Should We Give Thrive a Pass on Facts, And Instead Praise its “Message?”
As stated here, the purpose of this blog is to bring to light the many errors, distortions, and inaccuracies contained in the conspiracy theory documentary Thrive. My objections to Thrive are primarily fact-based. It presents many claims as fact which are simply untrue: for example, that crop circles are of extraterrestrial origin, that Adam Trombly has invented a working “free energy” device, and that an insular group of conspirators control the world. These things are not true, and many other claims the movie makes aren’t true either.
A common thread in many of the comments I’ve received on this blog, however, has been to take me to task for focusing on the factual veracity of claims made in Thrive. According to certain commenters, the factual accuracy of the film and its claims aren’t the point, and instead of debunking them, I should be praising what some people view as the movie’s “positive message.” This article will evaluate that assertion critically, or at least as critically as an essentially faith-based proposition can be evaluated.
Should we give Thrive a pass on its purported facts, or some of its purported facts, in favor of praising either its overall “message” or the good intentions of its creators, such as Foster Gamble? I would clearly answer no to this question, but it’s equally clear that many fans of the film would unhesitatingly answer yes. This difference in approach illustrates some interesting things about the movie itself and the audience at which it is aimed.
Do Facts Matter?
On the face of it this question seems silly. Of course they do. Facts always matter. Without ascertaining what’s fact and what’s not, the world is unnavigable. However, it appears that, when one delves into the strange New Age netherworld of the sorts of subjects covered in Thrive—UFOs, magical energy devices, ancient astronauts, and conspiracy theories—facts become a whole lot less important, at least to the people who believe in these things.
Let’s take, for example, Adam Trombly’s “free energy” machine. An early article on this blog presented the facts that, not only is there no evidence that Trombly’s machine works, but the principle by which it supposedly operates violates the laws of physics. In the comments on that and other pages, however, some defenders of Thrive don’t seem to be very troubled by this. Believers in “free energy” devices, when confronted with facts demonstrating that a particular machine has not been proven to work, will often start arguing about possibilities and potentials of unlimited energy devices, sometimes citing examples of other particular machines—whose operations have not been proven either. You can see examples of this sort of argumentation in the comments to that page. To them, therefore, what seems to be important is that a person believes in the possibility of “free energy.” When you come at it from that tack, whether Trombly’s specific machine does or does not work suddenly recedes in importance. The factual question of whether it does or doesn’t work is no longer the key issue you’re arguing about.
But what does this say about Thrive? It seems safe to conclude that Foster Gamble believes strongly in “free energy” devices, and promoting that belief to the public seems to be one of the key objectives of Thrive. One would assume, therefore, that Adam Trombly and his device are, if not the best and most compelling example of “free energy” devices that Gamble could find, at least a representative example. Even if Gamble, in preparation for making the movie, interviewed 50 inventors of so-called “free energy” devices and only Trombly was willing to sign up to appear on camera, it wouldn’t make sense that Gamble would put him in the movie if his specific device wasn’t capable of illustrating the point Gamble wants to make about “free energy.” Seen in that light, isn’t the failure of Trombly’s case to persuade us that “free energy” devices are real extremely damaging to Gamble’s argument in general?
Don’t misunderstand what I’m arguing here. One failed example is not an excuse to trash an entire idea. If you can show me a working example of a “free energy” device whose operation is clearly and publicly verified by reputable scientific sources—a “free energy” device whose operation and functioning are unmistakable, explainable by science and capable of being reproduced—I will concede that “free energy” exists, and the fact that Trombly failed to build such a device is irrelevant. But what I am saying is that if Trombly is the best example of this phenomenon that Thrive can offer us, and that example fails to make its case, doesn’t that diminish the ability of the movie Thrive to persuade us that its arguments are credible?
Again, just to be clear: the point I’m making is that, by using Adam Trombly as a (presumably) representative example of “free energy,” Thrive turns out to be not very persuasive that “free energy” exists. This may be just because Trombly is a bad example, in which case the makers of Thrive chose him poorly; or it may be because there’s nothing to “free energy” to begin with, in which case the makers of Thrive are asserting something they either know is false or ought to know if they had done proper research into the matter. Either way it seems inescapable that Thrive’s competence and credibility as a source diminishes as soon as you realize that the claims the movie makes about Trombly and his machine don’t pan out.
To at least some defenders of the movie, however, this analysis doesn’t follow at all. To them it doesn’t really matter whether Trombly is a good example or a bad one—they wish to believe that “free energy” exists, and the fact that the specific inventor showcased in Thrive has not created a working “free energy” machine is not permitted to impeach this conclusion. This is purely faith-based, result-driven reasoning.
I’m using the Trombly case as an example here, but it is by no means the only example. It would be one thing if it was the only unpersuasive example. But it isn’t. If you pile the numerous errors, distortions and unwarranted conclusions in Thrive atop one another, it quickly becomes clear that the movie as a whole has an extremely serious problem with basic factual credibility on multiple levels.
Should We Cherry-Pick the Claims in Thrive, Believe Some and Leave Others Alone?
Another thread that comes through in some of the pro-Thrive comments suggests that viewers are approaching it as a sort of cafeteria smorgasbord where you’re expected to take one or more claims it makes at face value while dismissing, or ignoring, others. The movie offers so many conspiracy theories and New Age perspectives, changing gears so rapidly, that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. The problem is compounded when one looks at the Thrive Movement website, especially its section on the “Global Domination Agenda,” and sees links to a bunch of other conspiracy theories that the movie didn’t have time to cover, as well as mentions of conspiracy theorists, like Alex Jones, who themselves espouse particular conspiracy theories not specifically mentioned in the film. It’s difficult to accept that anybody could believe the literal truth of all of the conspiracy theories mentioned in Thrive or referenced, directly or indirectly, on the website, but, as I have long experience dealing with conspiracy theorists, I know that it is (unfortunately) possible, perhaps even likely.
A good example of the “cherry-picking” approach concerns David Icke. As most people familiar with the conspiracy underground know, Icke, perhaps the most well-known conspiracy theorist in the world, is instantly identified with his bizarre theories that the world is secretly run by evil reptilian shape-shifting aliens. These theories are science-fiction redresses of the old anti-Semitic “Jewish world conspiracy” theories that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with aliens standing in for Jews. Icke appears in Thrive—in fact, although he isn’t interviewed until later in the movie, his face flashes on screen within the first seven minutes of the film—but does not talk about reptilian aliens on-screen. One of my strongest objections to Thrive is that Icke is involved in it and quoted as a reliable source about anything, even though he doesn’t push his reptilian alien crap in this specific film. Pro-Thrive readers of this blog have taken me to task for this. According to them, I’m supposed to overlook the fact that Icke believes in reptilian shape-shifting aliens and instead focus on positive things he says in Thrive. (Like what? The false claims of a “Global Domination Agenda”?)
I remain unconvinced that Foster Gamble put Icke on-screen just because he had something supposedly worthwhile to say that is unconnected to his reptilian alien delusions, as some Thrive fans have asserted. For one thing, Icke’s entire worldview stems from this delusion. If you read his writings it’s difficult to find anything he talks about that isn’t connected in some way to his elaborate sci-fi conspiracy mythology. For another thing, David Icke’s associations are so toxic that there’s no chance anyone who is not already predisposed to accept, or at least consider, Icke’s ideology could overlook them. The fact that David Icke appears in this movie at all is a not-very-subtle bid to market Thrive and its conclusions to Icke’s core audience, whom Gamble is obviously interested in reaching. Thus, don’t tell me that the fact that Icke believes in evil reptilians from outer space is somehow irrelevant to what he’s doing in this movie. Whether Foster Gamble himself believes in evil reptilians from outer space is not the point—he probably doesn’t (I certainly hope he doesn’t!)—but if you want to reach conspiracy theorists who dwell at that advanced level of fantasy, you can do no better than to utilize David Icke as a mouthpiece.
Again, as with the Trombly issue, if Icke was the only unreliable or questionable source in the movie, it might be easier to look past his presence and simply chalk up Gamble’s invitation for Icke to appear as a fluke in the “bad call, Ripley!” category. But in Thrive you don’t just get David Icke. You get Nassim Haramein, touted as a reliable source on ancient history but who plays fast and loose with the facts; you get Steven Greer, whose claim to fame is pushing the-gubbermint-is-covering-up-UFOs conspiracy theories; you get Edgar Mitchell, a former astronaut known for making outlandish conspiracy-oriented claims that NASA has officially denied; you get Deepak Chopra, well-known in New Age and alt-med circles; the list goes on and on. Inviting people to your movie to espouse controversial opinions is fine, and I have no problem with that. But these people are asserting as matters of fact many things which are demonstrably false. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. But nobody has a right to their own facts.
Okay. So Foster Gamble is wrong about crop circles, free energy, the Global Domination Agenda, the Rockefellers, alt-med cures, Nicola Tesla, UFO suppression, alien astronauts, and countless other things. One can certainly argue that he made a couple of poor decisions, credibility-wise, by giving the floor to Adam Trombly, whose claims cannot be verified, and David Icke, whose claims are something out of bad science fiction. Should Mr. Gamble’s good intentions in making Thrive insulate him from criticism on these points?
I’m sure Foster Gamble is a nice guy. On-screen he comes across as extremely personable. Before he made this movie he was widely associated with a campaign to ban (or reduce) industrial pesticide spraying—which I regard as a good cause and effort well spent. I’m quite sure he honestly wants to see the world improve and to see people lead better lives. I’m also quite sure he works very hard and puts a lot of effort into activities that he believes advances these goals.
Here’s the thing: so do I. However, I do not hear defenders of the Thrive movie arguing that my good intentions should insulate me from criticism for doing what I do on this blog.
Indeed, who doesn’t have good intentions? Who honestly doesn’t think the world can and should be improved, that people should live longer and more fulfilling lives, and that social justice should prevail? It’s not as if it’s so unusual to find a person as well-intentioned as Foster Gamble that a person with such intentions suddenly becomes immune from criticism on the basis of factual inaccuracies or logic errors, especially in a media piece that is, as Thrive purports to be, a documentary supposedly telling the truth about “how things really are.”
Personally, I devote a great deal of money and time to volunteer and charity activities. I believe strongly, for instance, in providing better access to education, especially higher education. I’m out there working on my ideas to “save the world” just as hard as Foster Gamble is working on his. What sort of special privileges or immunities do I believe this entitles me to? Absolutely none at all.
Here’s something else to keep in mind: peoples’ ideas for improving the world can, and usually do, conflict with one another. I believe that conspiracy theories impair peoples’ ability to think rationally and thus participate meaningfully in public discourse. Therefore, refuting conspiracy theories and promoting the facts is something I feel is a strong social good. I would venture to say Foster Gamble would disagree. He seems to believe that promoting conspiracy theories is a social good, or otherwise he wouldn’t have made Thrive in the first place. I do not question Gamble’s good intentions. But it’s a simple fact that Gamble’s activities in promoting conspiracy theories directly conflict with my own efforts to refute them. He has money to burn and an audience of millions, so he’ll probably make a lot more headway on his goal that I will on mine, but that doesn’t change that I think Foster Gamble is wrong. Am I not allowed to assert that view because I also believe that, however wrong he is, he at least is acting out of good intentions and pure motives?
What Is the “Point” of Thrive, Anyway?
Here we get to the real issue: why was Thrive created, what is its ultimate “message,” and who is it aimed at?
When I first began this blog I was reluctant to speculate too much as to Foster Gamble and the other makers’ motives in creating the movie, because those motives are extremely unclear. After studying the film and reaction to it for the past two and a half months, however, I believe we can make a reasonable hypothesis as to why this film was created and what it’s ultimately trying to say.
I’ve recently had a fascinating conversation over email with an academic, who happens to be an expert on conspiracy theories and New Age mythology. This person, whose credentials are impressive, is not a “debunker” as I am—he studies the phenomenon of conspiracy theories and why people believe them, whereas my study of them (and I do not study them in an academic realm) focuses on ascertaining their factual veracity. After my conversation with this person regarding Thrive, which helped me to see the larger context in which the movie operates, I think I understand the point of the film much better than I did in November. This topic is worth expanding upon and will probably be the subject of a self-contained article.
The upshot of my conversation with the expert was that Thrive was created as a means to explain, at least partially, the failure of New Age concepts—which have been around and popular since at least the ‘70s—to result in the transformative change that many New Age believers insisted would flow from the implementation of their ideas. Here is what he had to say on the subject (he asked that his identifying information not be disclosed on this blog, but he gave me permission to post his words):
“I suspect that what’s going on is that New Age, now entering its third generation, has developed a theodicy. Now, this is a theological term, but it essentially means an explanation of the existence of evil – why bad things happen to good people. For some of those in the New Age milieu – Foster Gamble, David Icke, Whitley Strieber, Duncan Rhodes and others, all incidentally in middle age and with a long term involvement in the New Age milieu – an explanation is needed as to why, if we’ve entered the Age of Aquarius, is the world less peaceful, equal and progressive than ever? Conspiracy theories offer such a theodicy – the New Age hasn’t happened because evil people prevented it from happening.”
Once you start to consider Thrive from this angle, everything falls into place. It suddenly makes sense why Thrive carefully strokes the various tropes of New Age belief systems: UFOs, ancient astronauts, alt-med miracle cures, benevolent aliens and magical free energy machines. It also makes sense why, once the movie has proclaimed its sympathy with these themes, it turns on a fire hose of conspiracy craziness, theory after theory thrown willy-nilly at the audience in an attempt to make one or more of them stick. The movie’s point, therefore, is this: “The reason that our New Age beliefs haven’t transformed the world is because the evil conspirators are thwarting us.”
This also explains why Thrive’s supporters aren’t generally swayed by factual arguments or applications of logic and critical thinking. The point is not to establish literal, verifiable truth (though the film seems, on the surface, to want to do this as well). The point is to validate an essentially spiritual belief system. At its core, then, seen from this angle, Thrive is basically a religious text. A Thrive supporter is no more likely to abandon his support for the film, when presented evidence that crop circles are terrestrial in origin or the Global Domination Agenda does not exist, than a Mormon is to leave the Church of Latter-Day Saints when told that there is no archaeological evidence that the Nephites and Lamanites actually existed.
That Thrive supporters take the movie this way—whether they are consciously aware of it or not—is borne out by comments like this one, which seems to equate criticism of the movie with some sort of assault on the primacy of the human spirit:
“Thrive is not out to get anyone other than the people that Gamble feels are responsible for the situation we find ourselves in today. I believe that all Thrive is trying to do is show people the power they have, which to me is amazing because all I see everywhere are reminders of how I need to better myself or change who I am because its not good enough. I don’t feel the need to back up any claims with links or anything of that nature because you can’t cite the claim I have which is this; Every human being has the capability of being amazing no matter what but there are people who try very hard to keep us unaware of this….I just love the movie Thrive because it gives me hope. All I want is for as many people to be inspired by this movie the way I was because it is too hard for me to see and hear about so many people living with so little while we enjoy the benefits of their destruction.”
So Thrive, then, is probably intended to be accepted on spiritual and philosophical terms—not factual ones.
That means that unless I’m ready to give battle on the supposed spiritual basis of Thrive, I need to delete this blog immediately, right? Not quite.
There’s Just One Problem…Thrive Purports to be a Documentary.
Unfortunately Thrive doesn’t wear its intentions on its sleeve. On the face of it, it appears to be a documentary—a movie intended to state what the facts actually are. The fact that I had to talk to an academic expert on conspiracy theories and New Age beliefs to realize that it is not really a documentary demonstrates this. It also leaves the movie and its makes with the same fundamental problem that drew me to begin debunking it in the first place: the things that it says are facts are not, in fact, true.
Appreciating the New Age context in which many supporters of Thrive perceive the movie is one thing. However, it doesn’t change that the movie is still out there claiming to be a documentary and telling people that the Rockefellers control their food supply and that evil oil companies are suppressing extraterrestrial technology. So long as statements of fantasy such as these are continued to be passed off as objective fact, attacking Thrive on the basis of its factual accuracy is, in my view, entirely fair game. To argue otherwise is to argue, effectively, either that (i) facts don’t matter; (ii) Foster Gamble’s good intentions in making the film should immunize him from criticism about its assertions; or (iii) that the purported “goodness” of the movie’s overall message outweighs the transgressions it makes against the truth. This article, I feel, has already effectively refuted (i) and (ii). Point (iii) makes me uneasy because it’s essentially an “ends justify the means” argument, which is always dangerous.
Regardless of whether Foster Gamble would himself agree that the purported factual assertions in the movie should be taken with a “grain of salt”—and it would be very problematic if he did state that unequivocally—there’s no question that some people out there do believe everything Thrive says. I can state that, between comments received on this blog and replies directed to me on Twitter, I have, since beginning this blog, seen an example of an assertion of the direct factual accuracy of every major claim made in the film. Granted, this is spread among many different commenters, but if each individual claim in the movie is believed to be literal fact by at least one person, that still adds up to a lot of people believing in a lot of untrue claims. This is the problem with movies that play fast and loose with the facts masquerading as documentaries. It’s deceptive. If you’re trying to tell people the way things really are, here on Earth in our real world, by doing so you owe at least a moral duty to tell these things accurately, and that means doing diligent research to make sure the claims you want to make are really true. Given the ease with which I and the other contributors to this blog have debunked many of its claims, I’m left with serious doubts that Mr. Gamble and the others responsible for Thrive have done the research they should have done before passing off these claims as true.
Should we give Thrive a pass on its facts and instead praise its motives or its message? So long as its makers offer it as a factual documentary, no, we shouldn’t. It’s just that simple.
Tags: Adam Trombly, comments, conspiracy theories, credibility, critical thinking, David Icke, fact checking, facts, feedback, Foster Gamble, Free Energy, free energy suppression, good and evil, logic, missing the point, Nassim Haramein, New Age, New Age thinking, philosophy, positive message, purpose, reasoning, religion, Reptilians, Steven Greer, theodicy, Thrive, Thrive Debunked, UFOs, unsourced claims, Whitley Strieber
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