Naomi Klein’s new book, Doppelganger, is a fascinating look into the “Mirror World,” a warped reality full of conspiracies and twisted fears. Klein’s premise for the book is trying to understand the ideological shift of her so-called double, Naomi Wolf. As Klein explains in Doppelganger, Wolf was once a celebrated liberal feminist author who wrote for the New York Times and advised Al Gore and Bill Clinton. In the past, Wolf and Klein wrote about similar themes, so people continuously confused the two online and in the real world due to their shared first name. However, while Klein has continued to research and write complex political analyses about capitalism and other leftist issues, Wolf has undergone an ideological shift, allying with Steve Bannon and propagating conspiracy theories. Klein felt that she was unable to look away from Wolf’s newer rhetoric, as people continued to confuse the two on Twitter and drag Klein into discussions. So she began to listen — to Bannon, Wolf, and other conspiracy theorists and darlings of the “Mirror World” — in order to understand what they were saying and how they had reached their perspectives.
Doppelganger is a comprehensive, if at times scattered, analysis of the ways in which the increased “doubling” in our culture is related to current political tensions and the new alliances of the right. Klein discusses many instances of doubling of the self in current culture, and frames her arguments with examples of doubles in literature, psychology, and theology. She explains social media personas as a doubling of the self that aims at creating a more beautiful and polished online alter-ego. She writes about wellness influencers and hyperfitness (a focus on an extreme or intense level of physical health) in response to fears about degeneration in old age and fears of becoming a worse, deteriorated alternative self, like in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Klein discusses the dangers of parents wanting their children to be a “mini-me,” a kind of additional self onto which they can project their desires and achievements. She explains how the far right is a warped mirror image of liberal society, taking its talking points and twisting them, at times reflecting them, and filling in holes in liberal discourse with conspiracies. Another type of double in our current global order, in which impoverished countries, where much of our consumable goods are made and where cruel labor practices and living conditions thrive, can be seen as a shadow outline of the West, as the underside of its luxury and overconsumption. In all of this, Klein ties together a strong analysis of capitalism, portraying its role in the doublings. She writes:
“Conspiracy theorists get the facts wrong but often get the feelings right – the feeling of living in a world with Shadow Lands, the feeling that human misery is someone else’s profit, the feeling of being exhausted by predation and extraction, the feeling that important truths are being hidden. The word for the system driving these feelings starts with a c, but if no one ever taught you about how capitalism works, and instead told you it was all about freedom and sunshine and Big Macs and playing by the rules to get the life you deserve, then it’s easy to see how you might confuse it with another c-word: conspiracy.”
Doppelganger is chilling. It paints a comprehensive picture of the problems of modern society, but it doesn’t just implicate society-at-large as an amorphous, impersonal entity; it implicates us, too. The most compelling part of the book is Klein’s commentary about what this all means for us — liberal/leftist society, those in the “real world” as opposed to the “mirror world.” Klein writes: “The more difficult truth, though, is that this is a doppelganger story, and doppelganger stories are never only about them; they are also always about us.” Part of our problem is that liberal society is not addressing the failures of capitalism or the ways in which we live which are dependent upon the oppression of others. She says: “We feel the brutal futures that lurk behind the glow of our screens, the purr of our engines, the speed of our deliveries. We know the deadly prices that will be paid by our fellow human beings far and near, and by countless other-than-human beings and ecosystems as well.” The op-eds and the exposition pieces have been written; factually, we know what is going on, but we aren’t addressing it. Due to the government’s refusal to create policies and much of liberal societies’ uneasiness in discussing responses to the issues created by Big Tech and Big Pharma, others fill in the gaps, but with fearful conspiracies instead of fact-based analysis.
The number of topics and connections that Klein raises is dizzying. Her overall argument that the doubling of the self is deeply intertwined with the doubling inherent in the operation of our society seems accurate. However, her statements are more absolute than is warranted.
For example, she writes in regards to the Holocaust that its atrocities paralleled those of European colonizers in other parts of the world but that what was different was that “it was now fellow Europeans who were being cast as the inferior race.” While it is true that the atrocities of the Holocaust were not entirely new or different, the tactics that were being used by European colonizers in other parts of the world were indeed being used within Europe before the Holocaust, such as through forced ghettoization and the pogroms, and the conception of Jews as an inferior race in modern terms was written about as early at the mid-1800s.
The broadness of Klein’s scope in critiquing society on the holistic level makes it impossible to fully explain every detail — many of the issues she mentions in passing could be entire books on their own. Moreover, the reasonableness and moderation of her arguments makes it hard for the general reader to identify where they fall short without having studied that specific issue in depth. Klein argues in Doppelganger that part of the distortion of the “Mirror World” is a result of the simplification of complex problems into explanations with easier solutions and more satisfying people to blame. Klein does a good job of being careful to draw connections in a nuanced and analytical manner, but at times it also seems that the framing of “doubling” to draw all of these issues together may simplify them as well. Her arguments could be more true if she had been a little more careful to avoid simplification. Despite the scatteredness and incompleteness of some of her arguments, Klein says something important about our politics and our society: we need to address the blatant but often disregarded ways in which our society depends upon capitalism, the ecological destruction of our planet, and supremacist ideology. As wealth inequality worsens, the climate crisis persists, and unregulated technology increasingly encroaches on our lives and affects our realities, Klein warns us that we will soon need to contend with these societal ills. She calls for action, from naming the real systems that create these harmful doubles in society, to addressing them directly. The greatest message of Doppelganger is urgency and action. Klein writes: “If our present systems threaten life to its very core, and they do, then they must be changed.”