Tag Archive | Zeitgeist Movement

One Year Later: Thriving No More.

By Muertos

Today, November 11, 2012, is the one-year anniversary of the initial release of the conspiracy theory movie Thrive. The film’s first birthday is, I think, an appropriate time to evaluate the film’s impact on the conspiracy underground and its continuing viability, as well as an assessment of our own efforts on this blog to correct and rebut the film. You might say that this article is a “postmortem” of Thrive, and that characterization wouldn’t be inaccurate. If the movie was intended to create a “new paradigm” or “wake people up,” it seems clear that Thrive has failed to do this on any significant scale. The main argument of this article is that, one year on, Thrive is “thriving” no more.

Thrive’s Declining Popularity: The Empirical Proof.

There is no doubt that Thrive is declining in popularity, and the numbers prove it. According to the website traffic analyzer Alexa.com (you can find stats here) the movie’s main website, thrivemovement.com, has been receiving markedly less traffic over the past several months than it did during either of the months it peaked—in November 2011, when Thrive was released, and April 2012, when Foster Gamble and Clear Compass Media made it available for free as opposed to a $5 fee. Alexa.com shows jagged spikes in the website’s popularity week by week (which is measured in terms of traffic ranking within the Internet as a whole), but each spike is successively smaller, the last one being barely a quarter of the website’s all-time interest spike.

On the day I checked, thrivemovement.com had gone down by 27.38% in “reach” over the past three months alone. That means that the site today is reaching 27.38% fewer people now than it was just three months ago. These stats change day by day, so if you check you will probably see a slightly different number.

The statistics on this blog match this trend almost exactly. Interest in Thrive Debunked has proven, over the past year, to be an extremely keen indicator of interest in the movie itself (I’ll explain why that is later in the article). The daily high for page views in the past year was April 13, 2012. Since then, this blog receives barely a quarter—on a good day—of the number of daily page views than it did on that day. The pattern of traffic on this blog mirrors almost exactly the ebb and flow of traffic for thrivemovement.com, with spikes of ever-decreasing intensity followed by prolonged valleys.

Furthermore, there has been much less comment traffic on this blog in the past few months than there was, say, before July 1. I used to receive as many as ten or more comments a day from various people either pro- or anti-Thrive (mostly pro). Now, days go by without any new comments being posted at all.

Speaking solely in terms of web traffic, Thrive Debunked is like a pilotfish on a whale. Wherever the whale goes, it goes along for the ride. The trajectory is down, down, down across the board. The numbers prove it beyond any doubt.

Why is Thrive Declining?

The answers as to why the movie is declining are less clear, but here I offer a few hypotheses.

1. The movie didn’t contribute anything substantially new—at least nothing that its fans could latch onto as new.

For all of its bluster and bravado about a “new paradigm,” Thrive contributed very little to the conspiracy theory underground that was fundamentally new. All that was new was the packaging, which is a shiny object that can only hope to distract the masses for a limited time. Ancient aliens? Been around since 1968. Crop circles? Old news. Money conspiracies? Lyndon LaRouche was doing that in the 80s. “Global Domination Agenda”? Every Alex Jones radio show since 1998 has been about that. Far right-wing Libertarian political propaganda? Ron Paul was peddling that folderol in 2007; now, after two spectacularly embarrassing failures at running for president, he has (mercifully) been put out to pasture, and his sycophantic fan base is finally fading away.

Substantively, the only truly novel idea contributed by Thrive was the obsession with the “torus” shape. (Of course the idea existed long before, but had never been injected into the conspiracy underground before). This proved to be a non-starter among conspiracy theorists, who revel in gloom, apocalypse and disaster. If it can’t oppress you, take away your freedoms, abduct you, give you an anal probe or blow up the World Trade Center, conspiracy theorists probably won’t be interested in it. So scratch the “torus” idea.

Conceptually and structurally, Thrive did make a significant contribution—that being the continued meld of conspiracy theory ideology and New Age sensibility, a toxic mixture that some academic researchers are beginning to term “conspirituality.” Essentially, Thrive is a document evincing the embryonic creation of a new quasi-religious belief system. But this alone won’t sustain its popularity among conspiracy theorists. If Thrive does go down in history it will be because of its contribution to conspirituality, but this is not an accomplishment that conspiracy theorists can sink their teeth into, because most of them vehemently deny that their belief system even is religious in nature. So, appealing though conspirituality is on a subconscious level, that alone is not going to sustain interest in Thrive.

2. The “Thrive Movement” is largely illusory and is not driving continued interest in the movie.

Another reason why the movie has failed to sustain and increase its reach is that there’s no real organization behind it that’s continuing to push it. We’ve blogged before about how ineffectual, illusory and ephemeral are the “solutions” proposed by the movie—they are mainly talking points aimed at ending the conspiracy theories that the movie insists are out there, but because of course these conspiracy theories do not really exist, the movie’s “solutions” are cures in desperate search of a disease. Beyond that, though, the “Thrive Movement” that you see touted (somewhat disingenuously) on the website does not exist in any real sense. Yes, there are small ad-hoc groups of the movie’s fans that have met on an informal basis in various parts of the country. But a mass movement to motivate action based on the movie’s principles? If such a thing exists, it’s keeping an awfully low profile–which can hardly be what fans of the movie want.

Here is one place where Thrive failed to live up to the predecessor it hoped to imitate, the Zeitgeist Movement, which was similarly a fan club of approbation for the infamous (and roundly debunked) 2007 conspiracy theory movie Zeitgeist: The Movie. As we all know, the Zeitgeist experience was the blueprint for Thrive. Although the Zeitgeist Movement imploded in 2011 and has now shriveled to a tiny burned-out nub of high-commitment supporters who have been largely forgotten by the outside world, between 2008 and 2011 at least there was an organization—centrally directed, and under the leadership of the film’s director and his close associates—out there pushing Zeitgeist: The Movie and its tiresome preachy sequels. Thrive has no such organization behind it. The effort that Foster Gamble has exerted to rally fans of the film around a set of action points has been minimal, and no one else has (so far as I know) stepped up to exert any sort of leadership role in this capacity. Without the benefit of a “street team” out there flogging it, Thrive must sink or swim on its own merit. You can see from the numbers that Thrive is not doing well in swimming against the current.

3. Some conspiracy theorists distrust Thrive, thus limiting its reach even within its own target demographic.

Debunkers and other followers of rational, reality-based belief systems aren’t the only detractors of Thrive. Many conspiracy theorists are deeply distrustful of it, for two main reasons: (1) Foster Gamble’s familial connection to the Proctor & Gamble company, and (2) the film’s promotional poster, depicting a woman taking off a blindfold, which especially paranoid conspiracy nutters think is “Illuminati propaganda.” Thrive has been pilloried in the conspiracy underground for these two characteristics. As a result, the many hard-core, incorrigible, detached-from-reality conspiracy nuts—whom you would expect to be Thrive’s core constituency—reject the film out of hand for these very reasons.

This is a battle that Foster Gamble and Thrive can’t possibly win. It does absolutely no good for Foster Gamble to protest that he has nothing to do with his Proctor & Gamble relatives, because no one will believe him anyway. Conspiracy theorists are notoriously intransigent and will accept anything on faith, however bizarre or improbable, so long as it feeds into their paranoid delusions. Even the suggestion that Foster Gamble is an “Illuminati stooge” is, in the conspiracy underground, tantamount to an immutable sentence of guilty.

The controversy over the poster is even more ludicrous. Any image, anywhere, in any context of a person showing one eye is automatically construed by hard-core conspiracy lunatics as “proof” of “Illuminati symbolism.” No amount of remonstration on the part of Foster Gamble or the Thrive crew could possibly alter this. Therefore, Thrive and its makers are—in the zero-evidence-needed universe of hard-core conspiracy lunatics—guilty right out of the starting gate, and Thrive is viewed as dangerous “disinformation.” This is doubly ironic because many people who accept Thrive as gospel truth accuse rationally-based critics—such as myself and fellow contributor SlayerX3—of being “paid disinformation agents” for even daring to criticize the movie.

Thus, Thrive has a self-limiting factor even within its own target audience. The most paranoid and delusional of conspiracy theorists preach against the film because they think it’s part of a conspiracy, whilst debunkers pile on because it promotes conspiracy theories. In this sense Thrive embodies the worst of both worlds. There is no escape from this vicious circle. If Thrive can’t even unite conspiracy theorists across the wide spectrum of their beliefs, it has absolutely no hope of doing so in the mainstream world where conspiracy thinking is generally not accepted.

4. Thrive cannot make any inroads among mainstream (non-conspiracy, non-New Age) audiences.

This is the most important reason Thrive is declining: it simply can’t attract any mainstream attention, which means its potential fan base is limited to its core constituencies of conspiracy theorists and New Age adherents—at least the ones who don’t distrust it because of Gamble’s familial connection or the image on the poster. The reasons for Thrive’s inability to break through to the mainstream is the subject of the next section.

Preventing Mainstream Acceptance: The Repudiators (and the Debunkers).

Without any doubt the single most important event in the history of Thrive was the signing of a letter, by ten of the people interviewed in the film, repudiating it and stating that they were misled as to the film’s contents. If you’ve read this blog, you know all about the “repudiators” (and if you don’t, start here). This event was “game over” for Thrive. Almost single-handedly, the repudiation—orchestrated most vocally by John Robbins—ended any chance the movie ever had of gaining credibility in mainstream circles.

Now, wherever Thrive is shown or even mentioned, the story of the repudiation follows it. Although the repudiation is not generally a deal-breaker for conspiracy theorists and New Agers who like the movie, it certainly is a deal-breaker for anyone else out there who might otherwise have been attracted to the movie’s message or themes but who wasn’t already a conspiracy theorist or New Age adherent. The explanation Thrive’s makers give for the repudiation—that Robbins and company were part of a “disinformation” campaign against the film—is totally incredible and unlikely to satisfy anyone. It’s tough to interest mainstream media in hard-core conspiracy material anyway, but the repudiation is the kiss of death for Thrive. It simply can’t be explained away, ignored or rationalized. Robbins and company acted out of principle. That’s extremely persuasive.

The Thrive Debunked blog has arguably played a role in preventing Thrive from expanding its fanbase into the mainstream, but probably only a small one. I’ve said many times before that the repudiation, and especially the beautiful essay by John Robbins on why he did it, were far more effective in preventing gullible people from falling for Thrive’s nonsense than anything I or my contributors have done. What I believe we and other debunkers who have spoken against the movie have done is to make it very easy for rational people seeking information on the film to see just how wrong the film and its assertions are. The target audience for this blog has always been people who are curious about the movie, who might have some interest in the subjects it covers, but who are cautious enough to investigate the film before believing what it says. Although that universe of people is quite small compared either to the conspiracy fans who love the film or the vast mainstream who realize from the get-go that it’s not worth their time, this blog has been extremely successful at reaching that target audience. On that front, this blog has been a huge success.

The Cycle of Thrive Discovery—And Rejection.

This blog has become an integral part of the public conversation about Thrive. I know because WordPress tracks the “incoming” traffic to this blog and logs the pages that link to it. The vast majority of “incoming” links follow exactly the same pattern. Here’s how it works:

1. A conspiracy theorist or New Ager discovers the film, watches it online, loves it, and makes a post about it on a web forum or in a chatroom. Almost always this initial post praises the film and recommends it to others, like, “There’s this great movie that shows us how our world really works! Everyone should see it!”

2. A few other conspiracy theorists reply, expressing agreement with the film and thanking the original poster who brought it to their attention. Often, some type of discussion about the film’s specific theories (usually “free energy” or the “Global Domination Agenda”) results.

3. Another poster makes a negative comment on Thrive and says something like, “That movie is crap” or “Don’t be fooled by this nonsense.” This is the poster who will almost always post a link to Thrive Debunked.

4. The original poster returns, defending the movie (usually in a shrill, angry and indignant tone), denouncing this blog and calling me a “paid disinformation agent.” Then the original poster will add a bunch of links to other conspiracy theorist material that supposedly “validates” Thrive.

5. The pro-Thrive and anti-Thrive forum posters argue amongst themselves for a few more posts.

6. The original topic goes fallow and is forgotten as the posters move on to something else.

This pattern repeats day after day, all over the Internet, in country after country. (If you want a recent example of this effect, go here). What is clear from this cycle of discovery and rejection is that Thrive has no staying power. It’s a shiny toy that attracts the temporary attention of conspiracy theorists, and then after it’s been debunked and the requisite “paid disinformation agent” accusations have been vomited up against the doubters of the film, the conspiracy nuts lose interest and move on to the next shiny toy. This demonstrates that, even among conspiracy theorists, Thrive operates at a highly superficial level. It generates very little sustained contemplation, thoughtful discussion or even self-reflection. It’s bubble-gum candy, intellectual junk food. To be sure this is as much the fault of the defective mentality of the conspiracy theorist underground—which vociferously discourages any attempt at intellectual analysis—as it is the failure of Thrive, but it’s telling that there’s so little “there” there behind most public discussions of the film.

But Isn’t The Film Valuable Because It Gets People Talking About Important Issues in Our World?

No.

This argument presupposes that Thrive is ethically neutral–that if it is not true, its untruth is harmless, but if (by wild coincidence) the filmmakers happen to aim a wayward arrow at some real-world issue that needs addressing, Thrive is a net positive because it’s directed at least some energy toward addressing that issue. That’s not the case, because the great deal of damage that its untrue and disingenuous depictions of societal issues cause far outweighs any marginal benefit the film might have by “accidentally” aiming at a valid target.

Let me give you an example. The dependence of industrialized societies on fossil fuels is a crucial issue in our world that must be solved, before anthropogenic climate change renders our environment uninhabitable or hostile. Thrive implicitly does accept the premise that dependence on fossil fuel is bad. However, Thrive’s proposed solution is to rely on “free energy” machines, built from plans given to us by aliens, which will miraculously liberate us from all our energy problems. This is a false solution. Even a fan of the film who is motivated to take action to advance a solution to fossil fuel dependence will have his or her energy diverted in a completely useless direction: advocacy for “free energy” machines that do not exist.

In order to turn this hypothetical Thrive fan into an activist working toward real solutions to energy problems–for example, political lobbying for greater public investment in R&D to develop solar, wind, or geothermal energy–will require reeducating the person to realize that “free energy” is a falsehood and that Thrive has misled them. If they’re already interested in working toward energy independence, it’s likely that whatever stimulus sets them on a more productive path could have interested them in the real solution at the get-go, which means the fact that Thrive turned them on to the issue of fossil fuel reliance is totally irrelevant. In fact, Thrive in this example has been counterproductive, because it wasted the would-be activist’s (and society’s) time by encouraging him to tilt uselessly at the windmills of imaginary “free energy” machines. This is not a net positive.

Even this hypothetical example is extremely speculative because it’s not likely that Thrive will interest people “by accident” in genuine issues and genuine solutions anyway. The issues Thrive cares most passionately about are the conspiracy theories. Consequently, what little “activism” it can hope to ignite will almost invariably be directed at ending these horrible conspiracies. That is not a net good for society. It’s a net negative, because conspiracy thinking is part of the problem and is not a solution to anything.

The Final Truth—The One Thrive Fans Will Never, Ever Admit.

There’s a line in Michael Jackson’s song “Beat It” that goes, “No one wants to be defeated.” Conspiracy theorists are more ferociously resistant to admitting failure and defeat than just about anyone else. In fact, they’re so resistant to the notion that their theories are failing to “wake people up” that they will engage in the most egregious contortions of reality to avoid accepting that the mainstream world either treats them as irrelevant wingnuts or incurable lunatics. Consequently, I predict that Thrive fans who choose to comment on this article will never, ever admit that Thrive is losing, rather than gaining, viewers, and that instead of “waking people up” it’s falling quite quickly into well-deserved obscurity.

Conspiracy theorists love to assert that more and more people are joining their side. They love to say things like, “The worm is turning!” or “We’re gaining critical mass!” Bizarrely, they persist in these delusions even long after the party is over, after it becomes painfully obvious that the mainstream world has passed them by.

Take, for instance, 9/11 Truthers. Right now, the conspiracy theory that maintains “9/11 was an inside job” is less popular now than it has been at any time since the attacks of September 11 happened. I proved this in this article, refuting the absolutely false assertion made by Foster Gamble in Thrive that “a growing number of people” believe in this delusion. In fact, based on poll data, the numbers of people who believe in “9/11 was an inside job” theories is shrinking, not growing. But Truthers will never admit this. To them, the conspiracy theory has to be gaining converts every day. The lack of evidence that Trutherism is becoming more popular is treated as irrelevant, or (more typically) that news of its supposedly growing popularity is suppressed. Truthers will never—never—admit that mainstream society rejected this conspiracy delusion long ago and moved on.

In fact, I’ve had 9/11 Truthers try to tell me that the reason nobody talks about 9/11 conspiracy theories much anymore is because they (the Truthers) have already won—they think the vast majority of the public considers 9/11 a closed issue, having concluded that it was a conspiracy, so there’s no need to debate it anymore! They’re right on one score—there is no need to debate it—but for precisely the opposite reason: mainstream public opinion long ago tossed 9/11 conspiracy theories on the dustbin of history, and trying to gain new adherents to the theory is like trying to sell tickets to the Titanic after the ship has already gone down.

There’s one more powerful piece of evidence indicating that the mainstream world has forgotten about Thrive, and that’s here: the very interesting discussion that took place behind the scenes at Wikipedia over whether Thrive was “notable” enough to warrant an entry in the database. Despite the frenzied efforts of Thrive partisans, the Wikipedia gatekeepers decided that Thrive wasn’t even worth their time. There is no Wikipedia page on Thrive. Nor will there be. It’s not suppression; it’s not propaganda; it’s not the “Global Domination Agenda” paying Wikipedia to snub them. It’s much simpler than that: no one cares.

One Wikipedia editor summed up the argument against Thrive with these very telling statements, which ultimately won the debate:

“This page [the one on Thrive that was eventually deleted] reeks of promotion and has the barest credentials. I must agree with nominator that page created by a known sock puppet of an indef-blocked socker [translation: a known conspiracy theorist troll] should be subject to close scrutiny. [An anti-Thrive Wikipedia user] makes the valid points above this film has no wide interest and zero sources other than blogs…”

This is the truth. No one cares anymore. No one should care. Thrive is dead. John Robbins and the other nine repudiators ended the Thrive phenomenon, if indeed there ever was one. Game over.

Conclusion

This is my final article for Thrive Debunked. After seven years in the arena, I have retired from actively debunking conspiracy theories, and Thrive marks the final chapter in that journey. My contributors and I have, in the past year, successfully refuted every major assertion made in the film. There’s nothing of substance left standing of Thrive. Our work is completed. Thrive has been completely debunked. Even if it wasn’t, John Robbins and the repudiators have rendered further effort in deconstructing the film largely pointless, because it’s clear that the film is not going to have any real resonance in the future beyond the realm of conspiracy theorists and New Agers who already know about it.

But, like a dead oil tanker that continues to leak toxins into the environment decades after the main oil spill has been contained, Thrive will continue to infect a small, steady trickle of viewers with its conspiracy poison, whether its new victims are young people who are just entering the dark and nihilistic world of paranoia, or other potential fans who simply haven’t heard about the movie before. For that reason, this blog will remain up for at least a while. It’s already helped a lot of people, and can continue to do some good, even if it is no longer actively updated.

The conspiracy theorists out there will invariably interpret this as some sort of victory, or perhaps further “proof” that I am a “paid disinformation agent”—maybe my CIA/Project Vigilance masters have stopped paying me, or transferred me to another assignment!—but there’s nothing I can do about that. Conspiracy nutters will make that accusation anyway, regardless of how stupid it is. I am not a “paid disinformation agent,” of course, but the fact that paranoiacs continue to believe that I am gives me no grief at all. I have nothing to prove to conspiracy theorists. This blog wasn’t meant for them anyway; it was meant to reach people who are still capable of rational thought.

What I feel most toward fans of Thrive is not anger or even pity, but sadness. What could have been great hope, promise and energy of a generation of young people who want to change the world has been squandered, bastardized and ultimately wasted by sad obsessions with bizarre conspiracy theories that can do nothing—absolutely nothing—to move our society forward or address the problems within it. This is the tragedy of conspiracy thinking. It is a tragedy upon which I can no longer dwell, and with Thrive now debunked, I no longer have to.

I want to thank the contributors to this blog (SlayerX3 chief among them, though he’s by no means the only one), as well as those behind the scenes who helped me research, fact-check, and keep ahead of developments I wouldn’t have heard about otherwise. I want to thank the readers (you know who you are) who respond tirelessly in the comments, slamming down the endless assaults of idiocy and irrationality spouted by Thrive’s more militant fans. If by some miracle of fate Thrive’s fortunes do turn around—or if Foster Gamble decides to make a Thrive 2, perish the thought—I will be looking to you to carry on my work, and to defend rationality, sanity and reason against the endless waves of woo, bullshit, paranoia and propaganda in which our world is sadly awash. Thanks for a job well done.

Foster Gamble or his fans may not think so, but I, for one, am thriving quite well.

Thanks for reading.

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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.

The Lonely Battle Against “Disinformation Agents”: A Conspiracy Theorist Analyzes Me.

I received an interesting email recently from a reader of Thrive Debunked who often forwards me leads and information. The subject was a conversation about me and this blog that recently went on between someone who has frequently commented on this blog (sometimes in support, but often in opposition) and another person who is evidently a filmmaker of some stature. The filmmaker, whose name I do not know, claimed to have done an analysis of me by reading Thrive Debunked. Just for fun I thought I’d present it here, as I find it both very amusing and very sad, and unfortunately typical of the conspiracy mindset behind Thrive. I’ll also offer some comments on the analysis by SlayerX3, the other frequent contributor to this blog.

I should state before we begin that who this person is doesn’t matter to me. I could not be less interested in their identity. It’s the content of the analysis that is interesting here.

The “Disinformation” Trope—Again.

“Muertos is a very interesting character. I’ve gone through a good bit of that site. I just want you to know that, in my considered opinion, this is all what it looks like: purposeful and intentional disinformation. This is NOT the efforts of a few intelligent skeptics who are determined that the public know the “truth”. This is a strategically mounted, carefully conceived and administered campaign to shift public opinion away from having a sincere interest in these topics.

Who would want to do such a thing is not a conversation for email, as far as I am concerned. Too complex, murky, and too detailed to write about. I just wanted you to know that disinformation has been a topic of interest of mine for a long, long time. There are reasons my films generally withstand certain kinds of scrutiny, in that I’ve always had a bit of a natural style and methodology that results in well-knit story structure and coherence.

But what’s going on now with Robbert (and with Foster and Thrive), is a step or two beyond the usual “civil vigilantism for the truth”. There’s something happening with guys like “Muertos” (who I suspect is probably more of a team than an individual) that calls for being very, very careful. One thing to notice about this “guy” is that he is very, very well informed about what it is he goes after- and I mean down to the history, the players, the real detailed nuances — and yet all he has to offer is dissention, ridicule and disbelief.”

This person evidently believes, as many readers of this blog do, that I’m a “paid disinformation agent.” This is a classic fallacy of conspiracy theorist thinking. Conspiracy theorists live in a shuttered universe, intentionally separated from any sources of information that would challenge their belief system. In this closed universe, no one could or would disagree with their conspiracy conclusions honestly, rationally or on their own. The only way they would ever disagree with conspiracy theories is if they’re being paid and/or criticizing conspiracy theories as part of some ideological, political or economic campaign. That’s what the term “disinformation” means in this context.

Repeating once again that I’m a totally ordinary private citizen, that I am one person working alone, and that I’m not being paid or directed by any government, agency, cartel, business interest, activist group, or any person at all to write Thrive Debunked is as pointless now as it ever was. Fans of Thrive who choose to accept this film’s misguided premises as their primary belief system will never accept that I’m not “working for someone.” I find it amusing that the accusation continues to be made, and repeated among my critics as if it is settled truth. It’s simply ridiculous.

Thrive fans aren’t the first conspiracy believers to accuse me of being a “paid disinformation agent,” nor the first to accuse me of being more than one person or having some sort of staff. In August 2011, a few months before Thrive came out, Peter Joseph Merola, the leader of the Zeitgeist Movement and creator of the conspiracy film series Zeitgeist (itself a major progenitor of Thrive), made the same accusations against me on his forum. I wrote an article about that incident on my other blog. Most amusing to me is the idea that I have a “staff.” I take it as a backhanded compliment. If people look at my blog and think it’s impossible that one guy can do all of this in his spare time, I suppose I must be pretty good at blogging!

I also take as a compliment the analyzer’s warning that I’m “very, very well informed about what it is he goes after- and I mean down to the history, the players, the real detailed nuances.” Yes, I am. A lot of research goes into the articles here. For various articles on Thrive Debunked, I have read numerous books, reviewed Congressional hearing testimony, conducted my own independent interviews, consulted newspaper archives, and emailed scientific experts to make sure my facts are right. This is, in fact, the difference between what I do and what Thrive does. I’d like to think this is a mark of quality. Thrive Debunked is listed on Rationalwiki.org’s page about the Thrive movie. It is also now a go-to source on the Debunkatron, a clearinghouse of conspiracy theory and woo belief debunkings. You don’t get listed on these sites by offering shoddy, poorly-researched material and just shouting opinions, which is what many angry Thrive fans accuse me of doing.

As for offering only “dissention, ridicule and disbelief,” this is, of course, false. I offer facts, evidence, and logical reasoning. Just to name a few at random, I offered the fact, backed by eyewitness testimony and historical data, that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was not a “false flag” operation. That fact had the effect of directly refuting Foster Gamble’s claim in Thrive about the Gulf of Tonkin affair. I offered the fact, backed by scientific evidence, that St. Sofia in Istanbul was constructed in the 530s (A.D.) using a process of earthquake-proof cement that was unknown to modern engineers until 2002—thus demonstrating that questions of ancient engineering do not indicate, as Thrive would have you believe, that certain structures must have been created by aliens. Most controversially on this blog, I offered the fact that crop circles of flawless geometric precision can be and are made by human beings in a short period of time with a few simple tools—a fact you can verify with your own eyes by watching it being done in the YouTube video embedded on that page.

Thrive fans do not like facts such as these, because they impugn the film’s conclusions. I have no control over what the facts are. As I’m fond of saying to conspiracy theorists, don’t blame the facts if they lead to a conclusion you don’t like.

So, What’s My Motivation?

The analysis goes on:

“Plus, (from what I can tell) he’s also not someone like Peter Sorenson, or Colin himself, having been a former true believer who for some reason became disillusioned. No, this guy “Muertos” appears to be a total independent, and a newbie at that. So, what’s his motivation? Why put so much effort into researching and debunking people and topics that you fundamentally don’t have any true regard for? There’s a disconnect here that deserves some attention, I think.

And the way he operates is 100% political — you can see that in the construction of the language he utilizes. There is certainly no real room in his approach for any sort of “open discussion” on the “possibilities” of what is real. So my question is: “what’s really going on here?”

“Colin” is Colin Andrews, a crop circle researcher who recently exposed the fraudulent video being supported by Nancy Talbott of BLTResearch.com, which is Thrive’s main source for the false claims made about crop circles at the beginning of the film. I’m not sure I understand the distinction the analyzer is making between “true believers” and “independents.” It is true, however, that the vast majority of high-commitment conspiracy theorist debunkers are former conspiracy theorists themselves. In fact, I am one of them. I used to believe very fervently that John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a government/CIA/Mafia conspiracy, and I also used to believe that TWA Flight 800, which exploded overLong Island in July 1996, was secretly shot down by the U.S. Navy. It was my recovery from this sort of conspiracy thinking that motivated me to try to prevent others from falling into it.

I am also not a “newbie.” I’ve been debunking conspiracy theories for over seven years. Although Thrive only came out a few months ago, I have a great deal of experience in researching and refuting conspiracy theories, from “9/11 Truth” to JFK, to cults, MLM scams  and other forms of what I call organized deception.

I strongly dislike conspiracy theories. They are harmful to society, corrosive to democracy, and inimical to rational and critical thinking. This is my motivation for speaking out against them. Nothing more, nothing less. (If you need a fuller explanation for this, see this article). Anyone who knows me knows that I do nothing by halves. If I committed myself to refuting the movie Thrive, it makes no sense that I would not try to do it as competently, completely, and persuasively as I possibly can. Otherwise I just wouldn’t do it. I find it bizarre that critics use the amount of effort I put into this blog to try to “prove” that I must be a “paid disinformation agent,” because no “real” person would put so much effort into refuting something they don’t like. That argument is ridiculous and ignores the powerful motivations that ordinary people find to speak out against things that they think are harmful.

My model in matters of debunking is a fellow named Mark Roberts. In 2005, Mr. Roberts committed to refuting and debunking the asinine conspiracy theorist film Loose Change, which claimed that “9/11 was an inside job.” Mark Roberts, who was known as Gravy on the JREF Forum, put together a website that is absolutely magnificent in its accuracy, its breadth of coverage, and its total refutation of the lies and errors contained in Loose Change. Who is Mark Roberts? He’s not a “paid disinformation agent.” He runs a tour service in New York City. He’s a totally normal guy. He achieved with Loose Change far more than I have with Thrive. But if you need proof that ordinary people really do get motivated enough to push back against conspiracy movies that are hurting people, all you need do is look at Mark Roberts’s website.

As for whether I am “open” to “possibilities,” I am open to anything—so long as the evidence demonstrates it is true. With regard to free energy, for example, I’ve stated many times that, although I believe free energy is impossible and a sham, if someone were to produce a free energy machine and demonstrate that it does what is claimed of it—in a public forum, and in a way where reputable scientists can verify and duplicate the machine’s operation—I will take down everything I’ve ever said about free energy. But Thrive fans can’t present that evidence. Nor can they present evidence for any of the other weird claims they make. Until and unless that evidence appears, it is entirely rational and justifiable for me to denounce these claims as false.

I would like to ask the person who wrote this analysis—what’s so unreasonable about asking for evidence?

“Disinfo” Again. There’s Something Going On!

“Something is definitely going on in my opinion, and there are few of us who are even aware of it, let alone oriented towards finding a way to deal with it. It’s a very dicey situation, and long-term, I feel. Someone is trying to “manage history” here, and we are in the crosshairs, so to speak. Your manner of reply, which is very similar to what Foster has attempted, has a lot of limitations in terms of really countering these initial disinformation salvos. Too much detail (for one thing), and not enough “sizzle”, and NO clout.

Disinfo is a very interesting game (and one I am not adept in — I just have an long-standing interest in it). It plays, of course, upon the lowest common denominator, upon common fears, and upon reinforcing existing and limited worldviews. Easy to do if you know the techniques, I would think.  Effectively countering it is a separate and unique process, I believe — and one I have tremendous interest in.”

Ooh, look at that! I’m trying to “manage history!” That term is silly. All I’m trying to do is present the facts, and educate people about the factual and logical deficiencies of the claims in Thrive. Is this “managing history?” What does that even mean?

As for this person’s interest in “disinformation,” I’d be glad to enlighten him/her. Whoever wrote this analysis is welcome to ask me any question they want about how much I’m being paid to write this blog ($0.00), who’s paying me (no one), what agenda I’m serving (none), how I do my research, or how I come up with subjects to cover. Seriously. I’ll totally honor this person’s anonymity if they like. My email is muertos@gmail.com. If they are so interested in “disinformation,” I offer myself as a resource to explore that interest.

The upshot of these last two paragraphs is another backhanded compliment. The person who wrote this is throwing up his or her hands and conceding that they know of no way to counter the hideous “disinformation” I’m spewing with my evil blog. That is not surprising; the facts speak for themselves. Conspiracy theorists, when confronted with facts they can’t deny, usually run away from them. That’s what’s happening in this case, except it’s not “disinformation” at all—it’s fact.

So yes, there is “something going on”: someone out there is viewing this blog through a very paranoid mindset, and seeing a number of things that simply aren’t there. Even to make the allegation that I’m some sort of “disinformation agent” betrays a level of paranoia that I frankly find very difficult to fathom. Another thing I have often told conspiracy theorists is that I don’t quite understand how their paranoid fantasy world works, but however it does, I’m glad I don’t live there.

SlayerX3’s Response to the Analysis

[SlayerX3 is a contributor and author of several articles on this blog including the three full-length debunkings, and the fine “Follow The Money” Debunked article. I do not pay him, I don’t direct what he writes, and he’s not working for anyone. Like me, he does this in his spare time and out of his own motivations.]

It is indeed a clear headed analysis but it also stumbles on the same problem when skeptics debunk or criticize events or theories: we eventually end up being either called “naysayers,” or worse, “disinformation agents.”

Topics like these are complicated to deal not with their subjects—since these are relatively easy to prove and show why they are wrong—but with the people who believe in them. Challenging an idea is easy. People can change or even shape ideas to correct fallacies and mistakes, but beliefs aren’t that easy [to change]. Since they have become rooted in people’s minds, challenging them will be always met with degrees of hostility or denial, along with other justifications by the believers to reinforce their beliefs but without addressing the questions that challenge those beliefs (such as the classic reasoning of, “If they are attacking me that means I’m right,” or “You are being paid to disagree with me”).

It is true some of those areas are far from being something we’d care about if there weren’t people trying to pass it as if those “happenings” were 100% true. I do not care if people believe in UFOs or Jewish shape-shifting reptilians, but I do care if people start spreading their version of a “truth” that doesn’t have any connection with reality, or a twisted interpretation of real-life facts to convey their own beliefs and convince other people to share them in a quasi cult-like manner. (It is worth it to cite groups like Desteni as an example of what can go extremely wrong with those beliefs).

Personally, I think the greatest motivation debunkers have is to force engagement with facts, in my case correcting the erroneous interpretation of physics and the pseudo-science in Thrive. Debunkers in general don’t have an agenda behind them besides showing where the mistakes and misinterpretations are.

[The analysis] mentions that we try to “manage history,” but this argument could be thrown back at them the same way they are throwing it at us. Movies like Loose Change and Zeitgeist attempted doing so for their own agenda, like the cuts in the 9/11 footage to insinuate the attacks were done by cruise missiles instead of planes (the Pentagon case in Loose Change) or to re-write history with false facts and misinterpretation of religions (the “Christ conspiracy” falsehood in Zeitgeist). The “disinformation” accusations are not something we take so lightly. When we debunk we’re not just saying “no, it didn’t happen like this PERIOD”—we focus on a more objective approach by doing research about the subject, showing from where and how we took the data werre using and taking a look at both sides before we reach any conclusions. And, more importantly, we never cease asking questions.

The difference is when we [debunkers] ask questions and look for answers, once we find one that is consistent with facts and reality we drawn our conclusions. Something I’ve noticed about conspiracy theorists is that no matter how much we prove their beliefs wrong and answer their questions, they keep asking questions until someone gives the answers they want to hear. (It doesn’t matter if this someone is telling the truth or not).

Perhaps the questioning is what really scares people in conspiracy theory circles, not the followers but the people responsible for spreading and making the [conspiracy] content. [The analysis] said we have a political agenda, which may or may not be true, I don’t in my case. But so do the creators of those movies, whether be it for money (Like Zeitgeist’s Peter Joseph Merola), to push a political agenda (Thrive’s Gamble) or simply for fame (I think David Icke fits). Debunkers, both professional and amateur, are seen as a threat by those people, a stone wall  between their beliefs and the people they feel they need to reach to accomplish these goals.

The phrase “Disinfo is a very interesting game (and one I am not adept in — I just have an long-standing interest in it). It plays, of course, upon the lowest common denominator, upon common fears, and upon reinforcing existing and limited worldviews” left me in awe a bit, since this is exactly what conspiracy theorists prey on. 9/11 conspiracy theories preyed on the broken sense of security among Americans; Zeitgeist and Thrive prey on the inequality and poverty problems around the world, blaming them on conspiracy groups and elites. The Protocol of the Elders of Zion (which David Icke refuses to say is fake) preys on hatred against the Jewish population. And it is clear these thoughts can be dangerous. They can either shift the attention to the wrong place or instigate hatred against a particular group of people.

There is an observation that should be reinforced about debunkers, the same one I stated in the beginning of this text: debunkers are called “disinformation agents” because we ask questions that will bring inconsistencies, fallacies and mistakes to the surface, and not only ask these questions but find views and facts to verify if the statements made by conspiracy theorists are factual or not. Since conspiracy theories tend not to be factual we’ve yet to find facts and evidence supporting conspiracy theories.

Remember the founding base of debunkers is skepticism. We won’t believe something outright without definitive proof.

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.

POLL: Is the Creator of This Blog a “Paid Disinformation Agent”?

One thing that never ceases to astonish me about believers in conspiracy theories is how incapable they are of accepting disagreement. The movie Thrive, packed to the gills with conspiracy theories, naturally attracts a lot of these types. If the comments I’ve received on this blog are any indication, there are a lot of Thrive fans out there who believe that no one could disagree with the movie or refute its messages without being paid to do so–in short, many of them believe I’m a “paid disinformation agent.”

The accusation is so ludicrous it’s almost funny. The idea that anybody, much less the government, would actually pay me to write blogs about Internet conspiracy movies is prima facie evidence of not only paranoia so severe as to constitute delusion, but also profound ignorance of how the world actually works. The accusations would be funny if they weren’t so sad. Here is a scattering of some of the comments I’ve received to this effect:

“We are awake Mr. goverment disinfo man, and we are staring you in the face. Your emperor has no clothes.” (link)

“No individual without some vested interest and agenda would go through all this effort about a recent documentary. There is no way some random dude who watched Thrive would make a blog like this.” (link)

“In Thrive, they talk about the corruption of the FDA, and drug companies, so, debunk this you government troll.” (link)

[In response to a statement where I clearly assert I’m not being paid by anyone to write this blog:] “Highly doubt the above statements after reading through your website..” (link)

These accusations aren’t new to me. I’ve been accused of being a “paid disinformation agent” since I first started debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, seven years ago. A fervent conspiracy theorist on my old MySpace blog (defunct now for years) accused me of working for the CIA. Last summer, an “authority” no less lofty than Peter Joseph Merola, the leader of the now largely-defunct Zeitgeist Movement (which heavily promoted conspiracy theories), made the accusation. It was made against me again by Douglas Mallette, another prominent member of the Zeitgeist Movement, back in January. Not a single person has ever produced a single shred of evidence that I’m paid by anyone to write these blogs. That’s not surprising–there is no evidence, because I’m not paid. That should go without saying, but surprisingly, many people think otherwise.

The traditional narrative in conspiracy theorist circles usually involves a long-defunct government program called COINTELPRO–Counter Intelligence Program–whereby the FBI sent agent provocateurs to infiltrate, and keep tabs on, political organizations in the 1960s and 1970s. COINTELPRO has been defunct since 1971, but this doesn’t stop conspiracy theorists from claiming–again, without a single shred of evidence–that the program is supposedly still active. Conspiracy theorists also like to cite “Project Vigilance,” an abortive idea floated by the military in the early 2000s to encourage civilian bloggers to post articles supportive of the Iraq War. If this project ever got off the ground, it never made it very far; certainly, now that the Iraq War is over, there is no evidence that “Project Vigilance” exists in any coordinated or meaningful sense.

This is all beside the point, however. Even if COINTELPRO or Project Vigilance did actually exist, I’m certainly not a part of either one, nor have I ever been; I’m also not a part of any other program, going by any name (or no name), sponsored by anyone, any agency, any business interest, or anyone anywhere. I answer to no one; I’m not paid, directed or encouraged by anyone to write this blog or my other blog. I’m a private citizen and I’m simply angry that a film with as many factual inaccuracies and conspiracy theories as Thrive has attained the level of popularity that it has. It’s really not too hard to understand this motivation, and it certainly requires no monetary reward for me to advance it.

Nevertheless, there are readers of this blog who will never, under any circumstances, accept even the bare possibility that I’m not a “paid disinformation agent” working for somebody to discredit Thrive. Although I do not know for sure, it’s even remotely possible that Foster Gamble himself might suspect I’m being paid by the government to write this blog; I know that he has referred to critics of Thrive as “government trolls,” though I do not know whether he meant me specifically. What is undeniable is that many Thrive fans believe I am a “paid disinformation agent,” and even if I was interested in convincing them that I am not–which, in fact, does not really interest me very much–no amount of evidence, or lack of evidence, would ever convince them.

I’m curious, however, exactly how many Thrive fans hold this view and how prevalent it is. Consequently, at the bottom of this page you’ll find a poll where you can vote as to whether you think I’m a “paid disinformation agent” or not. I don’t expect the results of this poll to really be accurate–after all, probably the most paranoid of Thrive fans would be afraid that I could somehow log the IP addresses of everyone who votes “yes” and put them on some sort of black list. Nonetheless, just for grins, I’m putting up the poll anyway.

Am I really a “paid disinformation agent”? Here’s your chance to register your opinion! As they say in various corrupt precincts, vote early and vote often! I’ll do an update on this blog once significant numbers of results come in. In the meantime, run the anti-spyware software on your computer frequently. I may be logging your keystrokes and uploading them to the CIA central database in Quantico!

A Post at the Sister Blog: Thrive Demonstrates How the Conspiracy World is Changing.

I posted an article today at my other much more long-established (and less well known) blog, the Muertos Blog, entitled The Conspiracy World is Changing: Are You Ready For It? Follow that link to read it in full. I decided to post it there because the subject matter of that article goes well beyond Thrive, thus exceeding the scope of this blog; however, as Thrive and its place in the seedy world of conspiracy theories are an important example of the effect I want to discuss in that article, I thought I would do a quick post here mentioning it and directing interested readers to it.

My main argument in that article is stated thusly:

“The best and most concise way I can put it is this: conspiracy theorists do not want, today in 2012, what they used to want ten, five or even three years ago. The endgame for them—the “finish line,” if you will—is no longer to convince significant numbers of people in the mainstream that Conspiracy Theory X or Y is factually true. Nowadays, conspiracy theories are being used as a vehicle to advance other ideas, usually a set of ideological or even religious principles. The factual veracity of conspiracy material is no longer as important as it once was. Consequently, debunkers of conspiracy theories—who are focused on what is factual, rational and supportable in objective terms—are going to find themselves increasingly outclassed in this new environment.”

I believe Thrive demonstrates this effect in a very profound way. We are now moving toward a world in which the factual veracity of conspiracy theories is being questioned less and less often, as believers in conspiracies are herded with increasing fervor toward predetermined, pre-packaged ideological conclusions. The article over at the Muertos Blog goes into great detail about how we got there (hint: Zeitgeist was the unwitting trailblazer), and most of the Thrive material is at the end. I stress that context is important, which is why I strongly suggest reading the full article, but here is an excerpt of my discussion on Thrive and what this blog has taught me about conspiracy thinking as it exists today:

“I’ve already noticed this trend on the Thrive Debunked blog. Although the majority of people who post comments on the blog are Thrive fans who are angry that anyone would criticize the movie, a surprisingly few number of them seem to be angry because they think the facts are something different than what I demonstrate they are. Indeed, most of them seem to be angry because they say that by criticizingThrive I’m preventing the world from becoming a better place by not acceptingThrive and its messages as true. This is why so many comments take a tack similar to, “you’re missing the point” or “the movie isn’t meant to be debunked.” When the movie is attacked, its fans instinctively leap to the defense of its ideology, whereas leaping to the defense of its facts seems to be a secondary consideration.”

For those who may be interested in a wider view of how Thrive fits into a broader context of conspiracy thinking and New Age belief systems, I hope this article gives you some food for thought. As always, thanks for reading.