Friday, February 26, 2010

A Ray of caution?

Folks, I am as down on James Ray as anyone. As I recently told a Member of Major Media, Ray and his travails epitomize all that's wrong with latter-day self-help. Little or no credentials to be selling what he's selling...the promise of near-instant transformation...a distinct proclivity for "churning" his disciples...scandalous prices for a slapdash program consisting of unproven, potentially (now manifestly) dangerous material.

All that said...I'm getting a wee bit uneasy about the ardor of our collective assault on Ray. I think there is danger in piling on, as some of us have
—including your host. I think that we run the risk of unwittingly marginalizing ourselves: that in our zeal to find and trumpet every last incriminating detail, background circumstance or untoward facial expression—while at the same time ignoring or rationalizing away any possible mitigating circumstanceswe make ourselves look like, say, the liberals who once were accused of "Bush derangement syndrome." Or the current Republicans who take such delight in savaging Obama, every word that emanates from his mouth, and everything he philosophically stands for.

You can drop those eyebrows back to their normal positions; believe me, I intend no parallels between Barack Obama and James Ray. I'm just saying that while Ray may be the poster boy for reckless/venal self-help, we probably shouldn't make him out to be the Grim Reaper, Adolph Hitler and Bernie Madoff rolled into one. Certainly not until he has his day in court. The guy almost surely is a megalomaniac
but if you're telling me that he intended to kill those people, or that he didn't care if he did...I'm not buying it. I think that in the person of James Ray, we have a messianic blunderer with no sense of consequences who may have honestly felt that he was showing tough-love on that October day, driving clients to push beyond their limits. This is not in any way to excuse what happened in Sedona. If anything, it underscores why self-help is so stupid, so scary. And that is where our emphasis should now reside, in my opinion.

Over the past year or so, The Secret and its mystique have been coming apart at the seams. The sudden fall from grace of some of its "stars"
not just Ray but also David Schirmer* and even creator Rhonda Byrne herselfspeaks volumes about the project and the people involved, putting the lie to the touchy-feely philanthropy and avowed "hope for mankind" that characterized The Secret's earliest viral PR. (A little birdie tells me there are more falls from grace to come.) Further, if other erstwhile Secretrons have avoided major public black eyes, they have also shown no qualms about throwing the project and their collaborators under the bus, riffing on The Secret's deficiencies and building entire new programs around its (supposed) "forgotten laws."

Their actions say more about that project
and the New Age muck from which it sprangthan millions of words of condemnation for James Ray, churned out daily by the ever-growing skeptosphere. S

* Not to be confused with Skeptic's Michael Shermer. Regular readers know this, but I don't want to leave casual visitors with any mistaken impressions.


RevRon's Rants said...

Good point, Steve. It's understandable that so many who identify with the skeptical crowd would get somewhat carried away with their gleeful observation of Ray et al's downfall, given the collective pass that the scammers have gotten thus far. That being said, I agree that we're approaching a destructive critical mass in our observations, potentially threatening to divert public anger from the scammers to their critics. And that would be a real shame.

I noted on another, wholly unrelated forum that anything that is said online is eternal, and could well be used against the speaker (or his/her cause) at some point. The same holds true in this case. Snigger and delight in private if you like, but keep the public discourse on a more mature, on-topic direction.

Rational Thinking said...

Agreed. I've never believed he intended to kill people. It makes no sense. To make money, your customers must survive.

Right now, while the Ray case is ongoing, is a golden opportunity to take a searching look at the wider self-help/spiritual development issue and the 'gurus' involved. The problem with focusing solely on Ray is that we may miss others doing the same sort of thing. Which would be a pity.

In my own experience, having done a very similar course to Spiritual Warrior - including sweatlodge. arrow-break, board break, rebar bending, firewalking - for those who want to participate in these things, there are safe ways to do so. Of course there are medical caveats, and any reputable organisation will observe these.

Also, I believe that the offence to the Native Americans can't be overstated. And if their right to hold sweat lodge ceremonies is in any way affected by this travesty, then that would compound the harm done.

RevRon's Rants said...

A very similar topic came up on Salty Droid's blog a couple of weeks ago, where some folks were going on and on, almost salivating in their comments about a problem Joe Vitale experienced when he was a kid, but which were completely irrelevant to his adult activities (

While Salty isn't known for dispassionate discourse (or even maintaining a level of decorum), even he agreed in his responses that the skeptical movement might be hurting its cause by attacking even the worst scammers so indiscriminately. Of course, he then went on to attack them indiscriminately, but that's his MO, for better or worse. :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

Points well taken, Steve. I admit that I made a few snarky tweets yesterday about the latest James Ray court photos. Not my finest Twitter hour, perhaps.

However, I do not and never have believed Ray *intended* to kill anyone. I think your description of him as a megalomaniac and a "messianic blunderer" is probably far more accurate than branding him a psychopathic killer, as others have done on other forums.

Anyway, thanks for the reminder.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie: My "allusion" to your tweet of yesterday was unintentional--at least consciously so. I had nothing in particular in mind when I penned the phrase about facial expressions. I thought I'd read a snarky description of his demeanor in court (throughout this process, not just at his bailing hearing), but couldn't place where I'd read it.

Cosmic Connie said...

No harm, Steve. I didn't think you were singling me out. I figured you were alluding to the general body of commentary on this case, particularly the scuttlebutt that has been stirring since Ray's arrest. However, since I've been dipping pretty heavily into the schadenfreude punchbowl myself, your words hit home.

Even now, after all that has come out about Ray and his tactics, and after all of the snarking I personally have done about him, I feel a measure of compassion for the man. I expressed this recently on one of the critical forums, and a senior member of that forum expressed the opinion that my compassion is misplaced. (This person apparently believes that everything Ray does and ever has done has been calculated, including client deaths.)

By the way, the unraveling of The Secret's mystique began nearly three years ago, when the Aussie tabloid show A Current Affair first started doing its exposés on David Schirmer. And the first rumblings of The Secret lawsuits began in late 2007, though no one really paid attention till the New York Times published an article about it. Unfortunately, it took something involving actual deaths to really grab the attention of "Major Media."

Karl said...

Steve, I’m currently reading your book. And digesting the seemingly endless saga of gurus behaving badly,
What keeps on coming to mind is the mantra mouthed by those seeking to transform or enlighten us: “We teach best what we most need to learn”. That statement has always seemed prima facie inane. Presumably we teach best what we most needed to learn. That statement at least suggests that the lesson was learnt and can now be taught or passed on.
But self-styled gurus etc seem to persist in this error and go on teaching either what doesn’t work or else it works and they don’t do it thus a case of not practising what they preach aka they are hypocrites.
Heaven forbid if Tiger Woods suddenly decides to start writing about how to have the perfect relationship.!

Steve Salerno said...

Karl: Thanks for joining us. You make some good points. But really, you can go through the "literature" of self-help and find example after example of statements that make no sense on their face, are in total disagreement with other parts of a guru's patter, etc. And yet millions of people queue up to buy this stuff at ransom prices.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - The same folks buy and eat a gazillion Big Macs every year, as well... even knowing that they're heart attack food. But they're quick tasty, and don't take any effort to prepare. Hmmm...

Steve Salerno said...

Ron: I agree in theory, but I also think that such an analogy diminishes the meaning (and the fundamental bizarreness) of what's going on here. A Big Mac is an impulse purchase, and a cheap one at that. And you don't (generally) commit your life to a Big Mac. When we talk about SHAMland, we're talking about the willingness to invest outlandish percentages of your income in regimens that you presumably have to think about and evaluate--at some level they have to make sense to you--and after that thought process, you go ahead and do it anyway.

To me, it's almost like the difference between a one-night-stand ("hooking up") and marriage. A Big Mac is the equivalent of a one-nighter. But the phenomenon that fuels the likes of Ray, Vitale, Robbins etc. is more like a marriage. That's what astonishes me.

LizaJane said...

I agree completely.

This is awful, but I may have to read that "Secret" book, as I know nothing about it beyond what you allude to here, and at this point that leaves me far behind current events. Maybe I can get it on CD and have someone read it to me. That might lessen the blow and allow me to "read it" without spending any free, otherwise usable time doing so (sitting in carpool line, e.g.). Dang.

Steve Salerno said...

LZJ: I am quite sure it is available on book-on-tape/CD. Just please promise me you'll check it out of the library instead of buying it; lord knows they've made enough in royalties off that damn thing already!

Of course you never read it/saw it; you were too busy living life and raising a family. :)

Rational Thinking said...

Steve wrote:

"But the phenomenon that fuels the likes of Ray, Vitale, Robbins etc. is more like a marriage. That's what astonishes me."

I am convinced that the reason for the phenomenon, particularly in the case of JAR, is that a kind of pyramid-selling scheme is presented as intrinsically 'spiritual' in nature. 'You can be spiritual and rich' - because you have a whole universe eagerly waiting on your command, you can have whatever you want, because you're 'entitled'. Because 'G*d' wants that for you. It's like a holy seal of approval. Total bull, but it is very poweful.

Robbins seems slightly different to me, he doesn't appear to peddle the spiritual angle so much (though I have only read one of his books, and I may be mistaken) - but the underlying theme of self-determination is still present. Same poison, different chalice, perhaps?

Steve Salerno said...

RT: Another good point. Part of the success of my old friend from the "Chicken Soup" series, Mark Victor Hansen, is that he couches his pitch these days in terms of "doing well by doing good," touting the greater opportunities for philanthropy that become possible once you accrue vast amounts of personal wealth. He's right in theory, of course, but to me it sounds like a self-serving rationalization, especially when you look a bit deeper into the way he runs his shop and such.

SustainableFamilies said...

While I agree that I don't think he intended for that to happen... I'm not sure how far I can agree that he "cares" about them.

His actions suggest that while he might feel REAL sympathy, he was ready to get back to business as usual it this hadn't been brought against him criminally, and if even his "fans" started to question his getting "back to business".

He certainly didn't seem to care at all when Colleen Conaway died and he would have chalked this up as an "accident" that barely affected him as well if he could have.

Now that it's being brought in his face I don't doubt that he feels remorse, but I think the remorse is firstly coming because of the fact that his career is ruined and he might be going to jail for a while.

While being forced to reflect on the damage caused to all these people, the families and to listen to what happened to everyone involved, I am sure that his genuine feelings of remorse for the actual suffering people went through has become more present in his life.

I'm not sure though that we can say that if his fans had all said, "oh what a terrible accident let's go back to our harmonic fun" and the law had passed it over... I'm pretty sure it wouldn't weigh on his mind very often.

He wouldn't have considered it to be his fault in any way and would have basically seen it as unrelated to him.

That is kind of scary.

I do agree that when we demonize people, even those who have done horrible things, we have to be careful to remember that we all have some amount of flaws and that some of those might be frighteningly more similar to the "bad guys" than we would like to think.

Seeing how some humans fall from grace should be a reminder to all of us what happens when we forget to connect with how other human beings feel, and we have ALL done that in some way at some point.

I've worn Nike's before, therefore, ignoring sweatshop labor. I have and do eat meat ignoring or rationalizing the suffering of millions of animals that happens as a result of the consumption of meat.

Is that really ok?


I actually don't think so despite the fact that I have to eat SOMETHING and I got so sensitive at one point that I would cry cutting up carrots over the suffering of the carrot... (over sensitive much?)

But in trying to have compassion for humans who fall into horrible detached states where they cause great suffering, I also don't want to romanticize that Ray cared all that much at all.

I really don't think he does, or rather even if has been forced in his face and he can feel sorrow over the suffering he's caused, I'm not sure he would have explored his remorse very much if he hadn't been forced to.

Just thinkin...

Steve Salerno said...

SF: It's a very thoughtful comment overall, but for me it mostly sparked further ruminations on a topic that has probably occupied my thoughts far too much over the years. Actually it's a question: At what point does something become so small that we cease caring about its "welfare"? We worry, some of us, about consuming hamburgers, because "cows [steers] matter, too." Ok, fine. We also worry about the conditions under which chickens are raised (though I think we worry less about chickens because cows are cute and chickens are ugly. We don't mind killing things so much if they're ugly). But what about that mouse in your garden? Or that worm in your driveway? Or the fly that keeps interrupting your picnic? Where exactly is that line drawn, between what we're "entitled" to kill and what we, perhaps, aren't?

Do bacteria have feelings?

SustainableFamilies said...

Steve, just to say, I once found a mouse in a mouse trap at my work. My boss said she was going to take it outside and kill it and I said I would do it.

I took the mouse outside and sat with it and I cried. I tried to pull it off the sticky trap to set it free but it was completely stuck. It was obviously suffering and I sat and cried for it and tried to offer it comfort (as if the mouse could tell that I cared)

For thiry minutes until my boss came out to find me sobbing with the mouse and told me to go inside. She said, "Oh why did I send you out here"

I remember once my father pulled a blade of grass that had gown up from the bottom of our pool. I cried. I thought about the little blade of grass pushing it's way up to the life, trying to feel life, trying to be, and then suddenly being snuffed out.

I have watched insects die and sit and cried with them, although now I have more of a perspective that if an insect is dying and suffering it may be more compassionate to end their suffering quickly. Although I still sometimes can't.

I always try to catch bugs and set them free if I can, and pathetically this has even applied to cockroaches.

Yes I even would think about the sorrow of germs being attacked and killed in my body. I had a hard time visualizing "killing the germs" if I was sick when I would think, couldn't I visualize capturing the germs and safely ejecting them from my body?

LOL, in all this I have come to a place that I think most of that is silly and just because I am overly sensitive to everything and I had to stop being a vegan because it made all that worse.

But I do think that all life matters. All suffering matters. We can't stop everything from suffering, it is part of life, but I do think it matters what every living thing feels.

When I was in highschool taking chemistry I would think that atoms could "feel" or sense their existence and that their feeling of wanting to be whole, wanting to have the right number of electrons were symbolic of our feelings as humans.

I realize that a large portion of these feelings is applying human emotions to beings and entities that are not human and probably don't have the capacity to feel in the same way as humans do or in a way that we could ever really understand at all.

Yes, I know I'm a nut! lol

But I have come back to such a level of compassion and I do think that some of how se wense others emotions is real, i.e. when we seen an animal grimace we respond because we CAN understand that being is suffering.

And in those cases I think feeling compassion and trying to reduce the level of suffering for other beings is a good thing.

But don't take my word for it, I'm obviously over sensitive to everything!

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps the angst we feel at the notion of something dying in order that we might survive arises from an overblown sense of our importance in the grand scheme of things. It might be somewhat gratifying to tell ourselves that we as a species are "above it all," even as we wring our wrists about the fact that our survival demands that other organisms die. Our discomfort seems to get even worse if we allow ourselves to consider that at some point, we will be served up on a plate to some other species, just as the cows and chickens have been served up to feed us.

I think that by accepting our rightful place in the food and evolutionary chains, we might find that we are sufficiently humbled as to more carefully consider our behavior toward other life forms (perhaps even our fellow humans).

I went for several years not eating meat, for purely religious reasons. When I ultimately decided that I would revert to being an omnivore, I also began hunting again, reasoning that I didn't ever want to forget that the meat was more than a plastic-wrapped commodity. If my survival demanded that others die, I wanted to acknowledge the sacrifice,

There's a Buddhist ritual wherein a victor kneels before the body of a vanquished foe and begs forgiveness for having taken his life, affirms the fact of their connectedness, and prays that in some future life, they may meet again as friends. Whether one believes in reincarnation or not, approaching our place in relation to all other life from such a humble perspective serves to remind us of the need to be kind, even to those we perceive as predators.

IMO, we should strive to stop the predation, but remember that demonizing everything about the predator serves only to reinforce our own hatred and rob us of our own peace of mind. (Note sneaky attempt to get back to the premise of this thread!)

Anonymous said...

Steve - I ask, and have asked, the questions you pose. And a few thoughts I have mulled over include these. First, I wouldn't say that there's any correlation between size and ability to suffer. Experiencing discomfort that can be considered suffering happens, to the best of my knowledge, in organisms that are constructed similar to ourselves, i.e. with a central nervous system. Of their ability to suffer, we can be certain. Beyond that, I'm not sure what science says about the ability to suffer in organisms without central nervous systems. I think that drawing the line at the place where our current knowledge resides is where it makes sense to do so.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron et al: The discursiveness of these threads--the magical, near-free-association rambling of the collective SHAMbloggian mind (if you'll permit me a laughable conceit in honor of my 60th birthday, Monday)--is one of the great joys of blogging, to me. If everything stayed dutifully/rigidly "on point," I would've given this up years ago.

RevRon's Rants said...

Kind if like a real, live conversation, eh Steve? Imagine how boring it would be to go to a gathering of folks and discover that the dialog was focused solely upon one point, with no deviation tolerated.

It's the very "discursiveness" that helps us to better understand the speaker's context, and thus the credibility we lend to their perspective.

And allow me to be the first to say Happy Birthday... from one curmudgeon to another. :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

Excellent comments here. Sustainable Families, your story about the mouse and the mouse trap, not to mention the bugs, reminds me a lot of me. (I have rescued countless lady bugs and click beetles, but usually I do kill cockroaches if they are in the house. However, even I have been known to take the occasional roach outdoors and set it free -- free to come right back in the house, where Ron, I, or one of the cats eventually kill it.)

And Steve, you made a good point about "doing well by doing good" (or, as I like to call it, "conspicuous altruism"). Hollywooders, rock stars and socialites have long been into various sorts of conspicuous altruism (as we've discussed here before), but in recent years it has become quite the thing among New-Wage gurus and their followers. Your buddy Mock Victor Hamstrung isn't the only one.

We needn't go into a certain Operation Y.E.S. (aka Operation Maybe), which is nearly two years old but still hasn't gone beyond a one-page teaser on the Web. (Until recently, James Ray was listed as a participant, but after his arrest the name mysteriously disappeared.)

So forget Operation Maybe. How about Compassion Happens ("Where the Brilliance of Business Meets the Passion of Philanthropy")?

For a mere $79 a month you can have a socially conscious business (or, I think, you can get support for your existing socially conscious business; it's kind of confusing), AND have a chance to sign others up for the same deal. 10 to 25% of all that money goes into a fund for micro-loans to support others, particularly in undeveloped parts of the world. The diagram to which I helpfully provided a link above will tell you more.

One of the co-founders of Compassion Happens is one Hermia Nelson, who was quoted in several recent news stories as saying that she "and others" had held "conference calls and prayer circles" supporting James Ray's release from jail. You can read about Hermia and her other co-founders on the "About Us" page on the web site linked to above.

It's entirely possible, of course, that Hermia's support of James Ray is completely separate from her interest in Compassion Happens. Still, it's one of those things that makes you go, "Hmmmm."

Micro-loans and such seem to be the focus of numerous Web "altrupreneurs" (no, I didn't coin that term, darn it). But that seems like an awful lot of effort, not to mention accountability, just to spiff up one's image. It's possible that some of the altrupreneurs really do care about making the world a better place. For those who don't, there are still many ways to soften the hard edges on one's public image. People who like children, and/or have adequate staff for child maintenance duties, might consider international adoption.

The goal, in short, is not necessarily to *do* good, but just to make it look as if one is doing good. It's a surefire way to do *well*, for as long as you can get away with it.

Steve Salerno said...

[Re Connie: And once again the woman displays her facility for tying up all the random threads. And none of it sounds forced, and it almost always includes solid new info. Amazes me how she does that.]

roger o'keefe said...

This is a very interesting discussion but it goes off the rails somewhat for me when we start worrying about cockroaches. We're the highest life form, as I see it that means we get to make the rules. That doesn't mean we can be insensitive to everything else on earth (to anticipate those of you who will make that accusation.) I'm simply saying humans have enough brainpower to weigh the various interests and, in recognition of that brainpower can be permitted to put their own interests first. It's not just a food chain, it's a brain chain.

Steve Salerno said...

Roger: Oddly, I kind of agree with you here, even though I feel uneasy about it. But in the end, whose causes and priorities are to be paramount on earth, if not Man's? All species can't carry equal weight, after all, since their respective interests in many cases are in direct opposition to one another. And if we throw plants into the mix ("plants have feelings, too"), then what are we supposed to eat? Each other?

Steve Salerno said...

P.S. A funny thought just occurred: Maybe that's an argument for breatharianism.

RevRon's Rants said...

"But in the end, whose causes and priorities are to be paramount on earth, if not Man's?"

Well, the obvious answer - at least, from the human point of view - is that human interests determine human priorities. However, we'd be wise to acknowledge that arrogance doesn't serve our best interests beyond the realm of short-term gratification.

We're smart enough to create devices that will ensure our domination, yet not smart enough to recognize that those same devices could just as easily ensure our downfall.

To use yet another analogy (can you tell I like analogies?)... A rancher was plagued by coyotes killing his livestock, and set traps to eliminate the pests. For several nights, he would set out traps, and on several mornings, he would find coyotes in some traps, but other traps flipped over, the bait taken. One night, he set his traps, all upside down. The next morning, he had caught only one coyote - the one that had been flipping the traps to get the bait. The moral is that the coyote was smart enough to flip the traps, but not smart enough to leave them alone.

Something to think about as we defend all our actions as being acceptable because we're so much smarter than everything else. :-)

Rational Thinking said...

Ron, your post reminded me of a conversation I had some years ago, when I mentioned I followed a vegan die, and the guy I was talking to asked if I had any objection to other people eating meat. I assured him that I didn't - so long as they were prepared to look into the animals' eyes and kill it themselves. His response was quite amusing to me - he said that no, he thought that should be done by people whose business it was to kill them. He saw no reason to involve himself in the process, but was more than happy to consume the results.

My father used to hunt and fish - and when I was a young child (aged about 6) he brought home a goose he'd shot. I remember, vividly, stroking the dead goose over and over. Apparently I was so distraught that he never again shot another animal. He still went fishing though:-)

As to the demonizing thing, well, I suppose it's the ancient problem of separating the doer from the deeds. Thankfully, you don't have to love both!

Anonymous said...

Somehow it seems slightly subjective to objectively claim that our kind is the pinnacle of creation. Why the hierarchical construct for the myriad forms of life? We are no better than any other, imho, and the fact that *we* think we are is just good old grandiosity. Things get absurd when we try to base our claim to ultimate superiorty on something "rational", "scientific",etc., and fancy that we are being objective! It's just pure bias, unfounded in the natural world. Every organism "thinks" (functions as if) its life is the most important. That's a given, it's just survival.

Anonymous said...

And I just had another thought. Our brains give us the means by which we can talk ourselves into absolutely anything, no matter how ridiculous, unfounded and absurd. Brains don't come with operating manuals. Use with caution and discretion! The mindgames a brain can pull off can be hazardous to one and all!

SustainableFamilies said...

I TOTALLY wanted to learn how to be a plant at one point. I can remember when I used to tamper with philosophy I would go so far as to contemplate when life itself took the fall into consuming other life forms (so yes that would be one celled organisms that began to consume each other instead of subsisting without consuming others) which is when plants and animal life forms split.

Plants being examples of what we should be: i.e. not causing harm and existing in harmony with all living things.

This is all just philosophical fluff that makes me happy of course.

Plants can kill each other too, i.e. a tree that blocks out all the sun causing grass underneath it to die.

I didn't have any friends in highschool so I sat behind the gym every lunch pondering such things.

It's fun to pretend your philosophies have some sort of meaning in the great scheme of things. Funny, I shouldn't have realized that the cosmos probably will remain unaffected by me sitting and thinking about trying to understand the nature of humanity through mathematics.

(That was REALLY fun though. You'd have to have followed my train of thoughts closely, but I was pretty sure that if the great existential and philosophical questions on the nature of existence were paired up with numerical equations you could find the truth of the cosmos. It was all nonsense but I felt Very Important for thinking about it, which I suppose I needed at the time.)

I was really sure that atoms held the key to understand the nature of existence. I hadn't even discovered quantum physics yet! Boy that stuff is fun too, although I take it as seriously as astrology (which is also really fun to me.)

Chemistry was going to unlock the heart of compassion. The nature of suffering.

I don't know anything about math, or science so it was pretty easy to make it apply to whatever I wanted. (Hence the existence of quantum science at all... other people much smarter than me apparently thought that sounded like fun too!)

(BTW I nearly deleted this totally irrelevant ramble but as I enjoyed the ramble and we were talking about the topic of not being on topic I felt that it fit the topic by not being on topic. and such.)

Steve Salerno said...

Ok, then how 'bout this: The species with the greatest capacity to impose its rule on all other species is the one that "wins."

RevRon's Rants said...

But what if "winning" also sets that species on a course to its own demise? In the grander scheme, I think that "victory" is nothing more than an illusion, anyway. We can "win" only when we learn to be a cooperative species, less concerned with our own superiority and dominance.

Steve Salerno said...

Another thing about James Ray and the sweat lodge--and in saying all this, I really hope no one concludes that I've "switched sides," because nothing could be farther from the truth--but I was thinking this morning about when I played college football. This was back in the pre-enlightened era of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when coaches legitimately thought it was their job to push you beyond your limits and inflict all kinds of physical and psychological torture in the name of Making You Into a Man. (For those who served in the military of that era, it was much the same, or worse: See under "Full Metal Jacket.") My coaches would drive us and harass us and browbeat us and subject us to drills (like "bull in the ring") that would be unimaginable to the average parent, today, watching his or her son at practice. They would also deprive us of water during our two-a-days (pre-season workouts)--and of course you'd never dream of asking, lest you be labeled a "pussy"--and the very idea of having any cooling apparatus on the sideline during summer, or heating apparatus during winter, was laughable. It still surprises me that more kids didn't suffer horrific injuries during practices or just keel over and die during workouts.

This was all commonly understood procedure throughout the landscape of American football and was tolerated in the name of "character-building."

Anonymous said...

So what's your point?

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 11:05: My point is that James Ray, for all his faults, did not invent the idea of pushing people to extremes and bullying or ridiculing those who wimp out, or are perceived as having done so. Hell, if you watch the Olympics, you hear forms of the same reasoning voiced all the time by commentators, coaches and athletes themselves--the idea of superhuman effort and/or sacrifice, the idea of completely disrespecting one's body in pursuit of some Higher Goal. No one would ever think of attacking that state of mind, when it's unfolding in an Olympic context.

To some degree this notion of "no pain, no gain" is institutionalized in the culture.

Cosmic Connie said...

Good point about "no pain, no gain" being institutionalized in our culture. That does lend some perspective, without excusing James Ray's actions in any way.

Your mention of your old coaches reminds me again that today's social and cultural climate is remarkably different in many ways from a few decades ago. It seems that just about every week, we hear about some high-school (or younger) athlete keeling over dead during or after practice. Sometimes the death is due to some previously undiscovered congenital heart condition, but often the cause is more or less a mystery. You almost NEVER heard of this kind of stuff when many of us were going to school. Maybe all of this is partly related to the general rise in obesity rates and decline in overall fitness level in our culture. For many reasons, we seem to be more aware these days of the potential danger in activities that many of us once took for granted.

As noted, though, that doesn't excuse James Ray's actions.

Weird: My verification word is "sedon." Just missing one syllable at the end...

Mike Cane said...

I let this sink in a few days before commenting. Don't you recall that TV "debate" you were in where the guy sneered at you? I think underneath many of these people are just like that. Save your sympathy.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha, re your word verification, Connie.

Re active, athletic types dropping dead, I'm thinking that obesity and inactivity are not issues for *them*. Maybe it is (largely?) "no pain, no gain".


Steve Salerno said...

Mike: I'm grateful for your expressions of support. Believe me, I am. But it's not really sympathy, per se. I just don't want to be a part of that all-too-prevalent climate nowadays that says, more or less, "I hate you by definition, so therefore I will never budge an inch on anything, nor will I admit the validity of any fact/argument, no matter how small/subordinate, that lends the slightest bit of weight to your position." That climate is paralyzing Washington and driving this nation into the ground.

SustainableFamilies said...

I am with you on the brainless Bush attacking that went on. As easy as it is (and funny) to say "Don't misunderestimate me"

If you genuinely want to demonstrate him as a bad president you need to articulately and intelligently exactly what he has done that you disagree with, why, and ideally present some ideas for how it could have been done better.

There were crowds of people giggling over Bushisms (which I have to admitt are pretty funny) but they didn't demonstrate anything other than poor speaking abilities.

I was like, "Haha, see he says silly things and held a book upside down in a class room! And the war is bad! So I'm right and he's stupid!"

That kind of does a disservice to the cause of demonstrating what was done wrong, and therefore eliminates the possibly of figuring out what could have been done better (and what could be done better in the future.)

While I have to confess I am still deeply liberal at heart, (I love me the people! Love the people, man)

But that "Stop the Neocon death Machine" blog spoof was HILARIOUS. I'm bummed it's all been deleted and converted into some sort of marketing nonsense.

Steve Salerno said...

SF: Agree. Though Bush gave us plenty of material to work with--as does, now, Palin--in general, when you elevate your criticism to the level of nonstop caricature/hyperbole, you actually make your points less believable and, in an ironic way, undercut your entire argument. (And you start to make yourself look pretty stupid in the process.)

Also known as "the Keith Olbermann Syndrome."

Anonymous said...

"But I do think that all life matters. All suffering matters. We can't stop everything from suffering, it is part of life, but I do think it matters what every living thing feels."

Sustainable, I agree - and thank you for this.

Elizabeth said...

Sustainable Families, this is for you (but not only).

Anonymous said...

I would like to leave my simple-minded two cents on this subject.

One astute poster on Salty's site made the observation that, if James Ray had behaved humanely after the tragedy, he would not be vilified so strongly.

I think this observation is spot-on. James Ray NEVER contacted the victims or their families afterward. He couldn't even be bothered to identify "Jane Doe" who was in a coma, and it took Liz Neuman's family two days to locate her.

I'm not going to enumerate all the sleazy, self-serving things he has done since the sweat lodge, since I assume that anyone who reads here would already know what they are.

I don't think that James Ray has any remorse or compassion, and he deserves every bit of public demonizing that people want to heap onto him.

I do agree, however, that overkill against James Ray could have a backlash for the detractors.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: The thing is--and by no means am I out to defend JAR, OK?--but that's just how things are done nowadays. By and large. The minute "something happens," the lawyers and handlers get involved and people circle the wagons and the principals in the case are told to be extremely circumspect in their public statements, lest they risk making it worse for themselves somewhere down the line. We had a case here in PA recently where a woman ran over a toddler. Now, you can't get much more clear-cut than that, and I'm sure the woman was a basket case; I'm sure that she was privately destroyed by having done that. But on the instructions of her attorneys, she never made a public statement, never called the toddler's family to apologize, and even in the one (carefully managed) interview she did give, it was clear that she was going out of her way to not (a) admit guilt or (b) express regret in any extravagant way. Even though everyone knew exactly what she had done and how horrible it was.

I know that sounds sleazy, but the rationale is simple: The more culpable you make yourself sound, the more ammunition you give to prosecutors and those who will eventually file civil suits against you.

Now, to be sure, there are things Ray has said that do raise eyebrows. But I think--given how things are in today's culture--we need to be wary of making too many quick judgments about Ray's state of mind based on his public persona.

Anonymous said...

To Steve:

But to go so far as to not even IDENTIFY one of your own seminar participants?

By bending over backward to cover his ass, he seems to have made things worse.