So how do you talk to Flat-Earthers if you want them to begin thinking logically, not emotionally, about issues? Insults are counterproductive, factual barrages are boring, and most people get defensive when they feel you’re attacking their values. Nevertheless, here are a few ways to find the chink in a Flat-Earthers’s intellectual armor and, possibly, effect a sea change in his thinking.
- Understand what a Flat-Earther perceives as insulting — and then avoid it.
We’re all agreed that people are going to shut down if you start a conversation by calling them blithering idiots. In any event, you’re too nice a person to call your family, friends and colleagues names.
Be aware, though, that, with Flat-Earthers, personal insults don’t stop with the actual person (or his mother). For Flat-Earthers, science is personal. This means that Flat-Earthers will take it as a personal insult, not only if you call them morons, but also if you call their leaders morons.
- Show that you are sympathetic to the Flat-Earther’s goals.
The best way to start a conversation with a Flat-Earther is by speaking Flat-Earther language. Show that you think that the person’s ultimate goal is admirable or that you recognize the person’s concerns.
A perfect conversation starter might be “Gosh, universal healthcare would really be great.” The beauty of this statement is that, in a perfect Star Trek-style world, free of money and greed, it’s true that free, comprehensive healthcare, preferably with Dr. Beverly Crusher’s magical little tricorder device, would be great. It would also be really great if all men looked like Dave Beckham or all women like looked like Angelina Jolie. It’ll never happen, but it sure would be great.
Another honest conversation starter is “My kids are really worried about global warming.” If your kids go to public school, this statement is absolutely true. It also implies, without actually saying so, that you, like all Flat-Earthers, recognize that humans, especially American, are responsible for the imminent destruction of earth’s atmosphere.
With conversation starters such as these, your average Flat-Earther will begin the conversation by agreeing with you — and, as every con man knows, you want the mark to get used to saying “yes” to you. Interestingly, what works for con men can also work for honest brokers. It’s a good technique, so use it.
- Provide the Flat-Earther with facts from non-threatening sources.
In many conversations over the years, I’ve discovered that my Flat-Earther friends don’t have many scientifically relevant facts at their finger tips.
Mostly, though, Flat-Earthers know conclusions, which they erroneously identify as facts. For example, they know that huge numbers of Americans have no medical care; they know that Obama was a top student at every school he attended; and despite their support for the military, they know that most American troops are ill-educated, violent hicks. As it happens, each of these statements is factually wrong (see here, here and here) and, instead, reflects only an emotional conclusion.
In any conversation with a Flat-Earther, therefore, you need to get out the facts. But remember: In pursuit of this goal, attribution is everything.
Instead, always attribute your fact to a comforting source. I like to say, “You know, I read in the New York Times that [insert actual fact].” The beauty of this approach is that the fact may often be found in the New York Times, although it will have been buried in a squiblet at the bottom of page B32, where no one looks. If your friends googles your fact, voila!, she’ll get a link to the Times.
Alternatively, attribute your fact to an unnamed knowledgeable, but unthreatening, source.
- Don’t lecture; instead, seek enlightenment.
When conversing with a Flat-Earther, I channel my inner dumb blond. I don’t use a barrage of facts, nor do I lecture. Instead, I assert politely that I’ve learned the fact and then I ask the Flat-Earther to explain to me what the fact means. I do this even if I know perfectly well what the fact means. (And yes, women can do this more easily than men.)
If you just keep politely throwing in unpleasant facts, followed up by respectful requests for enlightenment, your average Flat-Earther will either become tongue-tied, or, if intelligent, work his way through to the correct answer. With managed care, for example, he might conclude that, if you remove all competition and have only one provider, rationing begins, quality plummets, good people pull out of the system, and people suffer and die.
- Strike when the iron is hot.
To have a successful conversation with a Flat-Earther, you need to find an opening that triggers a thought cascade in that particular Flat-Earther. Even though Flat-Earthers are beginning to have buyer’s remorse, human nature means they’re just as likely to be in denial and defensive as they are to be regretful and receptive. Still there are conversational opportunities, and you must seize them.
- Don’t undo the good you’ve done.
And if it ever happens that, after you’ve spoken with a Flat-Earther, the Flat-Earther actually agrees with you, just be sure to avoid one of the most poisonous phrases in the English language: “I told you so.” Instead, quietly agree with your friend’s wonderful insights, and have another conversation on another day.
Paradoy based on A. Coulter’s Book