How can you go exploring with people who don’t trust maps?

April and I watched Behind the Curve on Netflix last night, a documentary about flat earthers and this movement that has really sprung up in just the last 4 years. There are now thousands of people who believe that the earth is flat, and the documentary interviews some of the leaders in the movement, attends their international conference in 2017, and records some of their experiments that attempted to prove the earth was flat.

Like many conspiracy theories (and for the flat earthers, calling it a conspiracy theory isn’t pejorative—they allege that there is a conspiracy perpetuated by all governments, education institutions, and scientists), there is an overlap with other conspiracies. A large number of Flat Earthers also tend to be anti-vaxxers (people who are opposed to giving kids vaccines or getting vaccines themselves), and they tend to reject any scientific finding by anyone but themselves

One segment of the documentary was of an astrophysicist meetup and a speaker was talking about how the scientific community often does a disservice to people who believe in these conspiracies. Because the people who have bought into this are often intelligent and inquisitive, and they have the potential to be great scientists. But either through miseducation, or trauma, or something else, their very healthy skepticism has been turned into a denial of science and a belief in only what they themselves can observe and measure. And even then, as the documentary highlighted, people in these movements will often reject their own measurements if those measurements don’t support their worldview.

That speaker at the meetup said that, rather than push flat earthers and anti-vaxxers and similar conspiracy theorists to the fringes, and just ignore them, we have to engage. But we shouldn’t engage argumentatively. Rather, we should recognize their intelligence and curiosity and say, “Let’s go explore together!” And in exploring together, the hope is that people will find the truth.

But that left me with the question: what do you do when the people with whom you want to go exploring:

  1. Don’t trust the map? They want to make their own map. But they also don’t trust cartography instruments or physics.
  2. Reject anything that doesn’t fit with their conspiracy? Everything you find (reality) that doesn’t fit will be rationalized away.

I thought that the documentary was actually very kind and generous. It didn’t mock, and the scientists interviewed were similarly gentle. They are all educators to one extent or another and want to help people understand the world better.

But none of them could tell us how to engage with flat earthers. Because even when the flat earthers in the documentary did some really neat science experiments, and those experiments proved the earth wasn’t flat by virtue of their own hypotheses and measurements, they then rejected the outcome and did a new experiment. Which also then proved the earth wasn’t flat. So they then invented a new rationalization for why their experiments weren’t aligning with their worldview.

How do you go exploring with someone who rejects what they see? I truly want to know. I feel that this question is central to so many challenges we are experiencing in our world today, and particularly in the USA where anti-education sentiment and science denial are resulting in deadly epidemics and people being put into positions of leadership who reject the findings of 97%+ of climate change scientists.

How do we go exploring with someone whose views on science, politics, society, and how everything works is so different? How do we not push them to the fringes? Because I don’t want to push people away. I don’t think any of us want to marginalize others. But I legitimately don’t know what else to do other than disengage.

What I did on my birthday

I turn 31 today. I had some respectable plans of playing Overwatch for most of the day and speaking to some high school students about a career in IT this afternoon. April baked me a birthday cake last night. Tomorrow we’re going to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival.

And then, around 9 a.m. this morning, I started to have an anxiety attack. My head was killing me, I couldn’t get enough air, my emotions were all over the place, and I just felt terrible. This is really unusual for me. The last time I had an anxiety attack was freshman year of college, so around 12 years ago. Anxiety isn’t something I typically struggle with.

I decided to go back to bed, with a damp washcloth over my eyes, and just lie there in the silence. I napped for a bit. When I woke up, I felt better for at least 30 seconds. Then it hit me again.

I’m not anxious about anything in particular. Everything is great, actually. There’s no cause that I can reckon.

I had agreed to speak to about 40 high school students this afternoon about careers in IT and business. There wasn’t much of an agenda, I was just telling them my story: the sort of education I got, what I think is important, how I got to where I am, and what I recommend. I spoke to a similar group of high schoolers on Wednesday and totally rocked it. The teachers said I should give a TED talk. I knew I’d done well, and I felt good about it.

Today, I had trouble keeping my lunch down. I made myself go, but I was bombing. I couldn’t think of what to say. I was repeating myself. I was stumbling around.

So, I broke the cardinal rule of public speaking and told them I was having a tough time. I told them I was having an anxiety attack, and then I talked about how we can prepare ourselves by practicing and working so we can then get through times of great anxiety and still do our jobs.

I got some great questions. One young man said that I was actually their best speaker so far, and he couldn’t believe I thought I wasn’t doing well. He wanted to know how to become good enough at public speaking to get through anxiety like this, and I reiterated: practice.

Practicing reading makes you a better and faster reader. You can comprehend the information more quickly. And this is important for working in IT and business where we need to learn a lot.

Practicing writing makes you a better, faster, and more eloquent writer. You should strive to be concise and to use the right words to convey your meaning. But you have to practice.

The same goes for public speaking. I’ve done it enough that I can do it again. It also helps to have a sense of perspective: despite my anxiety today, I knew I could do it because I had done it. The thought process was much akin to Harry Potter casting the Patronus charm.

I didn’t speak as long as I did on Wednesday, but I got more questions, which helped a lot. I think the students got something out of it, and they were very kind to me.

I’m feeling somewhat better, but not all there. I’m not my usual stable, solid self. I can’t wait to go back to sleep because I think that will help.

Happy birthday to me.

I’m so done with newspapers

I haven’t read a newspaper in years, but the hotel I’m currently staying at (while in St. Louis as an adviser for our Model UN club) drops one in front of the door each morning, so I picked it up yesterday morning and read through it during breakfast. The front page story was about the truce in Ukraine, which was exciting news, and I posted a message via GroupMe. Apparently, by the time I got up and read the paper, the truce had already ended.

That’s right. The story printed on the front page was gone before the paper was even delivered.

And fifty years ago, that was fine. We wouldn’t know better until the next day when we got the new paper. But in this day and age, it means the newspaper is worthless. It no longer serves its purpose whatsoever.

For those looking for alternatives, I have a list of sites I frequent for news:

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Graduation excitement

I’ve lost the blogging buzz. My promotion brought with it both an increase in activities as well as increased focus on finishing everything. I want to wrap up this year and seal it away in the archive so I can move on with my life.

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Not quite one year later – Back to School

I don’t feel completely comfortable about it. Taking almost a year off (I dropped my classes last October, partly out of frustration with how long college was taking and partly because my classes at the time were meaningless and one was led by a racist, sexist asshole) has been good for me, and the distance it has afforded makes me feel like this is all possible. I don’t feel confident, or happy to be back, but I might be able to handle it now.

Then again, I might not, and that worries me. I’m not used to lacking confidence or feeling incapable of dealing with something. At work, I fix things, whether they’re technical problems or people problems. I focus on solutions instead of problems, and I Get Things Done. I don’t feel like I’m able to bring that same mentality to classwork, maybe because so much of it is passive. Class isn’t me doing anything, it’s me sitting and absorbing information. And when there is work to do, it mostly feels like a way to justify awarding points for a grade, and nothing more.

Despite all that, I am hopeful about this semester. I’m taking Women in Religions, which I’ve wanted to take since my freshman year, and the professor is my advisor whom I like a great deal. Tonight I have Religion in the Global South, which is a subject I’ve wanted to study for a couple of years, so maybe that’ll be alright. It really depends on the professor, and I haven’t met the woman teaching tonight’s class.

On top of all this, my supervisor is retiring and I’ve applied for his position. Not sure if I’ve mentioned that here or not… I’ve been having trouble blogging, or writing at all, lately. He retires at the end of September and they hope to have his replacement hired before then so they can start promptly at the beginning of October. In regards to this, I do feel confident, but I’m not stressing about it one way or the other. If I get it, great–I think I can do a lot of good in that position and improve our unit at work. If I don’t, I expect my workload and stress to go down significantly.

Are any of you back at school this fall? It always seems like the summer “flies by,” but seriously, this summer was crazy. I needed another month to get everything done that I wanted done by the start of the fall. I managed to take all of two days off this summer and am still completely swamped with work.

Hopefully I can maintain a healthy balance this semester. Leave work at work, get my school stuff done the 1-2 evenings I have free each week and on the weekends, and not go completely crazy like I did last fall. No promises, though.

Not much blogging for the time being

I’m working out a lot of thoughts, none of which are much good for sharing. I’ll just leave one here, though.

A blog is not a novel.

Tons of thoughts about God, career, writing, plot, hobbies, fulfillment, contentment, and happiness going on. I kind of wish I felt like there was a point to sharing any of it, but even if I did feel motivated to share, none of it’s concrete enough.

How was your weekend?