Truth and Conspiracy with Charles Eisenstein

Jul 15, 2020

Our society's war of narratives is preventing us from having thoughtful, meaningful conversations around a shared goal. How did we get here? And how can we hope to agree on conclusions if we also disagree on what counts as valid evidence?

Jeff: Okay. So thank you, Charles Eisenstein for being on the podcast. And I can say I'm not alone in my appreciation for your thought, your critical thinking and your writing on the topic of COVID. And I'll just maybe set the stage for where we are today globally on July 2nd with regards to the pandemic. Which now has an estimated 10.7 million global cases, 2.7 million of which are in the United States, over a half a million total global reported deaths, 128,000 of which are in the United States. And we are now currently experiencing, of course, if you believe mainstream news sources, a spike in reported cases in the United States to the tune of about 40,000 new cases per day.

Jeff: And we have seen other countries struggle such as Brazil, Russia, India, the UK to some degree, in controlling COVID. And then we've also seen some success stories in China to some degree. So there's some evidence of kind of new efflorescence of cases there, but certainly in many of the Island nations, Iceland, New Zealand, Taiwan, also Ireland, Norway, potentially the bigger success story in Germany.

Jeff: So kind of with that set up, I'll yield some of the balance of my time to you in terms of just, where are we with this? Why are some cultures and countries seem to be succeeding in managing this crisis and others are not?

Charles Eisenstein: Well, that's quite a tempting invitation, Jeff, to state my opinions as if they were fact, in answer to that question.

Jeff: Fair enough.

Charles Eisenstein: And then maybe people will believe me because of maybe how emphatically I state them and how much evidence that I can adduce to support them. And then like you can listen to somebody else who has a different opinion and who also states it very compellingly and draws up his own evidence. What I'm describing is what I've been going through, looking at different sources who come to radically different conclusions based on ... actually, not based on the same evidence, that's even a deeper part of the problem. It's not only that they disagree on their conclusions, they also disagree on what counts as valid evidence. Disagreeing on the Providence of the statistics and doubting their authenticity.

Charles Eisenstein: And it gets all clouded by the phenomenon of narrative warfare, where if you are in service to a certain storyline and the results that supports, then even if some data point comes along that's true. If it doesn't fit your narrative warfare, then you're going to ignore it or suppress it or scrutinize it. And we see this happening all the time, which makes it hard to trust anybody.

Charles Eisenstein: So as far as like these countries that you mentioned, that's part of the confusion for me. I have not found any really good explanation why ... you didn't even mention Japan, which is a hundred and whatever, 120, 130 million people crammed onto four little islands and many parts of Japan are virtually uninhabited. I mean, the greater Tokyo area has 36 million people. And you've seen ... I don't know if you've been to Tokyo, but most people have seen the pictures, it is crowded and they didn't have lockdown. And their cases were very, very low, like why? And we kind of have this go-to explanation, "Well, they were very successful in contact tracing and collectivist society, et cetera, people obey the rules and so forth." But that seems to be grasping at straws.

Charles Eisenstein: And so I don't think that we really have any idea what's going on here, even without the confusing maelstrom of data, conflicting sources of information. So right now ... yeah, you talked about we have a spike and some people I read are saying that is an artifact of more extensive testing. You test more people, of course you're going to have a lot more cases and I'm like, "Okay, is that actually true?" And if it is true, then we shouldn't be seeing a lot more people in the hospital, so let me ask doctors that I know who are working in the trenches and look at what doctors are saying on Twitter feeds and stuff. Excuse me.

Charles Eisenstein: And I'm seeing a lot of, "Yeah, we test everybody and if they come in for cancer or they come in for dialysis or come in for something else. And they test positive for COVID, they are recorded as a COVID patient. It's a case of COVID, it gets fed into the national statistics and we're not seeing actually very many people with real symptoms of this disease." And then I'm like ... got a data point from another doctor, who's like, "Oh yeah, we're at 90% capacity and this is real."

Charles Eisenstein: I've seen more of the former than the latter. I saw a graph from Florida where alongside the spiking cases is a plummeting number of fatalities. And you mentioned at the beginning, at today's date, 128,000 in the US have died from COVID. And like that hasn't gone up that much actually, there haven't been more people dying. So who knows? And maybe the deaths will spike soon too, I don't know. But I do know that ... let me just say that I am deeply skeptical at this point and increasingly skeptical of the official narratives. And anyway, I could go on and on, but maybe I'll pause for a moment here.

Jeff: Yeah, sure. And I do want to understand what you see as the official narrative and the reasons for your skepticism. I do want to kind of unpack something that you mentioned around when you were talking about the example of Japan. And this is something I've been trying to square, which is that there is a rise in some parts of the world of authoritarianism. And I think you've eloquently outlined how authoritarianism might express itself in the world of COVID. So mask wearing, surveillance, locked down, infringements of other civil liberties.

Jeff: But what's curious to me, is that the authoritarian leaders in the West, Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Johnson to some degree ... I don't know if you'd categorize Putin as the West, Modi. They have been actually the champions of individual freedoms actually, which is odd for me because you'd think these are kind of more of the authoritarian kind of chest thumping leader type. And it has been the more social liberal democracies that have successfully engaged their citizenry to make sacrifices, to mask wear, to succumb to surveillance and certain infringements, in the name of the common good. I think of like Prime Minister Ardern in New Zealand, who could hardly be considered authoritarians yet she seemed to be able to get her citizenry in lockstep around recognizing the common good over their own individual self-interest. And I wonder what you see inside of there, if anything?

Charles Eisenstein: Yeah, there's a lot going on there. One is this blurring or mixing up of left and right, so that it's hard to distinguish who's left and who's right anymore. As you're saying traditionally, the right has been associated with authoritarianism and the left associated with defying authority, questioning authority, questioning everything, with upholding civil liberties and protecting them from the excesses of state power. And now we're seeing generally the people who are questioning the standard narrative of COVID, which you asked me what that is. That's essentially that there's a dangerous virus causing this disease that is going to kill millions or tens of millions of people if we don't quarantine and locked down. At first it was until we can flatten the curve and then it became until we get a vaccine.

Charles Eisenstein: But it is generally the left that is aligned with our scientific and medical authorities, at least that aspect of authority. And mostly of our political authorities too, I mean, there are some exceptions. Like Trump is definitely dragging his heels when it comes to quarantines and lock downs and stuff, but most of our governors and national leaders are going along with it at least, even the ones you mentioned, Trump or Bolsonaro are not resisting too much. Modi, I think is quite gung ho about lock downs and surveillance and stuff like that.

Charles Eisenstein: Anyway. But so it's this weird reversal of left and right, and I think one source of it is that the left has traditionally been aligned with science. Science, I mean, as an institution, as an establishment. Because originally science was opposed to the reactionary forces of religion, so science was progressive, it was actually overturning authority. Not too many generations ago, it was science that was the challenger, it was science ... it was a progressive force. As opposed to religion, which espoused conservative values, family values so-called, and obedience to authority, it was the social order. So there's still this legacy of left identity with science. Especially when it also seems to many that it is the denial of science or the failure to take it seriously, especially in the area of climate and ecology that is leading us towards down a path of destruction.

Charles Eisenstein: And I think that it is not actually that apparent to those on the left, that in fact the authority of science as an established institution is inseparable from the rest of our systems of authority in this civilization. That it is embedded within political authority, it is intimately tied to economic financial power, it is a central institution of our culture. And there's still this illusion that it is impartial and apolitical and in this altruistic pursuit of the truth, of the objective truth. Which is why ... and this belief about science is almost universal to some degree in our culture, although now there are more and more defecting from it. But that's why both sides always seek to invoke science as being on their side and the other side is not paying attention to the science.

Charles Eisenstein: So what is the science? How do you, as a lay person, know what the science is? Or even, how do you, as a scientist, know what it is? Generally, you gain that knowledge by what somebody is telling you the science is. You're not actually going into a lab and doing the science yourself, you have to take somebody's word for it. Either those who are in positions of authority, or those who are questioning authority. So there you have it.

Jeff: And would you say the, I suppose, the undermining of the institution of science and that sort of contributes to this post-fact or post truth society, fuels a lack of social cohesion, which is at the core-

Jeff: ... which is at the core of our inability to get our hands around this problem. And maybe that's not the issue. I mean, maybe it's not about social cohesion, and maybe perfect social cohesion wouldn't help us, but my sense is that if we all pretended that we were driving down the highway, just going as fast as the car in front of us, letting cars merge in regardless of their color and creed or whatever, that we were all playing our part in the social contract that we would have greater success, but because we cannot let alone agree, but even agree on the facts, it seems like there's this kind of dystopia which is prohibiting us from having thoughtful, meaningful conversations around a shared goal. I wonder what you attribute this undermining belief in the institution of science. Certainly you can point out like big pharmas sponsoring biased scientific studies for their own profiteering, but is there a deeper level than that?

Charles Eisenstein: Yeah, I agree with you. I do think that our dwindling trust in science is part of the unraveling of our social cohesion. We used to have a unifying story of what the world was and what progress was, not just economic progress, but also intellectual progress. We were ascending toward the complete understanding and mastery of the universe. In physics, it was called the theory of everything, and it looked like we were almost there actually even back in the 1940s or the 1950s. That unifying narrative has been breaking down, partly because of the reasons you mentioned, like the outright corruption of science, especially medical science, but I do think that there's something deeper afoot.

Charles Eisenstein: You mentioned post-truth or post-fact and I think that we are also coming to question some of the metaphysical assumptions of science which fundamentally is based on truth or fact existing... Let me say fact, actually, rather than truth, existing objectively outside of ourselves. It's a metaphysical assumption that says that you can isolate variables and isolate the effect of the experimenter on the experiment. You can standardize experiments and therefore repeat experiments, that the reality that you interrogate does not change according to what questions you ask and what beliefs you hold about that reality, that reality is something separate from ourselves. So these tenets, these axioms, I would even call them, have been coming into doubt actually for many reasons. One is that they are questionable within quantum mechanics, which confirms a relationship between the observed and the observer. So even on a scientific level, it has been decaying for almost a hundred years, this trust that science is the expression of truth and the road to truth.

Charles Eisenstein: And then I would also add, and I know I'm not alone here, that I've had many experiences in my life that science says are impossible, that could not have happened, that are not part of the reality that science narrates to us. And I know that many, many other people have had mystical experiences, experience of healing, psychedelic experiences, or have had relationships with indigenous people who hold different worldviews that do not correspond to the basic assumptions of science. You experience something like that or you go to a psychic who tells you something she could not possibly have known very specific to your past, not just, "Your third chakra is not spinning, but something absolutely detailed and accurate," or you go to an acupuncturist and your lifelong menstrual cramps, talking about a friend of mine that have resisted every treatment, disappear after one session, or the UFO phenomenon, which we've been told is a fantasy by the scientific consensus.

Charles Eisenstein: I once wrote an article, I quoted some guy, UFOs deserve as much study as Santa Claus. He was an astronomer and people were ridiculed as tinfoil hat wearing cranks to be studying UFOs. And now all of a sudden, actually I spent a couple of years now, the Navy confesses that they've been monitoring UFOs all the time and that they are unexplainable and bringing out videos and testimony from trained observers. And all of a sudden, something that has been out of bounds of reality is brought in. So you wonder how our faith in science is wavering, plus, if I can just continue my rant just for one little more minute?

Jeff: Please.

Charles Eisenstein: That the paradise, the utopia that science and it's child, technology, were supposed to bring us has not manifested, it has produced wonders. A cell phone, that was science fiction a generation ago. It has produced wonders, but has it actually delivered us into a society of greater joy and less suffering? Absolutely not. So as a religion, as a dogma, as a path for human betterment, it's lost some of the luster that it had in the '50s, with the hero scientist forging ahead into a brave new world where we would be free of disease and toil and even on the social level, the social engineers were going to construct society to eliminate poverty and racism and psychological anguish. None of this has come to pass. So it's not just science, but it's the entire world story that embeds it that is disintegrating, I would say.


Jeff: I think there may be an argument to be had on the role of science and how it has been able to potentially tame epidemics, pandemics, famine and also potentially war. If you subscribe to some sort of assured mutual destruction philosophy, or the global economy that's based around scientific intellectual property that is so reliant on it that it may prohibit or lessen the probability of going to war, but that not withstanding for a minute, I think that the point that you make around whether or not there is an objective truth to be had, whether or not you can separate humans experience of something from its existence, like gravity or relativity, can those things exist without our ability to perceive them? I don't know. I think that's open for discussion, but as it pertains more to sociology and our ability to function cooperatively within society, we do require some form of intersubjective truth, I believe, in order to cohere.

Jeff: And what I have witnessed is not necessarily the abandonment of the products of science, but almost the abandonment of its method to find some form of intersubjective truth. The notion of hypothesis, experiment, observation, deductive reasoning, modification of hypothesis, and then some form of thesis. We seem to have almost abandoned the rigor of that method in exchange for a very decentralized sense of intuition that then from a media or journalistic perspective, get spread by individual vectors, celebrities, influencers, and that becomes our means for understanding the world. And that seems to me to be very concerning and potentially very dangerous.

Charles Eisenstein: Yes, it is astonishing to me how ignorant and hostile to science some very intelligent people can become. I'm in part of a group where there's a significant portion of the group, it's a chat group, a significant portion of the group believes that satellites are hoaxes and that the earth is flat. And these are not ignorant, stereotypical, Bible thumping fundamentalists. These people with advanced professional degrees. And I take that as really symptomatic of the crisis of confidence that science faces. I think that these people actually are mirroring something that's happened within science itself. It's not only that people who are outside of establishment science are not faithful to the scientific method, but science itself has also lost its connection, you were saying, to it's rigorous application.

Charles Eisenstein: I would say, really the word to use is, it's humble application. Really what science at its best embodies is humility. It says, "I do not know, therefore, I shall ask. I shall ask the world through an experiment to tell me what is true and what is not." When I was questioning the metaphysical assumptions of science, like objectivity, I'm not offering as an alternative that we invent truth, that truth is whatever we make of it or anything like that. I do think that there is such a thing as a truth that is beyond human beings and beyond human invention and that our relationship to the world is in large part a discovery of this truth, or even a co-evolution with this truth, which is a third position between... Beliefs create reality, new age view and the reality is outside of ourselves standard scientific view.

Charles Eisenstein: So there's definitely some philosophical nuance that we could explore there, but I want to say also part of the breakdown of... I guess it's related to this humility that I was speaking of. The opposite of humility is arrogance. And like many religions, science has strayed, especially as an institution, from its basic spiritual core into its opposite. Christianity was supposed to be about forgiveness and non-judgment and look what it became, it became about judgment and punishment and you're a sinner. So this then happens to institutions that are based on metaphysical principles and that's like a religion, and that seek to explain the world like a religion, and that tell us how to live in it like a religion, and tell us where we came from, like a religion, and what our destiny is, like a religion.

Charles Eisenstein: I mean, science checks all the boxes for religion. And it has departed from its core esoteric spirit, which is humility, into arrogance. And one form that that arrogance takes is in institutionalized confirmation bias and paradigm protection. Individual scientists might be... In fact, most of them that I meet are perfectly scrupulous people. They're not on purpose trying to exclude vast realms of truth, but it's how the funding works and how the promotions work and how the publishing works.

Charles Eisenstein: And if you try to study, as a scientist, if you decide you're going to study UFOs, boy, try to get that past a dissertation committee. Unless you're taking some meta-sociological approach to it, or if you're going to try to study herbs as an alternative to remdesivir or to standard pharmaceutical medicines to treat coronavirus, good luck getting funding for that when the institutions of research and funding are all driven by pharmaceutical profits, you're not going to get funding or much sympathy. In fact, you'll get the opposite, you'll get hostility and scrutiny if you come up with a study that demonstrates that Artemesia annua is, as many African nations are saying, an effective treatment for COVID-19.

Charles Eisenstein: So, it's this institutional thing. And of course, we also run into actual individual arrogance among scientists. And one form that this arrogance takes is we know how to do it better than anybody else. So you actually touched on a couple of those things. Like, well, of course science has helped us end famine and vastly increase crop yields. And most people just take that for granted. But if you actually look at some of the marginalized data, you find that, like there's some of this from the Rodale Institute that demonstrates that if you really do it right, organic methods can outproduce conventional chemical intensive methods for many, many, if not most categories of crops. Of course, it's much more labor-intensive to do it right.

Charles Eisenstein: So in order to grow all of our food sustainably, organically, or regeneratively, we'd have to have a lot more people on the land, but actually the data has been selectively filtered and packaged and presented to make it look like technology has delivered us from famine. I could give similar examples for medicine and many other. You mentioned also mutually assured destruction. That's actually a really interesting case because I think what's going on there is a profound initiation for humanity out of the old story in which the final solution to your problem was the total destruction of the bad guy. And with the atomic bomb, starting from the 1950s, that was no longer an option. There was no longer any realistic hope of the total vanquishing of your enemy. And that is a new paradigm.

Charles Eisenstein: It is new information that I don't think even to this day, 70 years later, we've really integrated it. It was the first stirring of a new story in which we are no longer at war with the other and no longer can solve our problems by finding something to kill, finding something to dominate, finding something to walk out, walking out the immigrants, killing the terrorists, killing the germs, wearing masks, washing your hands all the time, isolating so that this bad thing doesn't get you.

Charles Eisenstein: It's all part of the same mentality that we are emerging from as we understand that so many of our problems do not admit to an identifiable perpetrator. You cannot blame autoimmunity, for example, which is the real epidemic of our time, as far as the number of... It's just incredible how autoimmune conditions have skyrocketed over my lifetime. There's not a pathogen there. You can't reduce poverty to a bad guy. And our society is very uncomfortable with any problem where we can't externalize a perpetrator and solve the problem by dominating the perpetrator.

Jeff: That's fascinating. You touched on that in the conspiracy myth article and it prompted me to think about this, that in the absence of a bad guy, or I guess puppets, is it more the systems and structures that we are enslaved to? And of course I think about capitalism potentially in the forefront of that, particularly as it pertains to the institution of journalism, which has a very strong code of ethics traditionally, around multiple sources and independent confirmations and reporting errors and all of the typical ethics associated with journalism, but certainly focusing on whether it's showing the video of George Floyd or Rayshard Brooks, or any other forms of incredibly incendiary news is driving clicks, which is driving CPM-based revenue. And if you start to dig and dig of course our sources of media are of the private sector largely. And it begs, I suppose, the question at some point, can they be fully entrusted to deliver fact around which we can cohere?

Jeff: I also wonder if the intolerance for conspiracy almost fuels the conspiracy itself. I think what you talk about, and you're very unique and I really appreciate this about you, is that in some ways, you're more about facilitating the nuanced conversations around these issues instead of coming at them from a black and white perspective. And I think if there's anything that we need in our society, it is conversation. So I am very grateful for that. And I do think there is a-

Jeff: Very grateful for that. And I do think there is a delineation to be made between the critical thinking and skepticism that you're referring to, which is certainly echoed throughout history from Galileo or any modern philosopher questions, thoroughly questions, the status quo in order to shift the paradigm forward. And we need to be skeptical and questioning the status quo. At the same time, I think what we've also seen is a promulgating of ideas with no basis, in fact, whatsoever. You know, whether that's Pizzagate, the birther movement, QAnon, Bill Gates and the implanting of microchips, COVID being engineered in a Wuhan lab, 5G. I mean, you can go on and on. And I wonder if there is any Litmus Test you use to delineate between ideas that might buck the status quo that are based in some actual, real critical thought versus stuff that is just completely specious.

Charles Eisenstein: Well, that's a great question. Yeah, first I would say that all of those things you mentioned, well most of them anyway, I would ask, how do you know that they have no basis in fact? Have you actually investigated them? Not from the point of view of their critics but from the point of view of their adherence. Have you gone into their original literature? Most people have not. So, you actually don't know if they have a basis in fact, or not. It's because they don't fit your beliefs, that you assume that they must not have a basis in fact because how could they because they're not true. So, they must not have a basis in fact.

Jeff: Yeah. But I would just say, and I'll let you go on, on this but that Pizzagate is not confirmation bias and neither is Obama's birth certificate. And some of these, I think other ones, that may be on the thinnest edge of the branch.

Charles Eisenstein: So just to be clear, I think that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and was legitimately elected President of the United States. Okay, let me just say that before I say, "How do you know? How do you know?" That's what critical thinking is. Critical thinking, it goes to the level of, how do I know and what are my biases? What am I not looking at? And then it applies that to the ideas that we are engaging, like where did that idea come from? Who does it serve? What is not being said with this idea? One of the reasons that I engage current issues from this meta perspective is that, often I think that the way that the issue is framed is part of the problem.

Charles Eisenstein: Anytime you engage a debate about X versus Y, you are implicitly agreeing that this debate of X versus Y is the right debate to have. But often what I'm seeing today, especially is that these debates obscure the actual important issues that are therefore maintained. The status quo is maintained by the kind of debates that we are having that divert attention away from the deeper issues. So for example, if we argue about ... And I would love to talk about Pizzagate. I mean, that's a very, very interesting ... Boy, there's a lot of things I want to say at once but I'll quickly say-

Jeff: We've got plenty of time, so go ahead.

Charles Eisenstein: A good example, like these statues. Should we topple the statues or leave them up, maybe change their plaques to give more of a historical context for them, et cetera, et cetera. Like, "Okay, it's not that I don't have an opinion on this but compared if you actually want to help, if you actually want to improve the position of black and brown people on this planet, the number one thing that we've got to be talking about is third world debt." That is what is immiserating hundreds of millions of black and brown people. And I don't see that as even remotely part of the race conversation anywhere, maybe on a very few far left fringes, there's some talk of that.

Charles Eisenstein: But it's completely absent because we're all mesmerized by the current spectacle, the show that generates so much smoke and clamor that we never even look at the man behind the curtain. And that's just one example of by even entering a debate, what are we implicitly agreeing about? What do both sides fail to question? What do both sides unconsciously agree on? Same thing in the climate controversy, where it's all about is global warming happening or not. And everyone's arguing about the data and has the data been adjusted to make it look like more warming, et cetera, et cetera.

Charles Eisenstein: And meanwhile, we have ecosystem destruction going on that disrupts the physiology of this living organism called earth that will destroy life on earth, whether or not temperatures are rising or that CO2 is causing it. But very few people are actually talking about this crisis, which makes it seem that if the global warming people are wrong, then it's okay to cut down the Amazon. Because we're reducing a very complex phenomenon to something simple. So, this is one of the tendencies of our society. So, the way that I treat these things, I mean, you did ask me a question. Like, where do I draw the line? But the first thing I do is, I ask how do I know that what I believe is true? And what is it like to be somebody who I disagree with? So I mentioned before the flat earth theory, which basically says that the North poles at the center of the earth, it's a disk.

Charles Eisenstein: And what we call Antarctica is actually a ring of icy mountains around the earth. And that's like the beginning of it. And they have all kinds of things to explain every question that you could come up with and all kinds of points that you would have trouble explaining to me, right? Why is it possible on Oahu to see things happening on the beach of Maui, 70 miles away? I just made up those numbers but that's the kind of thing. Because it should be under 600 feet of curvature, like why can you see them? Do you know the answer to that? Or do you just assume? So, okay. So I actually get into this. I read the flat earth hypothesis from its inherence. And I'm like, "Okay, is this actually coherent?" Like taking at it, at its best? That's rare to take an opposing view at its best.

Charles Eisenstein: Usually we take it at its worst. But I draw from ... I can't remember which of the French Revolutionaries said that the secret to his debating prowess, I think it might've been Russo or somebody who was an undefeatable debater. And he said, "The reason is that I make sure that I can argue my opponent's position better than he can." So, this is essential to actually develop critical thinking and I would say to develop intelligence. It's imperative to step outside of your conceptual framework and beliefs into another one because that's how our rigid frameworks soften and we become able even to entertain new ideas. So, like a lot of these things you mentioned, if you go into Pizzagate, like, "I'm not buying into necessarily that a pedophilia elite controls the whole world." I mean, the real Pizzagate actually is not about a pizza restaurant.

Charles Eisenstein: If you go into it, it got its name because of these weird emails that showed up in the Podesta WikiLeaks. It's like, we're organizing this fundraiser in Washington and we will source our pizzas and hotdogs from the usual source in Chicago. And it's like, "What's that doing there? What are they talking about?" And it turns out pizzas are a code word for underage girls. And that's how Pizzagate got its name. And there's these weird data points that are almost like they're incursions from another reality, from a shadow reality. And that's how I sit with these various conspiracy theories because you can go as far down the rabbit hole as you want. Into weirder and weirder territory, to the Luciferian elite controlling the planet to their alien overlords pulling the strings. There's no, the earth is flat, satellites are hoaxes. There's no clear dividing line. So, I know you sound like you want to interject.

Jeff: First of all, I think you make a compelling case for empathy, really. The ability to, I think, really place yourself into someone else's perspective and take their argument at its best. That's a beautiful and maybe revolutionary thought, given the discourse that we are habituated to seeing, particularly on the Internet. But I do get quite concerned when there are real world consequences to tolerance, such that for example, Pizzagate did lead to a man entering a Washington pizzeria and firing a rifle. Or I mean, 5G, that particular theory led to the destruction of telecommunication towers all over Europe. I read, I think last night, that in Bolivia where 5G doesn't even exist, there was such a belief in the fact that COVID was being transmitted through 5G technology that they burned down their own telecommunication towers. I mean, these real world consequences through, I suppose empathy and tolerance, need to be taken into account and I would say, are concerns.

Charles Eisenstein: I mean, I would question whether that's coming from empathy and tolerance. But again, I would look at, "Okay, what are we being shown by the prevalence of beliefs, like COVID is being spread by 5G?" Now, actually that is the rendition of that theory that is offered by its critics. Have you actually looked at what the 5G, let's call them anti 5G activists, are saying about the relationship between 5G and COVID? I don't actually buy what they're saying but it's not what you're saying.

Jeff: Yeah. Only in so far that I know, that there was a paper generated by a physicist, I believe in Florida ... I don't remember his name off hand. But that showed a certain reaction of the brain to 5G radio waves. But the critique to that is that it didn't take into account that a human's brain is encased in a skull. But beyond that, I will readily admit I am not fluent with the argument and I probably should be. [crosstalk 00:58:46].

Charles Eisenstein: So just again to be clear, I do not think that COVID is caused by 5G. However, I do think that 5G and microwave radiation in general, is more dangerous than we're being told. And there are voluminous studies of this. I mean, if you are interested in looking at them, I can send them to you. That detail the effects of non ionizing radiation on biological systems and study the effect on birds and insects within X distance of cell phone towers. And I mean, in plants. There's just a lot of evidence that is not really allowed into the conversation because it is disruptive to prevailing paradigms. It's disruptive to financial interests, it's inconvenient. So, because it is being kept out, there's no way for you or for me to actually know what relationship, if any, there is between 5G or I mean, 4G, 3G, whatever and various health conditions. Or glyphosate is another big one.

Charles Eisenstein: So I mean, I don't want to take the time to but I could go through some of the theoretical reasons, the physiological reasons why people suspect some kind of connection between microwave frequencies and COVID-19. But I won't go into them now, I'll just say that they're there. There are scientists, PhD researchers who are writing papers and publishing them, that are warning of the dangers of these artificial frequencies. And I can have a whole conversation about where I agree and disagree and what I think the shortcomings of that world view are and what I think it's illuminating that we need to pay attention to. I mean, that could be an entire podcast in and of itself. But I guess, to return to my main point about critical thinking on a broad civilizational level, we desperately need to start questioning some of what we thought we knew as a society. About how to be a society, about what's real, about what's important, about how to run this world.

Charles Eisenstein: Because the healing that we seek is only to be found outside of the world views that have created the mess that we're in right now, to paraphrase Einstein. And we need to start looking toward the indigenous cultures, toward the wisdom lineages within our own cultures, toward the kinds of people that have been excluded. Whether racially excluded or ethically excluded or just the kinds of human abilities that have been demeaned in our current system. You go to school and if you're like me, everyone's telling you how great you are and how smart you are, because why? Because you're good at linear thinking, analysis, reason and rote memorization. I was really good at that. So, everybody celebrated those and I was supported in developing those gifts. But if I had been in school and I had a gift for perceiving human energy fields or making plants grow or communicating with animals or anything like that, either I would have been totally ignored or I would have been pathologized.


Jeff:  I want to ask you how you think it is possible or if you think it is possible, to have these thorough conversations with people with whom we might not agree. Given that our public forums for the free exchange of ideas among individuals have largely disintegrated. And the way that we tend to communicate with each other is through 280 characters or less, which are generally characterized as screaming matches in an echo chamber or like private acts happening in public on Twitter or Facebook. How do we have these conversations? I mean, if you believe that the success of humankind is our ability to cooperate flexibly at scale, it feels like that ability has significantly eroded. So, I wonder if you have any solutions for us?

Charles Eisenstein: Yeah. I mean, you're really drilling down to something near the root of our crisis today. It's fundamentally a crisis in communication. When we cohere around common meanings and a common story, there's almost nothing that we cannot do as humanity. Our collective story tells us who we are and what we're here for, what we're doing and assigns roles for us to play in making that a reality. I like to point this out in ... And I will answer your question. But when I talk about regenerative agriculture and what it would take to convert our agricultural system to produce just as much food as right now and sequester 100% of anthropogenic emissions. I made this very, very rough calculation. It would take something like 10% of global military budgets, 10%. And we could have a completely sustainable, healing planet.

Charles Eisenstein: 10%. Not hard, not technically hard but impossible right now. Although COVID-19 is maybe showing us that what we thought was impossible, may be within reach because we've made such massive changes. And it leads us to think what other massive changes could we make. But no changes will happen if as you're alluding to, our means of forming a coherent narrative have broken down. And the reason, I don't think it's so much the length of Twitter posts but it's the intention with which we enter these so-called conversations. If your intention is to win, if you approach it through the lens of a debate and your intention is to win, and the other side is doing that to, then basically what has become important to you and the God that you are serving is winning and not truth.

Charles Eisenstein: What we need in order to get out of that stuck holding pattern is to step into service to the truth. And really when I mentioned humility before, as the spiritual essence of science, I'm talking about humility here. Humility is a devotion to truth above all else. And putting aside ... Imagine if what it takes to change this world is that you have to let go of being proved right and let go of your opponents ever admitting that they were wrong, are you willing to make that sacrifice? Are you willing to sacrifice being vindicated? Are you willing, if that's what it takes, to go down in history as having been wrong and your opponents were right? Because guess what? You're wrong about something. I don't know what, and same for me, I'm wrong, dead wrong, about something. And it could be something important, probably more than one thing. Maybe even two things. If you ask my wife maybe three or four.

Charles Eisenstein: So, what's it going to take for us, if we are oriented toward victory and winning a debate and we enter the debate in that spirit and we marshal our information. And we select for information that serves winning and select out the information that would be inconvenient and might actually help the opponent and justify that exclusion of something true. Because after all, we're on the good side. So, let's not admit any ... Say we're anti-Trump and here comes something good that he did. Well, we better not talk about that. Or here comes a hole in the Russia collusion narrative, better not let that one in. So, there's no way that we're ever going to enter the conversations that you're talking about, that you really want to see happen. And that do produce a coherence and a common narrative that at least incorporates enough of humanity for us to move forward. We're never going to have that, if we are not in service to truth, rather than winning.

Jeff: Yeah.

Charles Eisenstein: service to truth rather than winning.

Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. You know, I suppose being wrong is an essential component of a well functioning liberal democracy because Charles wins this debate and gets elected and executes around his platform. And some of it works and some of it doesn't. And he gets voted out next time and then I win and I get to do it. And then you're hoping that there is a... That we're inching forward down the arc of the moral universe even at a bumper to bumper kind of pace.

Charles Eisenstein: It's written into our politics. I mean, every system that we have embodies this paradigm of competition and dominance. The revolution that we are undergoing goes so deep.

Jeff: Yeah. Kind of the last topic I'd love to just prod at I feel indulged me is some of the writing that you did around fear and death. And it's not disconnected from science or empiricism, I suppose. Because as I've started to think about it, kind of the shift from a faith-based society in which death was sort of the providence of God on some level, where Western medicine had not yet told us all the answers physiologically, that there was a sense of kind of fatalism around death and a tremendous amount of meaning placed into what happened after death.

Jeff: And kind of with the emergence of, I suppose, the enlightenment and science and empiricism and Western allopathic medicine, death sort of became no longer the providence of God, but the providence of medicine. When you die now, it's like generally someone's fault in some way, or it's easy to assign some form of blame.

Charles Eisenstein: Well, it's a medical even you could say. Death is a medical event.

Jeff: Correct. Yeah. And in a way, because now we don't see... Because we understand sort of life and death in these very sort of empirical and physiological terms that we ascribe tremendous meaning to this very, very short lifespan, to the point that we sanctify and treasure it so much that we either live in kind of denial or fear of the terminus. And you talk about this much more eloquently than I do, so I wonder if you could spend a little time talking about that.

Charles Eisenstein: Yeah. So I think that what you said is part of it that when we circumscribe our lives, our identity, as beginning at birth and ending at death, and that's it. Death is the total annihilation of the self of consciousness. That does make us fear death all the more and make the prevention of death the most important purpose of life and of medicine especially. In medicine, death is considered the worst possible outcome. You have certain situations where someone is kept on a respirator suffering horribly alone in a COVID ward somewhere for months before they die, and that's considered a better outcome than they died in a day surrounded by their loved ones.

Charles Eisenstein: But I think that another way that we circumscribe ourselves that leads to a greater fear of death i not just temporal, but it's also relational. That who we really are is more than a separate individual, but we are the totality of our relationships and of our connections. And that there's a intimate relationship between my existence and your existence and the existence of every being on this earth. As Thích Nhất Hạnh puts it, we are inter beings, not separate individuals. And other cultures held a much more fluid, broader understanding of what it is to be, what it is to be a self. Even in many languages, there was no word for it exist.

Charles Eisenstein: And if you ask somebody to picture yourself just existing, that would have been nonsense, or they would have maybe pictured themselves with their families or with their tribes. Existence wasn't something that a separate self does. When we have narrowed who we to this discrete separate individual, then of course we're more afraid of death. But when we pour our beingness into the world and understand that everything that we've given toward life and beauty outlives us and sends ripples out into the future, then the fear of death subsides just as it subsides when we understand that this lifetime that we can measure is only part of a greater existence. And these two ideas are actually related.

Charles Eisenstein: What exactly is it that survives and who are you anyway? That gets at some of these more mysterious questions. But yeah, like our society is so geared around preventing death and maintaining... And that would be the ultimate victory of science. That's where it's going, to conquer death itself. That's the ultimate frontier and the greatest ambition. And through genetic engineering and nanotechnology and uploading our consciousness into computers and so forth, that we can conquer death is... That's the ultimate expression of the scientific program. Today we see that written into our response to COVID-19.

Charles Eisenstein: We're prolonging life or postponing death at any cost outweighs many other human values that other cultures may have put before postponing death as long as possible. Who's to say that it's worth it to no longer have gatherings and dances and group hugs and weddings and carnivals and concerts and all the things that we used to do? Sorry. That we've sacrificed on the altar of safety. And I'm not saying that individual freedom or dances and gatherings and so forth are of overriding importance either. What I'm saying is that we have conflicting values here that invite us into a complicated, into a nuanced conversation, as you would say, but our society has taken one as the Trump card, as the overridingly important we have to keep safe.

Charles Eisenstein: What is your life like if your first priority is to make sure that you are as safe as possible? That's no life.

Jeff: Yeah. I mean, if you could imagine not even immortality, but sort of amortality where essentially every organ in your body could be replaced or regenerated every 10 years, but you could still get hit by a bus and die, if you kind of play this thought experiment out with me. Can you imagine what that would be like? The risk that you would take to risk your amortality? I mean, you'd never go outside, right?

Charles Eisenstein: Right.

Jeff: If you're like, "Well, wait a minute, I can live forever, or I might get hit by this bus." Yuval Harari wrote a pretty interesting book called Homo Deus, which kind of talks about this at some great length. The final conquest after kind of defeating famine, disease, and war is amortality and all of the ways that we are kind of going about doing that. I'm kind of close to it in the longevity movement, which in some ways is sort of maybe just a pit stop on the way to an amortality movement. But all of the trinkets and devices and heart rate variability, monitors and glucose monitors and Oura Rings that are being developed kind of in the name of longevity, as if longevity is the holder of the value.

Charles Eisenstein: Jeff, can I say two things about longevity here?

Jeff: Yeah, please.

Charles Eisenstein: One is however long you live, when you're in your last minute, it won't matter. All you'll have is that minute. Secondly, there is a wisdom, a body wisdom in the lifespans that we currently have and other animals too. There's a reason why dogs live 10 or 15 years and why humans live 80 years. That's what it takes to live a full life. Every experience that a dog is supposed to have to live a full dog's life, you don't really need more than 10-15 years.

Charles Eisenstein: And at our current stage of evolution, full human life is accomplished in all of its stages and all of its transformations and challenges in about 80 years from your childhood, your first love, your initiation to manhood, et cetera, et cetera, your family, your career, your a period of struggle, your a period of building and harvesting the fruits of what you've sown, becoming a grandparent and maybe ending with your grandson's child on your knee. That is a full life. And there are many variants on it, of course. I don't want to normalize that particular variant, but basically you get your full compliment of the human experience in about 80 years.

Charles Eisenstein: And that is why none of these technologies are actually going to work very well and might even cause more harm than good. And I think we're starting to get an inkling of this when we look at what happens when you enhance telomerase? Yeah, your telomeres don't shorten as fast, but you get cancer. You know? There is a glass ceiling, a limit to how well these longevity technologies are going to work as long as we are living the kinds of lifespans that we are living today. And our longevity will only dramatically increase when the basic trajectory of a human life changes. And that is why those who have accomplished extraordinary longevity, the ones I know about are the Daoist sages who have lifespans of hundreds of years.

Charles Eisenstein: They can only do that by really leaving society. They have to exit the matrix and the consensus reality and the life path that most people are on. Otherwise, they don't need to live that long. What's the point? Why do we want to have super long lives? If we think that our existence ceases at the moment of death.

Leading teachers, life-changing courses...

Your path to a happier, healthier life

Get access to our library of over 60 courses on health and nutrition, spirituality, creativity, breathwork and meditation, relationships, personal growth, sustainability, social impact and leadership.

Try Membership Free for 14 Days

Stay connected with Commune

Receive our weekly Commusings newsletter + free course announcements!