At a time when paramilitary units snatch nonviolent protesters from the streets of big American cities and when even Fox News has finally begun to apply scrutiny on the occupant of the White House, seeing much of the New Age scene convert into the latest constituency for Trump's re-election and fascist takeover (deemed as “the great awakening”), is scary on so many levels.
In recent weeks, I've had various dialogues through social media with acquaintances or friends in the spiritual scene who have fallen for what I consider an outrageous propaganda campaign by and for the far-right, QAnon.
I've tried my best to lead these conversations with respect and the modesty to learn about new things. From what I've seen is that people who flirt with or buy into the QAnon narratives aren't stupid or unaware. I recognize many of them as intelligent and open-minded. That's what makes the phenomenon all the more alarming. In my view, QAnon highlights something is deeply rotten in the spiritual / New Age scene that goes way beyond individuals. It concerns the blind spots collectively held and passed on this subculture.
I know some of you will find this contentious or will take this as proof that I'm brainwashed by the powers that be (TPTB). But here are what I consider 6 reasons why so many spiritual folks have been fooled by QAnon (this list isn't intended to be exhaustive):
1) Lack of Structural Analysis
People who have stepped out of the negative mentalities of mainstream culture often shockingly begin to detect conspiracies, corruptions and lies everywhere. Their eyes suddenly open for the highly criminal nature of this entire society. And for how mainstream media (MSM) has functioned as the doorkeeper for TPTB, the censor against the truth of the injustices underlying the normality of everyday bourgeois existence.
Yet when this sense of being deceived by what MSM is telling you isn't backed up by an actual understanding of the systems of oppression that are causing both the crimes, oppression and injustice and their cover-up through media, you can easily be manipulated by those who will seek to exploit this sense of disillusionment and deception by framing the conspiracy around certain people, social groups and organizations – rather than unveiling the system that's wired for conspiracy, for exploitation, war and deceit. As a general principle, I would say: Any type of communication that's trying to cast blame for systemic problems on particular individuals or groups without addressing the system itself is just another way for the system to protect itself. And that is precisely what QAnon is. It's an extremely smart "divide and rule" wedge that channels the disillusionment with a broken and structurally unjust system, which could lead to actual political awakening into identification with a proto-fascist government by, for and of the billionaire class, Wall St, oil companies and the Military-Industrial Complex.
Due to lacking structural analysis, people simply can't imagine that the one allegedly "telling the truth" is part of the same system as the ones they attack. But just because you recognize one of two competing factions to lie doesn't mean the other faction automatically speaks the truth. Counter-propaganda can just be as deceiving as mainstream propaganda. People forget that power isn't about truth, but about narrative control.
2) Overly Simplistic, Binary Thinking
The new age scene has a serious psycho-spiritual problem: the suppression of unconscious shadow material.
Their often excessively one-sided focus on the pure, spiritual plane of light and love leads to an equally excessive negation of "negative emotions" like fear and anger. Many new agers have created a self image of their own personality, a "spiritual ego," by which they pretend to already embody the pure, luminous being they aspire to be and thereby suppress their “negativity” in a way that it isn't accessible to their conscious reflection. The shadow therefore takes on a life of its own, which will terrorize and subconsciously dominate them from the psychological substratum of the neglected, unloved parts of themselves.
Fear and anger are powerful emotions, which don't go away by denying them. To the very contrary, the shadow grows the more it's denied. And the more you have to suppress negativity in yourself, the more susceptible you will be to binary conspiracy narratives of good-vs-evil.
As Paul Levy writes in his seminal work Dispelling Wetiko:
Spiritual/New Age practitioners who endlessly affirm the light while ignoring the shadow are one more example of yet another style of falling under the spell of wetiko. It’s a beautiful thing to visualize and affirm the light, just not as an unconscious or fearful reaction against the darkness. Many metaphysical “light workers” are actually caricatures of genuine spiritual practitioners, as in their affirmations of the light are unwittingly avoiding conscious relationship with the darkness within themselves.
Thinking that they don’t want to “feed the darkness” by putting their attention on it, in their turning away from and avoiding their own darkness, they are unwittingly reinforcing the very evil from which they are fleeing. Looking away from darkness, thus keeping it unconscious, is what evil depends upon for its existence. If we unconsciously react, as compared to consciously respond, to evil by turning a blind eye toward it – “seeing no evil” – we are investing the darkness with power over us.
In this way, the new age scene has come to be the useful idiot for TPTB. Simplistic and dualistic spiritual narratives have come to serve as just another "opium for the people." This is nothing new. Totalitarian ideologies have always needed the ideological foundation of a metaphysical world view which would trap people in their neurotic personality split and incite them to suppress and externalize their shadow – or "emotional plague," as Wilhelm Reich put it – by projecting it onto others. Just because new age spirituality doesn't come along as dogmatic and rigid as the teachings of institutionalized religions doesn't save it from this trap. Only consciously embracing and working with the shadow will. As the great psychologist C.G. Jung said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
3) Implicit Racial Bias
Implicit racial bias, i.e. racist prejudice that people carry within themselves unknowingly, is obviously another factor that makes people to fall for far-right conspiracy theories. In a world in which Black, Indigenous and People of Color are rising for equal rights, many white people socialized to feel entitled to their privilege of racial superiority currently feel (subconsciously) threatened and so victimize themselves.
Though people who spread those narratives might not be willing to admit it (or intend to perpetuate racism), the infinitely repeated stories of "George Soros is controlling all the social movements" or "Black Lives Matter is a tool of the liberal elites to stage a race war" are clearly reflections of well-known racist tropes.
The Soros narrative is just another version of classic antisemitic fairytale of "the powerful shady Jews who pull the strings from behind closed doors." And the BLM narrative reveals deep anti-black bias, e.g. racist beliefs such as "black people aren't able to speak for themselves" or "they must be manipulated by powerful forces behind them." The equation of BLM with "riots" and "looting" is just another testimony to the anti-black sentiment of white people who associate black equity and liberation with danger, threat and violence.
The new age scene in its aforementioned suppression of shadow material can't admit to racism being a problem. And for lack of structural analysis, it can't be seen as a systemic issue either. Instead people use spiritual bypassing to escape the confrontation, arguing to see no color because "we are all one" and "all beings are the same," and will often discredit those struggle for equal human rights by saying "all lives matter."
And when racism is pointed out directly, many a spiritual seeker will turn it around against the person giving the feedback, claiming, "You're projecting your shadow onto me,” “This is your karmic wound,” or “By bringing up this divisive topic, you're creating separation.”
4) No Scrutiny on Alternative Media
Many spiritual folks are so detached from the actual down-to-Earth reality, which they denounce as "illusion," and are so reluctant to accept that their own political views reflect ideology that many are in a mental state in which they believe everything and nothing at once. According to the great political philosopher Hannah Arendt, this is precisely the psychological state of people who follow totalitarian ideologies.
In the case of today's new age movement, this phenomenon plays out in very tricky ways. Something deeply contradictory is going on here. While most of my new age friends apply highest scrutiny and skepticism on MSM, many believe the cheapest lies handed out by alternative platforms, even if communicated in the most primitive ways. (By which you know that it's not about the truth, it's about which camp you identify with. Confirmation bias will do the rest for you.)
Behind this looms a massive media crisis. Most people who've grown up in the last century saw the MSM as stable pillars of reliable, objective truth. Something was held as true because it was reported on TV. In the last decade especially, MSM has been exposed as being biased and untrustworthy, committed not necessarily to the truth, but to preserving the status quo and the power of the dominant elites.
Being shaken in their worldview, many people turned away, switched sides and now believe whatever alternative media is telling them, in similar ways they previously believed MSM. However, the ethical and journalistic standards of many of the rapidly growing alternative media outlets (e.g. InfoWars, London Real, Collective Evolution, ...) are actually way lower than those of their mainstream competitors, for everything that's problematic with them. In addition, social media platforms are programmed in ways that encourage binary thinking and create echo chambers in which like-minded people reinforce each others beliefs, conjuring up a kind of groupthink without critical assessment of claims passed around in certain scenes. Repeated over and over, lies are finally being "felt" as if they were true.
For commercial alternative media platforms this is clearly not just about quality, but revenue. It's about generating the biggest possible numbers of followers and viewers so they can cash in on them. And they've seen, just like much of MSM has, that releasing emotionally charged, simplistic messages which feed into people's neurotic minds and racial stereotypes is what gets you millions of followers – instead of an honest, nuanced and thorough engagement with an ever more complex and contradicting world.
5) The Left has Lost its Appeal
Another strong reason why spiritual folks are running into the open arms of the far right is that they've grown tired of the Left, which used to be the traditional political home for most. In my view, there are clearly understandable factors for this, such as:
stubborn materialism and rejection of anything to do with spirituality or even love
intellectual elitism and arrogance
hypocrisy / collusion with the system (e.g. by political or social movements that start out with radical critique but ultimately become part of the mainstream and defend the status quo)
moral and ideological rigidity
lack of empathy in dealing with people who hold different beliefs or commit mistakes, as expressed in merciless cancel culture
6) The Need for Tribe and Community
QAnon's narratives are those of a salvationist cult: "we," the righteous few, will liberate the world from the spell of evil. People who've previously had no connection to each other are fused together in an illusionary sense of shared identity, in an unprecedented historic mission. Why do people fall for this story? Because they feel lonely and lost in an anonymous, alienating world of competition, isolation and approaching collapse. People join movements and adhere to ideologies because they need belonging. We all need belonging – this is fundamental to our very humanity.
Instead of ridiculing those who seek to find belonging in movements with dehumanizing ideologies, we need to build movements that affirm people's dignity, because they can offer a sense of belonging while having a greater, shared purpose for the world.
Ultimately, QAnon to me is a provocation and a mirror that shows that the concept and practice of "sacred activism" needs to be deepened, so we can build movements that are both spiritual and political, that combine structural analysis of the systems of power with shadow work (addressing the internalized patterns of racist and patriarchal bias as well as the deeper wounds and patterns of collective trauma), while building community, regenerating bioregions and focusing on the vision of a post-capitalist, post-imperialist world that can bring together those who are currently still divided.