Tag Archive | Ron Paul

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.


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.


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.

Progressive Think Tank Slams Thrive’s Political Agenda

This blog has not dealt much with Thrive’s political ideology. That has been by design. The main focus of this blog is to evaluate Thrive from a factual standpoint: are its assertions and underlying assumptions accurate as a matter of objective fact? Discussions of politics are mostly beyond the scope of this inquiry. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Thrive has a strong political undercurrent, and the orientation of that undercurrent is strongly libertarian. Foster Gamble, creator of Thrive, has endorsed Ron Paul for President in 2012. Furthermore, some of the “solutions” proposed by Gamble in Thrive, and on the associated website, are similar to libertarian planks.

This week, the Praxis Peace Institute, a progressive think tank founded by musician and longtime political activist Georgia Kelly, issued a 56-page pamphlet entitled Deconstructing Libertarianism: A Critique Prompted by the Film Thrive. Because several readers of this blog have directed me to the pamphlet, I thought I would do a brief article on it. It’s impossible to avoid touching the political implications of the film in an article like this, but I do want to stress that, regardless of my personal political beliefs, my primary arguments with the film are factual, not political.

Praxis Institute’s Critique of Thrive: The Basics

You can see the Praxis pamphlet here (note, clicking that link will begin a download of the pamphlet itself in .PDF format). As suggested by the title, the main purpose of the pamphlet is to address libertarian philosophy and explain why, from the point of view of a political progressive, it doesn’t work. Georgia Kelly is the editor of the pamphlet. She came into conflict with Foster Gamble and Thrive back in December when she posted a sharply critical review of the film on Huffington Post. In the pamphlet, she and other writers from the Praxis Peace Institute deliver a double-barreled blast against the film and its political agenda, analyzing many of the assumptions and philosophies behind libertarian thought.

Ms. Kelly states in the introduction why Thrive prompted her to issue this pamphlet:

“Through discussions of the content in the film and the written material on the Thrive website, we realized that many people viewing the film would not readily perceive the libertarian political agenda behind the film. Because many people are confused about libertarianism and its impact on the current political landscape, we felt it important to plumb this political philosophy, particularly during an election year. The articles written in this booklet cover a range of topics that deconstruct libertarianism and place it in the context of our current political environment.”

A bit later, in an article within the pamphlet entitled “Deconstructing the Political Agenda Behind Thrive,” Ms. Kelly writes:

“The website’s “Liberty” page (in the “Solutions” section) is a real shocker. Peppered with quotes from Ayn Rand, Ron Paul and Stefan Molyneux, the page even includes an attack on democracy. Gamble lumps democracy in with bigotry, imperialism, socialism, and fascism, and claims all of these — including democracy! — violate the “intrinsic freedom of others.”

The pamphlet proceeds through several articles written by various authors critiquing the ideological assumptions behind Thrive in much the same terms that Ms. Kelly uses. For example, in an article by Ben Boyce entitled “Challenging the Hidden Political Underbelly of Thrive,” this criticism is given:

“Make no mistake, the actual policy solutions in the documentary constituted the norm in the first Gilded Age of ‘laissez faire’ capitalism, that is, the McKinley Era at the end of the 19th century, for which the libertarian/conservative movements seem to still pine. That was a time when there were minimal taxes on corporations, no worker’s rights, no pesky EPA environmental regulations, no minimum wage, no social safety net to prevent families from tumbling precipitously from marginal employment and insecure housing to abject penury and homelessness. Everywhere in the world where the libertarian ideology has been put in practice, this condition of mass immiseration and concentration of wealth in the hands of the 1% has been a consistent historical fact. This ideology has been tried and failed.”

Another contributor, Gus diZerega, argues:

“[M]y problem with Thrive is the movie’s failure to adequately understand the principles it itself advocates in order for us to create a more humane and sustainable society. It presents one dimension of a problem that is multi-dimensional. The core insight lacking in libertarian thinking is the failure to grasp the centrality of relationships as constitutive of individuals, and to recognize that relationships are the key to understanding property rights and just politics.”

My Take on the Praxis Critique

Having read the Praxis critique, I think it’s self-evident that it is primarily a political document. Its purpose is to criticize the underpinnings of libertarian political thought that surface in Thrive and its milieu as opposed to really critiquing the movie point-by-point. Indeed, while I think the Praxis pamphlet is a very useful tool in evaluating the political agenda of the film, I’m somewhat disappointed by Praxis’s lack of engagement with factual matters asserted in the movie. There is very little discussion of conspiracy theories at all or their relationship to libertarian thought. I think this is a missed opportunity, and could have opened an interesting discussion on the role that conspiratorial thinking plays in political movements both historically and in contemporary society.

Case in point: the Federal Reserve. Mr. Gamble leaves no doubt that he absolutely detests the Federal Reserve, as most libertarians do; he blasts it as a tool of the “Global Domination Elite” to control the money system and hence the world. As a matter of economic policy, what the Federal Reserve does and should do is certainly a legitimate political issue, but aside from that, it is an absolute magnet for conspiracy theories. (Don’t ask me to opine at length on the Federal Reserve. I hate talking about it because it’s intensely boring. For a very good debunking of most of the popular FR conspiracy theories, go here). Mr. Gamble’s hatred of the Federal Reserve may be ideologically oriented, proceeding from libertarian thought, but I suspect at least part of his animosity may also stem from his obvious belief in Federal Reserve-related conspiracy theories. Here we have a prime example of a libertarian political goal—“End the Fed!,” as politicians like Ron Paul like to sloganize—that is being advanced through the spread of paranoid conspiracy theories. I would have liked Praxis to address how, from a progressive political standpoint, this could best be handled. How do you separate legitimate and rational political motivations from illegitimate and irrational belief in conspiracy theories? The pamphlet doesn’t go there. Indeed there are only a few perfunctory mentions of the Federal Reserve at all.

The conflation of conspiracy theories with politics is a dangerous trend and one of the main reasons why I push back against conspiratorial thinking. It is well known, for example, how an undercurrent of anti-Semitic conspiracy thinking in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries provided a fertile breeding ground for the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Those theories are still with us—in fact David Icke, one of the chief talking heads in Thrive, pushes a thinly-veiled science fiction redress of these anti-Semitic conspiracy theories with his ludicrous “shape-shifting reptilian alien overlords” theories that, while they do not refer specifically to Jews, are eerily similar in tone and function to those traditional anti-Jewish theories. Conspiracy theories corrode the ability of people to think rationally about real political solutions. The rise of fringe candidates, like Ron Paul, spouting bizarre philosophies and openly employing racist and conspiratorial language to motivate supporters, is a disturbing effect of this tendency. I would like to know what the Praxis Institute thinks we ought to do about this trend.

Personally, I oppose libertarianism as a political philosophy. I don’t like its emphasis on so-called “free market” principles, its hostility toward taxation and responsible government, and its demonization of any form of collective societal action toward social justice. However, my political beliefs are small issue to Thrive, and are not the primary motivation, or even a significant motivation, for me to push back against the film on this blog. Even if Thrive’s politics were squarely in agreement with my own I would object to its use of conspiracy theories and conspiratorial thinking to advance its aims. Georgia Kelly and the Praxis Peace Institute seem to care much more about Foster Gamble’s politics than I do. That’s not a criticism at all; different viewers of the film will have different approaches in reacting to it. Nevertheless, in their critique of Thrive from a political standpoint, I would have liked to have seen more emphasis placed on the ethical dimensions of using demonstrably false conspiracy theories to advance whatever agendas—be they political, social or religious—lay at the heart of this deceptive film.

Foster Gamble’s Response to Ms. Kelly’s Original Huffington Post Article

What does Foster Gamble have to say to Georgia Kelly? To my knowledge he has not (so far) come out with a response to the Praxis pamphlet itself, but he did respond to her original Huffington Post article, an expanded version of which forms the basis of the first chapter of the pamphlet. Here’s how Mr. Gamble responds:

“Georgia Kelly, founder of the Praxis Peace Institute in Marin County, has posted a fearful review of THRIVE on the Huffington Post. Ms. Kelly has been active in Liberal Democrat politics, and she mistakenly assumes that I am a covert Right-winger, and then goes about attacking that position and me. Her supposition is not true, so she seems to end up missing both the value of THRIVE and critical insights that can inform breakthrough solutions strategies to help humanity escape our lethal situation and flourish…

Ms. Kelly has mislabeled me as “right wing” and started lobbing word grenades over a self-created ideological fence. What I want to explore is “What is just” and “What works?” So I challenge Ms. Kelly and any who are interested in this conversation to answer the most fundamental moral question I know of:

Just exactly when, for you, is it OK for one human being to take your property — be it your body, your wages, or your privacy — against your will and under the threat of violence?

That is what mandatory taxation is…”

This is only a tiny portion of Mr. Gamble’s response, and I encourage you to read the rest for yourself. It’s lengthy, and deals mostly with ideas of political philosophy, which seems to be the primary battlefield on which Ms. Kelly wishes to engage Thrive. I do not find, anywhere in Mr. Gamble’s blog, anything that addresses the factual problems with the film. As Ms. Kelly on Huffington and Praxis Peace Institute in their pamphlet did not focus on factual issues, I see the debate between them and Mr. Gamble on ideological matters to be essentially a political argument, and thus only tangentially relevant to the issues raised on this blog.


Speaking only for myself, I would rather engage Thrive in the arena of what is provable fact as opposed to what is desirable public policy. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own opinions on political philosophy or public policy, nor does it mean that I whole-heartedly endorse (or condemn) either the political agenda of Thrive or of the Praxis Peace Institute. My political opinions are not very relevant to the matters I created this blog in order to explore. In short, I’ve read the Praxis Peace Institute pamphlet. I agree with some of it, I disagree with other parts of it, but, while it’s certainly an interesting take on the Thrive phenomenon, if your main interest in the film is (as mine is) whether it is a credible source of factual information about what’s happening in the world around us, the political argument is largely irrelevant to that concern. Let’s certainly be aware of Thrive’s political agenda, but I for one don’t intend to make political disagreements with the film or its makers a significant point of contention. I’m willing to let others, like Georgia Kelly and her friends at Praxis Peace Institute, do that, and I wish them all the best in doing so. The movie has enough problems simply stating what it thinks is factual truth before it even gets to the realm of politics and policy.