Vandana Shiva has made a lucrative business out of spreading conspiracy theories about agricultural technologies, sustainable farming, capitalism and industry. Her popularity has grown as she positions herself as a modern-day Gandhi, a social justice warrior, an ecological feminist and an agroecologist. The problem is that most everything that comes out of her much amplified mouth is complete nonsense: pure fabrications easily and often refuted.
Which leads to the question: How does Vandana consistently get away with such ridiculous falsehoods and oral assaults on intelligent thought? How can she weave the absurd into a web of allegations willingly consumed by her followers? How does she relentlessly fabricate conspiracy theories and package them for consumption among the Western liberal elite? This article will look at one web of lies she is presently spinning as an analysis of the germination of outrage.
As Vandana points her finger at Western economic models and institutions, she has profited quite well from lucrative speaking fees and first-class luxury living. She uses the free speech made available to her on university campuses to condemn farmers for freely choosing the seeds they want to grow. As Vandana attacks industry for their lack of openness, she will never engage in open debate with an adversary.
As long as Vandana controls the microphone, she can say what she wants, repeating it to her followers and making the outrageous a marketable outrage. Some of the claims she has repeatedly made, which would have destroyed the credibility of any mere mortal, include:
- Shiva: Indian farmers are killing themselves in much larger numbers after being exposed to pesticides and GMOs.
Fact: Indian farmer suicide rates are lower than the national average.
- Shiva: 75% of all diseases are caused by a “Poison Cartel” of three chemical companies.
Fact: This is too absurd to consider. We are living longer and healthier lives.
- Shiva: The Green Revolution in the 1960s destroyed India’s way of life.
Fact: Until the Green Revolution, India was plagued with famines and chronic malnutrition.
This is not a story about how wrong Vandana Shiva is, how she hypocritically profits from her lies or how dangerous she is to global food security. There is enough critical information out there. This is a story about how Vandana’s lies germinate into conspiracy theories packaged for outrage consumption.
With Shiva, the truth doesn’t matter. She simply ignores any fact-checking, corrections and personal criticisms. Her adoring audience wants to hear what Shiva has to say, without a care for whether it is true or not. Like Donald Trump, Shiva has a Teflon charisma that appeals specifically to her base and allows her to take them down a road of rage, righteousness and rhetoric. Facts don’t matter when zealots fabricate outrage.
But there is also a technique behind this.
Planting Seeds of Outrage
Studying Vandana’s speaking style is a lesson in how to manipulate an audience. Pauses allow anecdote to sound convincingly like evidence. Her tone amplifies the incredulity of those who think otherwise. Every speech will throw in some creative yet meaningless wordplay: the Poison Cartel, the Botox of Biotech, seed slavery … Common sense gets tugged about as she moves from an idea to a conclusion not via rational argument, but as a dialectic between good (Vandana) and evil (usually Monsanto) stretched to the absurd. Her stories may be fictions and fantasies, but her narrative is more powerful than any truth could ever manage to confront. Each sentence in a Shiva speech is a journey and the adoring audiences enjoy letting themselves be carried along.
But there is more to her craft than mere wordplay. Developing public outrage takes more than a cunning turn of phrase. To move the audience to where you want them to be, you need to cut them free of any logical impediments. Shiva takes a seed of doubt and patiently plants it in the rich soil of social injustice, allowing the necessary fear to germinate in order to harvest the fruits of outrage.
Her assault on Bill Gates was not simply “I disagree with his views on biotechnology or healthcare”. It was a six-month process of delegitimisation. Vandana needs to methodically unveil her technique in stages of outrage. She starts by making it personal (Gates did not bother to come down from the top floor to speak to her when they were in the same Davos hotel). Then it moved to how he got rich by robbing consumers (outrage at injustice). His investment in Monsanto (evil by association) shows how he is part of the poison cartel and his solutions become nothing more than narcissistic extensions of an ego willing to prolong human suffering and do no good. Gates is then identified as standing for everything wrong with progressive, pro-science capitalism. At that point Shiva will go after Gates’ support for biotechnology and pharmaceuticals with an audience that has somehow let outrage drive an emotional wedge through rational thought or fair consideration of the actual impressive achievements of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The more outrageous Shiva’s assertions, the more popular she becomes (especially among the angry left in America calling out for social justice). She never apologised for her disgraceful actions, like diminishing the word “rape” or comparing Bayer to Nazis. Her adversaries, long ago fed up with her lies, insults and accusations, have walked away, leaving her to preach to her choir with an unbridled, unchallenged intellectual immunity. Like most conspiracy theorists, everything fits Shiva’s perception of reality and if a fact were to rear its ugly head, it would be met with a swift dose of rhetorical outrage, insult and cunning wordplay.
Monsanto caused COVID-19
Shiva is presently fabricating a new story to strengthen her conspiracy narrative: that the recent coronavirus outbreak, COVID-19, was caused by GMO animal feed in China. Yes, Monsanto is succeeding in its quest for the mass slaughter of humanity. Hey, if the conspiracy shoe fits! But the strategy of outrage takes time to build. Like a cunning spider, Shiva needs to spin her web carefully so the conclusions are delivered with a force and fury able to wipe away any light of reason. Timing, preparation, delivery … all must be executed perfectly. A story must germinate outrage in a tactful, appropriate and believable manner.
As awful as Shiva is, in so many ways, I cannot help but marvel at her craft of deception and fear fabrication. And in honour of her capacity to turn nonsense into marketable outrage, I will spend the rest of this article analysing a part of a speech she recently gave where she began to lay the foundations for her followers to believe that, yes, Monsanto caused COVID-19. There are those who feel that Shiva should at best be ignored, but I feel we need to examine how this deceptive liar is able to be believed, how she has been able to build a career upon nonsense and how she can cast a spell on otherwise rational people.
Shiva on Show
We need to analyse how Shiva plants seeds of doubt in order to let fear and outrage germinate. In a recent panel at the Real Truth about Health naturopath summit in the US, Shiva set out to fabricate her story. She knows the fear level in the US is not yet sufficient for adequate impact, so she is tending the ground, weaving her web with Goebbelian brilliance.
Shiva’s fabrication (from around the 23 minute mark) will be transcribed in indented italics with my commentary and analysis in full text.
22:48: The new epidemics of new viruses, a lot of scientists have said, are coming from the hybridisation of viruses that are used as promoters and the viruses in our gut.
Shiva introduced her subject: the new epidemic of new viruses (focus on new … unknown) without any need to explain which viruses – the last coronavirus, SARS, was in 2003; H1N1 was in 2009. She refers to what “a lot of scientists have said” without the need to cite or qualify which scientists and which evidence. As she got a bit confused in the follow-up sentence, she jumped quickly into a personal story.
23:00: I got a letter from a Chinese scientist when the SARS epidemic broke, do you remember, and he said “We are feeding all our animals GMO soya (long pause) and it could so easily be that this horizontal gene transfer is happening and the animals are developing super-viruses which are then jumping from animals to humans. (Pause) This also, some people have said, is related to the H1N1 which are very lethal viruses compared to earlier viruses.
Classic doubt fabrication here. An epidemic of new viruses needs to be tied to some reason (besides a wet market in Wuhan). Vandana claims she received a letter from an unnamed Chinese scientist from 17 years ago with a frightening quote about all animals in China, all of them, fed GMOs. It is unsure where the quote from the Chinese scientist ends (or whether there actually was one or if Shiva was just trying to position herself as “in the know”).
Shiva wants to suggest (“it could so easily be“) that GMOs are causing super viruses in animals which are then jumping to humans. She then elevates the fear with a suggestion (“some people have said”) this was the same with H1N1, which (cue an emotional shift) is not just a super-virus, but “very lethal”. I got H1N1 in 2009. It was not pleasant, but no flu virus is. Shiva plays to her narrative – that the good old earlier viruses weren’t so bad, but the genetically modified super-viruses are, well, lethal.
So with fear of more lethal super-viruses most probably caused by GMOs, Vandana has prepped her audience for the raw meat they have been baying for.
23:35: Again, because the GM-chemical industry, the GM industry and the pharmaceutical industry is one industry (Pause) for them it’s wonderful there’s more diseases. (Grinning) It’s a very good successful business model. (Pause) But for the people … it’s not. (Leans back with a smile waiting for audience applause.)
The evil of industry is evident if not just in how Shiva utters the word: IN’dus’TRY (four times in one sentence). They/them (not those who stand for righteousness, the “us/we” in the room) want you to be sick so they can sell you more medicine. Conspiracy Theory 101: all businesses are out to get you. Vandana’s spiel is that this is pre-meditated and she proves it by reverse-engineering the motives of industry, which everyone in the room understands is to promote and profit from human suffering. That she ties it in with an incredibly weak causal relationship without evidence or justification doesn’t seem to matter. She makes the illogical fit the desired outcome.
The web has been spun, let the impact set in. When Shiva leaned back with a smug grin (see cover image) she wasn’t making a point, she was feeding a movement. Everyone in the room was thinking COVID-19 but Vandana needs to wait until that outbreak builds into a bigger story when her argument would then have a larger audience. This shows how methodical, determined … sinister Vandana Shiva truly is.
Lunatic or Liar?
There is the question of whether Shiva actually believes the nonsense she fabricates. Highly unlikely. A true believer would not charge $40,000 per speaking engagement and demand business-class flights from Delhi. She knows the game and what is expected from her when the lights come on. She also knows which buttons to push to get attention.
Shiva’s audience wants to hear that evil has a cause, that it is coming from a clear source and that someone is standing up, heroically, to confront this. Religion used to fill this need. Now an impostor who studied philosophy at the University of Western Ontario is posing as a mystic eco-religious guru and is canny enough to line her pockets. Vandana is no true believer, but she has created an army of them.
Shiva will never sit on a panel with people who might threaten her or disagree and any Q&A is usually tightly controlled where audiences may be intellectually mixed. A true believer would relish a fight with adversaries. Shiva is obsessed with being Shiva, promulgating a selective image of a sage born in a Himalayan forest and bringing us all back to nature. I once met her personal filmmaker when I was banished outside of the Monsanto Tribunal. Every posture, every expression, every word is strategically choreographed. Vandana is a product – herself fabricated to meet the demands of a western market needing a conduit for their hatred, outrage and fear.
I can’t wait for her movie to come out. The outrage will be “to die for”!