Subversive Action

Ways and means of promoting skepticism
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Mad Dan Eccles
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Subversive Action

Postby Mad Dan Eccles » Thu Aug 25, 2011 9:12 pm

What I am about to say is controversial. But hey, this is a forum - feel free to debate my ethical stance - you will anyway. Besides, it's not like I'm suggesting we should all rush out and kill everybody who has the wrong kind of skin (except Reptoids, obviously - but even New Agers hate them, so they must be horrible!).

Once upon a time, UFOs were taken pretty seriously. The basic idea of impossibly advanced flying machines zipping around in our atmosphere because space-aliens are here and are observing us is not, in itself, intrinsically stupid. There's no scientific reason why this couldn't be happening; it just isn't very likely (and even that is a guess - maybe it's very likely indeed). It only became ridiculous when, firstly, the ratio of sightings to actual proof became so high that even the believers had to invent a massive government conspiracy to somehow cover it all up, which is about as plausible as stone-age tribal chiefs in Papua New Guinea agreeing to con their people into thinking that the outside world doesn't exist, and actually pulling it off forever. Secondly, an uncomfortable amount of the evidence turned out to be blatantly fake. And thirdly, a lot of people who may or may not have been deliberately faking it as opposed to not altogether well began to report interaction with flying saucers that was just plain silly!

Look at Spiritualism, or spoon-bending, or crop circles, or anything like that. They go through a brief (in some cases, very brief indeed) phase of partial credibility. And ordinary, genuinely open-minded people get tremendously excited, because if this is for real, how amazing would that be? And then it turns out to be total BS, all reputable scientists lose interest, the media treats it as a joke because it is one, and almost everybody else drifts away, leaving only a rump of people who just want to believe in stuff, and almost all believe in pretty much everything that normal people don't. You'll never cure those guys - try having a logical debate with any of the one-note woo-merchants who inevitably infest this forum. It's not only futile, it's boring - my Latin is a little rusty, but I think the relevant quote was credo quod absurdum est. Tertullian, I believe.

Anyway, here's the thing. Ordinary, open-minded people - exactly the kind that the fanatics don't seem to believe exist because very few of them come to their coven clambakes - tend to give this nonsense the benefit of the doubt for a while, and then lose interest when it becomes totally obvious how untrue it is. And the people who stick with it even after that were always beyond help. So a good pro-active skeptical strategy might be to deliberately add to the nonsense by any means possible. Normal people will catch on sooner that it's nonsense, and any new loons who join because of that particular nonsense would almost certainly have joined anyway 5 minutes later for some equally daft reason.

I propose a hoax. Not for profit, or to knock any particular person or belief-system. Merely a website which, with a perfectly straight face, takes loopy ideas to their illogical conclusion. If done well, this would actually increase the amount of woo in the world. However, at the same time, and to a much greater degree, it would make all existing woo seem sillier by association. And if we're wrong, our punishment will be to ultimately look sillier than anyone. Which I don't consider to be all that probable. Win-win!

Let me give you an example. Many years ago, before the internet existed (however did we manage?), a good friend of mine, for reasons which remain a little vague because basically there weren't any, thought it might be fun to try and spread a rumour that a blatantly legendary creature was loose in Britain. As a minor celebrity, he had the power to do this, and sure enough, TV cameras duly showed up. The interesting thing was that, although he'd prepared several friends of his to come forward and claim to have seen it, before they could do so, assorted people who weren't in on the joke at all beat them to it just because there was a camera present! What a shame he didn't wait until the internet was up and running - it would have gone viral! Since the entire episode resulted in a horribly embarrassing loss of face for a D-list New Age author who has since gone on to become a C-list New Age author, it would be unfair of me to name names. Tell you what, though - google "Brentford Griffin" and see what you get.

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Re: Subversive Action

Postby xouper » Thu Aug 25, 2011 9:32 pm

Similar to this, but for woo instead of religion?

I would guess that what you are proposing could potentially be highly successful, based on the example you gave and also according to Poe's Law.

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Re: Subversive Action

Postby Gord » Fri Aug 26, 2011 4:12 am

Well, I'm going to have to check my high school yearbooks now, but I believe I went to school with a fellow named Brentford Griffin!
"Knowledge grows through infinite timelessness" -- the random fictional Deepak Chopra quote site
"You are also taking my words out of context." -- Justin
"Nullius in verba" -- The Royal Society ["take nobody's word for it"]

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