Colin is currently on the ConspiraSea Cruise doing research for a book on irrational beliefs. He is emailing summaries of each day’s experiences to me for posting here on Violent Metaphors. This is the third day’s report. You can find the first day’s report here, the second day’s report here, the fourth day’s report here, the fifth day’s report (part 1) here, day 5 (part 2) here , and an explanation for what he is doing here. If you would like to give him questions or advice, please comment on this post–I’ll make sure he sees it. –Jennifer
Today’s post will be relatively short, for a few reasons. Primarily it’s because even though I’m on a cruise ship, this is exhausting! Everything starts around 8 am and ends around 10 pm. The ship is full of amenities—bars, restaurants, minigolf, swimming pools, hot tubs, saunas, a library, coffee shops, massages, shopping, comedy shows, movie theaters, and god know what else. I don’t, because I haven’t used any of those things except a couple of restaurants, a coffee shop, and the treadmill. I’m not complaining, though, because the important stuff is here. I’m meeting fascinating people, and that’s not a euphemism. For the most part, the people here are pleasant and engaging and well worth getting to know.
So far my conversations with the other attendees have been, without exception, quite pleasant. We expected a lot of paranoia at a conspiracy theory conference, but it hasn’t been an issue. The only paranoid reaction I’ve seen so far came from outside the ship. Googling a man I met at dinner on the first day, I saw someone had posted a copy of my first update to his Facebook wall and asked, “What is this stalker doing on the cruise?” The idea that I’m a stalker cropped up on Twitter also. I think it’s fair to call that paranoia, given how careful we’ve been to be open and not disruptive. I publicly crowdfunded the ticket, wrote blog articles about my plans for the cruise, and communicated with the organizers a little bit prior to departure. I’ve also made sure to tell everyone who talks to me that I’m a skeptic, and passed out plenty of cards with URLs for this blog and my book. And other than my questions to Shrout, which I saved until after his talk was over, I haven’t done anything but sit and listen. (Well, other than loan a presentation remote to a couple of speakers who needed one.)
I was disappointed by my dinner companion’s response. Rather than explaining any of this to his correspondent, he responded that he would “be sure to let everyone else know what [I] was up to.” It’s odd that he would think he needs to do that, since he heard me explain myself on the very first day and has watched me in multiple sessions since then listening civilly and politely. I even helped him fix some of Sherri Tenpenny’s AV issues with an adapter I carry in my bag, and loaned my presentation remote to another speaker. (I give a lot of presentations for work, and carry the basics in my briefcase.) His correspondent on Facebook doesn’t know that. She hears that he’s going to “personally engage” me and it validates her fear that I’m stalking the participants. The result is more paranoia and less understanding.
Meanwhile, discussions with the other attendees are going swimmingly. As I said earlier, I won’t identify anyone unless they’re a public figure or have given me permission. Broadly, I’ve had some wonderful conversations with people I’d never get to meet otherwise. The context of the conference encourages these little talks, and helps us discuss even very polarizing subjects (vaccines, religion, politics, etc.) in a laid back and productive way. One woman told me that she could read the energy from a photograph of my dog that I carry around, and could tell that Alu’s a beloved and happy pup; I don’t believe in energy readings, but so what? She was right. And she was sweet and kind. Similarly, I spent a little time with Laura Eisenhower the other day. I still find her beliefs incomprehensible, but she herself struck me as a caring and lovely woman.
Tonight I had dinner with a gentleman who’s a big believer in Zecharia Sitchin‘s work on Nibiru, and a fan of one of the pseudolegal “scholars” I criticized in my last piece. (For a fantastic discussion of this subject from the perspective of an astronomer, check out the Exposing PseudoAstronomy series on Planet X, starting here–Jennifer). We had a very pleasant conversation about both of those things, including why we disagree. Our beliefs on science, religion, and politics appear to be diametrically opposite. Neither one of us is likely to ever persuade the other on those fronts. Yet we had a fun time, a relaxed conversation, and said good night as friends.
As I’ve said before, that’s the point of this project. Certainly I want to learn more about conspiracy theorists and irrational ideas, but it’s also to do some good in the world by pushing back against harmful and false ideologies. Stalking people and being disruptive is no way to accomplish either goal. Forming relationships, even temporary ones, is. We aren’t going to interfere with the messages on display here, even the horribly misguided ones like Shrout’s. I want people to meet a skeptic and realize that we’re decent people, and that we realize they can be decent people too.
If I have any worries about the conspiracy theorists on board, it’s that they understand that sympathetic skeptics are bad for business. It’s possible that demonizing us will seem like a good strategy for deepening the divide—and the divide is an important part of protecting the conspiracy theory community from facts that threaten their beliefs. Fear is the primary message on display here: be afraid of vaccines, be afraid of GMOs, be afraid of science, be afraid of the government, be afraid of aliens, be afraid of lawyers, and be afraid of skeptics. I’ll be very happy with my progress this week if just my dinner companions go home understanding that the last is nothing to be afraid of; it’s the first step to resolving their fears about the rest.