Sunday, February 16, 2014

Scam Psychology: Why Bad Arguers Often Retreat to Conspiracies As Final Defense

Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura
Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura
Making a living through selling nothing... like a lot
of scams that call themselves network marketing
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In studying the financial scams and its victims, as well as the common arguments the brainwashed sheeple use to 'defend' the scam they're in, one of the most common "final arguments" is accuse any 'opponents' as a part of the conspiracy against something. While most often found among the "lotion and potion" defenders, they can be found among all sorts of scams, esp. one that had gone viral across the world (and thus must be eradicated).

There seem to be 3 general types of conspiracies when it comes to network marketing, which is grouped by size: personal conspiracy (it's just some hidden reason why the "opponent" is against the scheme), industry conspiracy (some sort of nebulous attack by competitors, though sometimes it's the government), or global conspiracy (often involving some nebulous mention of Bilderbergs, etc.)

All the conspiracy boils down to is "motivation denial of evidence (of scam)". Such conspiracy accusations can take the following forms (but obviously is not limited to such)

  • You must have failed at ____ to be so bitter
  • You must work for our competitor
  • You're just out to get hits for your blog
  • You are a part of medical establishment against the "wellness industry"
  • You're a part of conspiracy of the rich to keep the rest of us poor

Problem with such conspiracy accusations is conspiracies often rely on circular logic.

Q:Is there any signs of a conspiracy? 
Q:So why is there a conspiracy? 
A:Because conspiracy suppressed the signs! 

Or on a more personal level

Q: Why do you think I work for a competitor? 
A: Because you said we are a scam!
Q: Do you have evidence that I work for a competitor? 
A: No... but it made sense to me!
Q: Here's evidence why ____ is a scam. 
A: You are a liar and those evidence are fake.
Q: Why would I fake such? 
A: Because you work for a competitor.  
Q: But you said you have no evidence that I work for a competitor. 
A: Because you hid it really well! 

Basically, any sort of evidence can be dismissed by "it's part of a conspiracy (against us)".  You have to PRESUME the conspiracy to be true to make sense of the twisted circular logic. It's "self-sealing".

Conspiracy theories are often quite fascinating to study, as it's basically how the mind twists itself into a gordian knot. Psychologists have studied correlations of conspiracy theorists (PDF file), such as is there any correlation between beliefs of conspiracies (i.e. does believing free market make one more like to believe climate denial?)

The results are surprising, and a little troubling. And so was the reaction by the conspiratorial community.

The paper linked to above of a study from Australia on conspiracy theory pointed out that some people just do NOT study facts and accept consensus, but instead, only rely on their own "personal ideology", which seem to be fostered when quite young. Those people grew up not believing ANYBODY except themselves, and is anti-establishment. Well studied science? Conspiracy of science. Well studied medicine? Conspiracy of medical establishment. Financial regulations? Conspiracy of the rich. So on and so forth. if one person believes one conspiracy, s/he is likely to believe other conspiracies as well.  Everything from climate denial (i.e. "there is no global warming") to "HIV does NOT cause AIDS" to "FBI assassinated Martin Luther King Jr." to "US Knew 9/11 will happened and let it happen"

When this paper was published in 2012, the conspiracy blogosphere was in an uproar.  And accusations about the authors ran wild, with everything from "it's a conspiracy by the Australian government" to "scamming" to "made up **** to make the conspiracy theorists look bad", and so on.

Which, as you may have guessed, lead the authors to write yet ANOTHER paper, how conspiracy theorists reacted to study of conspiracy theorists as a conspiracy theory. :)

But it can basically be summed up in 6 things:

The Six Thoughts of Conspiracy Theorist

1) Any one who disagree is out to do harm (or part of conspiracy)
2) Everybody else is against us (delusion of prosecution / persecution)
3) Paranoid ideation (skeptical to the point of being nihilistic, i.e. we're so f***ed )
4) Refusal to accept "coincidence" i.e. "Nothing is ever an Accident" thinking
5) Ignore flaws and inconsistencies on its own side, as long as they "challenge" the "official" story
6) Any evidence that disproves conspiracy theory is "cover up", thus self-sealing.

It is absolutely AMAZING how this can be applied to network marketing and bad arguments used to defend scams.

1) Some of the most often heard arguments are: "You must work for a competitor", "You just want hits for your blog", "You just hate our success.". Opponents are often accused of having nefarious intent. NM arguers often accuse NM criticism as "you just hate all NM" when only scams are hated. There are many dedicated "bad SEO" websites setup as almost parody of scambusting websites albeit stating the complete opposite filled with tortured logic on why the NM critics are wrong and whatever scheme is legal.

2) One of the most often touted principles in network marketing is "avoid negativity", as if the entire world is against them, when often it is the scams among network marketing, as well as the unethical behavior of many NM rep that caused the problem. Yet instead of analyzing what was done wrong, and improve upon that, it's "ignore all of that!"

3) Paranoid ideation is very much related to "avoid negativity" but with a touch of reality, but thinking about it in the worst way. It's basically "paranoia", i.e. everybody's against me (except my NM brothers and sisters). It promotes isolation and loyalty to ones brothers and sisters in the scheme.

4) Not-An-Accident Thinking basically accepts ANY sort of correlation as evidence of causation. These are the people who believe that some effect on cells in a petri dish or some effect in mice means that ingredient is good for the human body.  Or "it paid me, therefore it can't be a scam".

5) NM arguers often ignore inconsistent parts of their argument, by focusing ONLY on their own experience, or "I got paid so it can't be a scam", or "I have product so it's not a scam" or "It has potentially illegal part but you don't have to use it".

6) NM can't deny evidence such as prosecution in a different country, so they adjust their thinking to "that's in a separate country and thus not affect us". Though sometimes they will resort to denial, such as "I don't believe my newspaper, I don't see news article in your newspaper, so it can't be true".  (real case, happened at BehindMLM about TelexFree)

So did the authors have any idea on how to FIX this problem? Some.

a) Communications is NOT the problem. The "self-sealing" conspiracy theory means ANY additional data you feed it is taken as a part of the conspiracy. And often, 'backfire effect' will occur.

b) The only solution is prevention (i.e. teaching critical thinking, logic, scientific method, and such early on)

And here's a personal observation:

c) an event so shocking to the conspiracy theorist that will cause him or her to completely revamp his/her worldview.

Having the scam shut down would often do it, but some unscrupulous scammers may lead the victims on (and raise money from them) for months or years in the guise of "defend the scheme", which also tapped into the paranoia / conspiracy.

I personally don't argue with cranks, I lightly mock them with facts. Sooner or later, they'll be backed into a corner. Though some of them are known to do multiple side-steps to keep the argument going. But the general idea is to make them wonder.. if there's so many problems with their position, could they even CONSIDER the possibility that they're wrong?

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