I like converting people to my ways. Yeah, so what? You do too. You know, converting people to my brand of car, my kind of computer, my political perspective, my favorite restaurants. I like it when people I care about appreciate and understand things that I appreciate and understand. It just feels so good. Iʼm not qualiﬁed to discuss the psychology behind it, I just know itʼs true. To take it to another level, I also like being converted to other ways, ways that are better than my own. That also feels pretty good, because it feels like Iʼm growing and moving forward. I guess the whole point of any conversion is that one is changing from something to something thatʼs better, or at least, something that is perceived to be better.
Iʼve been fairly successful at this conversion business, you should know. How? Itʼs simple; I employ manipulation. Does that sound dirty? It shouldnʼt; we manipulate each other all day, every day, and we certainly donʼt make any apologies for doing so. Sometimes itʼs as simple as letting a friend drive my car. In the driverʼs seat, they can easily have their own "A-Ha!" experience. Maybe they utterly hated my brand of car yesterday, but if they can feel it and experience it for themselves, and recognize that itʼs better; game over. Better still, by leaving their ego intact, they were able to come to the realization on their own. I just gave them the brochure, spec sheet, ﬁrsthand experience, and supportive evidence on why I believe itʼs a better car. Plus, they put a little stock into what my opinions are anyway.
Yet, as skeptics, rationalists, freethinkers, whatever, we tend to forgo this method and replace it instead with IN YOUR FACE (IYF) fact spewing. Sometimes itʼs easy to get our jollies by chuckling at the psychic patrons, gawking at homeopathic...um, "patients", and belittling avid horoscope readers. Though we canʼt forget that some of these comically misled people are people we care about, and that we would love nothing more than to rid them of these sometimes funny, sometimes dangerous, always delusional beliefs. My car... our car, is better. They just havenʼt driven it yet.
Skeptical manipulation is an interesting notion because all it really means to do is manipulate people to think for themselves. The IYF method is meant to force someone into a corner, turn up the volume, and accept the facts. They will then change their mind, and see things the way you do. Right, but even if you pulverize your target with unquestionable evidence and facts, the root problem of lack of independent thought still remains. Not to mention, your target is now in total lockdown defense mode, and is just about impervious to rationale.
I recognize that itʼs quite a tall order to have someone rewired for critical thought, though I know it can be done. The only other option is to relentlessly stalk your friends and family, wait for them to make irrational decisions, and pounce on them with your arsenal of good sense. I could only see that working if you had a cape, tights, and a really groovy super-name. Something like, "The Amazing..." oh yeah, that position is occupied. Fortunately, sans tights.
"So," you might ask, "how do I begin said manipulation?" Well, Iʼm going to ﬁrst presume that your "reason candidate", letʼs say itʼs your brother, already thinks highly of you, and vice versa. That is an undervalued and very essential ingredient. If someone doesnʼt at least respect you, well, good luck working on them. It isnʼt impossible but, sweet ﬁctional jesus, itʼs difﬁcult. Next, I need you to do something that is going to feel absolutely yucky: Sympathize.
Your brother is nipple-deep in astrology, and you can see him sinking deeper by the week. Heʼs even begun calling you with your weekly warnings to heed. Oh, crap. Itʼs becoming part of who he is, and it kills you to see him making real decisions based on the malarkey he reads in his horoscope. Youʼve tried reasoning with him, youʼve tried explaining the basics of astronomy and how it completely blows any astrological claims right out of the water stars. Youʼve tried to convince him to test the predictions of Taurus vs. Capricorn and see if one is more accurate than the other. Sadly, nothing works. He is completely complacent in the knowledge that he is making life changes based on some stoogeʼs mystical paragraph in the newspaper.
Youʼre now becoming frustrated, a little angry, but mostly sad. You love your incorrigible brother but heʼs just not listening to you. A feeling of absolute helplessness washes over as you realize you can predict every one of his pseudoscientiﬁc retorts to your arguments.
Well, it might be time to release the hounds; try letting the best of the best do some of the legwork for you. So, why not start out by sending your bro some Cosmos clips? Who better than Carl Sagan to elaborate on the problems of astrology? Maybe this will encourage him to ask you some questions, and thereby open the door of reason just a tiny crack. Take this opportunity to sympathize with his belief system, let him know that it isnʼt embarrassing or reprehensible of him to have bought into astrology. Fun though it may be, donʼt poke fun at the sucker for being part of this crime. Crime? Astrology?! Yes, crime. The crime against his life, the crime of making delusional decisions that affect his future. Heʼs been misled and misinformed. Continue ﬁnding ways to open the crack a little wider, so more light can shine on this topic. Donʼt give up on him until he has had his "A-HA!" moment in the driverʼs seat.
Then you can rub it all in his face a little bit. Ok no, bad. Thatʼs bad.
Itʼs not just Astrology of course. It can be tarot cards, talking to the dead, religion, reiki, spiritual healing, fad diets, it doesnʼt matter. All of these are things that some people take very seriously. Appropriately, the issue must be handled with a palpable degree of respect and delicacy. Iʼm not asking you to have respect for the religion itself (donʼt worry, disrespecting religion isnʼt hard for me either), but respect for the person you love. If you donʼt have a respectful foundation, you really canʼt make any headway. Such has been my experience, anyway.
You should feel obligated to manipulate the bejesus out of those you care about in order to save them from harming themselves in any way. Does this sound a little like religious militance? Maybe a little, but Iʼm conﬁdent you can smell the difference. Iʼm not asking you to proselytize, Iʼm only asking that you help when you can. I know some of you are going to say that sometimes itʼs best to let people try, fail, and learn from their mistakes. While I can understand that, we arenʼt talking about roller-skating without shin-pads, weʼre talking about the risk of developing lifelong delusional and destructive habits. Donʼt shatter strong relationships over it, but donʼt stand idly by either. This is dangerous stuff and these people deserve your efforts and energy. Donʼt give up on them.
Keep your car of reason bright, shiny and clean. You never know when someone near and dear will be ready to go for a drive.
Brian Govatos is a Mac consultant by day and a dedicated volunteer for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science by night. He employs "new media" to help spread the good word of reason and independent thought to the masses. His website (theproudatheist.com) is intended to help non-believers boldly advertise their freedom from faith.
Brian is involved in skeptical groups in the Las Vegas, NV area including Las Vegas Atheists and Skeptics in the Pub. He's 22 and currently enjoys the much coveted Las Vegas bachelor life rich in prostitution, swingers, drugs, and jackpots... or so he would have you believe.