I recently came across Will Patrick’s website. His writing is humorous and has a fast fun cadence to it.

One of his posts, Notes From A Flat Earth Conference (archived copy) talks empathically about Flat Earth believers. I stepped away with a feeling that, of course, something had to go wrong in these people’s lives in order for them to take on this fringe identity.

Thinking further, there have always been quacks and conspiracy theorists. Will himself admits this. At a time of personal turmoil a person is suddenly “open” – cults and terrorists know this. They’ve always looked out for people undergoing transitions. These are the ripest recruits.

This one is probably about group identity and belonging.

The post reminded me of a brilliant piece of writing by Jeff Atwood called They Have To Be Monsters (archive link). And had me going on a tangent:

Jeff has a clear explanation for the existence of conspiracies like 911-inside-job, “Sandy Hook was a hoax”, “crisis actors”, lizard people, etc. It also explains some of the hate that Black lives Matter activists, rape survivors and indigenous people face.

The reason is that it is overwhelming to live in a world where your loved ones could be hurt through no act of their own. Without justification. Without any moral takeaways.

It is so terrifying that the victim has to be at fault.

Nobody could shoot up a school full of children. It must be a hoax.

Small groups of Europeans – with a wildfire of Smallpox – wiping out entire civilizations in the Americas. Too horrific to contemplate. The native population must’ve been weak. Or God willed it.

World Trade Center brought down by 12 guys, through a plan hatched in a cave. Can’t be. Must’ve been an inside job.

This is an unusually empathetic explanation for some vile opinions held by regular people. I keep it in mind. And it stops my automatic knee-jerk reaction of hating the haters.

In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. “We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.

… Or maybe this whole stance is a just-so explaining away of the reality of hate.

Something that taps into my very Canadian “can’t we all just get along” desire for the world to be a logical place, and for everyone to be innately good. That “if they were just informed enough, they wouldn’t do those awful things” instinct? That’s a thought for another day.