Coronavirus, Conspiracy Theories, and New Age Spirituality
This article is a response to a recent one on Medium by Jules Evans entitled ‘Conspirituality’ — the overlap between the New Age and conspiracy beliefs. It would obviously be worthwhile to have read his whole article before continuing, but I’ve begun here with a summary. Please read this or his article before continuing (scroll down if you’ve read the latter). My response will follow, which is primarily a defence of New Age spirituality, but also discusses the idea of conspiracy theories, without going into depth about any particular one. If you read nothing else, however, I encourage you to check out the response to Evans’ article from the conspiracy angle by a friend of mine, which I have included here as the last section.
Evans begins by mentioning some recent conspiracy theories which he thinks are ridiculous. He says that he has been “disheartened to see leading influencers in my community — that’s to say, western spirituality — spreading the conspiracy theories I mention above. I want my community to be of service to humanity during this crisis, rather than actively spreading bad ideas…” This leads him to wonder whether those of a spiritual persuasion are especially prone to conspiracy thinking (although obviously not his own community’s version of spirituality).
He then goes on to discuss the term ‘conspiracy theory’. He says that it is “a charged term. It can be a way of simply dismissing a topic without considering it”, and notes one potential conspiracy theory which turned out to be true, sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
He has said that his community is Western spirituality, but seems for some reason to be suspicious of people who are ‘spiritual but not religious’. They have certain personality traits: “free thinking, distrust of authority and institutions, a tendency to unusual beliefs or experiences, a tendency to detect ‘hidden’ patterns and correspondences, and an attraction to alternative paradigms, particularly in alternative health — which would all make one more prone to conspiracy theories”. He mentions a study which concluded something very similar, “that the strongest predictor of conspiracy thinking was ‘schizotypy’, which is a personality trait that makes one prone to unusual beliefs and experiences, such as belief in telepathy, mind-control, spirit-channelling, hidden personal meanings in events etc. People who are ‘spiritual but not religious’ have been found to score more highly in schizotypal personality traits than both the religious and the non-religious”.
Evans accepts that there is some tautology in the researchers’ conclusions, since “the scientific definition of ‘schizotypal’ basically includes ‘having spiritual beliefs’, so it’s not surprising spiritual people ‘score highly in schizotypy’ ”.
A further article he mentions relates conspiracy thinking to the belief that “humanity is undergoing a ‘paradigm shift’ in consciousness. Proponents believe that the best strategy for dealing with the threat of a totalitarian ‘new world order’ is to act in accordance with an awakened ‘new paradigm’ worldview”.
A further article connects New Age thinking with the Occult, which it says is flooded with “all deviant belief systems”, and later refers to “(pseudo)scientific discourses”.
Much more detail follows, and then Evans concludes by mentioning a report which suggests that “conspiracy theories are emotionally grounded”, and that believers might need “de-radicalization or de-culting programmes”.
I’m sure the ‘global elite’, if indeed there is one, would be delighted to hear that conclusion; it is the conspiracy theorists, not the general population, who need ‘education’!
Let’s begin with the term conspiracy theory. I wholeheartedly agree when Evans says that “it can be a way of simply dismissing a topic without considering it”. (He does not seem to consider the possibility that he may be doing that himself.) Even before reflecting upon the contents of his article, we can note that when the term ‘conspiracy theorist’ is used, it is often said with a pejorative tone; there is a suggestion that there is something wrong with the person. (Arguing this is indeed the whole point of his article.) The conspiratorial beliefs are said to be attributable to psychological factors, some kind of problem, a neurosis, a form of paranoia, schizotropy — a term I hadn’t heard of before. This is very convenient for the mainstream viewpoint, since it dismisses the theories out of hand, without needing to consider whether any particular one has merit. If we do not prejudge, however, a conspiracy theorist might sometimes be more appropriately described as a serious investigative journalist.
My main complaint is that Evans associates conspiracy theorists with New Age spirituality and new paradigm thinking. Even if we allow, as he says, that there are some, even many, people in both camps, there is no necessary connection between the two. New Age spirituality, in its best form — I accept that there are some weird ideas out there — is a search and a battle for truth in spiritual and religious matters. The New Paradigm is a search for truth in science, replacing the outdated philosophy of materialism/physicalism, so-called ‘Enlightenment’ thinking. Neither of these has anything whatsoever to do with how the world is run politically, or the actions of governments. Why on earth would a tendency to unusual beliefs or experiences, or an attraction to alternative paradigms in science, particularly in alternative health make people more prone to conspiracy theories? I’ll repeat the quote above: “Proponents (of the new paradigm) believe that the best strategy for dealing with the threat of a totalitarian ‘new world order’ is to act in accordance with an awakened ‘new paradigm’ worldview”. I believe, on the other hand, that proponents of the new paradigm are more concerned with the totalitarianism of the scientific, not political, dictatorship which demands that we subscribe to a philosophy of materialism, and deny the emerging worldview.
For example, I was taken aback to read that “belief in telepathy, mind-control, spirit-channelling, hidden personal meanings in events etc.” (which are associated with people who are spiritual but not religious), are considered to be schizotypal personality traits. Up to this point I had been reading the article sympathetically, even if I didn’t agree with everything. Now, however, I began to have doubts. I do, up to a point, believe in all those four things, and was therefore concerned to discover that I am apparently suffering from a personality disorder.
The reality of ESP, including telepathy, has been established scientifically, in my opinion, beyond all reasonable doubt (see, for example, the writings of Dean Radin). The other three are perhaps more debatable, so I wanted to check whether this was what Evans really meant. I responded, beginning by quoting him:
Schizotypy “is a personality trait that makes one prone to unusual beliefs and experiences, such as belief in telepathy, mind-control, spirit-channelling, hidden personal meanings in events etc.”
I continued: “The word ‘prone’ suggests that these phenomena aren’t real, illusory. I’m not sure whether this is you or your source saying this. Now I would not deny that, according to your definition, I am a schizotypic (is that the right word?). But telepathy is real (I’ve experienced it); mind-control has been researched and used by government organisations for a hundred years (perhaps more), e.g. the CIA; spirit-channelling is controversial but the Seth/Jane Roberts books are at least worth a read, and ‘hidden personal meanings in events’ sounds very much like Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity, which is accepted by many and is, I believe, real. So perhaps schizotypy is not such a bad thing”.
He replied, however, that he stood by what he had said: “Yes that’s the issue — I said that in my piece. It’s a definition of mental illness which is culture bound”.
So belief in telepathy (and presumably therefore other forms of ESP) is some kind of mental illness. Evans says that “there is a value in non-rational forms of knowing, such as dreams, intuitions, inspiration and mystical experiences. These can be important sources of wisdom and healing”. He calls such experiences ‘benign schizotypy’. Why is he then so against telepathy, another non-rational form of knowing?
Turning now to the conspiracy question, before I start, as this is a very hot topic, let me state my position. My intention here is not to promote any individual theory, nor conspiracy theories in general. I read and am familiar with a lot of conspiracy theory material, and also the official version of events. I try to remain as detached and objective as possible, assessing the likelihood of what is being said, and whether there is any compelling contradictory evidence. So I sit on the fence as much as possible. I therefore think that I am following Evans’ advice: “it is crucial to balance the capacity for ecstatic/ magical/ mythical thinking with the capacity for critical thinking”. How could anyone disagree? We therefore have to ask whether he has rigorously applied this suggestion to his own argument regarding conspiracy theories.
He says that we should trust reliable media organisations, but hasn’t so far named one, even though I have invited him to. Since conspiracy theorists tend to believe that the media are owned and controlled by the ‘global elite’, and therefore propagate its agenda, whether knowingly or unknowingly, another term for a conspiracy theorist, as I said above, could be ‘serious investigative journalist’. Another of Evans’ beliefs is that conspiracy theorists “over-estimate the competence of elites to control the world”.
Because I’d found his article so fascinating, discussing many subjects I’m interested in, at this point I decided to refer it to a friend of mine, a University of Cambridge professor, who has done much research into world history and politics, to see what he made of it. Here is his reply.
I’ve read this article by Jules Evans. As usual, people who don’t really know how the world’s political system works resort to trying to find out the truth by using logic. The most essential facts are never published, hence such things as ‘state secrets’ and state institutions (their names usually incorporate the word ‘intelligence’, such as the ‘I’ in MI6), whose job it is to deal with them. Without facts, logic is useless. Whenever I try to tell such people about some actions by these organisations, they just can’t believe it and call it all ‘conspiracy theories’. (In most cases, these are actions of the states, because they are part of the system, although sometimes they do things which have not been agreed by the Government — particularly the American ones are prone to this.)
He seems to put everything down to psychology. So, you and I would be classified as schizotypal types, who “don’t score highly in belief-testing and critical thinking”. What would he say about theoretical physics? The same arguments apply there too, even more so because there we are trying to guess the laws of something which does not speak English, and then test and retest ad infinitum (experiments are the only valid tests). But in human ‘conspiracies’, there is always a human being involved who knows what he has done and why, but keeps it secret because that is in his job description, and we others are trying to guess what that might be. But like in theoretical physics, to make a good guess, one must be qualified in that field.
So, how does one distinguish between ‘conspiracy theories’ and real conspiracies? Well, firstly one needs to know how the real world works. This can be found out by studying history, a lot of history, and by various authors, from different countries. Government archives eventually get opened after a specified number of years, not all of them to the public, but for the historians. They may be censored, but some of them still manage to reveal some facts Governments don’t want us to know. I am not sure whether Evans has a clue on these matters, or whether this would also be a ‘conspiracy theory’. Secondly, one needs to follow the current events, by reading the press from various countries, and comparing them both with each other and with the patterns from the past as exposed by historians. This requires a lot of work and takes a lot of time, which only a few people, apart from the professionals, can afford. Thirdly, it helps if one knows some retired professionals who trust you, so you can check some of your guesses with them, and perhaps get a few clues.
(He refers to the wars in former Yugoslavia.) Government archives have started to open, so one can see the difference between what the public were told at the time and what these documents say. People who at the time knew the truth now find a confirmation in these documents, whereas at the time they were termed conspiracy theorists. Until things started happening in Yugoslavia, politics was the last thing on my list of interests. But then, sadly, conspiracy became reality. When I recall my beliefs from before that time, I am ashamed of what a fool I had been. Even analysing that, one can learn about how and what methods Governments use to ‘educate’ the population into adopting the required worldviews. And sadly, how very effective these methods are. (My insertion: and Evans thinks that belief in mind-control is a sign of schizotypy!)
Anyway, apart from a lot of what I call wanking in this article, or “a two dimensional ant being unaware of the third dimension, but trying hard nevertheless”, there are a few gaffes, which tell a lot about the author.
One is his offhand dismissal of Shiva’s claim to having invented email. He could have done a bit of research on this topic, and find out that it is much more than a claim, before dismissing it as conspiracy theory, and Shiva as unreliable. The simple truth is here:
The second is his ‘truth by vote’ argument, about how a third of Americans believe that COVID-19 was made in a laboratory, without mentioning that such a virus (or similar) had been created in the laboratory, and that the relevant scientific paper was published in the world’s most prestigious scientific journal ‘Nature Medicine’ in 2015¹. He fails to mention the fact that there are many biological weapons laboratories in the world (owned by several advanced countries), or is that also a conspiracy theory?
By the way, it is really unfortunate that Icke was duped to get himself onto that thing about 5G, without being competent in this matter. It is a technical matter, and no logical musing is needed; everything about it can be examined by experiment.
END OF FRIEND’S RESPONSE
Evans says that “one needs a powerful torch of critical discrimination in these murky and liminal swamp-lands”. Perhaps his torch is not quite powerful enough, or the batteries need recharging.
- ‘A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat corona viruses shows potential for human emergence’, published in Nature Medicine, November 9th 2015: https://www.nature.com/articles/nm.3985
As stated in the Abstract of the paper, it was a “chimeric” virus, i.e. a genetically modified one in the laboratory.
A paper was written by a group of authors, mostly American from the University of North Carolina, and one from Switzerland, but there were also two Chinese. In the list of authors’ affiliations at the end of the paper, the Chinese are listed as working in Wuhan, China: “Xing-Yi Ge & Zhengli-Li Shi, Key Laboratory of Special Pathogens and Biosafety, Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, China”.
The paper was advertised the same day in StatNews : https://www.statnews.com/2015/11/09/sars-like-virus-bats-shows-potential-infect-humans-study-finds/
Three days later, Nature published another paper, on the danger of the production of such viruses, by a different group of scientists, Nature of November 12th 2015: https://www.nature.com/news/engineered-bat-virus-stirs-debate-over-risky-research-1.18787 which also cites an earlier research (of 2013).
In currently available internet versions of the articles, five years later (March 2020), Editors have added a warning that these papers may serve as a basis for conspiracy theories: “Editors’ note, March 2020: We are aware that this story is being used as the basis for unverified theories that the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 was engineered. There is no evidence that this is true; scientists believe that an animal is the most likely source of the coronavirus”.