By Miriam Scharf
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Doppelganger by Naomi Klein: Taking on the conspiracy theorists

Why are people drawn to conspiracy theories?
Doppelganger by Naomi Klein

Doppelganger by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein is on the side of the left. She has always written about corporate power and the ravages of capitalism. Her books and articles provide ammunition, especially those in the climate movement. She has published wide-ranging and penetrating critiques of capitalism and what it is doing to the planet and our lives, from No Logo—Taking Aim At The Brand Logo to This Changes Everything

Doppelganger is a very different book. At times Klein apologises for the book’s obsession with her “doppelganger” Naomi Wolf, who she was often confused for. But her analysis of Wolf’s journey—from feminist to rifle-toting friend of white supremacist Steve Bannon, shouting about conspiracies—is full of useful insights.

A large part of the book is devoted to Covid and the anti-vaxxers. Wolf rode the wave of those who were encouraged to believe that the vaccines were a conspiracy to poison and instil authoritarian control. 

Klein examines why people were drawn to these conspiracy theories. She argues that capitalism can appear like a conspiracy, so people do distrust elites and authorities. But people are not shown how the world really works, and how the structures of capitalism are the root cause of their problems. 

Exploring what she calls the “the shadowland”, Klein’s main thesis is that we are all living with “others” that are “submerged”. 

For example, Klein points to the revelations about abuses and murder of Indigenous children in 19th century Canada. She argues we need to understand our past to be authentic in our present actions. It is avoiding such realities, not acknowledging them, that can lead us down the rabbit hole. 

In a very brief history of antisemitism, Klein writes about the Jewish Labour Bund and of other Jews who rejected Zionism She was brought up as a Jew and she speaks with an insider’s understanding of Zionism. She describes how Zionism tells a story, which insists on a false choice between the existence of the state of Israel or another annihilation of European Jews. 

Reading Doppelganger as the Israeli army is attacking Rafah means many of the book’s messages resonate deeply. We know over 40,000 Palestinians have been slaughtered, seen the pictures of famine, torn bodies and catastrophic devastation, and then witnessing media attempts to down-play genocide. 

Klein recognises the settler colonial nature of the Israeli state and Zionism’s “unseeing” and “unknowing” of Palestinians. In addressing Jews at the New York “Seder of the Street” event in April 2024, Klein made the argument, “We need an exodus from Zionism”. 

If I have one argument with the book, it is that it keeps reverting to a focus on the individual, Klein makes cogent arguments against individualism and documents how individualism is used by capitalism. But her book is framed as a study of her doppelganger Naomi Wolf and Klein spends a lot of energy exploring individual identity. 

Through this exploration, Klein concludes that breaking down or “softening the edges” of individual identity is crucial if we are to forge collective struggle. She writes, “When power and wealth and weaponry and information technology are concentrated in so few hands, and those hands are willing to deploy them for the most venal and reckless of ends, all we have is the power latent in our capacity to unite.” 

While acknowledging the importance of identity in shaping people’s experiences and strategies for resistance, Klein calls for unity. “Race, gender, sexual orientation, class, and nationality shape our distinct needs, experiences, and historical debts. We must hold on to those realities and build on a shared interest in challenging concentrated power and wealth,” she writes. 

“Whether trying to unionise our workplaces, or halt evictions, or free political prisoners, or build alternatives to policing, or stop a pipeline, or get an insurgent candidate elected—those tensions do not disappear, but they are often balanced by the recognition of shared interests.” 

When “individuals organise toward a goal”, Klein argues, they realise that “they belong to a class”. “The power of collective organising persuades participants that, contrary to what they have been told, their pain is not the result of a failure of character or insufficient hard work,” he writes. 

“Rather, it is the consequence of economic and social systems precisely designed to produce cruel outcomes, systems that can be changed only if people drop the shame and unite toward a shared goal”. 

The book is a powerful indictment of how capitalism and the conspiracy theorists it breeds tries to keep us alienated and powerless. 

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