Recognising the flaw in the "That's just what they want you to think" defence and its similar variants.

Mythic Suns

Member
I know I say stuff like this at the start of a lot of my posts but if this is in the wrong category I'm willing to move it to another category.

But onto the subject of this thread: One common defence I've often seen used by conspiracy theorists is the "that's just what they want you to think" defence which, if you're unaware of it, is a defence that can sound quite terrifying because it prays on your sense of doubt and causes you to feel as if you missed something obvious because you were being naive when in reality you missed absolutely nothing.

As the title suggests there are many countless versions of this defence but the one inherent flaw in this defence, no matter what form it takes, is simply the fact that it can be used to accuse anyone of anything without the need for any definitive evidence; you could accuse your next door neighbour of secretly being a nuclear weapons dealer and if anyone argues against you then all you have to say is "that's just what my neighbour wants you to think" and maybe even sprinkle a few grains of truth into the mix (maybe your neighbour used a Tor browser to go on some hidden sites at one point or another, or maybe their bank statements have some irregularities on them that show that a lot of money was withdrawn on certain days) and before you know it you're suddenly a whistleblower in the eyes of those who don't recognise the flaw in your argument. In reality your neighbour is actually a local drug dealer who was dumb enough to use just a single bank card for everything and the supplier was overcharging him....ok I didn't think this analogy through but hopefully the point is clear.

Grains of truth aren't the only thing that can make the defence seem strong, another, which I won't go too deep into because I don't want to go too off subject, is the fact that it's also vulnerable to the stopped clock effect; the stopped clock effect is the idea that someone who is known for doing something wrong or saying something wrong can occasionally say something right or do something right (it gets its name from the fact that a stopped clock shows the correct time twice a day) and sadly there are occasions where people have suspected that something malicious is going on but couldn't provide evidence at the time but were later proven right (the two big ones that often get mentioned are the whistles getting blown on M.K Ultra and the NSA tapping everyone's phones). But this is where statistics come into the matter and you have to take into consideration how often someone is proven right about a conspiracy theory and also learn to recognise the difference between someone being proven right and someone believing that they have been proven right when in reality they haven't.

Basically any statement that can't be proven true has the potential to be proven true at a later date or time, but that doesn't guarantee that it'll be happen and when it gets to conspiracy theories the theory is more often than not proven false but the theorist will try their hardest to make it sound true, often times with a version of the "that's just what they want you to think" defence.

Another kind of funny flaw in this defence is that any conspiracy theorist who uses it is pretty much admitting that their original statement is potentially wrong because they've stated that the conspirator is capable of misleading the general public which includes the conspiracy theorist in question. In short: "that's just what they want you to think" can be retorted with "that's just what they want you to think". To some this is frightening but I like to believe it leaves the door open to the possibility that [insert shadowy organisation here] is secretly planning a nice birthday surprise with cake and presents and just wants the general public to believe that they're evil.
 

Ann K

Senior Member.
It's a natural offshoot of the cry of "Fake news!" The message is that you can't believe what you hear, with the contradictory subtext "so believe what I tell you instead." It sets people up to follow a personality cult instead of trusting information from multiple sources, and it uses one thing (either true or untrue) to cast aspersions upon a second, rather than considering the facts of the second case by themselves.

Here's an example from this morning's news feed. The Republican Attorneys General from eleven states are filing an amicus brief in support of Donald Trump's complaints about documents being removed from Mar-A-Lago.
Instead, the GOP officials list a wide array of grievances against the Biden administration, including how it handled immigration law enforcement and its response to the coronavirus pandemic, that do not appear directly related to the case. They argue that the administration’s “questionable conduct” in policymaking and litigation means courts should treat the Justice Department’s appeal with caution.
Content from External Source
https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/09/21/trump-gop-amicus-brief-mar-a-lago-fbi/

In other words "We don't trust them on items X and Y, therefore we don't trust them on Z". The matter is not addressed directly, the well has been poisoned, and no facts concerning Z make any difference to such an argument against Z.
 
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Mendel

Senior Member.
Why should I trust what you want me to think?

"That's what they want you to think" builds on distrust. If instead you do trust "them", then what they want me to think is what's in my best interests: what my doctor tells me, my teachers told me, etc. It's really benign if "they" are your friend.

You have to already have a willingness to be a little paranoid to be receptive to "that's what they want you think"; and experience shows that in the majority of cases, the con man is in fact sitting in front of you speaking this phrase—because that's how he gets others to think the way he wants. (Also applies to con-women.)
 

Mythic Suns

Member
experience shows that in the majority of cases, the con man is in fact sitting in front of you speaking this phrase—because that's how he gets others to think the way he wants. (Also applies to con-women.)
The sad part in the case of conspiracy theorists is that they often don't realise that they're committing a con. As far as they're concerned they're the heroes.
 

FatPhil

Senior Member.
As the title suggests there are many countless versions of this defence but the one inherent flaw in this defence, no matter what form it takes, is simply the fact that it can be used to accuse anyone of anything without the need for any definitive evidence;
...
Basically any statement that can't be proven true has the potential to be proven true at a later date or time, but that doesn't guarantee that it'll be happen and when it gets to conspiracy theories the theory is more often than not proven false but the theorist will try their hardest to make it sound true, often times with a version of the "that's just what they want you to think" defence.

My main problem with the conspiratorial "that's what they want you to think", and other more general "they would say that, wouldn't they" excuses (which are what they are, they aren't actual arguments, they're an excuse for not having an actual argument), is that they are almost always not *disprovable*. Often that's mixed in with some kind of "lack of evidence implies evidence of a cover-up" trope, which basically shuts the door on rational discussion.
 

Mythic Suns

Member
Often that's mixed in with some kind of "lack of evidence implies evidence of a cover-up" trope, which basically shuts the door on rational discussion.
Pretty much. If lack of evidence is evidence of anything then the sky is a pumpkin and the mountains are made of cheese. Now all I need is a convoluted explanation that I can use to "prove" that this is the case.
 
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