The Conspiracy Myth ~ Charles Eisenstein

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    • Charles Eisenstein
      Speaker and Author
      • The Conspiracy Myth
      May 2020

      The other day I was amused to read a critique
      of The Coronation in which the author
      was absolutely certain
      that I am a closet conspiracy theorist.

      He was so persuasive
      that I myself almost believed it.

      What is a conspiracy theory anyway?

      Sometimes the term is deployed against anyone
      who questions authority, dissents
      from dominant paradigms,
      or thinks that hidden interests influence
      our leading institutions.

      As such, it is a way to quash dissent
      and bully those trying to stand up
      to abuses of power.

      One needn’t abandon critical thinking
      to believe that powerful institutions
      sometimes collude, conspire, cover up,
      and are corrupt.

      If that is what is meant by a conspiracy theory,
      obviously some of those theories are true.

      Does anyone remember Enron?
      Iran-Contra? COINTELPRO? Vioxx?
      Iraqi weapons of mass destruction?

      During the time of Covid-19,
      another level of conspiracy theory
      has risen to prominence that goes way beyond
      specific stories of collusion and corruption
      to posit conspiracy as a core explanatory principle
      for how the world works.

      Fuelled by the authoritarian response to the pandemic (justifiable or not, lockdown, quarantine,
      surveillance and tracking, censorship of misinformation, suspension of freedom of assembly and other civil liberties,
      and so on are indeed authoritarian),
      this arch-conspiracy theory holds that an evil,
      power-hungry cabal of insiders
      deliberately created the pandemic
      or is at least ruthlessly exploiting it to frighten
      the public into accepting a totalitarian world government
      under permanent medical martial law,
      a New World Order (NWO).

      Furthermore, this evil group,
      this illuminati, pulls the strings of all major governments, corporations, the United Nations, the WHO, the CDC,
      the media, the intelligence services, the banks,
      and the NGOs.

      In other words, they say, everything
      we are told is a lie, and the world is in the grip of evil.

      So what do I think about that theory?

      I think it is a myth.

      And what is a myth?

      A myth is not the same thing as a fantasy or a delusion.

      Myths are vehicles of truth,
      and that truth needn’t be literal.

      The classical Greek myths, for example,
      seem like mere amusements
      until one decodes them
      by associating each god
      with psychosocial forces.

      In this way, myths bring light to the shadows
      and reveal what has been repressed.

      They take a truth about the psyche
      or society and form it into a story.

      The truth of a myth does not depend
      on whether it is objectively verifiable.

      That is one reason why, in The Coronation,
      I said my purpose is neither to advocate
      nor to debunk the conspiracy narrative,
      but rather to look at what it illuminates.

      It is, after all, neither provable nor falsifiable.

      What is true about the conspiracy myth?

      Underneath its literalism,
      it conveys important information
      that we ignore at great peril.

      First, it demonstrates the shocking extent
      of public alienation from institutions of authority.

      For all the political battles of the post-WWII era,
      there was at least a broad consensus
      on basic facts and on where facts could be found.

      The key institutions of knowledge production
      -- science and journalism
      -- enjoyed broad public trust.

      If the New York Times and CBS Evening News
      said that North Vietnam attacked the United States
      in the Gulf of Tonkin, most people believed it.

      If science said nuclear power and DDT were safe,
      most people believed that too.

      To some extent, that trust was well earned.

      Journalists sometimes defied the interests
      of the powerful, as with Seymour Hersh’s expose
      of the My Lai massacre,
      or Woodward & Bernstein’s reporting on Watergate.

      Science, in the vanguard of civilization’s
      onward march, had a reputation
      for the objective pursuit of knowledge
      in defiance of traditional religious authorities,
      as well as a reputation for lofty disdain
      for political and financial motives.

      Today, the broad consensus trust in science
      and journalism is in tatters.

      I know several highly educated people
      who believe the earth is flat.

      By dismissing flat-earthers
      and the tens of millions of adherents
      to less extreme alternative narratives
      (historical, medical, political, and scientific)
      as ignorant, we are mistaking symptom for cause.

      Their loss of trust is a clear symptom
      of a loss of trustworthiness.

      Our institutions of knowledge production
      have betrayed public trust repeatedly,
      as have our political institutions.

      Now, many people won’t believe them
      even when they tell the truth.

      This must be frustrating to the scrupulous doctor,
      scientist, or public official.

      To them, the problem looks like a public gone mad,
      a rising tide of anti-scientific irrationality
      that is endangering public health.

      The solution, from that perspective,
      would be to combat ignorance.

      It is almost as if ignorance is a virus

      (in fact, I have heard that phrase before)

      that must be controlled

      through the same kind of quarantine

      (for example, censorship)

      that we apply to the coronavirus.

      Ironically, another kind of ignorance

      pervades both these efforts:

      the ignorance of the terrain.

      What is the diseased tissue

      upon which the virus of ignorance gains purchase?

      The loss of trust in science, journalism,

      and government reflects their long corruption:

      their arrogance and elitism,

      their alliance with corporate interests,

      and their institutionalized suppression of dissent.

      The conspiracy myth embodies

      the realization of a profound disconnect

      between the public postures

      of our leaders and their true motivations and plans.

      It bespeaks a political culture

      that is opaque to the ordinary citizen,

      a world of secrecy, image, PR,

      spin, optics, talking points,

      perception management, narrative management,

      and information warfare.

      No wonder people suspect

      that there is another reality

      operating behind the curtains.

      Second, the conspiracy myth

      gives narrative form to an authentic intuition

      that an inhuman power governs the world.

      What could that power be?

      The conspiracy myth

      locates that power in a group

      of malevolent human beings

      (who take commands, in some versions,

      from extraterrestrial or demonic entities).

      Therein lies a certain psychological comfort,

      because now there is someone to blame

      in a familiar us-versus-them narrative

      and victim-perpetrator-rescuer psychology.

      Alternatively, we could locate the “inhuman power”

      in systems or ideologies, not a group of conspirators.

      That is less psychologically rewarding,

      because we can no longer easily identify

      as good fighting evil;

      after all, we ourselves participate in these systems,

      which pervade our entire society.

      Systems like the debt-based money system,

      patriarchy, white supremacy, or capitalism

      cannot be removed by fighting their administrators.

      They create roles for evildoers to fill,

      but the evildoers are functionaries;

      puppets, not puppet masters.

      The basic intuition of conspiracy theories

      then is true:

      that those we think hold power are

      but puppets of the real power in the world.

      A couple weeks ago I was on a call

      with a person who had a high position

      in the Obama administration

      and who still runs in elite circles.

      He said, “There is no one driving the bus.”

      I was a little disappointed actually,

      because there is indeed part of me

      that wishes the problem

      were a bunch of dastardly conspirators.


      Because then our world’s problems

      would be quite easy to solve,

      at least in principle.

      Just expose and eliminate those bad guys.

      That is the prevailing Hollywood formula

      for righting the world’s wrongs:

      a heroic champion confronts

      and defeats the bad guy,

      and everyone lives happily ever after.

      Hmm, that is the same basic formula

      as blaming ill health on germs

      and killing them with the arsenal of medicine,

      so that we can live safe healthy lives ever after,

      or killing the terrorists

      and walling out the immigrants

      and locking up the criminals,

      all again so that we can live safe healthy lives

      ever after.

      Stamped from the same template,

      conspiracy theories tap into an unconscious orthodoxy.

      They emanate from the same mythic pantheon

      as the social ills they protest.

      We might call that pantheon Separation,

      and one of its chief motifs is the war against the Other.

      That is not to say there is no such thing as a germ

      -- or a conspiracy.

      Watergate, COINTELPRO, Iran-Contra,

      Merck’s drug Vioxx, Ford’s exploding Pinto coverup,

      Lockheed-Martin’s bribery campaign,

      Bayer’s knowing sale of HIV-contaminated blood,

      and the Enron scandal demonstrate

      that conspiracies involving powerful elites do happen.

      None of the above are myths though:

      a myth is something that explains the world;

      it is, mysteriously, bigger than itself.

      Thus, the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory

      (which I will confess, doubtless at cost to my credibility,

      to accepting as literally true)

      is a portal to the mythic realm.

      The conspiracy myth I’m addressing here,

      though, is much larger

      than any of these specific examples:

      It is that the world as we know

      it is the result of a conspiracy,

      with the Illuminati or controllers as its evil gods.

      For believers, it becomes a totalizing discourse

      that casts every event into its terms.

      It is a myth with an illustrious pedigree,

      going back at least to the time

      of the first century Gnostics.

      Gnostics believe that an evil demiurge

      created the material world

      out of a preexisting divine essence.

      Creating the world in the image

      of his own distortion,

      he imagines himself to be its true god and ruler.

      One needn’t believe in this literally,

      nor believe literally in a world-controlling evil cabal,

      to derive insight from this myth

      -- insight into the arrogance of the powerful,

      for example, or into the nature of the distortion

      that colors the world of our experience.

      What is it that makes the vast majority

      of humanity comply with a system

      that drives Earth and humankind to ruin?

      What power has us in its grip?

      It isn’t just the conspiracy theorists

      who are captive to a mythology.

      Society at large is too.

      I call it the mythology of Separation:

      me separate from you,

      matter separate from spirit,

      human separate from nature.

      It holds us as discrete

      and separate selves in an objective universe

      of force and mass, atoms and void.

      Because we are (in this myth)

      separate from other people

      and from nature,

      we must dominate our competitors

      and master nature.

      Progress, therefore,

      consists in increasing our capacity

      to control the Other.

      The myth recounts human history

      as an ascent from one triumph to the next,

      from fire to domestication to industry

      to information technology, genetic engineering,

      and social science,

      promising a coming paradise of control.

      That same myth motivates

      the conquest and ruin of nature,

      organizing society to turn the entire planet

      into money

      -- no conspiracy necessary.

      The mythology of Separation

      is what generates what I named in

      The Coronation as a “civilizational tilt”

      toward control.

      The solution template is,

      facing any problem, to find something to control

      -- to quarantine, to track, to imprison,

      to wall out, to dominate, or to kill.

      If control fails, more control will fix it.

      To achieve social and material paradise,

      control everything, track every movement,

      monitor every word, record every transaction.

      Then there can be no more crime,

      no more infection, no more disinformation.

      When the entire ruling class accepts this formula

      and this vision, they will act in natural concert

      to increase their control.

      It is all for the greater good.

      When the public accepts it too,

      they will not resist it.

      This is not a conspiracy,

      though it can certainly look like one.

      This is a third truth within the conspiracy myth.

      Events are indeed orchestrated

      in the direction of more and more control,

      only the orchestrating power is itself a zeitgeist,

      an ideology… a myth.

      A Conspiracy with No Conspirators

      Let us not dismiss the conspiracy myth

      as just a myth.

      Not only is it an important psychosocial diagnostic,

      but it reveals what is otherwise hard to see

      from the official mythology

      in which society’s main institutions,

      while flawed, are shepherding us

      ever-closer to a high tech paradise.

      That dominant myth blinds us

      to the data points the conspiracy theorists

      recruit for their narratives.

      These might include things

      like regulatory capture

      in the pharmaceutical industry,

      conflicts of interest within public health organizations,

      the dubious efficacy of masks,

      the far-lower-than-hyped death rates,

      totalitarian overreach,

      the questionable utility of lockdown,

      concerns about non-ionizing frequencies

      of electromagnetic radiation,

      the benefits of natural and holistic approaches

      to boosting immunity, bioterrain theory,

      the dangers of censorship

      in the name of “combatting disinformation,”

      and so forth.

      It would be nice if one could raise

      the numerous valid points and legitimate questions

      that alternative Covid narratives

      bring to light without being classed as

      a right-wing conspiracy theorist.

      The whole phrase “right-wing conspiracy theorist”

      is a bit odd, since traditionally it is the Left

      that has been most alert to the proclivity

      of the powerful to abuse their power.

      Traditionally, it is the Left that is suspicious

      of corporate interests, that urges us to

      “question authority,” and that has in fact

      been the main victim of government infiltration

      and surveillance.

      Fifty years ago, if anyone said,

      “There is a secret program called COINTELPRO

      that is spying on civil rights groups

      and sowing division within them

      with poison pen letters and fabricated rumors,”

      that would have been a conspiracy theory

      by today’s standards.

      The same, 25 years ago, with,

      “There is a secret program in

      which the CIA facilitates narcotics sales

      into American inner cities

      and uses the money to fund right-wing paramilitaries

      in Central America.”

      The same with government infiltration

      of environmental groups and peace activists

      starting in the 1980s.

      Or more recently,
      the infiltration of the Standing Rock movement.

      Or the real estate industry’s decades-long conspiracy
      to redline neighborhoods to keep black people out.

      Given this history, why all of a sudden
      is it the Left urging everyone to trust “the Man”

      -- to trust the pronouncements

      of the pharmaceutical companies

      and pharma-funded organizations

      like the CDC and WHO?

      Why is skepticism towards these institutions

      labeled “right wing”?

      It isn’t as if only the privileged

      are “inconvenienced” by lockdown.

      It is devastating the lives of tens

      or hundreds of millions of the global precariat.

      The UN World Food Program

      is warning that by the end of the year,

      260 million people will face starvation.

      Most are black and brown people in Africa

      and South Asia.

      One might argue that to restrict the debate

      to epidemiological questions of mortality

      is itself a privileged stance that erases

      the suffering of those who are most marginalized

      to begin with.

      “Conspiracy theory” has become a term

      of political invective, used to disparage

      any view that diverges from mainstream beliefs.

      Basically, any critique of dominant institutions

      can be smeared as conspiracy theory.

      There is actually a perverse truth in this smear.

      For example, if you believe that glyphosate

      is actually dangerous to human and ecological health,

      then you also must, if you are logical,

      believe that Bayer/Monsanto is suppressing

      or ignoring that information,

      and you must also believe that the government,

      media, and scientific establishment

      are to some extent complicit in that suppression.

      Otherwise, why are we not seeing

      NYT headlines like,

      “Monsanto whistleblower reveals dangers of glyphosate”?

      Information suppression can happen

      without deliberate orchestration.

      Throughout history, hysterias, intellectual fads,

      and mass delusions have come and gone spontaneously.

      This is more mysterious than the easy conspiracy

      explanation admits.

      An unconscious coordination of action

      can look very much like a conspiracy,

      and the boundary between the two is blurry.

      Consider the weapons of mass destruction

      (WMD) fraud that served as a pretext

      for the invasion of Iraq.

      Maybe there were people in

      the Bush administration who knowingly

      used the phony “yellowcake” document

      to call for war; maybe they just wanted

      very much to believe the documents were genuine,

      or maybe they thought,

      “Well, this is questionable

      but Saddam must have WMD,

      and even if he doesn’t,

      he wants them, so the document is basically true…”

      People easily believe what serves

      their interests or fits their existing worldview.

      In a similar vein, the media needed

      little encouragement to start beating the war drums.

      They knew what to do already, without having to receive

      instructions. I don’t think very many journalists

      actually believed the WMD lie.

      They pretended to believe,

      because subconsciously,

      they knew that was the establishment narrative.

      That was what would get them recognized as serious journalists.

      That’s what would give them access to power.

      That is what would allow them to keep their jobs
      and advance their careers.

      But most of all, they pretended to believe
      because everyone else was pretending to believe.

      It is hard to go against the zeitgeist.

      The British scientist Rupert Sheldrake

      told me about a talk he gave to a group of scientists

      who were working on animal behaviour

      at a prestigious British University.

      He was talking about his research on dogs

      that know when their owners are coming home,

      and other telepathic phenomena in domestic animals.

      The talk was received with a kind of polite silence.

      But in the following tea break

      all six of the senior scientists

      who were present at the seminar

      came to him one by one,

      and when they were sure

      that no one else was listening

      told him they had had experiences

      of this kind with their own animals,

      or that they were convinced that telepathy

      is a real phenomenon,

      but that they could not talk to their colleagues

      about this because they were all so straight.

      When Sheldrake realised that all six

      had told him much the same thing,

      he said to them, “Why don’t you guys come out?

      You’d all have so much more fun!”

      He says that when he gives a talk

      at a scientific institution

      there are nearly always scientists

      who approach him afterwards

      telling him they’ve had personal experiences

      that convince them of the reality

      of psychic or spiritual phenomena

      but that they can’t discuss them

      with their colleagues

      for fear of being thought weird.

      This is not a deliberate conspiracy

      to suppress psychic phenomena.

      Those six scientists didn’t convene beforehand

      and decide to suppress information they knew was real.

      They keep their opinions to themselves

      because of the norms of their subculture,

      the basic paradigms that delimit science,

      and the very real threat of damage to their careers.

      The persecution and calumny directed

      at Sheldrake himself demonstrates

      what happens to a scientist

      who is outspoken in his dissent

      from official scientific reality.

      So, we might still say that a conspiracy

      is afoot, but its perpetrator is a culture,

      a system, and a story.

      Is this, or a deliberate conspiratorial agenda,

      a more satisfying explanation for

      the seemingly inexorable trends

      (which by no means began with Covid)

      toward surveillance, tracking, distancing, germ phobia,

      obsession with safety, and the digitization

      and indoor-ization of entertainment, recreation,

      and sociality? If the perpetrator
      is indeed a cultural mythology and system,
      then conspiracy theories offer us a false target,
      a distraction.

      The remedy cannot be to expose and take down
      those who have foisted these trends upon us.

      Of course, there are many bad actors in our world,
      remorseless people committing heinous acts.

      But have they created the system and the mythology of Separation, or do they merely take advantage of it?

      Certainly such people should be stopped,

      but if that is all we do, and leave unchanged

      the conditions that breed them,

      we will fight an endless war.

      Just as in bioterrain theory germs are symptoms

      and exploiters of diseased tissue,

      so also are conspiratorial cabals

      symptoms and exploiters of a diseased society:

      a society poisoned by the mentality of war, fear,

      separation, and control.

      This deep ideology, the myth of separation,

      is beyond anyone’s power to invent.

      The Illuminati, if they exist, are not its authors; it is more true to say that the mythology is their author. We do not create our myths; they create us.
      Which side are you on?
      In the end, I still haven’t said whether I think the New World Order conspiracy myth is true or not.

      Well actually yes I have. I have said it is true as a myth,

      regardless of its correspondence to verifiable facts.

      But what about the facts?

      Come on, Charles, tell us, is there actually a conspiracy

      behind the Covid thing, or isn’t there?

      There must be an objective fact of the matter.

      Are chemtrails a thing?

      Was SARS-COV2 genetically engineered?

      Is microwave radiation from cellphone towers a factor?

      Are vaccines introducing viruses from animal cell

      cultures into people?

      Is Bill Gates masterminding a power grab

      in the form of medical martial law?

      Does a Luciferian elite rule the world?

      True or false?

      Yes or no?

      To this question I would respond with another:

      Given that I am not an expert on

      any of these matters,

      why do you want to know

      what I think?

      Could it be to place me on one side

      or another of an information war?

      Then you will know whether it is OK

      to enjoy this essay, share it,

      or have me on your podcast.

      In an us-versus-them war mentality,

      the most important thing is to know

      which side someone is on,

      lest you render aid and comfort to the enemy.

      Aha -- Charles must be on the other side.

      Because he has created a false equivalency

      between peer-reviewed, evidence-based,

      respectable scientific knowledge on the one hand,

      and unhinged conspiracy theories on the other.

      Aha -- Charles must be on the other side.

      Because he has created a false equivalency

      between corporate-government-NWO propaganda

      on the one hand, and brave whistle-blowers

      and dissidents risking their careers

      for the truth on the other.

      Can you see how totalizing war mentality can be?

      War mentality saturates our polarized society,

      which envisions progress as a consequence of victory

      -- victory over a virus, over the ignorant,

      over the left, over the right, over the psychopathic elites,

      over Donald Trump, over white supremacy,

      over the liberal elites....

      Each side uses the same formula,

      and that formula requires an enemy.

      So, obligingly, we divide ourselves up

      into us and them, exhausting 99% of our energies

      in a fruitless tug-of-war,

      never once suspecting that the true evil power

      might be the formula itself.

      This is not to propose that we somehow banish

      conflict from human affairs.

      It is to question a mythology

      -- embraced by both sides

      -- that conceives every problem in conflict’s terms.

      Struggle and conflict have their place,

      but other plotlines are possible.

      There are other pathways to healing and to justice.

      A Call for Humility

      Have you ever noticed that events seem to organize

      themselves to validate the story you hold about the world?

      Selection bias and confirmation bias

      explain some of that, but I think something

      weirder is at work as well.

      When we enter into deep faith or deep paranoia,

      it seems as if that state attracts confirmatory events to it.

      Reality organizes itself to match our stories.

      In a sense, this IS a conspiracy,

      just not one perpetrated by humankind.

      That might be a third truth

      that the conspiracy myth harbors:

      the presence of an organizing intelligence

      behind the events of our lives.

      In no way does this imply the New Age nostrum

      that beliefs create reality.

      Rather, it is that reality and belief construct

      each other, coevolving as a coherent whole.

      The intimate, mysterious connection

      between myth and reality

      means that belief is never actually a slave to fact.

      We are facts’ sovereign

      -- which is not to say their creator.

      To be their sovereign doesn’t mean to be their tyrant,

      disrespecting and over-ruling them.

      The wise monarch pays attention to an unruly subject,

      such as a fact that defies the narrative.

      Maybe it is simply a disturbed trouble-maker,

      like a simple lie, but maybe it signals disharmony

      in the kingdom.

      Maybe the kingdom is no longer legitimate.

      Maybe the myth is no longer true.

      It could well be that the vociferous attacks

      on Covid dissent, using the “conspiracy theory” smear,

      signal the infirmity of the orthodox paradigms

      they seek to uphold.

      If so, that doesn’t mean the orthodox paradigms

      are all wrong either.

      To leap from one certainty to another skips

      the holy ground of uncertainty, of not knowing,

      of humility, into which genuinely new information can come.

      What unites the pundits of all persuasions is their certainty.

      Who is trustworthy?

      In the end, it is the person with the humility

      to recognize when he or she has been wrong.

      To those who categorically dismiss any information

      that seriously challenges conventional medicine,

      lockdown policies, vaccines, etc., I would ask,

      Do you need such high walls around your kingdom?

      Instead of banishing these unruly subjects,

      would it hurt to give them an audience?

      Would it be so dangerous to perhaps tour

      another kingdom, guided not by your own loyal minister

      but by the most intelligent, welcoming partisans

      of the other side?

      If you have no interest in spending the several hours

      it will take to absorb the following dissenting opinions, fine.

      I’d rather be in my garden too.

      But if you are a partisan in these issues,

      what harm will it do to visit enemy territory?

      Normally partisans don’t do that.

      They rely on the reports of their own leaders

      about the enemy.

      If they know anything of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s

      or Judy Mikovitz’s views,

      it is through the lens of someone debunking them.

      So give a listen to Kennedy,

      or if you prefer MD’s only, t

      o David Katz, Zach Bush,

      or Christiane Northrup,

      I would like to offer the same invitation

      to those who reject the conventional view.

      Find the most scrupulous mainstream doctors

      and scientists you can, and dive into their world.

      Take the attitude of a respectful guest,

      not a hostile spy.

      If you do that, I guarantee you will encounter

      data points that challenge any narrative

      you came in with.

      The splendor of conventional virology,

      the wonders of chemistry that generations

      of scientists have discovered,

      the intelligence and sincerity of most of these scientists,

      and the genuine altruism of health care workers

      on the front line who have no political

      or financial conflict of interest

      in the face of grave risk to themselves,

      must be part of any satisfactory narrative.

      After two months of obsessively searching for one,

      I have not yet found a satisfactory narrative

      that can account for every data point.

      That doesn’t mean to take no action

      because after all, knowledge is never certain.

      But in the whirlwind of competing narratives

      and the disjoint mythologies beneath them,

      we can look for action that makes sense

      no matter which side is right.

      We can look for truths

      that the smoke and clamor
      of the battle obscures.

      We can question assumptions both sides

      take for granted,

      and ask questions neither side is asking.

      Not identified with either side,

      we can gather knowledge from both.

      Generalizing to society,

      by bringing in all the voices,

      including the marginalized ones,

      we can build a broader social consensus

      and begin to heal the polarization

      that is rending and paralyzing our society.



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