I was listening to the Nonsense Bazaar, one of my favorite podcasts on weird stuff, and one of the hosts discussed the connections between weird metaphysics grifters. He christened this The Syndicate, and I realized how absolutely appropriate it was. I’d like to go into something that is very obvious in the world of spiritual scams – so obvious it’s disturbingly easy to miss.
If you find any grifty religious/spiritual group and pursue it’s origins you often find others like them very quickly. Some online guru is just channeling beings dreamed up by another scam artist, while doing affiliate marketing with a fellow grifter. An exceedingly weird religious group directs you at courses taught by an only slightly less disturbing organization. If you pursue this for any amount of time, it starts to seem very connected.
The podcast Conspirituality noted a whole guru ecosystem, where some new internet influencer will suddenly hook up with other more well-heeled ones. Once you’re in the ecosystem you get to start exchanging audiences, expanding together, and so on. Plus you want to connect with new talent so they don’t steal your audience.
Now do I think this is some kind of conspiracy? No, it’s just networking by people of similar interests, its the influence of ideas, and of course it’s driven by people who see dollar signs and power. You don’t need a conspiracy, so though there may be some tiny conspiracies, good old greed explains plenty of it.
However I think there’s an issue here that The Syndicate also helps give the illusion of truth.
We humans decide things are true not in simple linear fashion – though it may look like it – but by a web of associations. People we trust, classes we took, experiences we had, techniques we learned, all come together to help us evaluate truth. Even something that comes as a revelation only seems so as it rests on a substrate of past experiences.
The Syndicate has people linking back to each other, to past teachings, and to various forms of content. It has people recommending and boosting each other. It is a web of associations that can give the appearance of truth. Even if this is not intentional, if it’s just people helping each other rip others off, it’s “close to truth.”
When it is intentional, it’s pretty damn effective. In the world of spiritual grift it’s also easy – a dash of Theosophy, some alternative medicine, and then some conspiracy theories and you’re good. Team up with a few others and you’re good.
I think this is important to remember. The network of people busily selling you fake spirituality for real money can seem true because of the network. Something that should set off someone’s alarms may, under the right conditions, do the opposite.
(Come to think of it, the way I recommend podcasts, some of which refer to each other, should make you suspicions . . .)