Friday, June 25, 2010

The ultimate significance of the James Ray debacle: Set your DVRs for Tuesday, June 29 @ 10 p.m.

Just got word from New York that I can formally announce the Big News I've been keeping close to the vest for months: At 10 p.m. (Eastern) next Tuesday, June 29, ABC will air an hour-long special devoted entirely to James Arthur Ray, magical thinking, and the oft-overlooked dangers of the New Age. This project has been in the works since last October, when I was contacted by ABC senior producer Miguel Sancho, who had read my Journal essay on the Ray affair. Though originally developed under the 20/20 banner, the piece, it now appears, will air as part of the network's newish Mind Games series. (Subtitle: "Inside the darkest corners of the human mind..." Tantalizing, eh?)

I covered a great deal of ground during my two lengthy sitdowns for this piece
, one with ABC weekend anchor Dan Harris in New York, one with Sancho here at home. (Funny bit of marginalia: My neighbors, who never see me in anything but a tank-top or a baseball uniform, were looking on from their decks in puzzlement the day Miguel came out, wondering why the hell I kept walking back and forth up the street in a sport jacket while some dude with a minicam filmed me from different angles.) Out of all that material, it should be interesting to see which sound-bites make the cut and go out over the air.

This project also represents vindication of a sort, but we'll talk about that later.

In semi-related news, I've turned in a major piece to Michael Shermer on the topic of latter-day "happyism." And I'm floating a new book proposal that could be quite the eyebrow-raiser
also loosely rooted in something I wrote for Skeptic. So, it could be quite a summer. Then again, it could be one huge bust.

Unless you've landed a plane on the Hudson or gotten yourself knocked up by a boyish-looking presidential candidate
ideally boththere are no sure bets in this business anymore.


Britt said...

Thanks for the heads up! I've referenced your announcement and announcement on my blog. Let's get the word out! And thanks for posting.

RevRon's Rants said...

I've the sense that there are already hands being wrung in scamster-land, and that the piece will be followed by plenty of dismissiveness, both from the hustledorks and their minions and sycophants.

Hopefully, the piece will serve to open a few eyes and land a few well-placed head slaps. To quote one of the snargets, "What if it works?"

Congratulations, Steve.

Cosmic Connie said...

Congratulations, Steve. You can be sure I will help spread the word.

Bryan Neuman said...

Thank you so much Steve and congrats! I'm obviously spreading the word!

roger o'keefe said...

Steve, after all this time of seeing you "think in print", we finally get to see you think on your feet. I for one will look forward to it!

P.S. I hope you're making a fortune on this.

Anonymous said...

It's not enough that you have this blog, now you have to infect the air waves with your boundless negativity as well. Nothing personal but I hope your show BOMBS. That's all America needs is another dose of the cynicism you're selling here day after day.

RevRon's Rants said...

I can't help but wonder when the act of telling adults that the tooth fairy isn't real first constituted "boundless negativity."

I guess that for those who still cling to (or profit from) the "tooth fairy as reality" schtick, revealing such fundamental truths must be quite threatening.

Martha said...

Hey! Congrats on the ABC gig! I'm so glad I visited your site this morning. Otherwise I would have completely missed your news! Now I'll be sure to tune in!

Hoping it sells gobs of SHAM and gives your new proposal a boost as well! (Let me know if you're in the market for a new agent. I have a great one to introduce to you.)

NormDPlume said...

Anon 8:15:
Cynicism -
An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others

America does indeed need another dose cynicism - why should we blindly accept the integrity and professed motives of our self-anointed "leaders" - cultural and political? Are we supposed to be sheep?

Cynicism is healthy. Somebody has to speak truth to power and expose hucksters for what they really are.

I don't always agree with Steve, but I am a big proponent of cynicism as a method to expose the truth.

Anonymous said...

Here's a nice article in riposte to Anon:

"Yes, I Suck: Self-Help Through Negative Thinking",8599,1909019,00.html

The gist of the article is something I have known all my life but this is this first time I have seen it researched.
We all respond differently to different stimuli.

Anonymous said...

Only jackass idiot morons go back into a sweat lodge when their bodies are telling them they are dying. I wouldn't have been jackass idiot enough to go back in. Would you?

Anyone who goes back into a sweat lodge when their bodies are telling them they are dying deserve to die!

Too many idiots on this planet as it is

Anonymous said...

It's a simple equation:

You join a sauna club

You pay and sign a liability waiver not to hold the sauna club responsible should you suffer injury or death from the sauna club activities

No matter who may encourage you to stay in the sauna, it then becomes YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to get out of the sauna if you feel you are actually dying

If you go back into the sauna, after a 10-15 minute set, and suffer injury or death you have no one to blame but yourself, period!

The logic is inescapable

Steve Salerno said...

Not much time now, but I do have 2 thoughts to throw out there:

1. I'm not sure that people always know when they're "dying." People know when they're uncomfortable; people know when they're in pain. But dying? Hell, I played three years of college football and thought I was on the verge of dying many times during preseason workouts in the heat of August. Remember, too, the Ray thing was a "spiritual warrior" retreat; the whole point was to push past any preconceived limits and prove yourself able to meet and beat all challenges. I think that makes a difference in this case.

2. Group-think/-pressure is an important factor that we should not dismiss; nor should we be so cavalier as to blow it off with words/terms like "idiot" and "individual responsibility." I'm sure we've all done things in the moment--due to peer pressure or a certain mob mentality--that we reflected on later and mused, Now what the hell was I thinking??

Anonymous said...

'The logic is inescapable'

As _cartman_ has already explained to you, logic escaped you long ago, leaving only the moronic idiocy.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - What purpose does the comment by anon 9:31 serve in forwarding the discussion? To me, it just reads like an empty personal attack, sans any redeeming content.

Anonymous said...

Only an idiot would not know when he or she is being cooked to death.

Are you trying to tell us you would not have a clue if you were being cooked to death in a sauna????

You could not possibly be that dumb, could you?

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, these are close calls--and it comes up again with the comment following yours, by Anon 11:14--but I do think there's a "redeeming social value" here having to do with the concept of personal responsibility and its limits. Is someone "an idiot" for putting himself in the circumstances in which the Sedona victims found themselves? Is the "logic" so "inescapable" that someone would have to be an "idiot" for failing to see it?

I grant you, we're walking a very shaky tightrope, but to this point, I still think the issues bear ongoing discussion (though yes, I would prefer that some of the terminology be a bit more educated/erudite).

Steve Salerno said...

And in footnote, I should add that ABC's Miguel Sancho asked me a question that very much went to that same point, i.e. (more or less), "How do we explain the fact that otherwise intelligent, highly functioning people fall under the spell of these gurus and their outer-limits, $10,000 programs?"

Anonymous said...

Since James Arthur Ray held these Warrior Workshops for many years, it seems obvious that SOMEONE BUILT AN UNSAFE SWEAT LODGE!!




Anonymous said...

If people pay big money for his seminars over and over it means THEY ARE HAVING SUCCESS WITH JAMES ARTHUR RAY'S TEACHINGS!!

Your biggest gripe is that NO ONE would be willing to pay anything for what you have to teach.


Go ahead and lie!

Anonymous said...

People were saying that the conditions in the sweat lodge were horrible.


You have to tell some people everything

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 11:52/54: That is a grossly oversimplified analysis. You imply that anyone who's the victim of fraud is an "idiot." Life is not quite that neat.

And here's an observation: You don't magnify the impact of your arguments by making them in ALL CAPS with FIVE HUNDRED EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!

(God, I hate what today's text-culture has done to American rhetoric.)

RevRon's Rants said...

Before labeling the dead and injured participants as idiots, one should realize that there was apparently great pressure to remain in the sweat lodge, to "push beyond the comfort zone." Even a reasonable and intelligent adult can respond to such compelling incentives.

Unfortunately, one of the first symptoms of extreme hyperthermia is a rapidly progressive state of disorientation, which can quickly override even an intelligent individual's common sense. Just as a trauma victim will frequently behave in a manner inconsistent with their nature (and their intelligence), it is not inconceivable that those who succumbed to the conditions in the sweat lodge were suffering from cognitive dysfunction, even at the point where they seemed "okay."

As is typically the case, deriding the participants for their actions under duress is based in ignorance of human physiology (and the psychophysiological ramifications of the conditions in which they found themselves).

Now, the "wisdom" of following someone like Ray in the first place - and paying exorbitant sums of money for the privilege of doing so) is another matter altogether... but I still wouldn't go so far as to offer a blanket judgment and call them all idiots.

Cosmic Connie said...

On Salty Droid's blog recently (the "Shuttering David Schirmer" post dated June 24), I got into what you might say is a milder version of the personal-responsibility vs. victimization discussion. In writing about Kevin Trudeau I remarked that his target market is people who are smart enough to click the 'buy now' button or pick up that phone (and who have the resources to cover their impulse purchases), but are either too stupid, too naive, too impaired, or in too much of a hurry to bother substantiating any of his claims.

One person responded that I was victim-bashing and hurling needless insults at the very people that SD's blog is presumably trying to protect. I replied with what I think is an important point: "stupid, naive, impaired" is how I think KT perceives his target audience; it’s not necessarily how I perceive them. My opinion is that in many if not most successful hustledorks -- and yes, I would include James Ray as well as Kevin True-dough among these -- there is a deep river of cynicism flowing beneath that sincere, enthusiastic I-just-wanna-make-your-life-better exterior. My guess is that once they find out how easy-breezy it is to extract money -- sometimes a great deal of money -- from people, for delivering very little of lasting value, they can't help but build up contempt for those who buy and buy again.

I don't think that the people who died in the sweat lodge are idiots. I don't think that all of the people who fall for KT's spiels are idiots either (though some may be, and KT certainly panders to idiocy as well as desperation). And I don't think that everyone who gets fleeced is a helpless victim. I do think people should exercise more personal responsibility. But that’s an easy enough declaration to make when one is sitting in a cool room typing, and not in the middle of a desert after being deprived of food and drink for 36 hours.

For most it was a long road to that sweat lodge. Some had been with James Ray for years, so presumably they were getting some value from the association. Even so, that Anon comment that people return to JAR events because they "work" and make folks successful and happy, is just theory too. I think that the most skillfully manipulative New-Wage gurus are very good at getting even the strongest and most intelligent people "hooked." Their live events are carefully orchestrated to wear people down and get them to sign up for the next, and more expensive, event in the series. Upselling is a major part of all such events. I've been in that type of coercive setting myself, though nothing so extreme or expensive as a Spiritual Warrior retreat, and I know how easy it is to get worn down until you believe that your highest calling is to give more money to the seminar leaders.

Smart people do get hooked, and sometimes injured, and sometimes killed. In any case I think Anon is just trying to stir the pot. He certainly isn’t doing the James Ray camp any favors.

Dimension Skipper said...

First, let me add my congratulations to Steve on landing such a high visibility national appearance gig. I'm looking forward to seeing the show, mainly for that reason alone, because honestly otherwise I wouldn't care that much about the subject matter...

I'd just like to add three points to the current discussion:

1) People who are in the midst of suffering heat exhaustion, heat stroke, whatever, perhaps aren't necessarily going to have clear minds to make the "obvious" rational decisions that we or others may think they should have made at the time. (Though I would hope there'd be Drs available to intervene if necessary.) And is it possible to even be aware when that line is about to be crossed between being able to make the rational decision and one's mind simply being too clouded to think straight?

2) What about when the NFL and collegiate football camps had a rash of heat-related fatalities and close calls for a period of years there before much more emphasis was put on trying to avoid such outcomes? (And yet no doubt there will still be occasional recrurrences of such instances.) Were those players idiots and morons too? Shouldn't they have known they were in danger and just begged off for some rest?

3) We can't always know our own limitations. In fact, it's my personal belief that quite often we don't know our own limitations. Now by that, I may not necessarily mean what you might think...

It's my impression that folks attend these sorts of things in large part to try to test and extend their own wills, to go farther, do more than they've ever gone/done before. They want to build up their own bodies and minds to previously unknown levels of personal endurance. Their thinking may go something like this: "I've always been my own worst enemy and often limit/foil my own success by negative thinking. I have to believe I can push on past that and reveal hidden strength and character I didn't know I had in me, but which was there all along."

Now, we can all argue whether or not that's a massive load of B.S. or if there might actually be some value to the sort of motivational speakers and gurus who claim they can lead clients down just such a path of personal discovery. Who knows, they may in some instances actually be able to do just that for certain individuals, perhaps often enough to make a comfortable living by trying to do it for more and more people.

However, people may like to think that they will develop strength to power on through their limitations, but it's entirely possible they may have hidden and far worse limitations than they ever thought and that could prove fatal in some worst-case scenarios. (e.g. Heart defects, brain aneurysms, depression, bipolar disorder... and subsequent ramifications.)

But hey, stuff happens, right? And I'm sure iron-clad waivers are signed so who can or should be blamed or held accountable? I don't know. I suspect there's plenty o'blame to go around.

My ultimate point, I guess, is simply that the sort of people who may be attracted to such extreme self-help seminar camps may also be the sort of people who are least likely to envision themselves possibly failing those tests and certainly not in personally disastrous ways. They always think they can and will prevail even if past evidence does not necessarily support that view.

Besides, people can fail many times, but may only have to succeed once to be set for life. And maybe "...if I just come through this experience I'll have found the courage and strength to finally be on my way..." In many ways, it's a gambler's mentality.

Steve Salerno said...

(Ron: You were right. It got ugly. I'm willing to give contributors rope--veteran SHAMbloggers know this--but when people start calling their fellow debaters idiots and confuse debating points with exclamation points, I have to draw the line.)

Steve Salerno said...

DimSkip: I think you make some excellent, well-reasoned points. This is why I tried to emphasize to our most prolific Anon (on this thread) that the discussion is perhaps more nuanced than he (she?) allowed. It seems harsh to automatically dismiss as an "idiot" someone driven by the gambler's mentality to which you allude--especially since, as you imply, it is a select "chosen few" from among this extreme risk-taking camp who (a) eventually score a major windfall and/or (b) produce the paradigm-busting innovations that change life for the rest of us as well.

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve, it looks as if your fave Anon contributor on this thread posted much the same comments on Salty Droid’s blog, under the name “Logical Joe.”

Also, here’s the teaser page on the ABC site, which will give an idea of what Tuesday’s show will be like.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie: I've been assured that the lens will be somewhat wider than what's represented here (which, understandably, focuses on the most dramatic element of the piece). OTOH, I guess I'll see along with the rest of you and America. For the record--and this makes me just a little bit nervous--I don't remember saying that one quote quite that way. What I believe I said was, "The genius of the New Age movement is that it has succeeded in mainstreaming concepts and ideas that used to be identified with actual mental pathology." So there again, we'll see.

Incidentally, I've also been informed that some of the out-takes (possibly including more material from yours truly) will appear on Nightline tonight.

Steve Salerno said...

[NOTE: Let me remind people, again, that there is no point to submitting comments that reduce to flat-out name calling. There is zero chance that they will see the light of day, at least on this blog. So don't waste your time or mine.]

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Steve. My DVR is set and I'm looking forward to watching it. You are asking questions that need to be asked.

@Anon (June 27, 2010 8:49 PM)
The people who died of hyperthermia were not idiots. It happens out on football practice fields too where the pressure to perform is high to "make the team." By the time YOU realize you are dying it is probably too late.


Jenny said...

Glad I came by here today, otherwise I wouldn't have known to tune in tonight! Looking forward to seeing and hearing you, Steve.

I read that Time magazine article an anonymous commenter referenced, "Yes, I Suck: Self-Help Through Negative Thinking." We need to see more writing like this!

"Wood, Lee and Perunovic conclude that unfavorable thoughts about ourselves intrude very easily, especially among those of us with low self-esteem — so easily and so persistently that even when a positive alternative is presented, it just underlines how awful we believe we are."

If Self Help really worked, we'd have had only one book about it; that would have been enough.

Thought I'd also mention a book I am currently reading, We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse. Was reminded of it while reading that Time magazine article and coming across a link to another feature, a photo montage of "couples in love." The book I am reading, co-written by psychologist James Hillman and journalist/author Michael Ventura, contains an interesting statement about long-term marriage: "Most fifty-year wedding anniversaries would look very different if you knew what everybody's covering up. Yet we keep measuring ourselves against these ideals."

Likewise, these self-help gurus put themselves out there as examples to follow. Look more closely into their lives, though, and none of them live an ideal life because there is no such thing, never has been.

Anonymous said...

James Ray, "Play full on" in prison while your being someone's little woman. People who follow James Ray are idiots. Hope this guys spends the rest of his life in jail.

Anonymous said...

I think that if you liked the ABC show you'll enjoy this media clip. As is obvious--it's done by a neophyte - but the message is clear! THERE is NO SECRET!