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.