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Meeting Our “Enemies” Where They Are

The Advantage of Understanding Your Adversary’s Arguments

THEY MARCH, TWENTY OR SO STRONG, SPILLING grotesque, hate-filled rhetoric into the streets. Multicolored picket signs remind all passersby that a fiery eternity awaits them after death if they do not fear god’s wrath. Always protesting with a clear purpose, from funerals of mass shooting victims, to fallen soldiers, and pop icons, they deliberately scrape the exposed nerves of grieving families and friends of the deceased.1 These protestors remind artists, musicians, soldiers, homosexuals, apostates, and anyone who finds fault with their position that, by their mere existence, they are testing an angry god.

Sweaty-faced with terror struck eyes, he sits in front of a green screen that reads Infowars. He jumps frantically from one conspiracy theory to another, never giving any indication that he could be mistaken. He assumes that anything covered by the mainstream media is an attempt to control its viewers’ minds in order to implement a terrifying political agenda. He has thus claimed that during the 2016 presidential election, the mainstream media wanted to cover up the fact that Hillary Clinton is “an abject, psychopathic, demon from Hell that as soon as she gets into power is going to try to destroy the planet.” In fact, in nearly the same breath he suggests that Barack Obama too is a literal demon in disguise, all supported by information Jones obtained from “high up folks.” 2 This is a man whose Youtube channel, before recently being banned by the company, had roughly 2 million subscribers.

With black masks concealing their identities, one member of the group reads emphatically from a script. A hostage sits in a chair, bound by ropes, awaiting the gruesome fate he has come to accept. The audience watches helplessly through a screen as the group makes good on their promise and brutally executes an innocent man.

The question that inevitably arises when faced with people who will commit these sorts of wrongs is why? What is the reason behind these outrageous acts? The Christian fundamentalist group known as the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), the internet talk show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and extremist Islamist terrorists have something in common: they believe what they say. This fact of course extends to all manner of religious extremists, woo-peddlers, and even many medical quacks. Many of us see that this type of sincerity is at play, but we don’t necessarily recognize why that is, or what the implications of it might be. Here I want to go further and suggest that it is not simply that they believe, but rather that they have no choice but to believe in the madness running through their minds. They did not choose to be who they are, nor to live the lives they have, and in a very important sense, these people are victims of their own brains.

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About Skeptic

WHY IS THERE SOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING? COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Health Freedom, Right to Try, and Informed Consent, by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: Do You Have Traits or Are You a Type? by Carol Tavris • SPECIAL SECTION ON TACTICS FOR DISCUSSING CONTENTIOUS ISSUES Personhood and Abortion Rights: How Science Might Inform this Contentious Issue, by Gary Whittenberger • How to Teach Evolution to Religious Students, by Surat Parvatam • The Arguments for Creationism and the Arguments for Evolution: A Study in Contrasts, by Ralph M. Barnes • Meeting Our “Enemies” Where They Are: The Advantage of Understanding Your Adversary’s Arguments, by Andrew Cooper-Sansone ARTICLES The Grandest of Questions Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing? by Michael Shermer • Reports of Mysterious Attacks on U.S. Diplomats Continue: Separating Fact from Fiction by Robert E. Bartholomew • The God Damners: The Now Not-so-New Atheism by Michael Cohen • Quackery in America: An Inglorious and Ongoing History, by Morton Tavel, M.D. • What Is It like to Be a Human? by Colin McGinn REVIEWS Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress • The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution • The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will • SCAM: So-Called Alternative Medicine • Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life • The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are JUNIOR SKEPTIC Secrets of the Ouija Board, by Daniel Loxton