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.
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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: Think I’ve misread them, or missed something?

    You are about right. His wife if anti-vax and he is accepting that for his family and defending it. There’s a link to get pages with only that one poster’s messages (good for quick browsing). Look in the left margin of one of his posts.

  2. On reflection, I think WJM has a decent point about the word “woo.” I don’t think of it as a derogatory term in and of itself, but it’s definitely used that way by very many people. And it’s rarely used in any other context. So I’ve changed the title of the GFM page. Thanks for your comments, WJM.

  3. Mung: Well there you go. You must believe in Intelligent Design then.

    Must I? Why? Given you’ve never said why you believe in ID it’s funny you are now telling others they believe in it.

  4. Colin: If you can live with making the other guy walk away, or play the same game by treating you disrespectfully, that feels like a win to a lot of people. That creates an incentive to destroy the conversation; I think it’s what motivates some of Barry Arrington’s antics.

    Perceptive point!

  5. Mung,

    I saw demonic possession mentioned in a thread here in all seriousness over the weekend.

    I can see why you’d want to avoid that topic.

    For similar reasons to why I avoid stepping in dog excrement on the sidewalk.

  6. I think I introduced myself there as Colin when he lifted the bans, and I’m pretty sure when I changed my username to Colin here I pointed out that I was LH previously. Also, I was posting here earlier about the conversation I was having with him. I think it was probably pretty obvious to him, given that he seems to follow TSZ.

  7. Colin:
    I think I introduced myself there as Colin when he lifted the bans, and I’m pretty sure when I changed my username to Colin here I pointed out that I was LH previously. Also, I was posting here earlier about the conversation I was having with him. I think it was probably pretty obvious to him, given that he seems to follow TSZ.

    BTW, I wanted to mention that I’ve enjoyed and learned from a number of your Learned Hand posts at the other site. I didn’t know when you first posted here as “Colin” that you were the same guy.

    (Speaking of Hand, you may be interested in hearing that I’ve been whacked here for defending Holmes on an issue or two.)

    Anyhow, thanks.

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