I’ve set aside part of my evenings the past few weeks practicing ink drawing mostly in an attempt to regain the patience I used to possess before my brain got fried by too much internet. While I draw (slow, poorly and painfully) I listen to old Art Bell shows from the 90s through the aughts from a large mp3 data dump. If you don’t know who Art Bell is he was a talk show host who devoted several hours every night, broadcasting solo from a desert compound in Pahrump, Nevada. His topics were a grab bag of the paranormal, everything from aliens, to Bigfoot to ghosts to bottomless pits.

I’ve been struck by just how innocent Art’s show now seems. It was just good fun, like the newspapers of the 19th century that could mix the news of the day with a few stories about flying bat people or underground lizard men. As a listener to Art’s show you knew that you weren’t supposed to take it too seriously, rather, you should just let Art’s voice lull you into a dreamland where the humdrum laws of the universe didn’t apply. Art’s show only makes sense in the deep, irrational darkness of night.

But this same paranormal and parapolitical material no longer seems so innocent in the age of Alex Jones and QAnon. This month I’ve witnessed someone fall deep into a QAnon hole as well as a homesteader on YouTube go full Militia LARP. What once could be appreciated as a paranoid if creative imaginarium now has real world consequences. People have been shot and bombs have detonated. Art had a brush with real world consequences when the Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide after listening to a segment of his show but that’s a long way from January 6th’s Q-Shamannacht.

Silicon Valley’s predatory capitalism, with its feedback loops and addictive algorithms have led many down the Q Shaman’s bottomless pit in recent years including, unfortunately, many members of the “wellness” community. This is especially worrisome at a time when we need people to get vaccinated to stop this horrible pandemic. Here in Los Angeles there’s been so many Covid deaths that they’ve suspended air quality rules so they can deal with the cremation backlog.

But do you lead people out of conspiratorial, anti-vax movements? Successful rhetoric, in my opinion, doesn’t involve belittling people or telling them they’re stupid. This is one of the reasons I find most “skeptic” type science popularizers unhelpful. They’re just preaching to the choir at a time when we need to find ways to talk to people we have differences with.

The Conspirituality Podcast offers an thoughtful alternative to snarky skepticism. It’s hosted by Derek Beres, Matthew Remski and Julian Walker who describe themselves as, “a journalist, a cult researcher, and a philosophical skeptic” who get together to, “discuss the stories, cognitive dissonances, and cultic dynamics tearing through the yoga, wellness, and new spirituality worlds.” What I like about the show is that it’s done in a compassionate and civil way that, I think, has the potential to speak to people who might be heading down a self-destructive path. It respects the positive parts of the wellness movement while taking a critical look at the unhelpful parts.

They are much better at this sort of communication than I am. Early in the pandemic I got triggered by Charles Eisenstein’s promotion of some dubious ideas about vaccinations. Rather than get angry, the hosts of Conspirituality had Eisenstein on their show to model both civil discourse and to challenge his post-modern relativism. Their long two part discussion (part 1, part 2) is well worth listening to as both a model for productive dialog and if you have doubts about the vaccine.

If any of you listen to this show I’d love to hear your opinions, specifically if you think it speaks outside the choir.

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  1. Hi! I’d be interested to know how listening to the interviews affected your initial reaction re Charles Eisenstein & vaccinations. He has always struck me as an intelligent, reflective person with deep roots in different camps. Whether that is what we most need in an emergency… hard to say.

    • Hi Salisbury, He used to strike me as a thoughtful person too but, some time ago I spotted what I feel are some red flags. Episode 45 of his podcast, an interview with a “holistic health researcher” was the breaking point for me. A few things bothered me about that interview: one is that Eisenstein seems to repeatedly confuse the scientific method with scientism, the idea that science can answer all problems and understand everything. While we need to recognize the limits of the scientific method it has proven a useful tool in understanding the physical world (for insistence, viruses). Eisenstein also seems to have fallen into a relativism that is almost a parody of an undergraduate’s shaky understanding of post-modernism, the idea that there is no objective truth and that all truth is based on personal perspective. In more normal times I’d let this silliness slide but thousands of people are dying every day in the U.S., health care workers are stretched to the breaking point and the working class people that grow, process and sell our food are suffering long hours, bad pay and death so that people like me can sit around and listen to podcasts. Eisenstein’s idle post modernist thought experiments and giving credence to obvious cranks like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have real world consequences if it keeps people from accepting the vaccine.

      Am I happy that large pharmaceutical companies with dodgy histories are in charge of our vaccines? No. Do the vaccines work? Yes. Eisenstein seems unable to hold two ideas in his head at once. This is personal too. My wife endured two open hear surgeries. If she gets COVID she might not make it.

      I could go on and take apart some of his other ideas but I, frankly, don’t think it’s worth it. If you want to read philosophy there are more consistent and better educated thinkers such as Slavoj Žižek, Cornel West, Rev. William Barber, or the late Mark Fisher who do a better job of analyzing our difficult time. Lastly, on top of the slippery relativism, I get a budding cult leader vibe from Eisenstein.

  2. Eugene Garver and Steven Nadler have two books out now, published 2018 and 2020 respectively. Dealing with metaphysics and ethics. Which seems to be the root of this conspirituality stuff. I notice that the crowd doing psychedelics, mostly in Malibu , is susceptible idunno if becuz of said “mind openers”, or that they are just open to suggestions. but more and more QAnon “open” folks in L.A. thru these folks, “psychenauts” they fancy themselves.

    But yeah, Baruch Spinoza seem a good place to start.

    “The Cunning of Imagination” and “Think Least of Death” are their books. Active imagination is key it seems; the opposite IMHO of passive imagination which seems the whole point of the above podcast.

    Active imagination vs. passive imagination is the least talked about dichotomy when writing about Spinoza , so Garver and Nadler’s 2 books are a god send. Hope more read ’em.

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