Thursday, May 08, 2008

Maybe he had a secondary meaning of 'release' in mind?

In SHAM, on pp. 116-117, I talk about a subset of life coaches known as "relationship coaches" or "intimacy experts" who offer a more personalized kind of training that may ultimately become, in effect, a form of prostitution. To quote from myself:

"These coaches begin by publicizing relatively cozy seminars in smaller hotel meeting rooms, often on issues like 'love enhancement' or 'relationship readiness,' topics apt to bring in women who've been stuck in a rut. Sometimes they start with hardcore financial advice, but execute a deft segue from money to happiness, happiness to love, love to sex (or 'intimacy'). They smile and wink in all the right places; they encourage audience members to 'get in touch via email if you'd like to arrange for individualized coaching sessions.' They meet any takers in coffee shops and restaurant bars, where they usually charge modest sums—$100 an hour or thereabouts—to 'listen' and 'suggest' on a 'one-to-one basis.' Where it goes after that depends on the signals they get from the client..."
I wrote it as a blind item at the behest of two women who responded to a solicitation I made on several "personal growth" sites, but didn't want to be identified in the book. (After SHAM was published I heard from three additional women who shared similar experiences; one would've been my next horror story, had I continued the series.) Once I started doing radio to promote the book, that was a point on which my occasional pro-self-help hosts—and their callers—often challenged me: "Come on, Steve. That sounds kinda bogus. Admit it, you made that up, right?"

Well, no. I did not make that up. And on a related note, today in the news comes an item about a "prosperity guru" whom two women have now charged with sexual assault. The alleged incidents were phenomena similar to what I describe above: general-attendance seminars that took a more personal turn. Except in these two cases, if the women can be believed, it didn't matter what signals the guy got; he was going to give them a personal lesson about intimacy. Oh, and incidentally, to quote the newspaper report I read, "The $600 seminar, according to the online registration, was to teach participants how to live in the present moment and release all old beliefs 'that have held you back.' "

Once again: Buyer beware. All may not be what it seems, and often, in life coaching, you really have almost no idea who (or what) you're dealing with.

Tomorrow (or worst-case, Saturday) we'll get back to Barry Bonds, bionic people, and what all that implies for self-help. Honest, we will....

57 comments:

Anonymous said...

I see corporate "life" coaches do this all the time and they should no better. The weekend is suppose to be about leadership, but it some how turns to relationships. How relationships affect one's effectiveness in the work place and so on. It's all just a form of prostitution being masked as "coaching." The poor women pay for something they could have gotten for free!

Steve Salerno said...

Anonymous, when you say you "see" this happen, I'm curious to know whether you mean that literally. (I realize you probably don't get to "see" the sex, but what I'm asking is whether you have some firsthand knowledge of impropriety and a lack of professionalism on the coach's part.) If so, contact me off-blog. I'd like to pursue this with you.

Anonymous said...

Life coaching is not regulated by law. If a life coach gets into boundary problems, there is no regulatory agency where people can go for help.

By contrast here are the many expensive, humbling things that psychotherapists are required to do if they are licensed:

1) They have to complete a training course at an accredited program

2) They have to do at least a thousand hours of supervised therapy as apprentices

3) They have to pass both written and oral exams to get licensed for independent practice

4) Once licensed, they must do regular, required continuing education courses

5) They have to pay for malpractice insurance

6) Their profession is regulated by law. Sex with clients is not only morally forbidden, it is illegal.

By contrast, life coaching is not regulated by law. So..if someone is a lone ranger type, it can be very tempting to go into the life coaching business--you're not answerable to the same standards that therapists are. Its a grey zone.

The Crack Emcee said...

"...if the women can be believed, it didn't matter what signals the guy got; he was going to give them a personal lesson about intimacy."

Great writing, Steve. I can't stop laughing.

Yekaterina said...

What I don't understand is how a coach can give a weekend seminar and expect something to come from it (for the client) Although I can fathom the use of seeing a coach on a monthly basis to help set goals and chart progress, of what real use are these weekend things? Is it "coaching" if the coach is not around on a regular basis? If the seminars are a means for the coach to find clients who might benefit from working with him/her then why is the client paying huge sums of money to attend these one shot deals?

Cosmic Connie said...

Unfortunately, Steve, I don't think this type of thing is all that unusual, and I would never accuse you of making that stuff up. Maybe more people will finally start waking up to the kind of abuse that sometimes goes on in the New-Wage world.

Anonymous said...

I got a great story about a "soulmate" seminar. I got invited to a free weekend seminar where they hawked their wares and did not buy. They did have a "proseprity" game that I loved. I'm sure you've heard of it. You bring three bills of any denomination and the "leader" tells you to give it to whoever, take from whoever, and finally bam! You stop and get to keep whatever you have or you've lost your money. I brought three $1 dollar bills and gave away one and got $66 bucks the first time. I figured how the game was played and made sure I kept all the large bills. I was invited to this same seminar six months later and made more money! For snake oil salesmen they are not too bright.

Anonymous said...

These "weekend things" are to hawk their wares. If one seminar goer buys the $3,000 package, the hotel room is paid for. It's just like time shares. All you need is one sucker and usually they get quite a few.

Elizabeth said...

I have two questions for these women: You paid $600.00 for that...?
What were you thinking?

Cosmic Connie said...

Elizabeth said:
"I have two questions for these women: You paid $600.00 for that...?
What were you thinking?"

I have to admit those questions popped up in my mind too, Elizabeth. I'm the last person to "blame the victim," but as in most New-Wage scam situations, it takes two. Or maybe, in this case, three.

If the allegations are true, the "prosperity guru" did abuse his power and the trust of his clients. But I have to wonder why these women couldn't see through this joker's shtick long before they got into a compromising situation with him.

Maybe they could benefit from a little bit of the negative thinking and naysaying that New-Wage followers so often condemn.

Elizabeth said...

Connie, you know, I asked that after I saw a pic of the guy on your blog (freaky!).

But yes, your questions about the women's judgment, aside from the guy's appearance, are even more important.

What we have here is, I suspect, the irresistible allure of power (or "power," in this particular case). No matter what the guy looks like/how he behaves/what his character, if he's got power, of any sort, even semi-imaginary, women will follow. That's why we see all these women around gurus everywhere, regardless of how lame or ridiculous their gurudom. And so the evolutionary game (or imperative, really) goes on...

But still, $600.00 for that...

Elizabeth said...

Connie, I also wanted to say (and didn't) that, yes, the guy is definitely responsible for abusing the power and trust of his clients, as you rightly noted.

And as the early Anon (3:50) remarked, those "life coaches" are not regulated by law the way professional counselors and therapists are, so their victims have little, if any, recourse, in general.

Not that the ethical and legal regulations stop counselors and therapists from engaging in sex with clients (as well as committing other boundaries violations). This problem is more widespread than people who are not in the business realize. And it is as old as the helping profession itself. The ethical and legal prohibitions against sex with clients are relatively new, and even now there is a fair number of female (by and large) therapy clients/patients who never report abuse by their therapists for fear of the stigma and shame associated with it.

Jim said...

There are many seminars like this for men also, and I can tell you from first hand experience that they aren't particularly good. A lot of them will rip you off, teach you dysfunctional behaviors, tell you things that sound good but don't have any real practical value, or fill your head with bad psychology. And some of them will just turn you into a monster.

And not only have I been to a few, but I once helped teach one. Let me explain...

First, some background information on me: I used to be really awkward and uncomfortable around women. Really bad. Remember how most of you were when you were 16, but then imagine you were still like that when you were 31. I wouldn't date much, and when I did I would totally botch everything or date women who would treat me like crap. I'm not going into details here, but you get the idea. It wasn't a good scene.

A friend/coworker told me about a class he took with a few friends that teaches social skills to men. He told me he got a lot of value from it and that I should look into it. In theory, the idea has a lot of merit. A lot of guys in this city really do have bad dating skills, and I am sure a lot of women would appreciate it if someone would sit those guys down and explain to them how not to be a jerk or an idiot or a fool. Also how to dress, how to present yourself, and how to interact with people in a fun way. Unfortunately a lot of men don't have decent role models or friends who give good advice. I was in that situation. I wanted to improve my social skills but had no idea what to do about it.

I took the class, and in retrospect, I actually don't regret it. I learned a lot of important things that never even occurred to me before. Like, I didn't know that I could walk up to someone at a bar, say hello, talk to them, and they would be glad that they met me. That probably sounds trivial or pathetic to most of you. But if you went through life not knowing that, odds are you wouldn't figure it out unless someone took you to a bar and pushed you to go walk up to someone and say hi (which we did in that class). Also got to talk about lots of other stuff that has practical value.

The positive side of all this is that it helped get the ball rolling, so to speak, in being more social. Also, I met some guys who give great advice, many of whom I still talk to. That helped a lot too. There wasn't any magic taught in the class, nor did I expect there to be. What I got was awareness about an area of my life I hadn't put much effort into. All the real tangible changes in who I am occurred because of the effort I put in, not from anything they did or said.

Clearly, being where I was in my life, I had to do something...but did I have to do that? Did I really have to take a class to learn that stuff? Well, there probably isn't anything I learned there that I couldn't have learned on my own eventually. But if I didn't figure it out from 16 to 31, I probably wouldn't figure it out from 31 to 46, either. I didn't see any other choices.

Would I recommend it to a friend who was in a similar situation? Definitely not. Some of what was taught wasn't correct, or wasn't helpful enough, or was misleading. Nobody there had any training other than their own life experience. The only reason I benefited is because I was smart enough to figure out what was garbage and what wasn't. Not everyone faired so well. And besides, none of my friends would be in the situation of not having a friend who can give good advice. They have me.

The big downside is that the class and the company that taught it and other companies like it all promote a mode of thought that everyone here would hate – people who think they are broken and need to pay someone to fix them, and that people need to accept nonsense about themselves and the world in order to be successful. I actually had dinner with a few friends tonight whom I met there, and I mentioned something that Steve wrote in a previous post that I thought was brilliant:

>If false hope provides us with a better outlook on life than acting on the basis of what we know to be provably and logically true, then maybe we're best served in the end by throwing proof and logic out the window and surrendering to that hope. At a certain point each of us must decide: Do we stand for common sense—and bear the psychic costs of taking that stand? Or do we go with what "feels good"?

The consensus: They'd rather be happy than be right. That isn't ok with me. I'd rather figure out a way to be both. I don't have to chose one or the other. It just takes more effort.

The only reason I got any value out of all of this is because I met a few guys there who were able to understand me who said things that inspired me to make an effort to deal with my b.s. and grow as a person. Nothing wrong with that. But nobody has a repeatable process that works for everyone. And it doesn't pass Steve's test:

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

Many months after taking that first class, I was invited to re-attend it as a “grad student” who is going to learn how to teach the class, but at the class I found out I was actually teaching as a "coach". Unpaid, of course. Only 3 out of 6 of the "coaches" were getting paid that weekend. Everything else went to the guy on top, who organized everything. I didn't like what I saw so much either. No impropriety, but teaching insincerity. In my world, sincerity is more important than anything.

It would be too much to write about what that means here, but if I had a blog, I would explain it.

RevRon's Rants said...

Jim,
As it turns out, these "coaches" have a wonderful role model in the field of "real" psychiatry. Freud himself was obviously pretty well consumed by sexual obsession, and found a brilliant way to "cure" himself: project that obsession onto the whole of humanity! If he could convince *everybody* that they were walking woodies, his obsession would by extension be considered normal. And he did a pretty good job of it, too!

Of course, if social maladroits wearing crowns to cover cheap hairpieces become the norm, I'll be SOL, but I'll strive to cope. :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

Continuing the theme of "What WERE they thinking?" -- it seems increasingly clear that perhaps *thinking* wasn't involved at all. There's an interesting discussion about the Bijan case on the Guruphiliac blog. One anonymous commenter provided a pretty good description of how followers sometimes get into compromising situations with 'gurus':

==begin comment==
First, you suspend your usual street smarts and do something you would never normally do... like go to a hotel room for "personal coaching" (thinking personal self-protection couldn't possibly apply in this case); then, you sit there being groped or worse by "the guru", "enlightened master", "rinpoche", "lama", etc. etc. (and think..."I must be misunderstanding this; he couldn't possibly be doing what I think he's doing"); then you realize, yes, he really is just a guy with his hand down your shirt. And it makes you really angry...not only at the "guru" but at yourself, for being such a dupe that you believed the line. And "regular people" will say, "how could you be so naive?" and "spiritual people" will say, "how could you not see what a great blessing you were given?"...a no-win situation
==end comment==

It would seem that in many ways people do relinquish "the self" when they get into these seminars (which, of course, is the topic of another thread here on SHAMblog). Suspension of disbelief is one thing; it's necessary, for example, to enjoy things like the Lord Of The Rings movies. But to suspend not only disbelief but all judgment AND common sense is folly. Yet people do it all the time in order to "fit in."

I do like Jim's thinking about how it is possible to be happy *and* right. It would seem that many followers of Bijan are neither.

Elizabeth said...

Yeah, Connie, I second your view of Jim's observation (hey, Jim, you gotta get that blog fast; with the way you write, we are already looking forward to more).

The description you (i.e. Connie) give (of the abuse dynamic) is pretty universal, I'd day, with some individual variations. It applies to the problem of sexual abuse by clergy and child sexual abuse, especially by relatives (but of course not only). The abuser preys on our ingrained respect of authority, and adding to it the particular flavor of "help," "enlightenment," or whatever manipulative crap they choose (and to which we are vulnerable), adds to their effectiveness.

The commenter you quote says, "And it makes you really angry."

I'd say that if you are angry that fast, you are well indeed, psychologically speaking. For some people, that anger -- and the full realization of their abuse -- does not arise for a long time, making them easy prey and an object of repeated (or continuous) abuse by these predatory folks.

And, btw, we are all -- with very few exceptions -- vulnerable here. Not necessarily all to sexual abuse, but to the abuse that comes with the allure of power in its many forms.

RevRon's Rants said...

Another factor - at least, as applicable to members of the baby boomer and previous generations - might be the ingrained and well-indoctrinated attitude that we are to blindly accept the actions of those whom we perceive to be in a position of power - elders, teachers, and other "authority" figures.

Too many children of that era suffered abuse - physical, emotional, and/or sexual - at the hands of such people, yet suffered it in silence because that was "how they were raised." In many cases, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, with people who find a sense of power in proclaiming themselves to be victims, at the cost of great suffering to the accused abuser. On the other hand, we're seeing an upsurge of sociopaths who manage to sufficiently reinforce their victims' early indoctrination to ensure that the victim feels deserving of the abuse, or at least responsible for it.

Elizabeth said...

Rev, are we melding our multiple personalities again...? :)

RevRon's Rants said...

Just read your comment, Eliz... we must be experiencing the Internet version of the Vulcan Mind Meld!

Live long and prosper! :-)

Elizabeth said...

Yep, one of those rare disturbances in the space-time continuum. Beyond which there be dragons. Of course. But till then, live long and prosper, indeed.:)

Jim said...

Connie: Continuing the theme of "What WERE they thinking?" -- it seems increasingly clear that perhaps *thinking* wasn't involved at all

I think it is worth asking how people determine what is "right" to begin with. I once was having a debate with a hard-core religious guy about creationism/evolution, and he told me that "rational thought was created by the devil to keep us from God." Exact quote. In his reality, right and wrong comes straight out of the bible, nowhere else. That pretty much ended the debate, because I would have to address his approach for deciding right from wrong before talking about anything else.

The feeling I got from my friends at dinner last night, and from many other people in the self help world, is that "if something feels good, it is right." Regardless of if it makes sense or not. As if we are all supposed to construct these elaborate fantasy worlds that inform us how everything in life works, and our strength and confidence as human beings comes from how robust our fantasy is and how infrequently it gets challenged by our environment (or even by ourselves).

And this fantasy explains why, for example, a Troll adherent will freak out if you try to explain to them why they are following nonsense. You aren't just making a logical argument, you are attacking their reality, their view of the world, something that provides answers and direction in life. If that view of the world falls apart, what do they have left? Nothing. Which is why someone who is afraid to think will fight like hell to defend their little "fantasies."

Steve Salerno said...

Jim makes a point that really can't be made often enough: about the way in which SHAMsters deny the very validity of logic, common sense and evidence in evaluating their offerings. I've seen grant applications to NCCAM* for projects that stated--right in the application document--that "traditional rules of clinical research do not apply" to the product or "healing regimen" for which the individual or company sought funding. In fact, there is probably no realm where Jim's "logic-unwelcome-here" dictum applies more consistently than alternative medicine. Alt-med practitioners will actually argue that conventional rules of science and medicine were specifically created by health-care monopolies (and their lobbyists) to prevent the public from hearing about more spiritually based "natural cures."

*the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. See long discussion in my book, if you have it.

Anonymous said...

"And this fantasy explains why, for example, a Troll adherent will freak out if you try to explain to them why they are following nonsense. You aren't just making a logical argument, you are attacking their reality, their view of the world, something that provides answers and direction in life. If that view of the world falls apart, what do they have left? Nothing. Which is why someone who is afraid to think will fight like hell to defend their little 'fantasies.'"

Welcome to my world. I don't mind that a person lives in fantasy land too much, because I know reality will make a landing sooner or later. What bothers me is a person who tries to convince me their way is the right way. The right way for me is the one I find on my own. Some people just cannot grasp that concept. For whatever reason, they must convert you to their way of thinking. Why can't you just decline to buy what they are selling?

Please get a blog.

Anonymous said...

"think it is worth asking how people determine what is "right" to begin with. I once was having a debate with a hard-core religious guy about creationism/evolution, and he told me that 'rational thought was created by the devil to keep us from God.'"

Actually, most of the present concept of the devil comes from John Milton's Paradise Lost. The devil makes one appearance in the Bible in the New Testament. I suggest anyone who studies literarture read the Bible. Maybe even another version besides the standard King James one. God is an amazing character in the Bible and a character he was. Now I don't think calling the Bible literature takes anything away from it. Why is the story of Adam and Eve any less because it is a myth? It is a very revealing myth about humans as most great myths are. I have gotten students up in arms when I explain the Bible as literature to them. They swear God wrote it.

Elizabeth said...

"In fact, there is probably no realm where Jim's "logic-unwelcome-here" dictum applies more consistently than alternative medicine."

Hm. How about religion, Steve?

Let's see:
- the world created in six days about six thousand years ago or so;
- woman created from man's rib (from a frikkin' rib! what were THEY thinking?);
- miraculous conception by a spirit;
- virgin birth;
- resurrection;
- eternal life after death;
- angels;
- devil;
- demons and demonic possessions;
- exorcism;
- omnipresent god directing traffic and every event in the Universe, not only on Earth;
- hell with fire and pots full of tar;
- heaven with who knows what exactly;
- limbo -- remember limbo? (though I hear this particular area of unlogic has been closed recently -- probably because no one remembered about it = no more popular demand);
- original sin with which all of us are born;
- drinking Christ's blood and eating his flesh as a (symbolic) sign of belonging to the Christian community;
- miracles performed by dead saints;

...should I go on? And this is the Catholic church only, you know.

Would you agree that the "logic-unwelcome-here" dictum applies consistently to this realm?

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: Yes.

BUT, I do believe, strenuously so, that women were created from a man's rib. That's why they like shoes so much.

P.S. I have no idea how the parenthetical thought follows from its antecedent...but like I say, who needs logic? :)

RevRon's Rants said...

I'd naturally have to agree that in general, religion as commonly practiced and interpreted requires the suspension of logic, and that is really too bad. *If* there is an all-knowing, perfect, divine being that set everything in motion, I would think that being would have to be above the egotism and pettiness we humans so frequently display and assign to him/her/it. If a God were truly as shallow as humans project, the race would have been eliminated long ago.

On the other hand, intellect seems to require a suspension of humility, demanding that there is a clear, mathematics-based explanation for everything, and that anything which falls beyond the realm of such explanation - even by beings that are, by their own admission, limited in their knowledge - simply doesn't exist.

One little nagging question keeps coming up. Following the scientific explanation of the progression of existence, there hasn't been a satisfactory explanation as to how everything got started in the first place.

According to scientific theory, neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed, only converted to a different form. Given this premise, where did the original matter and energy that formed the universe come from? I buy into the Big Bang Theory, but wonder what it was that went Bang! and why did it do so?

In such physical equations, one always comes to a roadblock - a paradox, if you will. Lacking empiric evidence to conclusively determine the original source of the whole process, I think we're inevitably left to our own beliefs and interpretation.

Abandoning logic, common sense, and our own long history of anecdotal experience is foolish. By the same token, denying that there is more to the process than we currently comprehend is not only foolish, but arrogant. I don't think we need to choose between happy and right or between faith and science, but to look objectively, with open minds, to find the synthesis between the two. If there is a God, didn't that God create the hunger for both belief and knowledge, and the process which scientists study and attempt to explain, as well as the "spiritual" laws? Would it make sense for the two to be so diametrically opposed to each other? If there is a God, wouldn't that divine being necessarily be as much an engineer as a spirit force?

"Miracles" so highly revered by followers of most religions are nothing more than events for which we lack the knowledge to logically explain. Yesterday's "miracles" are today's kitchen appliances. Perhaps today's "miracles" will be commonly understood events in the future. If one's faith is based upon miracles, that faith will be transient, and eventually destroyed when it is ultimately proven to be just another part of a natural process.

Perhaps if humanity would get over its obsession with theatrics versus mathematics and make "I don't know, but I'll do the best I can" the single foundation for religion *and* intellect, the arguments - and even the wars - would stop, and we could get on with the business of growing up.

Holding out hope, but not holding my breath. Lots of questions, and I'll be the first to admit that I don't have all the answers. :-)

RevRon's Rants said...

I'd naturally have to agree that in general, religion as commonly practiced and interpreted requires the suspension of logic, and that is really too bad. *If* there is an all-knowing, perfect, divine being that set everything in motion, I would think that being would have to be above the egotism and pettiness we humans so frequently display and assign to him/her/it. If a God were truly as shallow as humans project, the race would have been eliminated long ago.

On the other hand, intellect seems to require a suspension of humility, demanding that there is a clear, mathematics-based explanation for everything, and that anything which falls beyond the realm of such explanation - even by beings that are, by their own admission, limited in their knowledge - simply doesn't exist.

One little nagging question keeps coming up. Following the scientific explanation of the progression of existence, there hasn't been a satisfactory explanation as to how everything got started in the first place.

According to scientific theory, neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed, only converted to a different form. Given this premise, where did the original matter and energy that formed the universe come from? I buy into the Big Bang Theory, but wonder what it was that went Bang! and why did it do so?

In such physical equations, one always comes to a roadblock - a paradox, if you will. Lacking empiric evidence to conclusively determine the original source of the whole process, I think we're inevitably left to our own beliefs and interpretation.

Abandoning logic, common sense, and our own long history of anecdotal experience is foolish. By the same token, denying that there is more to the process than we currently comprehend is not only foolish, but arrogant. I don't think we need to choose between happy and right or between faith and science, but to look objectively, with open minds, to find the synthesis between the two. If there is a God, didn't that God create the hunger for both belief and knowledge, and the process which scientists study and attempt to explain, as well as the "spiritual" laws? Would it make sense for the two to be so diametrically opposed to each other? If there is a God, wouldn't that divine being necessarily be as much an engineer as a spirit force?

"Miracles" so highly revered by followers of most religions are nothing more than events for which we lack the knowledge to logically explain. Yesterday's "miracles" are today's kitchen appliances. Perhaps today's "miracles" will be commonly understood events in the future. If one's faith is based upon miracles, that faith will be transient, and eventually destroyed when it is ultimately proven to be just another part of a natural process.

Perhaps if humanity would get over its obsession with theatrics versus mathematics and make "I don't know, but I'll do the best I can" the single foundation for religion *and* intellect, the arguments - and even the wars - would stop, and we could get on with the business of growing up.

Holding out hope, but not holding my breath. Lots of questions, and I'll be the first to admit that I don't have all the answers. :-)

Elizabeth said...

"Who needs logic?"

Who, indeed, when we all seem to cultivate pockets of unreason for our own private use. I, for one, believe that the rib curse is related to a purse-buying compulsion. But that's just me.

It truly amazes me (though I understand, I think) to observe people who are adamant critics of unlogic in some areas of life, while staunchly (or not so staunchly) defending, or at least not questioning, glaring unlogic in others. And the "others" here usually stands for their religious beliefs (e.g. some of the fiercest critics of alternative medicine and/or New Age trends are orthodox Christians -- or orthodox Christian doctors -- which, for an inquiring mind, creates a suspicion of ulterior motives (among other ones, of course), specifically competing conflicts of interest. As in, competing for patients (in case of doctors; for the faithful -- in case of the Church; and, ultimately -- oh horror of horrors, can it really be...? -- for more money and power for themselves in all cases).

And, oh, Steve, I am not talking about you (though I'd like the right to call you on unlogic when I see it -- specifically, we'll have to come back to the rib-and-shoes issue yet).

Steve Salerno said...

Btw, Eliz--and no offense intended, but--you should not assume that you're the first person who's brought this up (or even thrown it in my face, as it were). I did 150 radio shows during the first month of SHAM's release alone, and invariably, if it was a call-in show, someone would, well, call in, and rather combatively ask: "Oh yeah? Well what about religion, then! If you're going to attack the self-help movement for its 'climate of blind belief,' aren't you also attacking the Catholic Church?! What about that, huh? What about that!" And I'd politely beg off. I'd say something like, "That's a topic for another show. I'm here to talk about self-help."

Now, you might consider that a cop-out. However, just from a practical, living-your-life perspective, I think there's a world of difference between (a) the private bargain that you (or maybe not you, Eliz, but other members of our community) make with your god/God, and (b) the rather more mercantile arrangement that people like Joe Vitale and Eckhart Tolle want to make with you--for profit (theirs). And while you might argue (plausibly) that the logical (or illogical) foundations are the same, logic per se wasn't my biggest gripe with the SHAMscape. If someone wants to believe in the Easter Bunny, and it makes the person happy to live that way, that's fine with me. I'm not going to write a book about it. But if someone develops a "7-point program!" whereby he tries to persuade his fellow man (and woman) that by believing in the Easter Bunny, they will reap untold riches in life--and he then proposes to charge people $1000-a-person for that "knowledge"--that's another matter. Because at that point we've gone from the realm of personal choice to the realm of demonstrable consumer fraud. And then it's very much an appropriate subject for investigation, and it's in everyone's interest for me to call a spade a spade.

Elizabeth said...

RevRon, if I may:
you are creating these dichotomies in your own mind here.

It's not intellectual vs. spiritual (or theatrics vs. mathematics). It is more, but not even quite, about the truth vs. superstition.

While we do not have a full access to the truth, we do not have to embrace superstition. Would you even bother defending such beliefs as immaculate conception and virgin birth, not to mention resurrection? If you would, you are superstitious (IMO).

But the fact that you reject superstition does not mean you are a cold-blooded calculator unable to see and appreciate the mystery of life and the Universe, which, even as "only" described through science and our human experience, is stunning, mind-bending and humbling enough. No deus-ex-machina needed to enlarge this magnificent experience (not for this particular by-product of a male rib).

Elizabeth said...

"Btw, Eliz--and no offense intended, but--you should not assume that you're the first person who's brought this up (or even thrown it in my face, as it were)."

But, Steve, why would you assume that I assumed that?

To be contd. (I hope).

Elizabeth said...

Before I go on, I'd like to say that this is not an anti-Catholic rant, despite the appearances. The arguments we make here can and should be applied to all religions, or religion in general. Catholicism is what I know (and, to tell the truth, even like in some respects, though no longer believe).

Steve, you say, "But if someone develops a "7-point program!" whereby he tries to persuade his fellow man (and woman) that by believing in the Easter Bunny, they will reap untold riches in life--and he then proposes to charge people $1000-a-person for that "knowledge"--that's another matter. Because at that point we've gone from the realm of personal choice to the realm of demonstrable consumer fraud."

Okay. Substitute J.Christ for Easter Bunny (hold your daggers, people), the 10 commandments for a 7-point program, and the monetary, labor and other kinds of contributions required from the faithful in the Catholic church for the $1000.00 per person, and tell me again what the real difference is between those enterprises.

P.S. And the untold riches are the same, and even greater in the Catholic church's promises, if you count the "salvation" and eternal life (in addition to multiple earthly blessings).

Cosmic Connie said...

I agree with Steve that there is a world of difference between a person making a private bargain with God (or Whoever/Whatever) and a New-Wage hustledork charging big bucks for the miracle of the week.

Regarding the latter, Steve writes: "Because at that point we've gone from the realm of personal choice to the realm of demonstrable consumer fraud."

And yet most of the selfish-help/New-Wage entrepreneurs manage to dodge actual fraud charges. It seems that they get away with their nonsense as long as (1) they're not overtly dabbling in realms that are overseen by government agencies and/or licensing boards; and (2) are not breaking laws such as those against sexual assault. (Or at least they're not getting caught.)

As I've no doubt mentioned here before, most of these guys (and gals) are making pie-in-the-sky promises out of one side of their mouths, and spewing out pages of legal disclaimers from the other side. I wonder how many of the starry-eyed followers actually take the time to read all of those disclaimers. If they do read them, I wonder if it registers that there's a bit of a conflict between the glorious unconditional promises and the warnings that the hustledork making them will not be held responsible for bad results or lack of results.

At any rate, most of the New-Wage "leaders" continue to peddle their wares, and they get away with it.

One notable exception is David Schirmer of The Secret, who is in quite a bit of hot water with the Aussie authorities now -- but that's mainly because he was dealing in the stock market, which of course is overseen by the feds.

And the career of Bijan, our prosperity guru, may be at a standstill now too if those sexual assault charges stick.

Yet Schirmer continues to proclaim his innocence and play the martyr, and he apparently still has some followers. And he is trying desperately to crack the U.S. market; right now he's trying to ride Vitale's coattails.

As for Bijan, well, if some of the stuff I've been hearing about him is true, he has a long history of misbehavior (which is putting it mildly), and he has still been able to gather legions of the gullible around him.

I guess it all comes back to "buyer beware."

Elizabeth said...

P.S. In the previous post, it should have read:

Who, indeed, when we all seem to cultivate pockets of unreason for our own private use. I, for one, believe that the rib curse is related to a purse-buying compulsion. But that's just me. ;)

The missing emoticon was probably the most important part of the whole post.

Anonymous said...

I concur with your views on religion versus the self-help industry. They are not the same no matter, which way you look at them. Religion is a personal choice and so is God or god. Debating religion is like trying to debate someone's choice in marriage partner, it's far too personal. I don't want to convince someone of why I believe in God anymore than I want to share my sexual history. It is a private matter.

Everyone I have ever encountered who had a problem with religion was due to a personal experience. Those experiences cannot really be debated. For every person who did not get whatever they wanted from religion someone else did.

Elizabeth said...

Anon says, "They are not the same no matter, which way you look at them."

---No, they are not the same -- but awfully similar.

"Religion is a personal choice and so is God or god."

---So is any self-help program.

"Debating religion is like trying to debate someone's choice in marriage partner, it's far too personal."

---Same can be argued about anyone's choice of self-help program, etc.

"I don't want to convince someone of why I believe in God anymore than I want to share my sexual history. It is a private matter."

---With all due respect, no one here (or anywhere?) asks you to convince anyone why you believe in God. (And most people who use and benefit from self-help programs do not want to convince anyone as to why. Sometimes they even can't.)

"Everyone I have ever encountered who had a problem with religion was due to a personal experience."

---That does not prove (or disprove) anything, I'd say. Furthermore, "personalizing" one's objections to religion is
1. condescending (because you imply a trauma or some other negative experience as the only thing that could justify one's critical stance toward religion -- thus the conclusion that one must be somewhat "defective," or at least hurt, to object to religion);
2. illogical and untrue, because it implies that religion, for some reason, is beyond our capacity and ability for critical assessment.

"Those experiences cannot really be debated."
---Everything can be debated, other than death. And even that perhaps, as evidenced by the great religions stance on the issue.

"For every person who did not get whatever they wanted from religion someone else did."

---The very same argument can be made about self-help programs.

RevRon's Rants said...

"While we do not have a full access to the truth, we do not have to embrace superstition."

Your implication that believing in the *possible* existence of something unproven constitutes "superstition" belies your claim that the "dichotomies" are of my own making, Eliz. Such an implication is, in my opinion, representative of the insistence that the "mathematical" perspective is the only valid one, and is a sign of the arrogance that I wish would be eliminated from *both* sides of the discussion.

Steve Salerno said...

Has it not yet occurred to anyone that this isn't a winnable debate? Sheeesh!

Some arguments are not responsive to logic. There are those who argue that religion is in the class of a "race memory," encoded in such a way that we just sort of feel it--or are hard-wired to respond to it--even if it makes no sense, as per the rules of logic we apply to the rest of our daily lives. I am not "defending" religion in saying that, but merely explaining why it has such a vice-grip on such a vast percentage of the world's population.

One can also, I think, make an analogy to love. In purely commonsense terms, it fails most of the tests we might apply to it (and most of the expectations we have of it). Each of us--when we fall in love--feels that we've found "the perfect partner." Statistically the odds of that are remote. (Out of 6 billion people you just happened to meet The One? Indeed, the chances are far higher that you ended up with someone who's pretty close to the bottom of your overall compatibility scale.) Further, almost every hopeful couple that goes to the altar speaks some version of "till death us do part." We promise to remain faithful, and caring, etc. Even as we speak those words, we already know that statistically, better than 50 percent of our predecessors have not lived up to those standards. (Which is to say, roughly half of us get divorced, and a fairly large additional segment manages to hold the marriage together somehow despite dishonoring it.) If we do stay together without cheating, we still desire other people, and even fantasize about them while we're in bed with The One.

Simply put, love--or at least the idyllic manner in which we regard it--makes no sense. But we need to feel it. Often, after we've been through the mill a half-dozen times ourselves, and have the weight of sorry experience behind us, we still think that our New Love is--once again--The One.

So what would the logicians tell us to do about love, then? Abandon it? Look at it more "realistically"?

I know this is far from a perfect parallel with religion. But it's the best I can come up with on short notice. :)

Steve Salerno said...

Let me add as a p.s. that my question about whether we should look at love more "realistically" is rhetorical. The only possible answer is No. I am convinced that you cannot experience true love if you're "realistic" about it. The realism destroys the experience. The same is true of religion. You cannot examine religion (or even the mere belief in God) "realistically." You either suspend disbelief or you don't.

Elizabeth said...

A couple of points:

Steve, we are not debating here to "win," I hope? Because if that's the case, then indeed it may be a waste of time (to quote yesterday's Anon). LOL, "not winnable" is just about right. But I think that debating itself has value independently of "scoring points" or such. No?

RevRon says, "Your implication that believing in the *possible* existence of something unproven constitutes "superstition" belies your claim that the "dichotomies" are of my own making, Eliz."

Sorry, RevRon, I did not mean to imply that the dichotomies are in YOUR head specifically. Clumsy me. I meant to say, these dichotomies are the creation of our human minds.

RevRon's Rants said...

I think you've hit the proverbial nail on the head, Steve. Both mindsets, in their most extreme examples, are mutually exclusive, and expecting a person at the far side of either perspective to even consider the perspective of someone at the polar opposite is about as realistic as permanently mixing oil and water. Barring the potential for "converting" folks on the other side, the only logical alternative to outright combat is in allowing others their choice, sans condescension or vitriol.

Anyway... thanks!

Elizabeth said...

Steve, love is not tangible, but we do not have to "believe" in it to know that it exists. We know it through our direct experience and by observing its visible effects (caring for each other, etc.)

The fact that we know that love, even if not tangible, exists, does not mean that there is all-capital-letters LOVE out there -- some otherwordly deity personifying the feeling and directing our emotions.

Same goes for belief in god -- we know the *belief* exists -- no one is arguing with that. We know it exists because we experience it directly and also observe the belief's effects, both positive and negative.

That does not mean that there is GOD out there -- an objectively existing deity that justifies those beliefs.

You say, "Some arguments are not responsive to logic."

This may be so (honestly, I do not know). But if it is so, then opening this particular door of unreason should let in the majority of SHAM as well. Seems to me we can't have it both ways -- argue the delusional/exploitative nature of SHAM and leave religions off the hook at the same time.

Though in reality, even as evidenced in this discussion, we can -- and obviously we do -- do that... :)

Also, you say, "I am convinced that you cannot experience true love if you're "realistic" about it. The realism destroys the experience. The same is true of religion. You cannot examine religion (or even the mere belief in God) "realistically." You either suspend disbelief or you don't."

I dunno, Steve. It is the same argument that's used by those who defend New Age beliefs, alternative medicine and all kinds of self-help programs. And why not? We either suspend disbelief -- and then IT (whatever IT we choose) will work for us, as they promise; or not -- and in that case, well, your loss, as the overwhelming message of the believers to non-believers goes. (And if IT did not work for you, that is because you did not believe IT enough.)

But as CMC would say (I think), the naturally bald man (or woman) has no need for hairpieces. :)

Anonymous said...

"I know this is far from a perfect parallel with religion. But it's the best I can come up with on short notice. :)"

I won't even get upset that you poached my analogy.

Steve Salerno said...

Forgive me, Eliz, but you keep resolutely debating the philosophical when I keep trying to emphasize that my main objection to the SHAMsphere--and the very reason I wrote the book--is more mercantile. Generally speaking, you don't have to spend money to worship your private god/God. For that matter, leaving Eliot Spitzer aside, you don't have to pay someone to be in love. (And btw, though I don't want to dive headlong into a whole new debate about love, the point I was making is that if you looked at love in clinical terms--the viability, the survivability, the validity of the assumptions we make going in--who would bother? But in the end, we have no choice. We're programmed to love, I think. Just as--perhaps--many of us are programmed to believe in "something more" than we find here on earth.)

If it were simply a matter of people having foolish/unsupported beliefs, we'd have no issue insofar as the self-help industry. But it's the industry in "self-help industry" that makes this important. Billions are being spent. And for what? What's the cost-effectiveness? How well does it deliver on its promises? Do its promises even make sense (and yes, if you're spending money on it, then the promises must meet a higher bar). That sort of thing.

Steve Salerno said...

Or to put it another way: Would the FTC really give a damn what Kevin Trudeau tells people in his Natural Cures...if he were giving the book away for free?

Elizabeth said...

"Forgive me, Eliz, but you keep resolutely debating the philosophical when I keep trying to emphasize that my main objection to the SHAMsphere--and the very reason I wrote the book--is more mercantile."

Forgive me, Steve, but I just name it as you call it -- I'm simply rebutting the arguments you present in each post.

I already gave you the example of the mercantile (and more pragmatic) aspect of religion. To which you responded with your love analogy. Which I attempted to rebut. Which you shot down by chastising me for disputing the philosophical, while you debate the mercantile. And so we go on. We could predict, I suppose, what the next exchange would look like, but I gotta run -- American Idol is about to start. :)

Steve Salerno said...

Yes, next time around we must segue to the more important issues in life...like...why do they always seem to give Syesha Mercado such a hard time? You think it's a conspiracy?

Elizabeth said...

Naw, Steve, I just think she does not quite have what it takes. Nice girl, nice voice, but the IT is missing (and let's leave the definitions of IT for some other time, OK? ;)

My money is on David Cook (man, this guy can sing!)

Which reminds me, I gotta vote!

:) (and ;), what the heck...)

RevRon's Rants said...

"But as CMC would say (I think), the naturally bald man (or woman) has no need for hairpieces. :)"

Nor would such a person have the same perspective as one who had a full head of hair. As a result, neither is qualified to judge - much less, begrudge - the other's mindset... unless, that is, they felt some driving need to do so. At that point, it ceases to be a dialog, and turns into a pi**ing contest. Now *that* is a colossal waste of time.

Elizabeth said...

RevRon: "Nor would such a person have the same perspective as one who had a full head of hair. As a result, neither is qualified to judge - much less, begrudge - the other's mindset... unless, that is, they felt some driving need to do so."

The below is an anthropological aside, not quite directly related to your post, RevRon.

And, CMC, if you are reading, hope you don't mind extending your analogy -- for the advancement of science, you know.

It is clear, from our observation and studies, that the naturally bald man living in a largely hairy society is perceived as a freak and subjected to endless gawking, misguided pity, unhelpful advice and untold attempts to convince him to start a Rogaine regimen or at least get a toupee. Somehow the hairy ones assume that there is something wrong with him, he must have experienced some horrible illness or trauma in the past, and needs their help -- or at least pity. As if having hair was indeed the default way of existence, and not just a way.

So the hairy ones preach and pontificate, trying to get the bald man to see "the error" of his baldness -- or at least hide it so as not to offend them with it.

They ridicule, sometimes subtly, sometimes not, and stomp their feet when needed; and when the bald man appears unaffected by their irate behavior, they tend to congregate and close their ranks against him. Somehow they feel stronger when challenging one bald man as a group of many -- and they do so without compunction, feeling superior, and believing, apparently, that being one of the gang -- and having all that hair -- makes them safe and right. However, despite being in a semi-cohesive group, individual members of the hairy gang still appear threatened by the bald man's presence and attempt to coerce him and make him submit, between their more aggressive attempts to eliminate his presence. One of their tactics involves chastising the bald man for not sufficiently understanding the hairy kind of life. It is interesting to observe this insistent demand for empathy employed in the name of social coercion, since the members of the hairy gang do not, as a rule, attempt to understand, or show any inclination to do so other than offering pat words of sympathy, the bald man's way of life.

This behavior, not surprisingly, can be observed in the field as well as on blogs.

RevRon's Rants said...

Elizabeth - Imagine a world where neither the bald nor the hirsute felt threatened by each other, and were willing to allow the other their state of hairiness - or lack of hair - without the need to denigrate each other. A world where neither saw the other as evil, stupid, or otherwise deficient... just different.

Perhaps what really matters is not whether or not one has hair, but rather their level of comfort with themselves and their attitude and actions toward others. Such a singular element of a person's being - whether it be the level of hair growth or their inner beliefs - doesn't define their worth. Their actions, however, speak volumes.

RevRon's Rants said...

"they tend to congregate and close their ranks against him. Somehow they feel stronger when challenging one bald man as a group of many -- and they do so without compunction, feeling superior"

Sounds more like a description of paranoia, fueled by the projection of motives, than a conspiracy.

Elizabeth said...

"Sounds more like a description of paranoia, fueled by the projection of motives, than a conspiracy."

Nah, RevRon, neither conspiracy nor paranoia; just group dynamics, in humans and primates. If the phrase "feeling superior" and "believing" is objectionable here, substitute it with "gaining a sense of greater strength and confidence that comes from being part of a group."

Elizabeth said...

RevRon at 1:52, yes, I second your thoughts here. Especially about tolerance cutting both ways. Which would mean, as I understand it, not trying to belittle, diminish or "straighten" the thinking of people who happen to have different ideas from ours. You have explained what it means for you -- a spiritual person, though not sure about the believer label -- so let me "explain" what this may mean for an atheist.

For example, this tolerance would mean, in my eyes at least, that when an atheist presents his or her views, s/he is not immediately encountered with attempts to undermine, diminish or dismiss his/her ideas as inadequate (including the oft-repeated admonitions that "there are many things we don't understand,") misguided, inferior, coming from a trauma or such; and much less that attempts are made to peg his/her moral or emotional characteristics in a certain (almost always negative) way.

Why can't we take each other at face value?

RevRon's Rants said...

When one's assessment of a given group's dynamic is based in the perception of persecution - being "ganged up on" - not supported by the actions of the group, paranoia is the most accurate definition. At least i the context of this forum, no "bald men" have been the targets of such attacks.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Why can't we take each other at face value?"

I *do* take people at face value. And I, for one, don't feel even slightly diminished in admitting that I don't know everything - about myself, much less, anyone else. If that tolerance were mutual, these discussions wouldn't deteriorate into petty arguments.