One if by Land, Woo if by Sea

This is the teaser for my crowdfunding campaign at http://www.gofundme.com/ss29jrfk. I’d very much appreciate your support, whether that means a donation, advice, or sharing the link. Any or all of those would be appreciated! And great big thanks to TSZ and its gracious host for letting me share it here.

Do you believe in acupuncture, alien abductions, ancient aliens, chi, crop circles, entity possession, “forbidden archaeology” or “forbidden religion,” homeopathy, near-death experiences, occult Nazi super-weapons, planet x, poisoned vaccines, spiritual channeling, the new world order, or illegal immigrants from Zeta Reticuli? Do you go to bed worrying about the New World Order, the Vatican, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, NASA, the WHO, the CDC, the UN, space aliens and/or demons conspiring against you and all right-thinking people? And are you convinced that the world is ruled from the Bohemian Grove, a secret bunker under the Denver airport, Bilderberg meetings, the Council on Foreign Relations, Buckingham Palace, alien worlds or other dimensions?

Probably not. But thousands of people do believe those things, and other things stranger than you can imagine. This January, dozens of experts these fields will gather together on a cruise ship called the Ruby Princess. It’s called, honestly and cleverly enough, the Conspira-Sea Cruise. They’ll spend seven days explaining, discussing, and even demonstrating their beliefs. Some of them are fairly famous, like Andy Wakefield and Sherri Tenpenny, who will be sharing their theories on vaccines. Others are relatively obscure, like Laura Magdalene Eisenhower, great-granddaughter of the former president, who claims to have been recruited for a secret Mars colonization effort and that stargates began opening around the Earth in 2012. For a full week, conspiracy theorists, dreamers, and snake-oil salesmen of every stripe will be preaching and peddling their wares.
Cruise0
I want to be there.


WHO AM I?

My name is Colin McRoberts. I’m an attorney and a consultant in the field of negotiation and persuasion. Fringe beliefs and their believers fascinate me. And for the past few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the outside world relates to those beliefs. I’m writing a book, tentatively titled “The Good Fight: Engaging Irrational Ideologies.” It looks at how and why people come to believe irrational things like, well, like all the beliefs that will be represented on the Conspira-Sea Cruise. I’m also explaining how to engage with someone who believes in things like that, either to understand them better or to try to help them see why their beliefs are irrational. (Since that requires understanding them and their beliefs anyway, understanding is the critical step here.)
To better understand people who believe things I can’t believe people believe, I’ve interviewed some very interesting people for the book. I’ve also done a lot of research on the people who wouldn’t or couldn’t grant an interview. That’s been educational, but the Conspira-Sea Cruise is an unprecedented opportunity. When else will so many prominent believers in so many strange beliefs be gathered together for the explicit purpose of explaining themselves?

Epic humility.

WHAT DO I WANT?

I want to be there.

Specifically, I want to attend the lectures and workshops. I want to ask questions. I want to have those conversations. And I want to tell you about it. I’ll be writing up my experiences, both for the book and a series of posts on Violent Metaphors. (It’s not my blog, but I’ve already begun blogging  about engaging irrational ideologies constructively  and other science communication issues.)

Here’s what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to start fights. I don’t want to be disruptive. I don’t want to make it about “us vs. them.” I subscribe to the theory that people set their opinions largely by listening to what their friends, family, and peers believe. So while I think the world would be better off if fewer people believed that vaccines cause autism or that Obama is a communist homosexual Muslim infiltrator (two things that real human beings believe), I don’t think we’ll get there by abusing or mocking believers. That kind of pressure, while it can have some good effect, just encourages people to get defensive and focus on the fight, rather than being open to really considering the evidence.

In fact, getting people to change their minds about cherished opinions is fantastically hard. I don’t expect to sway many people with rational arguments, and I don’t intend to try on the cruise. No part of this will be about starting arguments or looking for the one perfect cutting comment that would make someone reconsider their faith in alien abductions. I want to understand. I want to know how people came to form their opinions, and what they think those opinions are based on. I want to know how they see the mainstream, and how they think the mainstream sees them. I want to know more about what it’s like to be a conspiracy theorist. And don’t you?

WHAT DO YOU GET?

The most common reaction I’ve seen to the cruise is curiosity. (And mockery, sure.) Plenty of people have said, “Oh, I should crowdfund this so we could hear more about what goes on there…” I’m doing it. And because I’m doing it, you’ll be getting the access you wanted. I want to share reports from the ship, and write-ups of my impressions. I take pictures reasonably well, and I’ll be taking a couple of cameras.

In other words, you’re getting—and helping provide for others—a window into some very unusual viewpoints. These are beliefs that most of us experience at arms’ length, if ever. It’s very easy to assume we know how such people think, but in my experience their beliefs are much more nuanced and personal than outsiders really understand. So if you have ever wondered how someone could believe that crystals cure cancer or that aliens built the pyramids, but don’t have any opportunity to ask a believer yourself, this is the campaign for you.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

With money! Every little bit helps. I’m likely to wind up using my own money for this cruise, I know, and that’s fine. I’d like to defray those costs as much as possible.

I’m asking for financial assistance to cover the cost of the cruise, and that’s all. Meals, excursions (some of the lectures have an additional cost), travel and lodging incurred getting to and from the port, and any other expenses are all on me. That’s because I don’t know how much those things will cost, and I’d rather not set too ambiguous a target.

As it is, the target is a bit of a guess. As I write this, the cheapest possible ticket costs USD 1,749. That’s with a randomly-assigned roommate. Ideally I’d like to have a cabin to myself, which raises the cost to USD 2,398. (Edited to remove dollar signs, which seemed to cause formatting problems.) That’s not just because I like to sleep in, but also because it would be much easier to write up the day’s events every night with some privacy. But I’m not fancy—I’d take a roommate to defray costs if necessary. And if you’re a decent roommate, and interested in coming along, let us know!

No donations will go to cover anything but the ticket price and whatever obligatory fees and taxes come with it. If we happen to raise more money than we need, the excess will be refunded or donated to Make-A-Wish International ( www.worldwish.org).

YOU SAID YOU WERE A LAWYER. WHERE’S THE FINE PRINT?

I think a few disclosures are always in order. I’ll put them in a Q&A format, because …

Because it draws the reader in and makes you seem more sympathetic? Yes. See? Disclosing things already.

Are you a shill? What evil corporation, government, alien race, or cryptohominid is paying you to do this? No, and no one. I am not receiving any money or anything of value, directly or indirectly, for this project. The only exceptions are (a) what you pledge through this page, (b) whatever ad revenue comes from posting write-ups on the blog afterwards, and (c) whatever I earn from writing a book. The donations are just to cover costs, and unfortunately I expect any earnings to be minimal. I’m doing this because I’m fascinated, because I want the experience, and because I want to share that experience with you. That means you aren’t just donating to help someone make money!

What happens if they find out you’re coming and tear up your ticket? I assume the cruise organizers and at least some of the speakers will hear about this. They probably already assume someone would do it. That’s OK! I intend to go to learn, not be disruptive, and based on my experience interviewing the sort of people who are represented on the cruise, they’ll be very receptive to that. They want to share their beliefs! And they understand that most people don’t get them. That doesn’t mean they won’t keep me from attending, but I think they will be happy to accept another paying customer.

Who will you see on the boat? The organizers list their “tentative speakers”here , and emphasize the “tentative.” Some of them, like Wakefield, are big names. Be aware they might drop out before the cruise starts.

Can I get involved? Sure! Pledge a few bucks. And also give me your thoughts and opinions, encouragement or criticism. Suggest questions, tell me stories about your experiences with these beliefs, give me advice on engaging with the believers—I’d love for you to get involved.

Can I come? Sure! Tickets are still available, obviously. And if you’re a decent roommate, maybe we could cut the cost a bit by splitting a room.

That picture at the top doesn’t look like Mexico. And that doesn’t look like a question. It’s not Mexico, it’s Alaska. And that’s a cargo ship, not a cruise ship. But I’ve never taken a picture of a cruise ship, so that’s the closest I could come. Also I wanted to show that this isn’t something I’m doing just to go on a cruise. This is work, not play, and I’m not asking you to finance a vacation.

Will there be donor awards? I’d like to provide them, I just don’t know what would be practical and valuable to people. I’d love to hear your suggestions.

January is a long way away. Can you recommend something to read to tide me over? I strongly recommend “Them: Adventures with Extremists” by Jon Ronson, the author of The Men Who Stare at Goats. He travels and talks with extremists, such as Klansmen, conspiracy theorists and Alex Jones. His style of sympathetic, honest and very constructive engagement is one of my inspirations for this project. That’s not an affiliate link, I just think everyone should read his book.

Can I follow you on Twitter? Yes you can.

Why Make-A-Wish International? Because they do great work, and because I’ve worked with them before and respect them very much. Make-A-Wish International is basically the international arm of the organization; it grants wishes to children with life-threatening conditions in dozens countries around the world. If you can’t help fund me, why not donate to them? Or hey, do both.

114 thoughts on “One if by Land, Woo if by Sea

  1. Colin,

    This is great. I’d been meaning to ask how your book project was shaping up, and now I know.

    I’m on my way to make a donation right now.

  2. It looks at how and why people come to believe irrational things like, well, like all the beliefs that will be represented on the Conspira-Sea Cruise.

    You mean, it explains away how people come to believe the non-mainstream things that they do by first assuming such beliefs are irrational (and untrue) in the first place. If you’re going to “find out” why people believe what they do, it’s hardly objective to begin with an assumptive characterization of those beliefs as “irrational”.

    But then, I’m sure you’ve fooled even yourself into thinking you’re going to be “objective”.

  3. William J. Murray: But then, I’m sure you’ve fooled even yourself into thinking you’re going to be “objective”.

    But fooling yourself is your very own personal claim to fame! Yet when others do it you somehow have a problem with it? Double standards much?

  4. William J. Murray: You mean, it explains away how people come to believe the non-mainstream things that they do by first assuming such beliefs are irrational (and untrue) in the first place. If you’re going to “find out” why people believe what they do, it’s hardly objective to begin with an assumptive characterization of those beliefs as “irrational”.

    But then, I’m sure you’ve fooled even yourself into thinking you’re going to be “objective”.

    I’ve got a whole section written on this, although I’ll probably have to cut it down and fold it into my operational definition of “irrational.” My basic point is that I’m not some ultimate arbiter of what is and isn’t rational. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from a recent draft:

    In an imperfect world, though, an imperfect standard will suffice—we simply have to accept a certain degree of subjectivity when it comes to defining irrationality in the real world. But the imperfect standard works rather well in the real world. After all, one common theme uniting all the irrational ideologies discussed later in this book is failure. No matter how well they play the credibility game, irrational ideologies ultimately run aground in a rational world. Homeopaths don’t heal, Bigfoot never gets found, and tax protesters get fined. The people who promote those beliefs will absolutely disagree with those statements, of course, and since we live in a world where rhetoric trumps reality many people will believe the ideologues over the evidence.

    If we put it all together, an “irrational” belief is one that has failed some empirical test and that the believer knows, or should know, does not reflect objective reality. We can say that people who defend and evangelize such beliefs on the grounds that they are true are being irrational. They, of course, can say the same thing about everyone else. As much as we try to make our definitions objective, in a face-to-face conversation they’re ultimately not. Irrationality is a judgment call in practice. That’s not a problem as long as we remember that the concept is in play.

    See what happens when you jump to conclusions?

  5. Glen,

    I’d go on the Conspira-Sea Cruise, of course, if it weren’t being run by the lizard people.

    Good point. There’s likely to be an “accident”, with the ship sinking without a trace.

  6. Colin,

    I strongly recommend “Them: Adventures with Extremists” by Jon Ronson, the author of The Men Who Stare at Goats. He travels and talks with extremists, such as Klansmen, conspiracy theorists and Alex Jones. His style of sympathetic, honest and very constructive engagement is one of my inspirations for this project. That’s not an affiliate link, I just think everyone should read his book.

    Will Storr’s The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science is a similar project. Despite the hard-hitting title, Storr is quite sympathetic to the people he interviews.

  7. Yeah, I’m not optimistic that (if I get a publisher) I’ll get to keep my title, or even that I should, given that I’m aiming for a mostly non-confrontational model.

  8. William J. Murray: You mean, it explains away how people come to believe the non-mainstream things that they do by first assuming such beliefs are irrational (and untrue) in the first place. If you’re going to “find out” why people believe what they do, it’s hardly objective to begin with an assumptive characterization of those beliefs as “irrational”.

    But then, I’m sure you’ve fooled even yourself into thinking you’re going to be “objective”.

    Or, we have already investigated the matter and shown the beliefs to be irrational, so what we want to find out is not whether they are irrational (we already know through investigation that they are), but why the people who believe them really do believe them.

  9. Colin,

    Just curious, why did you put 3 images of (non-human) animals on your “The Good Fight: Engaging Irrational Ideologies” page (bison, bees & monkeys)? Iow, are you not studying and interviewing human beings about their supposedly ‘irrational ideologies’?

    I’m also curious what might be a few examples of ‘rational ideologies’, if you might offer them here. And more, do you have a more or less clear definition of ‘ideology’ that you use to distinguish it from say, theory, hypothesis, paradigm, heuristic, worldview, etc.?

    I have a feeling the publisher, should you find one, won’t be enthralled with including that particular term – ideology – in the title, such baggage it carries in the English speaking world, especially in USA.

    Good luck on your crowd-funding ‘ethnography’ project nonetheless!

  10. Just curious, why did you put 3 images of (non-human) animals on your “The Good Fight: Engaging Irrational Ideologies” page (bison, bees & monkeys)? Iow, are you not studying and interviewing human beings about their supposedly ‘irrational ideologies’?

    Two reasons. One, what would those images be? Generic images of people tend to be, and look like, stock photography, which is not very interesting. I could instead try pictures of an irrational person that are visually identifiable as such, but that would be polarizing, I think. I mostly use the website to establish bona fides with interview subjects, and I don’t want them to be annoyed or offended with it. (Picture a 9/11 truther who takes his beliefs very seriously, looking at the website and seeing a picture of a Bigfoot hunter–he might be very offended. And vice versa!)

    Second, those are my images, so they’re free. Whenever possible I use photos I took rather than taking the time and effort to search for something that’s public domain AND appropriate AND attractive. Since I’m not a very prolific photographer, I have a small library to choose from; since I mostly focus on insects and other wildlife, it’s a pretty specialized library.

    The shots are supposed to be thematic, but it might not be obvious to anyone but me. The buffalo are showing conflict/a fight, the bee looks a little unhinged with her “tongue” hanging out, and the monkeys are engaged in community development.

    I’m also curious what might be a few examples of ‘rational ideologies’, if you might offer them here. And more, do you have a more or less clear definition of ‘ideology’ that you use to distinguish it from say, theory, hypothesis, paradigm, heuristic, worldview, etc.?
    I don’t have a good, clear definition of ‘ideology’ – that’s a great question. I don’t really mean it in any way other than an internally consistent set of beliefs. I don’t think that I’m using it as a synonym for the terms you list, other than “worldview” or possibly “heuristic.” I’d love to hear any suggestions you have.

    I have a feeling the publisher, should you find one, won’t be enthralled with including that particular term – ideology – in the title, such baggage it carries in the English speaking world, especially in USA.
    I’ll bear that in mind. When I get a chance I’ll take a closer look at how I’m using “ideology” in the actual draft.

  11. William J. Murray: But then, I’m sure you’ve fooled even yourself into thinking you’re going to be “objective”.

    Without being certain about it though. That whole “objectivity” thing could just be woo under a different name.

  12. Colin said:

    See what happens when you jump to conclusions?

    I didn’t jump to a conclusion; I reached the logical conclusion based on your use of the word “irrational”. How was I to know you were using an idiosyncratic definition that conveniently allows you to label anyone “irrational” who holds non-mainstream beliefs?

    Whether or not their beliefs are rational, and whether or not their beliefs have been accepted and/or verified by the mainstream, are two entirely different things you are apparently deliberately conflating for the purpose of condescension and ridicule – which is made apparent by the very title of this thread.

    What “good fight” are you engaging in when you are already being duplicitous and condescending by referring to their beliefs as “irrational” in the title of your book?

  13. Colin said:

    I’m aiming for a mostly non-confrontational model.

    ROFL! Sure you are. Nothing is as non-confrontational as calling someone’s beliefs irrational in the title of your book and referring to that engagement as a “fight”.

  14. Oh please William. That’s why he is here at TSZ. He doesn’t want to be confrontational and he wants money.

    He says what i would say if I was looking for money from gullible atheists.

    GAZ.

  15. Rumraket said:

    Or, we have already investigated the matter and shown the beliefs to be irrational, so what we want to find out is not whether they are irrational (we already know through investigation that they are), but why the people who believe them really do believe them.

    How can you possibly know if a person’s particular beliefs are irrational (standard definition) unless you interview that person in order to find out what they believe and why they believe it? I think perhaps you are conflating “Irrational” with”non-mainstream” or “unproven by consensus science”.

  16. William, to Rumraket:

    How can you possibly know if a person’s particular beliefs are irrational (standard definition) unless you interview that person in order to find out what they believe and why they believe it?

    You read what they’ve written, or watch somebody else’s interview with them.

    Good grief, William.

  17. Colin said:

    I’m aiming for a mostly non-confrontational model.

    William:

    ROFL! Sure you are. Nothing is as non-confrontational as calling someone’s beliefs irrational in the title of your book and referring to that engagement as a “fight”.

    Colin explained his approach, and it certainly sounds non-confrontational to me:

    I don’t expect to sway many people with rational arguments, and I don’t intend to try on the cruise. No part of this will be about starting arguments or looking for the one perfect cutting comment that would make someone reconsider their faith in alien abductions. I want to understand. I want to know how people came to form their opinions, and what they think those opinions are based on. I want to know how they see the mainstream, and how they think the mainstream sees them. I want to know more about what it’s like to be a conspiracy theorist. And don’t you?

    Don’t let that stop you from judging the entire enterprise based on a couple of words in the title, William.

  18. Colin,

    Do you believe in… illegal immigrants from Zeta Reticuli?

    They’re the worst. They send us their drug dealers and rapists. Trump is going to build a wall between their star and ours, by God, and he’s going to make the Zeta Reticulan government pay for it!

    Vote Trump ’16.

  19. keiths said:

    You read what they’ve written, or watch somebody else’s interview with them.

    Then those things would serve as an interview by proxy, keiths. But the problem is that before he’s interviewed them (the individuals on the cruise) in any manner, even by proxy, he has characterized their beliefs as “woo” and as “irrational” (unless, of course, colin has watched interviews with the individuals who are going to be on the cruise, or read their personal accounts of how they came to their beliefs).

    What I have to judge colin and his enterprise with are the words he himself has chosen here to explain, characterize and describe. I can’t help it if the duplicitous, confrontational, condescending nature of his book and endeavor are revealed by the words he chooses to employ even while insisting otherwise. The title of his book screams confrontation, condescension and ridicule. Did you read his blog that he linked to? I think my judgement is pretty sound.

    If he was really interested in an unbiased, non-confrontational, non-condescending book, perhaps the title should be “Building Bridges: Productively Engaging Beliefs That Contradict Your Own”. That way, you know, his entire premise isn’t set up as if colin is a pristine, authoritative example of what “rational belief” means.

    But then, that’s not really what the endeavor is really about, is it, Mr. What Everyone Else Believes Is “Woo” (but I don’t mean that in a condescending, confrontational manner).

  20. Thanks for your explanation. It sounds basically like ‘animals are safer than people.’ Understood from a PR perspective.

    “The shots are supposed to be thematic, but it might not be obvious to anyone but me. The buffalo are showing conflict/a fight, the bee looks a little unhinged with her “tongue” hanging out, and the monkeys are engaged in community development.”

    1) Conflict/fight with aircraft carriers & drones is a rather wee bit different from buffalo or any (other) animals’ conflict/fight, don’t you think?, 2) Bee tongues as ‘unhinged’ is a pretty big stretch to human ‘unhinged’ conspiracy theories, and 3) No, monkey’s don’t engage in ‘community development’. That’s simply anthropomorphism. ‘Community’ is a human expression/experience/condition (despite what folks like Robert Trivers say).

    Argue against 3) and it just shows you’ve accepted the ‘naturalist’ conspiracy, LOL!

    As I said, the ‘ethnographic’ research project sounds interesting, let me add, in a ‘strange’ way. Are you canvassing any predominantly theist blogs, like you are this predominantly atheist/skeptic blog for crowd-funding?

  21. William J. Murray,

    Your defense is somewhat compromised here by the ‘woo-like’ ‘generic theist’ position you endorse. Rejecting the Abrahamic faiths for your own self-created ‘religion’, you simply are the ‘woo theist’ at TAZ! You give theism a bad name, WJM, with your personal woo so it’s completely unsurprising that you are now passionately defending woo 😉

    It’s ‘ethnographic’ research, which one usually doesn’t go into with a blank slate (though I agree the crowd-funding title and the proposed book title are both edgy).

  22. Gregory said:

    Your defense is somewhat compromised here…

    I’m not defending anything. I’m pointing out the laughably hypocritical juxtaposition of what colin claims his enterprise is about against how he words both the titles of what he is doing and his descriptions of what he is doing here and on his blog.

  23. Colin, I’m sure you must know Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. It’s a classic that I remember enjoying years ago. Some of that cray-cray is still semi-popular, of course.

  24. Gregory:
    Your ‘generic theist’ woo means you have nothing serious or concrete to defend, WJM.

    I’ve never tried to defend my beliefs that I’m aware of. I’ve attempted to explain them when asked, but I’ve consistently reiterated that I only believe what I believe (and how I believe) as a matter of personal pragmatism. What would be the value in attempting to defend something I don’t even hold as necessarily true or “real” in the first place?

  25. Gregory,

    As I said, the ‘ethnographic’ research project sounds interesting, let me add, in a ‘strange’ way. Are you canvassing any predominantly theist blogs, like you are this predominantly atheist/skeptic blog for crowd-funding?

    I’ll take that as a compliment! Thank you.

    I’m not posting this appeal on any blogs other than this one and Violent Metaphors, where I am a blogger myself. I asked to do it here because I think Dr. Liddle’s created a really excellent site for conversations and outreach. I don’t spend as much time here as I should, but look at the mix of people as diverse as you, keiths, Salvador, WJM, Richarthughes, Mung, and Kantian Naturalist! (Not to slight anyone else, of course.) All having reasonably civil conversations about subjects that drive even reasonable people to distraction. I admire what she’s done, and I thought the project would be a good fit.

    The book isn’t intended to be “atheist/skeptic” at all. In writing about irrationality, I took religion completely off the table. Lots of my subjects are religious (like Dr. Dembski), but I chose them because some empirical project failed. As I said above, homeopaths that don’t heal, Bigfoot hunters that never find Bigfoot, sovereigntists who go to jail… and intelligent design detectives who can’t actually detect design under even controlled circumstances.

  26. Thanks for your comments too, WJM. The book has been a slow project, so I’ve been writing it off and on for several years now. I’ve interviewed 9/11 truthers, a bigfoot hunter, anti-vaxers, and other people who fit very firmly in the realm of irrationality. I explain the project to every person I interview, and when I can I show them the same website I linked to here. You’re the first person—the very first!—to react with hostility. The closest anyone’s ever come to your vinegary reaction is a sovereigntist (the legal equivalent of creationists, which he also is). There’s a lot of potential conflict there—if his ideas about taxes are wrong, he’s a bound to go to jail over it sooner or later. He’s got a lot invested, financially a2nd emotionally, in me being wrong about his irrationality. He has even convinced himself that I’m an undercover agent, out to discredit his revolutionary ideas about the law. But he takes it in good spirits. He even had me on for a couple of hours on his radio show, where we talked about his weird ideas (and he talked about his perspective on my adherence to the mainstream). And like I said, he’s the closest anyone has ever come to hostility.

    I set up shop in Brave New Books for a while, a bookstore in Austin that basically caters to the Alex Jones crew (and Alex Jones himself). I asked the owner if I could sit and interview his customers after they paid for their “Guess Who Caused 9/11!” books, and assumed he’d say no. He was a little bemused, but didn’t see any of the god-awful “duplicitous, confrontational, condescending nature” that’s put a burr under your saddle. (He liked the idea of the book, but then again, he owns a bookstore.) He told me in advance what to expect: “Some people won’t talk to you at all, but a lot of them will. They want to talk about their ideas. Most people won’t let them. Just don’t ask for their real names and be aware they’re going to think you’re a g-man.” He was right on all counts.

    The people I’m writing about aren’t stupid. In fact, the ones I’ve met tend to be highly intelligent. They know that the rest of us think they’re irrational or worse, and they’re used to it. Do you think a 9/11 truther is going to be offended that someone with a mainstream perspective thinks he’s irrational? Not in my experience. In my experience, people with deeply-rooted beliefs are happy to talk about them, whether they’re rational or not. And the ideas I’m most interested in are the ones that tie communities of irrational people together, which means they’re easily and eagerly communicated. When people who have been scorned by the mainstream hear that I’m interested in hearing them explain their beliefs, and that the project is about explaining why “irrational” people aren’t stupid or crazy, they tend to like the idea very much—even knowing that I think and will explain why they are irrational.

    How was I to know you were using an idiosyncratic definition that conveniently allows you to label anyone “irrational” who holds non-mainstream beliefs?

    That definition you’re talking about sounds awful. Wherever did you read it? If you are interested in the definition I use, read the excerpts I posted. They don’t apply to everyone who holds non-mainstream beliefs—far from it. And the definition I’ve used is not very idiosyncratic, although it may be unfamiliar to you. It’s based on one way economists think of irrationality; basically, taking actions counterproductive to one’s own goals. (There are other definitions, even just for economists. This one comes largely from the work of Bryan Caplan at GWU. My book was an expanded version of his Rational Irrationality theory for a while, but has changed focus a bit.) The trouble with that line of thinking is that it’s very hard to apply in practice; once you realize “feeling good and in control” is a common objective, it gets pretty hard to find any actions that don’t serve that purpose.

    Consider (this is a real case) a woman who abandons traditional medicine in favor of coffee enemas and vegetable smoothies to treat her cancer, virtually guaranteeing a horrible death by any serious assessment of the evidence. It won’t help her achieve her stated goal of survival, but it makes her happy by providing a strong community. If she subjectively values the hope over the marginal improvement in her odds that traditional medicine would bring, but she still claims she’s doing it because it will save her life, can we say she’s irrational? My definition adds the element of some kind of empirical failure, which provides a shadow of objectivity and helps answer questions like that. There’s still a lot of “know it when I see it” to it, though, which is inevitable.

    Your other complaints about the definition don’t seem to have much relevance to the actual definition I’m using, or the excerpts I posted.

  27. Colin said:

    I explain the project to every person I interview, and when I can I show them the same website I linked to here. You’re the first person—the very first!—to react with hostility.

    I’m pointing out the blatant hostility implied by your terms “woo” and “irrational”, and the phrase “fighting the good fight”. That part is obvious.

    However, since you insist on defending your use of such blatantly dismissive, problematic, confrontational terms instead of admitting the problem and looking for neutral alternatives, it appears to me that you must have some sort of psychological need to characterize such people and their beliefs the way you do in order to maintain your own worldview.

    You probably don’t even recognize your irrational compulsion to propagandize for the consensus by characterizing those outside of it as “irrational” and what they believe in as “woo”. But that’s okay as long as it makes you feel like you’re part of the majority community here, right?

  28. When people who have been scorned by the mainstream hear that I’m interested in hearing them explain their beliefs, and that the project is about explaining why “irrational” people aren’t stupid or crazy, they tend to like the idea very much—even knowing that I think and will explain why they are irrational.

    Because people don’t mind being called irrational, or having books written explaining how their views are irrational. That’s a good boy now – you’re not stupid or crazy, you just believe the nonsense you believe because you have a psychological need that drives you outside of the mainstream to seek validation elsewhere!!

    Who would possibly be offended by that?

  29. William J. Murray: However, since you insist on defending your use of such blatantly dismissive, problematic, confrontational terms instead of admitting the problem and looking for neutral alternatives, it appears to me that you must have some sort of psychological need to characterize such people and their beliefs the way you do in order to maintain your own worldview.

    This is WJM, expressing his own psychological need.

  30. I can just see it now: Colin strolls up to someone on the cruise and says, “Hey, tell me about this irrational woo you believe in. I’m writing a book on how to talk to people like you, and I want to explain to rational people why you believe what you do – what your psychological issues are that drive you to into this kind of stuff.”

    Imagine Colin’s utter shock at any negative reaction.

  31. From “How to Win Friends and Influence People, special Colin supplement”:

    “First thing you do, call them irrational. Then call what they believe in “woo”. They will eagerly volunteer to be interviewed and have you write a book about them.”

  32. William J. Murray: I can just see it now: Colin strolls up to someone on the cruise and says, “Hey, tell me about this irrational woo you believe in. I’m writing a book on how to talk to people like you, and I want to explain to rational people why you believe what you do – what your psychological issues are that drive you to into this kind of stuff.”

    I very much doubt that he does that.

    However, at TSZ, he is in a meta-discussion of what he is doing. So he is more willing to use terms like “woo”.

  33. Neil Rickert: However, at TSZ, he is in a meta-discussion of what he is doing. So he is more willing to use terms like “woo”.

    Exactly my point in calling him deceptive, biased and hypocritical. The terms he’ll use here to drum up money, on his blog and in his book don’t match up with his description of what he is doing, or his claims about how others react to him and his proposal.

    I’m just pointing it out.

  34. William J. Murray:
    I can just see it now: Colin strolls up to someone on the cruise and says, “Hey, tell me about this irrational woo you believe in. I’m writing a book on how to talk to people like you, and I want to explain to rational people why you believe what you do – what your psychological issues are that drive you to into this kind of stuff.”

    Imagine Colin’s utter shock at any negative reaction.

    So no one’s beliefs should ever be called irrational woo? What if it’s irrational woo, in fact?

    Or is it just that science that should be charged with a whole lot of baseless accusations, as you have often doen?

    There is this matter of truth…

    Glen Davidson

  35. Neil said:

    He is just adapting his language for what is appropriate to the community.

    ROFL!!

    So no one’s beliefs should ever be called irrational woo?

    ROFL!!! No, Glen, that’s not what I said.

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