So you just found out you’re in a cult – a Socratic dialogue
Every two Wednesdays at Fashions! Quirks! Panic!Luke T. Harrington examines one of the random obsessions that have gripped the public mind in the recent past and tries, in vain, to make sense of it all.
Hey, you’re Luke T. Harrington, right? That boy who writes a column on fashions, panic, cults? And you too do that podcast where you talk to people about why they changed their mind about things?
And you too wrote that hilarious book on the bible that everyone should definitely buy?
Not really relevant to the current conversation, but thanks for mentioning that. Anyway, how can I help you?
Well, I’ve been thinking about what you’ve said in the past about cults, conspiracy theories, that sort of thing.
And when I saw what happened at the united states capitol on the 6th, I started to worry maybe id was barking up the wrong tree.
Like, what if the election it wasn’t stolen?
Yes, it is possible.
And maybe there it is not a global cabal of Satanist pedophiles waiting for Trump to expose them.
Yes, you see, that always Done seem a little far-fetched.
But I was AS Safe.
That’s probably what we need to talk about, then.
What do you mean?
Well, maybe we should talk about it Why you were so sure.
You see, one of the things I try to push pretty hard in my work is this thing called epistemology.
I thought corny humor wasn’t allowed on Christian websites.
No, you see, epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies As we know the things we know. How tests work.
Oh, got it.
One of the fundamental tenets of philosophy is that we must have a reason to know the things we know. That’s why most conspiracy theories fall apart under scrutiny.
But conspiracies always happen! Why are people so down on conspiracy theories these days?
Well, first of all because most of us aren’t good looking enough to afford David Duchovny’s gullibility. But mostly because, by definition, most conspiracy theories aren’t falsifiable. AND falsifiability it is one of the most important principles of epistemology.
Falsifiability? Like, proving things false?
Yes, and it’s actually a vital tool for understanding the world around us. If a theory or hypothesis is falsifiable, that means we can imagine some sort of proof that would prove it wrong. For a silly example, let’s say I believed all cats were white. See what a falsifiable belief would look like?
I guess if someone showed you a black or brown cat, right?
Well, I would know immediately that I was wrong and could revise my belief. My belief would have been forged. The vast majority of conspiracy theories do not admit this possibility.
What do you mean?
Well, let’s assume he told you the nation of Canada did not exist. I’ve never been here. I don’t know anyone who has ever been there. It’s probably a lie made up by travel companies to feed us to polar bears.
But I have been to canada!
I mean, of course you say that. You are part of the conspiracy.
What? But I could introduce you all order of people who have been to Canada! I have friends who live There!
Yes obviously. They too are part of the conspiracy.
I could sing you the Canadian national anthem! I could show you some pictures of Montreal! I could introduce you to their prime minister, who probably wouldn’t even do it be in black face!
That’s how deep the conspiracy goes, man.
Well, what would change your mind about this???
That’s the question, isn’t it? Do you understand what I mean?
The problem with a conspiracy theory is that it gives you license to dismiss any evidence by appealing to conspiracy. You can pluck at any scrap of data that appears to confirm your point, while dismissing anything that calls it into question as attributing it to the actions of the conspirators. I talked about it a bit inside my column on Satanic Panic.
Satanic Panic? I loved their third album!
No, mate. The Satanic Panic was a conspiracy theory in the 80s and 90s. It actually bore striking similarities to the modern QAnon theory. People believed there was a global satanic cult that tortured children.
Yes, more or less AND QAnon.
Yes I know. The difference with satanic panic was that they actually had children come forward, claiming they were abused. Except the kids in these best-known cases admit they were making it up.
Yes. These children, now adults, mostly say they were just telling the adults around them what they thought they wanted to hear. In the example I talk about in my column, the children claimed they were transported through an underground tunnel under a daycare center to a hideout where they would be forced to engage in dark rituals. But of course, that claim was easily falsifiable.
They just looked to see if the tunnel really existed.
Right. And there wasn’t one. But many people have insisted on continuing to believe in satanic worship.
I assume they said something similar to what you said earlier: « This is how deep the conspiracy goes », or whatever.
Yes. But if you think about lack evidence is the same thing as evidence, you can believe what you want. But no conspiracy is perfect enough to leave behind NO trial. If there really was a global conspiracy of satanist child rapists, we would have it something to prove it. Emails, text messages, phone records, or just people who’ve had a crisis of conscience and confessed.
I assume you are about to tell me the same thing about QAnon.
You are not wrong. Considers that Q made countless predictions that didn’t come true– but that his followers drove them all away, saying « This is only part of his plan! » Well, you have to ask yourself: what is an example of evidence that would show you that Q is a fraud? If you can’t think of one, your belief is unfalsifiable.
Ok, but what about the stolen election? A amount some people believe the election was stolen!
Okay, but the only reason many people think that is because Trump keeps saying it was stolen. Trump has yet to present evidence of what happened to either the courts or the media. Which brings me to the next fundamental principle of epistemology:
—his definitively impossible to prove a negative.
What do you mean?
Well, just for a silly example, imagine he told you there was a Sasquatch in my backyard. You said, « Prove it! » and I said, “Prove it it is not one. »
Wait, that’s not right.
Right. It is unfair to place the burden of proof on whoever makes the negative claim. If there AND a Sasquatch in my backyard, at least theoretically, it would be possible for me to find and show it to you. But you couldn’t try there it wasn’t one. You and I could search my backyard all night, and if we didn’t see a Sasquatch, all it would prove is that the Sasquatch wasn’t in the places we looked, at the exact moment we were looking at them. Unless we could look everywhere at once, there would be no way of knowing for sure that he wasn’t out there.
Now for a better example: Imagine you’re in court, charged with murder. You say you didn’t, and they tell you to prove you didn’t.
It feels uncomfortable.
Right. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a alibi– maybe you were at the cinema when the murder happened and someone saw you there. But if you stayed home that night reading a book and no one knew where you were, you’re pretty much screwed. This is one of the reasons our legal system has the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. It is neither fair nor epistemologically reasonable to ask people to prove their innocence.
So are you saying that…
Well, the way our system works is that…
Stop interrupting me. Upon my word, you are condescending. What I was going to say was, for those who report electoral fraud, the burden of proof falls on them. Since you can’t prove a negative, they have to prove theirs positive claim that a fraud has occurred.
Right. And Biden won the popular vote seven million votes. He won his closest state by nearly eleven thousand. If Biden’s victory was illegitimate in any way, it would mean that hundreds of thousands of votes in half a dozen states were fabricated. This makes a fraud allegation a conspiracy theory, For definition.
Well, that’s a bit dramatic.
I mean, not really? No one could fabricate all those votes on their own. It would require, at the very least, hundreds of people working together, thousands of miles apart. That’s what a conspiracy is AND.
And if this conspiracy had happened, we would have True proof of that, like what you described earlier.
Right. We would have emails or text messages between the conspirators. We’d have phone records. We would have checks from all payments that were due to take place. One of the hundreds (or thousands) of conspirators would change his mind and come forward, if only for the schweet book business. And we have none of that.
But that’s how deep the conspiracy goes—oh wait.
Do you get my point now?
Yes. But why are you writing such things for a Christian site?
Because they pay me. But the real reason is that a lot of people who have stayed with Trump on these things seem to at least identify as Christian. And, well, there’s definitely a stereotype out there about Christians who believe whatever they’re told.
Well, the whole « God who rose from the dead » thing is a bit farfetched.
More or less yes, more or less no. Every supernatural claim carries with it a certain weight of unprovability, but the resurrection is as close to provable as any supernatural claim can get. The New Testament writers appeal to eyewitnesses Still AND Stilltelling their readers, “If you don’t believe me, go ask those Boys. They saw it happen! It is written clearly enough for a fact-checking audience.
So you think believing in the resurrection is reasonable, given the evidence we have?
I mean, yes. I do. And at least it’s not leading me to kill cops and overthrow governments.
Cold. Want to go get a pizza or something?
Safe. But not in one of those places owned by Satanist pedophiles.