I like to play video games. I also like to save money. How do I manage the two In a world where video game consoles cost $500 and new games that I want to play cost $70 each? I guess I could enroll in one of the newer subscription services that have popped up. I’m not doing that. What I am doing, even though everything is going digital, is buying hardware and software on disc to play the games I want, and then I resell it used. Typically this means it costs me pennies on the dollar to play the hottest games. My most recent console transaction was with my first generation Nintendo Switch. For the most part I only play the Legend of Zelda series on Nintendo consoles. Nintendo has a business model that includes using old computer technologies in new ways. This means the switch has a hard time playing the newest and best games by all the major developers. These third party studios build their games so they can play across all the most popular platforms which often leaves Nintendo platforms out. This means the best games available for Nintendo platforms tend to be the ones developed by Nintendo, and like I said, out of the Nintendo Catalog, I mostly just play the Zelda games. So I put my lightly used system on eBay after I completed the latest installment in the Zelda series. I got a bunch of responses as I always do inquiring about the system. There was one response to my posting that was so unique, it defied comprehension.
While composing my item description I wanted to communicate that the system was very lightly used. In the description I explained my rationale for putting it up for sale. I shared that I only play Zelda games, I finished the latest iteration, and it would be years before another one came out. Because of this I didn’t have a need for my like-new system. Apparently that set off someone. I received an inquiry, that was really a rant. The response was about a page long and it proceeded to tell me what an idiot I was for not comprehending how amazing the game catalog was on switch. The author described game after game by Nintendo and how great they all are. In his opinion only a fool of the highest order would ever sell such an amazing system. The person who wrote it informed me that they had created a special email address and eBay account just so they could respond to my listing. If they weren’t lying they committed a not insubstantial amount of time, and jumped through a whole bunch of hoops just so they could tell me off for insulting their revered gaming system. They ended their missive by telling me they were now going to delete the account that they created to communicate with me, and would not look at any responses I wished to make. Apparently nothing I could say would stop me from being a troglodyte in the eyes of this individual.
I ignored the troll’s final statement and sent a response, guessing that somebody who went through all that trouble would want to read my response even if they said they didn’t. I explained that I was older, had bad reflexes, had limited time to play video games and made a few other points. In effect, I communicated the only game that’s a good fit for me is Zelda. I never heard back from the Nintendo zealot which was not surprising. Still, they made an impression on me. Not the comments about the quality of Nintendo’s other games. I get that they are great games. They just aren’t great games for me. The thing that stood out to me was how irrational the individual who communicated to me was. Nintendo was supreme, every other gaming experience was substandard, and only an idiot would give up their Nintendo system. The fact that I was doing it was a personal affront to this individual so much so that they had to jump through the hoops to create fake credentials just to tell me off.
This person isn’t alone in the world. Irrational people are everywhere and have always existed. What’s changing is that the population of irrational people seems to be growing at an exponential rate. I think the root cause for the growth has to do with the acceleration of siloing brought about by the algorithms that underpin social media. Bad actors have learned that certain types of people will believe anything if it has a legitimate look. They use that knowledge to manipulate social media and attract these personality types to be part of their tribe.
The bottom line is that you no longer have to be proactive to only consume media and hear opinions you agree with. In the connected world the algorithm does that work for you. Of course to be susceptible to extreme irrationality, an individual has to have some sort of deep seated emotional need. It could be a need to be right, a need to belong, a need to have something in life that helps them feel accomplished or give their life meaning. Irrationality could originate from a reaction to some personal experience in their lives. For me, my, thankfully few, irrational tendencies come from my private sector PTSD. The list is probably limitless, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a whole sub category of psychological research that studies this topic.
If it wasn’t so challenging to deal with some of the beliefs held by these people I’d almost find it entertaining. I’ve seen militant attitudes out of people on topics ranging from Placenta Pills to Bill Clinton’s personal murder squad. All of this made me think about how to deal with irrational people.
One tactic is to try to debate using logic and facts. I’ve found that this never works. I’ve made this mistake a few times in my life. Remember these people are completely irrational so logic and facts are meaningless. They are running on high octane emotions. Because of this they are very well versed on their highly curated sources and seemingly, reasonable logic. Proven and commonly understood facts don’t work. Also, for the average individual, they aren’t nearly as well versed at debunking the false minutiae spouted by the zealot. As an example, if your having a conversation on birth, the irrational placenta pill proponent will offer a relentless barrage of supposed facts of why the medical establishment is completely wrong. They will tell anyone within earshot, especially anyone who is expecting, that the at-home birth followed by a regimen of placenta pills is the only viable solution for a mother to be. The Placenta Pill Proponent thinks they are doing a great service to the world. The odds that there is someone who is part of the conversation and who is well versed in biochemical research on birth and postpartum biology is slim. Even if there was a scientist who could debate the propaganda, the fanatics will simply dismiss the reality of the situation. A perfect example of this can be seen with the COVID-19 anti-vaxxers Joe Rogan Podcast scandal. Science Vs., another show on Spotify, debunked all the main points of the Rogan interview. If you listen to the Science Vs. rebuttal it’s extremely enlightening to see how spreading false information is easy and debunking it is long and hard work. Bottom line, logic Never works.
You can pretend to agree with the extremist. If you play the part well they will think you are in the tribe they will leave you alone, mostly. This tactic works best in my opinion. I have to admit that I feel a little icky using this method. To feel less like a complete liar I try to agree where I focus on the things I really agree with even if I disagree with the rest of the information. A personal example comes from the educational world. As an instructor, I know that school choice, otherwise known as vouchers, is a hot button issue. I’ll agree with a school voucher evangelist that it is a better thing compared to the current system. I just leave out that I think you need to level the playing field. In my mind, as long as the employees in all educational institutions are getting the same benefits and pay then you can make every school a charter school and the teachers union won’t give a crap. If anything it’ll make their lives better because, like the students and parents, they will also get more choice. The voucher extremist will never agree to my point, so it’s best to not argue over it, and that’s why I focus on areas of commonality.
Another good tactic is to feign ignorance. This is simply acting like you never have heard of or been exposed to the information that they believe. This can sometimes result in your interactions turning into a massive waste of time as they will extend the conversation as long as they can, explaining the details of what they believe in exacting detail. If you nod your head or in any way show that you agree they may think you are of a like mind. That could result in them continuing to share through social media and other digital outlets. Every time you are together, they will most likely bring up the subject as they believe it’s something you have in common. Things can get a bit tricky if whatever the impassioned partisan is fixated on includes a call to action in a public way.
The Apathy route focuses on showing extreme disinterest in the conversation at the moment. For it to work you have to make it a point to say you really don’t care. If my digital exchange with the Nintendo zealot was in-person, when they brought up the latest Mario games I could have responded. Whatever, video games are stupid, let’s talk about sports. When the latest political partisan starts to talk about their values or fears they can really get passionate. You’ll hear things like “Democrats are socializing this country!” and “Republicans are starting World War III!” The easiest way to shut them down is to say something like “I don’t vote, don’t care, they are all criminals anyway.” They will think your an idiot for not understanding that thing that is so important to them but often your apathy will lead to the diehard crusader mostly leaving you alone.
If this person is in your social or professional circle, then you may have to create Distance by removing them from your life. This could be hard if they are someone you have to interact with via family events or as part of your work life. There is another negative. I think most, but not all, irrational people are only really unreasonable on a subject or two that triggers them. They can be perfectly reasonable in other areas. That creates a situation where you have to tread carefully when interacting with them. You can enjoy and benefit from their company but only if you dodge their irrationality like Neo dodges slow motion bullets.
When it comes to dealing with the irrational in your life no one solution is good for everyone. Different tactics are needed with different people. Much of your strategic decision depends on how belligerent they are, and how much of a call to action they think you should, or demand you must, take. I think the most important point to keep in mind is that as our world changes the prevalence of militant irrational people is going to grow. More and more people will fall into the trap of surrounding themselves with screens which act as an echo chamber that amplifies back at them what they believe. This means that those of us who take a more measured approach are going to have to become experts at these tactics and more. The best way to do that, unfortunately, is practice. I guess rather than deal with irrational people we could create a game simulation to practice on. If anyone out there chooses to create something like this I hope they create it on a Nintendo platform. Then maybe my Nintendo zealot friend may actually start to realize how insane he really is.