Thursday, December 01, 2016

Bonus enlightenment. Outtakes from my piece on James Ray.

Today Slate features my essay on James "Death" Ray* and CNN's Ray biopic Enlighten Us, which will now premiere Saturday, Dec. 3, as per the network. What follows is what I'd intended as a postscript to the piece. I can see why it was cut: Note to young writers, when you label something a postscript on a story that's already running long, it's your signal to your editor, "Cut this self-indulgent crap." I still think it makes interesting points, and the Bob Proctor connection is fun. Read the Slate piece first as a refresher course, then read this and let me know what you think. Also, please let me know if you "get" the allusion in the piece's inside title. My editor was dubious.

Proctor and Ray: Two peas in a fraud.

It bears noting that Ray's best-selling book, Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life you Want, gave prominent play to a blurb from fellow Secret alum and self-described “metaphysician” Bob Proctor. Proctor is an eye-opening case study in his own right. After the economy tanked in 2008—thus signifying that the Universe had rebuffed a lot of those acquisitive vibes put out by Secret faithful—Proctor began offering his "11 Forgotten laws" download for the low, low price of $97. These were a set of pointers that Secret creator Rhonda Byrne had somehow overlooked...and it was a damned shame, too, because they just happened to contain the very knowledge without which the law of attraction remains stuck in neutral! That's what had gone wrong for all those poor Americans who lost their homes, cars, and credit ratings just two years after The Secret broke. But we digress.

In his fulsome blurb, Proctor says of Ray's book, “Harmonic Wealth is a classic. James Arthur Ray did not just write a book, he went out into the world and made it happen...”

It's a quote that not only drips with dark irony, given some of what Ray “made happen,” but that also reveals more than Proctor intended.

James Arthur Ray is Patient Zero in the cynicism, the narcissism, the utter lack of shame and responsibility at the heart [sic] of modern self-help and its “empowering” liturgy. He sold a philosophy in which selfishness masqueraded as empowerment—and, you see, the empowered person does not amicably abide detours along the path to his rightful place in the order of things. So it was with Ray himself. When Colleen Conaway fell from that balcony in San Diego, Ray could not abide a detour in his program. He could not abide consequences. Same with the sweat lodge. And now, in his legal gambit, he seeks to retrospectively undo the detour of Sedona and the 20 months he spent behind bars. For prison was not Ray's rightful destiny. His rightful destiny was Oprah and CNN specials and the red carpet that he walked at the Tribeca premiere of his film. As though he were Sly or Spielberg.

And the staggering magnitude of the hypocrisy. As one example, for all of Ray's rants about the power of the human spirit and celestial “vibes,” detectives investigating the Sedona episode found in his hotel room a suitcase full of performance-enhancing drugs including steroids, HGH and anti-aging potions. So if his customers needed only their warrior wills, Ray apparently needed a trove of pills. He sent his hopeful dupes out into the desert without food and water and insisted that they learn to harness the power of the mind; meanwhile, he went back to his suite and harnessed the power of something quite different.

Despite self-help's bubbly, non-serious public image, there is an ugliness at its core; danger lurks. In too many cases (especially among "no limits"/Empowerment types) it is a “belief system” constructed on notions that are antithetical to everything we teach our kids. It is a realm where winning is indeed the only thing, and how you play the game matters only insofar as its efficacy at animating that victory. What's more, the people in your orbit are mere props in this quest. They're expendable.

And as Proctor tells us, no one in self-help has done a better job of modeling this behavior than the master, James Arthur Ray himself. He is the proof of his curdled pudding.

* as the inimitable Salty Droid called him.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

She just said No. A case study

Received an email the other day from Laurel VanWilligen, who said she'd just finished SHAM and had a few thoughts to share. Following (eventually) are Ms. VanWilligen's remarks in the form of a guest column (published with her consent, of course). I applaud her for her honestyespecially in that she comes from a medical background. The column focuses on addiction/recovery, a theme we haven't touched on in a long, long time. Some of you may recall that my thoughts on AA were a large part of the impetus for my book, and certainly formed a topic of considerable controversy in the dozens of radio call-in shows I did when SHAM was first released. That may have been a decade ago but addiction is timely again, as we know, (no) thanks to the heroin epidemic now blighting not only America's cities, but our suburbs as well; this became clear during the presidential campaign. Speaking of which, I have taken down my prior post, "Deplorable. Irredeemable. Maybe so." Apologies to those who graced the blog with their thoughtful comments, but it's time for the healing to begin. And now on to our guest blogger:
As far as addiction, I can attest to the weird power of "just say(ing) no," even though I'm no Nancy Reagan fan. I was addicted in one form or another for 40 years...never particularly intrusive in my work life. I functioned at a high level (as an ER physician) for most of those years, until I retired 10 years ago. I would say sleep deprivation had as much negative effect on me as any particular drug, but that's a different book.

Anyway, one day a couple of months ago I woke up and said to myself, "I don't want to be an addict anymore." And that was it. Haven't really had an urge since. 

I can say unequivocally that 12 steps and "admitting a higher power" would not work for me. I am an atheisthave been one since the age of 25and foresee no change in the future. So a higher power was not going to help me.

Further, if magnetic therapy works, wouldn't you expect people coming out of MRI scanners to be cured of all kinds of things? Or at the very least, after all those fields had been momentarily aligned, to be "reset"? 

I believe my journey shows the disease "burning itself out," as you spoke of in your book. I seemed to need to get to that point before I could just stop. And I honestly don't believe any amount of bullying or 12-step intensity could have done it before that time. I'm not sure I would have believed it could work that way if I hadn't lived it... 

Anyway, thanks for the book and the clear thinking. 

ED. NOTE: Be interested to hear from some of our mental-health professionals on this one.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Trumpnost. Or, confessions of a semi-repentant Trump-aholic

UPDATE, Monday, Oct. 24... It's nice  to see that we've got an honest-to-goodness (or -badness?) conversation going around this topic...the first in a while now, he says with some chagrin. Be that as it may, and unless that Sweet Meteor of Death rescues us in the interim, we're just a fortnight removed from Election Day 2016. Would be nice to have good ol' SHAMblog serve as the venue for our own little family "discussion" about some of the attendant issues till the clock runs out (or the celestial object hits), no?

Consider this piece a bookend, if you will, to last week's USAToday column on Citizen Trump.

Like my little rendering of Trump & Pence?
I was at first drawn to Donald Trump—which is to say, fascinated by his rhetoric—because he was so disarmingly unabashed in his political incorrectness. It was mesmerizing to watch this caricature-esque billionaire say the outrageous things he said, incite the contempt he incited from the punditry class (as well as many in his own party), and then run away with the primaries. (It was almost as if offensiveness was his very raison d'etre.) Perhaps a better way to put it is that I was drawn to what Trump's oratorical inelegance symbolized: the bedrock notion that people are allowed to hold and voice unpopular, even reprehensible, opinions. He stood for the idea, to which I very much subscribe, that Americans should be allowed to say almost anything, no matter how controversial or even hurtful. For better or worse, that is the very basis of free speech. Popular, antiseptic viewpoints need no special protections, after all. 

So if at times I recoiled at the content—the Mexican rapists, the McCain thing, Megyn bleeding “wherever”—another part of me was titillated by the mere fact that someone, no less a candidate for the presidency, would utter such remarks in front of live mics or in formal sit-downs with Wolf and Megyn herself. The idea of a candidate talking sans filter was refreshing in a world in which we were suddenly supposed to filter everything: a world of safe spaces, trigger warnings and microaggressions. Donald Trump perpetrated MACROaggressions. He did it daily, and even seemed to thrive on doing it. This was all the more uplifting to some of us steeped in academia's stifling protocols, where one is forever at risk of being censured if not booted out for entertaining an unapproved thought. (Colleges are the last places where there ought to be "safe spaces." As I've written in op-eds, colleges are the great laboratories of the mind, and as in actual laboratories, we must sometimes handle that which may harm us.)
'...people are allowed to hold and voice unpopular, even reprehensible, opinions....' 
The improbable rise of Donald Trump testifies that there are least 13 million Americans who have deeply held beliefs, reasonable beliefs, that they've not been allowed to admit, let alone act upon. Alas, they lack sufficient wealth or status to insulate themselves from blowback from today's increasingly fascistic thought police; more bluntly, they lack “fuck-you money.” Thus, in a sense, in this age of surrogates, The Donald was their surrogate. Even if he didn't specifically address all of their grievances—even if he now and then went overboard—his brashness clearly felt like philosophical camaraderie to Americans who were sick of hearing themselves dismissed as racists, misogynists and xenophobes.

Americans, in other words, who were sick of being tossed into a “basket of deplorables” long before Hillary uttered the piquant neologism. Trump himself hasn't addressed all of the following points, but in a sense his very candidacy speaks to them, symbolizes them. It is not racist to be annoyed by #BlackLivesMatter's enshrinement of thugs like Michael Brown, or to aver that "mass incarceration" is actually "mass criminality." (For the record—memo to college campuses—it's not even illegal to be racist as long as you don't violate any laws by actively discriminating against others.) It is not misogynistic to feel that if a man and woman are both drunk, and they got that way voluntarily, any ensuing sex isn't rape. Nor is it transphobic to harbor the once well-established view that you don't want an adult person of indeterminate gender (but with a penis that would seem to settle the matter) sharing a bathroom with your teenage daughters; at minimum he may embarrass the hell out of them. Are people of traditional mores the only ones we don't care about offending nowadays?

The bottom line is that you can believe all of these things and more without being evil; the millions of Americans who fall into that category should never have been marginalized by our culture to begin with. No small part of Trump's early impetus was that he stood up for people who, despite white privilege (or maybe because of it?), had been disenfranchised by the discourse-tyranny of the Left. Even on those rare occasions when the candidate himself wasn't screaming, his attitude fairly screamed It's OK to speak your mind! Yes, even if what's in your mind is, ironically, unspeakable. 

I thus saw Donald Trump as the Lenny Bruce or Sam Kinison of politics, if you will. Or perhaps the Howard Stern: the “shock jock” of political campaigning. Although I don't think I could've ever pulled a lever for him—that seduced I was not—I felt he was an important addition to today's sociopolitical landscape, a necessary counterweight to the coercive forces of neoliberalism. 

In more recent days, however, I've had my wake-up call...and a rude awakening it was. It now occurs to me that comedy is comedy, and governance is governance, and never the twain should meet. The man whom I once found “refreshing” in his “honesty” has revealed himself as a serial liar and a pathological narcissist, as well as someone utterly out of his depth in seeking the nation's highest elective office. It also occurs to me that if Trump says reprehensible things, it may be because he's just, well, reprehensible. An awful human being. And if I deem it unlikely that he could reach the Oval Office, it nonetheless aggrieves me that there is always that chance. Especially in recent weeks as he pulls even with Hillary in the polls. 

That said, I'm not willing to shoulder my share of blame for Donald Trump; nor will I lay it as a yoke on the shoulders of my fellow Americans who remain in his thrall. 
All of this is happening—Trump is happening—because of political correctness. 
The chickens are home, and roosting madly. This is what you get when you force authorized points of view down people's throats for too long. This is what you get when you tell people that their legitimate fears and hopes and lenses on life are unacceptable, if not "unAmerican."

This, Donald Trump, is what you get. You might even call it "Trump Spring," or, forgive me, trumpnost. Donald Trump is a creature of the backlash against PC orthodoxy. So let us all sit back and gaze upon what we, in our socially just enlightenment, have wrought.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Hot off the Web: Kill the messenger, if you must, but...

...not (necessarily) his message.

My thoughts on how Trump's candicacy has suberverted the normal give-and-take of our multi-party system. There are debates we very much need to have that we are not having because Trump-the-man is such a turnoff.

From this morning's USAToday

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Suggested readings in nonconforming thought: a tantalizing trio with some brio.

Three bits of reading matter for you this morning. One, courtesy of long-time follower Londoner (the nice one, wink), describes the counterattack against campus orthodoxy led by UK students.
See, there are students who actually value free speech.
Funny, I'm reminded of my long-ago conversation with the editor who was working on the UK version of SHAM, and he candidly said he wondered if the book would catch on over there inasmuch as "we Brits are so cynical about this feel-good shit to begin with." (Maybe we were too hasty to declare our independence?)

Second and related, SJWs who enjoy quoting their favorite study about the panoply of injustices that afflict minorities might want to ask themselves:
Is social science really junk science?

And third, for those of you who just "know in your bones" that the criminal-justice system is rigged against blacks, there's this. Yes, it quotes more studies, but at least these studies are anchored in tangible facts, not perceptions or cute little interpersonal experiments that may or may not be repeatable.
The myth of criminal-justice racism.