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New Religions at a Dangerous Crossroads
Letter to a fellow academic heretic.
Late last year as I raced around from various comment sections to try and promote this outfit to other Substackers I kept coming across a familiar avatar. It belonged to Winston Smith of Escaping Mass Psychosis Substack. I subscribed to his newsletter and we exchanged a few interesting emails those first months. I still don’t know his real name, or much about him and vice versa but I enjoy his writings and understand his academic background is in psychology.
I recently reached out to him with the aim of some collaborative writing experiment to be exchanged on Substack. He quickly agreed and we narrowed the basic rules down to no sources or searches for information. We just write from first thoughts so we don’t get bogged down in minutiae, and only edit for grammar and readability.
I write a letter to him, and he responds when he can, and we proceed from there in what might be multiple exchanges over weeks. We each choose our own titles and graphics.
Thanks for agreeing to this dialogue.
I wasn’t sure where to begin but somehow suspect wherever I do will have too great of a role in guiding our exchange, so without thinking about my guilt in whatever results from that, I might as well dump what’s on my mind and hope for the best. I accept no responsibility for my limitations toward any negative outcome and trust you will carry me as far as possible in this collaborative experiment.
If one is to believe something or hold a set of beliefs about a particular topic it is usually influenced by a number of factors that we can assume fall into the nurture category. Then we can perhaps narrow that more specifically to experiential past, childhood, social influences, cultural influences of where they live, parental influences, peer pressure, and so forth until we arrive at some general causes or factors for one’s beliefs that are carried through their lives.
Rather than concern ourselves with these factors or any set of beliefs in particular for now, how do these shape and form an individual’s ability to discern information that they obtain and how they decide to accept or deny that information as part of their wider set of beliefs? I'm not seeking to get bogged down in any epistemological trenches here, because that would bore the hell out of our readers. I’m more interested in those less willing to accept information, those we might call skeptics or who historically were called heretics for not accepting dominant beliefs. These days the word 'conspiracy theorist' gets bandied about as a pejorative with similar implications.
For those who are indoctrinated into a ‘cult’ for example, or who hold a set of beliefs that deviate from the vast majority of demographics within a social body we often put all those beliefs outside some established box filled with socially acceptable norms and hence the designation of ‘cult’ or ‘cult member’. This deviation from the social norms usually results in a social cost to pay for the individual and need not be limited simply to one’s beliefs.
Today we have all manner of new methods of being 'influenced' by information that mold our beliefs, whether technological or decentralized, or distributed. What perhaps they used to call the 'global village', we are interconnected through technology beyond our local influences. These are now the dominant sources of information distribution and consumption and are centrally controlled by ever-smaller concentrations of power. I have called these technologies ‘herding systems’, that seek to control, manipulate and funnel the masses in the same direction, reinforcing ideas and beliefs through a kind of digital hive mind.
It seems self-evident then that if one declares themselves not part of something, even if others point to what they claim is scientific evidence, they are denying the tenets of whatever it is that group of people believes and are a ‘non-believer’. The more significant those tenets are in shaping that group's world the stronger they adhere to them, and the more of an outsider the non-believer becomes. If it is their (the group) entire raison d'etre then the more of a threat that outsider becomes, especially if their views are ever expressed that challenge or expose that groups’ beliefs in a way that reveals them to be worthy of greater scrutiny.
It usually happens that sooner or later the non-believer will be challenged to justify their reasons for being so and if any undermine or challenge the beliefs of that group they become a kind of virus that has been introduced into this social body. This can also happen in the digital sphere when one finds themselves in an echo chamber of people reinforcing their established views and dares challenge them.
There exists what scientists consider a foundational body of knowledge that has emerged through the process of scientific discovery, but also what we personally consider truths or beliefs that don’t adhere to those rigorous standards. That foundational body of knowledge, however, which is molded and shaped by academia (often funded by outside sources with an agenda) has a tremendous influence on what informs personal beliefs.
What happens though if the dominant set of beliefs, whether globally or in a locality we might call the western world becomes the ‘cult’ even if rooted in scientific discovery that has been corrupted or flawed? It may never get that disparaging label of ‘cult’ even if the existence of cult-like attributes are present.
Twenty years ago was the start of a new atheist movement in the west. There were popular books by Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennet. It wasn’t necessarily that atheism suddenly became popular across the west, as it was safe for these thinkers and others to capture some popular sentiments and capitalize on them at the right moment. Atheism in the United States for example had a much larger rise to prominence with the counter-culture revolution of the 1960s, even if the pretense to ‘be religious’ or hold religious views of one kind or another still hung by a social thread for decades henceforth.
With 'new atheism' it became fashionable in millennial circles to question all religious dogmas and orthodoxies and embrace scientific discovery and exploration (once again for the third time in as many centuries?) as a new kind of ‘guiding light’, but this time one that had no need for religion at all, and even asserted that religions were historically sources of more harm than good, which was also not a new assertion. There were declarations made that if humanity were to ever “progress” through the guiding light of science it would need to let go of these ancient dogmas.
At some point in the past decade, the pendulum began to swing back in the other direction. People like Jordan Peterson began to speak out and gained popularity rather quickly in his fight against the Canadian Parliament legislating compelled speech. A conservatism that absorbed politically homeless marooned liberals and even religious conservatism to some degree has risen to become the counterculture.
I recently observed in a piece that in the absence of religion or religious beliefs something was always going to fill that void. The obvious example often proffered here is the replacement with communism as a new religion that was just as deadly as ancient religions and led to massive human suffering in just the last century alone, and yet doesn't appear to be finished with its mission.
Today we have the resurgence of something similar with leftist totalitarian tinged functionaries that view the managerial state as its new (old/communism) religion (support, guidance, control, power) that can further its other tenets such as wokeism, the various identity movements (DIE) rooted in progressive and Marxist critical studies that explicitly undermine basic science, and even what I would call the cult of climate change or the green cult.
What they all appear to have in common (other than ideological aims to remake the world) is they claim to be rooted in academic research, even if much of it is made up or fabricated to benefit an ideological agenda, yet still peer-reviewed and published as if to merely reinforce that agenda at the level of information dissemination. I’m thinking of the "Grievance Studies Affair” here as just one event that exposed this academic corruption but as someone who has been around academia (probably for too long) I’ve seen it up close and first hand in the social sciences. The EU is particularly insidious in this regard, funding projects that tend to reinforce the dominant neoliberal views of Brussels bureaucrats, or popular beliefs of far-left activists, and any study that might challenge or undermine the social and political engineering agendas of this tribe is simply not funded.
Where these new academic cults diverge is in academic disciplines where the green cult relies on climate science, climatology, or paleoclimatology, or what we call hard sciences that gain an unfalsifiable status once rooted.
What are the science-based assertions of the green cult?
At the root of the green cult are three undeniable claims. The climate of the earth is warming, which will make life inhospitable for our species. Man is responsible. If we don’t act immediately we are all doomed. I might be throwing some straw in here but probably not much. The die-hard cultists adhere to these axioms more or less and they number in the hundreds of millions across the west.
Now, by the definition of ‘cult’ that I gave previously, this wouldn’t be considered a cult, but it has all the hallmarks of cult attributes including a doomsday prophecy for humankind. One who doesn’t adhere to the tenets prescribed by this group is always met with the claim that “the science is settled” on this subject which is in itself very anti-scientific, and any manner of questioning is met with despondency as if asking “How could you not believe that this is happening?”
Forgive my skepticism if not cynicism with their assertions. In my lifetime alone we’ve been subjected to the hysteria around a new Ice Age, ozone layer depletion that ended up completely reversing due to action that was taken (?), the end of glaciers and polar bears, and just twenty years ago claims were made that beachfront cities were supposed to be under water by now due to rising sea levels, while those who made those claims (and profit from policies guided by them) keep buying up beachfront mansions at sea level in places like The Hamptons, Miami Beach, Hawaii, and Martha’s Vineyard.
Perhaps much of this can be categorized in the fallacies of popular belief propagated by those with an agenda to control the masses. This problem is rooted in the fact that people seem eager to believe whatever it is they are told, with the presumption that as long as it’s rooted in “the science” it must be so. What Christopher Hitchens more aptly said was “taking refuge in the false security of consensus" especially if that consensus is not rooted in facts. He was, more than likely, referring to religion but if these are all merely new religions then the sentiment of the warning still holds. This is just one of the contradictions that makes scientism as a new religion so dangerous.
If this scientific community reaches a consensus does that make something true or worthy of being labeled as foundational knowledge?
I can’t help but think of the past two years of “science” and “medicine” now when thinking of climate science. If medical science could be so corrupted as to print lie after lie in peer-reviewed once hollowed journals like The Lancet, or New England Journal of Medicine in order to manipulate and control the popular narratives (and people's beliefs and actions) what other ‘popular beliefs’ are rooted in corrupted science that informs those whose new religion is scientism?
There’s a caricature of the person who embraces scientism that comes to mind here. The people on attention networks like Twitter who become temperamental when their views are challenged often resort to demands of sources. “I need a source for that!” or simply “Source?!” This is another quaint deficiency of the communication technology that isn't interested in substantive conversations but rather performative debate 'sleight of hands'. Here the maneuver is to imply one's claims are not evidence until proven true by some source that has been peer-reviewed or if the bar is very low, simply a source that has been 'fact checked' by the information gatekeeper functionaries charged with narrative management.
This brings me full circle to where I started and the acquisition of information to nurture beliefs. How does one acquire information through a process that keeps or rejects assertions and molds their views today in a world where much of academic science appears corrupted and cults and cult-like thinking dominate the populations of the west? Where information is limited to what powerful forces in technology monopolies in collusion with government agencies decide what is true or false?
It seems one needs to be brave and courageous these days in that process and very, very skeptical. Perhaps we used to simply call this critical thinking. Was it Bertrand Russell who said that the greatest problem of our age is that fools and ideologues are so certain of things, and wiser people so full of doubts?
Has the process of individual critical thinking that goes against popular views been intentionally subverted through mob-like demands of conformity with all the backing of corporations and states? That's the prerequisite nature of cults, isn't it? Those who are by nurture or nature critical thinkers have to be silent, pretend to assimilate, or resort to starting a substack to express their views.
It’s difficult not to notice the liberal roots of these new interconnected religions used to be populated with skeptics, heretics, dissidents, non-believers, and even contrarians like Christopher Hitchens long before they ever devolved into religions. The dissidents had a home in the liberal community, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer as this group of the wider left that has merged with the neoliberal globalist order seems intent on embracing new religious dogmas rooted in scientism, which is quite convenient when they control all the sources of funding that flow to the academy and resultant studies that flow from the academy. Much of it will determine not just government policies, but the financial largesse of Oligarchs posing as benevolent philanthropists and other corporate behemoths.
The most concerning issue now is that these new religions have been embraced wholeheartedly if not captured completely by the powerful institutions of the west, from all governments, their controlling oligarchs, to finance, technology, corporate marketing, advertising, entertainment, professional sports, and even the church. Trust in institutions that need to be trustworthy to function properly has faded quickly in recent years, and justifiably so. The damage may be irreparable.
Today it seems we're at some crossroads with scientism. Historically obsessions with science have led to human suffering too, for example, the rise of the eugenics movement, Charles Davenport (Thomas Huxley in Britain?), Cold Springs Harbor funded with Rockefeller and Carnegie money, and all the dark corners where that historically went through world war two or rather still is going in the shadows of the U.S. Military collaborating with biotechnology and pharma industries.
Likewise with Behavioralism of the mid-twentieth century and how that has informed social engineers and technocrats who seek to dominate and control others. (Not that the two aren’t interconnected with the stated desires of our present overlords).
We can see both in the declarations and desires of our new scientific schemers infatuated with playing God and bioengineering some superior post-human version of our species, (Kurzweil, Harari, Schwab, Gates, etc.) but apparently not before first getting rid of a good portion of it.
This crossroads with new religions is either going to take us deeper into a new dark age, or something much darker. An ominous turn for humanity we might have considered unfathomable just two decades ago.
The other direction is more optimistic. If enough people realize what’s happening, then perhaps we might enter a new renaissance, in what people are already calling The Great Awakening.
Having covered far more terrain than I intended, I hereby defer.
Winston Smith is busy on the Podcast circuit promoting a new book (?) but has agreed to respond within a week or so. I’ll send out an email notification when he does. You can also subscribe to his Substack here and get his response directly to your inbox along with his other great works.
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