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Why are conspiracy theories rampant in the 'wellness' industry? Welcome to conspirituality
Some purveyors of "wellness" sure are sounding like right-wing conspiracy theorists.
- The term conspirituality was coined in 2011 to represent a growing disillusionment that leads to belief in conspiracy theories.
- This particular affliction affects spiritually-minded people suspicious of anything deemed institutional.
- Conspiritual thinking is the juncture where far-left "wellness" purveyors meet right-wing conspiracy theorists.
Coronavirus got you down? No worries. A bit of oregano oil will protect you from this virus that was definitely created in a Chinese laboratory. We can attribute that information to Gabriel Cousens, a homeopathic doctor who used to run an East Village storefront selling gall bladder cleanses that required drinking a ton of olive oil. On his Facebook page, you'll also find plenty of information about the dangers of 5G and the fact that vaccinated children often get the diseases they're supposedly protected against while unvaccinated children remain healthy and free.
There are also ads for his Shaktipat workshops, a practice that usually requires that the guru touch the devotee in order to transfer psychic energy. But hey, a man has to make a living. It turns out Zoom has a feature that transmits sacred energy!
Social media leaves a trail of breadcrumbs that guides you down a trail of conspiracies. "The End Of The Vaccine Era Is Today!" claims one holistic vegan, who also states that the "Microsoft Couple" and "Facebook guy" are not that smart—posted on Facebook. Forget vaccines, a steady diet of enzymes, water fasting, higher consciousness, and rebounding (pretty sure that's not basketball) is guaranteed to cure you of this "scamdemic."
I've hung out on the edge of the "wellness community" for over 20 years. My undergraduate studies focused on Eastern religions. I started practicing yoga in 1998 and began teaching in 2004. Having been active on social media platforms for decades, I've communicated with a range of people in the so-called wellness space. While I've long been wary of many ideas circulated within this group, COVID-19 has inspired a pandemic of conspiracy I could not have foreseen.
In 2011, Charlotte Ward coined the term "conspirituality," which she defines as "a rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fuelled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative worldviews." In the article, published in Journal of Contemporary Religion, Ward names three first-generation charlatans that represent this toxic fusion of New Age ideology and right-wing conspiracies. One is former soccer player, David Icke, of whom she writes,
"He is notorious for alleging that a shadow government harbours the bloodlines of an ancient race of reptilian extraterrestrials."
Why conspiratorial thinking is peaking in America | Sarah Rose Cavanagh | Big Think
Icke regurgitated this factoid on an episode of "London Real," which has garnered nearly 6 million views on YouTube. He begins by claiming the world is controlled by a cult, followed by an impassioned rage against 5G towers. Nanotechnology microchips are destined to be inserted into COVID-19 vaccines. We need to recognize these truths in order to be part of a "spiritual awakening," which not-so-ironically is a dogwhistle used by wannabe cult leaders. Full circle, I suppose.
If trying to follow these plot lines confuses you, don't worry: that's part of the rhetoric. Ward continues,
"Conspirituality has spread from being a scattering of single, first-generation providers to a large chain. It is now part of the spiritual supermarket: clients shop around, settling upon the outlets whose interpretations of the two core convictions best suit their own opinions and tastes."
Which is how in recent weeks my Facebook feed has become dominated by a warning that Bill Gates wants to depopulate the world in order to microchip humans by forcibly injecting COVID-19 vaccines into everyone. This saves lives in an attempt to control the population he initially set out to destroy. 5G is in there somewhere because, I don't know, analytics?
A lack of critical thinking has long plagued the wellness community. An example: Since herbs and tinctures can be sold as dietary supplements with minimal federal oversight, companies go to great lengths to advertise their products regardless of clinical evidence. This has resulted in a multi-billion dollar alternative medicine market. If you want to achieve success in this market, you need to be alternative to something. That something happens to be vaccines, and Big Pharma in general.
Not that Big Pharma isn't an appropriate enemy. The for-profit medical model is not designed to serve our interests. A real conspiracy is the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and doctors fostered by lackluster federal oversight. We should be up in arms about a mental health crisis that has in large part been created for profit maximization. But that story is complex and our brains are not designed to process complexity. An easier target is vaccines, one of the most effective and important scientific advances in history.
A man in a face mask walks in front of graffiti reading 'Stop 5G Paranoia' which is painted on a wall in East London on April 19, 2020 in London, England.
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
If you were to tell me a year ago that a pandemic would be cause for political polarization, I would have dismissed the notion, even in the era of Trump. My hope blinded me from the reality of the situation: confusion is the point. It keeps us off our guard.
In an essay on conspirituality in the COVID-19 age, philosopher Jules Evans writes that even the term "conspiracy theory" is confusing now. "It can be a way of simply dismissing a topic without considering it." He continues,
"The pandemic has led to a breakdown in knowledge and certainty. We don't know much about the virus or the best way of dealing with it, but we know it's killing a lot of us and we're afraid. This is happening to the entire human race at the same time, and we're all connected on the internet."
In 2012, I started a now-defunct blog with four fellow yoga teachers that tackled issues in yoga and politics. While yoga has always been deeply political, the modern incarnation, which began in America in the early nineteenth century and became a marketing juggernaut in the eighties, usually eschews political talk. Yet the entire physical revolution of yoga in the early twentieth century was a response to British occupation. The only era of non-political yoga is modern, affluent America.
On our site, we strove to remind people that being a yogi means engaging as a citizen. At the most basic level, citizenry in a democracy requires that you vote. Our blog achieved some success and started a few conversations, yet we recognized that companies selling leggings will always reach a much larger audience. Humans are not built to care about things that don't directly affect them. This is especially troubling in a yoga community in which one of the most popular mantras champions the freedom of all sentient beings. How that usually translates: "I want to feel good right now," not "I'm willing to fight for livable wages so that everyone can afford their rent."
Then a pandemic rolls around and suddenly everyone is affected. Since much of this wellness community has been checked out of politics, the first thing these healers and rebels encounter are rehashed right-wing talking points couched in the language of spirituality. This is not how conspirituality starts—that's usually by men with agendas they want to monetize—but it is how it spreads. Ideas are as contagious as viruses and, as it turns out, equally dangerous.
- 7 government conspiracy theories that are true - Big Think ›
- America's 10 Most Popular Conspiracy Theories - Big Think ›
- Why your brain loves conspiracy theories - Big Think ›
- Conspiracy theories and cult dynamics - Big Think ›
- Conspiracy theories and cult dynamics - Big Think ›
Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.
- An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
- Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
- Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
The plica semilunaris<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NDg5NTg1NX0.kdBYMvaEzvCiJjcLEPgnjII_KVtT9RMEwJFuXB68D8Q/img.png?width=980" id="59914" width="429" height="350" data-rm-shortcode-id="b11e4be64c5e1f58bf4417d8548bedc7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The human eye in alarming detail. Image source: Henry Gray / Wikimedia commons<p>At the inner corner of our eyes, closest to the nasal ridge, is that little pink thing, which is probably what most of us call it, called the caruncula. Next to it is the plica semilunairs, and it's what's left of a third eyelid that used to — ready for this? — blink horizontally. It's supposed to have offered protection for our eyes, and some birds, reptiles, and fish have such a thing.</p>
Palmaris longus<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzQ1NjUwMn0.dVor41tO_NeLkGY9Tx46SwqhSVaA8HZQmQAp532xLxA/img.jpg?width=980" id="879be" width="1920" height="2560" data-rm-shortcode-id="4089a32ea9fbb1a0281db14332583ccd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmaris longus muscle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> We don't have much need these days, at least most of us, to navigate from tree branch to tree branch. Still, about 86 percent of us still have the wrist muscle that used to help us do it. To see if you have it, place the back of you hand on a flat surface and touch your thumb to your pinkie. If you have a muscle that becomes visible in your wrist, that's the palmaris longus. If you don't, consider yourself more evolved (just joking).</p>
Darwin's tubercle<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgxMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODUyNjA1MX0.8RuU-OSRf92wQpaPPJtvFreOVvicEwn39_jnbegiUOk/img.jpg?width=980" id="687a0" width="819" height="1072" data-rm-shortcode-id="ff5edf0a698e0681d11efde1d7872958" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Darwin's tubercle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> Yes, maybe the shell of you ear does feel like a dried apricot. Maybe not. But there's a ridge in that swirly structure that's a muscle which allowed us, at one point, to move our ears in the direction of interesting sounds. These days, we just turn our heads, but there it is.</p>
Goosebumps<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzEyNTc2Nn0.aVMa5fsKgiabW5vkr7BOvm2pmNKbLJF_50bwvd4aRo4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d8420" width="1440" height="960" data-rm-shortcode-id="8827e55511c8c3aed8c36d21b6541dbd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Goosebumps. Photo credit: Tyler Olson via Shutterstock<p>It's not entirely clear what purpose made goosebumps worth retaining evolutionarily, but there are two circumstances in which they appear: fear and cold. For fear, they may have been a way of making body hair stand up so we'd appear larger to predators, much the way a cat's tail puffs up — numerous creatures exaggerate their size when threatened. In the cold, they may have trapped additional heat for warmth.</p>
Tailbone<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQwMjc3N30.nBGAfc_O9sgyK_lOUo_MHzP1vK-9kJpohLlj9ax1P8s/img.jpg?width=980" id="9a2f6" width="1440" height="1440" data-rm-shortcode-id="4fe28368d2ed6a91a4c928d4254cc02a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Decade3d-anatomy online via Shutterstock<p>Way back, we had tails that probably helped us balance upright, and was useful moving through trees. We still have the stump of one when we're embryos, from 4–6 weeks, and then the body mostly dissolves it during Weeks 6–8. What's left is the coccyx.</p>
The palmar grasp reflex<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjY0MDY5NX0.OSwReKLmNZkbAS12-AvRaxgCM7zyukjQUaG4vmhxTtM/img.jpg?width=980" id="8804c" width="1440" height="960" data-rm-shortcode-id="67542ee1c5a85807b0a7e63399e44575" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmar reflex activated! Photo credit: Raul Luna on Flickr<p> You've probably seen how non-human primate babies grab onto their parents' hands to be carried around. We used to do this, too. So still, if you touch your finger to a baby's palm, or if you touch the sole of their foot, the palmar grasp reflex will cause the hand or foot to try and close around your finger.</p>
Other people's suggestions<p>Amir's followers dove right in, offering both cool and questionable additions to her list. </p>
Fangs?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Lower mouth plate behind your teeth. Some have protruding bone under the skin which is a throw back to large fangs. Almost like an upsidedown Sabre Tooth.</p>— neil crud (@neilcrud66) <a href="https://twitter.com/neilcrud66/status/1085606005000601600?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hiccups<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sure: <a href="https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG">https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG</a></p>— Stephen Roughley (@SteBobRoughley) <a href="https://twitter.com/SteBobRoughley/status/1085529239556968448?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hypnic jerk as you fall asleep<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What about when you “jump” just as you’re drifting off to sleep, I heard that was a reflex to prevent falling from heights.</p>— Bann face (@thebanns) <a href="https://twitter.com/thebanns/status/1085554171879788545?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p> This thing, often called the "alpha jerk" as you drop into alpha sleep, is properly called the hypnic jerk,. It may actually be a carryover from our arboreal days. The <a href="https://www.livescience.com/39225-why-people-twitch-falling-asleep.html" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">hypothesis</a> is that you suddenly jerk awake to avoid falling out of your tree.</p>
Nails screeching on a blackboard response?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Everyone hate the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. It's _speculated_ that this is a vestigial wiring in our head, because the sound is similar to the shrill warning call of a chimp. <a href="https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN">https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN</a></p>— Pet Rock (@eclogiter) <a href="https://twitter.com/eclogiter/status/1085587006258888706?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Ear hair<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ok what is Hair in the ears for? I think cuz as we get older it filters out the BS.</p>— Sarah21 (@mimix3) <a href="https://twitter.com/mimix3/status/1085684393593561088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Nervous laughter<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">You may be onto something. Tooth-bearing with the jaw clenched is generally recognized as a signal of submission or non-threatening in primates. Involuntary smiling or laughing in tense situations might have signaled that you weren’t a threat.</p>— Jager Tusk (@JagerTusk) <a href="https://twitter.com/JagerTusk/status/1085316201104912384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 15, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Um, yipes.<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sometimes it feels like my big toe should be on the side of my foot, was that ever a thing?</p>— B033? K@($ (@whimbrel17) <a href="https://twitter.com/whimbrel17/status/1085559016011563009?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Are we enslaved by the finer things in life?
- The Roman writer, Tacitus, argued that the Roman Empire was built by enslaving conquered people who became accustomed to fine living and luxury.
- Technology today has become so essential to our daily lives that it seems impossible to break free of it. It's as much a cage as a luxury.
- Being dependent on a thing gives it power over you. To need something or someone is, for better or worse, to limit yourself.
- There was a massive die-off of marine life 359 million years ago, and nobody knows why.
- A new study proposes that the Late Devonian extinction may have been caused by one or more nearby supernovae.
- The supernova hypothesis could be confirmed if scientists can find "the green bananas of the isotope world" in the geologic record.
Fifty years of research on children's toy preferences shows that kids generally prefer toys oriented toward their own gender.