During my normal dredge through conspiracy theory social media, I stumbled on this tweet from a diehard QAnon believer detailing all of the people she claims to have told about the anonymous conspiracy avatar.
Assuming this is true (and it’s Twitter, so you never really know), I can only imagine all of the blank stares that greeted this person as she ambushed random strangers with her enthusiasm for Donald Trump’s supposed plan to purge America’s enemies in a spasm of extra-judicial violence.
In a public environment, it’s easy enough to simply walk away from such a person. And that’s the correct thing to do, as engaging with them will likely lead to either an uncomfortable conversation or an argument, neither of which are helpful or necessary.
But what happens when you end up at a holiday party or Christmas dinner with such a person? You likely won’t be able to walk away, and you’re probably being confronted by someone important to you whose feelings you don’t want to hurt.
Chances are, that person knows you’re a skeptic, someone unlikely to be taken in by conspiracy theories, and capable of discerning fact from wishful thinking. Why else would you be reading my work?
And so they’re going to look at you as big game. A prize to be “redpilled” – converted to their way of thinking due to the “research” they’ve done. But you’re not. You’re not going to be swayed into thinking Q is real or “the great awakening” is upon us. But this person is still important to you.
Chances are, you’re not going to be able to talk them out of believing in QAnon, and they’re not going to be able to talk you into it.
So what do you do?
In the episode of Skeptoid entitled “What to Do When a Friend Loves Woo,” Brian Dunning lays out a simple precept to keep in mind when your acquaintance begins prattling on about Q proofs and “the map.”
Know which battles to fight. Weigh the risks. Consider the context of your friend’s belief: Is he in imminent danger of harming himself or others? Probably not; and if not, this may not be the time to take what might be your only shot. So I want to make this a rule: Before you decide what to do, consider the risks and the context. How terrible are the consequences of your friend’s belief? Think that through comprehensively. Make sure you have a good understanding of the risks to your friend if you do nothing, and the risks to your relationship if you attack their beliefs and (in all probability) fail to convince them. It may well be that this first strategy I’m going to present is the safest.
If you know you’ll be having a holiday dinner with someone who believes in Q, it’s not the right time or place to attempt to debunk their belief. You’ll fail.
As inviting as it sounds to bring the hammer of skepticism down on their sacred cow, you won’t be. They’ll immediately dig in and try to hammer you right back with their half-baked proofs. And then you’re arguing, and nobody hears anyone.
Likewise, it’s likely that the best strategy to deal with your friend or loved one who confronts you about Q is to simply not fight the battle. Tell them that you know what it is (you do, after all), that you obviously feel differently about it, and that this isn’t the appropriate time to talk about it.
As Dunning writes later in his episode, all it takes is one question from you to defuse the situation.
Ask “Is it important to you?”
“You’re important to me.”
Think what a powerful message that sends. It may sound corny, but it’s a statement that your friend will always remember. You’ve just communicated that your friendship is more important than your “evil debunking hobby”. You’ve made it clear, unequivocally, that you don’t want such differences to come between you.
Of course, this might not work. Many Q believers think that what they’re trying to tell you about is nothing less than a plan to save the world. Obviously, they want you to be part of that world that’s saved. For them, it’s probably going to be very important – almost evangelical.
So if they continue with Q nonsense, they clearly aren’t going to let you go without a fight. That’s the point where it’s incumbent on you to let them know that they matter to you, and if this matters to them so much, you’re willing to listen.
Don’t insult them, don’t call them stupid or crazy. But at the same time, don’t make them think that you’re going to be “redpilled” without a fight. Don’t get caught up in a deluge of accusations and proofs and conspiracy theories. That’s not a fight you can win, because the rules will keep changing.
What you can do is ask questions, push back, point out the inconsistencies and the fallacies and the failed predictions. Obviously, I can’t know where each individual conversation is going to go. But there are certain overall questions that you can bring up that are pertinent to pretty much any potential conversation about Q.
- “Isn’t that what a psychic does? Make lots of vague predictions and trumpet the ones that hit?”
- “Why do you believe this is going to happen?”
- “Rather than hit me with all of these different coincidences and typos and things that could mean anything, can you give me one totally incontrovertible proof?”
- “How do you explain all of the predictions that Q has made that haven’t come true?”
- “What benefit does believing in Q provide for you?”
- “It sounds like what you believe in is really violent. But you’re not a violent person. Are you comfortable with this?”
If you ask these simple, non-confrontational questions, you’re giving this person an opportunity to think critically. You’re giving them a gift, even if it’s one they don’t want.
Or you’re letting them escalate into anger and accusation – which you’ve already made it clear you won’t join them in.
If they insist on anger, reiterate that you didn’t want to talk about this in the first place and walk away. But if they start going up the anti-rabbit hole of logical thinking, you can keep talking – if you want. Maybe tell them you’ll send them some links, or that you’d love to talk more about this later.
Above all, don’t call them stupid, or a crazy conspiracy theorist. Don’t call their belief bullshit. Don’t say they’re in a cult or a dangerous fascist movement.
All of those things could be true, of course. But if you stay calm, measured, and on the high ground, you’re giving them a place to join you. If they take it, it’s a win. If not, you’ve lost nothing.
Have a great holiday, and thanks for your readership. Big things are coming in 2019!