Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tolle take.

TODAY WE HAVE a guest blog by Jim Schmitz, who says he's been a regular since he found SHAM in the library some months ago. Schmitz sent me his thoughts in an email off-blog, as many of you will from time to time; they struck me as an excellent, even-handed springboard to further discussion of what "living in the Now" might actually mean, and how the concept could be of practical value. Schmitz seems to argue that there's a nugget of truth and utility in some of the ideas that come out of self-help, even if the SHAM movement itself tends to present those ideas in a corrupt and/or simplistic manner that usually panders to the audience for marketing purposes.

I therefore give the floor to Jim:

"After reading a few of your latest posts about Eckhart Tolle and 'Living in the Now,' it occurred to me that you don't know what being present and living in the now are supposed to mean.* To me, being present and living in the Now are both synonyms for 'paying attention to other things besides myself,' or not being self-absorbed. Like everyone else I have the tendency to get stuck thinking about guilt, shame or worries about the past, or worries and anxiety about the future. But all of those things are all about me. If I am focused on those things, I am not paying attention to what's in front of me, happening at that moment. So, for example, if I'm talking to someone and I'm worried about if they like me or what I want from them, then I'm not really paying attention to them. I am being self-absorbed. But if I do pay attention and see the other person as a human being, then I can sincerely connect with them. Speaking as someone who only partially understands his own tendencies to be self-absorbed, and who also lives in the self absorbed capital of the world, New York City,** I have to say life is more meaningful and interesting when I pay attention to other things besides myself.

"Of course, it would be silly to say we should never think about the past or the future, as Tolle seems to. (I can't say for sure; I haven't read his books, and have no plans to.) Our ability to store knowledge about the past and think about the future is what differentiates us from apes, who have very limited abilities to do both. From what I have read about Tolle's 'teachings,' it is a lot of pseudo-philosophizing written for people who are self-absorbed and want to stay that way.

"I am not a psychologist, so I can't claim to fully understand where self-absorption comes from, but I think it has something to do with fear and a lack of emotional courage to live one's life fully engaged in the world around oneself. I don't think it is possible to be present without facing one's fears about living and developing one's emotional courage to interact with others in a sincere way. You don't get that from a book.

"One of the benefits*** of following self-help is that it gives the reader the feeling of dealing with a problem without really having to deal with the actual problem. [NOTE from S.S.: Amen!] A person's fears can be so pernicious that it is easier to try to face them in a way where the person never steps outside the comfort zone. Petronius' famous quote, 'The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived,' comes to mind. Self-help may be useless, but some consumers want it that way.

"Tolle (and much of self-help) fails because it sells those shortcuts to people who want to believe they exist."
Thoughts?

* In a subsequent email, Schmitz offers this disclaimer: "In the first few sentences I didn't mean to imply that I knew the final answer of what being present means, or what it is supposed to mean to everyone." He also emphasizes that he's not a Tolle supporter, but rather is simply trying to clarify his honest view of what "Living in the Now" means, "as it was explained to me by a friend." Finally, he says, "It is possible that my definition is separate from Tolle's and he would probably object to what I wrote." Fair nuff, Jim.
** Again, in a subsequent email, Schmitz adds, "It is probably arrogant to say that New York City is the self-absorbed capital of the world. Reading that again reminds me of an ex-girlfriend who is so self-absorbed she thinks she is more self-absorbed than anyone else."
*** Clearly Schmitz is using the word benefit in more of an ironic sense.

165 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jim about self-absorption, but that is not what Troll is selling. From what I read in the Target store, Troll is selling something impossible to do-lose your ego. You need your ego to make decisions such as, listening to another person. Of course that also includes not buying Troll’s book, if it does not make sense to you. Troll would call that my “ego” talking and thank God for that!

Jim is on the right track about listening and validating others though. I think that it vital for good communication between people. People are so caught up in how they feel or what they are going to say, they do not pay attention to what the other party is saying. A lot of people make up their minds before they even hear what the other person is saying.

Anonymous said...

Does Jim have a blog? He sounds like a wise and thoughtful person.

Cosmic Connie said...

Jim Schmitz writes: "One of the 'benefits' of following self-help is that it gives the reader the feeling of dealing with a problem without really having to deal with the actual problem."

Amen from me too. This, I suspect, is often the case even with those horrid intensive weekends where participants pay a lot of money and sometimes go through a lot of physical and emotional discomfort. The people who orchestrate these events may mean well in some cases, and there's no doubt that they are very skilled at creating an elaborate illusion of "dealing with issues," but in the end, all too often, it's just more expensive entertainment. Once the post-weekend high wears off, it's back to business as usual for most participants.

Steve Salerno said...

Jim? You have a blog or other contact info you'd like to publicly disclose?

Anonymous said...

Steve, this is Roger O., for some reason I can't get into blogger so I'm posting anonymously. My question is this: Don't you think that in a way, by spending all this time on this nonsense, you're actually validating it?

Steve Salerno said...

Roger, two quick responses to your question.

1. That might be true if the problems with this stuff were indeed self-evident. But as we see with Tolle (and last year with The Secret), millions and millions of people buy in. To them, these are valid programs. So the additional time I spend debunking them is clearly needed.

2. In a more big-picture sense, your argument ("don't dignify it by talking about it") would pretty much rule out all skeptical thinking and whistle-blowing. Wouldn't it?

sassy sasha said...

i like jim's ideas, he sounds very reasonable and not extreme in any direction! sometimes steve you go too far in criticizing things, as i've said

Jim said...

Anonymous, I think in the world of Tolle, overcoming self absorption and losing one's ego are closely related. The "transcending your ego" concept comes from the model that says negative, fear based emotions like jealousy, envy, egocentricity and narcissism come from the ego, and positive, love based emotions come from the heart. It is not a terrible model, as far as models go, and if it motivates someone to become a better person, then fantastic. But is reading a book about it going to get you there? I don't think so. The "fear" based emotions are there for a reason, and without honest self-reflection and some positive steps to face one's fears, the fear based emotions will stay.

It actually isn't so out of place for me to criticize Tolle's ideas having not read the book, because none of the concepts in the book are original. There are hundreds of people on the web peddling similar ideas about being in the present or "transcending" your ego. Its the same nonsense, but with a better marketing plan: Oprah!

Steve, you have mentioned several times in your writing that we live in a narcissistic society. Why do you think that is? Where do you think it is coming from?

Thank you so much for the positive feedback everyone. I am glad what I wrote made sense. Unfortunately I don't have a blog to share. Sorry to disappoint. I really ought to start one though, as I think I would have interesting things to say once in a while. If I do, I will let you know.

The Crack Emcee said...

Thanks Jim, you did good.

But I must say, to everyone, that I wish you guys would stop positing "fear" as being the center of everything - not only isn't it true in all cases (I'm not scared, I'm disgusted) but it's now a cliche', for me, that's getting mighty old. You're all smart people; can't you see past that single emotion and, at the very least, try to be more specific about what you're getting at? Seriously, the "fear" thing just makes me roll my eyes, because it's just not me.

Oh, and one other thing: I see a lot of people making the effort to "live in the now" and, when they talk to me, their eyes are opened, extra wide, so the whites are enlarged and they appear totally insane. So I just assume they are.

Elizabeth said...

Good points, CMC. It is definitely not ALL about fear, even in its many variations. (Though one hears the MUST OVERCOME YOUR FEAR! mantra from the self-help crowd time and again. And it sells because of our emotional illiteracy -- why, after all if THEY tell us it's all about fear and fear is bad, then let's work on overcoming it, pronto! [For only $399.99 plus tax where applicable ;)])

Yes, disgust and moral outrage are useful emotions in their own right. And they have nothing to do with fear. (And so are guilt and shame, by the way -- though fear is implicated in shame, just to make things more interesting.)

In general, that whole division into "negative" emotions being "bad" and "positive" being "good" is, in my professional opinion, crap. As in, it does not make sense. Really.

There are bad things associated with "positive" emotions -- even love (when stupid), sympathy (when undifferentiated or misguided -- e.g. some have greater sympathy for, say, Nazi doctors than their victims, etc.), etc. etc.

And there is positive value in "negative" emotions -- anger, disgust, and yes, even fear.

You know it, of course, right? It's not really the emotion as such, but the value it represents in our life that matters most. There is certainly the right place and time for guilt, shame, fear, disgust, etc. Without them, we'd all be psychopaths. The fact that we are able to experience those "negative" emotions shows that we are indeed human and able to consider something besides our own interests in life (as in the needs/rights of another being, which we know we've violated -- when we experience guilt and/or shame). Etc. Sorry if preaching to the choir. Maybe not, however.

Many good points, Jim. But (you know, there is always some big but in my world) that NOWness and transcending one's ego mesh only to a point. E.g., a mother who's devoted her whole life to her kids and worries about them constantly is not living in the now, although she has transcended her ego (we could say that with some certainty here, since she focuses all her energy and efforts on her children). So being altruistic and centered on others does not have to do anything with being in the now -- and vice versa: One can be very much in the now and not see anything else besides one's belly button (a far more common scenario among the NOWness crowd, imo).

Although what you point out here (I think) is useful -- it is that change of focus that comes from expanding our attention on things besides our immediate egocentric concerns (and we all have them -- without those, we'd be toast). But this paying attention (as in to people and things besides ourselves) does not have to be related to the Tolle's NOWism. In fact, one could argue (and already we have, I thought...:) that such NOWism reinforces egocentrism and lack of sensitivity to others.

As CMC says (somewhat facetiously, I assume): "I see a lot of people making the effort to "live in the now" and, when they talk to me, their eyes are opened, extra wide, so the whites are enlarged and they appear totally insane. So I just assume they are."

Yeah, those would be the ones for whom "being in the now" has preempted any other considerations (including critical thought and paying attention to another).

Anonymous said...

Jim, I have read Troll's book (didn't buy) and his main point is how the ego gets in the way of living in the "now." You are correct that none of this stuff is new, but it has been repackaged for consumption and misconstrued.

You are correct about fear. If a person states they do not have fear, they are lying to themselves and everyone else. It is a basic emotion that has served humans well. It is what a person does with that fear that is important.

Please get a blog!

Anonymous said...

"Steve, you have mentioned several times in your writing that we live in a narcissistic society. Why do you think that is? Where do you think it is coming from?"

I'm not Steve, but I have a theory about our narcissistic society. If you look at the history of the U.S., a lot of what is promoted can be seen as a narcissistic model. Before anyone thinks I am U.S. bashing, I am not, I am making an observation based on historical data. I am actually showing how American I am by making my case. The "American" dream is about the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. It is a very independent "me" first concept, which justifies a narcissist viewpoint. The U.S.A. also has a history of lack of self-reflection. I give you Watergate as an example. If the American people had been allowed to really wrap their minds about what happened during that time, I believe we could have become a much stronger society morally. Instead it was the “quick fix” of getting rid of Nixon and “moving on.” This is just one example, but there are others. I believe with so many financial scandals and ecological problems, the U.S.A. will have to deal with itself honestly. Remember the myth of Narcissus; he died not being able to see beyond his own reflection.

Citizen Deux said...

Tolle's overwhelming message - having endured almost all eight webcast sessions with he and the big O - is to not get caught up in events and that your ego is the root of all your problems.

I like Jim's interpretation - but Eckhart goes much further into personal disintegration.

Tolle suffered a personal crisis and abandoned all his prior attachments as a self defense mechanism against some previous trauma. He relates a set of parents who were constantly fighting and a high pressure academic career which he abandoned (sounds a lot like the genesis for A Course in Miracles).

The ego is the source of all feeling. There is no "second self" which operates outside of one's personality. There are numerous cases of brain damaged individuals who have lost their identity and become blank slates - incapable of ANY emotion.

Tolle's hook is the seeming reasonableness of his"living in the now". Except for the scary zealous way he speaks of the evils of television, personal aspiration, or those who have not been "awakened".

Anyone who claims to have found the root purpose for all life in the universe should be watched closely, preferably by cold hearted men with guns.

Steve Salerno said...

C-Deux, I would consider paying you to keep sending me that last line so that I can read it again and again.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Anyone who claims to have found the root purpose for all life in the universe should be watched closely, preferably by cold hearted men with guns."

CD - As the book title suggests, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!" Actually, a statement that would have greatly pleased Lao Tzu. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Re narcissism: I've covered this a number of times on the blog. To be as succinct as possible here, I think that (a) when you live in a free society that (b) encourages all people to feel Empowered to achieve their respective dreams, and where (c) each and every individual is taught that self-esteem is a birthright, and (d) you have very few objective standards that are enforced anymore--and then (e) on top of all that, you add the sort of self-seeking behavior that's modeled daily by our celebrities and other public figures--well, you end up with the climate of malignant narcissism that we're witnessing today.

I'm going to add a narcissism tag to the bottom of the post, and then you can search what we've discussed previously on the subject.

RevRon's Rants said...

Elizabeth - "disgust and moral outrage are useful emotions in their own right. And they have nothing to do with fear. (And so are guilt and shame, by the way -- though fear is implicated in shame, just to make things more interesting.)"

In far too many cases, disgust and moral outrage are the conscious expressions of the rejection of unresolved issues within the self, a *fear* of being less noble than we would like to think we are. It has been wisely said that the universe one sees is a mirror of one's soul.

"In general, that whole division into "negative" emotions being "bad" and "positive" being "good" is, in my professional opinion, crap."

I agree 100%. Emotions, as Berne noted, are pure - neither "good" nor "bad," until they are contaminated by our preconceptions (parent tapes). It is through this contamination that most shame - aside from the acknowledgment of having committed some horrendous act - comes into play.

Anonymous said...

Citizen Deux
"having endured almost all eight webcast sessions with he and the big O -"

Wow, you got a stronger stomach than me. I could barely get through the book without vomitting.

Anonymous said...

The Troll and Big O movement is just another form of escape. The escape is living in the now, until that escape wears thin. It was the well-known "secret" and now it is the well trod "now." It's just like taking any drug, sooner or later the effect wears off and more drugs will need to be taken. Most people are always chasing after the new fad and Troll is it right now.

This whole discussion reminded me of a young girl in my class. She was arguing with me about her low-grade essay. She freely admitted she had not read the book she had written the paper about, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. She had seen Kenneth Branhaugh’s movie and that was enough for her. This is a literature class for English Majors and I asked her why she wanted an English degree. She was perplexed by the question. She stated she “liked to read” and English is “easier than math.” I asked her why she had not read the book and her response was, “it was way too long.” In a nutshell that is why Troll is popular. He gives a “quick fix” or Cliffs Notes version to life. Don’t read the great philosophers or great literature; get the “quick fix.” It takes less time.

Elizabeth said...

RevRon: "In far too many cases, disgust and moral outrage are the conscious expressions of the rejection of unresolved issues within the self, a *fear* of being less noble than we would like to think we are. It has been wisely said that the universe one sees is a mirror of one's soul."

True. Agree. But again, there are many kinds of disgust and moral outrage. IMO, we can -- and should -- differentiate between "low" or unilevel disgust/moral outrage, which is based on our fearful projections (e.g. the orthodox religious stance toward homosexuality, and/or prejudice in general) and a higher level emotion of the same kind (e.g. moral outrage over, say, abuse of a child or any innocent being, or over any gross injustice). Not all moral outrage is the same (i.e. of the same value, or the same level), obviously -- and this is something worth remembering about any and all emotions/feelings we experience, I'd say.

And now I see it's your turn to talk dirty ;):
"It is through this contamination that most shame - aside from the acknowledgment of having committed some horrendous act - comes into play."

I would argue that this "contamination," far from being negative, is useful and absolutely necessary for our moral and emotional development. (But something tells me you already agree with me, no? :)

Imagine the world without shame... Wait, actually, one does not have to strain too much to imagine it -- just turn on the TV or open almost any magazine. Seriously now, the ability to experience healthy shame (for transgressions against useful social norms, against each other, and, later on in life, against our own values and ideals -- and these transgressions do not have to and even should not be horrendous to prompt shame in a healthy individual), along with guilt, is something we all need to acquire before school age, otherwise we are doomed to, well, narcissism.

The fact that narcissism is so rampant in our society is at least in part a reflection of the dismissal of the importance of all those "unpleasant" social emotions -- shame, guilt, regret (over mistakes toward another), and their "self" corollaries such as self-doubt, self-criticism, disgust with *ourselves* (and not so much with others, necessarily) and the need for atonement and self-correction.

Somehow the feel-good generations that have matured after 1950's have obliterated the necessity of feeling bad for the sake of being good. Or at least they thought so in their folly; because, as evidenced by the rampant narcissism and psychopathic-like behaviors, this mass experiment in "self-actualization" has not worked all that well, for anyone other than psychopaths themselves. After all, they are the ones who are unable to experience guilt, shame, and yes, often (but not always) fear, so they, like weeds, thrive anywhere.

Elizabeth said...

P.S. Self-correction (or is it an amendment -- where is the proofreading Anon when we need him/her): I'm re-reading your post, RevRon, and yes, essentially we agree (I think) on shame, etc.

Chalk up my wordiness in response to 1. my habitual knee-jerking, and 2. equally habitual obsessive nit-picking.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon (6:56), I know that your primary point wasn't the lassitude that's so common among today's college students, but I have to second that thought. There's something about students who major in the so-called "humanities" that makes them think that there are no rules, there is no real orthodoxy that they need to master before striking out on their own...that it's all "up to them."

Once when I was teaching advanced magazine writing, my class was graced by a young woman who fancied herself a "poetess"--that's how she said it, very pointedly. She'd needed to pick up another elective, and I guess I was it. For their final project, they were assigned to research and write an article--a work of feature journalism--that might be suitable for the magazine of their choice. I purposely gave them that leeway because I wanted them to have lots of flexibility as to subject matter and treatment. Still, an article is an article; there are certain orthodoxies of form/format--and I was very clear about the research requirements on which their writing needed to rest.

My young diva turned in a poem of maybe two dozen lines. And a rather dense and chaotic poem at that.

She'd done no research, either in terms of topic or market placement. She simply wrote the poem off the top of her head. When I challenged her on it--explaining that if she didn't redo the project as per the terms of the assignment I'd have no choice but to award her an "F" for the course--she went ballistic. She called me a Philistine and ran screaming to the chair of the dept., accusing me of trying to bully her into abandoning her "art."

That's a very long way of making the same point you made in your comment.

Elizabeth said...

Yikes, Steve -- nothing worse than ticking off a diva-poetess with a sense of entitlement. Everybody is a Philistine in her eyes. And she'll let you know it, of course.

That sense of entitlement your and Anon's examples illustrate here is, if I may say so (with total respect, I hope), a very American phenomenon.

I have taken various graduate and post-graduate classes after coming to the US two decades ago -- when I started, I was fresh out of a Polish university myself. I was amazed by (what I saw as) the coddling of the students here. In my eyes (and I assume in the eyes of anyone not from the US), it was practically hand-holding, the relationship between teachers and their students. The course contents neatly pre-arranged at the beginning of each semester, the syllabi spelled out, the test dates and topics announced in advance, practice tests, study groups, grading practices defined strictly and objectively, textbooks waiting for you in bookstores and libraries... Wow. All that was new and mind-boggling to me -- not in a bad way, necessarily -- as my own educational experiences were much less luxurious. But the idea of arguing with a teacher (with a TEACHER! -- and about a grade, of all things) was simply unfathomable to me (still is). I can't even *begin* to imagine blowing off an assignment altogether AND still arguing with a teacher about a grade... See, that's when we can appreciate the good ol' shame, I'd say. :)

Part of the problem here, as I see it, is that higher education in the US is a for-profit business (yes, I know -- and no apologies to free marketeers here), so students are not only considered on their intellectual and academic merits, but are also seen as paying customers, whose wishes and whims have to be accommodated -- or they'll take their business elsewhere. (This set up not only distorts the purpose of education, imo, but also undermines the American democracy as a system that's meant to foster equality and champion merit at the same time -- but that's an aside here.)

Andrew said...

I understand Tolle enough to know it is useful. Have got benefits from t. But will it be worth me posting here? Will anyone listen, or will you just be out to back up your original stances? Really, I doubt anyone here is ready to listen. Not just to say so to sound like you are open minded. But to really listen openly?

Jim said...

CMC: Oh, and one other thing: I see a lot of people making the effort to "live in the now" and, when they talk to me, their eyes are opened, extra wide, so the whites are enlarged and they appear totally insane. So I just assume they are.

Hahahaha, that made me laugh, because I have met people like that too.

I agree, fear isn't at the center of everything, I was just describing the fear/love based model that the whole transcend your ego idea is built on. There is obviously a lot more to emotions and humanity than that. But I don't think I could have explained the flaws as well as you did, Elizabeth. When you say your professional opinion, what do you mean by that? Your profile says you are in education?

>It's not really the emotion as such, but the value it represents in our life that matters most. There is certainly the right place and time for guilt, shame, fear, disgust, etc. Without them, we'd all be psychopaths.

Interesting...I am going to have to think about this a lot more. I know people who actively try to eliminate their fear and shame, and some of them are very much sociopaths. You are totally right, fear and shame are necessary and healthy human emotions.

Citizen Deux: Anyone who claims to have found the root purpose for all life in the universe should be watched closely, preferably by cold hearted men with guns.

Well said. And funny how it is always people with the least life experience who think they have all the answers and elderly people who say they are still have much to learn about life.

Steve, thanks for your comments on narcissism. You are right, people do think happiness and self esteem are birthrights. People in this country are lucky to live somewhere that has the pursuit of happiness written into the constitution, but that's all we get.

I am very happy to be reading your comments and getting a balanced view of these things. Lately I have been surrounded by some very confused people. I don't need that.

And yes, I will start a blog sometime soon. First I need to make some decisions about how anonymous it should be, and maybe what topics to cover. Are there any resources out there for beginners? I would hate to start one and create a confusing mess or not follow through.

Elizabeth said...

Jim: "I know people who actively try to eliminate their fear and shame, and some of them are very much sociopaths. You are totally right, fear and shame are necessary and healthy human emotions."

One of the marks of psychopathy (which is, essentially, the same thing as sociopathy -- though the first one is supposedly inborn, while the second caused by the environment; but we cannot make these distinctions with any degree of certainty, so they really do not matter much -- at least not for popular use) is the inability to experience empathy for others. This fundamental flaw is behind the lack of capacity for guilt and shame -- both of which arise on the basis of empathy. (Empathy, btw, is not exclusively a human emotion; we can see it in stunning abundance in animals. What's perplexing, and terribly so, is the lack of empathy we can observe in so many humans.) Empathy is what binds us as individuals and groups, and what makes survival of our species possible. It is also the basis of our moral and emotional development, and the barrier against, well, evil. And as if that was not a lot already, empathy is absolutely necessary for development of our higher feelings, which in turn create those ideals we cherish so much in life, and, in no small measure, for development of our intelligence as well. Deficits in empathy have consequences not only for our emotional and moral, but also intellectual development.

Going back to barrier against evil: If you cannot empathize with another person's emotional states, you will have no qualms about mistreating and torturing them. Our ability to feel, among other things, the other person's pain (and not the way Bill Clinton did, you know:) is what makes us want to protect and care rather than hurt and destroy them. Or at least curb our destructive impulses. Deficits in empathy, in individuals and groups -- and whole societies -- are behind the worst atrocities we, as the species, have experienced. Guilt (and shame, to a lesser degree -- and differently) is an expression of empathy -- because it lets us know, internally, that we did wrong (caused or increased pain for another). Very useful and much underappreciated.

There is an interesting connection between fear and empathy (and guilt, etc.) in psychopaths. It is known that psychopathic individuals have a very high threshold for pain, because, likely, they are wired differently. This, in turn, makes them appear fearless -- why not, no pain, right? And indeed, they are more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors (no pain=no fear=no inhibitions). The flip side of the no pain/no fear trait is their lack of empathy: not being able to experience pain and fear like normal individuals, they have no basis for developing an understanding of another person's emotions. It is a huge handicap. Huge. I'd say the worst when it comes to individual and social development. Psychopaths are emotionally retarded -- literally. And yet -- please do consider this -- they often rise to positions of prominence and power -- and way too often we, the public, admire and want to emulate and further promote them. (Consequences of which are all around us to see. We should start testing our political candidates on empathy, imho.)

OK, well, enough preaching for Friday morn. Sorry, this is my particular soapbox, you know. My background is in clinical psychology; I chose "education" in the profile because that was the closest choice describing what I currently do -- which is working with gifted kids and adults, including educational testing and advocacy. My first and main (and very turbulent:) love, professionally speaking, is clinical psych, however.

Elizabeth said...

Andrew, we will listen, I promise. OK, I'll speak for myself: I will. But that does not mean that I will change my mind. I may, but then it's more likely I will not (as I've presented my anti-Tolle arguments on this forum numerous times already). That does not mean that I'm not willing to listen to anyone with a different set of opinions. And I have no doubt that Tolle's ideas have been genuinely helpful to many people. But, personally, I'm too critical/analytical to be attracted to them (that, and my guru allergy -- seriously). So if you want to talk, please do. If you expect, however, to change people's minds, well, that's a different thing: It may or may not happen.

Steve Salerno said...

Andrew: My position on Tolle (and the rest of self-help) is not, and has never been, that "no one is ever helped." As I said countless times during the 200-something radio interviews I did during SHAM's roll-out, everyone is helped by something. Which is to say, you can find anecdotal evidence of the usefulness of just about anything in life--including the likes of LSD and heroin, as well as such "alternative-medicine" stalwarts as therapeutic touch and distant/remote healing. But absent the kinds of controlled clinical trials that are used in evaluating medical approaches (which, I admit, wouldn't really be practical in evaluating self-help), we must fall back, I believe, on two related questions about any given therapy:

1. Does it make sense, even on its own terms? And
2. Is it self-consistent?

I think Tolle's regimen fails to meet both bars, and miserably so.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you’ve felt my pain with college students. I teach at a public college so she could go running to my chair, but he is pretty deaf. I am going to give you the other argument that Elizabeth raises that I experienced in college and grad schools, myopic and unqualified professors. Not everyone is cut out to teach and it is a great responsibility. A lot of professors are overeducated peons on ego trips who cannot find jobs, especially in the liberal arts. I have experienced this as a student and witnessed it in (hate to say this) colleagues.

I think a student should complain to a dean when a professor has been unfair. I have seen English professors give A students Bs due to the fact the students did not agree with their political views. I know professors who do not give clear guidance to students and are shocked by the results. I am actually a professor due to my horrid experiences in college. I vowed that I was going to share knowledge instead of an agenda. I would never have gone into teaching if it had not been for a very thoughtful fellow English student in a psychologically and emotionally, but not mentally challenging undergrad literature class.

The class was discussing Milton’s Paradise Lost and I was raising my thoughts to the professor regarding Satan and it was obvious the professor did not know classical mythology, which is essential to appreciate Milton and the professor was ignoring me. I had been having difficulties with this professor for the entire semester. I came to the class having read the material for my own pleasure and this bothered the professor greatly. How dare I be a reader and an educated student? This professor felt threatened by me and tried to have me drop his class. He wrote horrible personal comments on my essays and would not grade them. He had made many students drop his class in shame and drop English as their majors. I had to go to the dean to complain, because I needed my units and he was holding my grade hostage. This professor and I had a tumultuous and strained relationship, because I would not take his treatment or kiss his ass. I would not play the grading game. After one of my heated debates with this professor, the class took a break. A thoughtful student came up to me and said I should think about teaching, because I had explained Milton in a way he had never heard before. He asked me what books on mythology I had read, because my passion for the subject and gotten him very interested in the classics. This student went on to teach too.

I think education and learning are open systems. I learn from my students and my students (hopefully) learn from me. It was Socrates who said, “I have no answers, only questions.” That’s what his pupil and friend Plato states he said.

Anonymous said...

Andrew
“Not just to say so to sound like you are open minded. But to really listen openly?”

Self-help gurus are not open-minded for the most part. Actually, I do not think Troll is open-minded at all. If he were, he would not write in so much psychobabble. I cannot take my ability to read and prior knowledge out when I read Troll’s ideas. I have read Troll and I find it repackaged philosophy dumbed down. I have a question for you Andrew. Have you read Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, or Epicurius? Troll definitely has an Epicurius slant. I am open-minded, but Troll is not saying anything new. Troll would have been laughed out of the ancient world by his faulty reasoning and lack of logic. Not because they had closed minds, but they required better reasoning. That is pretty sad to me living in the 21st century.

RevRon's Rants said...

Elizabeth - You posit that shame "is useful and absolutely necessary for our moral and emotional development. (But something tells me you already agree with me, no?"

Actually, I don't agree. Merriam Webster defines shame as "a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute." While anyone but a sociopath would feel *regret* for engaging in an inappropriate activity (or, in the case of a religious fundamentalist, even thinking about such a thing), when that regret so thoroughly permeates the individual's self-image as to make the person feel worthless, it becomes toxic in its own right, and all too frequently overshadows the individual's potential for goodness. It is this type of contamination that I was describing.

Humiliation is *not* a productive emotion, and "disgrace" - the sense that one is devoid of goodness - can only manifest in depression, which too often morphs into rage, since it is less painful to strike out at another than to internalize that rage.

We need to accept responsibility for our deeds, but to allow accepting responsibility for misdeeds to overwhelm and consume one's sense of worth is, IMO, profoundly counterproductive.

roger o'keefe said...

I hear what you're saying, Ron, but to my mind, there are many people today, young people in particular, who'd benefit from a good dose of shame and humiliation. Just as the incorrigible addict needs the intervention that knocks him down to nothingness so that he can then rebuild, when you have young lives that are already dedicated to "worthlessness," shame may be just what the doctor ordered.

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps, Roger, but sometimes I have a tough enough time deciding what's best for myself to try and judge what everybody else needs. And from where I sit, humiliation just isn't good medicine for *anyone.* It's just another obstacle that has to be overcome.

I tend to take a close look at the motivation of folks who are so anxious to dole out shame... sometimes even more so than I do at those they are shaming.

Elizabeth said...

RevRon: "It is this type of contamination that I was describing."

OK then, RevRon. And I'm not talking about the overwhelming and paralyzing kind of toxic shame (or humiliation and disgrace heaped upon someone else). I'm talking about *the capacity to experience shame,* located in the individual, which is a sign of mental health and normal development. Among other positive things, healthy shame protects our physical and emotional boundaries (as in, I will not do THIS, since THIS is not right -- it violates my sense of propriety, etc.) and spurs us to further development (as in, I do not like my behavior/I'm embarrassed by it -- I gotta try to do better/different/etc.)

Elizabeth said...

P.S. A.k.a. conscience.

(Empathy, shame and guilt = conscience.)

Elizabeth said...

One more thing on shame, empathy and conscience (or perhaps lack of all three):

I note that as a society we shame the wrong people for the wrong reasons (though those "wrong" reasons only reflect our society's standards and mores, for better and worse). E.g. we shame the homeless and mentally ill, who, by and large, are harmless individuals, but admire and reward psychopathic politicians and CEOs, who wreak untold damage on the society. Sometimes it seems that we all, as the society, could use a good dose of shame to bring us back to a more clear understanding of what's right and wrong. (But I'm not calling Dr. Laura, The Queen of Shame, yet. She, paradoxically or not, heaps tons of shame on others, while not showing much of her own. That's part of her "special charm," typical of malignant narcissists, who, as a rule of their pathology, are terribly sensitive to shame and would do anything to avoid experiencing it, including projecting it on others in copious amounts.)

I'm reading reports of the Austrian father, Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter as his sex slave and had seven children with her in 24 years, without anyone, including his wife and the daughter's mother, noticing. This is a fascinating story, in many respects. We have evil lurking beyond the facade of normalcy and we have all these people around the perpetrator who should have known better but didn't. They ask themselves now how it was possible that this psychopathic monster went on for so long without them noticing anything. And I keep thinking that, again, the signs must have been right under their noses but they chose not to see them. And the fact that they didn't is, again, a perfect, though horrific, illustration of the failure of empathy we exhibit as individuals and groups. That failure is responsible for using totally wrong standards in evaluating others' characters. So Friztl's neighbors and coworkers keep scratching their heads, saying that he was such a good, conscientious worker and neighbor: http://tinyurl.com/4edj2s, respected for his dependability. They also add that in his domestic life, he was somewhat of a domineering tyrant, ruling his home with an iron fist, but THAT was not a cause for alarm, we hear, as long as he was seen as such a dependable and respected worker and buddy.

So there we have it, psychopathy in a nutshell -- and a typical environment that fosters and promotes it. In Fritzl, we see an obvious lack of empathy and sensitivity to others, especially those weaker than himself (i.e. his wife, children, tenants) -- a huge psychopathic red flag -- but as long as the guy is a good ol' buddy and conscientious worker, we like and respect him. Only when his monstrous deeds come to light, we gasp and wonder how this was possible: "Such a good man!", you know.

We have a failure of empathy and absence of conscience at work here. And if we think that Fritzl is an isolated monster, unique in his horrific behavior, we are fooling ourselves. There are Fritzls all around us, managing to create horrific damage to those closest to them without anyone paying attention. And even those who do notice, prefer to keep their eyes and mouths closed, as long as the guy (or a gal, as it may be) is a "decent" fellow (worker and fishing buddy).

RevRon's Rants said...

"(Empathy, shame and guilt = conscience.)"

Methinks we're in agreement here, Elizabeth, however caught up in semantics we may be. My belief is that the empathy/conscience can exist and thrive, sans the shame, guilt, and humiliation. If I have behaved badly, I feel regret. If my actions have adversely affected another being, I feel both regret and empathy.

Were someone incapable of the empathy/regret, how likely is it that they would feel guilt, much less shame or humiliation? At worst, they might experience a superficial embarrassment, no doubt blaming their discomfort on others or circumstances. Their expected reaction would be to either withdraw from the situation in bitterness, or strike out at the perceived aggressors. Of course, such behavior serves to reinforce our assertion that the person is "evil."

The "shame" we bestow on others is actually little more than a projection, being infinitely more important to the giver than to the recipient. It serves no positive purpose, IMO, and if anything, exacerbates a sociopath's tendency toward destructive behavior.

I really believe that we're seeing the same things (for the most part), but our definitions are bleeding over onto each other's.

Elizabeth said...

RevRon, you say: "I really believe that we're seeing the same things (for the most part), but our definitions are bleeding over onto each other's."

Yes and no, RevRon. Bear with me for a while longer here.

You say: "My belief is that the empathy/conscience can exist and thrive, sans the shame, guilt, and humiliation. If I have behaved badly, I feel regret. If my actions have adversely affected another being, I feel both regret and empathy."

But that regret, RevRon, is precisely the reflection of your capacity to experience guilt and shame (and empathy, which is the root of both, or all three, if you count regret as a separate state/emotion). Again, I see that you consider shame and guilt to be negative experiences, and I am saying that there is no conscience without the ability to experience shame and guilt (NOT humiliation -- please note that this is a somewhat different bird -- see below).

You say: "Were someone incapable of the empathy/regret, how likely is it that they would feel guilt, much less shame or humiliation?"

Not likely, but again that regret is an expression of their shame/guilt capability. Not humiliation, which implies an externally imposed judgment and witnessing of the effects of this judgment on the humiliated individual. The capacity to experience guilt and shame (and regret you mention) is internal and may or may not be observable by outside witnesses (and may or may not have anything to do with anybody else's judgment but the individual's own internal standards).

You say: "The "shame" we bestow on others is actually little more than a projection, being infinitely more important to the giver than to the recipient. It serves no positive purpose, IMO, and if anything, exacerbates a sociopath's tendency toward destructive behavior."

Two things here: I'm not talking about *bestowing shame* on others here, but about *experiencing shame* internally, which may or may not have anything to do with any external judgment in a given situation. That shame arises as a result of internally perceived transgressions against our own ideals and values (i.e. it is our conscience in action -- and no one but ourselves may be privy to its workings). Again, and sorry to be so obstinate, but it is about *experiencing shame* and not about shaming others.

Second thing: shaming psychopaths is useless, as you noticed, since they do not respond, internally, to it in ways that we, "normals," would predict (i.e. with, well, shame). In psychopath's eyes, feeling shame is a weakness of the "normals," which they can and do exploit for their purposes. A skilled psychopath, in fact, could quite gleefully shame you, knowing, from his experience and observation, that it would stir your conscience and scruples, which he then can use to his advantage.

Narcissists, otoh, respond all too well to shame AND humiliation (which they often perceive and experience even where there was none intended and objectively rendered) and this can be used, sometimes, to reach the humane part of their otherwise skewed personality.

Steve Salerno said...

I also think it would be helpful here to make a distinction between shame and notoriety, because we almost seem to be using the two interchangeably at times. Shame--true shame--must be "accepted" by the person being shamed. What you're left with in a case where the imposition of shame is attempted by social forces but not accepted by the individual is simple notoriety. I'm just an observer, so I can't claim the sort of scholarly or empirical experience of some others who contribute to this blog, but as I see it, narcissists reject shame but relish notoriety--they love being the center of attention, which by definition (in their minds) is always a positive, even if the nature of the attention is negative. So what you or I might do that causes others to regard us with shame--and causes us to feel that shame within ourselves--they simply experience as a certain kind of "cool notoriety." Charles Manson, for example, loved notoriety--he loved being notorious--but I doubt that he ever felt a moment of shame over what he'd done (and inspired others to do).

This is important because it means we have to know who we're dealing with. Trying to shame a true narcissist/sociopath is just adding more fuel to the fire of his malaise.

Elizabeth said...

This is a good point, Steve. People like Manson have a mixture of psychopathic and narcissistic features (and then some). Call it "monstrosity squared" -- it does not get any worse than this, imo. Indeed they thrive on notoriety -- they bask in their own evil and the horrified responses it evokes in others.

One more thing about regret and guilt/shame distinction (from RevRon): a normal child of 6, who hits a playmate and takes away his toy should experience guilt and shame, not regret, when confronted with 1. the playmate's pain caused by his actions and 2. correct reactions of others (i.e. disproving authority figures and possibly appalled peers). I'm trying to integrate your notion of regret here, RevRon, but I can't -- it is too, well, evolved, for lack of a better word.

I.e. I agree that, say, you, RevRon, may experience regret, rather than guilt and/or shame, at this stage of your life (as the case may or may not be -- just using your own words as an example), but the 5-yr-old, if healthy, should experience guilt and shame. This would be evidence of his conscience. If he told me that he experienced regret, I would worry about the kid, because that could mean a couple of things (at least), one of them (and the least worrisome perhaps) that the child was overintellectualizing his emotions -- not the best thing for a 5-yr-old, I regret to say.

Steve Salerno said...

But seriously, Eliz, short of Manson extremes, don't you think we've somehow raised a generation of people--or at least we've produced more than ever before--who thrive on attention of any kind? When I write comments like my previous one, I'm not implying that Paris Hilton is about to start murdering families who live in the Hollywood Hills...but I often suspect that people like that simply need to be noticed and talked about, and by that yardstick, almost all attention they receive--good or bad--is equivalent, in their eyes. The only thing they "regret" is public indifference.

Elizabeth said...

"But seriously, Eliz, short of Manson extremes, don't you think we've somehow raised a generation of people--or at least we've produced more than ever before--who thrive on attention of any kind?"

Absolutely. Again, this goes back to, among other things, the Boomers' dislike and rejection of guilt, shame, self-doubt and self-criticism as unsavory emotions and mental states that interfere with "self-actualization." We have a generation (or more than one, actually) of parents who tell their children they are special and deserve special things in life. Somehow we stopped knowing -- and teaching our kids the difference between right and wrong, and the simple truth that they are as important, but no more, than other people; and that their needs matter, but no more, than those of others (and sometimes they matter less). We give our children the wrong kind of attention and for the wrong reasons. But, if I may say so, this reflects the overall focus of our (i.e. American) society and the values it represents.

The Boomers have decided that they are the center of the universe -- and their lifestyles and beliefs, including their political views and religious inclinations -- reflect that (including the New Age nonsense, most clearly exemplified in The Secret crap, which represents the height of narcissistic self-delusion AND abandonment of reason and common sense, imo).

We could delve even deeper here into this particular social pathology (and you have done it on numerous occasions on SHAMblog). It is fascinating, in a way, as much as it is chilling to observe and, well, to participate in. There is a good book by Alice Miller, "The Drama of The Gifted Child," that explains how the narcissistic pathology originates within (certain) families and how it is perpetuated through generations. There are some problems with Miller's approach, imo, but this is a good book for anyone interested in finding out, from the inside out, how we have gotten so narcissistic and self-absorbed as individuals and the society.

Elizabeth said...

P.S. OK, that 6-yr-old from my previous post is still 5. I think.

RevRon's Rants said...

"a normal child of 6, who hits a playmate and takes away his toy should experience guilt and shame, not regret..."

That guilt and shame, IMO, serves only as a stopgap inhibitor in an individual - in this case, a child - who is inherently narcissistic at that stage of their development. At that point, the narcissism doesn't represent a pathological state - merely a normal developmental one. As the child matures, they would (ideally) replace the shame with a more pragmatic - and less erosive - perspective, guided by empathy and common sense, rather than fear or guilt.

The adult sociopath has simply never emerged from that pre-adolescent narcissism, and likely never will. That's why the only effective "treatment" for such a person is to segregate them from society - the treatment actually being effected upon the well-being of society, rather than the sociopath himself. For "normal" individuals, the pragmatism is enough.

Steve Salerno said...

"The adult sociopath has simply never emerged from that pre-adolescent narcissism, and likely never will."

I'm so glad you said that, Ron (though we may disagree about the handling of same). To me, the line you wrote epitomizes the huge flaw in the current judicial movement to take criminals as young as 12 or 13 (even younger in some isolated cases) and try them in adult court. That tactic totally misperceives the nature of criminality, in my view: It isn't that the 13-year-old perpetrator has precociously turned into an adult, and thus deserves to be treated like one; it's that the 30-year-old felon never truly left childhood. In effect, all criminals are juveniles.

The Crack Emcee said...

I want in here but I don't have time. The only thing I'll say I really disagree with is how the word Americans and Boomers are being used interchangably (sp?).

Rev always takes me to task for picking on the '60's, etc., but I'm trying to indicate a subset of people who have lost the plot - most Americans, I think, can see through the nonsense (just as they caught Barack Obama's recent gaffs from San Francisco). It's not "American" to think this way, but there are enough people doing so to be a problem. As my Oklahoma cousin used to say when I was scheduled to visit:

"Don't come here with none of that California bullsh*t."

Best advice I ever got.

Elizabeth said...

CMC: "I'll say I really disagree with is how the word Americans and Boomers are being used interchangably (sp?)."

Which is actually close to something I've been thinking about after I wrote my last post here. Specifically about the fact that the narcissism we've remarked on, although rampant in the pop culture and the media selling it to us, does not really reflect lives of many (most?) Americans. I look at my neighbors and do not see the sense of entitlement, and/or the need for attention, etc., that characterizes the pop culture reflections of the American life. On the other hand, I also know some people to whom this characterization (of narcissistic entitlement) applies -- what they have in common is their membership in the upper middle class. But they certainly do not constitute a majority of Americans.

Elizabeth said...

This opinion piece, written by a young woman for The Christian Science Monitor, is apropos our discussion on narcissism:
http://tinyurl.com/6xauhh

It also chimes in, very much so, with the below quote from C. Hardyment:
"Far from neglecting our children, (...) we concentrate too much of the wrong sort of attention on them. We are obsessed by the idea of promoting their interests regardless of the world around them. We have all, in a sense, become Frankensteins trying to make our children masters of the universe. Such children may split the atom, but they won't be much fun to live with."

Steve Salerno said...

And echoing Eliz's point above, there's this opinion piece today about Ivy League students who may change the world, but "aren't very nice people."

Elizabeth said...

This is the same piece I sent you from The Christian Science Monitor! LOL.

Elizabeth said...

RevRon, I'm re-reading your last post and understand the pragmatism you describe there (at least I think I do). But I must say that I disagree. However, can we leave it at that?

I suspect we have reached the point of no return in our diverging views on the subject -- and beyond here, there be dragons. And even if not, this discussion could go on well beyond its usefulness for Steve's blog, I think. So let's agree to disagree, no?

WC said...

I had some thoughts on this topic after reaidng the comments:

If you think about the last time you actually were truly frightened, you will realize that most of the time we are not in a state of fear. More often though, we are in a state of pain. We are already suffering (irritated, annoyed, disappointed, etc.) so the pain can distract us from ways to better think and make decisions. Sometimes we go so long in pain that we get numb, so we don't feel our own pain, nevermind the pain that others experience. The chronic pain then turns into an actual injury and function is impaired. These chronically numbed out people often fall into the narcissitic/sociopathic spectrum.

So Eckhart Tolle is probably one of these numbed out guys. It has its appeal to people trying to deal with pain who have underdeveloped problem solving capacities.

I think that calling Boomers or young college students narcissists is just pop psychology, and we ought to be careful describing people that way. People can get caught up in the malaise of their generation, and adopt some selfish and silly ways of being in the world. I don't think Americans corner the market in this area. The results of our narcissism may result in less dire consequences due to our relative material affluence, so it may be more of a 'population' problem in the West.

Steve Salerno said...

So WC (and, of course, anyone else who wants in), in all honesty and candor, and with as much objectivity as any of us can muster in these discussions, are you really prepared to state that generally speaking, Boomers and the generations since are as selfless and civic-minded as, say, the much-ballyhooed "Greatest Generation" of World War II? Certainly that generation had its own problems--entrenched bigotry, a sense that patriarchal society was "the natural order of things," etc.--but I don't think narcissism was on the list. Would you agree or disagree?

RevRon's Rants said...

"But I must say that I disagree. However, can we leave it at that?"

Already have, Elizabeth! :-)

RevRon's Rants said...

My biggest objection is with *any* all-inclusive labels placed upon entire generations, cultures, ideologies, genders, and whatever other demographic groups one chooses. It is no less offensive than applying the worst of any group's stereotypes upon the whole. Isn't this the same kind of dismissive behavior we denounce in others whom we label as bigots?

To label all "Boomers" as narcissistic is as invalid as stating that Christians are virtuous, blacks are excellent dancers, Jews are stingy, liberals are socialists, conservatives are mean... well, you get the point.

It is considerably more accurate to address given idiosyncrasies as stereotypes attributable to, yet not universally shared by given groups, rather than applying them to an entire group. Unfortunately, this approach all too often presages a tendency denounce an individual by applying these stereotypes - especially when one is lacking sufficient familiarity with the individual to accurately make such a judgment. Every "group" has had its own pat dismissives... and their only real purpose was to attempt to elevate them (at least, in their own eyes) above the group they chose to denounce.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, I don't think I ever meant to paint all Boomers with the narcissism brush--nor do I think I implied same. No more than I believe that all members of the WW2 generation were wonderful, selfless patrons of the community. Though I do think Boomers (and especially their kids) are far more likely to be narcissists than members of earlier generations, I definitely agree with you that no label ever applies to 100 percent of the people in that community.

That said, I feel compelled to point out that we do use probability statistics in many areas of life. Notably, we have determined that young men are the most dangerous demographic to have behind the wheel of a car--and we (over)charge all such young men accordingly for car insurance, until they prove otherwise. (This is another one of those instances in life where you're guilty till proved innocent.) I should also point out that, while I detest the idea of bigotry, nor can I argue with people who use statistics in positing that some blocs of people may, just may, be more likely to cause trouble than others. (Isn't that what empirical evidence is for--to inform such judgments?) That's why, in the end, I think our best course is simply to do away with racial and ethnic divisions altogether: Among other things, they make it too easy for people to point fingers.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - I didn't (and don't) believe that it is your intent (at least, not your conscious intent) to characterize 100% of a demographic group with the stereotypes exhibited by some members. However, we find it altogether too easy to use collective phrases that imply as much. "As whole..."

While I would never suggest that empirical data be ignored, neither do I ascribe to the all-too-common formula that clearly implies that if *some* members of a group exhibit a specific behavior, and an individual is a member of that group, they probably exhibit that same behavior. I've known enough generous Jews, clumsy blacks, and genuinely compassionate conservatives to disprove the formula - at least, anecdotally! :-)

Elizabeth said...

I brought Boomers into this fray, but not to say that ALL Boomers are narcissists.

In the observation I made, I wanted to comment on the positive correlation between the rise in narcissism, the post-WWII gains in material prosperity, and the emergence (associated with those economic changes) of the psychology and movement of self-actualization, which gained full steam with Boomers. These trends appear to be correlated. Does not mean all Boomers are narcissists.

Similarly, no one is saying that today's college students are narcissists (and even less so that ALL college students today are narcissists). Somehow an observation on a behavioral trend in a certain demographic has morphed in the minds of the readers into a wholesale condemnation of the said demographic. Needlessly so, I'd say.

As to whether our observations of those trends are accurate, that's what we can discuss here, right?

P.S. I like Boomers. I know many Boomers personally. Some of my best friends are Boomers. ;)

Anonymous said...

Since the Austrian father Josef Fritzl was mentioned, I think it is interesting to note how Austria is handling the situation. Instead of putting the blame solely on him, a lot of the community is looking internally too. They are asking how this type of monster could exist amongst them. Now if this had happened in the U.S., I bet Nancy Grace would have had a field day laying all the evil on Fritz’s doorstep. Yes, I would say Fritz is evil and responsible, but he was able to do what he did for twenty-four years. That says something about everyone who was around him too. I do not believe the U.S. would have that type of self-reflection.

Elizabeth said...

On the rise of narcissism: see the following link discussing last year's study on the very subject among college students:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0302/p01s01-ussc.html

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, you are a "boomer" if you are born between 1946 to 1964.
The U.S. Census defines anyone born during that period as such by birth rates.

Elizabeth said...

Anon, this case (Fritzl) is particularly jarring to me, for several reasons.

A couple of comments on your post:
indeed, the community has a lot to answer for here. It is unfathomable that no one would notice anything strange in 24 years, including Fritzl's wife. If nothing else, the daughter gave birth, unassisted, in that dingy basement *seven* times -- how sound-proof was it really that no one heard anything? It's an unimaginable horror and others in that community are complicit in it.

Now, lest we think this does not happen in the US, see this:
http://tinyurl.com/4n866y

That girl's story is far from unique. There are horrific -- and I mean horrific -- instances of child abuse and neglect going on right under our noses. I have recently worked with a client -- an African-American artistically gifted boy -- who for the first three years of his life was almost completely neglected. Adopted at 3 by another family, the boy did not talk or walk, looked like a starving kid (skin and bones with a distended belly) -- which he was, really, in all respects, and had never seen or played with a toy prior to his adoption. This child was born in the middle of a prosperous American city, in the 21st century... After untold hours of all kinds of therapeutic services, the boy is flourishing (and astounding everyone with his talents), but some glitches in his development remain and probably will for the rest of his life. I hope not, but I also know that there are certain wounds which do not really heal. Such will likely be the case of the Fritzl's children.

Another disturbing thing (among so many) with the Fritzl's case, in my eyes, is the concern shown to the perpetrator. I've heard some commentators lament that "now he is a broken man," that "his soul is crushed," etc. And I marvel at that, seething with anger at the same time. *His soul* is crushed?

This is an instance of misguided sympathy again, where for some reasons some of us are equally generous with our compassion toward perps and their victims (or sometimes even more so toward the perps). Mind-boggling and defying justice (not to mention decency and common sense).

Elizabeth said...

Anon, that was a joke! (Y'know, along the line of "some of my best friends are Jews, Muslims, etc." -- the phrase used when one criticizes a whole group of people, but does not really want to admit his or her bias.) Of course am a Boomer, age-wise -- with all the flaws involved. Though since I was not born and raised in the US, my boomeritis is largely acquired, I'd say. (Or so I think :).

WC said...

Steve,


To answer your question, I think that if this generation or the boomer generation experienced the same threat that The Axis Powers posed to our country in the wake of a severe economic depression, than they/we would respond with similar heroism as the Greatest Generation. I don't think there is such a huge difference.

I can't back up my opinion with anything other than a feeling though.
Sorry to generalize about posts being mere pop psychology. But I have had to deal with the very real phenomenon of pathological narcissism personally and professionally, so I get a little overly sensitive.

Steve Salerno said...

WC, you make an excellent point about unknown external variables and their confounding effect on any analysis that attempts to compare generations (or many other social phenomena). But you know the old line about "if wishes were horses...." In the end, we're left with the what-is of life, stripped of all other considerations and rationales. (After all, if you were being chased by a pack of angry dogs, would you spend a lot of time asking yourself, "Gee, I wonder what made these dogs so angry?" Or would you look for the nearest house with a solid door, and maybe a gun?) Regardless of the reason, the simple fact, as least as I see it, is that people have grown steadily more self-involved with the passing generations.

WC said...

Past generations have worked hard to give us the political and economic freedoms that afford us the luxury of beiong able to 'frolic in open fields' today. Doing so may appear self-absorbed, and many may waste that freedom, but many make use of it in very creative endeavors that serve humanity.

I ran into some American teenagers while in China. They were very different from their CHinese counterparts - friendlier, bolder, ruder, sillier - more of a pain in the behind in many ways. But I also felt freer to give them a piece of my mind when they cut off my wife and baby's entry into an elevator. I knew they could 'take' it. Interestingly, Chinese women over 50 were very forward and free. They retire younger there. They seemed to feel free to come up to us and say whatever they wanted about our baby or whatever they felt like. We asked our guide what to do if they were getting too close for comfort. SHe said just to tell them "Don't!" - In Mandarin. It worked, and when we did it, they laughed it off and didn't seem to take offense - much like American teenagers.
Not sure what my point is, but I ended up learning more about China from these ladies than all the mutes of other ages and genders.

Hummingbird said...

Though I sometimes read books on the subject of spirituality, I have never read anything by Tolle. Each time I have picked one of his book, I've had to put it down, and as I believe in the power of now and gut feeling....

For me the power of now is about becoming aware of what goes through you all the time and that you usually try to carefully ignore. Simply acknowledging these passing thoughts and feelings. I actually think if you do this regularly you will reduce the risk of being unfaithful, violent or putting yourself at risk.

Repressed feelings are dangerous, a clear mind isn't.

Why do you want to be unfaithful ? Why do you want to kill ? Why do you want to have unprotected sex ? If you listen to what goes through you, you will probably find that this is not at all what you want. Rather, you are afraid because you are getting old, or because your partner is neglecting you, or something else...

WC said...

Hummingbird,

Asking 'why' requires you to reflect on your past and consider your future. You also will inevitably have to work through some confusion and frustration especially if your various 'why's' are at odds. You'll have to tolerate some times when your mind is not 'clear'. Actually , the way I see it, 'clear' is just a medium that gives us a chance to rest and rejuvenate so we can jump back into the rough and tumble problems of life.

If you actively desire and seek 'clear' in the 'NOW' , and make your primary spiritual goal, than I think you are selling yourself short, and maybe others too.



I like your idea of living a reflective life better, where you are willing to sacrifice some of your 'NOW' to tackle your own inner issues and improve on your reactions to life.

'NOW' as a philosophy is spiritual porn.

Hummingbird said...

Well, WC, I am giving you the buddhist point of view, which states that tomorrow is gone, and tomorrow is not there yet - which you can't deny. So the only moment on which you have power is now.

Human beings have a tendency to run away from reality, especially their own reality. Especially if it is unpleasant.

Just look at the commuters ; how many are actually present to what they are doing/feeling on their journey ? Very few. How many are actually deciding of their own life ? Very few.

When you decide to stay present to what is happening to you, it is not going to be always easy and pleasant. You might face confusion, pain, jealousy, hatred, depression but also delight, comfort, peace of mind and many other good things. If you can accept this, and don't overidentify with these feelings, you will gain freedom. But it's difficult. Before you let go of the ego, you have to know your ego and make friends with it.

You can overidentify with pain and confusion so that it becomes a refuge reaction.

Now is not about philosophy in the sense of dry concepts found in books. Now is about living fully every minute you have been given.

Just try this, one day when you are feeling bad, lose yourself into a tiny now pleasure ; a flower, a sweet, the caress of air on your skin... and find out that you are at the same time a miserable soul and a happy soul.

Experiencing that now has been amazing for me. But i perfectly understand that other people have other ways of being/thinking.

RevRon's Rants said...

"I like your idea of living a reflective life better, where you are willing to sacrifice some of your 'NOW' to tackle your own inner issues and improve on your reactions to life.

'NOW' as a philosophy is spiritual porn."

This is a typically Western misinterpretation of the concept of being fully present in the "now." Not to fault the individual for misunderstanding, mind you. The vast majority of widely available discussions on the topic have encouraged this misinterpretation by "sound-byting" concepts according to western norms, rather than attempting to truly understand them in their native cultural context. The casual observer could come to no other conclusion, given the information they have been offered.

In ZaZen teachings, the past is not sacrificed, and the future is not ignored, in favor of some mystical "now." They are merely relegated to their appropriate place in the hierarchy of human thought.

A good analogy is found in the typical Westerner's understanding of ZaZen meditation. The common (and erroneous) belief is that in order to properly meditate, one is supposed to push aside all thoughts and sensations, and force themself to concentrate on something elusive, beyond the "chatter" of the mind. In practice, the individual simply sits back and allows all the "chatter" to flow freely, observing it dispassionately. Eventually, none of the thoughts hold any more significance than any others, and the thoughts become like the white noise that is a blending of all audible frequencies. Freed from the attachment to any single aspect of one's thoughts and emotions, the individual achieves a remarkable sense of clarity, even approaching true objectivity. It is from this objective, dispassionate mindset that we are best qualified to assess the events of our past and plan our future activities. Beyond the trite, commercialized "now" so frequently touted by the professional "gurus" (which truly *is* spiritual porn) lies a perspective that allows us not to ignore a past and future, but rather to be more fully healed of past pains, and better prepared to face future challenges. Ironically, it demands neither blind faith nor expensive seminars to be realized.

Steve Salerno said...

HB: ...tomorrow is gone, and tomorrow is not there yet...

Did you intend to write that?

The Crack Emcee said...

The Chinese government - and the Tibetans - are all fully-realized Buddhists, and they're fighting, tooth and nail.

That's all I gots to say.

RevRon's Rants said...

It would be just as inaccurate to state that the US government is comprised of "fully-realized" Christians, and the Israeli government is comprised of "fully-realized" Jews. This kind of broad-brush dismissive statement serves to perpetuate animosity, while ignoring truth.

The Crack Emcee said...

No, Rev, I'm trying to make a legitimate point:

The United States and Israel are, both, secular countries ("Jewish" is an ethnicity as well as a religion) so, I'm sorry, the comparison doesn't fit. Representative Pete Stark (D-California), for instance, is an atheist.

China is a Buddhist nation. Tibet is Buddhist as well. They are fighting. They are fighting while the Tibetan people live in extreme poverty, eating yak butter, amongst gold shrines and monks who wear robes encrusted with gold leaf. And it's a crying shame they can't see their way out of a philosophy that makes that reality possible.

The Dali Lama forbids homosexuality - and oral and anal sex - facts which he has hidden from his American audience. And he, too, lives in luxury while exiled amongst some of the most ignorant, superstitious, and desperately poor people on earth - the people of India. How he can do so, and look himself in the face each morning, is the only thing about Buddhism that's, still, beyond my comprehension.

As Christopher Hitchens has said, "There is no Eastern solution." Thinking, breathing, and being concerned about the state of your fellow man (rather than yourself) should be natural functions - requiring "neither blind faith nor expensive seminars to be realized" - which includes adherence to long-winded belief systems like Buddhism, Christianity, Eckhart Tolle, or est.

I "get" it. And I've never meditated (or practiced a variation thereof) a day in my life.

RevRon's Rants said...

Ascribing the negative actions of a communist dictatorship - or any other form of government - to the teachings of the country's most prevalent religion is such a broad stroke assumption as to invalidate itself. Following such logic, it would be reasonable to assume that Christ's teachings were consistent with the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the emergence of the Third Reich, and the activities of the KKK in this country. There will always be individuals who will use their ideology as an excuse for horrific behavior, regardless of whether the teachings actually support (or even condone) that behavior.

"China is a Buddhist nation."

Chinese people also practice Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, and a wide variety of other minor religions, just as our "Christian" nation contains followers of many different faiths. While we may well be secular in our governance, the presence of Christian ideology is quite prevalent, both in our governance and in our collective self-image.

As to whether Buddhist monks live in "luxury," it is obvious that you haven't observed monastic life firsthand, and rely upon photo ops to formulate your opinion. I *have* seen firsthand how monks, disciples, and novitiates live. The ceremonial robes you describe are brought out only on special occasions and for specific rituals. At all other times, the monastic life is ascetic in the extreme.

"" Thinking, breathing, and being concerned about the state of your fellow man (rather than yourself) should be natural functions - requiring "neither blind faith nor expensive seminars to be realized."

That you believe Buddhism requires blind faith or expensive seminars is clear evidence that your comprehension of Buddhism is badly distorted. That you describe it as long-winded makes it clear that you have never looked past someone else's superficial description. I understand why you're so vehemently opposed to - and eager to attack - belief systems, but that opposition and even rage is simply not based in anything beyond your own limited experience and bias. While you are certainly entitled to your opinions, I feel compelled to clarify when you incorrectly characterize a belief system, and especially when you so obviously feel the need to universally demonize any and all of its adherents.

Cosmic Connie said...

Amen (if you'll pardon the expression), Rev!

The Crack Emcee said...

Again: I blame both sides - not just China. They're supposed to be Buddhists and even after the Dali Lama told the Tibetans to stop fighting they didn't. 'Nuff said.

Every time the Christian label is put on America it's not only denied but refuted. You trying to stick it with it - and your anger toward it - doesn't change that.

I don't rely on "photo ops" but Buddhists themselves for my opinions. And I wouldn't care if the monks only brought out the golden robes only on Easter Sunday. And why's there no mention of those golden temples? They could get a lot yak butter for those.

I quoted your "expensive seminars" line - and added in Eckhart Tolle and est - so, please, don't be so extreme: you should know what I meant.

I called Buddhism long-winded because of the previous posts. If they're "superficial" as well,...

If the reason for my opposition to belief systems is understood, why is there always so much Buddhism? Such understanding would mean seeing through Buddhism as well. I'd suggest Buddhists can't let it go because they live in "fear" without it but that's not my thing. Plus, I don't know you - just as you don't know me - so comments about my "limited experience" are just so much wishful thinking. Have I gone to stay in a monastery? No - I have a life. But, as you yourself said, things of that sort are not a prerequisite for (sigh) "enlightenment".

I don't demonize Buddhism's adherents - I call them names to make them break their facade of being different from the rest of us (and I'm, apparently, good at it). I demonize belief systems because they are the source of conflict and humanity's stunted growth.

But, of course, that's "understood", right, Connie?

Can I get an "Amen!"?

WC said...

I read in the most recent National Geographic that the largst religion in China is Buddhism, something like 20-25 % of the population. Yet 40 % identify themselves as non-religious, and many of these are Communist part members.

When I was in China, the figure I saw most often besides Mao was the laughing Buddha. No matter what you have done, good or bad, this Buddha laughs, because he has successfully renounced desire.

Mao's Cultural Revolution has an eerie resonance with this perspective on desire. The Chinese people were expected to renounce so much they desired for the sake of a greater good.

I wonder if the Tibetan Buddhism had had a similar effect on the capacity of the Tibetan people to fight back, or even prepare for a future where someone might try to take away that which their country.

I have a read a lot of books by Western Buddhists, so I think I understand it somewhat.

They don't be believe that the self is anything other than illusion.

This is the beginning of relatavism. So it scares me.

One thing that even the most skeptical scholars say that Jesus said was to "give to Caesar's what is Caesars, and give to God what is God's'. " In other worlds, keep your eye on both worlds, this one and the spiritual one, because they both are real and they both require attention and the consequences for inattention to either are very real.

Other sayings:

Trust in God, but keep your powder dry.

Trust in God, but keep your camel tied.

Trust in God, but remember to zip up your fly.

Kill the Buddha, he has no desires anyways so no biggie.

The Crack Emcee said...

"...A faith that despises the mind and the free individual, that preaches submission and resignation, and that regards life as a poor and transient thing, is ill-equipped for self-criticism. Those who become bored by conventional "Bible" religions, and seek "enlightenment" by way of the dissolution of their own critical faculties into nirvana in any form, had better take a warning."

-- Christopher Hitchens (again)

Steve Salerno said...

OK, Crack, but let me play devil's (or maybe God's) advocate for a second here. Are you saying that a religion that preaches self-denial and other-directness as a path to the promised land is, by definition, a bogus religion? (Yes, we know what Hitchens would say, because he believes only in the here and now. But I'm asking what you would say.) And we know that the True Believers can be very dangerous people to the rest of us who don't share their faith (e.g. radical Islam). But if they sincerely believe that they're doing God's (or Allah's) work, then who are we to argue with their premise? What I'm getting at is that I don't think you can automatically dismiss a religion as fraudulent simply because it calls upon its followers to do things that you or I might disagree with. For example, some of the most devoutly religious people alive--Roman Catholic monks--live entire lives of austerity and, surely in some sense, actual suffering. I could not live that life. You probably couldn't either. But does that mean we're right and they're wrong? Even if they scream that we're wrong, that we're all going to Hell...that's just their opinion, based on their faith. Who are we to judge them for not sharing our non-belief?

Right? Wrong?

Elizabeth said...

Steve: "I don't think you can automatically dismiss a religion as fraudulent simply because it calls upon its followers to do things that you or I might disagree with."

I'd say that if provable truth is the standard, then religion, all religion, is fraudulent. If we are to be logical and consistent in our logic, we will have to admit that there is no difference between, say, Christian monks' beliefs and those of Tolle&Co.

We seem to cultivate the soft spot for the so-called "major" religions, while we are dismissive toward the "minor" ones. But let's remember that the great religions started small and were derided and dismissed the same way (with more gruesome variations, admittedly) as today's fringe beliefs.

So what is it that makes us revere the Christian or Buddhist monks, but make fun of people like Tolle? Our thinking habits and sentiments, dating back to childhood? Convention? We are clearly inconsistent in our criticisms of New Age fads as absurd (and possibly harmful), if we give major religions a pass in this respect.

P.S. Do you think Buddha or Jesus would refuse Oprah's invite to spread his message to the people? :)

RevRon's Rants said...

"I'd suggest Buddhists can't let it go because they live in "fear" without it but that's not my thing."

Given your repeated and constant attacks, directed at any reference to Buddhism or Buddhists, crack, I couldn't help but chuckle when I read this line.

"You trying to stick it with it - and your anger toward it - doesn't change that."

Once again, you seem to be projecting. I bear no anger toward Christianity. As a matter of fact, I embrace much of Christ's teachings as being compassionate and beautiful. There's really a delightful symmetry between the two ideologies. After all, neither "Christ" nor "Buddha" are actual names, but rather titles, both implying enlightenment.

Commitment to the separation of church and state notwithstanding, it is ludicrous to deny the strong ties between the US' established form of government and Judaeo-Christian ideologies. One need only look to our national symbols and rituals to see that.

"I demonize belief systems because they are the source of conflict and humanity's stunted growth."

And this, ultimately, is *your* belief system. The anger you so often express toward so many things begs the question, "How's that working for ya'?"

It is not belief systems themselves that have created such widespread suffering and stunted human progress, but rather the actions of those who would twist and subvert those belief systems for their own selfish means. Eliminating the faith that so many find enriching, just to eliminate those who abuse that faith would be akin to trying to eliminate water in order to eliminate the threat of water-borne diseases.

As I'd said before, you are certainly entitled to your opinions, and I would not bother to challenge them, were they not grossly misinformed and/or colored by your own anger at someone whose Buddhist beliefs were, at best, undefined.

As to your claim that calling people names is effective at "breaking their facade," perhaps that was an effective technique in grade school, but hardly among intelligent adults. Besides, by attempting to "break a facade," you are actually attempting to confer your own "enlightenment" on others, just like those you demonize. Given the choice between that "facade" and chronic anger, I think I'll hold on to the "illusion." Better for the blood pressure, not to mention, my relationships. And I'll bet Connie would add her "Amen" to that! :-)

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve,
I think it really boils down to the *need* to make others wrong. A person who is secure in their beliefs (or lack of beliefs, as the case may be) is comfortable with others who do not share those beliefs.

Naturally, when one's beliefs begin to intrude on the sanctity and well-being of others, defensiveness - even a strong offensive stance - is appropriate. The challenge is to try to assess the perceived threat objectively, and determine whether the threat is real, or merely a projection of one's own (dare I say it?) fears.

RevRon's Rants said...

By the way, Steve - One common misconception about Buddhism is that "self-denial" and "sacrifice" are synonymous. They are not. As I'd mentioned on a post some months back, the vow of poverty taken by disciples and monks is not an act of denying themselves anything, but rather an acknowledgment of sufficiency. Not, "I won't let myself have xxx," but "I have enough." It represents the triumph of pragmatism over yearning.

Cosmic Connie said...

Crack wrote:
"I demonize belief systems because they are the source of conflict and humanity's stunted growth.

But, of course, that's 'understood', right, Connie?

Can I get an 'Amen!'?"

OK, an "Amen" with qualifiers. :-)Crack, it doesn't always come across to me that you're merely demonizing belief systems; sometimes it does seem you're demonizing the adherents.

Regarding belief systems, I agree that they are often the source of humanity's stunted growth -- but they're not the only source. Given our primate heritage, I wonder if we'd be better or worse off or just the same without belief systems.

I kind of like the message in the 1999 movie "Dogma." That message was that it's good to have *ideas* because they allow for change; but when you get into the realm of *belief*, that's when you get into trouble. Beliefs are more rigid.

That may be the same thing Christopher Hitchens is saying, and maybe it's roughly the same thing you're saying, Crack, although writer/producer/director Kevin Smith was a practicing Catholic at the time he created the movie.

I think I lost my train of thought so I'm going to wander back to work...

RevRon's Rants said...

"And we know that the True Believers can be very dangerous people to the rest of us who don't share their faith..."

As we've seen on this and any number of other discussion forums, there are "True Believers" on *both* sides of the issue. It is obvious that it is extremism blended with opportunism that poses a danger, not a given belief system, or even the lack of one.

mikecane2008 said...

You know who else propagated "living in the now?"

Charles Manson!

I kid you not!

Manson

I don't know if this is a legal copy or not, but it's an Oscar-nominated docu that has Manson Family interviews (Squeaky Fromme *before* she went after Ford!!).

Towards the end, there's a rant by Manson himself who advocates "now."

(Of course, he also thought himself to be Jesus Christ. Hmmm... what about that Tolle guy? Manson was only 5'3". Tolle?)

To watch beyond 5 minutes, you must download the VeohTV client. Then you can stream it or download to watch.

mikecane2008 said...

>>>the model that says negative, fear based emotions like jealousy, envy, egocentricity and narcissism come from the ego,

I wryly observe that often the people exhibiting these traits actually have no true ego. Just bits of crap they've absorbed from the lowest of pop culture and grafted onto themselves to form a personality.

This is why drug use is so vast. People want to escape their essential hollowness and terror.

mikecane2008 said...

>>>Except for the scary zealous way he speaks of the evils of television,

What?! And yet he agrees to appear on the apotheosis of TV, Oprah?!

(Someday I will read *all* the Comments before replying and so not have 3 consecutive ones of my own...)

Steve Salerno said...

Mike, that's OK. I do it all the time. (Not that my doing something by definition makes it OK, but you know what I mean.)

My overriding point on religion is this: Leaving aside Eliz's meta-argument about how no religion really "makes sense," I think we sort of have to agree that each religion--if we're going to have them at all--must be allowed its premise. And if you subscribe to a literalist interpretation of the Quran, which tells you that in order to find your way to heaven and get your virgins you must kill all the infidels--it's not my place to tell you that (a) you're wrong and (b) your religion sucks. It's just another religion, and you're allowed to believe it. Now, of course, in turn, I am allowed to reject your religion (not the fact that you practice it, but the fact that it runs counter to my interests) and kill you first, if it comes to that. But neither of us can claim the high ground. It's just a matter of survivalism. That's all I'm saying (and I'm purposely using an extreme example to make my case).

To argue otherwise is to argue that any of us is privy to the objective truths of the cosmos...which I don't think any of us can do.

mikecane2008 said...

Ah, religion. Everyone in dealing out the arguments and counter-arguments leaves out the thing that is supposed to be key to all religions:

Do to others as you would have others do to yourself.

If the Muslim fanatics truly believed and followed that, they'd stop to ask, if another religion thought *I* was an infidel, would I want to be slaughtered or left alive with an opportunity to possibly see the light? (I cite Muslims as the du jour; 20 years ago it would have been American anti-abortionists; 30 years ago, Irish Catholics & Protestants...)

Let me say something that will shock all of you, given the choice of arguing with a relgious fanatic or a "rational" Objectivist, I'd take the God-believer any day.

RevRon's Rants said...

"To argue otherwise is to argue that any of us is privy to the objective truths of the cosmos...which I don't think any of us can do."

Good points, Steve. As the old saying goes, "If someone claims to have all the answers, they simply aren't asking the right questions!" :-)

mikecane2008 said...

One more Veoh plug:

BBC Documentary - What Is Stupidity?

Elizabeth said...

Connie says, "Given our primate heritage, I wonder if we'd be better or worse off or just the same without belief systems."

Just one quick thought on this:
It is a legitimate concern and one that has been brought up numerous times in defense of the religious belief. And there is some truth, I think, in the observation that religion has served, for some, as an inhibiting force when it comes to expressing their impulsive nature.

But it is hard not to notice that more often we use the noble ideals promoted by religion in service of our most primitive drives and as a justification of our most vile actions. It seems that whenever we base the morality on the divine law, we (human beings) feel free -- nay, obligated -- to commit the most atrocious acts in its name. Introducing God and His Law into our earthly matters makes it somehow permissible for us to suspend our common sense, not to mention critical judgment and compassion for each other. All in the name of God (or some equally delusional ideology).

Elizabeth said...

An aside: Nothing like a discussion about religion to bring out the, er, liveliest in us, no?

My favorite quote (or one of several) apropos:

"Religion is but a desperate attempt to find an escape from the truly dreadful situation in which we find ourselves. Here we are in this wholly fantastic universe with scarcely a clue as to whether our existence has any real significance. No wonder then that many people feel the need for some belief that gives them a sense of security, and no wonder that they become very angry with people like me who say that this is illusory." Fred Hoyle --The Nature of the Universe

Cosmic Connie said...

Good points, Elizabeth, regarding the question I asked [re our primitive nature] being used as a defense of religion. I, however, tend to believe that we're a violent and brutal species and would pretty much be that way with or without religions and belief systems. I was trying to express that but probably didn't do it very well.

We can also be an incredibly tender and loving species -- again, regardless of religion or belief systems.

We make our way through life, as [famous Buddhist] Leonard Cohen wrote in his song "If It Be Your Will", "...in our rags of light, all dressed to kill..."

Cosmic Connie said...

... And another thing: the more I think about it, the more I think it really doesn't make sense to demonize belief and belief systems. Ron and I were having a private discussion about that matter a little earlier and I arrogantly cut him off, as I am sometimes wont to do, but I think I see what he's trying to say.

WC said...

My problem with religions or 'belief systems' , and I am a Christian so I am talking about myself here too , is that we try to make things that are quite ordinary into something 'special' or 'spiritual' - like helping the less fortunate, feeling gratitude, being aware of one's thoughts, looking at flowers, etc. It really is a form of pride. Crack mentioned this in his last post, and it was his most important point. It did not seem like an attack to me. Pride may make it seem so, in fact.

I think the titillating novelty of Buddhism for Westerners has no current match in its ability to encourage this form of pride. This pride stifles people's awareness of their need to learn and grow, which can be deadly as it begets stupidity. Maybe Christianity does the same to people in China. Maybe atheism does it to other categories of people. But there do seem to be various patterns like this, and Oprah and Tolle really stick out as two of the biggest culprits of this pride begetting stupidity and all the harm that comes with it.
I think Crack sees the stupidity, and he isn't pulling punches.
He has been personally harmed by this stupidity.
If he really thinks you or anyone is in danger, even if he is wrong, do you think he should just be quiet and 'respectful' and hope for the best.
Would a good Buddhist or just watch you sink?

Belief systems or religions are just vehicles to get somewhere. But if you get so proud of your sweet ride that you don't pay attention to us pedestrians, then I think it might be time for a pedestrian to jump on the hood and start banging.
Maybe a driver or two will stop their vehicle and reorient to its purpose - to discover truth.

RevRon's Rants said...

WC - The Buddhist way is to make the spiritual ordinary, rather than the other way around. So long as we look for "spirituality" in what we do, we rob ourselves of the actual *experience* of doing it. The process tends to get reversed and everything becomes "cosmic" when the student is in that transient "oh, wow" phase, which, unfortunately, is pretty much the default for casual observers and practitioners. The "pride" you describe is pretty common among new novitiates, who suddenly discover a perspective that hadn't previously occurred to them. As one delves more deeply, the pride inevitably gives way to pragmatism and, hopefully, humility.

There will always be people who see demons in anything that is unfamiliar to them. It predates "human nature" to be wary of that with which we are unfamiliar, especially if we associate that unfamiliar circumstance with a past injury. The tough part is differentiating between that which has harmed us in the past and the unfamiliar thing we encounter now. When one's familiarity is with an inaccurate representation of something, such as a hurtful person who claimed to be a Buddhist, it is easy to dismiss the entire belief system as, to use your word, "stupidity."

Elizabeth said...

Connie, this is my favorite Cohen's song.:)

To expand on your post (on our nature being both good and evil) and WC's comments on pride (as well as Steve's earlier points), it is obvious, I think, that our human tendency to believe in something unquestioningly and to elevate our own beliefs to the status of THE TRUTH is often, though not always, more dangerous than the content of the belief itself. Atheists are no humanitarians just because of their lack of religious beliefs. If they put their ideology ahead of the common sense and consideration for others, they can be as capable of mayhem as the most religious fanatics. Just see how many millions perished in the name of Communism, or rather its worshipers' need to obliterate anyone who'd not share their (anti-religious) ideology.

I also note -- and maybe I'm mistaken here -- that "religious tolerance" (going back to Steve's earlier point) is an oxymoron. At best, we have a kind of hostile tolerance that requires believers from different faiths to, more or less grudgingly, acknowledge "the right" of another to believe differently. But under this usually forced civility lurks the thinly-veiled pride WC describes, which makes us *know* that, *in truth,* our God is the real God, our credos are what truly matter, and that we will achieve the eternal bliss, while those who believe differently are doomed. Tolerance shmolerance. I would posit that as long as we choose to remain in the world of make-believe -- i.e. of religious dogma and superstition -- no real tolerance is possible, because our perceptions of each other are skewed from the start by our preconceived notions of what's good and godly and what's not.

So rather than accept each other's (nonsensical and prideful, yes) beliefs as "okay," meaning, "I will let you believe in virgin birth and resurrection as long as you let me believe in my 72 virgins in heaven," or reincarnation, or whatever other nonsense is involved, perhaps we can do better. Perhaps we can learn how to distill and uphold universal human values that are present in most religions and social ideologies, but transcend those belief systems and bind rather than divide us. We may then discover that we do not need to cling to nonsensical delusions to live decent and peaceful lives (which, I realize, may be an utopian and semi-nonsensical belief in its own right). But I think that until we do that, we will continue to argue that "my religion is better than your delusion, I mean, religion," with all the ugly consequences of this pointless fight.

Elizabeth said...

An aside: Congratulations to Jim Schmitz on being the (honorary?) president of the SHAMblog 100 comments club! :)

Elizabeth said...

Mike says, "(...) given the choice of arguing with a religious fanatic or a "rational" Objectivist, I'd take the God-believer any day."

Why, Mike?

RevRon's Rants said...

"At best, we have a kind of hostile tolerance that requires believers from different faiths to, more or less grudgingly, acknowledge "the right" of another to believe differently."

Do you really believe that *every* person who holds to a given set of beliefs - or no beliefs at all - is that hostile, Elizabeth? While I will acknowledge that examples of this kind of cynicism are easy to find, I cannot accept that this is the norm. Perhaps my reaction speaks to my own naivete, but I've met an awful lot of people whose beliefs are very important to them, yet are more than willing to acknowledge that others' beliefs are every bit as valid.

As has been said previously on this blog, religion (including the religion of no religion) is just a vehicle we use to get someplace. Some might feel that theirs is the only vehicle capable of making the trip, and they're welcome to that mindset, so long as they don't strive to cut the tires on everyone else's vehicle. Others see the journey more closely akin to traffic cruising down the highway toward a common destination. Aside from the folks who engage in spiritual/intellectual road rage, they proceed quite happily, unconcerned with the make, model, or year of the vehicles around them. Such is the mindset I'd like to think - and do believe - is prevalent. Pride isn't a factor in the latter group's journey, because they know that most of the cars are heading in the same direction, and those who are taking different paths have found or will eventually find the one that works best for them.

"Perhaps we can learn how to distill and uphold universal human values that are present in most religions and social ideologies, but transcend those belief systems and bind rather than divide us."

Another way of looking at it is that we need to strive to transcend the aberrations some people commit in the *name* of their chosen belief system, which are the real source of the "nonsense" you would like for us to overcome. My own beliefs do not require that I demonize anyone who thinks differently than I do. As a matter of fact, that demonization is a significant element in the folly that we strive to overcome. To begrudge another the right to his or her perspective is to acknowledge that my own beliefs won't endure the light of comparison, and are therefore invalid.

In the final analysis, setting the abolition of all belief systems as a goal on our path to intellectual growth is not only unfeasible, it is yet another example of the need to impose one's own belief system (albeit one based in non-belief) upon others. The cycle of intolerance that runs contrary to the essence of most spiritual paths, and which the non-believing believers claim to detest, is thus perpetuated.

Elizabeth said...

RevRon: "(...) setting the abolition of all belief systems as a goal on our path to intellectual growth is not only unfeasible, it is yet another example of the need to impose one's own belief system (albeit one based in non-belief) upon others. The cycle of intolerance that runs contrary to the essence of most spiritual paths, and which the non-believing believers claim to detest, is thus perpetuated."

And there we have part of the problem called our human nature -- our faulty communication. :) I'm not sure how you have arrived from my "transcend the nonsensical" in our beliefs to "the abolition of all belief systems as a goal on our path to intellectual growth." That's must be my convoluted 'splaining process. So let me 'splain some more.

"Abolishing all belief" is too much of an interpretive jump, RevRon. I'm talking more about expanding that "common sphere" of our universal human experience that is based on provable truth, logic and science, rather than outwardly mandated abolishing of magical belief. That has been done already, by the way, and I can tell you from personal experience, growing up in a socialist country, that this method does not work.

Let me 'splain myself still more: There is no evidence of an all powerful god that exists somewhere "out there" and meddles in human affairs; there absolutely no evidence of life after death. But we cultivate these two particular beliefs with ferocity proportional to the fear that the realization of the truths behind them evokes in us. Which I can understand and tolerate, on a private level. However, I have a problem with using these clearly absurd beliefs on a larger scale, as in, for example, this election, when presidential candidates had to pass their test of religious faith declaring, one more ardently than the other, how strongly they believe in and worship the absurd. The pressing question: "Why do we clamor for a president who'd be clearly delusional, not to mention ignorant?" was never asked during this process.

I understand why, unfortunately, with our "Christian nation," political pandering et al.; but I do not approve. And as long as we cater to superstition and prejudice, treating it on the same level and with the same seriousness as the provable truth, especially in the common, social sphere, we are not going to progress beyond the caveman mentality, with all the fears and hatreds it involves.

Elizabeth said...

Since I'm already in the 'splaining mode (or, more accurately, 3R-mode -- as in (anti)religious ranting and raving), let me bring up my challenge, again, to all of us anti-Tollers, and SHAMbloggers in particular.

If we are to be logically consistent and honest, we cannot crusade against Tolle&Co. and leave the major religions alone -- can we?

There are no solid arguments that would differentiate the Tolleism from the teachings of the great religions -- are there? We can't even begrudge him for making money on this enterprise -- why, see how prosperous, say, the Catholic Church is, with its class of men (largely), grouped in a hierarchical structure complete with its own CEO, who do not perform any discernible work and yet are well supported through donations of others. One could say that this is a kinda parasitic lifestyle (but one won't, knowing well what kind of thunders would fall on one's head for saying that...:)

Etc. etc.

So let's be fair in our skewering of the absurd and outrageous, and let's not just single out Tolle&Co. here, unless we have solid arguments to prove that he deserves it and others, who have been in the same business for thousands of years, don't.

(I'm not defending Tolle at all. You know what I think about him. I just think we are cultivating some blind spots here if we focus critically on New Age philosophies and leave the major religions alone.)

Steve Salerno said...

Ohh, Eliz, I don't know now; methinks you might have overstepped here. Time does not permit me to answer what I think you meant to pose as a rhetorical (re your lumping in of "formal religions" with the likes of Tolle, etc.), but I think that important differences may/might exist. Perhaps others will want to pick up the thread here...?

Anonymous said...

Obviously no one has tried to open a church in the U.S. It is no easy task. There are vigorous requirements to go through. A church or religious organization has to show community involvement, out reach, have a member board, show accounting for their money, and let’s not get into all the tax questions. I seriously doubt Troll has the time or energy for that. He could open a non-profit with more ease. The “Church” of Scientology is under great scrutiny, because it barely adheres to the rigorous requirements to be considered a “church.”

This is an important aspect of religious organizations not addressed, the community affect of them. Churches and religious organizations are not just about God, but also about community. People like to be around people who think like them. I love hanging out with other writers and economists. We have our own language to a great extent and our own level of knowledge that makes us feel good. I believe this is true about religions too.

RevRon's Rants said...

"I have a problem with using these clearly absurd beliefs..."

And thus is the crux of your argument - and our disagreement. *You* have a problem, based in *your* assertion that the beliefs are absurd, since they are not based in a set of physically provable evidentiary elements.

While you are more than welcome to label such beliefs as being absurd in your own perspective, do you - or does anyone else - have the right to, or even the documented evidence to justify, the expectation that anyone else share a perspective that runs so contrary to their own?

Once again, we have a pattern of opposite extremes, both demanding not only supremacy over, but the virtual elimination of opposing thought. Where the religious fundamentalists would banish the "intellectuals" to hell (and a few would willingly send them on their way), the "intellectuals" would dismiss any who follow spiritual paths as being superstitious and ignorant, and argue that their belief systems be discarded. Condescension flows freely from both extremes, and points clearly to the discomfort each feels in the presence of the unfamiliar. Would it not be more productive for both fringes to simply admit that they see things differently, and focus upon living their own lives to the best of their abilities, rather than putting so much energy into distancing themselves from - and even trying to eliminate - that which they either don't understand or choose to see differently?

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I think the real issue here actually transcends any conflict between the "spiritual" and the "intellectual." It really boils down to the importance of examining the need to "lump" at all.

We have seen self-proclaimed religious adherents who need to lump all who disagree with them, defining them as heretics, infidels, unenlightened, and sinners. On the other hand, we have seen those who consider themselves intellectuals who need to lump all followers of spiritual paths together as being backward, ignorant, self-serving, and - in the most extreme cases - downright evil.

Perhaps we would better serve our own endeavors - not to mention our relationships with our fellow humans (and animals) by recognizing that there are far more things that we have in common than that separate us. There is a "silver thread," if you will, that allows spiritual inspiration to exist alongside logical thought, with no conflict arising. All that is required for peaceful coexistence is the acceptance of the *facts* that no single human perspective is infallible, and that each of us can learn something from those who see things differently. So long as we cling so tightly to a narrow worldview strictly limited by our own chosen criteria, the opportunities for any kind of expansion in our knowledge are ignored, and the kind of community with those who share our lives - which we *all* crave - will elude us.

Agreeing to disagree isn't an abandonment of our own ideals; it is an acknowledgment that we are not supreme beings (or the sole manifestation of a deity). It represents being sufficiently comfortable with ourselves to allow others to be *themselves.* And that is the single most critical prerequisite to peaceful coexistence and happiness.

Elizabeth said...

But Rev, this is not just "my assertion" that there is no provable god or life after death. You know, I'd love for both to be true -- how much easier would my own life be (there is a reason why Cohen's "If it be your will" is my favorite song of his -- I know the yearning all too well). I'm sorry, but in the light of the obvious and shared reality of our existence on this planet, glaringly free of provable divine intervention, the burden of proof (for the god's existence, not to mention life after death -- yeah) is on the side of those who maintain both (myths) to be true. (Similarly with any other myths/beliefs -- Santa Claus included.)

It's not my whimsy or just-say-so to state that these beliefs have no basis in our provable truth -- it is the reality of our human life on this planet. Despite thousands of years spent by our species on worshiping god in its many varieties, we have never, not once, ever, been able to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that such deity(-ies) exists. Yet we freely give ourselves a pass on this glaring inconsistency. Why? (And please do not rush with answers here -- I actually know them, most of them, I imagine -- and I'm not being arrogant saying this; you know that for a long time I aspired to be a nun, so that counts, I suppose, for "been there done that.")

I'm not for dismantling or "abolishing" all beliefs; merely for putting them in the right perspective and place (for example, away from swaying social policies, for one; I know, good luck with that, huh.)

P.S. I can live with the "problem," you know -- have, actually, for the most of my life. Does not mean I have to be silent about it, no?

Elizabeth said...

OK, Rev, I know where you're coming from with these divisions on "believers" and intellectuals, but, frankly, I do not want to be put into a category here.

I'm not speaking as an "intellectual" with an agenda (abolishing belief and such). I'm simply one woman asking what I see to be honest and legitimate questions -- questions that have preoccupied me all my life and to which I have not been able to find -- nor I've heard -- satisfactory answers. So let me quest without being lumped into a category -- isn't that a fair thing to ask for?

Steve Salerno said...

Let me throw something in here--and please, people, BY NO MEANS is this to be interpreted as a defense of nonsense, or Tolle, or even "formal religion." I'm just making a point about uncertainty.

The human mind--and in fact all human sensory experience--suffers from the handicap of being able to perceive only what is perceivable to it. Many of the people I know who are atheists are also biological/Darwinistic determinists: They believe that every single thing that happened was predetermined by some antecedent thing that is explicable by examining the cause and effect found in nature (if we had access to all of that, that is). However, if everything is indeed predetermined--then so is thought. So is logic. And if our system of logic could only come to the conclusions it comes to--which is the irrefutable upshot of a deterministic mindset--then can we really trust it? Or to make an analogy, if a colorblind person looks at the rainbow, how can we trust his interpretation of what the colors are? He can only see what he can see.

Like Einstein's theory of time and the cosmos, deterministic logic ultimately turns around on itself.

And we can only think what we can think. There may be--just may be--other things out there that are beyond what we're capable of seeing, thinking or experiencing.

I guess what I'm saying is that a certain degree of human humility is central to these discussions. Eveni in the case of the fundamental purpose of my book and blog, please understand that I did NOT write SHAM because I thought I could prove that all self-help is useless; I wrote it merely as a counterbalance to the argument that pervades American culture, which says that self-help is, BY NATURE, "good for you." I just wanted people to have someplace to go for a "second opinion."

The Crack Emcee said...

"There will always be people who see demons in anything that is unfamiliar to them. It predates "human nature" to be wary of that with which we are unfamiliar, especially if we associate that unfamiliar circumstance with a past injury. The tough part is differentiating between that which has harmed us in the past and the unfamiliar thing we encounter now. When one's familiarity is with an inaccurate representation of something, such as a hurtful person who claimed to be a Buddhist, it is easy to dismiss the entire belief system as, to use your word, 'stupidity.'"

A naturally bald man is not just sporting another hairstyle.

The difference between driving with the wind in your hair, or over a bald pate, is negligible - unless you're sitting in the back seat.

A naturally bald man doesn't play with his hair, or conceitedly pull it away from his face, when he talks to you.

Nor does a naturally bald man walk down the street wondering if anyone notices his hair "today".

A naturally bald man doesn't think he derives his strength from his hair.

Nobody can grab a naturally bald man's hair, and swing him around like a doll, screaming "Wherever the head goes the body follows!"

A naturally bald man doesn't pay money to hair care companies.

No animals are killed in the creation of a naturally bald man's hair care products.

There's no naturally bald man's hair care industry.

A naturally bald man doesn't feel insecure when he starts to go grey, or his hair falls out, because neither will ever happen.

A naturally bald man doesn't have to come up with excuses when others notice "split ends".

A naturally bald man doesn't change personalities when he goes blonde - especially deciding, once it's done, he's entitled to have "more fun" or that he's, somehow, become better than others because of such a superficial difference.

A naturally bald man sees that redheads are hotheaded merely because people say they're so.

A naturally bald man marvels at how those with straight hair make fun of, and marginalize, those with tight curls, and vice versa. Actually, he's horrified by it.

There are no days when no naturally bald man didn't have time to fix his hair, or he didn't feel like it, or he didn't get it right, or (the worst) he let someone cut it wrong.

A naturally bald man doesn't need a hair stylist.

A naturally bald man doesn't claim a certain stylist is a magician or think stylists are his friends.

A naturally bald man doesn't sit in a stylist's chair and tell them his problems.

A naturally bald man doesn't worry the stylist will gossip - or use the information gleaned from the process against him.

Not being able to style is hair isn't a flaw either, since a naturally bald man saves time and money, and isn't prone to staring at himself in the mirror.

Nobody thinks a naturally bald man looks like girl.

A naturally bald man is not just sporting another hairstyle.

The difference between driving with the wind in your hair, or over a bald pate, is negligible - unless you're sitting in the back seat.

A naturally bald man doesn't play with his hair, or conceitedly pull it away from his face, when he talks to you.

Nor does a naturally bald man walk down the street wondering if anyone notices his hair "today".

A naturally bald man doesn't think he derives his strength from his hair.

A naturally bald man doesn't pay money to hair care companies.

No animals are killed in the creation of a naturally bald man's hair care products.

There's no naturally bald man's hair care industry.

Bald never goes out of style.

A naturally bald man doesn't feel insecure when he starts to go grey, or his hair falls out, because neither will ever happen.

A naturally bald man doesn't have to come up with excuses when others notice "split ends".

A naturally bald man doesn't change personalities when he goes blonde - especially deciding, once it's done, he's entitled to have "more fun" or that he's, somehow, become better than others because of such a superficial difference.

A naturally bald man sees that redheads are hotheaded merely because people say they're so.

A naturally bald man marvels at how those with straight hair make fun of, and marginalize, those with tight curls, and vice versa. Actually, he's horrified by it.

There are no days when no naturally bald man didn't have time to fix his hair, or he didn't feel like it, or he didn't get it right, or (the worst) he let someone cut it wrong.

A naturally bald man doesn't need a hair stylist.

A naturally bald man doesn't claim a certain stylist is a magician or think stylists are his friends.

A naturally bald man doesn't sit in a stylist's chair and tell them his problems.

A naturally bald man doesn't worry the stylist will gossip - or use the information gleaned from the process against him.

Not being able to style is hair isn't a flaw either, since a naturally bald man saves time and money, and isn't prone to staring at himself in the mirror.

A naturally bald man doesn't indicate his political preferences by the length of his hair, or wearing it in a ponytail, or an afro, or a crew cut.

Nobody thinks a naturally bald man looks like girl - nor is he at risk of acting like one based on that.

More often than not, people assume baldness is a weakness. This, of course, can be used to a naturally bald man's advantage.

I could go on and on like this, about what a silly thing hair is, but, I guess, what I'm trying to say is this:

A naturally bald man doesn't have a head full of nonsense.

Elizabeth said...

Steve: "I guess what I'm saying is that a certain degree of human humility is central to these discussions."

Unless I'm misunderstanding you here, Steve, I get that your call for humility is directed to me (and those "intellectuals" who dare insist that we have never been able to prove god's existence). Is it because, as you say, "there may be--just may be--other things out there that are beyond what we're capable of seeing, thinking or experiencing"?

But of course there are such things, and an infinite number of them at that, given our scarce knowledge about the Universe and limited cognitive abilities to begin with. That's not the issue here.

The issue is the staunch and positive belief in an entity which existence has not ever been proved and is, in fact, unprovable.

Who is more humble here, Steve: those who jump with two feet into such a belief or those who dare to question it, knowing perhaps the futility of their endeavor and the pain and risks it entails?

(That last question is purposely framed in emotional extremes, but I hope to get my point across.)

P.S. And no, perhaps contrary to appearances, I do not have high stakes in this exchange -- as in, a desire to convince anyone of anything. I do take it seriously, but also understand that we are most likely not going to reach any agreeable solution. Still, I think the questions are worth asking. Always.

Steve Salerno said...

I don't know why it is that people assume that a call for a certain attribute is directed personally at them (and indirectly accusing them of lacking that attribute), but no, no such accusations were directed at anyone. The remark about humility stands on its merits.

Elizabeth said...

Steve, people (i.e. me) assumed, but also asked to clarify, no? And offered their opinion, just in case, my assumption was correct.

But I'm glad you clarified. (People) Thank you! :)

RevRon's Rants said...

Elizabeth, the single common denominator evident in all the greatest scientific minds throughout history was the knowledge that there was more to the universe than what their science could currently measure.

For example, the Big Bang theory has been widely accepted by the scientific community, yet there is not as yet any suitable explanation for what caused the "bang" in the first place. Some schools of spiritual thought interpret the "bang" as the physical description of Divine Thought, borne of a God's single unfulfilled desire: to be made manifest. Provable within the bounds of scientific method? No. *Disprovable* by the same methods? Of course not. There are those who consider themselves logical thinkers who opine that it is only a matter of time before science discovers the mechanism by which the Big Bang occurred. Such a conclusion requires no less a leap of faith than does the belief that the event was divinely wrought. Dismissing the one leap of faith as being borne of ignorance while embracing the other as being the product of intelligence is not only condescending, it is absurd.

Even Carl Sagan, who devoted his life to studying and attempting to understand the origin of the universe, ultimately came to the conclusion that there just might be more to the heavens and earth than existed in his philosophy. He understood the value of the word "perhaps," and was loath to dismiss something simply because it didn't fit within his established model of reality. A mind need not be closed in order to be discerning.

Elizabeth said...

Anon 12:40: "This is an important aspect of religious organizations not addressed, the community affect of them. Churches and religious organizations are not just about God, but also about community."

By this token, Tolle's "church" is growing like mushrooms after rain. It's now, what, over 700,000 believers (or at least attendees)? Who, btw, are setting up study groups and outreach programs in their communities.

Almost any cult would fit this requirement (of engagement in the community, as you describe in your post).

And I can't help but notice, as an aside of sorts, that if Jesus was to start a church in the US today, he'd have to jump through the same hoops -- and he'd not have an easy time doing it, what with, as you say, "a member board (with John P. Judas as president?), accounting for their money, and let’s not get into all the tax questions." Indeed. :)

roger o'keefe said...

Though lately I seem to be on the "wrong" side of most of these debates, I just wanted to say that this post exemplifies what I love about Shamblog. And why I personally keep coming back. The discussion has gone off in so many different directions, yet each is inherently interesting in its own right, and all the comment is high-level.

As to Crack, I'm afraid I can't relate to anything you say in your most recent comment, given mny full head of lustrous hair.

Anonymous said...

Troll and his followers maybe considered a cult, but he has not organized himself to be a church or religious organization by the standards set by the U.S. government. I seriously doubt he wants the U.S. government to know where his money is going.

Elizabeth said...

What a shameless self-plug, Roger (with that lustrous hair of yours, y'know.) LMAO. And you are the one who, earlier on in the thread, advocated a good dose of shame for some people, no?

OK, I'm kidding, don't shoot. Seriously, I'm not sure whether there is the right or wrong side of any SHAMblog debate -- I'm just grateful there is a DEBATE and that I get to participate. (Personally, I sometimes agree with you and sometimes not -- and I think it's mutual, unless I'm mistaken; but I can also honestly say that I keep learning (yes) from others here. And I'm grateful for that too.)

As to CMC's Ode to The Bald Man, I think it is brilliant (not to mention thigh-slapping funny).

WC said...

I just wish that adherents to religions and belief systems would spend as much time and energy warning people of the potential danger of those belief systems, rather then get so defensive about perceived attacks on the belief systems. Belief systems are not living beings , they don't suffer. Why should Crack or anyone go to of his way to 'be fair' to a belief system that has contributed to some harm to them (I don't mean to insinuate that Buddhism hurt Crack either - other belief systems have which you can find on his blog). What the heck does he or anyone owe a belief system?

The Crack Emcee said...

"I don't know why it is that people assume that a call for a certain attribute is directed personally at them"

Steve,

Now that I want a piece of:

The underlying insecurity of people with such strong opinions. That's what bothers me about believers.

Nobody here is stupid. They know there's nothing behind the curtain. Yet they persist. They know the proof is on them - which they can't produce - yet they persist. It's truly a portrait of "crazy" from where I sit but they think, since they can hold down a job, they're excluded from the label. Or, even worse, will work to exclude anyone who notices. That's where the evil comes in.

I'm happy I was born in a place where, if weak-asses try the things they do outside the ghetto, you can beat the crap out of them and nobody's going to call 9-1-1. They deserved it for being so lame to others. Let a Buddhist talk long enough and they'll eventually drop the line "it's a paradox", at which point you can proceed to kick them in the teeth for wasting your time. Christians eventually start looking around nervously for others to back up their crap - with real violence (like guns) if necessary - so they can be whacked before they reach 'em. Cowardly NewAgers start their medieval whispering campaigns, preparing to take revenge on the unsuspecting - who did nothing to them - so you throw them out a window when you hear the hushed tones. All very civilized when you're talking about people determined to make your life Hell.

And I'd answer your previous question by saying I find all religions to be fraudulent. Not the aspirations behind them, but the idea of religion itself. I think people are confused and - since they act on that confusion - dangerous. They always talk of trying to fill a void in their lives but, once they find "the way" (whatever it is) they fill that void by forcing their nonsensical crap on others who don't suffer their deficiencies. Malcolm X used to tell blacks to "keep your religion in the closet" which I think - in light of what I just said about ghetto life - is a good idea since believers are crazy. (Unfortunately, he was already far too enmeshed with such folks for it to do him any good. And, now, the Democrats are talking about electing a man to the presidency who refers to Malcolm's killer as "The Honorable Minister Farakhan".)

I've never met a believer, of any faith, who seriously contends with the consequences of the act of believing. To me, Elizabeth's questions are merely scratching the surface of acknowledging the lunacy they keep others trapped in, like the idiotic Buddhist idea of making spirituality the norm in life: don't they see you'll have to kill me first? Don't they see they'll have to act outside their beliefs to make that happen? They're crazy.

Reflecting on what Mike said, about arguing with religious people, someone asked the same question of Christopher Hitchens and he just listed the horrors he's seen believers do in countries that start with the letter 'B' (Beiruit, Belfast, etc.) to make his point. And only in my ex's spiritually committed mind could she sit in a Christian church (or recieve "blessings" from her cult) on one day and then sexually cheat on her husband the next and still consider herself a whole person. Bill Clinton, Elliott Spitzer, Pat Robertson, The Dali Lama, and the Buddha himself - the list goes on - each a walking contradiction that insists anyone who lives with the principles of the Enlightenment is the fool.

I'm an atheist (notice the small 'a') and a man. I don't need answers to anything except how mundane things work so I can use them. I don't want a plan. I don't want to meet my maker. I don't give a damn who the maker is.

Being around believers makes me long for the void. I, for one, will die with a smile on my face because I'll, finally, be done with them. Everything they try to do results in the opposite (like trying to make a reality that makes sense "better" by inserting the nonsense of illiterate desert people, who didn't even know what a germ is, into other's lives) and it's only because they're insane they don't see that. Always the opposite: I get happy when I see them arrested. I get happy when I see them clubbed over the head. I even laugh when I hear or see them killed. They make me happy, for all the wrong reasons, because they insist on twisting things so. I think that's why conservatives have been found to be happier than liberals: they make us stop caring. They insist on bio-fuels to save the planet, and expensive organics, so the price of food goes up - good job. They march against war on evil men (who they never march against, insisting we are the only players worth mentioning) and their negative speculations make the enemy stronger and oil go through the roof - good job. Always the opposite. It's sickening. Like Baby Huey won the Special Olympics and decided to go on a rampage.

People, I know suffering. I know what it's like to abuse people and to be abused. I've participated in riots and helped people build things. I've hated like none of you will ever hate and been lifted higher than God ever imagined. Before I left my adolescence, I'd seen horrors that only compare with veterans of war. There's nothing you can tell me about this life - no way to surprise me and open my eyes - until you start acknowledging it for what it is, unadorned, and unafraid: a test to see if I can make any "good" out of it.

I'm a "black" man, heading up on 50, who still smokes. I spent a good portion of my life doing drugs as a recreational sport; trying to set records for speed, distance, and (most importantly) endurance. My body is broken, and covered in wounds, and I'm just waiting for my teeth to fall out. Odds are, I probably won't live as long as anyone that's reading this, no matter how long it's on the web. And still, knowing all that, nothing bothers me more than the believers who turn "good" to "bad", "right" to "wrong", and my true concern for them - and, yes, love - to hate.

I've heard too many say "I don't care" when they're proven wrong. I've seen too many just walk away. I've heard too few say "I'm sorry". And I've seen too few try to fix it. And I want it to stop. Belief, whether of religion or ideology, is the agent of evil.

And I don't believe it - I know it.


And, BTW, I agree with Roger: this is great.

Steve Salerno said...

Wow. That's quite an anthem, Crack. To what, now--I'm not entirely sure. It reminds me somewhat of a long-form prose version of a song I used to love by Organized Konfusion: lots of rage and pain. But also something else, an odd kind of--horrific beauty?--that I can't quite put my finger on.

All I know for sure is that it leaves me feeling bad, in somewhat the same way, it now occurs to me, that I felt bad after reading the transcript of the statement Charlie Manson made on his own "behalf" at trial. Crack, I intend no criticism in saying that. Honestly, I don't. And I am certainly not implying that you're off in Charlie's world, intellectually or even emotionally. I'm just saying that the tenor and the underlying sense of nihilism and rage at what life and the bourgeoisie had done to him...well, there are parallels. That's all.

The Crack Emcee said...

Steve,

Manson knows/knew something. He had to, to get all those people to do what he said. I could get people to do things, if I wanted, but I rejected that sh*t long ago. I really don't like manipulating people - or manipulators. Followers don't bother me as much but they're working on it.

I opted for the "hard" life of attempting to find normalcy (not "balance") but to define where the parameters of an "average" life are - since I'll never be average, it was a worthy goal. I had to work to stop "pimping" down the street (the exaggerated masculine walk of ghetto dwellers) once I noticed no one outside the ghetto needed it. I had to correct my english. I dropped Eastern religion (Hello, Rev) and Eastern philosophy, when I realized it's goal was to manipulate people and I didn't like myself when I looked in the eyes of people who looked up to me. (Here's a tip for anyone that's aspiring to become a guru: after claiming you know whatever, say as little as possible, and - most important - don't reveal any really incriminating evidence about yourself. You know, like you're a jerk that's manipulating people. Works like a charm.) I dropped everything that was a barrier to living, and seeing, life as it is, unadorned, especially rose-coloured glasses.

I don't think I'm a nihilist. Many people say I'm an idealist - and a softy - and, in my heart, I really want people to get along. But, as I said, ghetto rules make more sense when I see how people who couldn't survive there behave. They do evil things because they can call 9-1-1 and claim, since they weren't violent, no harm was done. But if there's one thing I know now, post-divorce, there are other forms of violence and, now, there are laws that have been erected to enshrine and perpetuate them. Religion is a way the spiritually "weak" shall inherit the earth. They don't want to do the hard work of walking alone. They're a gang, in every sense of the word, and, growing up in gang territory, there's no way anyone can tell me they're not. Like any gang, they're a family who only find strength in numbers, and will attack at the slightest (perceived) offense. I know we've all seen that. Except for my allegiance to my country and it's ideals, and a band of musicians, I'm with Woody Allen:

I can't join any group that would have me for a member.

RevRon's Rants said...

Crack, that is probably one of the saddest diatribes I've read on this or any other public forum. You might consider, however, that some who walk away do so not because they don't care, but rather because they eventually see the futility in trying to help someone who clings so tightly to misery and rage, and demands that others wallow in that same sad place. I honestly hope it gets better for you.

Elizabeth said...

CMC: "I get happy when I see them clubbed over the head. I even laugh when I hear or see them killed."

CMC, do you really?

Steve Salerno said...

Crack: I'm with ya till the closing quote... Wasn't that Groucho Marx?

Steve Salerno said...

Geez Rev, I don't know. Interpersonal dynamics are so incredibly complex. I think it's nigh impossible for anyone who doesn't live through a situation to diagnose it from outside, especially in a hindsight manner. That said, I think that if we take your comment as a general observation on life as a whole, there is surely merit in what you say.

Steve Salerno said...

NOTE: This is an edited version of a comment from Rev Ron:

Steve - C'mon... Put aside the political correctness and the coddling. It doesn't suit you. I certainly wasn't implying a proxy diagnosis, merely reflecting upon what has been placed before us.

The Crack Emcee said...

Rev,

You're taking it wrong. I'm not sad. I told you: I'm disgusted. I'm disgusted that every girl I meet tries to get me to go to church with her. I'm disgusted Buddhists won't shut up about Buddhism, when it's gotten so many people killed, and so much of it is based on futility and submission - two aspects of life, I would think, no American black person should want anything to do with. I'm disgusted Jews think they're special. I'm disgusted at the herd mentality, just as I was disgusted when my foster sister walked through a glass door, almost severing off her hand, and my foster mother ran for her Bible - and not the phone to call 9-1-1. It's just disgusting what people will do for beliefs and the state of our country - starting with the nonsensical partisan belief Bush "stole" the election Al Gore sent to the Supreme Court to lose 7-2 - is one of the worst. Beliefs suck.

People don't walk away from me because because I'm "clinging" to anything (Hello, Mr. Obama!) they walk away because my mere presence is a reminder they know they're not Gods, there is no God, Jesus ain't coming back - and there is no Eastern anything worth revering - yet that's as far as they can imagine. I've never demanded anyone wallow in some sad place (I hate that Buddhism states life is suffering) I just want people to shut up about it if they're not going to be adults and say those are beliefs from centuries ago that we, in the modern era, don't need anymore.

When I was married, I told my wife to go where she wanted - church, ashram, whatever - just leave me out of it. But, of course, that's impossible for a believer. So I came home to weird Brazilian ladies, with bags of magic rocks, telling the kook our future. I found tons of receipts (after the break-up) for nonsense, costing hundreds of dollars a pop, to increase the "energy" in the house. Her "friends", with their eyes all wide, trying to stay in the now would stare at me, wondering how to get me involved - and then claiming I was bad for her when they couldn't find angle. Her anger if I walked in the room while she was meditating when, damn it, I simply needed something from there. (Who needs that?) What good does/did any of it serve? Whether I participated or not, what I am - if it's fiulled with rage, or sad, or anything else you want to posit as a negative - is the product of belief. And to this day, all I can think is, "What is your bleeping problem?" Learn to paint. To play an instrument - anything - so your self-worth isn't directed by somebody else. Mine isn't. Why must you all insist on this? If religion, or any other belief, was worth anything you wouldn't stick in anybody's face because - after all these thousands of years - it would be a given. But I got two jet liners, and a two missing towers, that say it isn't.

No. They have to lay it on - thick - because they have nothing else to say. Nothing else to offer. They're empty. Uninspired. Lost. That's why they want it - I don't - I don't need it and I don't want it around because it always has negative consequences - especially negative unintended consequences.

It's nothing but a scam and a barrier. A barrier to being whole. Jesus said not to be "puffed up" but I know very few people who find religion, or a belief system, who can resist. They arrogantly start instructing others in their beliefs, as though believing something - "God is a ham sandwich" or "You should quietly focus on milk until your thoughts curdle" - gives them some special knowledge.

As a musician, I encounter every human emotion that's ever existed, so I don't want anybody instructing me on sh*t. I know what it's like to love Jesus, worship Buddha, be a Nazi, kill a gangsta, worship the sun, fly to Mars, and love a woman more than I love myself. Other than that, I just want to be. Why that's not enough for anybody else is maddening. How the hell are you ever going to know how to be truly humble if you never take the risk of flying solo? You're going to die alone, damn it, walk it. What is everybody so afraid of? Isn't that the important question everybody's always projecting?

Well, I say "you're scared", not me.

Elizabeth,

Yea, sometimes it's hilarious. They think God's got their back - or they're "enlightened" - and then they find out, first-hand, that no such thing has occured. All good by me. That's what they get for deciding they're "special". And if they get the crap beat out of them for thinking so, well, "God did it", right? I wouldn't want to interfere with such a perfect plan.

No - seriously, E - I don't view violence as a total negative (if I did, I wouldn't be able to support the war). And I've never defended a woman who thought so either. Violence is a given. It's up to people not to create the conditions for violence, and insisting you've found "the way" - whatever it is - ain't it. All that does is create resentment and people will kill you over it.

As an atheist, I'm not proposing anything but the abandonment of belief - I have no replacement for you - just live your life. If you want magic, I'll buy you tickets to Penn & Teller. If you want philosophy, read Socrates. Just don't bring me the idiotic musings of desert people who couldn't read. Don't bring me a faker who claims he's reincarnated, says "Using one's hand, that is sexual misconduct.", while "To have sexual relations with a prostitute paid by you and not by a third person does not constitute improper behavior.", and has advocated nuclear weapons for India, hung out with Nazis, Japan's Supreme Truth cult, and has hysterical followers who act violently when the mood suits them, including blinding and flogging Tibetans to death.

Don't try to sell me on the idea that because something comes from the East there's anything unique being sold. I'm no more likely to buy any of that than I am the idea that black people are more moral than anyone else because of slavery. It's all just babble. And I stay on guard against it, just as I would anything else with human sacrifice in it's history. It just seems smarter than going along that road, doesn't it?

Steve,

You're right - Groucho.

Rev (again)

Steve's not being P.C., he's being real. Like the charge of my "fear", everything doesn't run according to "teachings". If I say I'm not sad, I'm not sad. If I say I'm not miserable - but believers bring misery to me - that's what's up. It's more of a case that believers should be doing soul searching, reflecting, self-criticism, about the hell they introduce to other's life, not me: they started it. But, as Hitchens said about Buddhists: they aren't capable of it.

To expect me to back down - to give up the dignity of my existence when I ask nothing but to give me peace - now that's a "sad place" indeed.

Even worse, it's sinister.

WC said...

My view is that beliefs are tools to get you to knowledge. They can also take you further away from knowledge.

Regarding God, I have not 'known' God, but I also have not 'known' the non-existence of God. So I am left with beliefs in this area. I get haircuts regularly. Crack is a fine barber.

This thread provoked a recollection of a quote from a book I read by Idries Shah - Learning How to Learn.

"There are two occasions when you can be sure you are on the brink of delusion, when you think that you are right, and when you think that you are wrong."

Elizabeth said...

This is one scientist's take on the "god problem" -- Natalie Angier's article from 2004. Here is a fragment (and the link is below):

"I recognize that science doesn't have all the answers and doesn't pretend to, and that's one of the things I love about it. But it has a pretty good notion of what's probable or possible, and virgin births and carpenter rebirths just aren't on the list. Is there a divine intelligence, separate from the universe but somehow in charge of the universe, either in its inception or in twiddling its parameters? No evidence. Is the universe itself God? Is the universe aware of itself? We're here. We're aware. Does that make us God? Will my daughter have to attend a Quaker Friends school now?

I don't believe in life after death, but I'd like to believe in life before death. I'd like to think that one of these days we'll leave superstition and delusional thinking and Jerry Falwell behind. Scientists would like that, too. But for now, they like their grants even more."

Full text:
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/angier06/angier06_index.html

or try here:
http://tinyurl.com/trjsy

Elizabeth said...

RevRon says, "(...) the single common denominator evident in all the greatest scientific minds throughout history was the knowledge that there was more to the universe than what their science could currently measure."

There is no question about it, but this is also what's not at question here.

I hearken back here to Steve's comment on humility, which you echo in your post, RevRon. Humility is good -- especially when universally applied, i.e. to the "believers" and "intellectuals." However, it cannot escape anyone's attention that right here you use the call for humility as a crack to let in the possibility of god's existence (and, Steve, your call to humility was in the same vein -- even though you qualified it right away and also later on -- because you too invoked the "there are still things we don't understand" argument in the context of trying to *not* lump major religions with New Age nonsense. If I completely misunderstand, I apologize; but it still appears so to me after re-reading). But, OK, that is somewhat beside the point.

What is on point is that no one in their right mind, especially no rational atheist, would ever argue that we know everything and thus our existence and the Universe are explained or fully explainable. But for some reasons, the believers (or self-described agnostics) throw this obvious non-argument at atheists every time the discussion between the two arises. You know, chastising the atheists for what they (the believers) consider their arrogance or such. This happens with such a regularity that one can bet the horse and carriage on it. It's also the sort of an argument that is usually used when no arguments are left, and it effectively shuts down a discussion (because who can argue with the over-arching obvious?)

I hope we won't have to do it here any more, having just undergone the mandatory humility admonition, and if we continue this discussion, here or on another thread, we can skip the "no one fully knows everything" truism altogether.

But just to underscore my point: Humility cuts both ways. Perhaps it is indeed humility that's required to admit that in this huge and mysterious Universe, in which our lives are so inscrutable and seemingly pointless, we can still go on, knowing our limitations and not escaping into comforting myths. What we don't know is infinitely vast, but we do not resort to inventing an omnipresent and omniscient being to fill the unknown. Isn't that humility?

RevRon's Rants said...

"Rev,

You're taking it wrong. I'm not sad. I told you: I'm disgusted."

Yet much of what you write conveys a deep sadness. Disgusted? Yes, I can see that. Disgusted that the world won't spin according to your preferences. Angry at anyone who doesn't share those preferences. The *need* that those unrealizable demands be met is, quite frankly, very sad. Your anger at the mere suggestion that your writings describe anything but a well-rounded, happy individual.

"I'm disgusted that every girl I meet tries to get me to go to church with her."

It just might be possible that "every girl you meet" sees the same unhappy individual you present here, and feels a desire to help. Then again, "every girl you meet" might just be part of one of those evil cults that so permeate the world you describe.

"I'm disgusted Buddhists won't shut up about Buddhism, when it's gotten so many people killed, and so much of it is based on futility and submission - two aspects of life, I would think, no American black person should want anything to do with."

I don't know how to make it any clearer: self-interested people who subvert the teachings of Buddhism, not Buddhism itself, have caused others harm, just as have individuals who follow any belief system - including those whose belief system is one of non-belief.

"...I was disgusted when my foster sister walked through a glass door, almost severing off her hand, and my foster mother ran for her Bible - and not the phone to call 9-1-1."

You've encountered people who do bad things in the name of their beliefs. We all have. But most people have sufficient insight to realize that damning a belief system because of the behavior of its most aberrant examples is not only irresponsible, it simply makes no sense.

"Beliefs suck."

To restate an earlier analogy, there are quite a few water-borne diseases, but common sense would dictate that we not try to eliminate water in order to protect ourselves from the disease.

"People don't walk away from me because because I'm "clinging" to anything (Hello, Mr. Obama!) they walk away because my mere presence is a reminder they know they're not Gods, there is no God, Jesus ain't coming back - and there is no Eastern anything worth revering - yet that's as far as they can imagine."

And you came to this conclusion how? By earnestly inquiring as to their reasons for walking away? Or by making the only assumption you find non-threatening to your own self-image?

"I've never demanded anyone wallow in some sad place (I hate that Buddhism states life is suffering) I just want people to shut up about it if they're not going to be adults and say those are beliefs from centuries ago that we, in the modern era, don't need anymore."

In short, if someone's perspective differs from your own, you don't want to hear it.

"And to this day, all I can think is, "What is your bleeping problem?" Learn to paint. To play an instrument - anything - so your self-worth isn't directed by somebody else. Mine isn't. Why must you all insist on this?"

I make no projections upon your sense of self-worth, beyond reflecting back the things you have shared here. You've been treated badly - worse than anyone else in creation, to hear you describe it. Sometimes, admitting that they might have been part of the problem is the hardest thing a person can do. Some never manage it, and prefer to blame the rest of the world for everything. It's easier still if you paint a picture of the rest of the world as populated by evil demons whose sole purpose is to manipulate, enslave, and even destroy everyone else.

"If religion, or any other belief, was worth anything you wouldn't stick in anybody's face because - after all these thousands of years - it would be a given. But I got two jet liners, and a two missing towers, that say it isn't."

We get that you feel intruded upon by any discussion not within the boundaries of your own preferences. The list of topics that have been debated for millennium is long, indeed. Yet thinking people continue to enjoy the discussions. As to 9/11, while it might be convenient to oversimplify the event by blaming it on religion, doing so overlooks every other factor that led up to the attack. Doing so ensures that we will not be prepared for the next. Small comfort, in my opinion.

"I don't need it and I don't want it around because it always has negative consequences - especially negative unintended consequences."

People's belief aren't going to disappear just because you'd like them to. Of course, railing about their existence is your right. Be thankful that the Internet has given you an alternative to using a bullhorn and soapbox on some street corner.

"It's nothing but a scam and a barrier. A barrier to being whole. Jesus said not to be "puffed up" but I know very few people who find religion, or a belief system, who can resist. They arrogantly start instructing others in their beliefs, as though believing something - "God is a ham sandwich" or "You should quietly focus on milk until your thoughts curdle" - gives them some special knowledge."

You probably should get out more. There are lots of great folks out there, and some of them actually have beliefs! :-)

"As a musician, I encounter every human emotion that's ever existed, so I don't want anybody instructing me on sh*t."

If you already know everything, what's the purpose of engaging in discussions like this one, if not to evangelize about your own beliefs? Certainly not to learn about anything else.

"I just want to be. Why that's not enough for anybody else is maddening."

Perhaps because you refuse to allow anyone not like yourself to "be." When you plant the seeds, you shouldn't be surprised when the plant starts to grow.

"How the hell are you ever going to know how to be truly humble if you never take the risk of flying solo? You're going to die alone, damn it, walk it. What is everybody so afraid of? Isn't that the important question everybody's always projecting?"

We all walk alone. However, some of us enjoy a sense of community, too. And some of us aren't afraid of everything beyond our individual comfort zone.

"Well, I say "you're scared", not me."

I've long since passed the point of expecting you to see - much less, acknowledge - what is so clearly evident in what you write.

"Yea, sometimes it's hilarious."

No comment really needed. Steve would delete it (again), anyway.

"It's up to people not to create the conditions for violence, and insisting you've found "the way" - whatever it is - ain't it. All that does is create resentment and people will kill you over it."

Only if they feel threatened.

"As an atheist, I'm not proposing anything but the abandonment of belief"

Which is, by clear implication, the proposal that everyone embrace *your* belief. And you fail to see the paradox - even the hypocrisy - in that.

"It's all just babble. And I stay on guard against it, just as I would anything else with human sacrifice in it's history. It just seems smarter than going along that road, doesn't it?"

Yet you embrace a war that is, at its core, human sacrifice in the service of "beliefs" that weren't threatened in the first place.

"Steve's not being P.C., he's being real."

He's coddling you, crack. Allowing you to spout a lot of obnoxious BS, just to keep the coherent morsels you offer. As to his motivation for doing so, only he can know for certain.

"But, as Hitchens said about Buddhists: they aren't capable of it."

Well, if someone put it in a book, it certainly must be true. There are, however, plenty of other books that offer a different viewpoint. You pays your money, you makes your choice. Others may choose differently.

"To expect me to back down - to give up the dignity of my existence when I ask nothing but to give me peace - now that's a "sad place" indeed."

Nobody can give you peace, crack. Or dignity. Neither can you deny others the same thing. When you figure those two simple statements out, there won't be any need for further argument - or anger.

"Even worse, it's sinister."

Demons, demons everywhere.

RevRon's Rants said...

"What we don't know is infinitely vast, but we do not resort to inventing an omnipresent and omniscient being to fill the unknown. Isn't that humility?"

Actually, that is the *antithesis* of humility, Elizabeth. Even if we *believe* another ideology to be misguided, we cannot credibly state that it lacks validity for anyone save ourselves, unless there is concrete evidence that the ideology itself - and not just an individual who misapplies its principles - is destructive.

Anonymous said...

"And to this day, all I can think is, 'What is your bleeping problem?' Learn to paint. To play an instrument - anything - so your self-worth isn't directed by somebody else. Mine isn't. Why must you all insist on this?"

Because you keep writing it! It's like a person who screams, but insists they are not screaming.

Anonymous said...

"He's coddling you, crack. Allowing you to spout a lot of obnoxious BS, just to keep the coherent morsels you offer. As to his motivation for doing so, only he can know for certain."

I think it is exploitation.

Steve Salerno said...

"Exploitation?"

That sounds awfully patronizing of you, Anon, if I may say so.

RevRon's Rants said...

According to Merriam-Webster, the primary definition of exploitation is "to make productive use of: utilize."

By that definition, of course Steve is "exploiting" every contributor's comments, in order to maintain the interest level and energy on his blog. Based upon pretty extensive exchanges - both public and private - I don't see that he is doing anything consistent with the second and more negative definition, ": to make use of meanly or unfairly for one's own advantage."

While it is to Steve's advantage for there to be a continued dialog (and even the tension of disagreement), I don't see any meanness behind it, and for the most part, his actions here have been as fair as possible.

Even when I or anyone else might suspect an unseen motive behind the way he chooses to handle a given situation, those suspicions are rooted as much in our own preferences as in Steve's motivations. We're all human, with our own "stuff" going on.

I might not always like the way a situation is handled on this blog, but if I thought that it was being used as a tool for cynical manipulation, I wouldn't bother participating here.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Rev. Unexpected, I must say...but welcome. :)

And while I'm in "must say" mode, I must say that I also see mild irony in accusations of "exploitation" on this thread, of all threads: With 140 comments and counting, we've not only beaten but obliterated the all-time record for SHAMblog comments, so clearly readers are "into" the dialog/multilog.

FYI, discrete SHAMblog page views are also close to the all-time high that we achieved when I launched the ill-fated "horror stories" series.

Elizabeth said...

Two questions for the last Anon:
1. Exploitation -- how? Would you care to explain?
2. I assume you mean that CMC is "exploited" by Steve. Wouldn't it make sense to ask CMC directly whether he thinks so too?

Elizabeth said...

RevRon says, "Actually, that is the *antithesis* of humility, Elizabeth. Even if we *believe* another ideology to be misguided, we cannot credibly state that it lacks validity for anyone save ourselves, unless there is concrete evidence that the ideology itself - and not just an individual who misapplies its principles - is destructive."

Rev, I did not make any judgment on others' beliefs in that post. I just asked whether going through life without religious belief could not be considered a sign of humility. I see you disagree, but you also appear to hear me say there something I did not (I think). However, it would not be reasonable (or humble:) for me to argue any further about what humility is or is not. So I'll leave that issue alone.

Please note that I have no interest in "diminishing" anyone's beliefs or disputing their subjective usefulness -- and I stated this already in my previous posts. Life is hard enough, so whatever works for you, as long as it does not harm people (and one could and should debate whether particular religious beliefs meet this standard) is fine with me. On this we agree. I think.

But, also, to re-state what's been said here before, RevRon, we are not arguing ideology vs. ideology, but verifiable truth vs. ideology. The lack of, or abstention from, belief -- a position which relies on verifiable facts as the standard of truth -- is not itself a belief or ideology. (You know, that naturally bald man effect CMC describes.)

So I'm not "putting down" anyone's ideology to glorify my own. I'm simply (yes) stating that there is no proof of god's existence or life after death -- two major tenets of the great religions. This statement of an (I'd say indisputable) fact is not a belief (and much less an ideology).

The Crack Emcee said...

Damn you, Steve:

Foiled by the white man again!

Elizabeth said...

...or woman (of undetermined race -- though most likely white), CMC. We do not know who the Anon is -- and I suspect it is a woman (but then we'll never know).

RevRon's Rants said...

"I'm simply (yes) stating that there is no proof of god's existence or life after death -- two major tenets of the great religions. This statement of an (I'd say indisputable) fact is not a belief (and much less an ideology)."

Agreed, to a point. Until something (such as the existence of divinity in whatever form) is effectively *disproven* (and I acknowledge the virtual impossibility of disproving a negative), it is impossible to accurately state that it simply does not exist. Thus, the statement that God does not exist is an expression of belief, not fact.

Like you, I have no problem with anyone holding a different perspective than my own, and readily acknowledge the damage that has been done by those who insist upon imposing their belief - or unbelief) on others. The only viable - and civilized - approach is for each individual to embrace what they believe to be truth, while allowing others the same choice, without condemnation, condescension, or retribution. In my perspective, *that* would be an act of genuine humility.

RevRon's Rants said...

As an addendum...
You wrote, "I just asked whether going through life without religious belief could not be considered a sign of humility."

I don't think that *any* interpretation - be it belief or lack of belief - constitutes a sign of humility. It's how we *act* upon that interpretation - both in the solitude of our private thoughts and in our actions - that determines humility.

RevRon's Rants said...

The exception to my above statement, which I didn't stop in time to edit, is that someone who places themself above others - by claiming the mantle of divinity, claiming to have been divinely chosen, or otherwise in exclusive possession of "the truth" - has wandered off the humility highway. At some point, however, reality generally sneaks up and slaps such people down.

Jim said...

Elizabeth: An aside: Congratulations to Jim Schmitz on being the (honorary?) president of the SHAMblog 100 comments club! :)

Cool! Thank you. I am glad I was able to write something that inspired such an interesting dialog. You guys are smarter than I am, by far. I learned a lot from reading your responses.

I don't have anything to add here, but I did add a comment on Thursday's post, where I have something more interesting to say...

WC said...

Steve,

This thread has been a Crack Coddlin' good time!


I have a question: isn't the willingness to battle something, like a belief system, betray some kind of respect for it... that is, respect for its power at least. Citing 'respect' has too often been a polite way of telling people to shut up.

Steve Salerno said...

WC, your answer seems to present us with two at least mildly contradictory notions (1, that the willingness to battle an idea shows respect for it, and 2, that saying you "respect" someone's idea is tantamount to saying "shut up"), but be that as it may, yes, of course the willingness to "engage" gives standing and credibility to an argument. When we consider an argument truly outlandish...we just ignore it.

Apropos of which, I must come back again to this issue of "coddling." It's not that I mind being criticized; regular readers know that I allow people to take personal shots at me that I wouldn't allow readers to take at each other. But indirectly, the "coddling" accusations represent a dismissal of one (or more) of our contributors--as if to say, "Look, everybody knows the guy is nuts and for whatever reason, you're just being nice to him...." I don't see it that way, and I can tell you that my inclination to include extreme/controversial opinions on this board in no way constitutes any conscious attempt to coddle or pander to anyone. I'm not as certain as some folks seem to be of the Fundamental and Unerring Truths of Life, so I tend to leave the floor open to people who have something to say. Especially if they can say it well. (That's a bias of mine and I admit it: I'm swayed by stylistic considerations. What can I tell you? It's who I am.)

If you think I'm "coddling" someone by approving his/her comments for the blog, that may say more about your degree of entrenchment in your own thinking than it does about my desire to curry favor with any person or group of people. At least consider the possibility...

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - I can only speak for myself, of course, but I never felt that you were coddling a given mindset, but rather coddling an *individual* by allowing a level of unfounded broad-stroke accusations, uncivil discourse, and personal attacks that you had frequently disavowed as having no place on your blog.

Nobody (including myself) can reasonably expect to have their ideas and/or beliefs challenged, but by the same token, they should not have to endure being called childish names or having their offerings labeled idiotic or evil, simply because someone disagrees with them - at least, not in a forum devoted to the intelligent exchange of ideas. It's nothing but troll-bait.

If an argument can't stand up on its own merits, as we have come to expect of each other here, it certainly isn't bolstered by reducing the intelligence level by littering it with misinformed, juvenile slurs.

Steve Salerno said...

Rev, that is a judicious and well-made distinction, and I apologize for not being clearer in my comment, above. You are correct in that there's a profound difference between tolerating explosive ideas and tolerating explosive tantrums directed at other contributors. I always intended to be even-handed in policing the latter, but to the extent that I've fallen down on that job, I apologize for that as well. And I can see where it would lead to a certain sense of "hey, how come HE [or SHE] gets to say stuff like that and I don't...??"

Elizabeth said...

Ay. I wanted to stay away from this discussion at this point, but feel compelled (darn it) to interject.

I'm still hoping that the Anon will explain the 'exploitation' comment, as, I think, it could possibly shed some light on people's perceptions of (some) SHAMblog exchanges. And I think that this person (the Anon in question) has raised the concern here already a couple of months ago. Which makes me note -- and this is directed to you, Anon -- that if you see somebody being exploited, it would make sense to say something right away, no? But of course it's always up to you to decide.

As to "coddling," I do not see Steve doing it -- with anyone.

And I always look forward to CMC's comments. I may not agree, and sometimes I strongly disagree, but I always (yes, always) find them interesting and often, to use the bad-rap-word here, enlightening. [As well as well-written and captivating; yeah, that's my bias too]. Sometimes precisely because they touch upon beliefs I've held so dear and in a way that knocks them off their pedestal. Does not mean I change my beliefs, necessarily (though, to tell the truth, from time to time I do:), but I find the experience illuminating -- sometimes after I catch my breath and re-collect my thoughts first.

I also think that at times we are taken aback by the intensity of one's expression (belief, etc.) and so much so that we react immediately to that, rather than consider the merit of the person's arguments -- not to mention understand where they are coming from in their thinking, etc. (and this, btw, does not apply to SHAMbloggers only, of course).

Just my 2 cents.

WC said...

Steve,

Actually, I was intending to poke fun at Revron with the crack coddling comment, and the joke fell obviously flat. Since someone had actually referred to 'it' as 'exploitation' I just was trying to jump on the silly train.

And I may also have been less than clear about the connection between demanding respect and shooshing someone. I was trying to say that insisting that someone be respectful of your beliefs and ideas can be (sometimes) a way of telling them that you are 'not interested in feedback at this time'. In other words, 'shut up', in a nice way. As this is a blog where these sacred cows are up on the block, I just thought it was worth mentioning.

I like Crack's writing style. If he thinks something you believe is stupid and evil, he'll say so and try to make his case. Stylistically, I really dislike attempts to diagnose people and tell them they are blind to their own 'inner' issues, somehow thinking they are drawing from the science of psychology to back their point of view. It is actually self-help rearing its foolish ugly head on a blog that purports to expose that stuff.

And I think there is more than a stylistic difference. In my view diagnosing people links some sort of permanent defect to them. It also make all kind of assumptions as to people's motives, while calling something they say or do 'stupid' or 'evil' doesn't assume inner defectiveness. The latter describes impacts.

Steve Salerno said...

WC, oops. Sorry. I guess my cleverness/sarcasm receptors aren't as sharp as they used to be. Truthfully, though, I'm not sure we should be "poking fun at" anyone here. I realize that your swipe was a relatively gentle one...but still.

You know, no one expects unanimity on all points, nor would I even want that; it takes the fun and the challenge out of things, and our little debates are often helpful and clarifying. There are always going to be "belief subsets" within the overall SHAMblog community (and other pockets of self-help skepticism). But the fact that we're even having this dialog at all is a tribute to a growing (albeit-much belated) willingness to stand up and say publicly that the emperors of self-help have no clothes on. As is also true of the Dem party and its current Hillary/Barack schism, we don't want to squelch that spirit with internecine squabbling.

RevRon's Rants said...

"I also think that at times we are taken aback by the intensity of one's expression (belief, etc.) and so much so that we react immediately to that, rather than consider the merit of the person's arguments..."

Elizabeth, As a writer, I have to accept responsibility for getting my ideas across to readers... it rests solely with me. I have little patience with those poor "starving artists" who blame the rest of the world for the fact that they fail to make their points carefully, in a manner that is not only understandable, but not patently offensive to their readers. By the same token, I don't suffer folks who, rather than offering sound, logical support of their arguments, scream at and belittle their audience. It gets even more tiresome when those who disagree are berated for doing so. Attempting to coerce someone into agreement - or capitulation - has no place in civil conversation, and rarely inspires listeners or readers to agree.

When such encounters take place face-to-face, they rarely take on such an acrimonious tenor, and when they do, somebody frequently emerges from the discussion with fewer teeth. Of course, online discussions eliminate the potential for such repercussions, resulting in far too many people on unmoderated forums taking advantage of that safety net.

And WC, keep in mind that "stupid and evil" are inherently subjective terms, which oftentimes reflect the declarer's issues as much as - or more than - the topic at hand. At any rate, if someone believes a thing to be stupid, it makes much more sense to point out the flaws and allow readers to judge for themselves based upon the real merits - rather than the loudness - of the points being made. Same goes for dubbing something - especially an entire culture, gender, belief system, or political party affiliation - evil. Insisting that readers make the same judgments is like the ugly stepsister to explaining the punchline in a joke. The only ones who appreciate such an effort are those who didn't get the joke in the first place, and assuming that most people fit into that category is over-the-top arrogant.

"In my view diagnosing people links some sort of permanent defect to them. It also make all kind of assumptions as to people's motives, while calling something they say or do 'stupid' or 'evil' doesn't assume inner defectiveness. The latter describes impacts."

Somehow, I can't see how calling something stupid or evil doesn't make assumptions as to motive or inner defect. Certainly, such denouncements arise from a more toxic intent than merely asserting that someone is fearful or blinded by rage. Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

"Attempting to coerce someone into agreement - or capitulation - has no place in civil conversation, and rarely inspires listeners or readers to agree."

I would go one step further and say it stops dialogue. I don't mind being called "stupid" or "ignorant," because I know I am anything but. I rarely get involved in "debates" online anymore. I just post my statement and let it go. I can read enough of the posts to know where the wind is blowing for certain posters and don't waste my time.

The idea of "debate" gets lost on most. Real "debating" is about "listening" to the other side and pulling apart the argument. I see that rarely done. A lot of people are so entrenched in their worldview, they are not open to differing ideas even when they say they are. I have seen responses that show the party who is trying to engage in the debate does not even comprehend what the other poster was saying! Their very words display this. Why waste your time on a closed mind?

Steve Salerno said...

I'm going to assume your closing question is not rhetorical (which is what I think you mean it to be), and give you an answer:

You "waste" your time because when minds are closed, it requires that much more effort to open them. And sometimes the stakes are very high. Two sets of minds could not have been more closed to one another than what we witnessed during the most intense days of the Cold War--and yet through talking (both directly and indirectly, i.e. via radio and other "democratic imagery" that was dispatched worldwide), the barriers to true communication eventually came down, and people could stop worrying about building fallout shelters. At least for a while. That's why I still hope for a solution to this millennias-old Arab/Israel/free world problem. I'm not optimistic right now; a good part of me thinks the only "solution" is for one side to kill the other. But as long as people still talk, there is always hope.

Elizabeth said...

Anon says, "A lot of people are so entrenched in their worldview, they are not open to differing ideas even when they say they are."

---"A lot of people"? IMO, that's an understatement, Anon. In my experience, we all are pretty much entrenched in our worldview; it is a *very rare* individual that indeed is willing to consider, seriously consider, another point of view, esp. when it differs diametrically from his own.

"I have seen responses that show the party who is trying to engage in the debate does not even comprehend what the other poster was saying! Their very words display this."

---Again, I'd say that this is the standard of communication between people. And, really, it cannot be otherwise (unless we move to some ideal reality not yet realized on this planet). Mis-comprehension is a given in any conversation (unless one is talking to a mirror -- which is probably the one and only instance when there is a perfect understanding between the two sides -- if one can call it that).

"Why waste your time on a closed mind?"

---OK, to answer your question briefly and with another question: Because what's the alternative? Talking to a mirror? (And/or only to others who, we think, "really understand" us? Almost the same as a mirror, BTW.)

And, c'mon, who has a really closed mind -- the person who engages in any debate wholeheartedly and perhaps with a full (sometimes maybe too full) conviction of their righteousness, but is willing to debate nevertheless; or the person who assumes right away that unless they are not well understood, or their ideas are not accepted, or whatever outcome they prefer does not happen, they will not "waste" their time on a conversation?

(Being purposely provocative here, but maybe not all that much.)

Anonymous said...

"That's why I still hope for a solution to this millennias-old Arab/Israel/free world problem. I'm not optimistic right now; a good part of me thinks the only "solution" is for one side to kill the other. But as long as people still talk, there is always hope."

You're right. It was not a rhetorical question. I was speaking of debating and not countries trying to coexist with each other. You are using a different paradigm than the one I was using. I will go further with your example by stating war and "talk" have pretty much gone hand in hand since humankind could form words. The Middle East has been fighting for pretty much its entire existence it is considered the "cradle of civilization." What does that say about civilization? Maybe war is in our DNA. The Cold War is over, but there is always another monster or war to fight. Maybe humans need war as much as they do peace?

There are people who die with closed minds and I for one have much more important things to do with my time than debate them. Even suggesting I do is a form of coercion. I am not saying you do this, but other posters have.

RevRon's Rants said...

"There are people who die with closed minds and I for one have much more important things to do with my time than debate them."

When you get right down to it, isn't expending energy and time defending your decision not to debate just another way of participating in that debate? Perhaps with a bit of condescension thrown in? I really don't mean to sound harsh, but that's what it sounds like on this end.

Myself, I really enjoy spending time going round with people who see things differently than I do. Makes me get really clear on what I think, and has even been known to cause me to change my opinion on occasion. In my mind, both are positive outcomes.

WC said...

Rev said to Steve regarding Crack I think:
"by allowing a level of unfounded broad-stroke accusations, uncivil discourse, and personal attacks"


Were these posts by Crack removed, because I don't see this 'incivility' in his posts, at least from my pov?

also by Rev to me:
...keep in mind that "stupid and evil" are inherently subjective terms, which oftentimes reflect the declarer's issues as much as - or more than - the topic at hand...

I would go a step further and say that anything anyone says can reflect 'their issues' but that speculation about their issues is less relevant than how they back up their assertion that something is stupid or evil.

Crack gave some examples. The majority religion in China IS Buddhism, even though it is much more religiously diverse than Tibet. The monks in Tibet ARE connected to the violence there. The Buddhists in China ARE laying low on the issue. He also pointed out some contradictions in the Dalai Lama's behavior/assertions and the ideal of compassion so touted by Buddhists. The possibility that Buddhism and the Dalai Lama have some connection to the problems faced by the Tibetan people is worth exploration. Is it 'uncivil' to question the majority view that the belief system of Buddhists and the Dalai Lama is impeccably benevolent in its impact on the ground, and that a mere 'full understanding' of Buddhism will make everyone fall into line and 'just get along'.
Crack DID get our attention with his 'loud' language. He upset people. Some of us may become even more convinced that questioning Buddhism and the Dalai Lama is misguided, but some of us may be willing to go further and look at the complexity of the situation there.


I also agree with you, after thinking about it, Rev that words like 'stupid' and 'evil' do say say something about the intention behind a behavior. However, I don't think those terms assume defectiveness generally about people or groups, except perhaps on the playground among kids. That is the distinction I am trying to make between drawing attention to someone's 'issues', which is pure speculation, and calling them on their behavior and assertions. To your credit, you did call Crack on what you consider to be his incomplete knowledge about Buddhism, and in his repsonses he really only seemed to care what Buddhists do, not what they believe or focus on in meditation. It is a matter different emphasis between you - one on intentions, the other on impacts. He also didn't say that only Buddhists do this bad stuff, or all of them do. He just said they are not special or immune in any way to human foibles, and should not be protected from criticism because they have a 'misunderstood' system of belief or practice.


If the terms 'stupid or 'evil' are considered uncivil here, than I'll try some euphemisms - like: unintelligent (stupid), or conciously harmful (evil). I can explain away my intention in using these terms, but then I am being hypocritical after a long post about the value of giving more attention to impacts than intentions.

But I might use capital letters, OK?

Some of you may remember that I was gently and graciously reprimanded for saying poop in a the less acceptable way in another post, so i have a history of that, as well as poorly constructed jokes, that I try to explain later, which apparently makes me something like an ugly stepsister (again referring to Rev's post) - or am I being overly sensitive!?

Steve Salerno said...

WC, the point is not that terms like "stupid" and "evil" are considered uncivil. The point is, well, two-fold, really: 1, When you see terms like "stupid" and "evil" finding their way into the multi-log, it usually (not always, but usually) indicates that we've departed the realm of arguing via logic and facts (or what people regard as logic and facts) and are now attacking the speaker himself. 2, One of the oldest dictums in good writing is "show, don't tell." If in the course of making your case, you do a good enough job of using concrete examples and cogent reasoning, then you don't need to fall back on words like "stupid" and "evil." In my experience--and again, what follows is not always true, but usually so--once people start using words like "stupid" and "evil," they've run out of more persuasive (and legitimate) forms of argumentation.

N'est-ce pas?

RevRon's Rants said...

"he really only seemed to care what Buddhists do, not what they believe or focus on in meditation ... He also didn't say that only Buddhists do this bad stuff, or all of them do."

I think you *do* need to re-read the comments in question.