give and take. You may well "give", if you value your life; or you may end up "giving', in spite of yourself, if either clobbered into insensibility or actually shot dead; and in either case the hoodlum will "take" from you. And that's the only kind of "give and take" that applies, any more, when talking of this monstrous business over at Ukraine.
Came across this welcome news item --- that I'm not linking to, there's heaps of reports floating around online --- that Putin apparently has blood cancer, probably terminal. That might explain his insane move in Ukraine ---- that, even from a strictly Russo-centric POV, is turning out to be an utter disaster, in terms of the economy of that wretched country, and militarily, as well as strategically, in terms of its long-term security (with Finland and Sweden finally doing what they'd probably not have considered doing otherwise): a megalomaniac that knows he hasn't got long staking all on a desperate roll of the dice. And that suggests how this thing might end after all, and soon now hopefully: with the lunatic either dropping down dead on his own, or else someone over there does him in. Good riddance, either way.
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | May 15, 2022 at 12:38 PM
You asked if I might have responded tot he wrong post. Yes, possibly, of course. Mistakes are a daily event for me.
What I was trying to get out was your comment about Um and my perspectives and views. They aren't actually in conflict and so there won't be a "meeting in the middle"...They are a display of two ways of describing similar things, from two different sets of conditioning.
I can't speak for Um, but I think he does a good job expressing his views and sentiments. They are going to appeal to some.
No one likes to be called a 'liar' in public especially when it isn't true. But people do react to things and that's OK. The world is full of re-action, and we are about trying to get ahead of that to "action"..pro-active living, to the extent we can, and that's the avenue we promote.
That's internal work.
And the building of internal wealth. My Master said several times that our meditation is our responsibility to burn our own karma, to eliminate our own reactivity and impressions from the past. In this way we lighten our burden and see things more clearly, objectively.
So, from a psychological perspective this is very healthy. We are letting our thoughts proceed and fade away as we simply witness them from a perspective of peace, which devotion gives us.
So we become more aware of what is in us, that we didn't know, that was subconscious, and at the same time, by accepting it calmly, it fades away. Something more is unlocked. Layers begin to fade away. How? Simply looking at them with dispassion. That is what you might call an inner miracle, and of course, since those things don't have the same power, they have been exposed to the conscious mind, they have less and less power to influence us without our permission.
If you think Putin is a tyrant (no argument there) there is another tyrant operating in secret in each one's subconscious. Let's expose him! But the cost is to accept him for what he is, knowing that mere exposure works the rest in his gradual erasure.
This simple meditation practice, of which there are many versions across many different beliefs, can lead to so much more.
It's not simply that we have these hidden subconscious impressions to burn away. But that under them are real treasures...the inner experiences, and that direct connection to reality. Witnessing, it's like taking an outdoor shower naked on a warm summer day in a warm rain surrounded by beauty.
Posted by: Spence Tepper | May 16, 2022 at 06:11 AM
Oh, this is the Putin thread. My bad.
You seem to have posted in the wrong thread, Spence. (Although there's a mention of Putin, but this about the ongoing discussion in the Open Thread.) And I simply went ahead and responded right away, without checking the thread.
Perhaps we could take any further discussion on this back there, to the Open Thread?
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | May 16, 2022 at 06:44 AM
What the eff. I was seriously wondering if I'm seeing things.
Heh, easy resolution to my seeing-double problem. You've posted double, once in this thread by mistake, and then again, correctly, in the Open Thread. So I reply there, then open this one, believing ....anyway, not important --- and in any case, probably obvious.
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | May 16, 2022 at 06:47 AM