Some thoughts on fanatics and how to fight them.
I’ve always liked Churchill’s definition of a fanatic. “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Once you get past the witty aspect of the definition, there’s a deep truth in it too. They simply can’t change their mind.
I’ve seen a lot of debates in the blogosphere, where earnest attempts to show a fanatic not just a line of reasoning but the publicly documented facts about something, have failed utterly. They were never going to listen or be persuaded; they can’t change their minds. It’s as simple as that. Rational dialogue with them aimed at somehow converting them to your viewpoint is a losing strategy because it’s a waste of your time and does absolutely nothing to stop them anyway
There is also an insidious danger to this sort of interaction with them; you start to get imprinted by them. If you’re not careful, you soon start to take on the same fanatical traits that you’re fighting, which is an even worse outcome. If you look, you’ll see this has happened at some of the more combative blogs on global warming. If the point of blogging is to inform and persuade, then it’s readily apparent that such vicious gladiatorial displays will quickly alienate the average person. It’s for this reason and a lack of proper moderation, that so many once highly respected blogs, have become PR liabilities in the fight against eco-fascism.
So, if you can’t persuade them of anything, what does that leave? The answer is; you never did need to persuade them of anything and should never have even tried to in the first place. What you should be doing is persuading the average person that the fanatic is a fanatic. Any interactions you have with them, while nominally addressed to them, should always have the average sane person as the real intended recipient. I credit the common man with having common sense and while they may not be too bothered or interested in the latest subtle arguments, they can definitely spot a nutter, so it’s up to you to expose the fanatic as one. If you can do that, you’ve not only nullified the fanatic but you’ve also discredited whatever policies they’re advocating.
If you accept that as a workable strategy, then what are the tactics to be employed? There are many but they all rely on an understanding of your opponent. A fanatic’s real strength is that they’ll never give up, never rethink their position, are not proportionate and above all; don’t know when to stop. Their work is never done. Since this is their strength, it’s what you have to use against them, especially the “don’t know when to stop” bit.
Sometimes that’s as easy as just asking them to clarify whatever mania is driving them. They don’t think of themselves as excessive, so they simply don’t see a problem with expressing viewpoints or attitudes that the ordinary person quickly finds repulsive. The 10:10 video is an outstanding example of this.
Other times it’s just asking the right questions. The population control nutters always kick off with how they’re doing a greater good for humanity but just start asking a few questions. Who decides who can have a child? What happens if an unauthorised child is born? Will you introduce forced sterilisation? Will you introduce Euthanasia for the chronically ill, the elderly and the infirm? Will babies be aborted if they fail a genetic screening? What would count as a genetic fail? Is it only for the third world? I’ve asked these questions of fanatics with this particular mania and been stunned and repulsed with the candidness of the replies. I’ve no doubt that the casual reader of the exchanges was equally repulsed. Job done.
Another biggie you can always use is humour. Their belief is just too big and important to be laughed at. They rarely have much in the way of a sense of humour and absolutely none when it comes to their belief system. If you really want to see them lose it, this is your weapon of choice every time. A good example of this is the “won’t change the subject” bit of the quote above.
Any fanatic is potentially dangerous but it’s when they band together into a movement that they become truly dangerous. We have to fight them because if they ever get their way on whatever insane idea is driving them, then we’ll be the ones who’ll get hurt.
Related article: The death of the AGW belief system.