Tag Archive | Resource Based Economy

Thrive as Holy Scripture: The Emerging Religion of “Conspirituality.”

In a few articles on this site (and also in one on my other blog) I make an argument that the movie Thrive is largely a religious document. It is a statement of faith by Foster Gamble, and a plea to its viewers to adopt the same religious faith, which is a synthesis of New Age concepts, conspiracy theories and far right-wing Libetarian political ideology. Thanks to a recent article in the Journal of Contemporary Religion, not only does this idea have academic support, but the faith that Thrive advances now has a name: “conspirituality.”

In January 2011, two authors—David Voas, a professor at the University of Manchester, and Charlotte Ward, an independent researcher in the field of alternative spirituality—published an article called “The Emergence of Conspirituality” in the peer-reviewed Journal of Contemporary Religion. (The cite is Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 26, No. 1, January 2011, 103-121. The abstract for the article is here but unless you have access to an academic database, you will have to pay to download the full article. If you want to see it for free, I suggest you visit a library that has a subscription to JSTOR or another academic database—it’s well worth your time). Although the article—which I only just recently became aware of—was published eleven months before Thrive’s release, I think it is extremely apposite to the film. In fact, if the article had been published after the film’s release, I have no doubt it would have been discussed as a case study of conspirituality.

The Ward/Voas article was peer-reviewed. That means that knowledgeable researchers in the field of contemporary and comparative religion reviewed drafts of it—their identities not known to the authors—and provided critical comments. Peer review is not infallible, but it is the hallmark of academia and it’s what separates publications like academic journals apart from other publications where material may or may not be independently checked. Most major trade magazines and reputable newspapers employ fact checkers, but academic journals operate on a strict system of review. It’s worth noting that virtually none of the “sources” that Foster Gamble and Thrive rely upon are peer-reviewed—such as the now-infamous BLTResearch.com, which is the film’s go-to source on crop circles.

What is “Conspirituality”?

The authors of the article have coined a new word—“conspirituality”—to describe what they see as a recently-emerging religion that melds New Age sensibilities and conspiracy theories. The best way to explain it is to quote from the article itself:

“We argue that conspirituality is a politico-spiritual philosophy based on two core convictions, the first traditional to conspiracy theory, the second rooted in the New Age:

(1) A secret group covertly controls, or is trying to control, the political and social order (Fenster).

(2) Humanity is undergoing a ‘paradigm shift’ in consciousness, or awareness, so solutions to (1) lie in acting in accordance with an awakened ‘new paradigm’ worldview.

Conspirituality is a web movement with diffuse leadership and constantly shifting areas of interest.”

In order to understand what this means, you need to understand how the authors define both “New Age” and “conspiracy theory.” Here’s what they say on that:

“[New Age] groups embrace the idea of a person as an integrated whole, with mind, body, and spirit subject to a common set of principles. The second ideology is conspiracy theory. Here one finds a denial of contingency, the discovery of patterns in events that might otherwise seem to be random, and the attribution of agency to hidden forces.”

The article goes on to explain that the central feature of New Age thinking is this idea of “new paradigm” or “new consciousness.” Many, many examples of this belief can be found in many places, and especially on the Internet, from which most of the authors’ examples were drawn. A frequent theme in New Age milieu is the idea that there is a massive shift taking place, or about to take place, in human consciousness. A good example of this type of message is what some people are saying about the “2012” prophecies. While some people literally do believe that the supposed “end” of the Mayan long-count calendar in December 2012 will mean the end of the world, in New Age circles it’s much more common for people to predict some sort of massive consciousness shift. Whitley Strieber, a noted New Age author (and conspiracy theorist) who is most famous for his claims of having been abducted by aliens, makes this sort of argument here.

As for conspiracy theory, well, that’s easy. If you read this blog or have seen Thrive, you know exactly what this means: bizarre, unsupportable and factually bankrupt assertions like the Illuminati or the “Global Domination Agenda,” “false flag” attacks, suppression of free energy, etc. The authors make the interesting point that the conspiracy theorist underground is overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male, and usually politically conservative. I’ll return to that point in a little while.

As for how New Age and conspiracy theories go together, I’m going to quote something I published a few months ago. I had an email correspondence with a British academic back in January where he talked about exactly this phenomenon. Here is what he had to say (it’s quoted in this article):

“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.”

What is an Example of “Conspirituality” In Practice?

One very prominent example cited in the Ward/Voas article is another buzzword that has appeared occasionally on Thrive Debunked: the Zeitgeist Movement. In case you don’t know, the Zeitgeist Movement is an Internet-based organization—many call it a cult, and that term is apposite—which sprang out of the fanbase for the 2007 Internet conspiracy theory film Zeitgeist: The Movie, and which proposes that the world be remade with something called a “Resource Based Economy,” which is basically late-stage Communism with robots and computers standing in for the dictatorship of the proletariat. By melding conspiracy theories (including “9/11 was an inside job” theories, which were the film’s major selling points) with this sort of new consciousness argument, Zeitgeist’s leader, Peter Joseph Merola, minted one of the most paradigm examples of a conspirituality religious organization. Here’s what the authors say about that:

“The second [example of conspirituality] is weighted towards conspiracy theory. It was taken from the Zeitgeist Movement, a web site promoting global activism connected to Zeitgeist the Movie, a 2007 web movie. Zeitgeist alleges, among other things, that organised religion is about social control and that 9/11 was an inside job. The producers claim that the movie has been viewed 100 million times.

[quoted from the Zeitgeist Movement Facebook page:]

The elite power systems are little affected in the long run by traditional protest and political movements. We must move beyond these ‘establishment rebellions’ and work with a tool much more powerful: We will stop supporting the system, while constantly advocating knowledge, peace, unity and compassion. We cannot ‘‘fight the system’’. Hate, anger and the ‘war’ mentality are failed means for change, for they perpetuate the same tools the corrupt, established power systems use to maintain control to begin with. [. . .]

[Ward/Voas comment:] This could be called a ‘spiritual’ awakening.”

What Does This Have To Do With Thrive?

In a word: everything.

Thrive is an even more obvious and clear graft between New Age ideas and conspiracy theory ideology, which according to Ward and Voas is the definition of conspirituality. This is the point I made in my other blog’s article on how the conspiracy theory world has been changing—and in that article I made the point, several times in fact, that Zeitgeist and the Zeitgeist Movement are the progenitors of Thrive, and most likely the example Foster Gamble was trying to follow. But, just to line up a few factors that I think demonstrate that Thrive exemplifies the Ward/Voas concept of conspirituality, let’s look at this:

  • Thrive telegraphs its New Age associations, and tries to sell itself to a New Age audience, early in the film by heavy use of New Age concepts such as crop circles, ancient aliens and UFO contact.
  • One of Thrive’s central messages is that humanity must have some sort of “paradigm shift” if we are to break out of these horrible conspiracies that Foster Gamble says we suffer from.
  • Thrive’s promotional poster features an image of a woman removing a blindfold. The whole theme of “waking up” surrounds promotion of the film. Additionally, many Thrive supporters who have commented on this blog have advised me to “wake up” or employed similar language to urge me to change my thinking regarding the film.
  • Thrive pretends to impart to its audience hidden knowledge or forbidden knowledge that “they” don’t want you to know.
  • Thrive regards factual support of its conclusions as largely unnecessary. By looking at the ridiculous “Fact Check” section of the Thrive website, one sees right away that any factual support for the movie’s assertions is perfunctory, poorly-researched and shoddily done. The message is that it’s faith and belief, rather than facts and evidence, that make the difference between swallowing Thrive’s message and rejecting it.
  • The middle section of the film churns as many conspiracy theories as it possibly can, as fast as it can, and with as few facts cluttering the presentation as possible. It is obvious that this section of the film was built as a sort of “big umbrella” to welcome into the Thrive milieu as many conspiracy theorists as possible by appealing to a very wide range of disparate (and often mutually exclusive) theories.
  • The final section of Thrive purports to offer “solutions” to the problems it identifies. Its solutions either consist of ending the conspiracies, or implementing far right-wing Libertarian political ideology such as abolishing taxes, abolishing education, etc.
  • Thrive and its milieu exist mostly on the Internet. Like the Zeitgeist Movement, to the extent there even is a “Thrive Movement,” it is almost totally web-based. As the article makes clear, the Internet is overwhelmingly the main channel for proselytizing the conspirituality religion.

If the Zeitgeist Movement is a paradigm example of an organization offering a conspirituality religious message, I can see little doubt that Thrive would also qualify. The British researcher I talked to put it in very stark terms. Thrive asks the question, “Why hasn’t this New Age consciousness shift occurred?” and then answers it by pointing a finger at the Rothschilds, Rockefellers and “bankers” and says, “It hasn’t happened because they prevented it.”

An Interesting Angle: Foster & Kimberly Gamble and the Gender Issue.

The Ward/Voas article makes a very interesting point about the gender dynamic within the emerging religion of conspirituality. I hope they won’t mind if I quote them again, because they say it better than I could:

“Notwithstanding these shared principles, there is a wide gulf between the ordinary understandings of conspiracy theory and the [New Age] milieu. The former is male-dominated, often conservative, generally pessimistic, and typically concerned with current affairs. The latter is predominantly female, liberal, self-consciously optimistic, and largely focused on the self and personal relationships. It is therefore far from obvious how a confluence of these two streams could be produced.”

I argue that the husband and wife team of Foster and Kimberly Gamble represents a living example of the union between these previously incompatible belief systems. Foster Gamble, obviously male, seems to be very conservative politically; he believes, for example, that taxation is theft (a classic Libertarian idea) and in Thrive he even denounces the very idea of democracy as a form of tyranny and oppression. [Note: in this discussion I am not conflating political conservatism with support of the mainstream Republican Party in the U.S. I am not alleging that Mr. Gamble is a Republican, just that he espouses at least some politically conservative ideas. They’re not the same thing, though they overlap to some degree]. Clearly Mr. Gamble is concerned with current affairs, and his outlook is relentlessly pessimistic, at least regarding the current state of the world. Kimberly Gamble, by contrast, is shown in Thrive as more of a touchy-feely figure. Her subjects of discussion regard holistic healing, health issues, etc. Also note that in the film Mrs. Gamble generally appears in a much more optimistic-looking setting (a home-like room drenched with light) whereas Foster Gamble usually appears, through bluescreen effects, to be hovering in a dark space.

I believe the husband-and-wife presentation of Thrive was carefully calculated to appeal to both sides of the conspirituality coin. A male figure who speaks well and appears friendly gives the message about evil conspiracies, then recommends the implementation of far right-wing Libertarian political ideology as a potential solution. A female figure, conveying a softer tone, speaks of personal issues and seems well-connected to the New Age milieu. Her message, even more than Mr. Gamble’s, seems to hinge upon belief and faith rather than fact and evidence.

Even beyond the gender dynamic, I believe there is also a generational dynamic. Foster Gamble is in his 50s. He claims in at least one interview to have learned about the principles of conspiracy thinking from his son, who must be in his 20s or 30s. That demographic—white males in their 20s and 30s, or even teens—are the key consumers of conspiracy theory material, which can be witnessed by noting that the overwhelming majority of members of the conspiracy-minded Zeitgeist Movement fall into this category. Foster and Kimberly Gamble may be positioning themselves as sort of a “mother and father” team, administering their philosophy to a global family of New Agers and conspiracy theorists.

The Future?

If Thrive is an exemplar of a conspirituality religious text, what does this mean for the future? How do those of us who still live in the rational world deal with the emergence of conspirituality?

I don’t know the answer to this. I find it interesting that academics are now beginning to study the phenomena that we (those of us who debunk conspiracy theories) have been noting for the past few years, the trend of groups and individuals, like Foster Gamble or Zeitgeist’s Peter Joseph, to use conspiracy theories as a marketing tool to gain adherents to a political, social or religious philosophy. That’s the change I wrote about in my article in February. Does this development make movies like Thrive more or less dangerous, divisive, harmful and irresponsible?

I think it might depend on how conspirituality continues to develop. If it becomes very clear to most people that what Thrive espouses is a religious belief system, people and society at large may come to accept it on those terms, which is fine. Some Christians believe the world was created in six 24-hour days, about 6,000 years ago; many Mormons believe that Joseph Smith actually found golden plates and that a civilization called the Nephites lived in what is now the western U.S. These are accepted as religious beliefs. If adherents of conspirituality believe that 9/11 was an inside job and that aliens create crop circles, I suppose it’s not so bad so long as people realize that these are religious beliefs, which exist in the realm of unfalsifiable phenomenon—faith, essentially—and do not rise to the level of empirical matters that must be proven by actual facts and evidence.

On the other hand, if adherents of conspirituality reject the conclusion that what they’re espousing are religious beliefs, and continue to insist that the things they believe are true as a matter of objective fact—and demand that society act on those matters as if they were fact—I could see this becoming a major societal problem in the decades to come. As a practical matter I don’t them agreeing passively that what they’re peddling is a religion. Believers in the Zeitgeist Movement, to use that as an example again, emphatically reject any suggestion that the organization they follow is a cult or some sort of quasi-religious belief system; they insist it’s based on fact, and they usually insist that the conspiracy theories upon which their movement is based are also facts.

Conversely, the vast majority of Thrive fans who have posted comments critical of this blog seem to believe, for whatever bizarre reason, that the assertions contained in the movie are factual, though I admit that many of them seem more interested in arguing the efficacy of the film’s or the filmmakers’ proposed solutions—the spiritual meat of conspirituality, in a sense—more than the facts. (This is why I get so many comments to the effect of, “Well, what are you doing to save the world?” or “Why don’t you do something more productive with your time?”) As I pointed out in my February article, the arena in which traditional fact-based debunkers have been battling conspiracy theorists over the past few years is rapidly shrinking—largely because conspiracy theorists have come to care less and less about, and swayed less and less by, matters of fact and evidence. It’s the faith and the beliefs that are important to them, not the facts. That’s a world I would rather not live in, but unfortunately I think that’s the world we’re headed for.

Conclusion

The main point of this article is this: I hypothesized some time ago that Thrive is essentially a religious text, proffering beliefs that are probably more correctly classified as tenets of faith rather than matters of fact, and I believe the Journal of Contemporary Religion article lends support to this hypothesis. Furthermore, the Ward/Voas article gives us a name for this emerging religion—conspirituality—and begins to lay an analytical framework for us to understand it.

Boiled down to its core essence, it’s a rather simple equation. New Age beliefs plus conspiracy theories equals conspirituality, a religious belief, and the Internet is conspirituality’s church. I think everyone who sees Thrive should be aware that, when they hear Mr. Gamble’s soothing voice and watch pretty CGI images of glowing purple space donuts, they may well be taking part in a sort of high-tech mass—an initiation rite into a new religious belief system. This system is not an organized church in any traditional sense, but I think the signs are becoming ever more clear that it is a religion, or starting to become one. Where this belief system will take its adherents in the future, no one yet knows.

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Paranoid Utopia: The Nightmare World That Thrive Would Give Us.

The makers and fans of Thrive are fond of stressing that they want a better world. Their ideas for creating a better world involve, first and foremost, ending the conspiracies that they insist are screwing up the planet, and second, implementing far right-wing libertarian political and economic ideology on a broad scale. As I wrote in a blog a few months ago about how the world of conspiracy theories is changing, Thrive represents a progression along the road of using conspiracy theories to sell a particular ideology. Zeitgeist: The Movie pioneered this idea, but Thrive has taken it a step farther. Thrive is aimed at a new generation of conspiracy theorists who aren’t satisfied merely to spread their erroneous versions of what they think the facts are, but to remake the world in an image more to their liking.

The problem, of course, is that the conspiracy theories are false, and their adherents’ ideas for changing the world are based on an incorrect and often downright delusional view of reality. That means that their solutions will have very severe unintended consequences, because their solutions aren’t aimed at solving real problems in the real world, but rather solving fake problems that exist only in their fantasy world. This blog will explore what sort of world we might end up with if these people had their way.

This vision is, by definition, speculative. But then again, so is George Orwell’s 1984, a book that many conspiracy theorists cite as prescient gospel truth, and which many believe is literally coming to pass now (or already has).

This article is not a prediction of what I think will come to pass, just as Orwell’s wasn’t either. This article is a profile of what may come to pass if conspiracy theorists of the sort who support Thrive had free reign to build the world that they say they want.

Setting the Scene: After the Next American Revolution.

Conspiracy theorists sometimes try to warn me about what’s going to happen to me in the future. They like to say things like I’m a “traitor” and a “collaborator,” and that I’ll get some kind of just deserts at some point in the future. This reasoning, which is (like most things conspiracy theorists believe in) not fully thought out, assumes that there will be some sort of “revolution” where presumably the current political order will be undone, the conspiracies that these people believe in will be halted, and those who supported them will be punished.

Thrive does not explicitly speak of such a revolution, but it’s clear that its adherents implicitly look forward to one. Foster Gamble talks about “obsoleting” the Global Domination Agenda. He is unwilling to be more specific than this, but it’s clear that he has in mind some sort of radical inversion of the current status quo. That is one way to describe a revolution.

This is a vision of the United States that exists approximately 50 years after a revolution, spearheaded by political and economic thinkers who believe (like the makers of Thrive do) in the most dominant conspiracy theories of today’s world, has swept away the old political and economic order. Whether that revolution is achieved by peaceful or institutional means, or (probably more likely) by violence, is not relevant. This article also presupposes that the conspiracy thinkers who take power believe in the same sort of far right-wing libertarian ideology that the makers of Thrive advance. This is not too farfetched. Libertarian ideology is becoming increasingly identified with conspiracy theories and conspiratorial belief systems—witness the high levels of support Ron Paul has received from people who believe in conspiracy theories. (Foster Gamble supports Ron Paul for President).

In this article I’ve included a section that demonstrates not only Thrive’s ideology, but also that proposed by followers of the Zeitgeist Movement, who similarly believe in conspiracy theories and have used them to advance an ideological plan for the future. Zeitgeist: The Movie was a key progenitor of Thrive, and many of its followers have shared the same goals, tactics and mindset, so it’s appropriate to treat them together.

Without further ado, let us travel ahead in time to the world conspiracy believers have built.

The Money System: No Fed, No Fiat, No Funding.

Just as in our world today, the key factor in the America that conspiracy theorists have built is money. The problem, however, is that there isn’t any. In a post-conspiracy America, there are no banks or formal financial institutions. In the past 50 years, conspiracy theories regarding banks, finance and currency—infused with libertarian propaganda—became so prevalent that the banks either collapsed, were outlawed, or were driven out of business. Needless to say the U.S. Federal Reserve was the first to go. “Fiat currency” is the ultimate evil, the tool of the Illuminati for world domination, so the very appearance of it is social taboo. Just as libertarians and conspiracy theorists today demand, the U.S. is back on the gold standard: all currency is backed by gold. However, early in the revolution, large corporations quickly purchased all of the gold bullion in the United States from the failing banks. All of this gold is still held in their vaults, heavily guarded. It never enters circulation. Gold and gold-backed currency are still traded by the large corporations, but in purely theoretical transactions that take place on balance sheets and in computer programs.

As a result of this situation, there is no currency in circulation. The U.S. Treasury stopped printing money decades ago. In fact, due to massive de-funding of government, the U.S. Treasury no longer exists. No one has seen a piece of paper currency or coin except in a museum.

But because the amount of gold bullion in the United States is only a tiny fraction of the amount of money needed to keep the economy moving, and because the gold reserves are under effective control of private corporations, America has become a land of barter economies. Corporations who wish to do business with each other trade favors, contractual obligations and customers; this form of barter has been unofficially institutionalized in the form of “credits,” which are not backed by any precious metals. Ironically, credits exactly mimic most of the features of “fiat currency” that has been supposedly outlawed and socially stigmatized. In rural areas, as we will see, the chief form of currency is ammunition. Needless to say, the ideals of a conspiracist economy and the realities do not match up.

The Cities: Corporate Feudalism.

The supplanting of democracy by conspiracist thinking and libertarian ideology had the effect, during the revolution, of dismantling government at all levels. Because there is no effective law and the economy collapsed, the result was large-scale anarchy. Major cities are the only islands of calm in a sea of violence and lawlessness.

These major cities are all run by an interlocking coalition of corporations—the same ones that control all the gold and all the wealth in American society. The major function of these corporations is to sell social services to city residents, and they are all monopolies. The Law Enforcement Corporation sells physical security. The Habitation Corporation sells housing. The Food Corporation sells food. The Justice Corporation sells access to the wholly-privatized court system. There is no economic competition. There is also no regulation. Prices are fixed, but in this environment prices don’t matter, as we’ll see.

The cities are walled enclaves, heavily guarded by military personnel, where residents have at least a chance at a life above the anarchy and poverty of the outside world—but at a huge cost. The price for a house alone in one of the cities is far beyond the amount of gold, credits or barter that any ordinary person could ever possess in a lifetime. Nevertheless, the corporations waive their prices and admit new residents in exchange for lifetime commitments to work for them—commitments secured by immense debt loads. This form of indentured servitude is essentially feudalism: the workers cannot quit, cannot lobby, cannot organize, and can be fired and expelled from the city for any reason or no reason. Social mobility is unknown. It is impossible for a common worker—one who cleans the streets, works in the restaurants, drives the bus, provides childcare, etc.—to rise above his or her station; the debt load that the common person has taken on in exchange for living in the city is insurmountable in a dozen lifetimes. In fact, the corporations have begun to tack the balance of peoples’ unpaid debts on to the debts of their children in exchange for agreeing to let their children continue to live in the city after they reach the age of majority. In this way, the corporations acquire an underclass of hereditary serfs, bound to the land and the lord, just like medieval feudalism. These serf-like customers are often traded between corporations as a form of barter.

The corporations have no incentive to treat the workers well. So many more people want to get into the cities than the number of slots available. Consequently the labor supply is cheap and inexhaustible, so any concessions to workers are an unnecessary drain on efficiency. Workers toil 14 hours a day, seven days a week. If they get sick, they are fired and sent out of the city. The workforce is all-white. African-Americans, Asians, Native Americans and especially Jews are forbidden from even entering one of the cities. Because there is no government left to enforce anti-discrimination laws and the Law Enforcement Corporation has a corporate policy to ignore them, even egregious discrimination goes completely unpunished.

Although they live better than anyone else in the society, the directors and managers of the corporations don’t live without fear. The influence of conspiracist thinking at all levels of society makes a stable existence very precarious. All it takes is one errant accusation that a person is working for the Illuminati, or even sympathizes with the Illuminati, and the person will be ostracized from society, fired from his job and quite possibly expelled from the city itself. Evidence is irrelevant, and legal process is unnecessary; an accusation, even an implausible one, is tantamount to guilt. Savvy businessmen routinely accuse their rivals of being Illuminati agents. Promotion and demotion within corporations is due far less often to merit and hard work than it is personnel shifts as a result of firings and expulsions from the city, most of them reactions to conspiracy allegations. Consequently, the corporations are poorly-run, grotesquely wasteful and rife with incompetence. Because they have a captive base of indentured customers, however, and competence and efficiency have no economic value, the ineptitude of the corporate managers has no effect on profits.

Because the corporate management class clearly understands that their power and influence is based on the conspiracist order, they have a vested interest in perpetuating belief in conspiracy theories. In addition to the “legitimate” corporations ruling the cities, there is also a shadowy Conspiracy Corporation. The service this corporation provides is to stage violent incidents, plant fake evidence and deliberately sow distrust and fear among the cities’ populations. The Conspiracy Corporation’s customers are the other corporations who run the city, and who pay it to create havoc as a means of controlling the customer-serfs through fear. Every few weeks the Conspiracy Corporation instigates a random shooting or other act of violence in a public place, which is heavily publicized and blamed on the Illuminati. This fiction maintains the public’s belief that the Illuminati exists and is actively seeking to undermine society. Ironically, in a society built on reaction to nonexistent conspiracies like the Illuminati or New World Order, something very close to what the Illuminati was imagined to be has come into actual existence—thus turning conspiracy theorist beliefs into a self-perpetuating cycle.

The Countryside: Mad Max With Pogroms.

If life is bad in the cities, it’s even worse in the countryside. Government—feared and vilified by conspiracy theorists as the root of all evil—simply does not exist, although the laws, including the U.S. Constitution, are still technically on the books. Outside the cities, there are no police, no local or state officials, and no organization of any kind. There are no courts. There are no hospitals. There are no schools. Roads crumbled into dust decades ago because no one was around to maintain them. No one provides any private social services. For one thing, the big corporations have nothing to gain by selling their services outside the city; the rural population has no money to pay for them anyway. For another, they don’t need the business; they’ve got more customers than they can serve within the walls of the cities. Outside those walls, people manage to survive—barely—by tilling their own tiny farms at a subsistence level.

The level of violence in the countryside is shocking. During the revolution, the only personal liberty that was even remotely respected was the right to bear arms, and out in the country you can’t survive without heavy firepower. Family farms are defended by minefields, barbed-wire fences and kids toting automatic weapons. In many areas, warlords have managed to take over the more productive farms, resulting in irregular patchworks of fiefdoms that are constantly fighting with each other. In addition to outright barter, ammunition is the chief de facto currency in these areas. Heavy weaponry looted from abandoned U.S. military bases is the chief source of power. Life in this libertarian paradise is, in the famous words of Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short.”

Disease takes a terrible toll on all sectors of society, including the rich in the cities, but out in the countryside it’s particularly bad. Vaccines of any kind are distrusted as tools of the Illuminati. As a result, diseases that are easily preventable—polio, measles, rubella, chicken pox, etc.—kill and cripple tens of thousands every year, especially children. Infant mortality is frightful. There are no doctors in these outlying areas. They too were denounced long ago as tools of conspirators; during the revolution many doctors, accused of hiding cancer cures and collaborating with Illuminati-controlled pharmaceutical companies, were massacred or driven out of business. Even medical knowledge itself is dying out since all the medical schools were closed long ago.

The people who fare the worst in this society are Jews. Universally blamed for the imaginary conspiracies that supposedly brought society to the brink of ruin, Jews are refused entry to the cities, and in the countryside they are ruthlessly persecuted and massacred with regularity in horrific pogroms that resemble those of medieval Europe—except with automatic weapons. What few Jews remain have walled themselves up in heavily-armed ghettos with even worse conditions than the countryside whose virulently anti-Semitic (and heavily-armed) population they are hiding from. Nevertheless, as much as they hate Jews, the common people and the more powerful warlords of the countryside cannot organize any collective efforts to exterminate them, as much as they would like to. This inability is the only thing that allows the insular Jewish communities that still exist to carry on, hopeful that someday conditions will change and the world will come to its senses.

Zeitgeist City: A Special Corner of Hell.

One of the walled cities that exists in the anarchic countryside is a medium-sized settlement in swampy Florida. It was established during the revolution as a “Test City” for the RBE or “Resource Based Economy” model, advocated by an almost-forgotten conspiracist organization called the Zeitgeist Movement. Everyone calls this place “Zeitgeist City” for that reason. Inside its heavy steel walls, the convergence of paranoid conspiracist thinking and failed utopian ideology has created a very special kind of hell.

Zeitgeist City is a city of contrasts. In the center of its broad circular plazas there stands a gilded statue of Peter Joseph, creator of the Zeitgeist films, who is regarded in the city as sort of a savior and saint. Beyond the buildings and well-trimmed lawns, however, Zeitgeist City resembles Calcutta on a bad day. Thousands of people are crammed together in pathetic hovels with no running water or electricity. Except for the tasks assigned (without pay, of course) by the city’s ruling elite, there are no jobs; the ideology of an RBE society has outlawed labor as unnecessary. Crime is rampant, but, as the existence of crime conflicts with RBE ideology, it is generally ignored. Most people survive on a black market barter economy, the existence of which is ignored because it is also inconsistent with RBE ideology. Nearly everyone lives a hair’s breadth above starvation level. Although a central feature of the city is large-scale hydroponic vertical “farmscrapers,” these buildings are so energy-intensive and inefficient that they cannot grow very much food, and are not even functioning most of the time.

Everything in Zeitgeist City—every article of clothing, every shoddy consumer good, every plastic tub of tasteless processed food—is catalogued with a bar code. The worst offense in Zeitgeist City is to be caught possessing anything that doesn’t have a bar code. Armies of inventory control techs armed with laser scanners fan out through the city every day, scanning everything. All the codes are fed daily into a central computer system, which then allocates the resources according to a mysterious algorithm. Goods are then redistributed every morning according to the computer’s dictates. Thus, if the computer has decided that a spoon you own is better allocated to the family living next door to you in your squalid apartment, you must give it up to them. This redistribution occurs every day at the distribution centers, where Zeitgeist City dwellers spend most of their time waiting in line either to give up their possessions or receive somebody else’s. The lines, the distribution center and even the computer making the decisions are all under the control of the city’s elite rulers, who call themselves the Allocators. They enforce their dictate through violence. Anyone caught disobeying the dictates of the computer, or possessing property not officially allocated to them, is rounded up by the Allocators’ heavily-armed thugs and sent out of the city as slaves.

In theory the computer allocates resources based on “the scientific method.” Because this concept is meaningless when applied to resource allocation, however, in reality the computer distributes resources purely by random chance. That the resource allocation algorithm in the computer is actually a random number generator was such a closely-guarded secret that knowledge of it has died out. Even the Allocators themselves believe the computer has a methodology; they mistake the random decisions of the computer for “the scientific method,” and they don’t possess enough scientific acumen to notice the difference. Therefore, belief in the infallibility of the distribution computer has become a religious belief in Zeitgeist City. No one dares to question it.

Because Zeitgeist City produces virtually nothing, not even for its own people, it is entirely dependent upon imports of food and needed supplies from nearby Miami, a corporation-controlled walled city. Zeitgeist City compensates Miami by sending it regular shipments of slaves to replenish its labor force. In order to keep this arrangement going the Allocators insist that they possess a short-range missile, tipped with a nuclear warhead, with which they will obliterate Miami if the flow of aid ever stops. In reality there is no warhead and the missile is a non-functioning mock-up stolen from an aerospace museum, kept poised menacingly to the south in a public park surrounded by flowers and hedges. Zeitgeist City’s walls are heavily defended with heavy-caliber machine guns and SAM missiles. The Allocators tell their populace that the city is constantly under siege by Illuminati goons—referred to as Trolls—who are seeking to destroy the city in order to eliminate the proud example of RBE superiority. In reality the city is not under siege and the Trolls do not exist, but the Allocators fire the weapons along their walls a few times a day to promote the illusion that the siege is continuing. As in any other walled city, accusations of Illuminati complicity are routinely used as tools of terror to keep the populace in order, and an unending stream of pro-RBE and conspiracist propaganda flows from the Allocators’ many loudspeakers all over the city, within which every inhabitant is forever in earshot.

The Allocators claim, and not without some foundation, that Zeitgeist City is “the most progressive community in the United States.”

Knowledge—Forbidden Fruit.

The revolution that brought the conspiracy order to power was profoundly anti-intellectual. Experts on anything—especially scientists (who explained how things really worked), economists (who argued against the economic changes), historians (who explained how the past had really occurred) and doctors (who were accused of suppressing cancer cures and tainting vaccines)—were mercilessly persecuted and massacred. In the revolution, all the universities were closed. Many libraries were burned or destroyed, their books distrusted as tools of the Illuminati. The Internet was regarded as a much more pure and reliable source of knowledge, because the Internet contained “the truth” about conspiracies and books did not. As a result, in this conspiracist order, systemized education barely exists, libraries are virtually nonexistent, and most books are locked away and forgotten in vaults owned by the major city corporations—similar to the way books in the Middle Ages were locked up in monasteries.

The corporate managers of the cities, understanding that their power rests upon the perpetuation of conspiracy theories, carefully control what knowledge gets out to the common people. Any book or document that even remotely refutes or even questions conspiracy theories has been destroyed or altered after the fact to support conspiracy explanations. In this world, Osama bin Laden is lauded as a martyr, on whom the Illuminati unfairly blamed 9/11 and then assassinated him for this imaginary crime. Books or websites about Adolf Hitler routinely omit the Holocaust and instead laud his pro-free-market policies. American history books are wildly inaccurate, and present the country’s history as a relentless narrative of exploitation and conspiracies by the Illuminati and the Jews. Even science books contain numerous errors and omissions.

But, not many people read these books anyway; in fact, literacy has declined greatly because education as we now know it has ceased to exist. Most common people get all of their information from the Internet, which is controlled by the Information Corporation. There is very little written text on the Internet. Most material is either in the form of pictograms or videos. Almost all are either pornography, or simple morality plays dramatizing the evil and immorality of the Illuminati and the Jews. Most of these videos are less than a minute long and feature some hideously gory act of violence. Even very young children are desensitized to the most horrible images of human suffering, having been exposed to an unending stream of images of brutal retributions carried out against Illuminati sympathizers. Schools in the cities—at least for the common customer-serfs—consist almost entirely of pods where children surf the Internet for a few hours a day. Elite parents send their children (at exorbitant cost) to schools run by the Education Corporation, and in these schools there is some basic instruction in reading, math and shoddy third-rate science, but interspersed with very heavy doses of conspiracist and libertarian propaganda.

As the knowledge of true history, true science and critical thinking gradually fades, society is rapidly losing any real sense of its past or itself. Almost all events in history are reduced and simplified to a one-note narrative of exploitation by the Illuminati followed by the redemption of the revolution. Ancient history and the origins of man are described as being the result of extraterrestrial visitation. No one in this society knows that humans built the pyramids; even well-educated elites accept and honestly believe that all prehistoric structures of this nature were constructed by aliens. The major religions are all waning in practice. There are very few churches left. No one in this society has read or even heard of Shakespeare, of Tolstoy or of Leonardo Da Vinci. No one has ever been to an art museum or a music concert. In 100 years’ time, the collective store of human knowledge existing on Earth will have been reduced by half or more. It is truly a new Dark Age.

The Environment—A Rising Tide of Disaster.

Because there is no government, no environmental regulation and the city corporations have no incentive to be environmentally responsible, America is a stinking cesspool of environmental degradation. The corporation-run cities generate power through burning coal and oil—all reserves privately owned and controlled, of course. The cities export their garbage to the countryside where it sits in rotting heaps, breeding diseases and cancer clusters among the semi-feral rural population. Rural dwellers routinely build and furnish their own houses from the refuse of the cities, much of it contaminated. Because the corporate-run cities have no need for water treatment facilities—they can simply pump their sewage into the rivers at zero cost—rivers downstream of the major cities are indescribably foul. There are few forests left, the rural residents having deforested their lands for firewood.

The worst problem is global warming. Because the conspiracist order denounced anthropogenic global warming as a scam and a hoax by the Illuminati, even mentioning the existence of this problem is absolutely forbidden. Absolutely nothing has been done to ameliorate global warming—in fact, America’s carbon emissions since the revolution have increased, despite having much less industry, because the corporations that run the cities have changed over to dirtier and more inefficient means of energy production and industrial usage. Rising sea levels have inundated coastlines. In the larger coastal cities like New York, makeshift seawalls have been built to hold back the ocean (built by slave labor of customer-serfs), but in rural coastal areas, the rising sea levels have turned many areas into fetid swamps. These swamps breed mosquitoes, which results in a high incidence of malaria in areas where it had once been thought to be eradicated. Combined with society’s distrust of doctors—thanks to conspiracy theories about suppressed cancer cures and tainted vaccines—the mortality from tropical diseases is much higher than it was before the revolution.

Global warming has also made peoples’ jobs of feeding themselves much harder. Food crops are more difficult and costlier to raise, invasive and parasite species are hardier and more difficult to kill, and erosion of desiccated topsoil has turned Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas into semi-arid wastelands incapable of cultivation. The increased strength of hurricanes due to global warming results in large swaths of the Atlantic coast being decimated at regular intervals—and because there is no government there are no relief agencies. No one pays any attention to these problems. In the cities, even mentioning the words “global warming” will mark you as an Illuminati sympathizer; in the countryside, the scientific knowledge to explain what’s happening no longer exists. In the meantime greenhouse gases continue to foul the atmosphere at an ever-increasing rate. The disaster of global warming is now, fifty years after the revolution, far beyond man’s capacity to reverse it.

When the sun sets on this bleak country, filled with pollution and decay, its rays bleed through layers of carbon dioxide vapor and sulfuric acid. It sets on mosquito-infested marshes that were comfortable beachfront communities 60 years before. The clouds approaching on the horizon are filled with acid rain. Their caustic drops fall on acres of landfills and junkyards, oozing poison into a water table already contaminated with toxic chemicals and human feces. This is the brave new world that conspiracy ideology has built.

Conclusion

No sane person would wish for a world characterized by these specific results: desperate impoverishment, corporate feudalism, widespread violence, resurgent disease, intellectual and cultural stagnation, and environmental devastation. But this could very well be the world that would result from the policies and ideologies advocated by conspiracy theorists. Failure to understand the world and its problems as they really are, and blind adherence to ideologies and systems of thought that are clearly at odds with objective reality, will undoubtedly result in unintended consequences.

Yet, on some level, this is exactly the world Thrive wants to give us. This is a world where no one pays taxes, where there is no government coercion, where the Federal Reserve has been abolished and currency backed by gold, where the “free” market is totally unfettered, and where the populace is vigilant against conspiracies of any kind. This is a world where all people thrive.

Well—maybe not all.

Thrive, Zeitgeist and the Illusion of Conspiracy Activism.

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.

http://www.redcrossblood.org/

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.

http://www.adultliteracyleague.org/volunteers/orientation.html

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.

http://www.worldvision.org/content.nsf/getinvolved/caregiver-kits-church-volunteer-activity

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:

http://www.collegefund.org/content/donate

There you go. Stop watching Internet conspiracy movies and go do some good in the world. You have no excuse now.

Gambles Fire Back, Accusing Thrive Critics of “Disinformation Campaign”

Foster and Kimberly Gamble, the husband and wife team behind the conspiracy theory movie Thrive, have issued a statement firing back at the ten signatories of last week’s letter, people who appeared in the film but who have now disassociated themselves from it. The signatories include progressive leader John Robbins, who knows Foster Gamble personally, and who also gave me a statement regarding his views on the conspiracy aspects of the film, and Adam Trombly, the inventor whom the film claims created a “free energy” device. The full text of the statement was posted on this blog as a comment by one of Thrive’s official spokespersons. It’s also available on the “Thrive Movement” website.

The disappointing and fatuous statement by Mr. and Mrs. Gamble attempts both to minimize the controversy and to belittle the signers of the letter and critics of the film. Most notably, Mr. and Mrs. Gamble accuse John Robbins, the driving force behind the disassociation letter, of engaging in a “disinformation campaign” to discredit the film. The statement also makes clear that acceptance of the conspiracy theories advanced by Thrive as literal fact is a prerequisite for being taken seriously in the discussion of “solutions” that the makers of the film say they wish to engage in.

Because there are also parts of the statement that may be addressed to me and to this blog, I thought I would present my comments regarding it here. If you’d rather see the statement in its full form, without my comments interjected, either click the link to the comment above, or go here to the statement on Thrive’s website.

“Disinformation Campaign”?

“As those who have seen THRIVE know, we are committed to a bold inquiry into what is really in the way of our thriving – and to offering much more than just a tweak to our fundamentally flawed and failing system.

One of our core approaches in making THRIVE was to hear from people with differing points of view and to go for vital information regardless of the political affiliations of the source. That way we could do our own informed and critical thinking and glean the principles and facts from which true, just and lasting solutions can be created.”

I remain skeptical that anyone connected with Thrive engaged in any sort of sustained effort at critical thinking. Indeed, as this blog has shown, the makers have engaged in very little critical thinking. In order to reach the conclusion that aliens built various large works of ancient engineering, for instance, you must first accept a totally counter-intuitive assumption about the capabilities of ancient civilizations as compared to our modern world. Similarly, you have to turn off large portions of your brain to even conceive possible the bizarre “Global Domination Agenda” which a centerpiece of Thrive’s message.

“We encourage a transparent, respectful, informed and constructive dialog that can address the specifics of any differences some of the pioneers in THRIVE might have with us. Although the letter of dissociation raised no specific issues, we understand from John Robbins’ articles and the correspondence that he wrote soliciting others to participate in his disinformation campaign that the objections range from ET presence, to naming the reality of the Global Domination Agenda, to validating Zero Point Energy, to adhering to the Principle of Non-violation. Wow, not much of a movie left after eliminating those taboo inquiries!”

Setting aside the “disinformation campaign” accusation for the moment, I observe that Mr. Gamble is employing a common tactic among conspiracy theorists—labeling critics of conspiracy theories as people who are reluctant to discuss “taboo” subjects. This is a pretty transparent diversion. I don’t reject the Global Domination Agenda conspiracy theory because it’s “taboo” to accept it. I reject it because it is totally unsupported by evidence and also because it’s contrary to logic. I don’t denounce the idea of ancient astronauts because it’s “taboo” to admit that aliens built the pyramids. I reject it because aliens did not build the pyramids, and there isn’t a shred of evidence to suggest that they did. This has nothing to do with anything “taboo.”

The “disinformation campaign” comment is astonishing. Does Mr. Gamble really believe that John Robbins, who (Mr. Robbins told me) he has known for many years, is deliberately spreading false information about Thrive and soliciting others to join him? Really? I can’t even imagine, if this is what Mr. Gamble really thinks, why he supposes Mr. Robbins would do this. I’ve been accused many times of being a “paid disinformation agent” out to trash Thrive, and I’ve even joked about it. But it’s easy for Thrive supporters to make that accusation about me. Here’s Foster Gamble accusing his personal friend of that. How deep do you have to be in the thrall of conspiracist ideology to believe that your friends are spies out to destroy you?

“Decades Doing Our Homework”?

“We encourage everyone reading this to watch THRIVE and determine for yourselves if you agree that there is enough evidence to warrant additional dialog – about a covert agenda, about revolutionary new technologies and about bold strategies for achieving true liberty and justice for all.

We spent decades doing our homework on these issues and stand with complete integrity and clarity behind the facts represented in THRIVE.”

If Mr. Gamble and his team spent decades researching Thrive, they certainly missed a great deal of relevant information. It doesn’t take decades to find plenty of evidence, for instance, that crop circles are man-made. It also doesn’t take decades to research a historical event such as the Gulf of Tonkin affair, research which would have clearly indicated that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was not a “false flag” operation, as Mr. Gamble asserts in Thrive. I run this blog in my spare time. If I found all this information refuting the assertions in Thrive in my spare time in a mere five months, how come Thrive’s researchers, whoever they are, fell down on the job so badly?

The key part of this section of the statement is Mr. Gamble’s doubling down and going for broke. He says he stands behind Thrive’s facts. That’s extremely unfortunate, because countless matters he asserts as facts are untrue, misleading or taken out of context. Yet it seems Mr. Gamble is unwilling to admit that Thrive has any significant problems.

“Dangerous”?

“We welcome meaningful dialog and otherwise consider it dangerous to undermine the millions of us who are standing up to expose the covert global scheme amongst the elite and their secret societies and intelligence agencies to destroy the economies of countless nations, take over their resources, and kill whatever leaders or people don’t play along.”

This is also classic conspiracy theorist paranoia. Anyone who opposes conspiracy theories is not only wrong in their eyes, but “dangerous.”

This part of the statement appeals to one of the central conceits of conspiracy theorists—that they’re privy to some sort of special knowledge that the rest of the world refuses to accept, and that knowledge will supposedly “save the world.” In this case Mr. Gamble is painting Thrive fans as an army of noble millions fighting the good fight against evildoers who destroy economies and kill people. Conspiracy theorists tend to love movies like The Matrix and V For Vendetta because they underscore this basic and very simplistic narrative. The real world is far more complicated than this, unfortunately.

Oh, did I mention that the “covert global scheme amongst the elite and their secret societies” does not, in fact, exist? I did? Oh, sorry. Just don’t want that to get lost in the shuffle.

“Hit and Run Communications”!

“Further hit and run communications are of little interest to us, especially as it distracts from time better spent with motivated solutions groups forming all over the world who are awakening to the agenda and taking actions based on integrity and freedom rather than staying confined by outworn and deceptive political polarities.”

Mr. Gamble is here saying that he has more important things to worry about than, say, the credibility of his entire movie. Well, no matter. The purpose of this blog is not to motivate any action by Mr. Gamble; nor is it, as some have suggested, to “troll” Thrive fans. The purpose of this blog is to expose the general public to the reality of the serious factual and logical problems with the movie Thrive. That purpose will continue to be served whether Mr. Gamble is paying any attention or not.

“We encourage those who have publicly dissociated to offer their best information and solutions rather than spending time trying to undermine ours.

Each of the pioneers in THRIVE were invited because their expertise in a particular area had been helpful in our gaining an understanding of the bigger picture that includes, but vastly transcends, their sector of expertise -or anyone’s political affiliation. We clearly state this in the movie:

“The people in THRIVE do not necessarily agree with the themes, statements, claims or conclusions presented in the film or website, nor does their inclusion imply our full agreement with all of their views. The people interviewed have each contributed in some deep way to our understanding and we are grateful to them all.””

Again, the statement seems preoccupied with political affiliation. Yes, I do oppose the libertarian aspects of Thrive, as John Robbins has stated that he does; however, speaking only for myself, this is not my primary disagreement with the film or even in the top five. Though I find Thrive’s politics fulsome, if it was just a piece of libertarian political propaganda I probably wouldn’t care that much about it. It’s the conspiracy angle that concerns me. Although conspiracy thinking is becoming increasingly interwoven with libertarian political thought, at least until the last few years conspiracy beliefs cut across the political spectrum. I think this has much less to do with political affiliation than Mr. Gamble suggests here.

Thrive’s Millions are Coming! Or Are They?

“We are encouraged by the millions of viewers, thousands of self-created screenings, the hundreds of THRIVE Solutions groups forming to get on with what’s needed now – informed and leveraged action. People from all over the world- Greece, Poland, India, Portugal and more have voluntarily translated THRIVE into their languages to get the important information to their cultures. THRIVE is now translated into 18 different languages and we hear from people all over the world about the value THRIVE is offering in their cultural transformations.”

People from all over the world are viewing my blog, too. Aside from the U.S., Canada and Great Britain, today alone I had page views from Israel, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Brazil. Given the hits that show up from Google Translate it is also clear that Thrive Debunked has been translated into other languages also. This demonstrates to me that this blog is a clear success: many people are discovering the debunking at the same time as they discover the Thrive film for the first time. Therefore, they’re able to evaluate its claims side-by-side with the facts and logical arguments that refute it.

“We also are moved by the healings being reported in families, workplaces and communities as millions are getting the bridge between worldviews and beyond unnecessary and dangerous divide-and-conquer illusions. The new conversation, about what is really going on and solutions with human rights as primary, is, fortunately, unstoppable.

As stated in the book “1984”, “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” There is a well-informed, nonviolent revolution brewing and we welcome constructive contributions from everyone ready to participate.

Foster and Kimberly Gamble”

Time will tell, but as hopeful a chord as this part of the statement sounds, I’m skeptical. Changing the world takes a lot more than just showing a movie to like-minded people who agree with it. The “Thrive Movement,” if such a thing can even be said to exist, isn’t doing much other than organizing screenings and discussion groups of fans who get together to talk about the movie. The problem is that this type of thing has been done before—with exactly zero effect. Here Thrive is emulating another group that organized itself as a fan club for a conspiracy movie, that being the infamous Zeitgeist Movement. Although the Zeitgeist cult is largely dead, there are still dwindling groups of supporters who meet occasionally to spin grandiose dreams of their “Resource Based Economy.” They have accomplished exactly nothing in the real world, except the promotion of conspiracy theories. Zeitgeist is different than the Thrive Movement in that it was, at least at one point in time, a real movement, with an identifiable leader, strict ideological guidelines and orthodoxy, and an organizational hierarchy. Even if a group can be said to be coalescing around Thrive—again, I’m skeptical this is even happening in any meaningful sense—it has none of these characteristics. If Zeitgeist can’t do it with a strong leader and supposedly an identifiable policy direction, I doubt very much that the fans of Thrive will be able to succeed where the Zeitgeisters failed.

That brings us to the next point:

What “Solutions,” Anyway?

The problem with Thrive’s “solutions” is that they are illusory, and in more ways than one. For one thing they aren’t clearly defined. The various “solutions” flogged on the Thrive website are all extremely vague and general. (I actually agree with many of them, but they’re still vague). Bank locally. Support independent media. Take part in “critical mass actions.” These sound terrific, but what do they really mean? What specific action are the Thrivers supposed to take to achieve these goals? That’s never defined, and Foster Gamble isn’t making any concerted effort to define them. And, as the experience with the Occupy Movement last fall demonstrates, getting a group of like-minded folks together and hoping that they work out for themselves what sort of specific goals they should pursue doesn’t tend to work very well. Successful grass-roots activist movements have never functioned on this model, and they never will. You’ve got to have someone in charge. Foster Gamble doesn’t seem to want to be in charge, which is fine. But expecting that a headless, leaderless group with no defined goals will accomplish anything in the real world is more than a little naïve.

Secondly, the point of Thrive is not really to push these “solutions” anyway. The point of Thrive is to make an ideological statement. The movie was created to animate belief, not action. It was created to advocate belief in New Age religious beliefs and conspiracy theories. I believe that the lip service given to the “solutions” is an add-on to mollify audience expectations. Thrive represents incremental progress on a very long road to legitimize and advance a certain belief system. If Thrive does end up “changing the world,” it will only be so because it leads to something else down the road. I discussed ideas along these lines in an article I wrote for my other blog about how the conspiracy world has changed.

But, let’s just assume for the sake of argument that I’m wrong about all that. The very troubling thing about Thrive is that the “solutions” its adherents say they advocate aren’t solutions to problems that we have. For example, as the Gambles’ statement indicates, Thrive fans fervently believe that crushing this “Global Domination Agenda” is a matter of paramount importance. But the “Global Domination Agenda” does not exist. They want to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. In the meantime, take a real problem that does exist—anthropogenic global warming, for instance, which I happen to believe is the single most crucial problem facing the world today—and most of them deny that it’s even a problem! Foster Gamble has made statements to the effect that he believes global warming is some sort of hoax. This, despite the absolutely overwhelming and conclusive scientific evidence that it’s happening, and that man has caused it.

So there you have it. Even if you can get past the vagueness of Thrive’s proposed solutions, it turns out they’re fired up to solve problems that don’t exist, and they deny the existence of the number one world problem that really does exist. Add to this the fact that the Gambles’ statement indicates that they’re not even really interested in talking to anyone who doesn’t, as a factual matter, accept the truth of the conspiracy theories pushed in Thrive, and you begin to see why this doesn’t work as a realistic means to move forward to solve world problems.

Conclusion: Why Am I Writing This Blog Instead of Making the World a Better Place?

This question is asked me often by Thrive fans, and you hear an echo of it in the Gambles’ statement: that somehow taking the time and effort to criticize Thrive is a waste of time, because instead you could be “making the world a better place.” This view is quite disingenuous.

For starters, I am making the world a better place by criticizing Thrive. Since the very beginning I’ve believed that this film, with its numerous deceptions, errors and incorrect statements, is on balance a bad thing. Belief in factually baseless conspiracy theories is a bad thing. This article I wrote last week explains why. My program for a better world is a world in which people think critically and rationally, and act on the basis of evidence and logic. In that world, conspiracy theories would not survive for long.

Secondly, none of the readers of this blog know what I am doing, and what I have done for a good many years now, to “make the world a better place.” The readers of this blog don’t know this because I haven’t told them, and I haven’t told them because this blog is not about me. So the readers of this blog don’t know that I have contributed large amounts of money to numerous charities and nonprofits. They don’t know the work I’ve done, and continue to do, to expand opportunities of higher education for kids from poor families—a cause I feel is especially important—or for children with cancer. They don’t know the work I did, personally, with my own two hands, to try to reduce wastewater emissions in the city where I used to live—a program that cumulatively cut toxic urban runoff by a total of 50% in three years. A few years ago I was the chief executive officer of a local activist organization that was estimated by the American Red Cross, during the year I was in office, to have been responsible for saving 21,000 lives. They don’t know the work I’ve been doing to increase historical understanding of global climate change. They don’t know about the kid in the Philippines, previously almost blind, who can today see because of something I did.

I hesitated to write the above paragraph because, as I said, this blog is not about me, and because I don’t wish to be seen as entering some sort of pissing match about “who’s done more.” I know that Foster Gamble has pursued many legitimate projects for positive change, such as his work on trying to limit pesticides, and I think that’s great. Nonetheless, I mention my own activities here for no other purpose than to demonstrate that I require no lectures from Foster and Kimberly Gamble, nor from any other Thrive fan, about what I should be doing to help “make the world a better place.”

I appreciate the Gambles’ desire to help. But, in my humble opinion, they’re not helping. Thrive is not part of the solution, it’s part of the problem. This was the reason the ten signed the disassociation letter. I commend them for having done so.