Need to catch up? Part one is here!
#5: They get attached to the theory because it makes them part of a community.
This is another self-reinforcing aspect that makes theories of any kind particularly difficult to dislodge. As people get attached to theories, they also get attached to all the other people who believe in these theories. Believing in the theory then becomes a powerful marker of one's membership in a community of similar interests and values, and with that comes the significant social benefits of greater notice and promotion within a community (made all the more close-knit by marking those who do not believe as the out-group). Loudly supporting these shared beliefs and defending them becomes performative, to enhance one's status in the community and to reinforce social bonds. This also means that it's not enough to counter the theory with facts, because it's not just the facts that are convincing people, but a lot of social ...
But I don't want this to happen...
...So let's just not go there, shall we?
Aaaaaaanyway... where was I? Oh yeah:
#6: They counter actual facts with "rebuttals" that they haven't even tried to verify are true.
This is one of the telltale signs that someone's first priority is not "let me learn what's actually going on in this thing I care about" but rather "let me be right about this theory I have about the thing I care about." If someone were actually going about either of the above topics with an eye toward reality, one would investigate the facts behind their objection to a debunking. Neither of these theory defenders say "I had an interesting thought about regional costumes/vitamin A--I want to learn about how costumes differed over time and place/how much benefit vitamin A has compared to measles vaccination." What's more, they certainly don't say "Here is a counterexample showing how this objection I'm raising invalidates your debunking." Instead they just make an objection--"It's a regional difference!"/"It's a vitamin A deficiency!" and consider their work done, never mind meeting any burden of proof to validate their objections. (I hope I don't shock you when I point out that neither the regional costume theory nor the vitamin A theory holds up to the slightest bit of scrutiny.) The pattern here, in which the reality-based arguer is then expected to be the one to actually track down the facts behind the assertion, is considered a feature, not a bug.
#7: They'll throw whatever they can at you to maintain their pet theory at all costs
You'll notice that I haven't bolded any pull quotes on these two. That's because it just can't be done, as there's no actual point to either of them. They are just these stream of consciousness "but-but-but" where any defense that crosses the speaker's mind is immediately put forth, without any delay for what the reality-based community calls "making sense" or "developing a coherent argument." Both of these display brains in full-on defense mode, where the only goal is to defend the theory, and counter-arguments are batted back so quickly with whatever is on hand before the counter-argument actually sinks in or--heaven forbid--has a chance to get close to the theory in their mind. In fact, defending the theory is the only cohesive strain between all these words, and the theorist will just keep spouting defenses in the hope that some of them will stick.
#8: They start to demonize those who care about reality.
When someone has invested a huge amount of time into believing and promoting a theory, not to mention the emotional investments of linking their positive self-perception to that theory and depending on like-minded theory-believers for social validation, it is no surprise that they come to see the people who disagree with the theory as the baddies. Someone who isn't convinced of the theory must "hate fun" rather than finding insights more fun when they are, you know, accurate. Legitimate criticism becomes harassing, coercing, or punishing rather than accountability for the real-world effects of someone's beliefs and actions. The theorist adopts a bunker mentality and lashes out at those who threaten the theory (and, by extension, their self-perception and community), rather than listening to what others have to say.
#9: Once they get invested in the theory, they get deeper and deeper into believing nonsense.
Once they've come unmoored from the usual constraints of paying attention to reality and making sense, things start to go a little haywire. For one thing, they've already adopted a bonkers theory and so has everyone else that they socialize with, so where to from there? As there's a performative aspect to all of this, if they are not building on what their group already believes, what else is there to do, and how will they get noticed? (Of course, they have long ago disassociated from real film criticism and/or the medical community where the actual advancements in thought are going to be made.) Furthermore, when faced with criticism there are two possible responses: seriously consider it or double down. In the urge to validate the original beliefs, people become more and more vulnerable to the next bit of nonsense that exploits the same mental tricks and psychological needs as the first theory, and the more outlandish belief often depends upon the target being softened up with the first theory ahead of time.
And that's not even getting into whatever the fuck this is:
#10: Ultimately, nothing will ever, EVER, persuade them.
Of course the inevitable result of all the self-justifying, excuse-making, and community-building that goes into reinforcing nonsensical theories is the profound stubbornness of everyone invested in them. It all ultimately boils down to Jonathan Swift's famous declaration "Reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired." So, at a certain point we might as well all give up trying to correct illogical theories, and just content ourselves with a good point-and-laugh, and, I hope, much more stringent vaccination policies, or at the very least have this delightfully snarky photoshop become a real thing:
Emphasis mine throughout. Anti-vax screenshots from recent articles on the Disneyland measles outbreak and associated comment sections. Fan Theorist screen cap 5 is from a stand-alone fan post promoting theories, and the remainder of the Fan Theorist screencaps are all actual rebuttals to my recent debunkings.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoy my work, please help me make more of it by becoming my patron on Patreon: