Most of us know someone who insists they won't get the coronavirus vaccine. As the number of unvaccinated persons shrinks, thanks to persistent persuasion and broader mandates, the sort of refusers I least understand are the hippie health nuts. Why would these nice, inoffensive folks be joining hard core libertarians protesting mask mandates and free shots? Eva Wiseman found such a person to profile in The dark side of wellness: the overlap between spiritual thinking and far-right conspiracies. The story is enlightening.
Melissa Rein Lively had always thought of herself as a spiritual person. Her interests were grounded in “wellness, natural health, organic food”, she lists for me today from her home in Arizona, “yoga, ayurvedic healing, meditation, etc.” When the pandemic hit she started spending more time online, on wellness sites that offered affirmations, recipes and, on health, the repeated message to “Do your research.” She’d click on a video of foods that boost immunity and she’d see a clip about the dangers of vaccines. ...
“Much of what I read took a hard stance against the pharmaceutical industry and western medical philosophy, and was particularly critical of individuals like Bill Gates, who seemed to have an incredible amount of influence and involvement in public health policy,” continues Rein Lively. At first, she enjoyed what she was reading. She liked learning. She liked the community. She liked the idea that there were patriots in the government who were working quietly to help save the world. But as she clicked on and read about imminent genocide under the guise of a health crisis, she felt herself changing. ...
She was becoming convinced that nothing was really what it seemed; that there was a carefully constructed narrative being told, which was designed to control society. “I was willing to expand my thinking and consider a completely alternative theory, especially during a time of unprecedented chaos. What if nothing was what it seemed?” It was shocking, she says, and horrifying, and also, “Oddly comforting. What I had felt I knew was true, and others knew the same thing. ..."Ms. Lively eventually suffered a very public cognitive explosion in a Target store where she attacked an array of masks -- a performance which, because she possessed the cash to obtain real help, caused her to be hospitalized for a mental health intervention. This nudged her back into consensus reality. She's brave to tell her story.
Dr. Timothy Caulfield studies pseudoscience enthusiasms. He explains:
“There is a strong correlation between the embrace of ‘wellness woo’ and being susceptible to misinformation. And as conspiracy theories and misinformation become increasingly about ideology, it becomes easier to sell both wellness bunk and conspiracy theories as being ‘on brand.’ In other words, if you are part of our community, this is the cluster of beliefs you must embrace – Big Science is evil, supplements help, you can boost your immune system, vaccines don’t work…”Selling pseudo-spirituality, pseudo-health products, and COVID misinformation in a New Age-ish package is good business for unscrupulous entrepreneurs. And for unscrupulous politicians.
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Wiseman pointed me to a TikTok influencer, Abbie Richards, whose schematic presentation of a hierarchy of conspiracy theorizing is brilliant, funny, and scary all at once. I'm not a TikTok person, but here's Richards on YouTube. Enjoy.