Conversation

There are an unfortunane number of people prone to thinking that they are in on something that everyone else is blind to. You’ve met these people; they’re usually quick to tell you what they know and, more importantly, what you don’t. They will immediately trust the word of anyone aligned with their beliefs, but refute every qualification held by anyone with a differing view. The problem with people who are suceptible to this is that, aided by a little fear, they can be convinced of nearly anything—and some falsehoods, once believed too deeply, can be perpetual.

A vulnerable person desperate for status and meaning will clutch onto the closest belief which makes them feel intelligent and in control. For some, that results in turning to faith. Religion offers the vulnerable a socially acceptable way to become ‘enlighened’: believe, and you get to join the we know something you don’t club. In this way, religion is a kind of conspiracy; it binds tightly those who believe and arms them with infallible premises to dispute with those who don’t. Religions, like all organised conspiracies, generate a cognitive bias which cannot be challenged by the logical standards of truth.

“Science adjusts it views based on what’s observed. Belief is the denial of observation, so that faith can be preserved.”

Tim Minchin

Conspiracy is attractive to vulnerable people because it arms them with an illusionary safety net: they are the ones who see and understand, and those who don’t are wrong by default. They never have to risk the embarrasment of being found out or losing an argument; your disbelief of their premise makes you wrong by default. The visciousness of this thinking is that it self perpetuates; feeling like you’re ‘right’ all the time feels good. So good, that just talking about the conspiracy can become its own form of self-gratification.

The sad result is that these people become insufferable to those who don’t share their delusions. The deeper one falls into conspiratorial thinking (which was meant to increase their status and likability by making them feel wise and in control), the further they isolate themselves from anyone outside of their conspiratorial bubble. For some, this works just fine. There are plenty of people who live entire, happy lives within two degrees of separation from someone who attends their church or mosque. But, in times of doubt, it may prove more difficult for those tricked into believing that malevolant reptillian humanoids walk among us to find meaningful engagement and community.

To return to reality, a conspiratorial thinker would have to accept the observations of the experts they have learned to distrust and denounce. If they wished to reclaim their place in the logical world, they would first have to admit to themselves that the ‘special knowledge’ at the root of their illusion of superiority was a lie; that they have been tricked, deceived and likely exploited by people and sources they have grown to love and trust; that the world might not be out to get them in the ways they feel it is; and that much of the fear they have been publicly projecting might actually reside within.

The problem with illusionary knowledge is that it leads to illusionary superiority. The problem with illusionary superiority is that it isolates you from those not under the spell of your brand of conspiracy; and the problem with that isolation is that, in order to give it up, you have to revoke the comfortable, infallible power you’ve grown dependant on weilding.

Tragically, this is often too painful. Its easier to believe that you’re a misunderstood genius than a delusional fool. Instead, they stay stuck in their unpopable bubbles of delusion, frustrated at the world for not understanding.

Never waste your time arguing with someone who has learned to believe in the things which make them feel good, instead of the things which they can prove. Facts won’t persuade someone to give up superiority which is grounded in illusion. Their knowledge and, in fact, their entire conception truth is not governed by logic or reason—their knowledge is governed by their insecurities.

Intelligent people love being wrong; every time it happens, they get wiser. It’s the foolish who can’t bear it; their fragile egos deny their ability to grow.

There’s something special about things which are refined; those which are distilled to their purest form. In language is perhaps where that simplicity is at its best.

We each share an intuitive appetite for sentences without fat.

When we receive a direction impossible to understand, or offered compliment so genuine that it doesn’t need to be prefaced, we are engaged in one of the most basic and delightful treasures the human experience has to offer.

The point is to get to the point, with as much precision and clarity as possible.

Christmas isn’t a great time of year for some folks, so it’s important to take care of yourself.

Even more importantly, make sure you’re patient with others who aren’t acting their best selves.

We can be at our best or at our worst when we’re emotionally charged – and it’s an emotional time of year.

At the shopping centre, the dinner table, or over the phone.

If you give nothing else this Christmas, let it be the benefit-of-the doubt.

The first time a toddler attempts to lie is a huge psychological landmark.

While it might seem counter intuitive to be proud of a kid covered in crumbs while they’re promising they didn’t raid the cookie jar, it’s actually one of the first indicators that they have developed theory of mind.

This is the point at which a child realises that their thoughts, emotions, beliefs, intentions and perspectives are seperate from those of other people.

Almost unimaginably, this is not our default mode.

It doesn’t occur to a young child to lie, because their natural state is to assume that you already know what they know.

When a young child gets worked up over something seemingly trivial, it’s often because they don’t yet understand that the wants and needs of others can conflict with their own.

When there is a dissonance between what they are experiencing and what others are doing, they can’t process it. The result, as all parents will know, is an intense experience of pain and grief.

We begin our lives assuming that humankind shares a singular, unified consciousness and every experience we have from then on slowly proves us otherwise.

So slowly in fact, that even some adults default back to this mode when the views of others don’t align with their own.

When their cognitive expectations aren’t met, when the perspectives of others stray too far from their own beliefs and desires, it becomes too much to process. The resistance they feel gives way to tantrum in the same way a toddler spits out its dummy when nobody’s paying it enough attention.

YouTube, Facebook and Twitter aren’t set up to show you the best content available.

They’re set up to show you the content which is most likely to keep you on the platform.

The things which keep us most engaged are the things which make us most emotional, and there isn’t an easier emotion to capitalise on than anger.

Apply enough pressure to the triggers which illicit a person’s anger, and you generate outrage.

In an article published by the BBC last year, a former Facebook went on record saying;

“You have a business model designed to engage you and get you to basically suck as much time out of your life as possible and then selling that attention to advertisers.”

Sandy Parakilas, former Facebook Employee

There has never been a time where political polarisation and tribalism has been this visible or accessible en masse.

If you want to find someone who disagrees with you, just click on the comment section of any facebook post with over a thousand comments.

If you engage with social media, you have no choice but to be presented with the opportunity to engage people who’s values don’t align with yours.

What you have complete control over is whether or not you choose to act on that opportunity.

Some people are under the illusion that they can change another person’s mind by being more ‘correct’ than them.

Usually, this isn’t the case.

At least, being correct isn’t the only requirement to changing somebody else’s mind.

One of the best teachers I ever had later admitted to me that one of her favourite things to do in class was to facilitate class discussions that didn’t feel like they were relevant, even though they were.

Sometimes it’s easier to trick people into learning than it is to actually teach them.

When we learn, it’s usually in one of two ways; either we were already primed to learn, and were open to and anticipating new ideas; or we were made to feel like the new idea is something we came up with ourselves.

This means that if you’re trying to pass on ideas, be it as a coach to your team, a communicator to your partner or and teacher to your children, you have consider;

Does the person I’m speaking to want to understand the idea I have to share?

If the answer is no, it doesn’t matter how right you are. If you can’t find another way to communicate your ideas, they’ll never be received.

Screaming righteously into the ether is all well and good.

But being able to change someone’s mind by helping them rethink their entire perspective on a problem is that’s priceless.

Especially if you can relinquish the credit and empower them to feel like they got there themselves.