How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

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How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#1  Postby Woocache » Jul 17, 2010 10:26 pm

Hi everybody.

My general question is this, but read on afterward for more details:

What is the best way of dealing with extremely irrational people?

To give a bit more detail:
I don't mean to solicit simplistic replies like "just leave them alone", or "try not to provoke them". I don't mean clearly mentally disturbed people who are deluded to the point whose admission to a mental institution would be warranted. I mean people who continue to make extremely irrational assertions and meet counter-arguments and evidence against their position with denials, lies, self-delusions, fabrications, etc. to the point where it just seems utterly incredible that people like that are able to function on any other level. What I am looking for is a rational approach to dealing with the irrationality itself. We could debate whether such people are mentally ill, for instance, but what I want to know is if any of you have any good lessons from experience, or knowledge from psychology studies (for instance) that point to a route for debating such people, for finding some way through their armour of nonsense and give them a glimpse of how stupid the things they really believe are and how stupid their responses to criticisms are.

In recent years I have corresonded with someone who believes not just ONE crazy thing they won't budge on, but the following combination: that evolution is false (for humans, but not other animals), that extra-terrestrials created life on earth, that astrology is true, that global warming is false, that global warming is fabricated by a world-wide conspiracy of scientists in the service of authoritarian governments, that the Yeti exists, that passive smoking bolsters childrens' immune systems...etc. etc. etc.. (this is not an exhaustive list)

It's not that this person, let's call him T., believes ONE of these things, but the whole combination - and a whole lot besides I don't have the time to list here. T. comes from a secular middle class English family and professionally he is a chemical engineer with a degree from a good UK university. Some of his behaviours are clearly correlated with his beliefs. For example, the claims about global warming and smoking are probably related to the fact he works for oil companies and smokes. But the other stuff?

In debates T. will frequently cite "evidence" from right-wing journalists (e.g. Christopher Booker from the Telegraph - guy who can't tell the difference between asbestos and talcum powder), astrologers, propagandists (Marc Morano) or sources he doesn't even know the origins of. At one point, he found a quote from a biologist that he misconstrued as implying that neanderthals and humans weren't related. I contacted the biologist, who confirmed this was a false interpretation of the quote in question. On hearing this, T. failed to see that this counted against his concept of "evidence". Despite his education, T. has demonstrated both ignorance of and disdain for the peer-review process by which science is published, and has outrightly ignored all the articles I have sent him about everything from smoking to the genetics of evolution, except in those cases where he has read portions of the texts, misunderstood them (on purpose or not) and then tried to say that the evidence lies in favour of his beliefs.

Many of T.'s beliefs are drawn from online sources, usually peddled by a small number of people who portray themselves as alternative knowledge gurus, e.g. Lloyd Pye. It is clear that T. looks for what look like authority figures who can give him a sense of belonging to a small community of alternative truth-seeking upholders of morality, who believe they will ultimately defeat the mainstream conspiracy to curtail people's freedoms of lock down the public's minds. Many of T.'s sources are "lecturers" in the sense that they tell him "how things are" in online presentations. (I realise that much of this sounds like T. is essentially religious, and I think in a broad sense he is. However, he rejects the mainstream religions as "misinterpretations" of ancient literature - such as Sumerian myths - because he believes them instead to be historical accounts of extra-terrestrial - rather than divine - intervention.)

To return to my original question:
Do any of you know of effective strategies for dealing with people like T.? He is encased in nonsense, and I would like to make progress with him on at least one of his beliefs, I don't care which. What is the best way of proceeding?
I have in the past tried to be patient, but often I have failed.
I know, for example, that people rescued from cults are sometimes subjected to a 'deprogramming' procedure. Is there anything of the sort, or that has similar effects, that one can apply to people like T.?

Finally, T. has severely shaken my belief in human beings. I knew already of the crazy and irrational excesses of religion, cults and various forms of denial. But to find someone who is this badly affected and who so staunchly denies so many aspects of basic reality is really disheartening. How can we hope for a brighter, more rational or moral future when humans are liable to become so totally stupefied?

Any help would be very much appreciated.
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#2  Postby paceetrate » Jul 18, 2010 3:54 am

Woocache wrote:
To return to my original question:
Do any of you know of effective strategies for dealing with people like T.? He is encased in nonsense, and I would like to make progress with him on at least one of his beliefs, I don't care which. What is the best way of proceeding?
I have in the past tried to be patient, but often I have failed.
I know, for example, that people rescued from cults are sometimes subjected to a 'deprogramming' procedure. Is there anything of the sort, or that has similar effects, that one can apply to people like T.?



How do you deal with someone like that?

You don't.

I know you said you didn't want to hear answers like that, but too bad, because they're the right answers. You can't make him change his mind. You've already done what you can for him, you've lead him to water, but you can't make him drink. It don't work like that. Either he'll untwist his fucked up brain on his own eventually, or he'll go to his grave with his delusions. Anything you do is just going to be twisted by him to support his delusions. You can't help people like him.

Finally, T. has severely shaken my belief in human beings. I knew already of the crazy and irrational excesses of religion, cults and various forms of denial. But to find someone who is this badly affected and who so staunchly denies so many aspects of basic reality is really disheartening. How can we hope for a brighter, more rational or moral future when humans are liable to become so totally stupefied?

Support the teaching of critical thinking in schools. You have to get them young.
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#3  Postby Thommo » Jul 18, 2010 4:03 am

If reason doesn't persuade someone, then what will? I dunno maybe you could threaten or torture him?

If he's not willing to listen to reason, there aren't a whole lot of options beyond the ones you don't want to hear, methinks.
jamest wrote:Taken as a whole, I've talked quite a lot of bollocks.
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#4  Postby tuco » Jul 18, 2010 4:20 am

Are you paid for dealing with them/him?

In my line of work I deal with people who could be classified as such and basically I try to deal with them as I deal with any other people, just have to exercise more empathy, understanding, tolerance, respect and patience - like when dealing with children for example -, than usual. The difference is that they are not children and I try not to impose on them nor command and control them as such.

Otherwise, whether you like it or not, if you are not paid for it I am not sure what makes it your job to deal with them, and I think they should be left alone. It is not a simplistic reply. Live and let live is a world view.

We have related proverbs: Kdo chce kam, pomozme mu tam which translates as something like : Wherever one wants, help her/him there, and Komu není rady, tomu není pomoci which translates as something like: Who does not listen to advices, cannot be helped.
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#5  Postby veniqe » Jul 18, 2010 4:25 am

Thommo wrote:If reason doesn't persuade someone, then what will? I dunno maybe you could threaten or torture him?

:lol:
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#6  Postby Mr.Samsa » Jul 18, 2010 4:44 am

This seems relevant:

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Sorry I have no advice though. You can't reason someone out of a position that they didn't reason themselves into. :dunno:
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#7  Postby byofrcs » Jul 18, 2010 5:28 am

Woocache wrote:Hi everybody.

My general question is this, but read on afterward for more details:

What is the best way of dealing with extremely irrational people?

.....


You laugh, and laugh. They are low-cost amusement. Of course it is possible that they are laughing at you too as they know that any crackpot theory makes you go ape and so they troll the internetz collecting whatever dumb idea is out there and then tell you they believe it.
In America the battle is between common cents distorted by profits and common sense distorted by prophets.
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#8  Postby Woocache » Jul 18, 2010 12:28 pm

Okay, so I just keep hearing from everyone that in all probability there's nothing you can do (short of torture!). Now, asbyofrcs suggested, the possibility that he's taking the mickey out of me also exists, but I really doubt it. My dialogue with this guy has been going on for 3 years and has spanned some pretty huge email exchanges, something such a joke just wouldn't be worth for him.

Some of you have suggested I "live and let live" (or similar). Now, I recognise the guy's right to believe in whatever he wants. I'm not suggesting people should be forcefully "corrected". And, to clarify, I'm not being paid to convince this guy of anything. But on a personal level I just feel like a failure for two reasons:

1. Obviously I have failed to persuade him that reality is both very different to how he imagines it to be, and that, in fact, it's far more wonderful than he believes it to be.

2. If humanity comprises of people such as T. I can't convince myself it is worthwhile campaigning to save them from the problems they themselves deny. Humanity is already a dreadfully destructive force on the planet. If they're going to by like T., why bother trying to do anything for them? Why would I try to persuade T. that global warming is a real threat? Even in the extremely unlikely event of his accepting my view and acting against global warming from that point on, he's only going to have children and passive-smoke them to death, or fill their heads with pseudo-religious bull.

I know all about the institutionalised stupidity that is religion, about global warming denialists and all the rest. But this guy is a supposedly well-educated native English chemical engineer. If he's as bad as he is, what hope is there for anything? I just can't help seeing this as a terrible failure of our species. And with such people we're going to be a terrible, destructive, irrational species. Either we can get them out of their delusions, or there is no hope.

Am I wrong?
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#9  Postby Woocache » Jul 18, 2010 12:31 pm

Thanks to Mr Samsa for the pic, btw. Spot on.
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#10  Postby NineOneFour » Jul 18, 2010 12:57 pm

paceetrate wrote:
Woocache wrote:
To return to my original question:
Do any of you know of effective strategies for dealing with people like T.? He is encased in nonsense, and I would like to make progress with him on at least one of his beliefs, I don't care which. What is the best way of proceeding?
I have in the past tried to be patient, but often I have failed.
I know, for example, that people rescued from cults are sometimes subjected to a 'deprogramming' procedure. Is there anything of the sort, or that has similar effects, that one can apply to people like T.?



How do you deal with someone like that?

You don't.

I know you said you didn't want to hear answers like that, but too bad, because they're the right answers. You can't make him change his mind. You've already done what you can for him, you've lead him to water, but you can't make him drink. It don't work like that. Either he'll untwist his fucked up brain on his own eventually, or he'll go to his grave with his delusions. Anything you do is just going to be twisted by him to support his delusions. You can't help people like him.

Finally, T. has severely shaken my belief in human beings. I knew already of the crazy and irrational excesses of religion, cults and various forms of denial. But to find someone who is this badly affected and who so staunchly denies so many aspects of basic reality is really disheartening. How can we hope for a brighter, more rational or moral future when humans are liable to become so totally stupefied?

Support the teaching of critical thinking in schools. You have to get them young.



Yeah, I tend to agree.

I had this friendly (no, really) debate on Facebook with this guy who's on fire for the Lord. He's nice enough, but he can't debate his way out of a paper bag.

First, he said I was angry at god.
I said, I'm not angry, I just don't think god exists at all. How can I be angry at something I don't think exists?
Then he said he hoped I'd find what I was searching for.
I said, I'm not searching for anything, I'm perfectly happy in my belief system.
Then he asked how I can have morality without the Bible and I responded by showing him how there are parts of the Bible that are not moral and parts of morality he has that are not from the Bible.
Then he told me how he was a party animal when he was younger and he was given a card by a street preacher which had Isaiah 53:5 on it and that converted him and wonderful things started happening to him.
I said that's great, but when I became an atheist is when my life turned around, and sometimes it just takes maturity in general. And then I proceeded to debunk Isaiah 53 using Christian sources.
Instead of responding to any of this, he then asked about the Shroud of Turin, which I demolished.

Notice that he never acknowledged once any of my arguments, but moved the goalposts every single time.

I have debates with Conservative Republicans quite a bit. They are wholly irrational.

Seriously, you can't debate people who do not subscribe to critical thinking or reason and who base their assumptions and beliefs on irrationality.

It's best to just leave them the fuck alone.
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#11  Postby alienpresence » Jul 18, 2010 1:02 pm

Does it really matter? They sound completely normal to me. Much like most people think nowadays, even politicians. Science will fail soon and civilization collapse to dust & rubble. :think:
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#12  Postby NineOneFour » Jul 18, 2010 1:08 pm

alienpresence wrote:Does it really matter? They sound completely normal to me. Much like most people think nowadays, even politicians. Science will fail soon and civilization collapse to dust & rubble. :think:


Or not.
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#13  Postby Thommo » Jul 18, 2010 1:15 pm

Don't worry, if people really suck that hard then we'll go extinct and no doubt in time some other animal (maybe ants? Ants are very cool) will evolve into a new dominant species and have their turn. No biggie. :dunno:
jamest wrote:Taken as a whole, I've talked quite a lot of bollocks.
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#14  Postby mindyourmind » Jul 18, 2010 1:22 pm

Pray for them :naughty2:
So the reason why God created the universe, including millions of years of human and animal suffering, and the extinction of entire species, is so that some humans who have passed his test can be with him forever. I see.
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#15  Postby alienpresence » Jul 18, 2010 1:55 pm

Thommo wrote:Don't worry, if people really suck that hard then we'll go extinct and no doubt in time some other animal (maybe ants? Ants are very cool) will evolve into a new dominant species and have their turn. No biggie. :dunno:


Enough said, we're doomed? :popcorn:
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#16  Postby paceetrate » Jul 18, 2010 4:43 pm

Woocache wrote:Either we can get them out of their delusions, or there is no hope.


Or we get their children while they're still not entirely brainwashed, and wait for the old farts to croak. :P

Seriously, kids learn more from their peers and teachers in school than most realize. And they tend to care more about what their peers think than what their parents think. That's not usually a good thing, but in this case, it can be.
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#17  Postby Woocache » Jul 18, 2010 8:28 pm

I agree that educating children is a noble goal. But, unfortunately, I don't think it's as simple as that. I think, unfortunately, the complex world we find ourselves makes various demands on us, even on an existential level. We yearn for meaning, and in what we perceive to be a materialistic cosmos, meaning is hard to discern for some people. Worse still, they might not even be aware of it.

The example of the irrational person I mentioned above, T., follows this very closely. He is clearly 'lost' without his gurus, psychics, and 'alternative knowledge' peddlers - authority figures who can do the interpreting for him. The problem, as far as I see, did not occur in school. He fell into an ideological crack somewhere. Something, perhaps on an unsconcsious level, makes him want to seek the same pattern out: he wants someone to tell him the 'secrets' of how the world really is (exclusive access to knowledge), promise him that he can belong to a moral vanguard of 'truth-seekers', and so on. It's all very self-serving and quasi-religious, but it's not because he was brainwashed at school age. It's because he never found his place in the world, which seems very confusing and hostile to him (at least that's my guess), particularly when he's told that smoking and burning fossil fuels are immoral/dangerous. He clearly has a strange relationship to authority. On the one hand, he rejects it when it comes from 'mainstream' science because it tries to curtail his freedom, on the other hand he hands that freedom straight over to bullshit merchants who promise him freedom from the tyranny of authoritarian society. How does a person slip into such a mental state? I can't believe it's schooling only. That to me seems too simplistic. It can only be one factor.

Another example I can think of is Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome Project. He famously converted to Christianity in adult life (if I recall correctly, he saw three frozen waterfalls and was instantly convinced him the Trinity is real... or something). That is not a failure of his schooling. That is a failure of an adult to engage with reality on an existential level and come to terms with it without reaching out to an imaginary omnipotent father figure to help him through life. How does that happen?
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#18  Postby Woocache » Jul 18, 2010 11:52 pm

I found this. Thought it might go down well round here:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4n-UGQcG3Jw[/youtube]
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#19  Postby paceetrate » Jul 19, 2010 2:37 am

Woocache wrote:
-snip-
Another example I can think of is Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome Project. He famously converted to Christianity in adult life (if I recall correctly, he saw three frozen waterfalls and was instantly convinced him the Trinity is real... or something). That is not a failure of his schooling.

Yes, it is a failure of his schooling. It's one thing to be taught that "Critical thinking is what you do in a science lab." It's another thing entirely to have the teacher give you the proverbial smack upside the head with "You need to be critical of your cherished beliefs too. You can't compartmentalize them. If they can't hold their own, you have to pitch them, just like you would a scientific hypothesis. Beliefs are not things to be cherished in the first place."

Critical thought is not something that most people just instinctively do. You have to be taught it. And right now, the US education system royally sucks at it. Last time I was in school, science was rote memorization and the occasional "let's see what we can dig outta the pond!" trip.

That is a failure of an adult to engage with reality on an existential level and come to terms with it without reaching out to an imaginary omnipotent father figure to help him through life. How does that happen?

Uh what? Collins converted because he saw a waterfall frozen in three stages, was overwhelmed by it's beauty, and went "OMG, ONLY GOD COULD DO THAT!" Because.... he doesn't THINK outside a lab, apparently.

I have to wonder what his reasons for not believing in the first place were. Because it's been my experience that non-believers who convert for whatever reason, usually were non-believers for BAD reasons to begin with. If you rationally reasoned your way to atheism, it requires a rational reason to get you to change you mind. And since religion is pretty irrational, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for those types to convert. On the other hand, if you were an atheist for emotional reasons, all you need is an emotional reason to convert. And religion has tons of those. It's about the only thing they DO have. And it's not taught, pretty much ANYWHERE mainstream, that emotional reasons are not good enough for such hefty things. And so, we come back to education.
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Re: How to deal with TOTALLY irrational people?

#20  Postby Woocache » Jul 19, 2010 4:50 am

I agree, but only in part. I agree that education is of tremendous importance to how an individual grows up to think. As I said before, it is a factor, but not the only one.

Firstly, if 'emotional reasons' swayed people from atheism to religion, simply because their atheism was based on 'emotional reasons' to begin with, that doesn't explain why they don't sway back to atheism very often. The idea that religion has many emotional reasons ("tons" of them), doesn't explain it on its own, unless you're willing to assume that all of religion's emotionally appealing aspects are equivalent and that it's locked in battle with atheism on a purely statistical level; more reasons, more converts. I think that's overly simplistic.

I do agree that people are most often religious for 'emotional reasons' and that in part this is attributable to educational failure. But I don't think you can educate people into becoming purely rational beings, starting from childhood or otherwise. Just as humans have evolved critical faculties, they have also - like it or not - evolved an emotional side which I don't think is easily suppressed merely by education. There are countless examples of children whose lives have been ruined by parents eager to push them to their limits in mathematics, chess or whatever other forms of logical thinking you can mention. Complete indulgence and perfect instruction in rational thought does not satisfy the irrational side of us that longs for meaning, for a sense of belonging and other emotional requirements. Consider, for example, that many people do completely self-destructive things after bad parenting ruins their childhood. Many turn to drugs, develop eating disorders or gambling addictions - all sorts of things. These do not result from educational failure, so much as emotional failure. It is clearly an error to allege that the reason someone has become a drug addict, or that they have developed some mental problem, is that they weren't taught well enough to rationally evaluate the dangers of drug use of or of compulsively throwing up after each meal. In such things education can only go so far.

In fact, the idea that humans are inherently irrational at least in part, and that this cannot be overcome is the subject of innumerable commentaries as a recognised fact. Take Spock in Star Trek (or later Data in Next Generation). The very purpose of those characters is to underline that their take on human nature is limited because they can only understand the world in rational terms; they are incapable of fathoming the irrational side of human existence, which is necessarily a part of humans. Spock and Data were not simply examples of what a human would be like if he/she was perfectly educated. The point is they were not human in full. The same theme recurs in innumerable other formats - just look at every film pitching humankind versus machines (Terminator, The Matrix, AI...).

What I think religion does is prey (no pun intended) upon humans' irrational sides, which, sadly, we are unable to purge from our systems. (Freud also recognised this.) Our capacities to operate successfully in life are greatly aided by rationality and logic, and in that context irrationality may be seen as a hindrance. But nonetheless, that irrationality needs sating. In the case of Francis Collins, he is clearly sufficiently well versed in rational thinking that he should have no problems dismissing religious propositions as the nonsense they are. Yet he does not. The same is true of the person I mentioned at the start of this thread, T., a chemical engineer. As I mentioned above, T. actively seeks nonsense (e.g. astrology) and charismatic father figures who can interpret the world for him. This is essentially because his irrational need to feel 'at home' or 'comfortable' with the reality of his existence and its nature is not satisfied by rational analysis, and also because science looks like a bewildering complex mixture of facts, figures, graphs and alienating expertise. It's not enough that T. was taught science, it's that he's alienated from it and its implications on a personal level; it doesn't give him the meaning his irrational side yearns for. This, I think, is fundamentally why he requires the comfort of superstition. Francis Collins may be the same. Part of the problem is that people are not often aware that this is how things are for them.

For example, take a look at T.'s obsession with finding people online who promise him that if he believes in what they say, he can claim to belong to a renegade vanguard group of moral truth-seekers able to recognise that everyone else is being deceived (e.g. by evolution, or by global warming 'propaganda'). T. has the ability to analyze the claims he's buying into and evaluate their worth, just as he is able to evaluate the pros/cons of buying a new or used car, or a toaster oven, or which of two job offers to accept, or how to plan his day to accomplish various tasks. When it comes to skepticism, he has that in abundance too, it's just misguided. He will happily assert that many mainstream views are insufficiently well evidenced, whilst believing nonsense himself. He doesn't lack the tools education would give him (or at least only a few); what he really lacks is emotional satisfaction in life, access to someone he can admire, a sense of belonging, affirmation of his worldview - all of which could have come from various places in his life.

I should reiterate that I support wholeheartedly the idea that science education is extremely important and is failing children. But I don't think even at its optimum it would prevent people from adopting stupid, irrational or religious beliefs for the reasons mentioned above.

I'll stop here. I think I've made my point and I shouldn't make the post any longer.
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