Bless Your Heart

Only God can save the conspiratorial

Photo by Joey Nicotra on Unsplash

I got into a bit of a Twitter war the other day. Well, no. That’s not accurate, I clarified a science point in thread form on Twitter and a few conspiracy minded bigots thought they could swarm me.* This is not terribly unusual. I’ve been swarmed before. In 2016 especially I was pretty regularly swarmed because I’m pro-democracy. Simple as that. So despite being autistic and therefore being a bit more susceptible to emotional barbs than you silly normies, I am somewhat inoculated as it were to the effects of a good Twitter bashing. It’s never pleasant and I don’t post controversial things to anger people; I post them because they’re factual.

*There were about 5 of them, so I don’t think that constitutes a, “swarm,” but … as you do.

But this is actually the problem. The conspiratorially minded are not available to be convinced. It does not matter what evidence you have, what reality dictates, what actual science dictates, or even how well you argue. They are not going to listen to you.

This is quite a long video, but he explains conspiratorial thought brilliantly and … well, there’s a tie in to a character from whom we will have a repeat appearance in a moment.

Throughout my 20s I had an idea in my head that the reason liberal voters tend to be better educated is that liberalism is the more factually driven and rational political ideology. My understanding was that a conservative voter is simply in want of empirical evidence. Because of various psychological and developmental issues specific to me that did cause me to genuinely believe that conservatives were probably rather lacking in intelligence, but I hope to explain the evolution of my perspective and well, given recent events especially, I wasn’t lacking in evidence to support this position.

But, that’s still a reductive and binary view of political ideology. If you were to pick an American conservative at random it is true that you would probably end up with an incurious, reactionary individual with a limited education. But this does not explain all American conservatives. And no, I’m not doing a hashtag “not all,” with this. There is a point. American conservatism is correlated to lack of education and limited access to factual information, but I’m no longer convinced that that’s a causative relationship.

I’ve explained in the past why economic hardship is also not indicative of ideological preference or leaning. It is also reductive to assume that a person’s economic position explains their ideology or that economic solutions will fix more complex social or hegemonic issues. But I’m not here to argue that today, I just need to point out that it’s another reductive approach to ideology.

What I’m coming to is the very thing I used to think to myself while arguing in circles with conservatives is what was rudely screamed in my face by angry white men supporting either Bernie Trump or Donald Sanders. (That was originally a typo, but I’m just going to leave it.) And that same subsection of people — angry privileged white people who considered themselves at political extremities — were the sort that ended up joining QAnon.

The very first time “oh but didn’t you know [questionable “fact”],” was more or less screamed at me during an argument I easily countered with actual verifiable information. Because that’s what I do. I had a few more conversations like that where I was able to “win” the “debate” with facts and that did reinforce my idea that the leftist position — the true far left which I had always occupied — was rationally unassailable. And I wasn’t wrong, I was just expecting that the perception of political ideologies wouldn’t become married to personalities. I wasn’t expecting populism.

But, these conversations — if we can call them that — escalated. In one conversation with a Sanders supporter I was derided for lying when I had stated fact. I then showed him proof and he sort of apologized, but he had already spent about an hour irrationally deriding me for “lying” when in fact all I had done was stated a fact that did not reinforce his own position.

As Sanders’ loss in the 2016 Democratic primaries became increasingly huge the conspiratorial nature of his “movement,” became obvious. Sanders lost caucus after primary trailing Hillary Clinton by millions of voters. Despite this, his followers insisted he was more “popular.” But if that were true, then he would have won. So then they insisted that the voters were following the will of the super delegates. But if that were true then Hillary Clinton would have won the 2008 primary. She did not. Then came the theory that superdelegates would switch their vote at the last minute denying Clinton the nomination and allowing for a floor fight at the Democratic National Convention. That was technically a possibility, but the problem with it is that Clinton had absolutely genuinely won a majority of the pledged delegates through winning a majority of Democratic voters votes. If super delegates had decided not to support her after that there would have been a revolt in the party. Sanders would not have won the nomination because the super delegates would be so pressured by the liberal base that they would have to return to supporting the popular choice — Hillary Clinton — by at least the second vote.

Instead of conceding the reality of the situation — that despite their efforts in the campaign their candidate had lost by several million votes — they instead insisted the election had been stolen from them via a conspiracy headed up by … mostly women and specifically women of colour.

There is a point at which you cannot continue arguing with a person because it is pointless. For the man who filmed the youtube video above his intersection with such people was “flat earth,” for me it’s usually the anti-vax movement. I did at the very beginning of this blog put together an insanely long article about how you could actually trust vaccinations. I included and debunked every argument I’d seen and included sources including links to accessible academic papers to ensure that people could get the information they needed to understand that — yes, actually — you should vaccinate your child and get vaccinated yourself, and — no, actually — it’s not even a little dangerous.

That article was an exercise in futility. I’m not entirely angry with myself for writing it, but anti-vaxxers are not going to read it for the same reason that flat-earthers won’t learn mathematics, Trump voters think Angela Merkel is related to Hitler, and transphobes wilfully misunderstood and continue to knowingly misstate my thread on biological sex as a spectrum.

They are not available to be convinced.

The facts do not support their opinion and are therefore false. And you having told them facts which do not agree with their conspiratorial narrative are evil and either must be saved or must be eliminated. You, the bringer of reality are a threat to their world view.

When I did my thread on biological sex not being strictly binary the reason I did it was sort of two-fold. 1) I’m REALLY tired of people making an unsupported and unscientific argument and insisting that it’s in fact “just science,” and 2) a cornerstone of transphobic bigotry is claiming “sex is real,” or insisting they’re just “gender critical,” and I wanted to dismantle that because it’s insulting.

I am pro-trans because of course I am, but the thread wasn’t actually explicitly about trans rights. I was mad about how Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — a known QAnon conspiracist who may have played an integral role in the January 6 terror attack on our Capitol — was trying to use science to defend her misrepresentation of and attack on Rep. Marie Newman who was really just doing her job. I mean, you could argue that Rep. Newman started it by putting up a transgender pride flag outside her office, but oh noes civil rights and basic human dignity!

There is a lot of anti-trans bigotry particularly on Twitter and it’s to a point, as I learned yesterday that they will put words like “adult human female,” or “I stand with JK Rowling,” in their bio to signal that they are anti-trans bigots. They’d probably use different words, but I just don’t have time for it at the moment. It’s therefore not terribly surprising that they were upset at me dismantling their one sort of valid argument. I mean, it’s still invalid because sex is not actually binary regardless of how you try to parse it or what categories you try to set up to erase intersex individuals and literally no one is actually arguing that sex isn’t real so it’s a bit moot to be on about that in the first place, but yeah there I was taking away their last shiny little toy.

But what did surprise me about the attempted swarm was two things. Firstly, many of the people who attacked me professed to be liberal or even Democrats and feminists. And secondly … I mean, I didn’t stutter. I appreciate that I brought reality and thrust it under the nose of the conspiratorially minded, but the acrobatics they went through to try to misunderstand what I had said was truly thrilling.

I was attacking a truly heinous member of the Republican Party who has called for the execution of Democrats and harassed survivors of mass shootings. I did absolutely expect any MAGA still on Twitter to try to come for me, but I genuinely didn’t expect avowed Democrats and feminists to decide that their bigotry was more important than their ideology. And that last was likely my biggest error here.

What I said in the thread if you don’t care to read it is from a morphological and skeletal perspective sex certainly exists, but on a spectrum which varies by population as opposed to a binary. I also pointed out that chromosomal sex and genital sex is with some regularity what we might call “intersex.” So I don’t necessarily know that what I would designate an individual classified as skeletally “indeterminate” to have been an intersex individual, but there’s clearly a spectrum to biological sex and trying to categorize sex as a binary is not useful from a scientific perspective.

You could make the argument that having binary sex is an easy shorthand for society, but that clearly hasn’t worked all that well meaning that yes, biological sex absolutely exists, but binary sex does not. Genuinely it did not occur to me how threatening that argument would be to transphobes. If your entire modus operandi and justification for bigotry had been an incorrect and unsupportable presupposition on the nature of a scientific fact then having that challenged by a person with the appropriate training and research to explain it is utterly terrifying. I accidently attacked the core belief in a system of bigotry and that is why they freaked out.

Several of them questioned my credentials. I’m used to that. Misogynists do it pretty much constantly. Some of them tried to pretend that I’d just misunderstood categorization. But no, the point is if you have more than two categories for something it’s not binary. Quite a few implied that I didn’t understand how sexual reproduction works and … sorry, but that one was just too ridiculous and pointless to further address.

But what really got me was the ones who tried to misstate my argument. I found more than a few quote tweets where they took a point from the thread and warped it such that it no longer was what I said and was also utterly ridiculous. And this part I found particularly galling because not only is it bad faith, but I cannot control another person’s wilful ignorance and I therefore don’t like being held responsible for it.

This, however, is how conspiratorial thinking works. I was not providing them with facts supporting their narrative. I was providing facts that dismantled their narrative. And because I did it in an unassailable way they needed to attack specifically me. They had to find a way to destroy the facts I brought forward even if that meant siding with deeply evil people like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and even if it meant finding the stupidest most foolish way to interpret the presented facts.

Facts are no match for conspiracy.

So, where does this leave us? To be honest, I’m not quite sure. Bigots are that way out of fear so presumably a big part of eliminating bigotry should be about showing the bigot or the conspiracy theorist that they are actually safe and do have a community that will accept them even after they’ve let their freak flag fly. But it’s clearly not that simple. What they’re fearful of isn’t actually being attacked in the bathroom as they might try to tell you. They’re afraid of loss of status. And this is why the vast majority of transphobes are white women.

Ages ago a now ex-friend did try to radicalize me. And she used feminism to do it. Women do not currently have equal rights. It sucks. It also sucks that we tried to pass the Equal Rights Amendment back in the 1970s and managed to get blocked by — wait for it — Phillis Schlafly the quintessential white woman. But the thing is, Schlafly blocked ERA for exactly the same reason that so many white women are now transphobes. Schlafly bought into white supremacy and a huge part of white supremacy is using white women as justification and means for persecuting BIPOC. Women’s equality would have eliminated the primary means of white supremacy’s hegemony. By eliminating women’s chance at equal rights Schlafly was protecting her status as a white woman which though not equal to white men is still more protected and exalted than that of BIPOC.

Transgender individuals would be allies to women simply because a rising tide lifts all boats. (And … well, to restate the motto, “trans women are women.”) So on its surface the entire idea of “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism,” is quite weird. How can you be a feminist if you don’t include trans people? And the answer is … you can’t. You cannot be a feminist and exclude trans people unless you have decided that they are not as human as you and their rights threaten your own. Again, the only system under which you can argue that another person’s humanity and civil and human rights threaten your own is white supremacy. And also again, white supremacy is directly threatened by and incompatible with feminism.

So, sadly, I do not have any great solutions here. I blundered into a situation where I further terrified a bunch of bigots and my goodness just wait until they find out I’m likely autistic. That should be an ablest swarm if there ever was one. But as best I can tell bigotry is closely wedded to conspiratorial thought. And this means very unfortunately that to cure a bigot you have to deprogram them. The Rolling Stones article I linked above did have a very quick explanation of how you might start to do that, but it is a long and personal process. It’s not something you can achieve on Twitter.

I ignored most of the bad faith attacks on that thread. I did try not to block, but in a few cases I did. And that’s unfortunate because the people I blocked are going to assume they’ve won and that the facts I presented were wrong. But even the ones I did not block are unlikely to be convinced by facts even if deep down in their heart they know that those facts are accurate.

So, I am sorry, but only God can save the conspiratorial.

Doctor of Palaeopathology, rage-prone optimist, stealth berserker, opera enthusiast, and insatiable consumer of academic journals.

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