Doppelganger a Trip into the Mirror World

Naomi Klein in conversation with Gemma Milne at the Edinburgh launch of her new book Doppelganger a Trip into the Mirror World. Lighthouse Books write:

“This is a book for our age and for all of us; a deadly serious dark comedy which invites us to view our reflections in the looking glass.It’s for anyone who has lost hours down an internet rabbit hole, who wonders why our politics has become so fatally warped, and who wants a way out of our collective vertigo and back to fighting for what really matters.”

Buy Doppelganger here

Naomi Klein is the award-winning author of international bestsellers including This Changes Everything, The Shock Doctrine, No Logo, No Is Not Enough, and On Fire, which have been published in more than thirty-five languages. She is an associate professor in the department of geography at the University of British Columbia, the founding co-director of UBC’s Centre of Climate Justice, and an honorary professor of Media and Climate at Rutgers University.

Gemma Milne is a Glasgow-based writer and researcher focused on narratives surrounding, activism in and political economy of science and technology. She is author of ‘Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It‘; is a researcher in Science and Technology Studies and Sociology at both Edinburgh University and Glasgow University focused on corporate futurism and the political economy of deep tech.

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  1. 230930 says:

    I haven’t read Doppelganger properly yet. I’ve just giving it its first preliminary reading to glean from it the pre-understanding that my subsequent interrogations of the text will successively challenge. But, on my initial reading, it seems that Naomi takes her experience of being confused with someone else and spins from it an extended meditation on the nature of doubles, mirror-worlds, and the political and personal challenges of threatened identities, which, in and of itself, is an entertaining conceit.

    Along the way, Klein returns to several of the themes that animate her previous books. Capitalism (rather than some or other set of evil villains) is the ultimate cause of the dire societal challenges we face, she argues, and people on both sides of the political mirror – right-wing conspiracists and liberal critics alike – fail to recognise it because they are still mired in individualist (rather than structuralist) ways of thinking.

    Naomi’s point of departure is simple enough. Her ‘big-haired doppelganger’ is a celebrated and very public feminist figure on the left of the traditional political spectrum. However, this other Naomi has recently defected to the alt-right, theorising conspiracies about Ebola, ISIS, and the Covid pandemic, complete with fear mongering about vaccines, mask mandates and impending tyranny. This has resulted in our Naomi being demonised (as you do) on social media.

    Appalled at being mistaken for the other Naomi, our Naomi began following the other’s social media presence and pursued her down the rabbit hole/through the looking glass of conspiracy thinking. Doppelganger is the result of this stalking of her ‘shadow-self’.

    A doppelganger is literally a ‘double-goer’ or ‘double-walker’;: someone who eerily accompanies us as a kind of shadow-self. In philosophy and psychoanalysis, doppelgangers illuminate the existential ‘wobbliness’ or ‘nausea’ that goes with having our sense of unique selfhood undermined. As Golyadkin, blowing mocking farewell kisses, tells his doppelganger as he’s carted off to an asylum in Dostoevsky’s story, ‘The Double’, “Aither ‘you’ nor I, but baith the gither we canna be!”

    Our Naomi’s response to the other Naomi is similarly unsettled and goes beyond just wishing to correct the record whenever she’s misidentified. Our Naomi feels her own personal brand or ‘identity’ has been diluted, while acknowledging the irony of caring about that identity, given her fierce critique of branding or identification in her 1999 book, No Logo.

    She overcomes this irony or contradiction by arguing, a quarter of a century further on in her life, that our need for personal branding or self-identification has been amplified by the growing desire to curate a unique digital self, which individuation entrenches the fixed and phony selves we generate for ourselves and stands in the way of forming the alliances with others that give us our more authentic social identities.

    Despite admitting she cares too much about her own brand, our Naomi deals with the other’s encroachment head-on by attacking her new politics. She takes aim at the ‘Mirror World’ that congealed around the resistance to vaccine and mask mandates and its coalition of far-right ‘Make America Great Again’ folk and the health and wellness influencers and new-agers who shared a concern with body purity and a fondness for overheated rhetoric and apocalyptic catastrophising.

    Our Naomi bristles at the anti-vaxxers’ appropriation of Holocaust imagery in their claims of a genocidal ‘hygiene dictatorship’. She also calls out the bad-faith appropriation of civil rights discourse by white supremacists and other ‘nativists’. Our Naomi also hears loud echoes of fascism in non-interventionist calls to allow the pandemic to do Nature’s work of thinning out the weak and inferior, coupled with a righteous hunt for villains (whoever your ‘auld enemy’ happens to be), heightened by the primal fear of shadowy, malevolent forces.

    Our Naomi also conjectures what might have driven her leftist doppelganger into the parallel universe in which Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram are replaced by Gettr, Rumble and Parler. Klein offers he conjecture as a kind of equation: narcissism + social media addiction + midlife crisis ÷ public shaming = meltdown. (Though surely the ‘÷’ should be an ‘×’: as any good critical theorist will tell you, shaming exacerbates rather than dampens deconstructive meltdowns; which is why public shaming or ‘ripping the p*ish’ is a key strategy in the struggle against ‘the establishment’ and its hegemony). Our Naomi concludes that the other is simply chasing ‘clout’ and ‘digital dopamine, a chase that’s hardly confined to one side of politics but is to be found on both sides of the establishment’s ‘left/right’ dichotomy.

    Our Naomi’s denunciations of the alt-right and its (often unwitting) allies are admirably full-throated, but she doesn’t see her own side as blameless. Progressives have abandoned some issues, like immigration and law and order, to regressives; they’ve also been overly reactive and ‘knee-jerky’ instead setting and pursuing their own agendas.

    What needs to happen, according to our Naomi, is for people to realise the true source of their problems. Conspiracy theorists are half right: they ‘get the facts wrong’ but often ‘get the feelings right’. The feeling they get right is that someone is profiting from human misery and is covering it up. But the cause of this situation isn’t a conspiracy of evil individuals; it’s the structure of capitalism or ‘modernity’ itself.

    Our Naomi concedes that her doppelganger’s argument, that the ‘hyper-individualism’ of capitalism’s elites is the root of many of our troubles, is essentially sound. That hyper-individualism breeds a culture that sees all failings as personal rather than structural and stands in the way of our uniting in solidarity to act for the common good.

    The solution, our Naomi maintains, is to think systemically about oppression and inequality, and to de-centre that systematic thinking from our own identities and our own personal beliefs. ‘There is,’ she says, ‘an intimate relationship between our overinflated selves and our under-cared-for planet.’ We must strive like Nietzschean supermen to ‘overcome’ or ‘exceed’ or ‘go beyond’ what Robert Solomon calls the ‘transcendental pretense’ that is the ‘I’ of Enlightenment thinking.

    Doppelganger is a compelling critique of the polarising trends in American and global politics that’s constructed around a relatable personal narrative. Its anti-capitalist message won’t be to everyone’s taste, our Naomi delivers it in a joyful and passionate voice. It’s certain worth reading with an eye to the polarising trends that disfigure public discourse in our own more immediate civil society in Scotland.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    I have only read the first excerpt in the Guardian, but from the video interview, I agree with the points on:
    reading very fast leading to people getting confused;
    (The problem is not so much information overload, the problem is one of integration.)
    Lack of systems creating problems in understanding (leading to ‘cartoonish’ solutions, I guess);
    Easy copying leading to superficiality (unintentionally or deceitfully);
    Collective action being the required approach (a rare exception in Anglo-US culture, such as the Avatar movies);
    Selfish culture being a social pathology.
    The primacy of value of the living world, corals and all.

    I think interviewer Gemma Milne was on to something in that people ignoring a topic (like political-economic systems) for all their years until taking a crash course from dubious sources during an emergency are especially prone to errors of judgement; and that technology often has an ethical component baked into design (private jets, adult male default sizes and mass surveillance, perhaps), but I disagree that technology is only controlled by capitalist corporations, given the vast contribution of open source, voluntary, royalty-free and community-co-created technology.

    How to give children the best chance of building accurate, useful and fair mental models of the changing world and all its living inhabitants? Models interoperable enough to make collective action practical and effective?

    1. SleepingDog says:

      correction: should be “lack of systems-*thinking*”

    2. 230930 says:

      How to give children the best chance of building accurate, useful and fair mental models of the changing world and all its living inhabitants? Models interoperable enough to make collective action practical and effective?

      My concern is with how children can acquire skills that enable each to build a world out of his or her immediate life-experience in which they can be at home, and the social space in which they can build it. There’s no a priori ‘accurate, useful and fair’ life-world; only the particular production that works for each of them individually.

      The dialectical skills that enable each of us to create and maintain a habitable world for oneself are acquired through the so-called ‘hermeneutic [or interpretative] sciences’ that were once called the ‘humanities’. The social space in which each can create and maintain one’s own habitable world or ‘home’ is democracy, a system of government that lets people go their own way into a social diversification that affiliates each not to all but to such kindred spirits as circumstances may offer, a space in which:

      Diversity is legitimised, whereby the varying experiential situation of different people makes it normal, natural, and rational that they should proceed differently in cognitive, evaluative, and practical matters.

      Dissonance is contained, whereby a general harmony of constructive interaction can prevail despite the diversity, dissensus, and dissonance that normally, naturally, and rationally occurs among individuals and groups.

      To contain our natural dissonance in cognitive, evaluative, and practical matters within a general harmony of constructive interaction or dialogue, we need to:

      Acquiesce in our differences and stop trying to evangelise others or our own particular truths, values, and customs (i.e. stop trying to colonise others). People can and should, to everyone’s benefit, share a political space in which we each accept and come to terms with the fact that others will differ from us in opinion, values, and modes of behaviour.

      Respect the autonomy of others. The rational and productive response to dissensus is not to try and convert the dissenter to one’s own ‘correct’ way of thinking and behaving, or even to just passively ‘tolerate’ their deviance from one’s own truth and righteousness, but to actively respect their autonomy, their right to go their own variant way within a framework of such restraint that we all democratically agree to impose on ourselves in the interesting of maintaining the peaceful and productive communal order that’s conducive to the best interests of everyone alike.

      All of our political institutions need to be decolonised and democratised in this way. But we could and should begin with schools, where children can each learn the dialectical skills they need to be able to build a world out of his or her immediate life-experience in which they can be at home, and where they can learn these skills in an environment that legitimises diversity, normalises difference, and respects their autonomy. If we could do this, we’d be well on the way to the sort of democratic and pluralist society that our Naomi dreams of.

      1. Okay, you need to learn some social skills.

        It’s like being at a table and after anyone speaks you go on a diatribe mansplaining what they have just said.

        You need to learn to listen and you need to learn to Not Speak.

        1. 230930 says:

          You could always block me again.

          1. Or you could acquire some self-awareness

          2. Derek Thomson says:

            Nah, block him. 🙂

          3. John says:

            I doubt anyone else would be upset if you were blocked.
            Your need to always push your own thoughts is one thing but your annoying habit of trying to reinterpret what other people post to fit in with your outlook is ridiculous. The need to have to pick out other’s comments while having to wade through your never ending input is tedious and puts people off actually contributing or reading comments which may well be your intention.
            Sorry to say this but rather than coming over as an intellectual giant you come over as an attention seeking rather needy somewhat pathetic individual.

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