We all have them. That outspoken naturopath in-law who is very active on social media. You accepted her friend request out of filial duty, politely liking tagged photos of family gatherings while trying to not engage on her shillbolic rants against technology, science, industry and food.
My sister-in-law, Rachel (name changed to protect the innocent … the seriously innocent) is a fascinating specimen whom I not only study as a case of radical naturopathosis, but whom I also use as a resource to a wealth of activist sites I could never possibly find on my own. I marvel at the ease in which Rachel can recommend outrageous guru-led solutions to non-existent diseases. Millions of minions follow these sites, unknown to the scientific world, hocking some supplement that far more effectively uses lemon juice to treat cancer, tablets of oxygenated somethings that remove glyphosate residues apparently clogging my cells and potentially fatal enema cocktails to cure autism. As for the streaming flow of activist handycam lobbumentaries … there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
Rachel has been conditioned to attack anyone who questions the simplistic solutions of her tribe. Most of her social media feeds are testimony to the enraged invectives from a collective of the vulnerable and the insecure. Their answers are simple: those who disagree are paid by Monsanto (short-hand for any industrial organisation who somehow manages to control every single scientist and government official). Rachel believes these shills get up every morning and are only interested in poisoning babies and polluting the planet. Any person or organisation that challenges her naturopathic community is compromised and their scientific papers or evidence are inconsequential. There are alternative facts and as for any potential negative consequences from her solutions (famines, widespread diseases and viruses, environmental degradation …), these alarmist fabrications just won’t happen.
While I have quarantined Rachel on social media (and sheepishly thank her for her advice on my timeline), in a couple of weeks, I, like so many other science-minded people, will have to endure a family Christmas dinner with a raging naturopath. Every year it seems to get worse as Rachel proceeds through the “ten-step programme” for breaking free from the destructive world of conventional science (blog on that to come). She is progressing to guru-assistant status and is developing her own following.
The kids have been coached to nod politely and to not initiate any conversations with Auntie Rachel. I fear this year I may not be able to hold my tongue. It is her turn to host the family dinner and I have to choose the wine.
Please pass the organic, gluten-free stuffing
Along with my wife, I often pity her brother (who seems to have tuned out Rachel’s idle “day job” and rarely discusses her privileged “office work”). Like a vast majority of people, he doesn’t know and doesn’t care about these issues, doesn’t read the labels on what he finds in the fridge and has learnt how to just nod when Rachel vents. During dinner conversations, he is quite happy when the topic turns to football. Rachel doesn’t follow football and uses that time to re-calibrate and strategise the points she needs to score in the next “conversation”.
Rachel knows a little about me, she has shared personal details in her community and feels that I need to be properly “informed”. Disagreeing with me is not enough – I have to be forced to agree with the zealot. So how do I deal with Rachel at the dinner table?
A typical conversation would start with:
So, … David, … do people still read your little, … hmm, … blog?
Why, yes, Rachel, I had a very good year.
I heard you were fired from your university. Well, isn’t that something. I suppose it is a good lesson for you to stop shilling for Monsanto. I know the money must be good but clearly the academic community knows better than to support those interested in poisoning people. They certainly recognised how agroecology is the only way forward. You must be so ashamed…
At this point, how I respond depends on how many glasses of organic wine I will have, by then, consumed.
But these conversations never end well. Rachel has targeted me as a threat, as an undesirable, as someone her world would be better off without. Enraging me is her goal. As she has no respect for me, she wouldn’t think twice about insulting me or finding a way to personally hurt me. It gives her purpose.
So how should I talk to my sister-in-law this Christmas?
No one can really “talk” to a zealot, but in my interactions, there are certain tricks I have learnt that work (and many more that don’t). So here are the Do’s and Don’ts for dealing with your naturopathic sister-in-law this Christmas holiday season.
- Any argument needs to be overwhelming. As I demonstrated with my Top 20 Reasons not to Feed your Family Organic blog, a zealot can argue incessantly against a single point with enough energy or gusto to discourage even the happiest soul at Christmas. But if I overwhelm Rachel with multiple points, she may decide to sit the conversation out. For example, if you talk about the problems of organic farming, hit her all at once with the whole gamut of issues: problems of lower yields, land-use, studies on no difference of taste or health benefits, soil erosion from tilling, threats to global food security, demands on ecosystems for the production of natural pesticides, retail marketing tricks and the increasing fraud and counterfeit issues. Start by saying: “I have ten problems with organic food” so she might just let you finish a sentence.
- Speak in contextual rather than numerical terms (not of dose levels but of concrete exposures). Rachel is numerically illiterate (she buys lottery tickets to try to pay off her credit card debt), so when she talks about Cheerios being “doused” with glyphosate, don’t give her the parts per billion number, but let her know she would have to eat 4000 boxes a day to be exposed to any remote risk.
Recognise that Rachel desperately needs to feel good about herself. Naturopaths are often vulnerable and virtue signal every chance they get. Show her other ways to be good that do not involve the revolutionary destruction of the food chain, abandoning the energy mix or the elimination of the pharmaceutical industry. Calling her a “heartless zealot” will only activate her defence system.
- Speak in storied examples rather than facts or definitions. “A friend who had chemotherapy ten years ago and is healthy now” is better than trying to explain how conventional medicine treats cancer. Ask her about people she knows personally who have “juiced out” their tumours.
- Play for the positive, not for the win. I once talked with Rachel for ten minutes on the environmental benefits of conservation agriculture. I did this by not trying to score points and making her go into defensive mode. We agreed on how no-till practices enriched biodiversity, moisture retention and soil health while reducing erosion, diesel emissions and water runoff. We talked about how complex cover crops are reducing the need for synthetic fertilisers and are even able to inoculate the soil for potential threats in coming crops. Rachel was so impressed with my “ecological conversion”. I decided to let her go home and figure out herself why glyphosate is vital to this process.
- Leave topics off the table by simply saying: “Well, that’s fine Rachel, but I have different facts.” Rachel believes alternative facts exist so, unless she feels ripe for a fight, she might just move onto another subject (like how she dealt with her son’s measles with supplements).
Don’t bother with the following:
- Appealing to well-known scientists or institutions (in Rachel’s world, they have all been “bought and paid for” by industry).
- Showing the difference between a risk and a hazard (for naturopaths, all hazards are risks and exposure measurements can’t be trusted).
- Warning of consequences of her ideas at a global policy level. Rachel has been conditioned to feel that her interests matter more and those who disagree are alarmist. She has been reassured that nothing bad ever comes from nature.
- Arguing that Rachel is illogical or irrational. Emotional fears can withstand a wide-range of inconsistency or hypocrisy. Rachel will just perceive you as pretentious.
- Name-calling. Rachel, like all zealots, loves to get down and dirty in the mud and you will just confirm her bias that science-minded people are awful and intolerant.
- Trying to educate her. Rachel is deficient in listening skills and is merely politely waiting for me to finish my point before she spouts some meme-driven factoid about, say, vaccine ingredients. You will not convert her (and you’ll only hurt your spouse).
And most importantly, don’t get upset if she insults you or your work. A vulnerable person fights insecurity within a social media tribe by building walls and weaponising values. Rachel feels threatened by what you say and do and is confused that you don’t get how awful your world is. In a twisted manner, she cares about you and wants you to change your ways. When a zealot is facing a threat (evil), social decorum and respect are secondary.
Inside the mind of a zealot
Rachel also offers an interesting opportunity to get inside the mind of a zealot. Several years back, I wrote on the subject of zealot ethics: how these Machiavellians put themselves on a higher level and feel no need for conventional virtues like honesty or respect. Presently, my SlimeGate series looks at how awful things can get before a zealot speaks out against those campaigning around them. Activists hating Monsanto seem willing to go deep into hypocrisy to win their battle, agreeing to work with slimeball lawyers, lying scientists, greedy bottom-feeders, deceptive lobbyists and Scientologists. I have yet to find a bottom to how low a zealot can go in the fight against a threat. I wonder, this year, if Rachel is capable of accepting certain points of integrity.
Social media has created an entirely new breed of zealot. They are not simply driven by a belief; they are not simply emoto-religiously motivated; they are not simply burying their vulnerability within a guru-led community cult tribe; there is certainly something more. Social media-driven naturopathic zealots are segregationists (in a manner far more vile that what humanity experienced in the 1960s). What Rachel really wants is to separate her world from mine … and then eliminate mine. She has segregated her world by blocking all contrarian information feeds – they no longer exist. Those facts never mattered. (RM: I hope someday, in a future blog on this, to credit this segregationist idea to a student whom, in a simple observation, has shown to be far more intelligent than her professor.)
So how have you managed to deal with your “Rachel” over Christmas pasts? I would love to hear your stories. Go ahead, tag her to this blog … it would be nice to meet her. And putting our Rachels aside, I would like to wish you all the best this holiday season!