Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's good to see them sweat.

As the lawsuits pursuant to James Ray's debacle-in-the-desert begin to pile up higher than the bodies themselves, I won't deny feeling a certain vindication. For years nowdecadesthese gurus have run their domain with impunity. They've held all the cards in an environment of their own design, where every aspect was rigged for maximum benefit—theirs—and where the consequences, if any, have been few and far between. No hint of a downside, just a seemingly limitless upside. They've traipsed merrily through life, worrying about little more than what might make an ideal tropical venue for their next mega-seminar, pulling the programs to be taught at those seminars out of thin air, making it all up as they go along, issuing extravagant promises rooted in nothing, dispensing life-changing advice they had no business giving, whipping audiences into an emotional frenzy then sending them charging into battle without a plan, not giving a damn about what happens to all those desperate, pathetic little people* who trusted in them. The guru took their money, their hope, sometimes their very soul. Now a guru has taken a few lives.

Consider the uniqueness of the charmed circumstances in which America's freelance gurus have always operated. D
octors, after all, face the constant prospect of malpractice claims, as do formally trained psychotherapists. Teachers toil under the ever-watchful eye of school administrators as well as suspicious parents; even though in some union settings it is nigh impossible to fire a teacher as long as the infraction doesn't involve impregnating a student, that doesn't prevent reprisals when they're deemed necessary. Even your local auto mechanic must worry about the ramifications of giving your car back to you in an unsafe (or just unfixed) condition.

But historically, the self-help guru has been impervious to risk.

For the New Age crowd in particular, it's as if they inhabited a parallel legal universe as well as a spiritual one, exempt from civil and criminal liability in the same way that, say, pro sport
s are exempt from the usual laws governing assault and battery. A pitcher can intentionally throw at a batter's headsurely assault with a deadly weapon by every legal yardstick, if not attempted murderyet no charges will be filed. The hitter, having been thrown at, can then charge the mound and flail at a pitcher's face and nothing will come of that, either, outside the lines of the ball field. Hockey is worse: You can't high-stick an opponent anymore, but other than that, players are free to pummel each other into bloody pulps. Football players can go on national TV and spew menacing words about what they plan to do to an opposing team or even a particular player; there will no arrests for "terroristic threats." It's all just "part of the game."

And so the gurus, too, have been allowed their "game." They partner with Oprah, the unquestioned ringleader in this grand circus, implying that you can succeed in life by simply immersing yourself in your personal Now, opting out of objective reality and all distractions past or present.
They go on Larry King Live, pitching their amazing, foolproof "thought systems" that conceive the universe as a giant mail-order catalog, where all items can be had for the mere price of earnest intentions; in so doing they persuade millions of us to order their books and DVDs, wherein we'll presumably learn how to put this failsafe Utopian philosophy to work for us. Is that consumer fraud? If it isn't, you tell me why.

No matter. They were untouchable. Or so they thought, until now. Maybe now there'll be some accountability.

We shall see.

* I'm writing that from the gurus' perspective, not mine. Incidentally, none of this is intended to excuse the colossal stupidity (and, in some cases, greed) of self-help consumers. That doesn't absolve the gurus of their responsibility for conducting themselves as they do.


Anonymous said...

It was on Penn and Teller's BS when they covered a retreat like Ray's. For one of their break through tests they had target arrows placed at about chest level with the tip toward the chest and the end placed against the wall. The participants would then lean into or walk toward the wall with enough pressure to snap the arrow in two. No one was hurt. I noticed that one arrow as it snapped, broke at such an angle that the other half came close to their eye. Yikes I hope they stopped doing that "test" before someone did actually lose an eye. Where did they even get the stupid idea?


Steve Salerno said...

Mark: Thanks for reminding me of that. I saw the special and alternately laughed my ass off and shook my head in amazement. I believe the retreat you describe is Hale Dwoskin's "Sedona Method." So much crazy stuff goes on out there.

Anonymous said...

I'd certainly say that it's consumer fraud. However, will the crux of the fraud, i.e. the selling of McThinking and outrageous ideas/concepts, be spotlighted now, or only the rare end result on the far extreme (death)? It'd be good if the exploitative, bogus nature of the entire industry would be exposed, but I think that's asking too much, unfortunately.

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 12: 54 PM wrote:
"It'd be good if the exploitative, bogus nature of the entire industry would be exposed, but I think that's asking too much, unfortunately."

If the industry isn't "exposed," it won't be from lack of trying. I think there's this book called, SHAM, for instance. And some of us have blogged till we're blue in the face about this topic... :-)

Oh, and Hale Dwoskin... another guru with smarmy little secrets. Maybe he'll be "exposed" some day too.

Steve Salerno said...

Cosmic: Well, if all goes according to plan--I can't discuss it right now, but if--I may soon have something very interesting to talk about with respect to giving this topic more of the public exposure it so richly deserves.

Keep yer fingers crossed, all.

Elizabeth said...

Steve, lemme guess: Oprah?


Anonymous said...

Connie - Right, I am not saying that people have not tried exposing the SHAM. My point is that even with 3 deaths, the heart of the SHAM will likely *still* not be examined . . . big sigh. Instead, the drastic result (death) will be the focus, and it won't be considered in the context of the insidious, underlying SHAM. So, I'm not hopeful that, even now, needed exposure will happen. Kudos to all who continue to hammer away at the SHAM!!

Anonymous said...

:) Steve. Keeping my fingers crossed!

Martha said...

And another thing....

(sorry, I just can't help myself) :-)

This last point actually goes back to your SHAM conversation:

It's a sure-fire way to know you're being mind-fked when someone takes a conversation that's riddled with complexity and reduces it to an emotional challenge to our notions of basic decent human decency and the evolved values we aspire to.

Once someone tries to escalate a conversation by injecting emotionalism into it, as far as I'm concerned, they've lost the argument (with me at least). It's such an obvious gambit to try to knock someone off their intellectual balance by lobbing an emotional spit wad at them.

You see that tactic all the time by the mesmerizing tactics of SHAM gurus. And, sorry to say, extreme left-wing liberals.

Bring out the puppy dogs and we'd better be talking about responsible pet ownership, puppy mills, animal cruelty legislation.

Generally speaking, of course. Nothing personal against your esteemed self.

RevRon's Rants said...

Martha - To some people, doing the "right" thing is often more essential than doing the "logical" thing. Sure, it's based in our emotions, but bringing it into an argument isn't necessarily pursuing an unfair advantage. I will acknowledge, however, that it would seem unfair to insert a variable that was apart from - and immune to - logic, when one's opponent prefers to limit the dialog to easily quantifiable parameters.

Anonymous said...

"You see that tactic all the time by the mesmerizing tactics of SHAM gurus. And, sorry to say, extreme left-wing liberals."

As if extreme right-wing was rational...

Cosmic Connie said...

Martha wrote:
"You see that tactic all the time by the mesmerizing tactics of SHAM gurus. And, sorry to say, extreme left-wing liberals."

Not just left-wing liberals, but right-wing conservatives, and everyone in between. (You don't think that pushing pictures of an aborted fetus in someone's face in order to help stamp out abortion rights is an emotional appeal?)

We all use emotional appeal at one time or another to make our points.

Anonymous said...

To quote Anthony Robbins It doesnt take any guts to be a critic. It takes guts to believe. Of course it is true that James Arthur ray was irresponsible. But that does not change the fact that many of his teachings are pure truth. Not because they are from him or any other "guru". But because him, along with other "gurus" are simply speaking the truth that is timeless. So if someone wants to hate the "gurus" fine. But dont mistakingly also hate the message because the message is rooted in the truth; taking the invisible and making it visible.