Sunday, March 02, 2008

I wonder who gave Carlin his copy of SHAM...?

First things first. I'm finally getting around to developing an item on Byron Katie. Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn't email me about her work—and no, that's not a misprint, since in this case Byron is a her. And further, when I use the word work, I'm using it quite specifically, because Katie's signature product is known as The Work. (Right off the bat, even if you know nothing about her, doesn't it already have "that ring" to it? That pungent, unmistakable whiff of...well, never mind.) Thing is, it's going to take me a while to do this right amid all my other looming deadlines—among other things, I'm supposed to write an annual report (!) this week*—and then I'm off to Vegas to visit the kids on Thursday. So, till I've finally got the Katie thing ready for prime time, please bear with me as I fill space with "maintenance blogging." Like this.

Don't know how many of you caught George Carlin's live HBO show last night. He calls it It's Bad for Ya. The point is, Carlin did a riff on self-esteem that sounded exactly like what you'd get if somebody (presumably Carlin) sat down and distilled Chapter 10 of SHAM to a 5- or 7-minute comedic riff. He followed the narrative line of the chapter almost as if I'd roughed out his routine: from the stuff about imbuing schoolchildren with the faux self-worth that has proved so disastrous for American education, to the part about taking the competitive aspect out of games, to the part about how the highest reliably measured levels of self-esteem are often found in drug kingpins and serial killers.** He even hinted at the emasculation of today's boys.

Whether or not Carlin was inspired by SHAM, or even knows a thing about it, I felt gratified nonetheless to see him skewer self-esteem the way he did: applying his uniquely Carlinesque coup de grace. I gotta admit, though, I wouldn't have minded if he'd mentioned the book by name. Of course, that's never been Carlin's style.

Anybody else see the show? I'm sure HBO will rerun it frequently in the coming months.


I also wanted to mention that John Curtis' Americans Against Fraudulent Self-Help is sponsoring the nation's first (to my knowledge) Guru-Free Week, taking place April 1 to April 8. I mention it mostly because I thought the timing was nifty: having the event kick off on April Fool's Day. This is not to be construed as a specific endorsement of AAFS, which does solicit donations. Though it certainly sounds like a worthy enterprise along the lines of what Stephen Barrett has done with Quackwatch, I don't really know that much about Curtis except that he's been a solid supporter of my book and blog.

* Regulars know that I'll take on a select PR client here and there, if the money's right. This was an unforeseen but not unwelcome byproduct of the many years I spent writing about high-level corporate America for such publications as Worth, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and others.
** See SHAM, pp. 200 ff., if you have a copy.


Anonymous said...

I just want you to realize what you do: that every time a program comes along that offers hope and a positive outlook, your instinctive reaction is to tear it apart. You do it again here with Byron Katie. Is that really performing a service for people? And what does that say about your own mindset, Steve? I think the answers are obvious.

Steve Salerno said...

My stated position all along has been that false hope is no hope at all--and only sets people up for a terrible crash in the end. I stand by that, and the overall record of my blog.

As for any more specific response regarding Katie, I will present it in the form of my actual post, in the near future. Perhaps I made a tactical error here by introducing the topic before actually posting on it.

Anonymous said...

This blog keeps me updated on these weird self-help movements. I tried to read Byron's Work website, but it was too confusing for me. I read Byron Katie’s blog for March 1, 2008 and was amazed by what she wrote concerning her cancer and said, "wow." Byron is up there with Trolle for circular and nutty reasoning, which makes sense since he recommends her. I couldn’t read his stuff either without getting a headache.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I am so glad you are going to take on Byron Katie. I got taken in by her b.s. and am now slowly recovering my mind.

Fascinating that someone pro-Katie is already here attempting to defend "The Work", yet you haven't even written anything up yet! And why can't this person "love" what you are doing? That's what Katie teaches -- to love everything. As put forth in "Loving What Is" and other books, AND in her very expensive seminars.

Thank you for doing what you do, Steve. I agree that the false hope offered by New Agey approaches such as Byron Katie's just sets people up for a terrible crash down the line. I oughtta know, I've been there.

I can hardly wait for your piece on Byron Katie!

Anonymous said...

Aah, The Work. Not just any work, or even just work -- because that would not sell. Who wants to pay to work? Usually people expect *to be paid* for doing work. But The Work is a different matter altogether. Just like The Secret, The Way, The Journey, The Whatever Exalted Term du jour.

And the more highfalutin' the language, the less substance behind it. I have looked at Byron's site -- and oh my goodness gracious... Sorry, but it's all SHAM all the time (imo).

Really, you know, not to sound conceited here (rather mightily irked, in truth) if anyone wants to learn the work, I would invite them to spend some time with my mother who, with her eight-grade education, has worked all her life, multiple jobs at the same time, often in conditions that would blow your mind away, saving every penny for the future of her children and grandchildren. In her spare time (which I have no idea how she manages to find), she gardens and shares her veggies with neighbors, cleans her street (yes), and visits abandoned people in nursing homes, advocating for their needs like nobody's business (she is not very popular among the nurses :). The one egoless person I know. Just don't talk to her about exalted ideas -- she has no time for it. And I can promise she won't charge a penny -- likely send you back on your way with jars of pickles and flowers from her garden.

I also note that Byron has turned The Work into a whole enterprise, with students and disciples spreading The Word all over the world (for profit, no doubt). No surprise.

OK, enough bile for one post.

I checked the Guru-Free Week and was a bit disappointed, as it essentially entails not buying/reading any self-help books and/or watching any self-help programming, etc. Likely not applicable to SHAMbloggers anyway.

I expected something with more oomph, you know, like street performances, hot dogs stands, and bonfires where we could burn those dusty copies of "I'm OK-You're OK," The Course in Miracles, and effigies of Dr. Phil. But perhaps as the initiative evolves, we'll get to that level too. (OK, for Dr. Phil's friends and relatives and other easily offended lurkers: this was a joke.)

As to Carlin, Steve, I don't watch (no cable in the house), but maybe you could send him your book, with relevant passages conveniently -- and ever-so-subtly -- highlighted? Won't hurt. ;)

Steve Salerno said...

Elizabeth, your riff on The Work vs. the work is canny, dryly hilarious and, above all, on-point. Everybody wants a shortcut--and otherwise- intelligent people will pay a small fortune merely to think there's a shortcut. And if that shortcut fails, they just move on to the next one. Only at the end (if ever) do they realize that if they'd simply committed themselves to a course somewhat more active than perpetual navel-contemplation, they might not still be sitting around at age 65 wondering what happened to their life.

Anonymous said...

Well, thank you, Steve. As always.

I'm looking forward to your close encounter with The Work.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve!
This is about Byron Katie and The Work.
Carol Skolnick, who seems to be the #1 spokesperson and salesperson for The Work, has already claimed that The Work is NOT a SHAM! Case closed! She even used your book to prove it! Here is the link to her blog about about you and SHAM and The Work.

It even has the The Four (Circular) Questions of bad thinking, syllogisms, and mind-screwing posted there too, on the right.

Carol Skolnick, simply uses The Work on SHAM, to show The Work is not a SHAM. Convenient!

She starts with the Agreement Frame to disarm the reader, and flatters Steve and his SHAM book. Smart!

And since you didn't mention Byron Katie in the book, that means you must approve of it! :-)

The she does The Turnaround in 5 points, which are not only false and deflection, but deliberately ignore the point. (she does not talk about all of the stuff they do to your Mind at the 9-day seminars).

#5 is a completely consciously erroneous statement, as anyone who went to The Work School will tell you. Byron Katie wants people to love and need her more than life itself, to a dangerous degree, actually. Its crossing over into very dangerous territory, for some vulnerable people. deep deep Mind-screwing.

Her conclusion? Those OTHER LGAT guys are a SHAM, not us!

She then admits that The Work is NOTHING at all. She says it! Here is her (deliberately) circular quote of mind-twisting circular meaninglessness...meant to draw people in, after disarming their Objections. (sales).

fair-use QUOTE from BLOG:
"Is The Work a SHAM? We are free to make it into whatever we like: a dependency, a religion, a business, a meditation technique, a therapy, or simply a reality check. I have found it, at heart, to be nothing at all without our adding to it our own flavors and colors, and, most of all, our own answers. ...there's no damage done unless we say so, and if we say so, it's built into The Work that we can reverse any damage, all by ourselves."

Steve Salerno said...

You're stealing my thunder, anon--I was going to use that exact passage in my post. But thanks for pointing it out anyway. You just force me to be more...creative. ;)

Anonymous said...,12906,54042,page=22#msg-54042

holy moley, just noticed an internet post above, with some info about how the Katie company might have been making psychological or medical sounding claims on their website, and then the deleted them, and changed them recently. all caught as it happened.

problem is, the other website is still making the old claims, and tons of their partner websites still make the old claims.

it does look like The Byron Katie company does make some wild claims about The Work.

"a way to end all your stress and suffering"

"Eliminate depression: See perfection in situations that were once debilitating"

'Eliminate stress: Live without anxiety or fear'

"Reduce anger: Get angry less often and less intensely, and eventually not at all"

"Peace: Learn how to love what is, and find lasting inner peace"

Anonymous said...

Wow, Anon! "I have found it, at heart, to be nothing at all without our adding to it our own flavors and colors, and, most of all, our own answers. ...there's no damage done unless we say so, and if we say so, it's built into The Work that we can reverse any damage, all by ourselves."

This is just unbelievable! You're right, this itself qualifies as deep mind-screwing. That statement completely removes responsibility from The Work peddlers.

OK, let me get this straight: if this is nothing, why should we pay for it?

No damage done? How about the lost time and money (in addition to above-mentioned mind screwing)? She also appears to say that anyone who would ask these pragmatic questions creates the "damage" in his mind (yeah, I'd imagine it can be pretty damaging to realize you've been taken by con artists). But no worry, you can "reverse" the "damage," and all by yourself at that, clearly by investing more time and money in The Work "techniques."

Oh, this is going to be good, Steve. Can't wait!

Anonymous said...

I just read the Carol Skolnick soul surgery blog about SHAM and I got chills! I'm waiting for Rod Sterling to come out say I entered "The Twilight Zone. It is just so weird! Just because you didn't mention Byron in SHAM means you support her? What kind of reasoning is that? I know lost ten points on my I.Q. reading that Carol Skolnick blog. This is just too weird.

Anonymous said...

I've just read Skolnick's entry "discussing" your book, the one mentioned by Anon -- and I'm laughing my head off (being that I'm sick with a nasty case of flu, this is not as much fun as it sounds).

This is how denial works. What a textbook case, with all the funny (or not so) twists and turns along the way. It should be studied as such in psych classes, though I'm afraid it may be too obvious to be taken seriously.

It took me a while to comprehend that this was not a spoof.

Amazing. Amazing.

Steve Salerno said...

You know, folks, I have a feeling that by the time I get around to actually writing the post that a number of people "can't wait to read," it may have been largely written here in the comments section of this post--at least tonally. But as I said above, all this does is give me still more reason to go beyond the superficial public aspects of Katie-mania and do more due-diligence on the story behind the story.

Anonymous said...

Well, Steve, you should have kept your plans to yourself then. ;)

But fear not, no damage done unless you say so, remember? And you can always reverse it, y'know. I'm sure with The Work you can regain your peace of mind in a jiffy!

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. Reading all this, I can't help but wonder: Just as Ulrich Tolle changed his name to Eckhart Tolle to reflect his new outlook, did Katie Byron change her name to Byron Katie? Inquiring minds want to know...

Steve Salerno said...

Ben, you're pretty close. But again, we'll get to all that when I get a few moments (or more like days) free to write the actual post!

Anonymous said...

Steve, have you ever thought of giving SHAM awards? They would be awards for the most convoluted and bizarre reasoning with the ability to make money off of it without saying they are making money off it. I think you would have your first winner in Byron Katie.

I was a innocent in the SHAM land until I started reading your blog. In my previous SHAM blog life, I thought Giant Robbins was a used car salesman, Marianne Williams smoked too much pot, and John Gray should be flown to Mars, but with Byron Katie, this is a new plateau for SHAM. I eagerly await your post on The Work to mark this pinnacle in SHAM land.

Steve Salerno said...

That's not a half-bad idea, Anon. My instinctive reaction is that the blog would have to have a bit higher public profile in order for a "SHAM award" to have any real meaning...but then again, maybe something like that would help give SHAMblog the high profile I've long felt it deserves. Let me think on that...

Anonymous said...

A few random points:

-Steve please don't quit SHAM! The world needs it. We know you have a life to lead, BUT, why not become like

How about (you can cut that out of you want to register it first!)

There could be a ShamDic, with definitons and info. Over time, it could build up. Hey, maybe you could do another related book, and it would help promote it. Just an idea! Maybe Skepdic would want to work with you, so as to not overlap?

-perhaps use some of the comments here in the article, or transfer them to the new Katie article? After all, all the public discussion is great!

-Caro Skolnick, I think its true each time you read one of her articles your IQ drops 2 points, and it adds up. Maybe this could be measured in a laboratory, or on apes?

Anonymous said...

I just want you to realize what you do: that every time a program comes along that offers hope and a positive outlook, your instinctive reaction is to tear it apart. You do it again here with Byron Katie. Is that really performing a service for people? And what does that say about your own mindset, Steve? I think the answers are obvious.

I'm sorry but this just gives me the giggles. A pro-positive thinking person giving Steve bad vibes. I think maybe this person has spent way too much time (and money?) trying to be positive and is now one very grouchy person.

Rock on, Steve!

Anonymous said...

QUITE a discussion going on re Byron Katie here:,12906,page=1

Anonymous said...

Byron Katie was formerly known as Byron Katherine Reid.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure it's Byron Kathleen Reid.

Anonymous said...

Long time reader, occasional poster. Steve, if I were to win the lottery tomorrow I would pay you a large salary to keep your site up. Of course, I don't agree with you all of the time, but you do provide a counterbalance to the out of control self-help industry. Keep up the good work, and don't quit too soon; you are providing a good service here (not to mention good entertainment).

One more thing--where is the 4-hour workweek post? It seems like everyone is talking about this book.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, I did give it a brief mention back on 8/31/07. (For some reason when I try to link the post, Blogger won't accept it.) But I didn't talk about it very much.

Trouble is, I am already so far behind on getting to things that visitors think I "should be talking about" that I've got enough material to take me well into 2010. And by that time, of course, 119 more self-help "phenomena" will have sprouted up, demanding attention. As it is, people are (rightfully) chiding me for having mentioned Byron Katie and then failing to follow up in a timely fashion. I think I opened my big mouth a little bit too soon.

There is just no way to keep up with this stuff. I could write a near-daily column about SHAM's subtle (but indisputable) role in the current presidential season alone.

Anonymous said...

That Americans Against Fraudulent Self Help site is one of the best things Ive visited in a long time, and I would never have known of it, had Steve not mentioned it here.

Thank you!

One of the best things on that site is an article on the hazards of fringe psychotherapies and that not nearly enough mental health professionals have the training needed to tell the difference between treatment modalities solidly backed by research and fad snake-oil gigs marketed by a combination of hype and charisma.

'Fringe Psychotherapies: The Public at Risk' by Barry L. Beyerstein

Here is one teensy quote from that article to encourage readers to study the entire thing:

Beyerstein writes:

‘And with the growth of the “New Age” movement,the market has also been flooded by a growing cadre of therapits with little formal training but an immense investment in pop-psychology and “post modernist” psychobabble.

"In most jurisdicitions, these entrepreneurs cannot call themselves psychologists or psychiatrists because licensing statutes restrict these titles to professionals with specified credentials and training.

"They can however, offer their services (where local laws permit) by appropriating unreserved titles such as counselor, psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, sex therapist, pastoral counselor, Dianetics auditor (one of several pseudonyms for Scientology), New Age guide, relationship advisor, mental therapist, etc."

(page one from the Beyerstein article)

To put it another way, being a guru is not regulated by law, as are professions such as accountancy, law, medicine, etc.

And mental health professionals not only are accountable to standards of care, they never require clients to sign away the right to sue in event of incurring harm. Mental health professionals are also legally mandated to protect client's privacy/confidentiality.

Last but not least, they are required by law to carry malpractice insurance and to do required hours of continuing education each year--and sometimes are required to do the CE in specific subjects.

Being unlicensed and unregulated is lots more fun--no need to pay those pesky insurance premiums--and if anything goes wrong, you can blame the sufferer and tell him or her 'You make your own reality. You must not wallow in victim mentality'.

Real pros dont blame the victim. They look at thier own contribution to the situation.