Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Shermer, SHAM, Secret.

Nice plug for SHAM again today from skeptic-in-chief Michael Shermer, this time writing about The Secret for Forbes; Shermer is making me into something of a "usual suspect" in his observations on self-help. As almost always seems to be the case with such references, the casual reader would have to stick with the column about 90 percent of the way through in order to reach the first mention of me or my book—and that can be frustrating (to me), given the short attention spans of so many of today's readers. But it's also validating in a way, because it means that observers tend to use my work as the coup-de-grace in their own denunciations of the SHAMscape.

Though Shermer unaccountably comes a bit late to the party where The Secret is concerned (and I think some of his sales figures are outdated; either that or everyone else's numbers have been greatly exaggerated), you should check it out. The priceless Yogi Berra quote in his lede—which I'd heard a long time ago but forgotten about—is worth the price of admission all by itself. And, like many Berra-isms, it's surprisingly pertinent, if you think about it.

UPDATE, THURSDAY MORNING, Oct. 11: Heard from Michael Shermer last night, who gave me a good-natured but much-deserved slap on the wrist for that offhand line about his being "late to the party." He writes:

"Thanks for the plug thanking me for the plug... But I'm not at all late to the Secret game, as I did a column on it in Scientific American in the June '07 issue, out in May, written in February (three month lead time)...." He then graciously segued into some good wishes for SHAM.

As Shermer suggests, it can be very difficult to seem "on top of things" when you're writing for magazines, where the lag between the germ of an idea and its appearance in print easily can exceed six months. So, as we say on the ball diamond, my bad. By the way, speaking of being late to the party, this is the perfect place for a sheepish admission of my own: A SHAM fan from Down Under tipped me to idea behind The Secret a long time ago, when Byrne's Boondoggle was still in larval stage—which is to say, well before it had gone viral and I first posted on the topic in January 2006 (at which time I finally predicted it would be a smash success). I shrugged off that first tip, however, thinking the idea so silly that it couldn't possibly gain that much momentum through word of mouth. Right.

As I wrote back to Shermer last night, clearly there's no such thing as too silly anymore....

51 comments:

Cosmic Connie said...

Congratulations on the plug, Steve. You're becoming a "source" to be reckoned with! :-) And yes, Shermer is showing up a bit late to the party... but better late than never.

Anonymous said...

I love Shermer's writing. He has a way of debunking things without the jargon or the overly technical talk.

Anonymous said...

For a second when I saw "Shermer" I misread and thought you were going to speak of David Schirmer, the supposed financial wizard in The Secret whose greatest claim to fame appears to be using the Awesome Power of the Universe to park his car.

According to an Australian tabloid television show (yeah, I know, not the best source in town) for some reason Schirmer's also been attracting people who claim he's a deadbeat.

If you go to YouTube and do a search for "David Schirmer" and "ACA" you can see some of the screaming soap opera madness. So far three reports have been aired. Complete with accusations around the web of multiple affairs on David's part, among other things.

(He admits to at least one affair in a PDF one of his, uh, supporters has been circulating, mostly so he can blame said woman for his current woes with a lame "woman scorned" joke. Later in the same PDF he hints that his "decision" to stay with his wife and kids (which sounds rather "eenie-meenie-miney-moe" the way he puts it) is indicative of his commitment to "family values".)

The first installment is almost painful to watch as he's totally nailed to the wall and tries to squirm out of it. WELL worth the ten minutes it takes to watch it.

You'd think The Secret people would have done a modicum of screening before they'd put people in front of their cameras...oh, but there I go being negative again.

Mary Anne said...

I have read a lot about David Shirmer's problems and I think it's pretty funny. Why is that people with skeletons in their closets, like Shirmer, do this stupid stuff? They ask to be knocked of their self-appointed pedestals. Now in "Secret" speak wouldn't this mean Shirmer is attracting these affairs and scorned women? Shirmer does not seem to have a "Secret" answer for that and neither do most of these "secretons."

gregory said...

it is often amusing to read the writing of a linear mind debunking something holistic or multidimensional.... mr. shermer's article seems the result of a mind already made up, with a fundamentalist's addiction to linearity and dogmatism..... i went to his site, and the shermer vs. chopra debate seems a good example of this....

who buys self-help books? people stuck in an attitude that they need to change something in their life.... that they buy another one 18 months later simply illustrates that they are still in the same mind-set.... that says less about the self-help books than it says about people's resistance to change and transformation .... most of us would rather be right than be happy, or successful, or enlightened....

that industries have been created out of what was once the simple act of giving advice or help or assistance seems natural enough given the change in scale and velocity of communal life, especially in the "west", where nearly everything has become commodified and monetized....

there may be good arguments about whether or not thought precedes action, whether or not attention is given prior to situation, and the relation of individuality with what well may be best described as group mind, but these arguments and points of view will NEVER be found by blanket skepticism or the mocking of the human aspiration to grow and achieve.......

why debunk anything? what are you trying to protect? if fools are fools, and you know better, how can the fool hurt you? what are you actually afraid of in this field?

Steve Salerno said...

Why debunk anything?

Is that a serious question, Gregory? Look, I think you make a lot of very interesting philosophical points, and you provide intriguing slants on the nature of being and the quest to understand same. But when you reduce your arguments to questions like that--with their fundamental dadaist overtones--I am greatly puzzled, because in essence that question also (cynically, rhetorically) asks, what is the point of knowledge/wisdom? So we should leave the "fools" at the mercy of the charlatans (or, simply, the "visionaries" who tilt at windmills, and take everyone else along for the ride--at $26 a pop or $10,000 a seminar?) To follow your logic, why have an FTC or an FDA, then? (Or, if you oppose the so-called nanny state on principle, why have a Consumer Reports?) Why not just have a society built entirely on caveat emptor, where each person is free to re-make every dangerous/counterproductive mistake made by his forebears, and all children's toys are made with lead-based paint?

Cosmic Connie said...

My apologies to Michael Shermer too, and I should know better -- because now I do recall seeing earlier comments from him about "The Secret." Actually, much the same thing happened to me (not that I'm putting myself in Shermer's league) with my "Wrath Of The Secretrons" article on "that other" skeptic site, CSI. I wrote most of it late last November/early December, and a condensed version was published on the CSI site the following March. Several months later someone put a link to the article on Boing Boing, and it received a new round of recognition, including a mention on many of the pro-Secret sites. More than one pro-Secret person said, "There's nothing new here...we've heard the same old arguments before..." etc. etc. Maybe so, but they weren't "old arguments" when they were written, and they weren't so old when they were initially published. :-)

I will say, Steve, that your blog is one of the first places I heard of "The Secret," and yes, I do think you're one of the first people to write critically about it. In comparison to you I was late to the party myself, not blogging about it till August 2006. Even so, that was some months ahead of the real critical backlash. For several months it seemed the only media coverage of "The Secret" was favorable, or at least neutral.

As for the David Schirmer saga, which I've been following since the scandal broke last spring, has anyone heard any updates lately? I do remember how "St. David" Schirmer was trying to make himself into a Law Of Attraction martyr of sorts; for a while he was saying his troubles were due to people not wanting to accept the truth of LOA and "The Secret." So of course they were merely attacking the messenger, or so he would have us believe. Not many folks were buying the martyr story, though.

RevRon's Rants said...

Gregory,
You would absolutely love living in Hong Kong, where the ability to commit an act infers the inalienable right to do so. The end result is a small percentage of the populace living in absolutely idyllic conditions, while the vast majority barely survives amid a squalor unimaginable to most Americans. Such is the condition when observers of the human condition are silenced, and those with loud voices are allowed to act without some degree of regulation.

I am certainly not a member of the hard-core skeptics' legion, and cherish the pursuit of spiritual awareness and growth. However, I hold to the belief that the same Divinity that is the source of spirituality is also the source of common sense. When I see modern-day snake-oil salesmen enriching themselves by peddling nonsensical "laws" and claiming to have the exclusive answers to life's purpose and dilemmas, my reaction is one of disdain, to put it mildly.

gregory said...

i was asking a personal question in the "why debunk anything?" phrase.... why put our attention there? instead of the very many other places it can go..

i think comb-overs are ridiculous, but i don't spend much time thinking about why someone does it, or the fraudulency implicit in it... i see what is good in the person, or contemplate something else...

this is what i wanted to know, why is the issue so important to you? once bitten, twice shy? or, something you don't like in yourself you see in the hucksters? it is not my business, of course, but in the spirit of blog commenting, a conversation i couldn't have any other way with you, i was wondering what the inner motive was....

there are some very interesting dynamics going on in america these days, this subject is one of them, and i find it interesting to go even deeper in the consideration of what is happening in our world...

debunking mr. bush and mr. cheney is also pointless, if the goal is to change something... one just has to live in a different way, in a different mental structure, or system, and that is the way change happens.... debunking isn't very useful, and this has been suggested in the canard "we become what we oppose"

keep cooking, thanks for your blog

RevRon's Rants said...

For the life of me, I cannot think of a single case in which anyone's spiritual path was diverted - or their savings depleted - as a result of someone else's comb-over. The legion of hustledorks who peddle an unending stream of ludicrous "secrets" which they claim will unlock the meaning of life are another matter, altogether.

"debunking mr. bush and mr. cheney is also pointless, if the goal is to change something... one just has to live in a different way, in a different mental structure, or system, and that is the way change happens"

So we are to simply ignore it when a person of influence and power takes actions which destroy others' lives? Sorry... I don't go along with the Neville Chamberlain school of behavior. As a member of the human race, I do feel some degree of responsibility to my fellow beings. Even our Constitution has mechanisms in place that would be more appropriately applied to bush & Cheney, which may well be implemented before all is said and done.

Steve Salerno said...

I'm with you here, Ron. I don't get Gregory's apparent determination to sell an equivalence (especially a "moral equivalence") between all things, as if someone's penchant for a comb-over were no more or less innocuous than someone else's penchant for duping others out of their life savings, or leading a nation into war (all the more so if the reasons for going to war are not as stated). And his notion of bringing about change by living "in a different mental structure" sounds unsettlingly Secret-esque. Are you saying, Gregory, that we can defeat whatever tyranny threatens or oppresses us simply by thinking about it in a different manner? One hates to be overly simplistic/realistic when we're supposed to be arguing deep philosophical constructs, but I'm reminded of what a former editor of mine once said when a discussion of "positive mental attitude" got a bit too airy for his tastes: "The 6 million victims of the Holocaust would've been just as dead if they imagined themselves in Hawaii instead of, say, Dachau..."

I keep feeling as if I'm missing something here. Am I?

gregory said...

revron and steve salerno think that they can change the politcal structure of america? so, boys, what are you waiting for? i will expect the evening news to carry the results of your work tonight. and if you want to admit your powerlessness, then we can begin a conversation about how, and where, within us that we experience reality, and is what we experience in fact real and not a result of conditioning or point of view or personal, often unconscious, motivation....

and, all things ARE equivalent, in the fact that they are simply received perceptions that have no intrinsic meaning.... meaning is applied by a huge mechanism we can call personality or culture or psychology or whatever... one man's terrorism is another man's liberation struggle is one example...

if you are the podium trying to help someone, or even trying to get their money, you will have one truth, and if you are in the audience either believing or being skeptical, you will have another...

given this arbitrary and relative nature of "reality", where lies wisdom? to me, wisdom lies in seeing both sides of a story, in seeing all stories are transitory... that a good student can learn from a bad teacher... that what pushes our buttons reveals more about us than what it reveals about whatever did the pushing....

so again, i will ask, why does the self-help thing bug you so much? and what use is "de-bunking" in changing anything?... it actually just reinforces your already-established positition and limits learning...

you probably don't agree, but many wise people say that there is no such thing as a stressful situation, there are only stressful reactions....

life is lived inside our awareness only, there is no other place

RevRon's Rants said...

"many wise people say that there is no such thing as a stressful situation, there are only stressful reactions...."

And there are fools who are able to convince other fools that they are wise. Show me a person who claims that all things are "equivocal," and I'll show you someone who doesn't get out much.

Furthermore, show me a person who chooses not to act because his actions might not have a noticeable effect, and I'll show you a person who has lost perspective of the true value of action. Life's joy - and deepest responsibility - is in the journey, not the destination.

The Crack Emcee said...

I'm not gonna say a word - not one freakin' word - I'm just gonna sit here, shakin' my head, wondering how this "open-minded" (or possibly more "civilized") approach to discussion is supposed to accomplish anything. (I woulda cut to the chase and landed a punch, or two, by now.) Greg is here, like an image in the ether, waiting for a real answer. Or is it all smoke like he says?

C'mon, Gentlemen - the barbarian is watching - and this is a fine topic for it:

Do something.

RevRon's Rants said...

There was time in my life when I felt the need to pound my chest (and anyone I perceived as an opponent) to prove something, mostly to myself. Thankfully, that time passed years ago, and I save the "poundings" for situations where they are truly justified. As it turns out, those occasions are few and far between.

Cosmic Connie said...

CMC: With all due respect, Greg had some opinions about Steve's post and expressed them. Steve and Ron disagreed with Greg and expressed their disagreement. And yes, all of the discussion has been civil. I've found it all interesting and worth pondering.

What do you think could be "accomplished" by all of the participants verbally beating each other up? Something like what was "accomplished" with previous discussions that turned rancorous?

I know where you're coming from (to use an old expression I always disliked) re your "open-minded" remark. I've heard the skeptics go on about how we shouldn't be so open-minded that our brains fall out, etc. etc. etc. That argument is as old as the New-Wagers' accusation that their opponents are "closed-minded." But there's a huge difference, IMO, between being open-minded to the point of gullibility, and choosing to engage in civilized disagreement on someone's blog.

It really doesn't matter how rancorous or how civil -- or even how silly -- we are on our respective blogs; more than likely, we are not going to solve any problems with our endless words. But hanging around the blogosphere is a (mostly) pleasant way to spend some time.

From a larger perspective, Gregory is probably right about the uselessness of debunking. He's also probably right about there being "deeper" things going on with all of us, individual reasons that our particular buttons are pushed by this or that -- even beyond the reasons we've all stated at length.

Unfortunately, in day to day life this "larger perspective" too often translates into a repugnant sort of moral relativity, a "non-judgmental" point of view that has caused so much heartache and destruction throughout history. This p.o.v. is hardly the sole province of New-Wage culture, but New-Wagers have taken it to a new level.

It's all well and good to contemplate our own deeper reasons for being so upset by certain events or phenomena -- and yes, that old term, "Clean up your own back yard" is always appropriate -- but that doesn't mean we should completely ignore what's going on around us and not try to do anything about it.

But I think Steve and Ron already expressed those sentiments more eloquently than I.

The Crack Emcee said...

O.K. - as expected, Poland believed the non-aggression pact - and lost. France (I mean, Steve) Russia (Connie) the ball's in your court:

Anybody got an answer for Greg? It's a fair question:

Why are you doing what you're doing?

Mary Anne said...

Gregory said, "so again, i will ask, why does the self-help thing bug you so much? and what use is "de-bunking" in changing anything?... it actually just reinforces your already-established positition and limits learning..."

I have to ask, is Gregory a self-help guru? He sounds like these guys who can't answer my questions in the seminars. I cannot answer for Steve and Ron, but I can answer for myself about my problems with self-help. It does ANYTHING,but help others in most cases. Tell me Gregory, if you saw a child playfully running in front of a car would you push the child out of harm's way or would you let the child get hit? I would assume from your posts you would let the child get hit by the car, because it is a universal accident. Gregory have you ever studied Socrates or ANY of the Greek philosophers? I happen to be a big fan of them and they discuss moral responsibility to a great extent. They cover the idea of ethics. I am anything, but closed-minded and actually read QUITE a bit. I am well-educated though and cannot wrap my brain around unsound arguememts or fallacies. I think it is morally wrong to take someone's money or time knowing that what is being sold is of no value. Most, if not all, of these gurus know they are selling a dream. It's like selling a used car knowing it is a lemon. In California we have a law for that, but not for self-help. It is even worse to advise someone, who is probably in a lot of pain, to do something that is illegal and could get them arrested just to get some attention. Yes, we are responsible for ourselves and when I was younger I thought that it was best to let a person learn their lessons the hard way. As I got older, I realized that was not a very compassionate, loving, or ethical way of living my life. If my thoughts or critical thinking skills can save someone from making a foolish choice than I will do what I can to help that person. I would also push the child out of the way of a moving car too, though.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie, I think that is truly wonderfully put. (Please ignore the use of sequential adverbs, but it's the best I can do on a busy Monday.) And it has nothing to do with your avowed admiration for my (or Ron's) "eloquence." You are perfectly eloquent in your own right and, in general, you seem to have this facility for praising the middle ground in a way that makes it (i.e. the middle ground) sound like a much more sensible and even noble place to be than I, or Ron--or certainly CMC--ever thought. As for Gregory, I gotta be honest, I still don't feel that I know what he thinks. That's not to be interpreted as criticism, per se. I just mean what I say: I haven't quite "gotten there" yet. And I honestly wonder in which of us the blame for that resides.

gregory said...

probably what gregory thinks has been influenced by mystical experiences and recognizing that the I is what sees the thoughts, and is not the thoughts.... and some years of considering how the world works, without falling for the received wisdom of american male culture

and as far as the child in front of the car.... reaction happens, and the mystic will perhaps be less paralyzed than someone who thinks about things, or operates from a self concept

living in india for so long, and seeing so many saints of one stripe or another, is quite a transformative experience for a white boy from seattle

enjoy, keep the level high, this can be a great blog

The Crack Emcee said...

Steve,

I'd say it's the desire to be open-minded that is allowing Gregory's charge to have validity - you guys are being as vapid as he is. I try to pin things down. That's not being "rancorous" but demanding people make sense, be honest - concede a point - to not be willing to do that is what (usually because someone doesn't like my tone of voice - an argument that allows them to escape the question at hand) that's what makes things hostile. Right now, I'm applauding Mary Anne for diving head-on into the subject.

O.K. - Poland, France (Mr. SHAM, himself) and Russia are gone - kiss it all gooodbye, Kids. If this is how easy it is, for new agers to out-maneneuver you guys (because my way seems too harsh to be permitted) then there's no hope left for any of us. Let 'em kill, cheat, swindle - whatever they want.

Just give up the ghost, or whatever the saying is.

RevRon's Rants said...

Connie, You might want to go back and watch the movie "The Majestic" again before agreeing that debunking is useless. It wasn't some great political machine that ended the McCarthy witch-hunts; it was a very few people willing to call destructive behavior as they saw it. Had those few people not ignited the passions of the masses, we as a nation might still remain collectively huddled in fear of being branded as traitors.

It might take awhile, but even a whisper of common sense has the potential for drowning out the din of stupidity. And while dramatic actions might gain more immediate attention for the actor, a noble cause is better served by the dispassionate demonstration of intelligence. Barring an actual war, or the immediate need to defend one's physical well-being, ideas offered calmly will be assimilated much more readily than those shoved down another's throat. That's why, as Steve pointed out, you are typically more persuasive than either of us in getting ideas across. The intellectual equivalent of the Vibrating Palm, as it were.

The Crack Emcee said...

I just put up a post about how so-called "reasonable" folks - in this case doctors and scientists - are getting run over because my way seems too harsh. And while I agree "even a whisper of common sense has the potential for drowning out the din of stupidity" there's also the words of Mark Twain:

"A good lie will have travelled half way around the world while the truth is putting on her boots."

And, in this case, those lies are killing people while y'all are trying to look cool.

How sad that is, to me, is beyond words.

RevRon's Rants said...

"And, in this case, those lies are killing people while y'all are trying to look cool."

Sorry, crack, but far more damage is done by people trying to prove how "macho" and "bad" they are than by people who engage in intelligent dialog. The hope is that they will eventually develop a level of self-assuredness & maturity that precludes the need for chest-beating, and discover the "hidden" gray area between absolute apathy and overplayed bravado.

The Crack Emcee said...

And Greg, still, doesn't have a clear answer,...

The Crack Emcee said...

Rev,

Something just occured to me:

Wars are "settled" by violence. I'm not buying this feminized idea that all aggression is bad - it's just man-hating bogus talk. We wouldn't be here, hashing things out, if some men, somewhere, we're willing to go the distance for something. Women do it to - especially mothers - if they sense there's danger to their offspring. The whole idea is just more new age crap, designed to undermine the order of things, when men - and their ways - have provided the vast majority of culture, art, etc., that we all appreciate.

Sorry, Dude, but guys that have "grown a couple" are nothing to diss - it's those that don't "have the balls" to step up that are the embarrassment.

You practically said it yourself in your post about debunking. Eventually, somebody's gotta do it, or you're left with the muddle this conversation's become:

Where's Greg's clear answer to his clear question?

BTW - I think it's fascinating that such an ephemeral presence (sp?) as Greg can stump you guys. That's all new agers are ultimately trying to do - force your hand.

Are you "man enough"?

Mary Anne said...

I haven't heard anything new about St. David Shirmer, but I wait with baited breath. I love watching the YouTubes of him. They are too funny! Now how does he explain the Law of Attraction about his problems? Has he been thinking bad thoughts and attracted these people to tear him down? How come he doesn't imagine that he has paid these people so they disappear. Can't he just imagine them away? Isn't it only HIS reality? These are the questions I ponder.
BYW, if the Universe is so bountiful, why are the Hicks fighting with Byrne about the Secret. Isn't there enough money to go around?

Steve Salerno said...

MA, there's never enough money to go around, apparently; not to these folks. It's like--to shift contexts a sec--when Regis Philbin, who's 112 years old and could never sing to begin with, steals time away from his million-dollar morning TV show to take his crooning act on the road in places like Atlantic City. I mean, come on! He STILL doesn't have enough set aside for retirement??

CMC, yeah, I'll concede that Gregory sometimes has me "stumped." But I mean that literally: I honestly don't think I know what the guy's saying. I might find it easier to refute some of his arguments if I could follow his train of thought. Is he talking on a plane that's beyond my ken, poor benighted soul that I am? Or is he talking total random gibberish? I still don't know yet.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Wars are "settled" by violence."

On the contrary. Wars are "settled" when one or both of the parties come to the realization that their exercise in violence is futile, except in cases where one side completely decimates the other. And believe me; even the "winner" in such a situation loses more than you can imagine.

Those who have actually "grown a couple" are no longer so desperate to prove it. I "went the distance" years ago, only to learn how useless such actions typically are, and to look with sadness at those who, having not tasted the bitter reality, glorify the process. It is because of such "chickenhawks" that we are currently embroiled in a bloody quagmire, with no resolution in sight.

MaryAnne - I don't think there will ever be "enough" for some of these folks, because it isn't about actual possessions with them; it's about showing their ability to *acquire* the possessions. For example, one guy (whom I happen to have known for years) calls himself the "Buddha of the Internet," yet is constantly driven by his obsession to acquire more "stuff," coupled with his need to inform the world as to what he has acquired. It's a classic case of being driven by the desperate need for reassurance, and to be constantly told that he is more worthy than he thinks himself to be. And he does get that feedback, albeit from people who don't know him or his history, beyond the picture which he offers in his writings. Those who challenge his ideas are typically treated with dismissive condescension, which is then reinforced by his "cheerleaders." So long as that need is being fulfilled, there's little motivation for him to transcend it. I believe the same process applies to a significant percentage of the New Wage guru-wannabees.

Hmmm... verification word is gddyapp. :-)

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve,
I know what you're saying about being stumped. But isn't it inevitable that you feel that way when you encounter someone whom you perceive to be "stuck on stupid," yet feel compelled not to publicly state as much, out of respect for his feelings (if not decorum)? :-)

Mary Anne said...

Steve, call a spade a spade and admit Gregory is speaking gibberish. He cannot answer a direct question with any reasoning or anything near reasoning,e.g. gibberish. He contradicts himself a lot too. When I brought up women in Islam and the Middle East, he did not address my question. What happened to his "everyone is equal" platform? Women are 51% of the population, but I guess to Gregory we do not count. Here is his direct response to my stock moral question about saving a child, which proves my whole point:

"and as far as the child in front of the car.... reaction happens, and the mystic will perhaps be less paralyzed than someone who thinks about things, or operates from a self concept"

That is no response, but what is called a "false analogy" and if I was in a physical debate with him, he would lose. I must give full disclosure and say that I am using Gregory's posts in my English Critical Thinking class. He has given me ALL of the logical fallacies for my presentation. BYW, here is the definition of a fallacy: Error in reasoning based on faulty use of evidence or in-correct inference(=an interpretation of the facts). This definition comes from Sylvan Barnet, CRITICAL THINKING READING AND WRITING, New York, NYm Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 2005

Mary Anne said...

Rev said, " I don't think there will ever be "enough" for some of these folks, because it isn't about actual possessions with them; it's about showing their ability to *acquire* the possessions."

Now does this not contradict the teachings of Buddha, Jesus, and St. Francis? Was it not about getting rid of possesions and NOT being attached to this material existence? I agree with you Rev about this lack of contentment and need to acquire objects to prove worth, but this need is in conflict with what the cons are teaching. Of course to bring this up would be "thinking negatively."

Steve Salerno said...

MA, re Gregory, critical thinking, etc.: Remember, though, that the mystic tends to discount the applicability of critical thinking to the realm, just as the Catholic Church (in which I was brought up) dismisses the very idea that logic has any place in a "discussion" of faith. Which explains why the nuns kept sending me out into the hall during released-time. And also why I eventually stopped going. (P.S. You may not get the reference if you didn't grow up in NYC of that era.)

Kinda makes it easier to "win" an argument when you start from such premises, huh?

RevRon's Rants said...

"the mystic tends to discount the applicability of critical thinking to the realm..."

Steve, I think it would be appropriate to differentiate between the mystic and the poseur here. A true mystic *demands* that the student look critically at everything - even/especially the mystic's teachings. Even after 35 years, I can still almost feel the sting of the birch rod from those times when I blindly accepted something the Master said. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Well, I'm not as sure as you are of the distinction here. (I can remember the nuns being pretty didactic and disciplinary, too--and I don't think they had much "critical thinking" on their side.) But your point about purist vs. poseur is well-taken.

RevRon's Rants said...

Having not grown up in the Catholic Church (I was raised Baptist), I can't speak with anything resembling authority on the nuns. However, if they were anything like some of the deacons & Sunday school teachers I knew, their objective was to perpetuate rote adherence to dogma, rather than encourage a deeper understanding of principles. While I would not be so harsh as to label them all as poseurs, neither would I consider them mystics. Perhaps just ordinary folks, placed in a position for which they were neither spiritually nor intellectually prepared or qualified, yet saddled with the responsibility of perpetuating the "faith" as they understood it.

Steve Salerno said...

I hear you, Ron. But the thing is, the nuns would insist that faith could withstand the scrutiny of "their kind" of analysis. So, they not only mandated the faith, but they mandated the "authorized intellectual framework" within which their dogma was allowed to be "analyzed." I decided after a while that, reduced to its essence, that intellectual framework went as follows:

If we can't explain it, it must be God's handiwork--thus proving the validity of Catholicism.

Alternate "justification": If Jesus said it, it must be so.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - Such is the crux of my assertion that religion and spirituality are frequently mutually exclusive. Religion becomes the machine by which a specific interpretation of a teaching is quantified and enforced, while spirituality is the commitment to seek a level of personal truth and applicability of a given lesson, event, or parable.

The Master who taught me had little patience with fixed interpretations and dogma, and insisted that unless the lessons offered by the Buddha were able to withstand complete scrutiny, they were useless. His attitude was quite well encapsulated in the title of a book that Richard Layton wrote in 1996, long after the Master's death: "If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him!" :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

This conversation has taken an interesting turn. CMC, I could go on and on about why the self-help and New-Wage "cultures" alternately amuse, annoy and disgust me, but I HAVE gone on about that on my own blog as well as in various discussions on this forum -- and frankly, I get tired of hearing myself sometimes. :-) So I'm not here to win or lose any debates. Wimpy? Maybe. But I actually thought I did address Gregory's question(s), without making it too much about "us versus Gregory."

Ron, I agree with you (and, I think, Steve -- and, in essence, you too, CMC) that on one level, debunking *is* useful, and necessary, if we're to keep ourselves from drowning in nonsense or worse. Even so, all of the debunking we do isn't going to keep more "bunk" from emerging from the ethers (or wherever all that crap comes from). And, in a nod to what I think Gregory was trying to say, I also concede that from some "larger" perspective, what we perceive as "bad" or even "evil" may not necessarily be. But as I also said, that doesn't mean we should just sit around and do nothing to save ourselves or each other from "bad" things. The child running in front of the car is a good metaphor.

Truth is, CMC, I think I am still capable of learning from everyone, "even" Gregory with his "gibberish" and puzzling statements and even his logistical fallacies (you go, Mary Anne! :-)). I have been and continue to learn from you too, CMC. Your acerbic songs about New-Wage culture are on my playlists these days. And take this for what it's worth, but I think that's really where your true strength lies -- in artistic expression.

PS - I am, as it turns out, part Russian.

gregory said...

logic has uses, especially in the discussion of things that can be quantified, not so useful in things that are more qualitative, completely useless in art, love, emotions...

can't tell what was wrong with my comment about the child in front of the car, one either acts or one doesn't, and each will happen prior to thought or analysis...

this is the same with much of what we call critical thinking, it is often used to support pre-existing opinions, or to justify emotional reactions.... true critical thinking, i would offer, is more accurately described as critical (inward) listening, intuition and direct apprehension of what to do, or how things are structured, is what really happens in discovery, and critical thinking is then applied to support the internal knowing...

many of these things are slowly being discovered by neuroscience, neurophysiology.... the mystic would say that knowing occurs prior to mind, prior to thought, pre-verbally... there is also a fair amount of discovery about knowing at a distance, being able to feel in the space beyond the boundaries of the body, being able to visualize mentally the interior of the body.... a contemporary biologist working on aspects of this is Rupert Sheldrake....

a useful model that helps to explain differences in points of view is by Don Beck, and is called spiral dynamics; Ken Wilbur also uses this set of concepts...

my opinion about self-help is that there is something useful that is derived from the (seeming) fact that what we put our attetntion to is often what grows in our life, that visualization and mind mapping have value (ask an athlete)..... that the genre is abused is natural enough, so is every other field of life, religion, politics, love, you name it...

The Crack Emcee said...

Mary Anne,

You go, Girl!!

Steve,

You don't "know what the guy's saying" because - he's not saying anything! It's that Krishnamurti conversation all over again, designed to make you think he's deep and you're missing something.

Rev,

"The 'winner' in [war] loses more than you can imagine."

Please. The U.S. is where it is, partially, because it decimated Germany and Japan. And, having lost a few (physical) fights in my time, barring a stab wound and other scars, I'm no worse off for the effort - possibly even better for it: I know my limitations, and some guys I've "had to" beat up (people who did me wrong) have even thanked me for it, and become my friends, respecting me because I was willing to stand up for myself, and showing them the error of their ways.

There's really more to it than your "Master's" indoctrination allows. It's not always how you're framing it - proving how hard you are while drunkenly arguing in bars - but being respected, as all people should be.

As the United States should be too. That's why I don't listen, much, to the whining about foreign attitudes regarding the war: doing the right thing shouldn't be up for a vote - especially by people who don't live here. It's silly for people to say, "France doesn't agree!", when the french haven't made the promises we have (like we did to the Iraqis in '91) or share our concerns - but were dealing with Saddam, themselves, under the table. It's always better to stand up for right - even if it requires sacrifice - and set the example that we are who we say we are and ask that others follow suit. As rappers like to say, "Word is bond."

And, as far as "no resolution in sight", I've seen several articles that say things are better than you'll allow.

Connie,

It's not about "winning" or "losing" to me either - there's that framing again - but clarity. Rev's "grey area" (and Greg's gibberish) is intended to posit that we can never know anything - which is BS. We know a lot. And people who try to deny that are trying to lead us astray. As Christopher Hitchens said:

“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant and selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”

I'm really glad you like the songs. (You know I learn from you.) For anybody else, who's wondering what we're talking about, here are some links to music:

http://cemcee.bashandpop.com/
http://www.myspace.com/cemcee
http://cdbaby.com/cd/crackemcee

Mary Anne said...

Steve, you were the pre-Vatican II years of Catholic school. I spent 13 years in Catholic school and attend a Catholic college. All I had to say was, "Jesus loves me" to get an A in religion. I was taught world religions, ethics, and values in high school. The one nun I had for a teacher was AMAZING and taught my Western Civ class. She did not even blink when I asked about Alexander the Great being homosexual and she gave me the correct answer about that in relation to the ancient Greeks. She encouraged me to study Greek philosophy and Roman writers. I actually am quite religious, but my religion has no place on your blog. It would be akin to discussing sex with my grandmother, inappropriate. I studied to be a Hindu when I was 14 and do my yoga daily. I am not a practicing Hindu, but the gibberish Gregory is putting out does a disservice to people who are spiritual and I am offended by that. I do not agree that logic is not a part of spirituality. The truly spiritual people I know, welcome debates and would not allow Gregory to get away with what he is doing by hiding behind spiritual mysticism.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks for the added perspective, MA.

Gregory, I think we need to be very careful in distinguishing between things that cannot presently be quantified, and things that are, by their essence, not subject to the laws of quantification. However, even that may be a false dichotomy. I was reading (or trying to) an interesting book over the weekend, Chaos and Fractals, and it became clear to me as I read that science eventually may be able to plumb many of the concepts that presently are viewed as "beyond science" (i.e. because they seem too inherently "slippery" or have too many variables). Who knows; our friend Dr. Neil Clark Warren of eHarmony, with his "29 dimensions of compatibility" or whatever it is, may merely be taking a highly commercial baby step in a direction that eventually is recognized as a form of science. Perhaps in our lifetime physics will be able to provide us with an actual answer to the riddle of love--incalculably sad as that outcome might be to those of us who label ourselves "romantics."

But my other, more utilitarian problem with your answer, Gregory, is that such reasoning provides the shadows in which the charlatans of self-help can hide. For every mystic who says--sincerely--that his metaphysic is "beyond the understanding of science," there are probably 100 con men saying the same exact thing in order to separate gullible or desperate people from their hard-earned money. And they do so KNOWING that what they're saying is total b.s. You apparently are able to just shrug that off and say "oh well...." I have a harder time doing that.

Mary Anne said...

Gregory said,"can't tell what was wrong with my comment about the child in front of the car, one either acts or one doesn't, and each will happen prior to thought or analysis..."

You DID NOT answer the question. THAT is what is WRONG with YOUR response. I'm going to type this really slow for you, WOULD YOU (not Buddha, Ganesh, Jesus, or Obie One Kanobi) push the child out of the way of a moving vehicle or WOULD YOU allow the child to be hit?

Mary Anne said...

Steve said, "Perhaps in our lifetime physics will be able to provide us with an actual answer to the riddle of love--incalculably sad as that outcome might be to those of us who label ourselves 'romantics.'"

Romance is subjective. I think this science is VERY romantic. This type of statement is what I was referring to about "negativity" in regards to where science is going. I hear this type of talk and it irks me a bit, because it is taking the stance that science is unromantic and that is speculative. I label myself a romantic and gain GREAT comfort from the scientists exploring these fields. So now I know there are physical reasons for my emotions and actions. Great romantic poets have known this for centuries, but were called "love sick." Are we as a society so uncreative that solving the "riddle of love" will leave us with no other riddles about love? I think as long as humans breath, there will always be a "riddle of love."

RevRon's Rants said...

Crack - If the true measure of a man were his willingness to pound his chest - and anyone he perceived as an opponent - no man who has ever lived would measure up to a silverback gorilla. And the last I heard, they were facing extinction, while civilized, "unmanly" humans seem to be doing all right. Just a thought.

"Rev's "grey area" (and Greg's gibberish) is intended to posit that we can never know anything"

Missed the clue bus again, at least where my statements are concerned. But that no longer surprises me.

"There's really more to it than your "Master's" indoctrination allows."

I wasn't aware that you were well-versed in Rinzai teachings, or that you had ever experienced the initiation. But if you are as much an authority on the human repercussions of war as you claim (without ever having actually experienced it, of course), such a claim of esoteric expertise should come as no surprise. Simply amazing.

gregory said...

this is a nice, long, thread.... must be something in the topic that generates so many responses..

mary anne.... i tend to move pretty fast in emergency situations, at least up 'til now in this life (my mom is 90, am spending every day with her for a few weeks while in america, and she doesn't have the capacity to move very much) and i say that as example to point out that you are asking for an absolute answer to a clearly hypothetical question in an unknowable future, and that you don't like my relative replies really limits communication.... it is completely NOT possible to say what one would do in such a case.... we do know from a famous stanford experiment that people will do pretty much anything to other humans if simple circumstances are created, despite what their ideas about themselves were prior to the experiment (it has to do with torture, perhaps you have heard of it)....

and mysticism is not a big deal, it is simply recognizing that thoughts are arbitrary and relative, and aren't as important as the awareness they appear it.... it doesn't take much life experience to begin to recognize that living in the mystery of not knowing is where all learning occurs, as well as joy and and and..

there was a nice science article in the wall street journal this last friday about neuroeconomics (!?!) which nicely illustrates steve's accurate take on the progressive nature of human thought, and scientific discovery... this is a fabulous topic, and it is clear now, for example, that the human genome project discovered far more mystery than certainty, dna and even rna are not nearly the subtlest structures they were thought to be....

my two cents worth is that consciousness is going to be found as the basis of everything, "spiritual" or "material"...

gregory said...

oh, crack emcee.. i looked at your post, thanks... i am very curious about something i call the "true-believer syndrome", something i am hyper allergic to, and see nearly everywhere.... it seems completely human, and very scary... (your ex's comments that you mentioned)... it has something to do with ego and identity, but so far as i know has never been researched.... but god knows i have been in the believer's camps on many occasions...

maybe one way of measuring growth is by how quickly one can get over one's missionary or messianic tendencies.... another is the increase in ability to integrate seemingly opposite views into one thing....

lot of possible directions this dang shamblog could go!!

gregory said...

my favorite (de-bunking) article on "the secret"
http://www.kenwilber.com/blog/show/238?page=2&return=archive

the same article is here:

http://www.stuartdavis.com/node/1138

Mary Anne said...

I was going to leave this alone, because it has become tedious. I can tell that Gregory gets off on trying to sound mystically important with inappropriate authority references and ambigious language. I base this on his inability to address a DIRECT question and his circular reasoning in responses to justify his NOT answering a direct question. A judge would have a field day with Gregory. I'm posting, because I have to thank Gregory. I got an A on my presentation using his posts! My professor asked me where I found such a good display of lack of reasoning skills and ambundant use of fallacies. It is rare to find so many from one person. Most people are careful with them, because too many fallacies can lose an audience. I directed him to Gregory's posts on SHAM! One of my mottos is, "make it work for you."

gregory said...

mary anne, i will put you in the "good german" category, the love of absolutes being a great cause of distress on this planet..