Choose your Naomi: Cry Wolf or think Klein


Choose your Naomi: Cry Wolf or think Klein

KERNEELS BREYTENBACH considers two Naomis — Klein, the level-headed intellectual, and Wolf, the crackpot and fabricator of conspiracies.


WHY do Americans struggle so much to park their gigantic egos for a bit? When you read Naomi Klein's bestseller Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World, you see how Klein gets a massive headache every time Naomi Wolf opens her mouth. What will people think of her now, wonders Klein.

It's about the two Naomis — Klein, the balanced, level-headed intellectual; and Wolf, the former intellectual turned far-right conspiracy theorist who is now one of the main philosopher-thinkers on Steve Bannon's War Room podcast.

Once they were on the same page. Wolf's feminist work The Beauty Myth (1991) inspired Klein in the way it linked the beauty industry to patriarchal financial exploitation; like Wolf's book, Klein's No Logo (1999) had capitalism and the globalisation movement in its crosshairs.

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Although Wolf has been described by Camille Paglia as a weak researcher with a dubious education, her subsequent publications (Fire with Fire, Promiscuities, Misconceptions, The Treehouse, The End of America, Give Me Liberty, and Vagina: A New Biography) have regularly put her in the news as someone willing to debunk misconceptions.

She is often criticised for her casual handling of unproven facts, but her moment of exposure only came after the publication of Outrages in 2019, when Matthew Sweet confronted her on the BBC radio interview. In Outrages, she claims that in Britain, men were executed for sodomy well into the 19th century. Sweet directly pointed out, on air, that she misunderstood the term “death recorded" in court documents — the men were not hanged; their guilty verdicts were recorded, and they were released.

The US publisher of Outrages withdrew the book. Everyone thought Wolf's days as an intellectual celebrity were numbered. Meanwhile,  Klein has solidified her place in the ranks of sober thinkers with books such as The Shock Doctrine (about capitalist exploitation of natural disasters and political unrest), This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, and now the book that tells the story of the two Naomis, Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World.

Clueless fools

Well, here is where things start to get seriously weird. After Wolf's downfall, Covid makes its appearance. Wolf rediscovers her inner fighting spirit. In a moment of enlightenment, she realises the man on the American street is a clueless fool. You can tell him anything, and if it even remotely sounds like a government conspiracy, in cahoots with the capitalists, he'll pick up his weapons and defend you in the last trenches.

Wolf appears on Tucker Carlson and Steve Hilton's programmes on Fox News and becomes the leading crusader against vaccination. Her imagination knows no bounds. One example: vaccine passports are “the most dangerous weapon humanity has ever faced in its lifetime". She lashes out at China but is most in her element when she can concoct conspiracies. One Wolf scream can contain 10 factual errors.

If you've ever wondered where all the wild stories about Covid vaccinations came from, there's a strong chance Wolf created them. Here's one of her original gems about the so-called micro-secrets of the vaccines that China supposedly implanted, as stated on Hilton's Fox programme: 

It’s not about the vaccine, it’s not about the virus, it’s about your data … What people have to understand is that any other functionality can be loaded onto that platform with no problem at all. And what that means is, it can be merged with your PayPal account, with your digital currency, Microsoft is already talking about merging it with payment plans, your networks can be sucked up, it geolocates you everywhere you go. Your credit history can be included, all of your medical history can be included.

We became aware of that one. Millions of people, ignorant and struggling to keep their mouths shut during mumbling time, believed it.

One can understand Klein's consternation. For years, she graciously smiled when people confused her with Wolf (something that gained traction on Twitter then spread to all social media), but now, while  involved as an activist in Bernie Sanders's campaigns, Klein discovered that many people were starting to think she was the crackpot. And that's Wolf's domain, after all.

I mean, wouldn't you feel the same if people confused you with someone who solemnly proclaims, “vaccinated people’s urine/faeces needs to be separated from general sewage supplies/waterways until its impact on unvaccinated people’s drinking water is established".

Well, is this confusion really serious enough to base a whole book on? Can't Klein just get over herself? After all, everyone knows Wolf finds herself in one of the hairy corners of the spectrum.

It would be a big mistake to stigmatise and ignore scatterbrains like Bannon and Wolf, says Klein in Doppelganger. This is where the book veers from an ego hangup towards truly interesting insights. Klein tries to figure out why so many people believe Wolf's tall tales.

She finds that social media is the conveyor — people construct an image of themselves there in the way they want humanity to perceive them. Pale David from the accounting department turns into the superhero Ajax on his Twitter page, smashing all humbug with his word rapier. People can say anything — social media embraces an alternative reality, the world in the mirror, the way each contributor wants it to be reflected. Pale David is actually a Luddite but he's safely entrenched behind his social media avatar. Ajax, the fighter against Wickedness.

If the president can lie

On social media, everyone can build their own brand. It doesn't matter if it has any connection to reality. Brand builders are after a certain kind of power: the power to influence people. “Narcissism (Grandiosity) + Social media addiction + Midlife crisis ÷ Public shaming = Right-wing meltdown," writes Klein, summing up the process that played out in the Trump era. If the president can lie, why can't I?

Klein's obsession with Wolf allows her to see other things as well. Wolf is someone who frequently says on Bannon's podcasts that she only asks the questions that need to be asked. The thing is, she also suggests the answers but never does any follow-up. Because since the ousting of Trump, everyone knows answers and explanations no longer matter. They're irrelevant. All you have to do is hold onto something, anything, as a “fact" then proceed as if it is. If someone exposes you, you question their agenda and insult their personality.

But because we live in a time when the fascism of the mind is all-encompassing, the left-intellectual grouping isn't bothered by Wolf and Bannon. Nothing can be as damning as a leftie who's has taken a dislike to something or someone. Beware, says Klein: the conspiracy theorists “get the facts wrong but often get the feelings right".

What is needed is to recognise that those “feelings" are the bait people use to profit from human hardship and setbacks, and they feel like someone is withholding the real truth from them. However, the cause of this is not individuals; it's the entire capitalist system.

Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World is a fascinating book. It brings me joy to report that Klein finally recovers from her Wolf obsession and moves on to the realisation that she must sublimate her voluminous ego to the larger ideals that happen to align with the ideological direction of which Sanders is the great prophet.

Her conclusion is that nothing can be done about the lamentable triumph of falsehoods unless people stand together against it. Remove selfishness from politics; practise unselfing.

The future holds so much promise, as our own president knows all too well.

♦ VWB ♦

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