The Madness of Naomi Wolf

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      Wolf has tweeted that she overheard an Apple employee (who had attended a “top secret demo”) describing vaccine technology that can enable time travel. She has posited that vaccinated people’s urine and feces should be separated in our sewage system until their contaminating effect on our drinking water has been studied. She fears that while pro-vaccine propaganda has emphasized the danger the unvaccinated pose to the vaccinated, we have overlooked how toxic the vaccinated might be. And as the journalist Eoin Higgins reports, she is headlining an anti-vaccination “Juneteenth” event this month in upstate New York. (Yes, the organizers chose that date to suggest that vaccines are slavery.)

      Wolf’s views on vaccines led Twitter to ban her from the platform for peddling misinformation. I don’t think anyone should be banned from Twitter for this reason: What counts as “fake news” can be a matter on which reasonable people may disagree, and I’m sure Twitter’s view of the world doesn’t much resemble mine, either. Still, at least three or four people I love hold ludicrous beliefs about the Covid-19 vaccines, the result entirely of internet conspiracy-mongering. I don’t take the matter lightly. When a public intellectual declines this far, we need to ask: Was she always full of shit?

      It’s not hard to say, of course, that even 50 deaths from anorexia are too many. Yet at the best, most respected moment of her career, Wolf was reporting on a genocide that never occurred—with a narrative that’s strikingly similar to QAnon’s hysteria over trafficked children imprisoned in caves. But Wolf’s faulty statistics are not the only problem with The Beauty Myth. In form, the book resembled the Second Wave classics, which called for massive societal transformation through collective action. Wolf did urge a Third Wave feminist movement, but her most dramatic exhortations are appeals to the individual, not to society. They’re almost anti-political: “If we are to free ourselves from the dead weight that has once again been made out of femaleness, it is not ballots or lobbyists or placards that women will need first; it is a new way to see.” And who or what do we need to see? Those familiar with the dominant culture of the 1980s won’t be surprised to learn the answer: ourselves. The Reagan-era perspective gets a special reveal in the book’s last line: “A generation ago Germaine Greer asked of women, ‘What will you do?’ What women did brought forth a quarter century of cataclysmic revolution.” The next phase, Wolf argued, depended on “what we decide to see when we look in the mirror.” Waxing positively neoliberal, she contends that “the real problem is our lack of choice.” Milton Friedman could not have said it better.

      The individualism of Wolf’s early work hasn’t aged much better than the made-up facts. Nor is it unrelated to her recent devolution into fake vaccine science. A pandemic is a collective problem; vaccines a collective solution. Meanwhile, Wolf and her fellow vaccine resisters insist on their freedom to choose.

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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