How To Be Right: The Art of Being Persuasively Correct (2015)
EMBRACE THE INNER SKEPTIC
99.9 percent of everything said in the media comes without proof.
Including, of course, that statement. My head hurts.
But it’s true. Think about most of the opinions—or rather all of the opinions—you hear every day.
“I stopped drinking Diet Coke because it makes you fat.”
“Fracking makes your tap water catch on fire.”
“During the Super Bowl, men beat up their women more than usual, because of sports and stuff.”
Almost all the stuff you’re told, especially health-wise, anyway, is bullshit. Because real health information requires actual research, which takes decades—and sucks. I don’t know anyone who’s died from drinking Diet Coke, but there are plenty of doctors who gave themselves heart attacks trying to get published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
I’m told by too many of my educated friends that Diet Coke is bad for me, and I should stop drinking it. “Diet Coke is bad for you,” a pal will say, without bothering to look at oncoming traffic as he crosses Ninth Avenue.
Seriously, how many people have been hit by cars or buses because they were busy scrolling down their iPhone looking for a story on gluten allergies? (Answer: 15,000 every year, per the Gutfeld Institute of Mind Blowing Facts.)
I have no proof (who needs it), but I maintain that more people die from horrible accidents while screeching into their phones about health scares than die in the actual health scares themselves. Every month a person gets run over by a dump truck just as they were yakking away about Ebola going airborne. Instead, they went airborne.
The natural state for your intellect must be at rest—kicking back in the beanbag chair I call skepticism. Skepticism must be your guide, or else you will be lost. You will believe anything, and bounce through life like a skittish pinball, flipped from one hysteria to the next, on edge that something, somewhere is going to kill you. Meanwhile what really gets you is what you never see coming (see the dump truck, above).
Skepticism, however, must not be confused with psychosis. While it’s important to be wary of things portrayed in the media and by opportunistic politicians, it is important not to afford legitimacy to the unbalanced who deny actual events we’ve seen with our own eyes. People confuse skep tics with conspiracy aficionados—but the latter are usually the most gullible people on earth.
Truthers about 9/11 are not skeptics—they are narcissists who use tragic events to play a game of “I know something you don’t.” It’s the adult equivalent of that obnoxious third-grade classmate telling you, “Oh, I know a secret!” just to infuriate you. They claim to question a set of obvious facts with spurious reasoning, and then insist that the burden is on you to disprove their idiocy. This is not skepticism. This is time-wasting twaddle, perfected by tools desperate for attention. Do not waste your time with such rabble, and realize that denial of facts doesn’t constitute skepticism. Skepticism denies nothing, but questions unsubstantiated opinion and, more than ever, hypothetical models that tell you the earth is burning up. So how does one employ skepticism wisely, in a manner that helps you find the truth, while explaining to others where they may have gone wrong? By picking the right targets.
THINGS YOU SHOULD BE SKEPTICAL OF, AT ALL TIMES
★ Any media that seems overly invested in an idea. As a rule, something that creates disciples in the media is never what it turns out to be, whether it concerns climate change models, gun control, or the “natural beauty” of Kim Kardashian’s ass.
★ Self-imposed spokesmen of any kind who seem feverishly strident and humorless in the zeal for their cause. You see this in cults, in truthers, and in college classes. Once someone stakes out a controversial or dramatic point of view, they realize they are rewarded by spotlights, guest segments, and—if they’re lucky—a book contract. Al Sharpton made a TV career riding dual horses called hysteria and hoaxes. The guy actually got rich and powerful (and invited to the White House) off a lie about a girl covered in feces. Only trust those who have nothing to gain. Which eliminates everyone.
★ Any sweeping language. When a person throws words around like “unanimous” or “overwhelming,” it clues you in that they don’t want you to press too hard for their facts. I am willing to debate you on gun control, but I always allow myself the possibility that I might be proven wrong. That makes me (theoretically) pleasant to be around, and also right most of the time, because I prepare to be wrong. In the arena of climate change, we hear about this unanimous group of scientists—the 97 percent, and so on. Once you look closer, it’s way less certain about anything. Real scientists and engineers traffic in certainty when they’re working with scientific laws that make the world work. But they do not magically pretend to know what happens next…unless of course there is grant money involved.
★ A definitive finding. Science is the act of clawing our way to some semblance of knowledge…a truth that will become less truthful or more truthful the more you claw. Every day I figure out something about life that I didn’t know before. It blows my mind, until the next day, when I uncover something else that makes that certainty slightly less certain. (For instance, yesterday I was sure Spider-Man could beat Daredevil. Today I’m racked with doubt.) There are obvious truths: when you see a plane hit a building, and that building falls—the only people questioning that are assholes.
A WALLET-SIZED LIST OF ASSHOLES*
Charlie Sheen (runs in the family)
★ In any instance in which you’re asked to suspend your skepticism, those cases are always man-made. Meaning, whether it be a political movement or an ideological crusade or an assertion that Kanye West is a “genius”—they only reject your skepticism if in fact the phenomenon was created by a man, or a group of men. You can’t be skeptical about a tree, an earthquake, or a kitten. But register skepticism about a movement and you wind up dead. This is why climate change has surpassed most cults in devotional zeal. Point out that the man-made predictions have not accurately translated into biological realities, and you are not deemed wrong, you are deemed a heretic. The comical notion that you’re a flat-earther makes no sense—since it was “established science” that clung to such beliefs. Remember, at one point every scientist was a flat-earther, because everyone, every single person, thought the world was flat (this was disproved around 1986, I believe). When a few people finally raised their hands and said, “Nope, round,” they got burned at the stake. By scientists.
SKEPTIC OR JUST CRAZY?
Which of these thoughts have crossed your mind?
A.Chemtrails. Can I send you an email on Chemtrails?
B.Bill Nye the Science Guy seems a bit messed in the head.
C.Vaccines—do you really know what’s in them?
D.How did that building come down, seriously?
E.You think Hillary will sign my photo of Vince Foster?
F.The birth certificate…the birth certificate!
G.I can’t believe that it’s not butter.
H.I’ve never seen bin Laden and Dana Perino in the same room.
(crazy: A, C, D, E, F; skeptic: B, G, H )