A couple of days ago I received an email from a Pagan list connecting to a “New Paradigm” conference where prominent speakers would be libertarians mixing a dose of conspiracy theory, libertarian boilerplate, and New Age rhetoric into a supposed ‘New Paradigm” for a new world. I warned the list’s members not to be taken in and some were appreciative. But given they have re-emerged into my awareness, I think it is fitting that I repost a slightly edited version of a write up I put on a local list after I heard Foster and Kimberly Gamble at an increasingly surreal presentation they gave at the Institute for Noetic Sciences last year.
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An Evening with the Gambles
Foster and Kimberly Gamble are the producers of the well known New Age movie “Thrive.” On Thursday, March 6 they gave a presentation to a packed audience at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in the hills south of Petaluma. I decided to attend although I had long been a strong critic of the movie’s libertarian vision of what a thriving world would be like. Like so many ideologies, libertarianism promises infinitely more than it can deliver. I had been assured by the gathering’s organizer that I would have an opportunity to ask questions and enter into dialogue, and it seemed a worthwhile thing to do. I even took a copy of my new book Faultlines: the Sixties, the Culture War and the Return of the Divine Feminine, to give to the Gambles.
It turned out there was no chance to enter into dialogue (I got to ask one question, answered in standard libertarian boilerplate, with no chance for any follow up). Even so, I found the evening well worth my time, though not for the reasons the Gambles would likely have preferred.
The Gambles impressed me as good hearted, honest, intelligent, deeply committed individuals doing their best to combat many of the greatest abuses of power we are experiencing in America today. They told of their successful effort to help stop plans to spray much of northern California with pesticides to kill an invasive insect, and explained how in New Zealand the problem had been handled by moving away from monocultures and industrial agriculture towards more organic and ecologically wise methods. The described their efforts against GMOs and against predatory banks stealing people’s homes. All this was good stuff.
The more they talked the more it became clear to me that for them libertarianism was something like the withering away of the state for the average Marxist or the second coming of Christ for Evangelicals. The Gambles had apparently been converted to it by their son, incorporated his suggested reading list into their website, and adopted the libertarian misunderstanding of the non-coercion principle as their ultimate moral vision. But I doubt they ever read the books their site recommended. The Gambles were clearly motivated by their hearts and perhaps more than any other ideology libertarianism is motivated by the mind alone, a mind in love with abstractions. Certainly the work of Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, and Ludwig vonMises, libertarianism’s recommended heavy hitters, were in no way compatible with the spiritual and New Age vision the Gambles were presenting.
In my one question I pointed out that the inspiring examples they gave of the work they were involved in were instances of civil society at its best. Civil society is that intricate network of creative cooperation generated by men and women who are equal under the law and free to pursue whatever interest they have compatible with others’ similar freedom. The Gambles interpreted all this as examples of libertarian society, but the market around which libertarians organize their thinking is dominated by the price system and success is measured in terms of profit. At most the market is a part of civil society, and the institutions most wedded to the market system are not part of civil society at all because they operate independently from most human values. The corporations they blamed for many of our worst problems are expressions of pure market logic overriding free men and women when successful businesses use their resources to manipulate the law in their favor. The Gambles did not seem to grasp this fact.
Instead, and here is where the evening got very interesting to me, according to the Gambles those and other bad things arose out of deliberate conspiracy.
The Gambles correctly pointed out enormous damage done to us all by people motivated by the desire for power over others. These people are disproportionately drawn to the top of whatever powerful organizations exist. Today, they contended, our problems were largely rooted in the efforts of malevolent bankers to create a one-world government. That we are dominated by criminal banks and that their top people are indistinguishable from organized crime’s leaders should be pretty clear to anyone paying attention to events in this country.
Chem trails, contrails and the Illuminati
But sadly the Gambles did not stop there. The bankers, they said, were a modern branch of the Illuminati, a centuries old conspiracy against liberty – one that supposedly began when there was no liberty to speak of to conspire against. The conspiracy the Gambles described went beyond simply seeking to establish a corporatist state dominating the world, a view with significant evidence behind it, to creating an apparatus that would deliberately seek to bring down the world’s population through the gradual poisoning of us all by means of additives to our food, pesticides, and chem. trails. They showed a photo of ‘chem trails’ as contrasted with a clear sky as the way the heavens would look if there were no such conspiracy.
And this photo helped explain one of the greatest problems with conspiracy theories and with the Gambles’ vision.
I grew up in Wichita, Kansas, home at the time of more aviation companies than any other city and of a major Air Force base as well. These trails were all over the sky. Pretty much every day. They were contrails, created by condensation as airplanes traveled high enough and fast enough to trigger the phenomena.
As a passenger I have looked down on another passenger jet traveling below me as we passed. A few feet behind the end of each wing you could easily see the contrail forming. A common phenomena was made into something sinister because people did not understand it. (In addition, hypothetical chem. trails are a very stupid way to poison anything because they are formed so high there is no way to tell where the chemicals will land, and the poisoners live on the same planet as their supposed targets. There are much easier and more focused ways to do the job if that is the job you want to do.)
The chain of thinking went roughly like this:– powerful bankers are organized crime (good evidence) – bankers seek world government run by them (some evidence) – bankers are part of centuries old conspiracy by Illuminati (no evidence) – this conspiracy wants to eliminate much of the world’s population (no evidence) – this conspiracy is using food additives, chem. trails, and pesticides to do so (no evidence).
Conspiracy is the lazy way to explain problems. Something is wrong, it is obvious it is wrong, and so someone must have deliberately set out to do this bad thing. Further, once we start thinking in terms of conspiracies, there is little to stop them from growing larger and more all inclusive. They are an easy answer for why every problem exists where some benefit at the expense of others. The Gambles’ evolution from thinking about conspiratorial criminal bankers to thinking about the Bavarian Illuminati planning to kill off much of humanity is an example.
We are pattern-perceiving beings. Our greatest strength in understanding the world is our ability to perceive patterns in the complex phenomena around us. Our greatest weakness is our relative inability to evaluate the reality of the patterns we see. Science is by far the most effective means humanity has developed to evaluate the reality of apparent patterns and eliminate the false ones, if they are amenable to scientific evaluation.
Conspiracies are groups of people seeking to attain ends others, if they knew about them, would oppose. Consequently the conspirators seek to hide what they are doing. This kind of thing has been happening throughout history. A major problem with conspiracies as explanations is that any evidence against them can be explained away as a deliberate mystification produced by the conspirators to throw us off. They should be a last resort, not a first.
Conspiracies exist at the micro level, probably always have, and so it is tempting to use them as explanations for events at every level. If we make three assumptions, any evidence or argument against the existence of any particular conspiracy can be debunked. First is the one I mentioned above- any contradictory evidence was planted by the conspirators to hide their efforts. To this, which sometimes actually happens, is added the additional beliefs that the conspirators are super humanly intelligent and malevolent and that the world is simple enough that it can be controlled, or virtually controlled – except for the valiant efforts of those opposing the conspiracy.
With these three assumptions it is easy to believe we are pawns in a vast game far bigger than we are, like the ‘multi-dimensional chess” game Obama was fantasized to be playing whenever he disappointed his supporters. But this game is on a vastly larger canvas in time and space.
Fantasizing on this level invites equally enormous fantasies of hidden supporters of the good side. So Foster Gamble spoke of secret Chinese families hidden away in inaccessible regions of China who, with their other Asian allies, control so much gold they could bring the criminal bankers to their knees. And they are planning to do so. Further, the Gambles were being guided themselves by immaterial entities helping them play a role in a cosmic struggle.
I personally have no reasonable doubt that spirits exist and that some phenomena involved in channeling is from other-than-human sources. But anyone who has ever played with a Ouija Board knows that those sources are not necessarily truthful. If we are wise they need to be evaluated with the same discernment we do with human beings. Conspiracy theories lead us in the opposite direction. These entities are either malevolent and virtually all seeing (the fundamentalist Christian approach) or benevolent and virtually all-seeing (what appears to be the general New Age approach).
At this point the Gambles’ gathering had gone about an hour over the scheduled time and as we had entered a realm of the Illumaniti, channeled authorities, and secret Chinese sages of enormous wealth, I decided it was time to depart. I left the Gambles and their supporters to pursue the constructive efforts so many were doing at the boots-on- the-ground level and wasting their time exploring the off the wall explanations they had for what it all meant. Clear thinking, what there had been of it, had vanished.
Evaluating claims of conspiracy
How should we think about conspiracies? They do exist and sometimes are important. How then do we evaluate the existence of any particular case? First, again, they should be our last explanation, not our first. If any alternative and more mundane explanation exists it should be given pride of place. Here is where the Gambles’ libertarianism blinds them. Supposedly if people were simply free the world would work and we would thrive. No such thing as systemic biases and independence exists to intervene between our motives and their results. Therefore if things go wrong, someone must be responsible. But as Adam Smith explained, to give one example of such a systemic bias, the market acts as if there were an invisible hand. That “hand” has its own biases different from human intentions. That is both its strength and its weakness, depending on context.
Second, the more people supposedly are involved in the conspiracy the less likely it is to exist. Look at the problem the White House has with controlling leaks. Imagine how much greater this problem would be with a much vaster conspiracy seeking for centuries to rule the world. Further, the conspirators, being malevolent, would conspire against one another for domination of the conspiracy, weakening it and increasing leaks even more.
Third, the more intricate the conspiracy the less likely it is to exist. The world is unimaginably complex. The unexpected is always happening. Anyone who has ever run a business knows one of their most time-consuming tasks is dealing with unexpected problems. Organizations are messy and personal issues are often as important as more objective ones in getting things done, or causing them to unravel. This is as true for conspiracies as for anything else. The Gambles know we cannot centrally plan an economy, but think we can centrally plan Western history for hundreds of years.
It is a pity but not unusual for good hearted, intelligent, and hard working people to get enmeshed with seeing the world as a conspiracy of the bad against the good or the simply naïve. This problem arises from our ability to see patterns all around us, and our relative inability to evaluate their reality. Seeing conspiracies requires little effort to see a pattern. Sadly, in my view the Gambles have fallen into this error.
Hopefully they will continue to do more good than harm, but they could do so much more good had they not become so captivated by such an alluring but ultimately lazy way of making sense of our present predicament. But there is another level of irony here.
Serving a conspiracy?
Their website claims that scientists are deeply divided over the issue of anthropogenic global warming. This is demonstrably false. The Scientific American pointed out from Nov 2012 to Dec 2013 there were 2258 peer reviewed articles on climate change authored by 9136 authors. (Some had multiple authors.) ONE author rejected global warming. From 1991n to 2011, 97 percent of scientists with a stated position on the cause of global warming argue it is human caused. Some have attacked details of these reports, but the larger picture they demonstrate is unassailable in my view.
Here is a crisis that might significantly decrease the population and in most unpleasant ways, and the Gambles’ mix of libertarian ideology (which cannot solve the global warming problem and so long denied it exists and now says we are not causing it) and conspiracies of bankers blinds them to it.
Ironically they are serving what might be a very destructive real conspiracy. For years corporate and libertarian funded organizations and leaders have argued scientists are supporting claims of anthropogenic global warming solely for the money. Anyone knowing any scientists knows most are knowledge driven, not money driven. That’s why they became scientists, though if they make good money that’s all well and good. Their critics, on the other hand, have been funded by the energy industry and by libertarians like the Kochs, who have both economic and ideological reasons for not wanting it to be true. One could make a strong case that if global warming ‘skeptics’ had to rely on the power of their arguments alone, they would now amount to nothing. But as the witting or unwitting beneficiaries of a conspiracy of the worst ideologues and energy corporations, they have done enormous damage to this planet and to future generations.
And the Gambles are helping.