Anyone had (good/bad) experiences with Conspiracy theorist?
December 28, 2017 6:29 AM   Subscribe

Dealings with a "conspiracy theorist," is this a red flag?

So, I'm currently new to dating and I have met some really wonderful people, learned a lot about myself and what it is I desire in a partner... I've dated people for a couple months at a time and just didn't feel the compatibility and desire matching one another or what I was looking for. I met a man who has so far seemed to be more on my level as far as understanding single parenting, has a good head on his shoulders, open minded, successful, respectful, engaging, initiates seeing me and staying in contact in between, is very open and honest with what he is looking for and his feelings towards me. I've only been on two dates with him due to busyness with my daughter, and holiday things on my end, and I do like to take things slow in getting to know someone. We spend time on the phone in between, getting to know one another and we have another date this week. This is the first person I have opened up, and felt comfortable enough to do so, and shared things with about my past, the emotional abuse I experienced, how I am feeling and he has opened up with me a lot- it just feels effortless and easy, which is nice.

So far so good, but we became friends on social media recently and I noticed a couple posts regarding chemtrails, and other life forms (annunaki?) - nothing too over the top, just one or two posts or something he liked. I noticed a tattoo on his arm that he had of a crop circle which was something he said he believed in. I don't get the sense that he is over the top or anything. He's extremely artistic and musically inclined, very self driven, and we have had conversations about policital/religious beliefs in which I don't get the sense he is extreme towards anything. My question is, when does it cross the line between something I should be concerned about? How do you ask somenoe about this without sounding judgey, but to make sure they haven't gone off the deep end with conspiracy theories. I have no experience with beliefs such as this other than people who have very very off the charts theories who are legitimately mentally ill (I work for the government where we receive many calls/correspondence from people who believe the government are after them and have been diagnosed with mental illnesses). Any suggestions?
posted by MamaBee223 to Human Relations (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
To some extent, everyone has something they believe in that other people do not believe in.

Whether this man believed in conspiracy theories, mysticism, extreme political views, standard political views, special diets - I think it is all the same. It's just his belief.

The question I have is not "What does he believe" but "How do his beliefs influence how he engages in the world."

Someone on a special diet may politely decline a dish that's offered. Or they may take a small portion to be gracious. Or they may dig in and say "I'll make it up tomorrow!" Or, they may say "How dare you give me this, don't you know about my special diet? Are you trying to kill me? I am SO INSULTED that you would suggest this. In fact, I have to question why you are not also on this special diet? Do you distrust me that much?"

I think what we believe in is not as important as how we believe in it.

Here are some questions you may ask:
Do the people he talks to seem like nice people you would like to spend time with?
Does he spend more time curious about what you think, or telling you what he thinks?
If he is a member of any groups, do the people in those groups also belong to other groups that you approve of or disapprove of?
posted by rebent at 6:41 AM on December 28, 2017 [52 favorites]


If he is already a grownup, I imagine he will just get worse with time. The ancient aliens stuff is racist, too, insofar as it rests on the belief that brown people couldn't possibly have built all that amazing stuff.
posted by turkeybrain at 6:46 AM on December 28, 2017 [29 favorites]


If he isn't fixated by the conspiracy stuff, just go on and keep an eye on it. If it's not something that is taking over his life or something that it's important for him that someone he's involved with is into, maybe it's not a real concern.
posted by hawthorne at 6:57 AM on December 28, 2017


I think age can be a factor in how seriously to take belief in conspiracy theories. In my twenties I was all about them because it was fun to think about. Now, in my forties, I’m not into the cognitive dissonance they create within me, and give major side-eye to anyone over 40 who seem to earnestly believe in them because that tells me they haven’t developed their critical thinking skills.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:01 AM on December 28, 2017 [31 favorites]


Conspiracy theories can be fascinating whether you believe them or not. They also run the gamut from horrible and damaging (Newtown deniers) to harmless fun (crop circles). This is more a small yellow flag then a big red one, I’d say.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:05 AM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


I feel like the fact you've asked about it means it's a red flag. There's this subtext of "this really unsettles me, but he's otherwise lovely" running through your post.

Yes, it's true that most of use probably believe something or other that's just weird, but you've told us that his political and religious beliefs aren't extreme, which suggests to me (and certainly my own biases are playing a role here) that you're worried about his vulnerability to extremism. The credulity that gets some people into conspiracy theories can also make them easily persuadable when it comes to religion (usually harmless) or politics (not so great when most of us are exposed to a fairly steady stream of alt-right propaganda). There are plenty of people who believe dumb things that aren't particularly vulnerable in this way, but I don't think we can tell you which group this guy is in.
posted by hoyland at 7:05 AM on December 28, 2017 [10 favorites]


He is 40, he asks about my beliefs and feelings or learning about me more than pushing anything he believes in- the only way I really know is through social media and the tattoo... I plan to engage him more in the topic. I think I am more concerned to bring it up because I fear what may come out of his mouth will not align with my beliefs, and push me away. I just want to make sure I'm being open minded and not too judgey, but I also want to be smart just because everything else seems so far so good and not overlook something that may be more of an issue. I definately agree with the its not what we believe, but how we believe it and how it affects how we treat the world/people around us.
posted by MamaBee223 at 7:05 AM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


A small point. You say it's nothing over the top, but I feel like getting a tattoo of a crop circle is an indicator of a committed belief. Only time will tell how these beliefs translate into his daily life. Best of luck to you! It's so difficult to find someone you click with; I hope it all works out.
posted by bluespark25 at 7:07 AM on December 28, 2017 [21 favorites]


I'd also want to know the source of his info. If he listens to Alex Jones that would be a red flag for me.
posted by bluespark25 at 7:09 AM on December 28, 2017 [12 favorites]


I think given what you went through in your last big relationship (if I am remembering correctly) the key thing here is take it slow. Talking on the phone is great, but it doesn't actually give you a lot of information about how this person behaves, only about what he thinks about what he does.

So my advice is that the best thing you can do right now is don't build this relationship up in your mind. Get out into the world with him more, meet his friends, see how he interacts with people. Make sure he knows you work for the government. And above all, share your beliefs, thoughts, and ideas as well. If he can't respect yours it doesn't matter what he believes.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:18 AM on December 28, 2017 [7 favorites]


To me, chemtrails are much more concerning than crop circles. Someone who thinks "the government is poisoning us to make us gay [or compliant or whatever theory they like]" makes more sense than "planes emit exhaust" is signalling a serious disconnect with reality.

Being curious and questioning accepted wisdom and sources of "authority" is generally a good thing, but what does he believe in instead? Conspiracies that depend upon the total complicity and silence of thousands of people spanning decades?

From a relational standpoint, the thing that would concern me most is how people of this bent tend to discount anyone's experience that contradicts their predetermined conclusions. And that might be relatively harmless with crop circles, but when it comes to "please don't talk to me that way" and "yes you did say you would pick up milk from the store", that tendency becomes a lot less quirky and a lot more harmful.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:20 AM on December 28, 2017 [37 favorites]


The problem I see with conspiracy theorists is that the outer most layer of noticeably odd belief is often connected to deeper rooted underlying sets of beliefs which are the more damaging. Belief in crop circles or chemtrails on their own perhaps aren't that worrisome given how little association those things have with day to day life, but those beliefs often grow fed from a spring of deeper seated values that can signal distrust of government or "others", denial of fact or evidence, and willingness to accept speculation or personal want as valid measure of the world. These things do have more day to day costs, but the form of them can vary.

I've known conspiracy junkies on the left and right and found some much easier to deal with than others, but none I'd personally be willing to ultimately trust entirely due to their lack of concern over having a better grounding in reality. But that is just my personal take, as some have shown no clear proof of unreliability in my limited encounters with them. Since I do keep my distance I can't report on knowing them more intimately, so my wariness is in no way meant as defining.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:29 AM on December 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


One more note having read your reply: I get the urge to not be judgmental, but there is a world of difference between judging someone as a person and as a potential partner. It is possible for someone to be a lovely and worthwhile human being and also a terrible partner for you. To be clear, I think we are solidly in “is he a good fit for me” territory, not “is he a good person” territory, with this question. Best of luck with everything.
posted by suncages at 7:33 AM on December 28, 2017 [22 favorites]


has a good head on his shoulders

I noticed a couple posts regarding chemtrails, and other life forms (annunaki?)


These two things just don't go together.

I agree with the posters above to keep an eye on it. For one thing, I would explore the pages he is posting from on his social media. If you follow him on Facebook, check out the pages he likes, and look at them to see what kinds of content they post. Often people re-post fairly innocuous stuff, but are reading fairly horrible stuff. And given the nature of those sources, they may be led from one conspiracy-minded thing to another and another - this is how people end up deep in the world of alternative facts. I'd also think about what gusottertrout said about "underlying beliefs" - what are this guy's poiltics? What does he believe is his purpose in life? What are his guiding values? What does he think about human rights and responsibilities? How does he feel about education, science, facts?
posted by Miko at 7:38 AM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


My concern with annunaki, reptilian elite, conspiracy stuff is while it sounds really silly and fun. It's often dog-whistle/substitution for blaming things on typical marginalized groups like jews, non-whites etc.

In my experience the Venn Diagram there looks a lot like a circle.
posted by French Fry at 7:40 AM on December 28, 2017 [31 favorites]


I made a friend who is smart and kind, but totally on board with all sorts of woo. There's a limit to our friendship because, on my side, she believes deeply in things I think are nonsense, and on her side, I dismiss as woo many things she believes in deeply. I don't dismiss it to her;I change the subject, but she understands that I don't share her beliefs. Chemtrail theories are nonsense and possibly a sign that a person has a need to believe in a conspiracy because the reality of how the world works makes them uncomfortable.

If he's a really nice person, try to engage with him and understand his point of view, maybe it's a passing thing.
posted by theora55 at 7:45 AM on December 28, 2017


I think it's important to view whether the conspiracy theory is linked with tangible things (ie, real-world cause-effect relationships), or whether the conspiracy theory is an exploration of a myth or legend.

For some, conspiracy theories are ways of exploring the edges of possibility, where a mysterious, unexplained circumstance results in a minor obsession and fanciful thinking. This can be about mysterious creatures (Bigfoot, Nessie, aliens, leprechauns), structures (Stonehenge, crop circles) or legendary people who mysteriously died too soon (Elvis, JFK, Tupac). When faced with the unknown, people make up strange and remarkable stories, and in many ways, this has produced the foundations of storytelling - religion, literature, cinema. The vast majority of us have some kind of kook-ish belief surrounding myth and legend, or at least think about it during idle moments.

There are mid-range conspiracy theories born of cover-ups and distrust. Anyone who has spent any time reading about politics, crime or medicine knows that there is a long history of scandals where mistakes or bad-faith actions were made and covered up. Whether Watergate, Iran-Contra or Thalidomide, many of us are old enough to remember completely real cover-ups. As long as these ebb and flow with the unknown, well, we all have suspicions about things.

But then there are things where people believe that there is a cover-up and that's absurd on all levels, where fact is well-established via several different non-biased vectors and the belief persists. We know what contrails are and how airplanes work. We know that vaccinations are the public health success of the past century. We know that a pizza parlor is a pizza parlor. The line is whether the fact or a cause-effect relationship is well established.

So, where does he stand? Are these things a representation to him of the creative desire to explore the unknown, or does he laugh off facts and believe the absurd? It's something that will take a little time to suss out. My feeling? Chemtrails: ugh. Crop circles: eh.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 8:05 AM on December 28, 2017 [7 favorites]


I know it's early in the relationship. But how's this guy feel about vaccines? What would that mean if things worked out and you ended up with kids together?
posted by great_radio at 8:27 AM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think you’re downplaying how odd this is because you otherwise like him and you can’t square it. I like to think there are aliens and I don’t trust our government tells us the truth about things that might harm us— yet crop circles and chemtrails seem waaay over the top to me.

Also, this kind of conspiracy theory stuff seems almost a privileged line of thinking. Like, minorities and immigrants are currently under fire in very real and urgent ways, and these conspiracy theorists are worried about secret crop messages.

I would question his judgment, trust your own, and definitely don’t downplay your own discomfort. And yes, it’s okay to have a judgement about beliefs perpetuated by paranoid xenophobes. You don’t have to be mean to him but you can certainly decide he’s not relationship material.
posted by kapers at 8:39 AM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


The other thought that comes to my mind, MamaBee, is that if you've gotten a lot of exposure to the kinds of mentally ill people who contact the government about conspiracies, you've probably gotten an instinctive feel (as I have) for the kind and tone of rhetoric they use. Does this guy feel like that?
posted by praemunire at 8:40 AM on December 28, 2017


The chemtrails thing is a bridge too far for me, and the fact that he has a crop circle tattoo probably means this stuff is really serious and important to him. I would not go any further with this guy.
posted by Slinga at 8:45 AM on December 28, 2017 [13 favorites]


I have an experience like this with a friend. I met her in real life and I appreciated her willingness to engage with life outside-the-box, like having a permaculture yard instead of a lawn. Every time I see her in person we have a really interesting conversation. However, on Facebook she is all about the conspiracies. The primary was stolen from Bernie Sanders, 9-11 was perpetrated by our government, and the DC pizza place was the hub of a sex-trafficking ring. It's strange, because if Facebook didn't exist I would not know these things about her - they never come up in conversation. So, to me, this is the issue with your guy: if you continue dating him, will you be able to manage reading his posts? My friend's were making me angry, so I had to un-friend her on Facebook and back off in real life as well.
posted by xo at 9:04 AM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


I often have to remind myself that for most people there's a difference between a belief and a deeply held belief. Popular language doesn't really differentiate as well as one might hope. "I believe in UFOs" can mean anything from, "UFOs are a neat thing to think about and it's fun to imagine that they're real," to, "I've devoted my entire life to the Raëlian movement." Usually, it's the former.

So long as my friends and family with fringy psuedoscience beliefs behave in reasonably ethical ways and are open to considering the possibility their beliefs are wrong, I'm happy to interact with them. Long-term dating is, of course, a little bit different. Though, personally, I'd find a strong belief in chemtrails much less of a red flag than a strong belief in an afterlife; at least the former is consistent with a materialist world view and open to investigation. (Very few of us don't hold at least a few beliefs that are disturbingly fringy to someone we otherwise respect.)
posted by eotvos at 9:09 AM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


As for how to ask, maybe just bring up the posts in a non-threatening way. "I saw that anunaki article you posted on Facebook. What is that all about?" If he laughs and shrugs, that's one thing. If he goes on an hour long rant, that's another. You could ask follow-ups like, "So this is my first time hearing about something like that. What other stuff are you into?" You could also bring up something new. "Hey, have you heard of InfoWars? What do you think of it?"
posted by amodelcitizen at 9:24 AM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'd say depends if they're dead set on it being unquestionable truth or whether they are just interested in the possibilities. Let's face it, some of those theories certainly are interesting. And crop circles... well geometric designs are aesthetically pleasing and make good tattoo ideas. And it IS a pretty amazing feat that someone could create them in matter of hours sometimes; who cares if he wants to believe them intergalactic superheroes of sorts. People get too scared of this kind of stuff when it's actually exciting to think and learn about even if it's not reality, it opens your mind to possibilities, and that IS what creative people do, which you said he is, so take it as part of the package or leave it.
posted by OnefortheLast at 10:19 AM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


It sounds like he has lots of positives, which is wonderful. Every human in the planet is going to have negatives as well. I agree with the posters above that mention finding out the degree/intensity of these beliefs.

I think the crop circle tattoo is darling and makes me think of Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of. Maybe he does to.

The chem trails would be more frustrating to me. But if he was awesome in all other ways, I might be able to balance it out. We all have certain glitches in our thinking. If someone believed in a white male figure that lived somewhere in the ether, and tried to impose their morality on me based on what that dude says, that would be much more problematic.

If he’s making you happy and you are enjoying his company, I would vote for dating him some more until you can figure out the intensity of his beliefs.

Also, it’s much better to have a conversation with someone before assuming stuff from Facebook or texts.
posted by Vaike at 10:23 AM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't see a need to walk on eggshells, especially at this stage of the relationship. "Hey, I saw some chemtrails posts on your Facebook, what's up with that?" Address it the way you'd want to be able to talk with an SO about these things in general.
posted by rhizome at 10:36 AM on December 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I would dig into this ASAP. I have met people who mentioned being into "cute" conspiracy theories, like yetis etc. but then months later in conversation suddenly started ranting about Shillary, Pizzagate, Jewish conspiracies, etc. I think a lot of conspiracy theorists know that their beliefs are seen as repugnant so they hide it until they're in a safe arena like Facebook or Reddit.

So dig. What does he think about fluoride? Does he think climate change is happening? Does he ever use the term SJW? Does he listen to Alex Jones or read Breitbart News? Does he have any odd items like a foil lined wallet? Does he have very black and white beliefs about good and evil? Does he get vaccinated? Does he think the moon landing was real? Has he ever mentioned cultural marxism? George Soros? Have you ever heard him use the term "false flag"?
posted by Stonkle at 11:15 AM on December 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


This is all quite interesting information, and honestly before I started researching this stuff- I had no clue people actually held these certain beliefs (as referenced by someone above in my spelling- thats not me playing naive, I have honestly never heard of this). I love learning something new that is personal to everyone I meet so so I will dig deeper tomorrow and see where he lies on the spectrum. I think he is a wonderful (from what I know) person and father, and either way, this doesn't make him any less wonderful, but it may lead me to realize that we may not be compatible, which I am prepared to accept. I'm thinking this may be a more endearing curiousity "creative mind" trait, than a persistent deep seeded irrational belief... I'm being hopeful here, but I am prepared to draw the line kindly if not.

What is another word/term for conspiracy theorist? As in, when I bring this topic up, I want to ask him if his beliefs are non-traditional? What is a better way to put it than "Ive noticed your posts, and tattoos- are you into conspiracy theories?" I'm all about asking up front and not beating around the bush, but is there a gentler term as in unconventional theories or knowledge, non-traditional beliefs of government, media? I feel like "consiracty therorist" is synonymous for "tin hat" or "crazy" or has a negativity to it- but maybe thats just me being naive or uneducated on this.
posted by MamaBee223 at 11:39 AM on December 28, 2017


To answer your last question, my mom is strongly into these fringe beliefs and refers to herself and others with similar interests as being "awake." He'd likely know what you meant if you asked that, but it would also imply you agree with those beliefs, I think.
posted by srrh at 12:19 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't think you have to ask if his overall beliefs are non-traditional/non-mainstream, you already know they are. You can get a sense of his overall beliefs and values by asking about specific subjects.

Chemtrails would be the one I personally would want to dig in to, because while I, too, am pretty non-mainstream, believe weird things, and don't generally trust the government, I am willing to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that disproves chemtrails. And I find that people who refuse to do so are incompatible with me and my values, because my values include being willing to accept evidence that contradicts what you want to believe. I've found that people who refuse to accept evidence and prefer to just throw it all under "they're lying to you, man" are also very challenging to interact with, especially when conflicts happen--they often refuse to accept truths and sometimes tend toward gaslighting. Because of this, I can have perfectly successful relationships and friendships with people who truly believe some bizarre things about the universe that I don't, but not with the sorts of people who believe chemtrails are real or that vaccines cause autism.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:28 PM on December 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


For what it's worth, I have an old friend who often posts chemtrails and government conspiracy stuff, but I think it's just to mess with Facebook's algorithms. He also posts his friends' art and friendly comments.
posted by rhizome at 8:20 PM on December 28, 2017


Just adding my vote that chemtrails is very, very “over the top”. Someone mentions chemtrails and I don’t think “harmless conspiracy”, I think “This person is mentally unstable.”
posted by blueberry at 4:06 AM on December 29, 2017 [4 favorites]


There's a difference between thinking something is fascinating to read and think about, and tattooing it on your body as a belief. He’s told you it’s the latter.

There’s a difference between believing in something nobody has proven or disproven (aliens, god) and believing in something that’s been solidly debunked and proven false (chemtrails.)

I wouldn’t be with someone who believed in chemtrails for a lot of reasons that might not apply to you, but I think a person who insists falsehoods are true, even when proven untrue, is not good relationship material for anyone. Say he insists you’re cheating on him and you’re not. How hard are you going to have to work to disprove his false belief when he is so willing to disregard facts, logic, and evidence?
posted by kapers at 6:15 AM on December 29, 2017 [6 favorites]


I've had to walk away from people with some great qualities when they moved from weird dietary stuff, homeopathy, chem trails and onto Sandy Hook.

I think this sick notion grew out of a belief that there once existed some perfect diet or way of life that allowed our distant ancestors to live incredibly long and healthy lives; that the current state is our world is the work of shadowy forces (an idea which in the beginning I could sort of sympathize with). Over time I got the fuller sense that they believed we only need to purge ourselves of certain modern chemical toxins and eventually it came around to talk of toxic societal elements that were holding them back from achieving their full potential. They were pursuing purity and orthodoxy but without filters and plenty of shit heads online are willing to point out faces in the wallpaper.

The thing is, it only really came to the surface when my former friends were going through a serious health crisis. Ask your friend about his thoughts on alternative cancer therapies. I’m thinking that if the unthinkable should happen to you, would you want a loved one pushing you away from standard treatments?
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:45 PM on December 29, 2017


The Chinese philosopher Zhuge Liang has some advice:


Knowing People
Nothing is harder than to see into people’s natures. Though good and bad are different, their conditions and appearances are not always uniform.
There are some people who are nice enough but steal.
Some people are outwardly respectful while inwardly making fools of everyone.
Some people are brave on the outside yet cowardly on the inside.
Some people do their best but are not loyal.
Hard though it be to know people, there are ways.
First is to question them concerning right and wrong, to observe their ideas.
Second is to exhaust all their arguments, to see how they change.
Third is to consult with them about strategy, to see how perceptive they are.
Fourth is to announce that there is trouble, to see how brave they are.
Fifth is to present them with the prospect of gain, to see how modest they are.
Sixth is to give them a task to do within a specific time, to see how trustworthy they are.

Hope this helps
posted by ambulocetus at 8:59 AM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


Just to contradict some statements above that don’t really know about different reasons why people tattoo. Just because someone puts it on their body doesn’t mean it’s a ‘belief’. I know people who have the Flying J logo, or sponge bob squarepants, or a scene from The Village. And the last one isn’t because they believe in M. Night Shyamalan’s endings. Creative people tend to be more comfortable with putting the absurd on their bodies. That Beavercleaverism about tattoos is darling, and dated. Just ask your questions and get your answers. Straight up.
posted by Vaike at 8:46 PM on December 30, 2017


I think a person who insists falsehoods are true, even when proven untrue, is not good relationship material for anyone.

There's a certain personality type that's into conspiracy theories as a manifestation and almost announcement of a "you can't tell me nothing" attitude. Like they are declaring that they are, at some point, going to be irrational and rigid and truculent, and nothing anyone can tell them is going to change their minds or the way they live their life. Conspiracy theories are a great flag for them to fly of that "you can't tell me what to do, you can't tell me how to think, I am special and you are wrong, you are foolish and oppressive" contrarianism. If you're seeing signs of this personality type in your guy, he's going to be a problem. Is he interested in this stuff despite most of society seeing it as fringe or bullshit, or BECAUSE the majority population thinks it's bullshit? If he's into New Agey stuff in general in a harmless way, or likes crop circles because they symbolize curiosiity and the unknowable, or whatever, that's probably fine. But if he's latching on to conspiracy theories to give himself an outlet to be contrarian and hostile, that's a red flag.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 4:25 AM on December 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


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