Naomi Klein on Her New Book “Doppelganger” & How Conspiracy Culture Benefits Ruling Elite
Written by GRB on 14/09/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Today we make a trip into the Mirror World. The acclaimed writer Naomi Klein has a new book out this week that delves deeply into the culture of conspiracy theories and a growing alliance between the far right and people who once identified as progressive.
The book comes as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. campaigns against Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination for president. Kennedy, who was once a prominent environmental lawyer, is now a leading figure in the anti-vaccine movement. In July, Kennedy made headlines after claiming, “Covid-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people.” He went on to say Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese are most immune to Covid. One notable defender of Kennedy’s claims was the writer Naomi Wolf, who is best known for her 1991 book The Beauty Myth. In a Substack post, Wolf defended Kennedy, writing, ”RFK Jr. is cursed and blessed with a passion for actual truth.”
Kennedy and Wolf have both been embraced by the far right. Republican megadonors are helping to bankroll Kennedy’s longshot presidential campaign, while Wolf is now a regular guest on Steve Bannon’s podcast The War Room, where she spreads conspiracy theories about Covid vaccines and other issues. Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson has also praised Naomi Wolf, saying she is “one of the bravest, clearest-thinking people I know.”
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Wolf plays a central role in Naomi Klein’s new book titled Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World. Klein examines how and why more and more people started confusing her with Wolf, as Naomi Wolf fell deeper into what Naomi Klein called the Mirror World, where facts no longer matter. Naomi Klein writes in the book, “The trouble with the Mirror World: there is always some truth mixed in with the lies; always some devastating collective failure it has identified and is opportunistically exploiting.” In a moment, Naomi Klein will join us live, but first, we play a short video produced along with the book.
NAOMI KLEIN: Hi. I’m Naomi Klein, and as some of you know, I have a doppelganger, a person who does many extreme things that cause strangers to chastise me, or thank me, or express their pity for me. I used to be horrified by this. But then something happened that I didn’t expect: I got interested. Interested in what it means to have a doppelganger. So, I decided to follow my doppelganger to a place I’ve come to think of as the Mirror World. It’s a strange mirror image of the world where I live. It is a place where many ideas that I care about are being twisted and warped into dangerous doppelganger versions of themselves.
When I look at the Mirror World, I don’t see disagreements over shared reality; I see disagreements about what is real and what is a simulation. And with AI generating more and more of what we see and hear, it’s only getting harder to distinguish the authentic from the synthetic. After all, artificial intelligence is a mirroring and mimicry machine. We feed in the cumulative words, ideas and images that our species has managed to create, and these programs mirror back to us something that feels uncannily lifelike. But it’s not life; it’s a forgery of life.
I shadowed my double further into the Mirror World, a place where soft-focused wellness influencers make common cause with fire-breathing far right propagandists, all in the name of saving and protecting the children. Not everyone is dogged by their doppelganger, but our culture is crowded with all kinds of doubling. All of us who maintain a persona or avatar online are kind of creating our own doppelgangers, forging a separate public identity that is both us and not us. A doppelganger. We perform for one another as the price of admission in a rapacious attention economy. And all the while, tech companies create digital profiles of us without our full knowledge, data doubles or golems that follow us everywhere we go online, carrying their own agenda, their own logics and their own threats.
What is all of this doubling and doppelganging doing to us? How is it steering what we pay attention to, and more critically, what we neglect and ignore? Doppelgangers are often understood as a warning or an omen, a message that something needs our attention. Reality is doubling, multiplying, glitching, telling us to pay attention. Because it’s not just individuals who can flip into a sinister version of themselves; the Earth can transform into a menacing, uncanny twin of what we once knew. Whole societies can flip. That’s the reason many doppelganger works of art are ultimately about the latent potential for fascism within our societies, even within ourselves.
What I have learned by shadowing my double is that the forces that have destabilized my personal world are part of a much larger web of forces that are destabilizing our shared world. And understanding these forces may be our best hope of getting to firmer ground.
AMY GOODMAN: That video featured Naomi Klein, author of the new book Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World. Naomi Klein is an award-winning author and journalist. She is Professor of Climate Justice at the University of British Columbia and the Founding Co-Director of the UBC Centre for Climate Justice. Her previous books include On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. Naomi is also a columnist for The Guardian. She is joining us now from Washington, D.C. as she begins her book tour around the country. Naomi, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.
NAOMI KLEIN: Thank you so much, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Congratulations on the publication of this book. I like what the great artist and author Molly Crabapple said about your book—”a dazzling, hallucinatory tour de force that takes the reader through shadow selves and global fascism, leaving them gasping by the end.” Naomi, if you can explain more this journey you took through the pandemic into this Mirror world, who your doppelganger is and then go back to 2011 and that moment in the loo where you talk about hearing women talk about—you, or was it Naomi Wolf? Take it from there.
NAOMI KLEIN: First of all, Amy and Nermeen, thank you so much for having me back on the show. It is such a pleasure to be with you. And thank you for airing that video. I just want to credit the director Colby Richardson, who is an amazing video artist. So those of you who were listening just to the audio, I really encourage you to watch the video version because it gets really trippy.
Amy, you listed some of my previous books in that lovely introduction. My books back to No Logo, my first book, which I wrote on the cusp of the new millennium almost a quarter of a century ago, have been attempts to map our political moment. They have been attempts to make sense of moments of big shifts in our political world, our cultural world, and in the case of This Changes Everything our physical world. I would say that Doppelganger is an attempt to make a usable map of our moment.
The thing is, our moment is a lot weirder and wilder than any I’ve ever lived through. There are all kinds of strange happenings at work, all kinds of uncanny events. So I thought in many ways that I needed to write in a different way, a way that sort of mirrored the wildness of now. And so I let myself have more fun with the writing. I wanted to re-find a voice that felt more like me, that felt more like the person who talks to their friends, that was more conversational.
But also, Amy, this project began during the pandemic. I have written about large-scale collective shocks. That is what The Shock Doctrine was about. But I realized that in the past, if I was covering Hurricane Katrina, or the U.S. and U.K. invasion and occupation of Iraq, or the Asian tsunami, these huge cataclysmic events, I was, I think as you are, the journalist who comes in with a notepad, maybe a camera, and I am interviewing other people about their shock, but really I’ve had a reportorial distance. COVID was different. Nobody was outside of that shock. It upended my world as it upended all of our worlds. And in many ways, the world became uncanny and unfamiliar. Freud described the uncanny as that species of frightening in which that which was familiar becomes strange. I mean, think about Times Square during the pandemic. That is an uncanny apparition. It is something familiar that looks completely different. It’s empty, one of the busiest places on Earth.
But I think there are many kinds of uncanny experiences that we have in the world today. I now live in British Columbia. We had an extreme weather event a couple of years ago called a heat dome. Hundreds of people died. Millions of marine creatures died. But what was most uncanny about the heat dome is it was not our weather. It was like somebody else’s weather coming to a temperate rainforest. And so, I thought by using the uncanniness of having a doppelganger—you asked about my doppelganger—I am perennially confused and conflated with another writer named Naomi, Naomi Wolf, and having that identity confusion is an extreme form of uncanniness, because what becomes unfamiliar is you. You see people and hear people talking about you, but it is not you. It’s very destabilizing. So I thought, well, this is an interesting technique. And she really is less the subject of the book than a literary technique to get into these other kinds of uncanny forces. Should I tell the bathroom story?
AMY GOODMAN: Please.
NAOMI KLEIN: You really want me to do it? Yeah, so the first chapter begins telling the story where actually I was in New York City to be part of Occupy Wall Street. I was at a march through the Financial District at the height of Occupy Wall Street. Like other people at that march, I needed to use a public restroom. I was in one of these skyscrapers. I don’t remember exactly which building. But while in the restroom, I overheard a couple of people talking about me, being quite unkind, I must say, Amy. They were sort of drawling like, “Did you read that article by Naomi Klein? Oh my God, she really doesn’t understand our movement. She doesn’t understand our demands.” And I was sort of frozen in fear. It brought back all of my terrible high school memories, these mean girls who were talking about me. But as I listened I realized, “Oh, they’re not talking about me. They’re talking about somebody else.” So I came out of the stall and I met one of their eyes, and I said words that I have had to say unfortunately too many times—”I think you’re talking about Naomi Wolf.” In the end, that became quite fitting to me, because I think when we overhear people speaking about us on social media, we essentially are just reading the graffiti on the bathroom wall, which is not healthy and we probably should stop doing that. So I think it’s fitting that the first time I became aware of the identity confusion in the real world it was actually literally in a bathroom.
AMY GOODMAN: And let’s just say that this weekend is the 12th anniversary of Occupy Wall Street.
NAOMI KLEIN: So it has been going for some time!
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Naomi, I would like to just join Amy in congratulating you on this book. I know I’m not alone in thinking this, that when I read it, I realized that it’s actually the book that needed to be written. It is amazing the way you are simultaneously disclosive, funny, subtle, and so insightful about our present historical moment. So I want to ask about the reasons that you—the doppelganger effect that you identify is of course not just with Naomi Wolf. Naomi Wolf is almost like incidental to what you come to identify, which is that you recognize in seeing your doppelganger that you were also seeing, quote, in your words, “a magnification of many undesirable aspects of our shared culture.” Could you just enumerate or list what those undesirable aspects are, of which—I mean, you can select some because they are so numerous.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, absolutely. It definitely wouldn’t have been worth doing this if it wasn’t kind of a narrow aperture, to use a film image, that would allow us to see much larger forces at work.
And I think we all know people who have changed dramatically in the past few years, who don’t really seem like themselves. I think it’s less interesting that Naomi Wolf is seemingly a doppelganger for me to a lot of people’s eyes than that she seems to be a doppelganger of her former self. That she was a prominent feminist, she was involved in progressive movements, and now here she is on Steve Bannon’s podcast, in some cases every single day. Like there have been weeks where she has been a guest every single day that he has been broadcasting. I think probably Democracy Now! listeners would be surprised to learn that they published a book together, they put out t-shirts together. So her role in Steve Bannon’s media sphere is almost like a cohost more than a guest. She is a really important figure in this world.
But part of the reason we don’t know this has to do with this what I call the Mirror World and the fact that while they see us, we have chosen for the most part not to see them. And I think that that’s very dangerous because these are really important political movements. Steve Bannon is a very able political strategist. He got Donald Trump elected once and he fully intends to do it again. And part of Steve Bannon’s strategy is that he is very good at looking at issues and people who have been abandoned by the Democratic Party or even by the left, people who have been mistreated, ejected, and saying, “Come on over to this side. Come on over to this side of the glass. We’ll take a little bit of truth”—you used that quote, that there’s always a little bit of truth mixed in—”and we’ll mix it up with all of these dangerous lies.”
But to me, as a lifelong leftist, what concerns me about that is that many of the issues that they are co-opting and twisting are issues that I think the left should be more vocal about. I had one of my most—I’d say like a moment in the research where I was listening to hundreds of hours of Bannon’s podcast where I would say I felt most destabilized was when I would hear Bannon cut together a montage, an audio montage and a video montage, of intros and outros of major cable news shows on CNN and MSNBC—”brought to you by Pfizer,” “brought to you by Moderna.” His point was to say, “You can’t trust these corporate media outlets because they are bought and paid for by the drug companies that are trying to get you vaccinated.”
But for me what was chilling about that was that that was a doppelganger of the kind of media education that I grew up in. We all read Manufacturing Consent. We had these charts where we—and I mean, Amy, they sounded a little like you. They sounded like me. They sounded like Noam Chomsky. Except through a warped mirror. And what worried me about that is it really reminded me that I don’t think we’re doing that kind of systems-based media education anymore where we really are looking at these ownership structures. And if that doesn’t happen, then it is going to be co-opted in the Mirror World.
So, Nermeen, thank you for your kind words about the book. I’m so glad that it resonated with you. It was a sort of risk but I think maybe by being specific, we’re all thinking about the people in our lives and this phenomenon that has affected us all. I think when I look at people who have made a similar political migration from liberalism or leftism over to the Bannonesque right, I think we often see some economic forces at work. Naomi Wolf has quadrupled her following because of this decision, this political decision of hers. She is not the only one. I’m sure people are thinking of other people. It’s actually a really smart business move. And this is happening within an economic system that has monetized attention. People are trying to build their personal brands because they’ve been told that they’re not going to get a job, that this is the only way they can survive in these roiling capitalist seas. And there’s a lot of clicks over there. So I think that’s some of it.
What are the other forces that get magnified? Well, this is a little tricky to say, because I do write—I don’t think this gives people a pass, but Wolf is one of these people who has experienced a lot of shaming and kind of pile-ons on left Twitter, or liberal Twitter, or X or whatever it is called. She has really been, I would say, internet-bullied. People can say, “Okay, well, for good reason. She has spread conspiracies. She has made major factual errors in her book.” But I don’t think that’s necessarily a justification for cruelty. So I think that’s something else that gets magnified. Because I think when people have an experience that is very, very negative in left or liberal circles, where they really get treated almost like they are not human—and that is partly because they’re performing themselves as a brand, which is saying, “Hey, I am out here, I’m a commodity, I’m a thing,” and then people start thinking, “Well, if you’re a thing, I can throw things at you, and you won’t bleed,”—I think that that’s part of what is magnified here, and that becomes a justification for I think an unjustifiable political alliance with extremely dangerous figures who are building a network of far right political parties who take issues like rightful suspicion of Big Pharma, rightful anger at Big Tech, rightful anger at the elites, and flip it to transphobia, xenophobia, racism. Here I’m thinking about figures like Giorgia Meloni, who is a protégé of Steve Bannon’s.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Naomi, if you could elaborate on that point, one of the failures that you identify is for instance the Democratic Party or progressives generally not focusing on making, for instance, different social media platforms more equitable, more democratic, but rather when people are deplatformed, including Naomi Wolf, kind of celebrating their removal.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And you say that believing that once they’re deplatformed they’ve effectively disappeared is the equivalent of saying that children—or children who think that once they close their eyes the world has disappeared. If you could elaborate on that?
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. When I would confess to people I knew that I was working on this book, sometimes I would get this strange reaction like, “Why would you give her attention?” There was this sense that because she was no longer visible in the pages of The New York Times or on MSNBC or wherever, and because she had been deplatformed on social media—or on the social media that we’re on—that she just didn’t exist. And there was this assumption that “we,” whoever we are, are in control of the attention, and so if this bigot gets turned off then there’s no more attention.
But because I was following this, what I was seeing was that she had a much, much larger platform than probably she had had since her star rose in the 1990s and she was advising Al Gore on his presidential run in 2000. What Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon can offer her is more than what a lot of liberal media outlets can offer. She has been on Jordan Peterson’s podcast. She is also in these—I call it the Mirror World because there’s kind of a one-to-one replica of many of the social media platforms, the crowdfunding platforms. So, she was kicked off Twitter; she immediately got an account on Getter. And Getter, they call themselves the Twitter Killer. So I think it is really, really reckless to ignore this world. Because it is not like it’s a hobby, what they’re doing there. As Steve Bannon says, the goal is to take power for the next 100 years. So not paying attention to this and not looking at what issues are getting traction there I think is really reckless.
In 2016, Steve Bannon successfully peeled away a portion of the Democratic Party base who had voted for Democrat after Democrat who promised them they were going to renegotiate or cancel free trade deals that had gutted their communities and offshored jobs. And they didn’t do it. Many of them signed more free trade deals. And Steve Bannon saw an opportunity. I don’t think it is about whether or not he personally believes this is an important issue or whether Trump did anything really meaningful in this regard. The issue is they picked up an issue that their opponents had abandoned and used it to political effect. And that is now happening with opposition to Big Tech, opposition to big Pharma, even standing up for free speech, right?
And so I think that there need to be—and it’s wildly hypocritical because they’re the same people who are banning books. But to me, we can’t control them. We can control ourselves and whether or not we are doing a good enough job embodying our own principles. And I think one of the things that happened during the pandemic is that the more misinformation was being spread by the likes of Wolf and Bannon, the more people who see themselves as progressive started just getting into a reactive position where we’re just defending the CDC, we’re just defending what the government is saying, when in fact the role of the left is to push for much more. Sure, yes, get vaccinated, wear a mask, but what about fighting for the right to indoor air quality for everybody? What about demanding that schools have smaller classrooms, more outdoor education, more teachers, giving essential workers the raises instead of just the applause? The right to—or lifting the patents on the vaccines. I know you covered this on Democracy Now! consistently, but I think if we’re honest, it was the right that organized during the pandemic.
I live in Canada now, I’m back in Canada, and we had the trucker convoy that shut down Ottawa for three weeks. I’m not going to get into much about the trucker convoy except to say that one of the things that occurred to me is, what would’ve happened if there was a robust left that had shut down the cities and demanded that before we got our fourth booster, everybody on this planet got their first Covid vaccine? Or made any of these other collective demands about truly funding public healthcare. Universal public healthcare would have been a good response to the pandemic. So I think we have to be a lot more ambitious and a lot less reactive to just what “they’re” doing, the quote-unquote “they.”
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Very quickly, before we break, we just have a minute, if you could explain, you mentioned the truck convoy. You mentioned two truck convoys. What do you think principally, why was that so important? What was misrepresented?
NAOMI KLEIN: Oh, that’s maybe a little bit tricky to explain quickly, but seven months before the famous trucker convoy, the one that made it on all the U.S. talk shows, and that was mainly an antivax event, there was a convoy that was in British Columbia that was in response to the unmarked graves whose presences were confirmed first at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School and then more unmarked graves confirmed on the grounds of other former so-called residential schools. I say “confirmed” because the communities always knew that there were burial grounds on the grounds of these genocidal schools, but their presence was confirmed using ground-penetrating radar.
There was such an outpouring of solidarity in the aftermath of that that there was a convoy organized by truckers in British Columbia, hundreds of trucks that went and drove in front of the closed former residential school in Kamloops. It was called the “We Stand in Solidarity Convoy.” It came from a place, as I say and as they said, of solidarity, of wanting to say that this atrocity, this genocide, is not only an issue for First Nations to fight for justice, it should be everybody’s business.
It was striking that there was this kind of doppelganger trucker convoy seven months later. But what I say in the book is that some truckers went to both. And so what’s interesting to me is the way doppelgangers stand in for the fact that human beings are complicated. I think my own doppelganger is complicated. I think she has done some very good things in her life and she has done some really damaging things. That is true for most people. So what interests me as a political theorist is, what are the systems that encourage the best parts of ourselves, that support that impulse toward solidarity and compassion, as opposed to light up the most individualistic parts of ourselves.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, her new book is out just this week. It’s called Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World. We are back with her in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh, and we’re spending the hour with Naomi Klein. Her new book is just out. It’s called Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World. Naomi, I wanted to talk to you about Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. In July, the Democratic presidential candidate spoke at a press event in New York City and claimed the COVID-19 vaccine is a genetically engineered bioweapon that may have been ethnically targeted to spare people who are Jewish—Ashkenazi Jews—and Chinese.
ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.: COVID-19, there is an argument that it is ethnically targeted. COVID-19 attacks certain races disproportionately. COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.
AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Robert Kennedy. Naomi, you wrote an article before these comments in The Guardian headlined Beware, we ignore Robert F Kennedy, Jr’s candidacy at our peril. Now, you write extensively in this piece about his background. It was not just COVID-19 vaccines he was concerned about. He goes way back in his antivax attitudes and activism. Talk about the significance of this and what you continually say throughout the book in that we ignore these views at our own peril.
NAOMI KLEIN: I think in a way he is a doppelganger of his father and uncle. I see it as kind of a counterfeit politics. I’m sorry for RFK Jr. supporters who are listening, don’t know how many there are. I think that what he is doing is tapping into a lot of real fears, angers. There are times when I listen to him when I can’t help nodding along when he is talking about regulatory capture of government agencies by the corporations they’re supposed to be regulating. That is something I have covered for a long time. Or when he’s talking about the military industrial complex.
I think it’s really important—the reason why I call it a counterfeit politics is that although he is calling this out, if you look at what he’s running on, this is not Bernie. He is not actually running on a platform of significant regulations that would address the crises that he is talking about. It is kind of a libertarian platform. He isn’t even running on universal public healthcare. If you are worried about Big Pharma and profiteering, how about running on pharmacare, that we shouldn’t be leaving life-saving drugs to the market? But you will never hear him say something like that.
I think for leftists who are frustrated with the centrism of the Democrats it can seem like this is really an alternative, and I would really, really caution against it and look at what he is actually running on. Is he running on raising the minimum wage? No, he is not. He is tapping into these real critiques, these real issues like an inflated military budget, but then his position on Israel, for instance, is just more militarism. Same thing with Steve Bannon, by the way. He talks a great game about the military-industrial complex. He is absolutely obsessed with China and positioning the U.S. for a Third World War with China. If you are serious critic of the military industrial complex, you wouldn’t be as focused as Steve Bannon is on China-bashing.
RFK, obviously that clip that you played is extraordinarily disturbing, dangerous. A lot of conspiracy culture starts ending up in this kind of anti-Semitic territory. It’s the oldest conspiracy theory in the world. I make the argument in the book that part of what we are dealing with, with the rise of conspiracy culture—and I call it conspiracy culture, not conspiracy theories, because the theories so wildly contradict each other. It’s just a posture of mistrust and just throwing wild theories at the wall. So one minute COVID is a bioweapon perhaps and the next minute it’s just a cold so don’t even wear a mask. You really would need to choose, if you had a theory, between whether or not it was a bioweapon or whether or not it was a cold. If it were a bioweapon, presumably, you would want to do pretty much anything you can not be infected.
But they never attempt to resolve these glaring contradictions because the point of it is to throw up this kind of a distraction so that we aren’t focused on what I would describe as kind of the conspiracies in plain view. The fact that the pharmaceutical companies turned COVID into this profit center, that despite the fact that the vaccine development was funded with public dollars all of the initial orders were from the government. That there are these outrageous patents on these vaccines and they should never have been patented in the first place. And I think we need to be really wary of being overly credulous.
We know that there are real conspiracies in the world. You’ve been covering the 50th anniversary of the overthrow of Salvador Allende, and new documents come out every week that show us these behind-the-scenes meetings. But if we look at that conspiracy, it’s a good example. What you see in the documents about the U.S. destabilization campaign of Salvador Allende, it wasn’t that there was some nefarious goal about depopulating the Earth or draining kids of adrenochrome or whatever the conspiracy culture is claiming. It was to protect U.S. copper interests. U.S. telecom interests. It was just capitalism doing its thing. And sometimes it takes a plot to do it, is the way I put it in the book.
But coming back to what I said earlier about an absence of basic political education, if people don’t understand how capitalism works, if we don’t understand that this is a system that is really built to consolidate wealth and it will always have a massive underclass, and instead people have been told that capitalism is just Big Macs and freedom and rainbows and everybody getting what they deserve, then when that system fails them they’re going to be very vulnerable to somebody going “Oh, it is all a plot by the Jews” or whatever the conspiracy of the day is. That’s why doing that basic political education and economic education is so critical, because it’s really our armor against this conspiracy culture.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Naomi, as I think you say in the book at some point, the use of the term “conspiracy culture” is also because one can’t call it a conspiracy theory because it is a conspiracy with no theory. RFK and your own doppelganger are emblematic, really, of the number—especially during the pandemic—the number of conspiracies that proliferated and of course spread so exponentially, so quickly both because of course everybody on the planet practically who was able to do it was online. If you could speak specifically? Conspiracies have always existed, but talk about the power of conspiracies now just because of their sheer reach, combined with, as you say, this lack of education on a structure within which to understand what is being said.
NAOMI KLEIN: Absolutely. You’re absolutely right, Nermeen, that especially during times that are chaotic, during times of disaster, there are often these wild conspiracy theories that emerge because they claim to make some sense of an event that seems senseless, especially when there’s just a huge amount of loss, so our minds reach for those kinds of easy explanations. I’ve seen that. I saw it after Hurricane Katrina, I saw it after the tsunamis, I saw it in Iraq. I’ve seen it again and again as a reporter.
This is different, and what’s different is the attention economy. Because when all of this is playing out on platforms, private platforms owned by billionaires, that have created incentive structures that mean that whoever puts out the most clickable content is going to get the most followers, is going to be able to turn those into subscriptions, be able to monetize them, it creates such an incentive structure to be that person first out of the gate making the wildest claim that you possibly can.
So I would put conspiracy culture within the framework of the disaster capitalism complex that we have talked about before. We have seen in the aftermath of disasters that these players move in and just attempt to profit from disasters. Conspiracy hucksters and influencers are part of the disaster capitalism complex, but it gets very confusing because often what they’re talking about is other people profiting off of disaster. So, it’s a Mirror World. It’s trippy. And so you’ve got to get a little bit trippy to try to map it.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to ask you, first of all, before we end, what the main conclusions of the book are. But I would also like to read in your own conclusion one of the things that you say. Ultimately it’s almost as if you express gratitude towards Naomi Wolf because of the reflection, the interest in her and what it revealed not just about our present moment but also yourself within this social media world. At the end you quote John Berger who you say taught you a long time ago that calm itself is a form of resistance. First of all, what should people take away, the main takeaway from the book? And that point itself—calm is a form of resistance—how is one to attain that calm?
NAOMI KLEIN: I think maps help, right, and this is a first draft of a map of the post-COVID world. It’s just through one person’s eyes. And mapping is collective work, so it has been really great to be out here talking to people, reading articles that people have written, adding to it and adding layers. So I think we’re sense-making. We’re making sense of the way we have changed, the way our world has changed.
But I think the big takeaway from the book is, all of this is about not seeing. Whether we are creating doppelgangers of ourselves online and performing perfected versions, that’s a way of distracting ourselves from the weight of our political moment. Listening to your headlines, Amy and Nermeen, to quote António Guterres, it’s an atlas of human suffering. It’s so hard to look at the reality that we are in right now, with the overlay of endless wars and climate disasters and massive inequality. And so whether we’re making up fantastical conspiracy theories or getting lost in our own reflections, it’s all about not looking at that reality that is only bearable if we get outside of our own heads and collectively organize, rebuild our social movements, so that they can offer people material improvements to their lives. That’s the only way we fight these surging conspiracies. It’s not going to be fact checkers or content moderators; it’s going to be a a robust left. And i feel I can say that on Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: We just have a minute, but let’s end where we started, with that term “doppelganger” and what more you want to say about it. And if Naomi Wolf has responded.
NAOMI KLEIN: It’s interesting, she posted something this morning actually, or maybe it was yesterday, casting this as some sort of a—like my work is some sort of—being part of a plot to attack her. Which isn’t surprising. And she’s using it to—well, okay—I think that this must be very hard for her, is what I would say. I have really tried to reiterate that she is a case study, an interesting one, but this is not about her. I personally think she has been treated quite cruelly. I am not interested in adding to that. I do think that we need to hold one another accountable, but that doesn’t mean that we have a right to be cruel. I hope that if she were to actually read the book, she would see that it isn’t perhaps the way it has been portrayed, as being like a book-length attack on her. It certainly isn’t. Doppelganger stories are always ways of—
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, Naomi. Naomi Klein, author of Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World. I’m Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh.
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