I received an interesting email recently from a reader of Thrive Debunked who often forwards me leads and information. The subject was a conversation about me and this blog that recently went on between someone who has frequently commented on this blog (sometimes in support, but often in opposition) and another person who is evidently a filmmaker of some stature. The filmmaker, whose name I do not know, claimed to have done an analysis of me by reading Thrive Debunked. Just for fun I thought I’d present it here, as I find it both very amusing and very sad, and unfortunately typical of the conspiracy mindset behind Thrive. I’ll also offer some comments on the analysis by SlayerX3, the other frequent contributor to this blog.
I should state before we begin that who this person is doesn’t matter to me. I could not be less interested in their identity. It’s the content of the analysis that is interesting here.
The “Disinformation” Trope—Again.
“Muertos is a very interesting character. I’ve gone through a good bit of that site. I just want you to know that, in my considered opinion, this is all what it looks like: purposeful and intentional disinformation. This is NOT the efforts of a few intelligent skeptics who are determined that the public know the “truth”. This is a strategically mounted, carefully conceived and administered campaign to shift public opinion away from having a sincere interest in these topics.
Who would want to do such a thing is not a conversation for email, as far as I am concerned. Too complex, murky, and too detailed to write about. I just wanted you to know that disinformation has been a topic of interest of mine for a long, long time. There are reasons my films generally withstand certain kinds of scrutiny, in that I’ve always had a bit of a natural style and methodology that results in well-knit story structure and coherence.
But what’s going on now with Robbert (and with Foster and Thrive), is a step or two beyond the usual “civil vigilantism for the truth”. There’s something happening with guys like “Muertos” (who I suspect is probably more of a team than an individual) that calls for being very, very careful. One thing to notice about this “guy” is that he is very, very well informed about what it is he goes after- and I mean down to the history, the players, the real detailed nuances — and yet all he has to offer is dissention, ridicule and disbelief.”
This person evidently believes, as many readers of this blog do, that I’m a “paid disinformation agent.” This is a classic fallacy of conspiracy theorist thinking. Conspiracy theorists live in a shuttered universe, intentionally separated from any sources of information that would challenge their belief system. In this closed universe, no one could or would disagree with their conspiracy conclusions honestly, rationally or on their own. The only way they would ever disagree with conspiracy theories is if they’re being paid and/or criticizing conspiracy theories as part of some ideological, political or economic campaign. That’s what the term “disinformation” means in this context.
Repeating once again that I’m a totally ordinary private citizen, that I am one person working alone, and that I’m not being paid or directed by any government, agency, cartel, business interest, activist group, or any person at all to write Thrive Debunked is as pointless now as it ever was. Fans of Thrive who choose to accept this film’s misguided premises as their primary belief system will never accept that I’m not “working for someone.” I find it amusing that the accusation continues to be made, and repeated among my critics as if it is settled truth. It’s simply ridiculous.
Thrive fans aren’t the first conspiracy believers to accuse me of being a “paid disinformation agent,” nor the first to accuse me of being more than one person or having some sort of staff. In August 2011, a few months before Thrive came out, Peter Joseph Merola, the leader of the Zeitgeist Movement and creator of the conspiracy film series Zeitgeist (itself a major progenitor of Thrive), made the same accusations against me on his forum. I wrote an article about that incident on my other blog. Most amusing to me is the idea that I have a “staff.” I take it as a backhanded compliment. If people look at my blog and think it’s impossible that one guy can do all of this in his spare time, I suppose I must be pretty good at blogging!
I also take as a compliment the analyzer’s warning that I’m “very, very well informed about what it is he goes after- and I mean down to the history, the players, the real detailed nuances.” Yes, I am. A lot of research goes into the articles here. For various articles on Thrive Debunked, I have read numerous books, reviewed Congressional hearing testimony, conducted my own independent interviews, consulted newspaper archives, and emailed scientific experts to make sure my facts are right. This is, in fact, the difference between what I do and what Thrive does. I’d like to think this is a mark of quality. Thrive Debunked is listed on Rationalwiki.org’s page about the Thrive movie. It is also now a go-to source on the Debunkatron, a clearinghouse of conspiracy theory and woo belief debunkings. You don’t get listed on these sites by offering shoddy, poorly-researched material and just shouting opinions, which is what many angry Thrive fans accuse me of doing.
As for offering only “dissention, ridicule and disbelief,” this is, of course, false. I offer facts, evidence, and logical reasoning. Just to name a few at random, I offered the fact, backed by eyewitness testimony and historical data, that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was not a “false flag” operation. That fact had the effect of directly refuting Foster Gamble’s claim in Thrive about the Gulf of Tonkin affair. I offered the fact, backed by scientific evidence, that St. Sofia in Istanbul was constructed in the 530s (A.D.) using a process of earthquake-proof cement that was unknown to modern engineers until 2002—thus demonstrating that questions of ancient engineering do not indicate, as Thrive would have you believe, that certain structures must have been created by aliens. Most controversially on this blog, I offered the fact that crop circles of flawless geometric precision can be and are made by human beings in a short period of time with a few simple tools—a fact you can verify with your own eyes by watching it being done in the YouTube video embedded on that page.
Thrive fans do not like facts such as these, because they impugn the film’s conclusions. I have no control over what the facts are. As I’m fond of saying to conspiracy theorists, don’t blame the facts if they lead to a conclusion you don’t like.
So, What’s My Motivation?
The analysis goes on:
“Plus, (from what I can tell) he’s also not someone like Peter Sorenson, or Colin himself, having been a former true believer who for some reason became disillusioned. No, this guy “Muertos” appears to be a total independent, and a newbie at that. So, what’s his motivation? Why put so much effort into researching and debunking people and topics that you fundamentally don’t have any true regard for? There’s a disconnect here that deserves some attention, I think.
And the way he operates is 100% political — you can see that in the construction of the language he utilizes. There is certainly no real room in his approach for any sort of “open discussion” on the “possibilities” of what is real. So my question is: “what’s really going on here?”
“Colin” is Colin Andrews, a crop circle researcher who recently exposed the fraudulent video being supported by Nancy Talbott of BLTResearch.com, which is Thrive’s main source for the false claims made about crop circles at the beginning of the film. I’m not sure I understand the distinction the analyzer is making between “true believers” and “independents.” It is true, however, that the vast majority of high-commitment conspiracy theorist debunkers are former conspiracy theorists themselves. In fact, I am one of them. I used to believe very fervently that John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a government/CIA/Mafia conspiracy, and I also used to believe that TWA Flight 800, which exploded overLong Island in July 1996, was secretly shot down by the U.S. Navy. It was my recovery from this sort of conspiracy thinking that motivated me to try to prevent others from falling into it.
I am also not a “newbie.” I’ve been debunking conspiracy theories for over seven years. Although Thrive only came out a few months ago, I have a great deal of experience in researching and refuting conspiracy theories, from “9/11 Truth” to JFK, to cults, MLM scams and other forms of what I call organized deception.
I strongly dislike conspiracy theories. They are harmful to society, corrosive to democracy, and inimical to rational and critical thinking. This is my motivation for speaking out against them. Nothing more, nothing less. (If you need a fuller explanation for this, see this article). Anyone who knows me knows that I do nothing by halves. If I committed myself to refuting the movie Thrive, it makes no sense that I would not try to do it as competently, completely, and persuasively as I possibly can. Otherwise I just wouldn’t do it. I find it bizarre that critics use the amount of effort I put into this blog to try to “prove” that I must be a “paid disinformation agent,” because no “real” person would put so much effort into refuting something they don’t like. That argument is ridiculous and ignores the powerful motivations that ordinary people find to speak out against things that they think are harmful.
My model in matters of debunking is a fellow named Mark Roberts. In 2005, Mr. Roberts committed to refuting and debunking the asinine conspiracy theorist film Loose Change, which claimed that “9/11 was an inside job.” Mark Roberts, who was known as Gravy on the JREF Forum, put together a website that is absolutely magnificent in its accuracy, its breadth of coverage, and its total refutation of the lies and errors contained in Loose Change. Who is Mark Roberts? He’s not a “paid disinformation agent.” He runs a tour service in New York City. He’s a totally normal guy. He achieved with Loose Change far more than I have with Thrive. But if you need proof that ordinary people really do get motivated enough to push back against conspiracy movies that are hurting people, all you need do is look at Mark Roberts’s website.
As for whether I am “open” to “possibilities,” I am open to anything—so long as the evidence demonstrates it is true. With regard to free energy, for example, I’ve stated many times that, although I believe free energy is impossible and a sham, if someone were to produce a free energy machine and demonstrate that it does what is claimed of it—in a public forum, and in a way where reputable scientists can verify and duplicate the machine’s operation—I will take down everything I’ve ever said about free energy. But Thrive fans can’t present that evidence. Nor can they present evidence for any of the other weird claims they make. Until and unless that evidence appears, it is entirely rational and justifiable for me to denounce these claims as false.
I would like to ask the person who wrote this analysis—what’s so unreasonable about asking for evidence?
“Disinfo” Again. There’s Something Going On!
“Something is definitely going on in my opinion, and there are few of us who are even aware of it, let alone oriented towards finding a way to deal with it. It’s a very dicey situation, and long-term, I feel. Someone is trying to “manage history” here, and we are in the crosshairs, so to speak. Your manner of reply, which is very similar to what Foster has attempted, has a lot of limitations in terms of really countering these initial disinformation salvos. Too much detail (for one thing), and not enough “sizzle”, and NO clout.
Disinfo is a very interesting game (and one I am not adept in — I just have an long-standing interest in it). It plays, of course, upon the lowest common denominator, upon common fears, and upon reinforcing existing and limited worldviews. Easy to do if you know the techniques, I would think. Effectively countering it is a separate and unique process, I believe — and one I have tremendous interest in.”
Ooh, look at that! I’m trying to “manage history!” That term is silly. All I’m trying to do is present the facts, and educate people about the factual and logical deficiencies of the claims in Thrive. Is this “managing history?” What does that even mean?
As for this person’s interest in “disinformation,” I’d be glad to enlighten him/her. Whoever wrote this analysis is welcome to ask me any question they want about how much I’m being paid to write this blog ($0.00), who’s paying me (no one), what agenda I’m serving (none), how I do my research, or how I come up with subjects to cover. Seriously. I’ll totally honor this person’s anonymity if they like. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. If they are so interested in “disinformation,” I offer myself as a resource to explore that interest.
The upshot of these last two paragraphs is another backhanded compliment. The person who wrote this is throwing up his or her hands and conceding that they know of no way to counter the hideous “disinformation” I’m spewing with my evil blog. That is not surprising; the facts speak for themselves. Conspiracy theorists, when confronted with facts they can’t deny, usually run away from them. That’s what’s happening in this case, except it’s not “disinformation” at all—it’s fact.
So yes, there is “something going on”: someone out there is viewing this blog through a very paranoid mindset, and seeing a number of things that simply aren’t there. Even to make the allegation that I’m some sort of “disinformation agent” betrays a level of paranoia that I frankly find very difficult to fathom. Another thing I have often told conspiracy theorists is that I don’t quite understand how their paranoid fantasy world works, but however it does, I’m glad I don’t live there.
SlayerX3’s Response to the Analysis
[SlayerX3 is a contributor and author of several articles on this blog including the three full-length debunkings, and the fine “Follow The Money” Debunked article. I do not pay him, I don’t direct what he writes, and he’s not working for anyone. Like me, he does this in his spare time and out of his own motivations.]
It is indeed a clear headed analysis but it also stumbles on the same problem when skeptics debunk or criticize events or theories: we eventually end up being either called “naysayers,” or worse, “disinformation agents.”
Topics like these are complicated to deal not with their subjects—since these are relatively easy to prove and show why they are wrong—but with the people who believe in them. Challenging an idea is easy. People can change or even shape ideas to correct fallacies and mistakes, but beliefs aren’t that easy [to change]. Since they have become rooted in people’s minds, challenging them will be always met with degrees of hostility or denial, along with other justifications by the believers to reinforce their beliefs but without addressing the questions that challenge those beliefs (such as the classic reasoning of, “If they are attacking me that means I’m right,” or “You are being paid to disagree with me”).
It is true some of those areas are far from being something we’d care about if there weren’t people trying to pass it as if those “happenings” were 100% true. I do not care if people believe in UFOs or Jewish shape-shifting reptilians, but I do care if people start spreading their version of a “truth” that doesn’t have any connection with reality, or a twisted interpretation of real-life facts to convey their own beliefs and convince other people to share them in a quasi cult-like manner. (It is worth it to cite groups like Desteni as an example of what can go extremely wrong with those beliefs).
Personally, I think the greatest motivation debunkers have is to force engagement with facts, in my case correcting the erroneous interpretation of physics and the pseudo-science in Thrive. Debunkers in general don’t have an agenda behind them besides showing where the mistakes and misinterpretations are.
[The analysis] mentions that we try to “manage history,” but this argument could be thrown back at them the same way they are throwing it at us. Movies like Loose Change and Zeitgeist attempted doing so for their own agenda, like the cuts in the 9/11 footage to insinuate the attacks were done by cruise missiles instead of planes (the Pentagon case in Loose Change) or to re-write history with false facts and misinterpretation of religions (the “Christ conspiracy” falsehood in Zeitgeist). The “disinformation” accusations are not something we take so lightly. When we debunk we’re not just saying “no, it didn’t happen like this PERIOD”—we focus on a more objective approach by doing research about the subject, showing from where and how we took the data werre using and taking a look at both sides before we reach any conclusions. And, more importantly, we never cease asking questions.
The difference is when we [debunkers] ask questions and look for answers, once we find one that is consistent with facts and reality we drawn our conclusions. Something I’ve noticed about conspiracy theorists is that no matter how much we prove their beliefs wrong and answer their questions, they keep asking questions until someone gives the answers they want to hear. (It doesn’t matter if this someone is telling the truth or not).
Perhaps the questioning is what really scares people in conspiracy theory circles, not the followers but the people responsible for spreading and making the [conspiracy] content. [The analysis] said we have a political agenda, which may or may not be true, I don’t in my case. But so do the creators of those movies, whether be it for money (Like Zeitgeist’s Peter Joseph Merola), to push a political agenda (Thrive’s Gamble) or simply for fame (I think David Icke fits). Debunkers, both professional and amateur, are seen as a threat by those people, a stone wall between their beliefs and the people they feel they need to reach to accomplish these goals.
The phrase “Disinfo is a very interesting game (and one I am not adept in — I just have an long-standing interest in it). It plays, of course, upon the lowest common denominator, upon common fears, and upon reinforcing existing and limited worldviews” left me in awe a bit, since this is exactly what conspiracy theorists prey on. 9/11 conspiracy theories preyed on the broken sense of security among Americans; Zeitgeist and Thrive prey on the inequality and poverty problems around the world, blaming them on conspiracy groups and elites. The Protocol of the Elders of Zion (which David Icke refuses to say is fake) preys on hatred against the Jewish population. And it is clear these thoughts can be dangerous. They can either shift the attention to the wrong place or instigate hatred against a particular group of people.
There is an observation that should be reinforced about debunkers, the same one I stated in the beginning of this text: debunkers are called “disinformation agents” because we ask questions that will bring inconsistencies, fallacies and mistakes to the surface, and not only ask these questions but find views and facts to verify if the statements made by conspiracy theorists are factual or not. Since conspiracy theories tend not to be factual we’ve yet to find facts and evidence supporting conspiracy theories.
Remember the founding base of debunkers is skepticism. We won’t believe something outright without definitive proof.
Although the main objective of Thrive is informational—to disseminate conspiracy theories and promote right-wing libertarian political ideology—it cannot be ignored that Thrive’s makers and a lot of its supporters say they want to take action. On this very blog Foster Gamble, creator of Thrive, has dismissed the utility of discussing the factual errors and distortions in his film, in favor of “creating solutions.” Unfortunately, the “solutions” that Thrive fans say they want are aimed overwhelmingly at exposing and combating the various conspiracy theories that the film asserts exist. This is the central tragedy of conspiracy thinking—that it diverts people’s energies and attentions away from solving real problems in the real world, and instead motivates them to solve fake problems endemic to the fantasy world in which conspiracy theorists dwell.
This article will discuss the phenomena of what I call “conspiracy activism.” Thrive is not the first conspiracy movie to spark an activist response. Mr. Gamble’s film exists in the context of a conspiracist underground that has, in recent years, been rapidly transformed by the Internet, and is continuing to evolve quickly. I wrote about this in an article over at my other blog, which I also publicized on this one. You can consider this article to be sort of a companion piece to that one.
What Is The “Thrive Movement” And What Is It Actually Doing?
Before we get to the topic of conspiracy activism in general, let’s look at what “solutions” the Thrive people are promoting. There is no “Thrive Movement” to speak of in any real sense. Foster Gamble is not, so far as I can tell, attempting to exert any sort of real control over the activities or direction of the film’s fans, and I’ve seen no evidence that the fans of the movie are trying to organize themselves.
Clicking the “Solutions” tab on the Thrive website unleashes a dizzying avalanche of propaganda. The vast majority of it is right-wing libertarian propaganda, such as the “Liberty” page which assaults the reader with political diatribes studded with quotes from libertarian deities like Stefan Molyneux, Ron Paul and Ayn Rand. Although Thrive’s political agenda is a serious issue, we and others have dealt with it before. The key message is “vote for libertarians,” and thus we’ll leave the film’s political advocacy at that.
More interesting are the “Critical Mass Actions” tabs. Here the Thrive people have listed twelve specific campaigns they’re promoting, with icons where you (as an Internet user) can “sign up” or else embed the icon itself on another site. If you click the icons so sign up, it produces a box where you fill in your email info and hit submit. Almost all of the links included in the “Critical Mass Actions” sections are to websites or online petitions. Of these twelve campaigns, two are anti-Federal Reserve; three are related to protesting GMO food; two relate to “free energy” devices; two are protests of “chemtrails,” a conspiracy theory promoted by the film; one is anti-nuclear power; one is “protect Internet freedom”; and one protests resource extraction on Native American lands.
The Federal Reserve is what Thrive identifies as the linchpin of a worldwide conspiracy theory to enslave the globe through the use of deceptive currency practices. We debunked the film’s money conspiracy theories here. “Free energy” does not exist, as we have also demonstrated. “Chemtrails” have not been debunked on this site, but they’ve been amply debunked elsewhere; it’s abundantly clear that “chemtrails” are a total fantasy. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to oppose GMO foods, but Thrive couches its criticism of such foods in expressly conspiratorial terms; they think it’s some weird kind of plot aimed at killing people with poisons in the food.
These issues account for nine of the twelve “Critical Mass Actions.” Of the twelve, only three—anti-nuclear power, protecting Internet freedom, and protesting resource extraction on Native American lands—are not somehow addressing the conspiracy theories the film promotes.
Ironically, it is one of these three non-conspiratorial solutions—the Internet freedom icon—that had the most people (5,547 on the day I checked) signed up.
When it comes to what these “Critical Mass Actions” actually are, the website is extremely vague. Here’s what it says when you click on a question about “how do you know when an action reaches critical mass?”
“As actions gain momentum and the most popular ones become apparent we will set a target number for “critical mass.” We will keep in touch via email to make sure you know when we’re approaching critical mass. What determines an effective “critical mass” will vary according to the nature of the action to be taken. The critical mass number will be announced as far in advance as possible and will be determined by what would create significant impact and assure optimal security for participants.”
That’s it. You’ll get an email once they decide how many people they need. In the meantime, it’s a lot of Internet petitions and “getting the word out.” That’s what the Thrive Movement is doing—that, and organizing local screenings of the film itself. The act of promoting Thrive is itself treated as a form of activism to which fans should aspire.
Is This Real Activism?
No. The “solutions” offered on Thrive’s website are ineffective in changing anything in the real world for two reasons: first, the vast majority of them are aimed at ameliorating conspiracy theories that don’t exist; and second, even for the non-conspiratorial goals, there is no actual real-world activity being proposed. Thrive’s brand of activism is a complete chimera.
Take chemtrails, for example. We know for a fact that chemtrails do not exist. The elaborate narrative that conspiracy theorists construct—that a “Global Domination Elite” is spraying chemicals into the sky to sicken and kill people deliberately—is simply fantasy. Yet, Mr. Gamble wants to “Expose Chemtrails With a Mass Protest at NOAA Offices.” Even assuming that legions of Thrive fans get organized and storm NOAA’s headquarters, what effect is this going to have? NOAA can’t do anything because there’s nothing to do anything about. Chemtrails do not exist. This is a “solution” that, even if it’s pulled off, will accomplish exactly zero, except wasting the time of the people involved.
As to the second criticism, it’s difficult to see how these “Critical Mass Actions” will have any effect regardless of the goals they’re aimed at. Take for example the critical mass action about stopping the environmental poisoning of Native American communities—which is a goal I think most people would agree with, and is one of the few that isn’t specifically directed at a conspiracy theory. Here’s what Foster Gamble wants you to click to sign up for:
“In the US, indigenous lands are being exploited and targeted by big business for resource extraction, nuclear dumping, and more. There are proposals for coal, oil, gold and copper mines, coal bed methane, natural gas “fracking,” and nuclear storage that threaten these communities and the environment. This is a chance to stand up for Native American rights and show that we are committed not just to apologizing for past wrongs, but ending the violations that continue to this day.”
Okay…but how? What does this actually mean?
What are the Thrive fans going to do? There’s no protest march planned. There’s no letter-writing campaign. There’s no attempt to introduce legislation or lobby lawmakers. There’s no fundraiser. There’s no outreach to any of the Native American communities impacted by resource extraction. There’s not even a link to an online petition, as there is for the “End the Fed” suggestion. There is exactly…nothing.
You click on, sign up and get an email. That’s it.
In the meantime—or, should I say, in the real world—if you care about resource extraction harming Native American communities, there are real people doing real things to try to stop this. In less than five minutes of searching online I came across this site for the Wolf River Protection Fund which is seeking to buy key lands to protect the watersheds and wetlands related to Native American communities in Wisconsin. One of the tribes associated with this fund recently celebrated a huge victory by buying out—yes, actually buying out—a mining company that was planning to mine near their lands. That’s activism. Not just clicking on a website—but actually sending your dollars to an organization that is taking action to make a real-world impact. And yes, the Wolf River Protection Fund does take donations.
Thrive isn’t doing anything even close to this.
So If They’re Not Making a Difference In the Real World, What Are They Doing?
They’re promoting conspiracy theories and related ideology—in Thrive’s case, right-wing libertarian ideology. The promotion of the ideology is the ultimate point of the activism.
This is understandable, if you analyze the thought processes of Thrive’s makers and fans from the standpoint of their conspiracy beliefs. They believe that all or most of the world’s problems stem from actions taken in secret by groups of shadowy conspirators. How best to combat these actions? Expose the secrets and shine a light on the conspirators. Then, it is presumed, the nefarious activity will end, and things will get better.
Seen from this standpoint, the act of exposure is the most important action. Therefore, most of a conspiracy theorist’s preferred “solutions” for solving problems start and end from a “get the word out” type paradigm. Indeed, most of the nine conspiracy-oriented Critical Mass Action suggestions on the Thrive website are aimed at information exposure or gaining visibility for something. This is classic conspiracy activism.
Why Do Conspiracy Theorists Engage in Conspiracy Activism?
It used to be that conspiracy theorists weren’t activists. There were certainly groups of them, and there have been conspiracy-related newsletters—especially related to the JFK assassination—circulating for decades. But traditionally they didn’t try to reach out to the mainstream or get others to join them.
That changed with 9/11. The purveyors of conspiracy theories related to the 9/11 attacks—especially Richard Gage and David Ray Griffin—changed the stakes in the mid-2000s by waging concerted, energized campaigns to try to increase the exposure of their conspiracy theories and encourage people to believe in them. Ultimately their success was only temporary; as I pointed out in an earlier blog here, contrary to something Foster Gamble says in Thrive, fewer people believe that “9/11 was an inside job” today than have so believed at any time since 9/11 itself. However, the conspiracy activism of 9/11 Truthers upped the ante and set a new paradigm, vastly aided by the rise of the Internet: if you believe in conspiracy theories, now you’re expected to go out there in public and try to get others to believe in them as well.
As the conspiracy world has changed, and (as I argued in February) conspiracy theorists have gone from defining “victory” as increasing the numbers who believe their theories to selling prepackaged ideologies, the activism component remains. Now what conspiracy theorists are selling are the ideologies, not the theories, but they’re still self-motivated to try to proselytize in exactly the same was Richard Gage and David Ray Griffin did with their nonsense 9/11 theories. I argued in the February blog that it was Zeitgeist: The Movie and its conspiracy-activist offshoot, the Zeitgeist Movement, that cemented this development into the basic blueprint of future conspiracy endeavors.
As there are many instructive lessons for evaluating Thrive inherent in the Zeitgeist story, let’s turn to that next.
Why Conspiracy Activism is Pointless: The Example of the Zeitgeist Movement.
One of the first statements I ever made about Thrive was that it appeared to be “Zeitgeist 2.0.” Clearly the movie imitates a lot of features of Peter Joseph’s notoriously fact-free 2007 Internet conspiracy film Zeitgeist, and even the suggestion of a “Thrive Movement,” aping the Zeitgeist Movement, indicates a kindred spirit.
The Zeitgeist Movement, founded in 2008 by Peter Joseph, attempted to capitalize on the interest generated among conspiracy theorists from the first Zeitgeist film to sell a neo-Utopian ideology called the Venus Project, which resembles late-stage Marxism except with computers and technology in the role of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The problem with the Zeitgeist Movement and the Venus Project, however, was that support for the non-conspiratorial (but deeply flawed) “Resource Based Economy” paradigm was built entirely on the backs of conspiracist beliefs and the popularity of Zeitgeist: The Movie. Most fans joined the Zeitgeist Movement because they were attracted by the conspiracy explanations; to the extent the movement’s leaders could motivate them to care about the Venus Project and a Resource Based Economy for its own sake, it was mainly presented as a “cure” for all those horrible conspiracies. As a result, “get the word out” type activist projects meant to promote the Venus Project and Resource Based Economy became increasingly conflated with promoting the Zeitgeist movies and its conspiracy worldview.
The Zeitgeist Movement imploded in April 2011 when the Venus Project side of the organization divorced itself from the group as a result of a dispute over donations. Since then the Zeitgeist Movement has dwindled to an insignificant core of high-commitment fans who do little more than post occasional comments on blogs or YouTube videos. (Zeitgeist Movement supporters constantly show up on the Thrive website comments, still valiantly trying to sell their Resource Based Economy shtick. Few Thrive fans are buying). The Zeitgeist Movement’s attempts at conspiracy activism could never effectively outpace the reach of the films themselves. Unlike the Thrive Movement, the Zeitgeist Movement did have a central, engaged, hands-on leader who directed the group; in fact that was one of its downfalls, because Peter Joseph’s inept leadership of the group transformed it into something very much like a cult surrounding him personally and his films.
The failure of the Zeitgeist Movement can teach Thrive fans an important lesson: that conspiracy activism is inherently self-limiting. Five years after its release, Zeitgeist: The Movie is now old news. Most conspiracy theorists have seen it. The sequels which completed the Resource Based Economy narrative could barely achieve a tiny fraction of the impact that the first film had, because the second and third Zeitgeist films dealt much less with conspiracy theories. Essentially, when Zeitgeist stopped talking about conspiracy theories, the Internet stopped listening. With the market of potential converts already saturated, the Zeitgeist Movement sputtered into oblivion. Once you “get the word out” about your pet conspiracy theories or the ideology you’re promoting by using conspiracy theories, where do you go from there? Zeitgeist couldn’t answer this question. It’s unlikely Thrive will be able to either.
Does Clicking Links, Watching Videos and Signing Online Petitions Really Help?
There’s another more fundamental reason why Thrive’s conspiracy activism will have no real-world impact other than to “get the word out” about what they think the world is like. Most of the consumers of this material, especially those who are heavy Internet users, aren’t really willing to do more than click links, watch videos and sign online petitions. Very, very few of them will actually be motivated to go out of their homes and do something in the real (non-cyber) world. This is just a fact of life. If you put a website up about any cause, however well-intentioned, the more you actually have to do to take action on it, the fewer people you’ll have who will make the effort. People click “like” buttons and share links because it’s easy and they can do it in the flash of an eye. Only the truly devoted will be motivated to get in their cars and go to a preplanned event; fewer still will do that if it will cost them money. This is a self-limiting factor of Internet activism.
The problem is even worse when the main audience you’re preaching to consists of conspiracy theorists. Conspiracy theorists are notoriously lazy. Few of them, for example, can even be motivated enough by their beliefs even to pick up a book and read it. To them, videos on the Internet are just as good as books, and they require much less effort to comprehend. Most conspiracy theorists have virtually no awareness of the depth of knowledge the world contains beyond the Internet or how to access that knowledge. Many of them live their lives in an online bubble; if it’s not happening on the web, it’s not worth knowing about. If this is the crowd you’re trying to draw activists from, the chances of finding supporters who are high-commitment enough to meet in person, put together a viable plan of action on something and see it through to the end are much reduced.
That’s not to say that this doesn’t happen. In the heyday of 9/11 Truth theories, for example, hundreds of Truthers would gather at Ground Zero in New York City and harass people by shouting conspiracy garbage at them through bullhorns. But what did they do beyond that? Note that even this real-world activity is just another species of “getting the word out,” albeit in an extremely destructive, annoying and disagreeable way that turned off and angered far more people than it attracted. Even the 9/11 Truth organizations, like the ridiculous “Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth”—clearly an organization created by the most high-commitment supporters of the conspiracy theory—continue to focus their efforts on “getting the word out” as opposed to actually doing anything. In the very, very few instances where they do try something other than “getting the word out”—like filing a lawsuit, as one group of 9/11 Truthers attempted—they always meet with spectacular failure.
Activism in the real world is hard. It takes money, time, effort and competent people to guide the activity toward any real goal. Conspiracy theorists are mostly kids. They don’t have a lot of money. What time they have they usually spent on the Internet. Exerting real-world effort happens in a few rare cases, but not very often. Competent people who can actually think something through and put something together are about as rare in this subculture as blue diamonds.
As a result, conspiracy theorists rationalize. They lower the bar and define what they are willing to do as “activism.” Thus, the sort of low-intensity effort that they can get many people to do—clicking “like” buttons, sharing links, watching videos and signing online petitions—becomes, in their minds, a substitute for real-world activism. In an endeavor where “getting the word out” has already been defined as the major goal, getting 10,000 people to click a “like” button becomes the equivalent of a smashing victory for right and justice.
Conclusion: Do You Really Want to Help?
This article has demonstrated why conspiracy activism is pointless and counterproductive. I can hear the shouts from angry Thrive fans now: “Why don’t you stop blogging and do something that actually helps?” (This assumes that I do nothing but write blogs all day—obviously an incorrect assumption).
What can you do to make the world a better place instead of watching Internet conspiracy videos or wasting time on the Thrive website (or this one)?
Here’s something you can do: give blood. This is one of the easiest things you can do, and one which has a huge real-world impact—you can literally save someone’s life. Here’s a website where you can type in your zip code and find out where to go in your area to give blood.
Here’s something you can do: become a tutor for adult literacy. You can find organizations that do this all over the country. Here’s just one example, from Florida.
Here’s something you can do: get a group of people together and assemble care packages of medical supplies for AIDS sufferers in Africa. This has been a hugely successful program. It also has real-world impacts. Here’s how to get involved.
Here’s something you can do: donate money to the American Indian College Fund. This fund helps people from America’s least-college-educated demographic get access to higher education. This helps real people in the real world. Here’s how to donate:
There you go. Stop watching Internet conspiracy movies and go do some good in the world. You have no excuse now.