The Conspirituality Podcast: Clear Signal or More Noise?
“Conspirituality” is a captivatingly named podcast that has been getting a lot of attention of late and for good reason. The hosts are bringing light to a phenomenon that is rapidly emerging in our collective psyche. The belief that certain very large conspiracies are in play in our world is growing, especially in the New Age spiritual community. A growing subset of people in these circles are finding common ground with those in right-wing political factions, something that seemed unimaginable a short while ago. However, in its well-intentioned effort to bring dialogue around this emerging phenomenon, the podcast is introducing another voice that is adding more confusion to an already confusing world of divergent and conflicting narratives. If we are interested in arriving at a better understanding of how our world works we must dig deeper to find our own blindspots and notice those that may exist for others, especially for those who are graced with a growing audience.
The co-hosts describe the podcast as:
“A weekly study of converging right-wing conspiracy theories and faux-progressive wellness utopianism. At best, the conspirituality movement attacks public health efforts in times of crisis. At worst, it fronts and recruits for the fever-dream of QAnon.
As the alt-right and New Age horseshoe toward each other in a blur of disinformation, clear discourse and good intentions get smothered. Charismatic influencers exploit their followers by co-opting conspiracy theories on a spectrum of intensity ranging from vaccines to child trafficking. In the process, spiritual beliefs that have nurtured creativity and meaning are transforming into memes of a quickly-globalizing paranoia.
Conspirituality Podcast attempts to bring understanding to this landscape. A journalist [Derek Beres], a cult researcher [Matthew Remski], and a philosophical skeptic [Julian Walker] discuss the stories, cognitive dissonances, and cultic dynamics tearing through the yoga, wellness, and new spirituality worlds. Mainstream outlets have noticed the problem. We crowd-source, research, analyze, and dream answers to it.”
Why is the Conspirituality podcast gaining support?
The three co-hosts are intelligent. They rely on their diverse backgrounds and experiences to formulate formidable arguments to explain why people in these two communities are succumbing to “conspiracy theories” as they call them. In their opinion, those in the New Age, spiritual, and yoga communities more easily succumb to the ideas like the “New World Order” and “Global Agendas” because, as the hosts say, spirituality is associated with a more creative and open way of looking at things. This flexibility in their belief system is apparently a fertile ground for conspiratorial thinking to take root. Folks in Right-Wing libertarian circles believe in hidden, dark agendas because, according to them, that’s what Right-Wing libertarians believe.
The hosts' tidy assessment of a concerning “problem” is gaining a lot of support not only inside of the New-Age yoga communities from which they hail but also in the population at large. In the podcast's relatively brief existence, it has already received attention from the NY Times, WNYC Studios, CBC Radio, and the Brisbane Times.
Much of what the hosts say about human psychology and emotion is insightful. I agree wholeheartedly with their assessment of the Conspirituality phenomenon: it is ascendant and gathering momentum in these two groups who may indeed share the same blindspot. Their effort to put this all together is commendable, but they have a very large blindspot too.
For those of us who have openly and assiduously examined the independent investigation into conspiracies, their podcast represents yet another obstruction to clarity that is gaining traction. Matthew, Derek and Julian are making a crucial mistake in their approach to the “conspirituality” problem. They assume that there are no large conspiracies in play in our world at this time. They do however admit to prior conspiracy like the Tuskegee Experiments for example. To them the idea of modern large-scale conspiracy is so preposterous that they cannot even see that they are making an assumption when dismissing the possibility. I do not condemn them for it. It was only a handful of years ago when I would have cherished their position as a rare voice of reason in this confusing time.
What big assumptions are they making?
If you believe that hidden, ill-intending entities are seeking to slowly enslave the population is just a dystopian fantasy that is becoming uncomfortably popular, then the Conspirituality podcast will no doubt be a go-to resource for you. They use well-practiced cadence in their delivery, as if guiding their listeners through a sequence of increasingly challenging asanas that gently lead the audience to a level of self-assurance not previously thought possible. They bring on notable guests and exude authentic confidence to weave together an explanation as to why the conspirituality phenomenon is not just a nuisance, it is a dangerous threat to our way of life. Notably they don't objectively explore whether some, or even one of these conspiracy theories might actually be a true conspiracy. Entertaining such ideas, in their opinion, could only be a symptom of the weak mindedness they seek to identify and eradicate for the greater good.
In their opinion, easily seduced spiritual practitioners and rightwing “Q-anoners” should justifiably be thrown together with every “conspiracy theorist”, from anti-vaxxers to 9/11 truthers to flat-earthers. Rather than denigrating them, the hosts of the podcast attempt to give us a deeper understanding of this growing population by pointing out how their biases and proclivities make them susceptible to false narratives. Addressing the facts that build these narratives is unnecessary in their opinion. Why? Because they assume these narratives are false to begin with. For those in their camp this strikes an acceptable tone of tolerance. To those of us who recognize the danger in making such assumptions and are quite convinced, through our own open-minded and diligent investigation that there may in fact be a number of big conspiracies in play, their tone could easily be regarded as poorly veiled condescension of the most unacceptable kind. Not only would they be underestimating our understanding, they would be grossly overestimating their own.
Aside from making the error of assuming that large conspiracies do not exist, they are succumbing to the common mistake of lumping all people who are challenging conventional wisdom together. For example, there are thousands of engineers and architects that are patiently waiting for their day in court to present evidence that would overturn NIST’s explanation of the events of 9/11. There are also an enormous number of children who may have been irreversibly harmed by vaccinations over the decades. Health advocates and doctors who have recognized this very real possibility have been lobbying for a reformulation of vaccines since the inception of their widespread use. According to the hosts of the podcast, these thousands of structural engineers, architects and health professionals are just as crazy as people who maintain we live on a flat Earth. They may continue to assert that such conspiracies have been “debunked”, but equating highly educated professionals with flat-earthers is a stark overgeneralization that speaks to the scale of the bias they carry but refuse to acknowledge.
Their approach is based on unbalanced research, and their tone is sometimes divisive. Simply put, they are adding more noise to an already confusing picture.
They have used the moniker of “Conspiracy Theorists” to label the subset of the population that are “afflicted” by a certain form of weak mindedness that makes them prone to a certain kind of narrative. But how might one see the hosts of the podcasts? I do not know how they would prefer to self-identify.
For the purposes of this article I will call them “Coincidence Theorists”, a term I credit to David Helfrich, a contributor to Collective Evolution as well. By “Coincidence Theorists” I am referring to those who remain fixated on the idea of coincidence to explain events in this world that seem intimately connected: massive military exercises leaving the Eastern Seaboard undefended on the morning of 9/11? Coincidence! Three skyscrapers completely veering from expected models of behavior in a gravitationally driven collapse on the same day? Coincidence! Thousands of previously healthy children who suddenly experience cognitive decline and neurologic effects immediately after a series of vaccinations? Every single case must be a coincidence.
Coincidence is one of the primary mantras they use to dismiss extremely suspicious circumstances that would point to a conspiracy. Once dismissed, real investigation into the matter is considered flippant which justifies their characterization of all who feel differently as paranoid and easily seduced “conspiracy theorists”. It should be clear that using coincidence to explain the apparently inexplicable is not logical, it is founded on a basic assumption that because large conspiracies do not exist, any suspicious observations that point to a conspiracy must be a coincidence. This is bias and it has no part in earnest inquiry.
How convincing would a defendant on trial be to a jury if he explained his presence at the scene of a crime as pure coincidence? He may be innocent, but using the coincidence argument would not clear him from suspicion. In fact, in court, the more coincidences add up in a case, the more likely the defendant is guilty.
The other common argument they use to dismiss suggestions of a conspiracy is to flatly assert that “it’s been debunked”. This continues to astonish me. As the critical thinkers that they claim to be, how is it possible that they cannot see that the mainstream media and often the scientific establishment that they cite as debunkers and fact-checkers are the primary conspirators in all of the very real conspiracies that are in consideration? The only proof they will ever consider to be credible has to come from the very parties implicated in a conspiracy. This is pure dogmatic thinking.
Should we adopt their approach and view their position as forgivable because they are in the New Age community and we all know that those folks are prone to dogma too? How different would that be than their approach to profiling all “conspiracy theorists” as individuals that are inherently prone to paranoid delusions? It wouldn’t be any different or any less unfair.
In an effort to be more constructive, I would instead like to share my personal experience of a direct but brief exchange I had with one of Conspirituality co-hosts. I hope that this will shed some light on how their own approach to information may be the very same problem they impute to the “conspiracy theorists” that they identify as a growing threat. In other words, people who believe that “everything is a conspiracy” are suffering from the very same blindspots as those that are certain there are only conspiracy theories and no true conspiracies. The possibility that there are many (unfounded) conspiracy theories and a few very real conspiracies does not exist in minds that suffer from a certain type of bias.
My Exchange with Conspirituality podcast co-host Julian Walker
I must admit that it has been challenging for me to approach this topic. I am a physician, an engineer, a diligent researcher and an author of a book that dissects the nature of some of the false-flags and conspiracy in our history. I am also a member of several spiritual communities and view this podcast as a dangerous impediment to open inquiry--something that all spiritual communities should be espousing. If that weren’t enough, I have also participated in an exchange with one of the co-hosts of the Conspirituality podcast, Julian Walker, that was less than amiable. In order to strike the most effective tone in this piece I had to first find commonality between myself and the co-hosts. Despite our disparate view of the world I had to concede that they are as well-intending as I am. At least that is my hope.
I am part of a large spiritual community that is led by a teacher of acknowledged lineage who is an adept writer and recognized scholar in his area of study. We also happen to be friends on social media. Several weeks ago, on his own personal page, he posted a link to bonus material on the Conspirituality podcast that was published on October 12, 2020. In it, Julian Walker, co-host of the podcast, attacked an article written by anti-globalist, scholar, environmental activist and author of 20 books, Dr. Vandana Shiva, who was highly critical of a patent submitted by Microsoft titled “Cryptocurrency System using Body Activity Data”. In the article, Dr. Shiva first contextualizes our pandemic as part of a larger problem involving our species and its relationship with our environment. She writes:
“New diseases arise because a globalized, industrialized, inefficient agriculture invades habitats, destroys ecosystems, and manipulates animals, plants, and other organisms with no respect for their integrity or their health. We are linked worldwide through the spread of diseases like the coronavirus because we have invaded the homes of other species, manipulated plants and animals for commercial profits and greed, and cultivated monocultures. As we clear-cut forests, as we turn farms into industrial monocultures that produce toxic, nutritionally empty commodities, as our diets become degraded through industrial processing with synthetic chemicals and genetic engineering, and as we perpetuate the illusion that earth and life are raw materials to be exploited for profits, we are indeed connecting. But instead of connecting on a continuum of health by protecting biodiversity, integrity, and self-organization of all living beings, including humans, we are connected through disease.”
Mr. Walker states that this perspective is shared by people like Dr. Zach Bush who use similar buzzwords like "virome" and "holistic" models that appeal to a susceptible audience. It is quite clear that Mr. Walker doesn’t see it in quite the same way. I take no issue with that. This is a debatable perspective on a very complicated paradigm and outside the scope of this article. However, he then goes on to dismiss Dr. Shiva’s assessment of the patent in question. At minute 21:30 of the podcast, he claims to “have done his research” and concluded that this is harmless technology that can be worn, like a watch, to help a system identify when a person has completed a “task”. This wearable technology can measure things like heart rate, EEG patterns, body temperature and eye movement to figure out if the subject has completed the activity in question. This is where I felt compelled to weigh in.
Having a career spent intensively monitoring patients’ physiology on an operating table as an anesthesiologist, I was surprised to discover, while doing my research, that the technology Mr. Walker considered harmless and wearable would also be able to monitor organ function, blood flow, and localized brain activity.
At this moment in time, we do not have the ability to measure such things with wearable technology. If we did, it would be used in operating rooms around the world. Moreover, it poses the obvious question: what sorts of tasks would require us to monitor such kinds of “Body Activity Data”? We are not talking about planting crops, mowing lawns or delivering packages. This kind of data can be best used for one thing: to monitor a person’s response to stimuli. It is not so hard to put it together. This technology is extremely well suited to measure a user’s level of engagement with technology submitted by one of the biggest creators of technology in the world, coincidentally.
When I offered my impression of the patent I soon learned that Mr. Walker was also on the thread. Julian did not respond to my take on the technology in question but instead deemed it unnecessary because a third party agreed with him. It was then that I asked if he would be willing to discuss the article and the patent openly in a mediated discussion here on Collective Evolution. His response:
“My sense is that a speculative discussion with you on what that patent may or may not be is about as useful as the endless circles we can go in with 9/11 Truthers about building 7...The larger set of conspiracy claims and attribution of nefarious motivations are part of a style of paranoid thinking that can always take some facts and sound analysis, some reasonable seeming speculation and some outlandish nonsense and weave it all into a captivating seeming argument. I am not particularly interested in debating on a public stage in front of people who find arguments like [Dr.] Shiva’s in any way convincing or laudable, just as I would not be interested in debating creationists, flat earth-ers or 911 truth-ers.”
The Dangers of Confirmation Bias
This is where we left it. How is one privy to this exchange supposed to make sense of this? I cannot expect everyone to accept my analysis because I happen to be more equipped to assess the technical aspects of the patent. Though it may seem logical to listen to the engineer and physician, I also seem to be arguing for a potential nefarious use of the technology and that would imply that Bill Gates and Microsoft have dubious intentions. If that proposition is impossible for you to believe, it is more sensical to side with the yoga teacher, podcast co-host and meditation instructor here and dismiss my analysis as the ranting of a paranoid flat earth-er. This is Confirmation bias. When looking at the world with confirmation bias we tend to focus on stuff that confirms our preconceived notions and dismiss stuff that opposes them. Confirmation bias creates unfounded confidence in our opinions.
Mr. Walker is testing positive for confirmation bias. In his mind the idea that the Earth is flat should be dismissed just as quickly as the idea of a conspiracy behind 9/11 or that patent WO2020060606 could be anything more than wearable technology that will help a person get fairly compensated with cryptocurrency for the work they do.
This is a challenge that not only faces Julian but many others. If their research into subjects like 9/11 or this patent is flimsy and superficial, they likely won't have the understanding and context to truly unseat their initial foundational belief. Why bother going through the twenty-odd pages of technical descriptions of proposed embodiments of the patent if you begin with the assertion that this could never be anything more sinister than a smart watch? Why even read the supporting technical documents provided by NIST supposedly explaining the nature of the collapse of Building 7 if you know a priori that it must be what we have been told? In the case of Julian's thinking here, his assumptions must be right. Otherwise it would undermine the entire premise of his attack on the “Conspiritualists.”
There is far more in the balance here than being right or wrong. We are talking about a different world view that puts everything into a different context. Isn’t that worth looking a bit more diligently?
If we examine Mr. Walker’s response a little more closely we can perhaps learn about where he may be “stuck.” First, he calls our proposed discussion to be speculative. That is true; neither of us can know for sure what this technology really represents. However, that is not how he describes his position in the podcast when he claims he “has done his research” and that it is self-evident to anyone who reads the patent description.
Next, he portrays any opinion that this technology may not be what he has claimed as part of a style of “paranoid thinking”. You can see that if he was right, I would necessarily be paranoid. Yet, if he admits that this is all speculative, how can he be certain he is right?
Finally, he claims that Dr. Shiva’s arguments are not at all laudable or convincing. However here he is using his admittedly speculative conclusions about this patent to attack Dr. Shiva’s entire position. Rather than addressing my analysis of the technology, he has labeled it unworthy of discussion because it is speculative too. Why is it fair to use speculation to dismantle Dr. Shiva’s position while claiming that a conversation about it would be useless because it is all speculative? This is clear evidence of a double standard, a necessary element in confirmation bias.
Is it possible to be objective?
This brings us to the most telling aspect of this exchange. Under what circumstances would a discussion about the difference of opinion be useless, especially if it is speculative? Aren't those the kind of discussions that can lead to more clarity? Mr. Walker is essentially saying that because the Collective Evolution audience are all conspiracy theorists a discussion on this platform would be pointless. Why are we afraid of discussion on these issues?
Julian, if you happen to be reading this, I am not offended that you believe my opinion is no more worthy of consideration than a “flat earth-er’s”, but why would you shun the opportunity to explain your position on a platform that has over five million followers that may or may not agree with you? Are you able to understand that you have absolutely nothing to lose and the potential of helping a few million people see your side? If you are truly concerned about a dangerous “movement [that] attacks public health efforts in times of crisis” why not address those in the movement directly? What would motivate you to eschew such an opportunity to explain yourself to the very population you believe are misguided? Would you be willing to bring me on your podcast so that you can demonstrate how I have lost my bearings or better yet find some common ground and articulate a more accurate position together? If you are concerned that some of your listeners may be easily dissuaded by my “captivating sounding argument” how then would you regard their understanding of your position if it is as unassailable as you proclaim? In any case, we are not trying to win an election here. We are both after the same thing: clarity...aren’t we?
From an even deeper perspective, I hope that we can agree that being graced with a platform to express our positions comes with a large responsibility. Shouldn’t we be making every effort to examine all contrarian positions openly before leading our listeners in what we think is the right direction? Wouldn’t it be more constructive to come together and unify under a common understanding and purpose? As two practitioners of yoga, a science that is steeped in the ancient wisdom of embodying unity, shouldn’t seeking common ground be our primary intention?