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Dismantling Narratives One Film at a Time: An Interview With Marijn Poels by David Boos

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Dismantling Narratives One Film at a Time: An Interview With Marijn Poels

The Dutch independent filmmaker Marijn Poels recently released his latest documentary “Pandamned,” in which he searches for the driving force behind the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read a full review of the documentary here. Prior to the release, we met with Marijn in April in his home in Germany to discuss his latest movie, secular ‘religions,’ China, and what he thinks the ‘endgame’ might look like.

The topic of your latest documentary “Pandamned” is COVID-19. Could you give us a quick summary of what you have uncovered during the process of making the film?

Is it about COVID-19? Or is there something deeper underneath the surface, which we are not supposed to see? That’s the whole question. A lot of measures are taken, supposedly to protect our health. But they are not helping our health at all. The question for me was whether governments are stupid, or whether this is part of a plan, as these are the only questions you can ask if you are a skeptic. 

It appears as if there is a narrative first, then a problem follows. We see it in war, we see it with climate change, and the same with COVID. Fear comes first, and an emotional response follows, not one based on reason. One of the first things I noticed was that we had a shortage of beds in hospitals, and what were we doing? We decreased the number of beds even further over the last two years! As a Dutchman it’s the same as saying “the water levels are rising, let’s break down the dikes!” And the whole population is quietly accepting this. 

I am not saying that we are in the middle of a conspiracy—that we are being manipulated. I understand that we need to manage people in a correct way. Full democracy is complete nonsense, because that would mean chaos, and chaos is not a very secure way of managing more than eighty million people in a country like Germany. Therefore you need management, but the question is whether the management is honest, opaque, and transparent—and that’s the difficult part, because we are heading towards a world of digitalization where governments aim to take away freedom from people to reach a certain goal. Everybody should resist this, since there are other ways to manage people to achieve a goal. And that is the thin line we should be guarding, how much we allow governments to lie. It’s a very thin line determining how much you can lie to do some supposed ‘good.’ 

You see it in ancient Egypt where Amenhotep III was creating the sun gods, and it was the wealthiest dynasty Egypt knew—based on a lie. And it’s not a problem to build a society on a lie, but it is important that everybody believes in it. The moment people are starting to be skeptical, it means the religion is outdated and we should invent something new. From ancient Egypt to the Romans to the time we live in now, this has stayed the same. We need religion. But we killed God; religion is not a big part of our being anymore. If traditional religion cannot be used effectively anymore, they need to come up with other lies, to create something instead. 

Let’s say you are visiting a doctor who tells you that you are suffering from a lethal disease, so that you will be dead within a year. You will be desperate and accept that this will be your last year. But one week before you are supposed to die, the doctor calls you to tell you that there is a new method on the market to save your life, but for that he needs to amputate your left leg. Of course, you will accept it because you are in fear of dying, a fear which he created—and he gave you the solution. You won’t ask yourself whether he already knew one year ago that he needed a leg. By the time he is amputating your leg, you are falling on the one knee you have left, thanking him as your savior.

This is the type of ‘management’ I’m seeing in the climate and Corona debates. Apparently, in this way, you can turn a democracy into an authoritarian regime—in a ‘democratic’ way! And this, I guess, is important in my story, that it’s not something particular about COVID, but it’s more about recognizing the patterns of the sun gods we are creating. And I think that is the main topic in the film: that people need to start seeing the patterns and to recognize that the patterns are being copied with every global threat.

I believe the idea of guilt is very central to these secular religions. In the case of the climate debate, the religious aspect seems obvious in the way we feel weighed down by an enormous amount of guilt we inherited from our predecessors, over what we have done to the planet, and now it is up to us to ‘purify’ ourselves from that guilt by saving the world’s climate. Does this translate to the COVID discussion in any way, and if so, how? If we recognize many of the same patterns—where is our common guilt with COVID?

The guilt is not being vaccinated: you are guilty because you can infect people who are vaccinated. It’s a lie, but that’s how it has been presented, right? So, you are guilty of ‘not taking part in a healthy global society,’ and you are the disruptor. And it can be connected to climate change as well, arguing that this virus came out of nature because we messed up nature. It’s very easy to connect these two in your mind. In fact, they are already connected ever since the media first told us that it came from an animal in a Chinese market. This is the narrative the majority of people believe.

The idea of nature striking back?

Right. Nature is striking back. The power of the narrative of climate change was about creating a lot of fear: we will be burning or drowning within twenty years. There were pictures in the Spiegel of the Reichstag under the sea level. These were not reasonable articles, it was just fear mongering. Also, the imagery of climate change is related to the death not of our generation, but of the generation after us, so our kids are attached to it as well, which is a very strong cognitive impulse. All these metaphors are connecting like neurons in our brains to create super-metaphors. 

With climate change already ingrained in the mind as a threat, COVID added another threat. We saw all these people dying, falling, collapsing on the ground in Italy, in China, and we were all scared the first month. The next step was when Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough, and all these celebrities entered the stage and connected the dots of climate change and COVID. The debate is completely irrational, but there is no other possible opinion because people are in fear and it is difficult to take that fear from people. It is being used in politics as well. A lot of cognitive scientists are working in politics, working on marketing, on propaganda. Cognitive science is one of the major branches of science we should pay closer attention to, because this is where we can find manipulation.

But why do you think management, as you called it, needed to introduce these kinds of measures? Management in the West was stable, doing its job, everything was going fine. Why the need to introduce these concepts to gain more power for the management if the power was already there? What was intended?

We face a couple of threats on a geopolitical scale. We face China, which is highly digitalized, and authoritarian; and we see there that you can achieve much more as a government when you are a little bit more authoritarian. And the digital market is the market of the future, with the development of artificial intelligence, etc. The biggest question of the last twenty years is, who will become the leader on the digital market. But the problem with America and Europe is that we have a very bad digital infrastructure, while having a very good analogue infrastructure—which may even be too good and thus poses an obstacle for developing digital infrastructure. 

To be the leader in artificial intelligence we need to combat China, and that’s why the old system needs to be destroyed, but there needs to be a legitimate reason to destroy the old infrastructure and to progress to a new era of digitalization. COVID was the perfect tool to speed this process up. It has been used, abused, or created, to move us into a digitalized world and to control people digitally, with digi-IDs, with green passports, etc. Early on we heard Angela Merkel praising China for its effective way of dealing with the COVID situation. They went through the pandemic with relative ease—because they were authoritarian. 

I think it is a battle of who will lead in this new era: America and Europe want to be the leaders, but they know they are far behind. In the end, everything has to do with becoming more efficient, because that’s what we are addicted to. That last 1%! How can we manage to have these eight billion people organized in the most efficient way? Connecting everybody to a digital world is the most efficient way, without a doubt. When everybody is using electricity, then you are connected to the wires. And there is no way to escape, because they can see what you are using, and they can shut you down by disconnecting the wires. But people don’t want to be efficient, they want to be human. And humans are chaotic. Democracy should be chaotic as well. Instead, we are ripping people out of their natural biology to make them more efficient.

That’s an old socialist dream, to create a new human, a better human, a flawless human, isn’t it?

Yes, and it depends on your idea of ‘good.’ If your ‘good’ is to make people more efficient, well, then what we’re doing right now is a perfect idea. But when my base narrative is “I want to be as human as possible,” then what is happening right now is a very bad thing.

In many countries COVID-19 seems to turn into a non-topic already, while here in Germany we are still discussing the introduction of mandatory vaccination. How do you explain that discrepancy, and do you believe that COVID-19 is gone for good, or we will see a revival of hysteria in a few months?

To the last question, I don’t think it is gone at all, it’s still there, because all the rules attached to COVID are still there, waiting to be reactivated. I don’t believe in the end of COVID, because COVID doesn’t have a very clear start and a very clear end. For me, that is a clear sign that this is a tool that can be used whenever needed, similar to energy lockdowns that will come at some point, because we have gotten used to lockdowns. 

Lockdowns, from a management perspective, are actually a very smart tool. Because everything can be a crisis. And calling something a crisis is a very powerful thing to do, because a crisis allows you to get rid of democracy. When my village is on fire, that’s a crisis. And nobody is waiting to discuss for two weeks what to do with the burning village—no, everybody accepts it. This is a crisis, the firemen should do their job, they are the crisis managers. By calling something a crisis, you allow yourself to shut down democracy. I think there’s a method of rolling out crises, and slowly, or I think rapidly, democracy will slip into a digital… I don’t think it’s a dictatorship, but an authoritarian structure.

In the end, one could argue, it is inevitable.

Yes, inevitable. But it should be discussed openly. We are creating a monoculture, and a monoculture always becomes a desert, and a desert always becomes a dead planet. And that’s what we are creating in politics as well. No risks are allowed anymore. It is presented to us as a very good thing, but while I admire the technical, advanced digitalization, and I admire that I have a laptop, a phone, in the end I don’t think that people are happy with it. 

The endgame is that you will be going to the toilet, relieving yourself, only to read on a screen: “We investigated your poop, and the possibility that you will get cancer within ten years is 80%.” That’s the future. We can do it already. But is that the way we want to go? Somehow, I like the idea, and I might visit the toilet every day to read the predictions … but it doesn’t make you human.

COVID-19 divided an already divided society even further. Even on the Right there were many who supported the often draconian measures of governments. We are happy to be vaccinated and to exclude those from society who remain skeptical. With the outbreak of war in Ukraine, this divide has become even more drastic. It seems to be forcing people to pick sides, whether they want it or not. As someone with a free spirit, how do you deal with it when people try to put you on the spot? 

I don’t feel any difficulties with it, because we are born with a heart, and that heart tells me whether what I am doing is good or bad. I’m listening to my own feelings, so I don’t care so much about what other people are thinking. The whole world can spit me out, it’s fine. I came from the international development world, and I tried to save the world by making films in developing countries and I noticed that trying to change the world is a very difficult thing. You cannot change it from top down, you need to change it from the bottom up. And the bottom up is my family, my God, and my home; I can make that as good as possible, as peaceful as possible, and therewith I can inspire my neighbor, if he or she is being inspired by it. If not, that’s fine, too. And I can help them as well when they need me, but first of all I need to make sure that my own foundation is good, only then can I look further and maybe inspire my neighbor, or maybe the next village. If everybody had this attitude, which is basically a very selfish attitude, you could create something much more beautiful than trying to impose something top down. But I know a lot of people are used to certain narratives, fixed narratives. They are watching a film and hoping that they will have a different narrative at the end of the film. I noticed that this is exactly the problem of our times, that people want to have fixed narratives, because they don’t want to think by themselves. With my films, I am trying to force people to formulate an opinion themselves, which may be inconvenient to watch, because we are not used to it.

Is it fair to say that the debate culture hasn’t improved but deteriorated even further? Are we getting closer to an endgame, and if so, what do you think is the endgame?

The endgame is complete control of the population, that’s the endgame. But the question is: How do we arrive at this point? Are we going to war together, are we killing the ones who are different? That’s the question. But the fact of the matter is: if we are not talking to each other anymore, we start to fight. That is the most obvious endgame. I hope that we will learn from history, because we did it before, we killed each other before, and it didn’t make any sense. 

What I know for sure is that humanity needs to go through a very narrow opening, whether it’s in one direction or another, but I think tensions aren’t even at their peak, I think it’s going to get a lot worse. And COVID is only one part of it, more things will be happening, which will make us very angry with each other. I think it is fairly important that we grow up very soon, so that we can deal with that pressure. After this, I believe, there’s going to be a very bright and hopeful future in front of us.

David Boos is an organist, documentary filmmaker, and writer for The European Conservative and other publications.