Filmmaker Foster Gamble, left, and Adam Trombly contemplate the idea of a perpetual motion machine in 'Thrive.'
Thrive, a highly polished two-hour documentary that was released on the Web in November and screens this Thursday, March 15, at the Del Mar, sells itself as an optimistic vision of a utopian future marked by “free energy,” freedom from oppression and spiritual awakening. But on its way to depicting its dream-world utopia, Thrive delivers a dark and dishonest version of the real world and espouses a blend of paranoid conspiracy theories and right-libertarian propaganda.
The local couple who made the film, Foster and Kimberly Carter Gamble, build their tale around an undeniably poetic idea: that there is a secret pattern to be found in nature, and that we can learn from it. Filled with beautifully shot vistas and psychedelic graphics, backed by a gorgeous soundtrack and infused with a warm spirituality, the film begins with what seems to be a scientific and historical examination of this pattern, with intriguing images from religious art and ancient architecture found in various cultures around the world.
Much of the first section focuses on the various meanings of this shape or pattern, which mathematicians call a “torus,” and which Foster Gamble believes holds vast significance and power.
Very soon, however, the film jumps the tracks, ostensibly proving that a) the torus can be used to create a perpetual motion machine and deliver “free energy;” b) the torus is a code delivered to humanity by aliens via UFO; and c) the government, backed by a cabal of powerful families, is violently suppressing this secret energy source.
We live in a time, sadly, where this kind of post-rational mumbo jumbo can find an audience—and Thrive has become something of a cult phenomenon since its release. Nevertheless, if Thrive stopped with the free energy and UFOs, it would be nutty, not dangerous.
In the film’s second section, Gamble sets out to show exactly how and why the government and its sponsors are duping us. This section probably accounts for its burgeoning online popularity with the Occupy movement and its supporters. (For the record, I count myself among that audience segment).
Bringing in progressive heroes such as Vandana Shiva and Paul Hawken to recount the more or less well-known crimes against humanity perpetrated by the likes of Monsanto (patented seeds) and Exxon-Mobil (global warming, etc.), Thrive makes the familiar, and justifiable, case that huge corporations have too much power, are largely corrupt and pose a threat to society.
But then, once again, the filmmakers jump the tracks of rationality. This is where the film should go political, and instead it plays the conspiracy card. And not just any conspiracy, but the granddaddy of them all: that a handful of families control the world and plan to enslave humanity.
In his soft voice, the white-haired, blue-eyed Foster Gamble says, sadly: “As difficult as it was for me, I have come to an inescapable and profoundly disturbing conclusion. I believe that an elite group of people and the corporations they run have gained control over not just our energy, food supply, education and healthcare, but over virtually every aspect of our lives.
“When I followed the money, I found it going up the levels of a pyramid.” (As the torus symbol dominates Thrive’s first section, the pyramid dominates the second.) And at the top of this alleged pyramid of evil: the Rothschilds.
Not everyone watching this film will know that this argument has been around, and been discredited, for decades. Apparently the desire to find someone to blame for all the world’s problems spans generations. And the Rothschilds make a pretty good target.
Are the Rothschilds very, very rich? Undoubtedly. Are the members of this family doing the work of Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama? Mostly not. Are they all-powerful puppet-masters who secretly rule the world? Are they descended from a race of snake-people? Do they eat children? Um…no, no and no.
Are they Jewish? Well, yes. And it must be said: The argument made in Thrive precisely mirrors an argument that Joseph Goebbels made in his infamous Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew: that a handful of banking families, many of them Jewish, are running the world and seek global domination.
Foster Gamble inoculates himself against charges of anti-Semitism, stating flatly: “This is not a Jewish agenda. Let me be clear.” But while he scrubs out the openly anti-Semitic aspects of the disgraceful idea, the rest of it haunts the film.
And, once again it must be said, when describing symbolism used by his imagined Dark Lords of the Universe, Gamble does not hesitate to note that the Sign appears on the building that houses the Israeli Supreme Court, “which is funded entirely by the Rothschilds.”
To prove his economic theory, Gamble invites G. Edward Griffin, author of The Creature from Jeckyll Island, which recounts the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank, a historical moment which Griffin claims was orchestrated by the “global elite who want to control the world and create a New World Order.”
One of several veteran conspiracymongers who appear onscreen in Part Two of Thrive, Griffin is a longtime leading member of the ultra-right wing John Birch Society, a fact not mentioned in the film. For those who may have forgotten: The John Birchers practically invented the modern conspiracy theory.
Founded in 1958 to carry on the work of the anti-Communist crusader Sen. Joe McCarthy, the Society went on to battle the Communist conspiracy we now known as the Civil Rights movement, and its leader, whom many of them referred to as “Martin Lucifer King.”
Then the Birchers focused their energies on revealing the existence of a Satanic (literally) group they called The Illuminati—a cadre of powerful families that secretly rule the world. (Never heard of the Illuminati, or think it’s just a cool sci-fi trilogy beloved by stoners in the ’70s? Ah-ha!)
Enter the Reptilians!
While Griffin may be the most far-right pundit to appear in Thrive, he is not the most far-out. That would be David Icke, although it would be impossible to know that from the interviews that appear in Thrive.
Icke’s role in the film is to explain the economic theory behind a common banking practice known as fractional reserve lending. He does this in less than two minutes, with the help of South Park-style animations, as though explaining the theory of relativity to an attention-challenged second-grader. And, of course, he makes the practice appear sinister.
For a more sympathetic portrayal of the practice, see George Bailey’s bank run speech in It’s a Wonderful Life: “You’re thinking of this place all wrong, as if I had the money back in a safe. The money’s not here. Your money’s in Joe’s house, that’s right next to yours. And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Makelin’s house, and a hundred others. You’re lending them the money to build, and then they’re going to pay it back to you as best they can...” That’s fractional reserve lending.
Point of fact: Without fractional reserve lending, almost nobody reading these words would ever be able to own a house. You would need to raise not only a down payment, but the entire value of a home in order to purchase it. (Or be born with a fortune, as was Foster Gamble, whose grandfather founded Procter and Gamble.)
At any rate, Icke’s brief explication carries the day for Gamble, who concludes that with this banking ploy, “we inevitably become debt-slaves to a ruling financial elite.”
Icke then goes on to explain, in a minute or two, how banks caused the current recession purposely, in a plot to get their hands on all of the nation’s real property—a devious plot that has been “going on for centuries.” Again, as with many copnspiracy theories, there's a pretty big grain of truth to that.
According to the film’s website, this is David Icke’s area of expertise: “Icke reveals that a common formula—‘problem-reaction-solution’—is used by the elite to manipulate the masses and pursue alternative agendas.”
But a glance at Icke’s own website reveals that this is not his primary area of inquiry. Icke, it seems, is bringing the work of the John Birch Society into the New Age, furthering its study into the Illuminati. Like the Birchers, he swears he is not an anti-Semite, yet his site is rife with attacks against the “Rothschild-Zionists” who have, among other things, surrounded President Obama.
Icke’s innovation is that he tells the ancient conspiracy lie in the language of a self-help guru. “The Illuminati are not in my universe, unless I allow them in,” he says. “And then, I give them power. They’re frightened, frightened entities.”
It’s telling that Icke uses the word “entities,” because Icke believes the Illuminati, the people running the world, are not people at all.
David Icke, the man championed in Thrive for his insight to economics, spends most of his intellectual energies showing that the world’s leaders, from Queen Elizabeth to Bill and Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama, are not human, but are members of “bloodlines” descended from an interplanetary cadre of evil, god-like human-snake hybrids he calls “Reptilians.”
Two minutes into a video on his site titled “Demonic Possessed Reptilian Rulers,” Icke explains how these creatures do their black magic. Over images of George Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama moving in super-spooky slo-mo, Icke says: “What [the Reptilians] are doing in effect, through the secret societies they’ve set up, is manipulating these bodies into power. But in doing so, they put themselves into power, because they’re controlling the mental and emotional processes of these vehicles.”
To put it another way: He isn’t one of those right-wing “Birthers” who believe Obama’s an alien. He believes Obama’s an alien.
In another video, “The Arrival of the Reptilian Empire,” Icke explains that “outside of visible light, [the Reptilians] feed off human energy, off human emotions.” And in the three-dimensional world, they feed off people. Literally. The video features an interview with a cohort named Alex Collier, who, in high dudgeon, says: “There were 31,712 children disappeared in the last 25 years in the United States. These children were food.”
In the final section of Thrive, the tone of the movie shifts dramatically, once again returning to the lush landscapes and beautiful music of Part One. This section, called “Creating the Solutions,” lays out a list of strategies for creating a better world. And again, the film is salted with appearances by progressive leaders: the Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva, pop spiritualist Deepak Chopra, health food guru John Robbins, independent journalist Amy Goodman, biologist/philosopher Elisabet Sahtouris and Zen priest Angel Kyodo Williams, to name a few.
Most of the solutions Thrive puts forward will resonate with its target audience of spiritually inclined progressives: stay informed, shop local, eat organic, avoid GMOs, etc. But not all. Given the troubling complexities of part two, I was only slightly surprised to find that one of the values of the future Thrive depicts is “little or no taxes.”
No taxes. Sounds good—but does that mean no public libraries? No state parks? No public transportation? How about roads? Social Security? Haven’t the Gambles seen what this kind of anti-tax rhetoric has gotten us? Doubled tuitions at UCSC, huge Reagan-era-style cuts in social services, decaying infrastructure. The list goes on.
Near the film’s conclusion, Gamble reveals the source of his anti-tax position, reverently introducing a man he credits with providing him with his Core Navigational Insight for the future: Ludwig von Mises. He does not mention that von Mises is the guru of right-libertarians, so-called anarcho-capitalists and radical Republicans such as Michele Bachmann, who quipped last year that she reads von Mises on the beach.
Gamble does lay out the core of von Mises’ philosophy of “non-violation, in which “nobody gets to violate you or” (ahem) “your property.” That philosophy translates into three rules: no involuntary taxation; no involuntary governance; and no monopoly of force.
In case anyone misses the point—that the state must wither so that man can be free—Gamble shares von Mises’ opinion that like Communism, fascism and socialism, “democracy wrongly assumes the rights of the collective, or the group, over the rights of the individual.”
But wait a minute. Wasn’t that Paul Hawken on the screen a little while ago? How did we get from Paul Hawken to a thinly veiled anti-democracy rant and Ludwig von Mises?
Paul Hawken happens to be one of my personal heroes. A veteran of the civil rights movement, Hawken founded a couple of successful companies in the 1970s, and then went on to became the world’s leading environmentalist/economist with the publication of The Ecology of Commerce in 1993.
In Thrive, he delivers a passionate speech drawn from ideas in his latest book, the marvelous Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.
“If you look at the people who are involved with restoring the earth and stopping the damage, and reversing the depredation, and nurturing change, and reimagining what it means to he human, and you don’t feel optimistic, then maybe you need to have your heart examined,” he says in the film. “Because there is an extraordinary, gorgeous, beautiful, fierce group of people in this world who are taking this on.”
Now, that’s what I’m talking about! Enough of this conspiracy hogwash—let’s do some positive-minded politics! (For a local example, see this week's cover story about the awesome work being done at Save Our Shores.)
In addition to being an admired economic thinker, Paul Hawken is a successful businessman and is nowhere near a socialist. Furthermore, Hawken was among the many sane people who championed the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, which Foster Gamble claims was an Illuminati/New World Order effort to create a global currency and destroy America’s sovereignty.
So—what’s Paul Hawken doing in this movie? I emailed him to find out. He replied he was just surprised as I was to find out he’s in the film.
“I did that interview many years prior under false pretenses,” Hawken replied. “I had no idea I was being interviewed for such a movie. Having said that, I have only seen the trailer [and] don’t really want to see the film, having read about it. I do not agree with the science or the philosophy.
“I do feel used, no question, as do others. It’s a lesson in signing releases.”
Similarly, In an email Thursday, Elisabet Sahtouris said that when she was interviewed for the film, she understood it was to be a very different kind of movie, and is "dismayed" at some of what she saw in the final cut. "I loved the footage shot of me and my colleagues; I deplore the context in which it was used.
"To put the individual above community is simply misguided; without community we do not exist, and community is about creating relationships of mutual benefit; it does not just happen with flowers and rainbows... and no taxes."
It appears that Hawken and Sahtouris aren't the only people who regret having appeared in Thrive. In a scathing review on the Huffington Post, Georgia Kelly of the Praxis Peace Center reports that she has heard from several of other interviewees, none of whom had any idea they were helping to make a libertarian propaganda film.
Early in the film, Foster Gamble says that, at the beginning of his quasi-journalistic investigation, he decided to follow the number one rule: Follow the money. Having been a journalist for a lot of years, that’s a phrase I’ve heard frequently; many civilians think it’s our number one rule. It’s not.
The number one rule is get both sides of the story. The number one rule is don’t cherry-pick facts to suit your preconceived notions. The number one rule is be fair. The number one rule is tell the truth. The number one rule is keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out. Follow the money is, like, rule number 27.
Like Foster Gamble, I believe there is a secret pattern at work in the universe. Most people do. The Buddhists call it the Dharma, some Native Americans call it the Great Spirit or Great Mystery, and it’s what some Christians and Jews mean when they say God, or what some Muslims mean when they say Allah. If Foster Gamble wants to come up with is own word for it, no problem.
My big problem with this film isn’t its zany metaphysics or its Neanderthal politics or the fact that it seems to try and hide its political agenda. My problem is that Thrive promotes an irrational way of thinking that undermines logical political discourse. I hate to see my community being tricked into buying this nonsense.
In my humble opinion, one of the most magnificent expressions in all of creation is the human mind, and our ability to appreciate beauty and understand truth. Thrive is an affront to both.
THRIVE (with Q&A with filmmakers)
Thursday, March 15 at 7pm