Here, Lily Silverton investigates the unlikely marriage of right-wing conspiracy theorists and the wellness industry
Over the past few months you may have noticed a shift in the accounts of the wellness influencers you follow (or, indeed, avoid). Bikini handstands, artful açai bowl and quasi-spiritual quotes have been joined by Bill Gates, 5G, Q-Anon and Covid-19 vaccines. Welcome to the world of ‘conspirituality’, a seemingly unlikely convergence of alt-right conspiracists and New Age wellness influencers.
On podcasts, saccharine Instagram accounts and in socially-distanced yoga classes across the world, we’re witnessing the rise of a distrust in #msm (mainstream media) and a call to search for the “truth” while watching out for the “evil forces” at work. Above all, we must not trust “them” (them referring to a secret, shady, globalist (Jewish) – cohort that controls Governments, the MSM, WHO etc…).
What created this convergence? And is it as mismatched as it may first appear? The term conspirituality was first coined in 2011, however the anxiety-ridden waters of the pandemic, with its breakdown in knowledge and certainty, has created the conditions for the hashtags #yogagirl, #instameditation and #lightworker to sit comfortably alongside #antilockdown, #antivaxxer and #scandemic.
Worldwide, levels of conspiracy beliefs are on the up – fuelled by social media and a decline in economic health and political trust. The rise within the wellness industry is really just a reflection of this general increase, and it’s not as surprising as it may initially seem.
For starters, conspiracy theories and dubious health claims in the wellness community are nothing new; it’s rife with anti-vaxx’ers, mistrust of government, and healers encouraging essential oils and homoeopathy (both of which remain scientifically unproven) as replacements to traditional, lifesaving medicine such as chemotherapy. If nature is the ultimate healer, and if purity of the body is paramount, then it’s not a big leap from ‘sugar is the enemy’ to ‘the fear of Covid-19 is more damaging to health than the virus itself’.
But more tellingly, there are significant overlaps between conspiracy and spirituality in general. The wellness industry is in part predicated on an alternative way of living and the search for truth – inviting individuals to “wake up”. Similarly, Q-Anon focuses on “hidden truth” and a “great awakening” of humanity. The “raising consciousness” cry of the anti-lockdown community is a common message heard and read in yoga classes and self-help books across the world.
The wellbeing community has long distrusted and criticised mainstream institutions. And many of those criticisms were justified. Drug companies have proved dangerous to our health, the global food industry has committed unthinkable environmental and human rights violations, and the mainstream media was involved in the largest phone tapping scandal ever known. It’s important to question the status-quo, it’s important to #doyourownresearch (as the Q-Anon hashtag encourages), but if your sources are exclusively Youtube or Facebook, then it’s also important to question your research itself.
Anyway, is any of this a problem? Does anyone actually care if a few yoga teachers are encouraging people not to take the vaccine or to #savethechildren (the baffling conspiracy theory that forms the basis of Q-Anon and takes attention away from the important organisations who have been committed to this for decades)?
Well, yes. A popular, multi-trillion-dollar sector, the wellness industry’s huge reach and influence has the power to bring people into these conspiracies that previously would not have had any contact with the alt-right. And young people following these Instagram and Tiktok influencers are particularly vulnerable to their misinformation campaigns. Polling shows that up to 50% of respondents in the UK have reservations about the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine, even though this seems our best hope for preventing 1% of the global population, 80 million people, dying.
Truth, consciousness, “waking up” ¬– it’s all more important now than ever. The past year has been, frankly, insane. We have a global pandemic, a worldwide recession, a climate emergency, and structural & societal cracks that are starting to be acknowledged, if not adequately addressed. However, from a community who have traditionally steered clear of politics or global issues, instead each preferring to be “on my own path”, it’s heart-breaking that so many teachers and healers are now opting to offer up right-wing ideas appealingly packaged in spiritual language.
It’s not easy to argue with a conspiracy theorist, as no amount of fact-based rebuttal works if someone doesn’t trust science or the #msm. (Watch Bafta winning satiricist Heydon Prowse prove just how true this is in this lasagne-based video).
However, it is easy to #doyourownresearch. Not on Youtube, but in peer-reviewed scientific journals and/or by talking to any doctor or medical practitioner you may know.
Ultimately, in difficult times it’s always been easier to blame an enemy – the “evil forces” – than simply admit that life feels tough and deeply unfair. The most important “truth” we can be seeking right now, is that.
Lily Silverton is London-based journalist, meditation teacher and mindset coach @lily_silverton