By Guy Crittenden
This article is not about the world's problems — though I'll use examples to make my point. Instead, the concern is how we discuss important issues, or rather our inability to do so due to a phenomenon that polarizes, nullifies or stultifies attempts to rationally evaluate challenges and solutions. I refer to the concept of "heresy" — a phenomenon that arises naturally from people's biases or circumscribed states of consciousness, that's sometimes encouraged as agitprop by individuals, governments and corporations, to achieve objectives of hegemony or natural resource exploitation (or other objectives).
We can most easily appreciate what a heresy is by considering ones that prevailed in older or very different cultures, where their absurdity is pronounced with distance; it's often tougher to identify and see past contemporary ones, in which we may be immersed like the proverbial fish that doesn't know about water.
Consider the situation in which Galileo found himself when he explained to the medieval church elders his observing more planets in our solar system than the number recorded in the Bible. When the elders rejected his claim, Galileo invited them to look through his telescope and see for themselves.
"That device is an instrument of the devil," the elders replied, refusing to look through it.
Galileo had stumbled into a heresy: for the church authorities, a truth that contradicted the sacred text of the Bible was an impossibility. For them, the Bible was truth itself. Their dogma conditioned their thoughts such that anything counter to the dominant narrative was not only deemed wrong, automatically, but a dangerous affront. Subversion! Sedition! Galileo was sanctioned by the church and threatened with burning at the stake, not (as we'd assume) to punish him for his wayward thoughts so much as in the hope a short bout of intense suffering would cause him to accept and confess the truth in his dying moments and thereby be spared eternal suffering in the flames of hell. (Galileo played ball with the elders, at least enough to avoid this fate.)
Naturally, we moderns think ourselves superior to these christian dogmatists, yet we should consider that every age has its dogmas, and ours is no exception. And neither am I. Years ago a friend gave me a book for my birthday. It was Cambridge scientist Rupert Sheldrake's book The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Unexplained Powers of Human Minds. The book — which you can read about here — is a serious scientific exploration of telepathy — a phenomenon that Sheldrake (in this and other books and experiments) demonstrates is real. (Really!) I started reading the book, but put it down quickly when the author explored how a person can somehow sense an unseen person's gaze, even from afar. At that time I firmly believed in a physical world made up of atoms in which telepathy simply wasn't possible. This so-called "realist" view contrasts with the "idealist" viewpoint (which I now espouse) that admits of such possibilities as the universe being made of conscious awareness (mind stuff, from which matter is derived).
Sheldrake has spent his career exposing the gaping holes in the materialists' assumptions. Using a theory of "morphic resonance" Sheldrake has exasperated promoters of the materialist orthodoxy such as Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene), who generally refuse to debate him or look at his work, despite that Sheldrake's results are replicable using the scientific method. For them, telepathy is simply impossible in a material world, just as the number of planets stated in the Bible was an unshakable truth for the church elders. Telepathy is therefore a heresy, and heresies cannot be entertained.
Unlike a mere difference of opinion, a heresy threatens a dogma and its admission risks undermining the world view of adherents. (For some people, my statement about Sheldrake's telepathy findings will be reason enough to stop reading this article.) Sensing a threat to their comfortable view of a given matter, or even existence itself, many people will defend their paradigms unto their last dying breath, even if those paradigms don't ultimately serve their own interests, and even if they threaten to degrade or end life on this planet.
Here's a list of some heresies I've discovered in contemporary culture — some substantial and others more trivial — the existence of which make discussion about problems and collaboration on solutions difficult, if not impossible. In no particular order:
- Paradoxes in climate science: At the top of this column I posted a chart from an article that discusses the paradox that global warming is expected to heat the planet unevenly, potentially confusing observers with conflicting signals. Warmer air in the far north will disrupt the Arctic jet stream, causing it to "wobble" and spread cold Arctic air further south for periods of time. How often have we heard someone say, "If global warming is real, how come this is one of the coldest winters we've ever experienced?" My point here isn't to make any final pronouncement about the degree to which human activity is causing this or that specific change to the climate (I leave that to the experts); instead, I present this as an example of an issue that will play into many people's confirmation bias. If they're inclined to believe the narrative of anthropogenic climate change, they'll accept the paradox of colder winter spells in a world that's warming overall. If they're inclined to think it's all a hoax, they'll place greater weight on their direct observation of cold weather contradicting (what they regard as) dubious claims.
This bifurcation of opinion is actively stoked by activists on both sides, who are bellicose at times, to the extent that some very important conversations have become almost impossible. Anyone questioning the global warming narrative is labeled a "denier" which, as with the Holocaust, silences discussion. People on the other side may similarly consider believers "dupes." Meaningful debate doesn't occur because the issue is somehow sacrosanct. This is dangerous in regard to such a potentially serious concern. Discussion of climate change is a heresy now if it doesn't conform to prescribed boundaries.
Some readers might think I'm offering a dog whistle here to those who don't believe the burning of fossil fuels poses a risk to the climate and ecosystems. Not at all. Instead, I invite people to look at the risks that arise when a viewpoint is deemed heretical. In the case of global warming, Canadian journalist and activist Cory Morningstar encountered vitriol from some readers to her in-depth article series The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg because they couldn't distinguish the point Morningstar was making from their ideological assumptions. (I took some arrows even defending her.) Morningstar argues that the same network of neoliberal policymakers, global monopoly capital corporations, and non-profit organizations that have helped facilitate neocolonial and regime-change agendas cannot be trusted to democratically discover and implement solutions for climate, especially since some helped caused (or funded) the problem in the first place.
Ergo the absurd spectacle of Extinction Rebellion members protesting outside the Bolivian Embassy in London, repeating propaganda that socialist president Evo Morales helped set the Amazon fires which he in fact helped fight directly. (The Guardian newspaper ran a particularly odious article asserting this claim.) Extinction Rebellion was led to unwittingly support a narrative that was ultimately part of selling a violent US-backed coup against one of the world's most egalitarian countries, and a popular democratically elected president who has done more for the majority of his country's population — most of whom are indigenous — than any other. (US-trained death squads are now hunting down political dissdents in that country and killing them, and the new government's first action in power was to transfer Bolivia's reserves to the United States.) This dovetails nicely with Morningstar's concern: that we'll find the right answers to the wrong questions. That top-down solutions will be imposed by corporate and other oligarchies rather than upward-flowing solutions from society's grassroots. That technocratic schemes that don't solve the problem (but which enrich investors) will win favour via public relations schemes from "Astroturf" groups in what Morningstar calls the Non Profit Industrial Complex, in place of sweeping cultural and other shifts that could come from other places (e.g., from speaking with indigenous leaders).
No discussion was possible even (and especially) with committed environmentalists because Morningstar ran into a heresy: she sounded the alarm against the possible hijacking of the environmental movement by forces such as the deep state and neoliberal foundations; but all the activists could hear — because of the heresy — was Morningstar "attacking" idealistic young Greta Thunberg (which she was not) like she was kicking Bambi. Fronting their plans with a young woman arguably enabled the backers of questionable schemes to silence debate, and avoid a conversation we desperately need to have. The proponents of globalized monopoly capital now control a conversation that should include questioning the future of globalized monopoly capital! Many activists can't see this; instead, it looks to them like the polluters and proponents of endless war have come around at last! Pity the fool who gets in their way, as they cheerlead for solutions that may not work.
- Political "conspiracy theories": The CIA famously promoted the term "conspiracy theory" to discredit anyone questioning the official findings of the Warren Commission in regard to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This was so effective that for more than a half century the reality of what happened on that fateful day in 1963 has remained obscured for most people, even though subsequent investigations (including some official ones) substantiate there was a conspiracy to kill the president and Oswald didn't act alone (or even at all). Though the sands of public opinion are shifting and more than 70 per cent of Americans today believe there was a coverup in regard to JFK's murder, for the longest time the JFK narrative was a heresy and anyone questioning it was deemed a tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist. The same is now true for anyone questioning the official explanation for the events of 9/11, with skeptics labeled "truthers" despite the emergence of disturbing evidence that at least some people within the US government knew about the attacks ahead of time. (Again, I'm not saying what happened, but find it galling we can't talk about this stuff, especially with Facebook and other social media platforms now regularly deleting and programs or articles that run counter to official narratives.)
Fast-forward to today and we see all kinds of "heresies" that propagandists from the state, the corporate world and the mainstream media promote, to manage public opinion and manufacture consent for perpetual war. As much as a billion dollars (perhaps more) has been spent by the United States, the UK and other countries reframing President Assad of Syria as a "brutal dictator murdering his own people" to build acceptance of the invasion of that country by violent militants in a proxy war that has little to do with humanitarian concerns and everything to do with the hegemonic goals of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, plus Israeli and the US regional interests, and competing gas pipe projects, as Robert Kennedy Jr pointed out in a brilliant article in Politico: "Why the Arabs don't want us in Syria."
Questioning the official Syria narrative is a heresy, as US presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard (who met with Assad) has discovered, with talk show hosts sandbagging her with leading questions that assume, for instance, Assad has used poison gas against his own people (the presumption being that a person of conscience would not meet with such a monster). Gabbard is in a double bind: she's damned if she says nothing, and also if she takes the time (which most TV programs don't afford) to explain that these accusations are false, having been debunked by Pulitzer prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh in a series of articles in the London Review of Books (the only outlet that would publish the news). Unsurprisingly, the shills for war on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News never mention Hersh's articles "Whose Sarin?" and "The Red Line and the Rat Line" the content of which were enough to stop President Obama's plan to put a No Fly Zone over Syria, which would have ultimately led to ISIS and al-Qaida affiliates taking over the country and destroying it just as they did Libya.
Recently a similar debunking occurred when first one, then a second, whistleblower, emerged from within the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPWC) to reveal the organization falsified results of their investigation into an alleged chemical weapons attack in a "rebel controlled" area of Syria, supporting the story that chlorine gas bombs were dropped by Assad's forces on a building, when it was apparent they'd been manually placed, and tests showed no signs of chlorine beyond normal background levels. This is a very serious matter: an international organization that evaluates the threat of chemical warfare has been caught lying about events that provided the excuse for cruise missiles attacks against against a sovereign country, one of whose allies is a nuclear power. With a narcissist in the White House with access to the nuclear launch codes, can the world really endure "heresies" such as the one that prevents informed discussion about the proxy war on Syria? And with what's been threatened against Iran, are we not risking a nuclear conflagration here?
It would be a long article indeed that listed and evaluated every heresy out there that stifles informed debate. You can seek out other heresies for yourself, of which there are many. Here's a short list of ideas to get you started. Again, my purpose in listing these items isn't to sway your opinion one way or another; instead, it's to alert you to the heresies associated with them that may prevent an open-eyed investigation and subsequent conversation. I invite readers to look past their own confirmation bias and investigate at least a few of these subjects for themselves. Some of these items are so heretical that my even listing them will trigger some people, so be warned! (And note that a strong emotional reaction is often a tell that a heresy is in place.) My list for your consideration includes:
- Coup d'état in Latin America (and elsewhere): In a disturbing recapitulation of the dirty wars of the 1970s and 80s in places like Chile, Argentina and Guatemala, CIA-backed coups are underway in Central and South America. Compare the way events are reported in the mainstream news about Venezuela and Bolivia (especially in regard to securing cheap access to Lithium for Green New Deal technologies) with reports from independent alternative media such as Pushback with Aaron Maté or The Jimmy Dore Show and you'll find yourself going through the looking glass into apparent alternate realities. You'll soon find yourself picking up on other heresies in mainstream reporting.
- Middle East and African conflicts: I've already mentioned Syria. Dig around a bit and you'll find more heresies associated with that conflict zone, and others in the region. MSNBC managed to go a whole year without mentioning (even once) the siege war Saudi Arabia is waging with US help against Yemen — the poorest country in the Middle East. It's a heresy in mainstream media to talk honestly about the so-called White Helmets rescue organization about which a flattering Academy Award winning documentary was made, that UK independent journalist Vanessa Beeley has exposed as a propaganda construct founded by former British military officer James Le Mesurier (who was recently found dead in suspicious circumstances). Of course, the media disparages Beeley and the independent outlets that publish her work as "conspiracy theory" outlets, when the real conspiracy the one from the corporate and state media that keeps the public in the dark about the real nature of the Syrian war. Heresy also swirls around the State of Israel and its relationship with the Palestinian people, about which insights may be gleaned from such films as The Occupation of the American Mind, narrated by Roger Waters (which compares and contrasts how the conflict in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem is reported in the United States against coverage of those topics in other places, such as Europe).
- Vaccines and cancer treatments: It's impossible to question such the current vaccine schedule for children in the United States and its growing number of jabs without being called a child or baby killer. Without trying to convince you of anything, I simply invite readers to consider that questioning vaccine safety is a heresy — so much so that no link can be found on Google to an excellent documentary series I wanted to share. That's right: the world's largest search engine is making it impossible (or at least difficult) to find information that contradicts mainstream assumptions about vaccines. Even if you think vaccines are generally safe, please understand: this is an example of a heresy. I believe (and Robert Kennedy Jr has won court cases over this) that corruption can arise when a whole class of drugs is deemed too important to discuss critically, with anyone who dares to do so deemed unstable and dangerous. The same is true of cancer treatments, where acceptance is widespread of conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, some of which oncologists (when polled) would not accept for themselves. It can be heretical to question these treatments and also to promote alternative ones such as high-THC cannabis oil, despite mounting evidence about cannabis' potential efficacy in killing cancer cells with minimal side effects.
- Other heresies: There are many heresies and orthodoxies in politics, geopolitics and religion (to name but a few categories). it's actually fun to discover new ones for yourself. The more obvious ones are less interesting (e.g., adultery is a heresy in fundamentalist religions). More interesting are the ones that fly under the radar, subtly conditioning people's minds to accept policies and practices that aren't in their interests. One example is the way many Americans think they must support either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, and that no new third party could ever win an election. For a while it was a heresy to question the Russiagate conspiracy theory that was heavily promoted by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. (The theory was eventually debunked, notably in an article series Aaron Maté wrote for The Nation.) For some people it's a heresy to question "capitalism," as though any investigation of its pros and cons opens the doors to a totalitarian dystopia. (Ironically, failing to question capitalism may be leading to just such an outcome in North American and some European countries.) Many people cannot distinguish capitalism as an economic system from forms of governance such as socialism, and this is not an accident. Capitalist countries tend to encourage just such confusion. And then there are the whistleblowers, some of whom have been vilified in the press. Julian Assange, for example, languishes in a British prison and has been abandoned by many liberal supporters after a multi-year smear campaign impugned his character, funded by intelligence agencies furious about his exposure of American war crimes in Iraq (among other things). The man has become a living heresy. (Thankfully Australian blogger Caitlin Johnstone wrote a detailed refutation of each and every aspersion.)
Here's to your happy hunting for heresies! May you have the courage to confront them whenever you find them, and especially to your having the courage to consider the options that challenge your most deeply-held beliefs. To help you in your search, I suggest you cultivate news and information resources outside the mainstream that are (ideally) audience funded and not beholden to state or corporate agendas. I wrote an article about just that recently with useful links that you can find here and another one about the propaganda bubble in which we live (that I call The Construct) which you can read here.
Environment and business journalist and award-winning book author (The Year of Drinking Magic: Twelve Ceremonies with the Vine of Souls, Apocryphile Press) based in Innisfil, Ontario, Canada and Principal of Crittenden Communication. Contact Guy at firstname.lastname@example.org