Arguing With Idiots
When it comes to conversing with the feeble-minded—those simpletons who choose to live in an alternate universe of invented facts and magical thinking—we now require a new modus operandi.
By David Todd McCarty | Friday, October 30, 2020
We find ourselves in largely uncharted territory heading into the silly season, where up is down and down is up, so it’s important that we find something to hold onto lest we drift into the abyss. In addition to dealing with the always precarious mix of tryptophan, alcohol, fat soaked bread, pumpkin custard and wayward family members, there is always the high probability that you will at some point be cornered by one or more idiots and asked to engage in civil conversation which is almost guaranteed to drive you insane. You are going to need a new strategy.
There is no point in employing logic when arguing with someone who makes up their own facts, so if we are ever going to engage with conservatives, cousins or carnies ever again, we will need a better game plan. In partnership with several renowned think tanks and prestigious scholars, I have been working on a new strategy for the past few months that I think could be instrumental in bridging the cultural divide and allowing polite conversation (if not exactly a free exchange of ideas), back into civil society once more.
My research involved a deep exploration of nonlinear thinking, hostage negotiation tactics borrowed from the FBI, game theory, improvisational method acting, mythical narrative, cognitive dissonance and the smell of fear.
I’m going you walk you through the process we developed, and hopefully with a little practice, you will be able to effectively shut down just about any conversation without having to resort to arguing complex public policy questions with someone who thinks the government is collecting their feces for unspecified analysis and controlling the weather with satellites.
The beauty of this method of interaction is that you don’t need to follow the logic of the moron you’re talking to and neither will you be required to convince anyone of anything. It’s a win-win scenario where everyone comes away enjoying the experience, which is precisely where we’ve been falling short these many years.
There are a variety of techniques we will be employing so let me take you through them one by one so that you can familiarize yourself with the process. We will begin with the premise that having a conversation with a known conspiracy theorist, Republican or any other officially-recognized idiot cluster, is that you’re basically in a hostage situation where you are forced to acts as both the hostage and the hostage negotiator simultaneously. This is not ideal typically, but in our case, it works out just fine.
The Mirror Effect
In a hostage situation, a good hostage negotiator has to develop a level of trust with the perpetrator in order to establish an open line of communication. Mirroring is a technique used by hostage negotiators to establish that trust and encourage people to open up.
The technique amounts to nothing more than repeating the last several words or phrase that they’ve just said. If you also frame it as a question, they will keep talking. You can do this a few times in a row and they will tell you more than you want to know, but in the meantime, they will also come to believe that you are listening to them in addition to finding what they have to say to be of great value, which of course is clearly not true.
If done correctly, they will come away from your exchange not necessary believing that you agree with them, but with the understanding that you never actually disagreed with them either. You will be able to maintain your familial relationship without having to cede any ground intellectually.
When it’s your turn to speak, you will begin by expressing that they have made some interesting points without agreeing with any of them, and then immediately change the subject. But of course we’re just getting started. If it was that easy, you’d have gotten out of these painful conversations years ago.
The Wiley Post
When arguing with an idiot, it’s important to never engage with their inaugural premise. This is like the third rail of imbecilic confabulation. Touch it and you’re toast.
What you will want to do here is to immediately pivot from their original point of contention to a tangential subject of your own choosing. This is precisely what you should be thinking about while they’re taking. Since you’re not going to respond to their argument anyway, you will find yourself unburdened by the effort to follow their warped logic and can instead concentrate on your follow up.
Your subject of choice doesn’t actually need to be related to theirs, but be sure to explain that while it may not seem to be, it most certainly is. Feel free to jump around to three or four different topics, seemingly finding your way among a large collection of theories and studies, and even returning to topics previously mentioned as if they’re all related even if they aren’t, before restating their initial contention.
In layman’s terms, this is sometimes called circular logic, but to us it will always be known as the Wiley Post. Wiley Post was the first aviator to fly around the world. It took him 7 days, 18 hours and 49 minutes, and he did the whole thing wearing an eye patch.
There’s nothing logical about flying around the world by yourself with one eye, and there’s nothing logical about talking in circles. In fact it’s entirely illogical, but when you’re talking in circles, you will begin to repeat subjects, which in and of itself, breeds familiarity. The listener will begin to think they are following your logic, since it feels like they’ve been here before. This is sometimes known as giving them the Winnie-The-Pooh, or just Shooting the Pooh.
There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that this type of nonsensical, circular logic has been particularly effective with regards to complex, but ultimately vapid, conspiracy theories such as the Flat Earth Society, the JFK Assassination and most recently, QAnon.
It should be noted that there is always a danger that they will come along with you on this trek round the bend, because that’s how they tend to think naturally, so be prepared to reverse course, or even to jump the tracks of your own train of thought, if you feel they are getting too close to agreeing with you.
It’s important to note that don’t ever actually want them to agree with you, but worth noting that it can be helpful if they come close.
The Kobayashi Method
Details always make for a more a convincing, authentic narrative, so whatever you’re talking about, be sure to sprinkle in a few random pieces of information that are entirely irrelevant to whatever you’re talking about. Use the Kobayashi Method of picking up items in your line of sight to add convincing details. This technique was first developed by Kaiser Soze in Prague in the 1970’s but has been successfully used by cult leaders, prophets, televangelists, street hustlers, magicians and master criminals ever since.
The basic premise is use your surroundings to add a bevy of believable details to your spontaneous, improvisational narrative. If you’re looking at sofa pillows with fringe on them, you might begin to go down an intellectual dissertation on the nature of comfort and then immediately reverse yourself, explaining that this is indeed a fringe theory and not worth getting too deep into a such a short conversation. Or maybe you’ve just ordered Buffalo wings at a local watering hole, in which case you might bring up the Buffalo Project, as they’ve surely heard of the top secret experimental lab run by the legendary Joseph Franks and his longtime collaborator Sir Rachi. No? Don’t worry about it. It’s not important in this context anyway, but maybe you could devote some serious energy to it some other time.
Feel free to jump around without ever finishing a sentence, let alone a thought, as this will all be relevant to your purpose, since you are not trying to make any point, let alone win an argument.
The Schrute Gambit
They have computers now that are so advanced that they can take an infinite amount of bullshit and spin a tale that is so logical, that you will believe your own bullshit when it’s complete. They call it artificial intelligence. This isn’t the the thing that allows Amazon to correctly guess that you fancy women’s underpants and tin whistles. This is something else entirely.
The technique here is to create your own conspiracy theories to be used to prop up your nonlinear arguments. They don’t need to make sense to be believable, they just need to be committed to so that they appear to be grounded in fact. The basic idea here is to out crazy the crazy. This is sometimes called the Schrute Gambit, a technique developed by a legendary beet farmer in central Pennsylvania.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Jerry McGuire, there is a scene where the four year old Ray grills Jerry on his knowledge of trivia explaining such tidbits as the fact that both dogs and bees can smell fear as well as the truth that the average human head weighs about eight pounds. These don’t have to be true, but it helps. If they’ve got a theory about contrails, you’ve got a theory about why no one has ever seen a baby pigeon.
It also helps if you’ve developed a handful of these in advance, but if you’re quick on your feet anything can suffice. I mean no really believes the Elf on the Shelf is merely a harmless holiday toy and not a NSA surveillance program do they? Elf…Shelf. Electronic Surveillance? And they convinced us to move it around the house every night? Now they’ve got us doing their jobs for them. It’s like they didn’t even try. Don’t even get you started on Legos.
While they’re thinking about what could possibly be wrong with Legos, ask them why every other developed country on planet has free healthcare but America, why they got rid of the two dollar bill and who really profited from killing off Aunt Jemima.
The Apple of God’s Eyre
As legend has it, the Itinerant preacher and amateur biologist John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, walked the highways and byways of America, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and planting orchards wherever he went. It has been argued that he was responsible for the propagation of apples in America as a byproduct of his effort to save its collective soul. Sprinkled throughout his history is no doubt a bit of both, and he was fondly remembered as a kind soul and a gentle spirit.
You may not be able to save the poor schmuck you are in a battle of wits with from his own stupidity, but with a little effort you may plant a seed of inspiration and doubt that could end up as our collective salvation. You can’t undo a life of Fox News in one sitting, but you can begin to sow doubt with a few pertinent facts and a layer of bullshit.
You would do well to learn a few dozen Bible versus, if not verbatim, at least learn the syntax so that you are able to make it sound like scripture, even if it’s not. Nothing gives your argument weight like grounding it in the ecclesiastical.
The final piece of the puzzle is perhaps the most important, as it combines a bit of everything else, but aspires to bring it from the heavens above right back down to earth to lay it at the feet of your moronic friend. They say that stupid is as stupid does and if there is anything that Donald Trump has taught us it’s that simple words strung into a sentence your average idiot can understand can be a powerfully persuasive tool.
Chauncey Gardiner was a simple man who rose from a lowly gardener to the highest echelons of power in America and he did it by simplifying the complex into platitudes so benign that they could mean almost anything. This has been the genius of the internet cult figure known as Q.
The theory here is that by using basic metaphors concerning life, structured in a theological framework combined with a bit of poetry, you allow the listener to divine their own interpretation, thereby relieving you of having to explain yourself.
The simpler your message the more likely it will be accepted as truth. End on a positive note.
The English Exit
You’ve likely heard of the Irish exit, whereby one simply slips out the back door without bidding anyone adieu. The English exit is one where you excuse yourself with gilded formality but offer them no explanation whatsoever. A traditional example would be to stop speaking abruptly, sigh deeply, smile thoughtfully and then say with slowly but with conviction and gravitas, “But as you can see, I am but a lowly servant of the king who is merely reminded of his duty to a higher power. If you’ll excuse me, there is something I must do.”
Then you walk away.
Follow David Todd McCarty on Twitter @davidtmccarty and The Standard @capemaystandard
EDITOR’S NOTE: In our next installment we will be discussing how to incorporate these techniques into the more troubled world of social media.