There is peaceful. There is wild. I am both at the same time>”
As a university student, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, and Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine were both huge influences on my thinking, but they were linked only by the fact that they were young female public intellectuals claiming their place in the world of ideas. So, it was weird when Wolf took a sharp turn into conspiracism, stating on Twitter that vaccines are a “software platform” capable of receiving “uploads,” and people began to talk about how Naomi Klein had lost it. Over the next few years, the conflation became particularly problematic for Klein, given her involvement in left-wing movements like Occupy, which seemed to attract Wolf’s conspiratorial attention. Doppelganger: a trip into the mirror world reflects Klein’s attempt to understand what was going on and explore the phenomenon of being inextricably linked to someone with such different beliefs and values.
The book gives a good sense of how uncomfortable the whole thing was for Klein as she delves into Wolf’s transformation from a liberal icon to a regular guest on Steve Bannon’s podcast. The confusion between the two Naomis prompts Klein to reflect on her own identity and the need to protect her personal brand from the conspiracy-theorist Wolf.
The turning point for Wolf’s credibility occurred in 2019 when her book, Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love” faced a humiliating live radio interview. Wolf’s claim that gay men in Victorian England were executed for sodomy in the 20th century turned out to be based on a misunderstanding of the meaning of the phrase “death recorded,” which actually refers to commutation of the sentence. The resulting brouhaha led to widespread criticism and ridicule, and the book was never published in the US. It marked a pivotal moment that solidified Wolf’s shift toward the pseudo-populist right.
Klein emphasizes the danger of ostracizing individuals like Wolf, pushing them toward alternative media platforms and social networks that embrace conspiracy theories. She notes the allure of these platforms for those who feel overlooked in mainstream discourse, providing them a space to express grievances and share populist messages.
Klein’s main concern is the rise of a new and potentially dangerous political formation fueled by conspiratorial thinking. Doppelganger explores the alliances, worldviews, slogans, and enemies within this emerging movement. Klein’s keen ability to recognize patterns, a strength she acknowledges, is also recognized as a potential vulnerability, especially in a world where conspiracy theories can be so attractive and can gain followers quickly.
The exploration takes an unexpected turn when Klein analyzes her own attraction to Steve Bannon’s podcast, “War Room.” She observes similarities in critiques of Big Pharma, concerns about surveillance capitalism, and suspicions of elite power. This realization prompts her to acknowledge the shared ground between seemingly opposing ideologies and the dangers of overactive pattern recognition.
Klein’s candid self-examination offers a unique perspective on the complexities of identity, public perception, and the influence of conspiracy theories. “Doppelganger” offers up an important critique of cancel culture and encourages honest exploration and discussion across ideological lines, not to mention an excellent read.