I keep reading how good beliefs can heal and bad beliefs can cause cancer and bad AIDS, they may inhibit recovery, cause poverty and shape your destiny. Belief is where the action is, not cold hard reality.
Churches got rich and cashed in on peddling belief for years, some still do, but for many God got boring. Beliefs needed to be organised and systematised and the emergent doctrines were just too limiting. And besides, God simply wasn’t scientific enough and He lacked sufficient antiquity. In the self-help industry the training manual became the new bible, quantum physics became the new gospel, what’s in it for me? became the new lament and I deeply and completely accept myself became the new affirmation. Future saints line up to await beatification and in a field where false prophets abound, the ever faithful squabble amongst themselves whilst praying for confirmation.
To those that demand evidence of this new faith, they point to the placebo response, to quantum physics, to Einstein, to the Tao, to Buddhism and all manner of miraculous proofs. You just need to believe, they say.
If you suffer, then it is your fault. If you get ill and die then you had limiting beliefs. You must have faith or you will be damned. There is hope and redemption can be found in the sacraments; the joss sticks, the flower remedies, the filtered water and the herbal teas. Penance and forgiveness can be found by the correct observance of the rituals; the tapping, the whoop whoop, the happy clapping and the attitude, and of course the search for those elusive toxins. There is only one law and that is the attraction. It keeps things simple.
Now, I wonder what these poor fools believed in order to demise in such an appalling manner:
“The participants had fasted for 36 hours as part of a personal and spiritual quest in the wilderness, then ate a breakfast buffet Thursday morning. After various seminars, they entered the sweat lodge lightly dressed at 3 p.m.
Two hours later, a woman dialled 911 to say that two people, whom Waugh identified as 38-year old New Yorker Kirby Brown and 40-year-old James Shore of Milwaukee, did not have a pulse and weren’t breathing.
According to a family spokesperson, Brown was an avid surfer and hiker who was “in top shape,” before the mysterious sweat lodge death….
…Sheriff’s Lt. David Rhodes said authorities were checking whether there was a lag time between the first signs of medical distress and the emergency call….”
At the root of this is a self-help industry that promotes “me, me, me, me, me, me!” – no matter how dysfunctional you feel, you are special, you are important, you are worthy and you will be accepted and loved – at the price of the entrance fee. Pay the fee and you will be admitted entry into the mysterious sanctum, get others to sign up and pay the fee, then you can come again at a discount. Sign up as an assistant and you can come again and again for free in an orgy of hope, happiness and adulation. A shepherd leading the flock, a fisher for men, the person serving the Kool-Aid.
The industry promises that yes, you can be rich! Yes, you can have the life you choose! Yes, you can break free of life’s burdens! Yes, you can be free! Yes, you can heal yourself and learn to heal others! You are special, you are valuable and the universe revolves around you, you, you! This soft and malleable universe will bend to your will, mold to fit your beliefs and will adjust itself to suit your aspirations. The universe is weak, but the attraction is strong and God lost the monopoly on omnipotence.
The thing is… so much of it is all smoke and mirrors. Scratch beneath the surface of this industry and you will find stories of drug addiction, bankruptcy, and personal disasters – not rags to riches style, nor bad man made good type of thing, but self promoted success gurus who themselves are broke and claiming unemployment benefits; personal development coaches and mind control experts who take psychiatric drugs or cocaine or are alcohol dependent; business consultants who have never consulted and trainers who themselves are unemployed and struggling, divorced relationship coaches who rely on hookers, life coaches who are so dysfunctional they have no life to speak of, and on and on and on. All this lies behind the veil of self-proclaimed success and fine promises of hope, affluence and secrets, the veil of illusion of opulence, happiness, and brilliance, but it is a lie, designed to get that cash from the naive punters hoping for a better life for themselves.
The medicine show never went away. The snake oil just got repackaged, refined and much, much, more expensive.
As a skeptic and rationalist, I am not surprised at how much spite gets aimed in my direction. I am a disbeliever and in the self-help business, the refusal to believe is tantamount to heresy. It is a betrayal and such heresy is not at all tolerated well. We want action taken, they write on their forums, what makes you so special? they ask in their emails. It’s all about being special.
It is time to start blowing the whistle on the industry that I find myself flirting with on a regular basis. The romance died out long ago, I saw the man behind the curtain. He was bloated, he had serious personal issues but he had a good agent. Know this: this is an industry that lies to you. Not by accident either, but in a cynical and deliberate manner designed to exploit and cash in on the desperation and unhappiness of people who want a better life.
What I know, what I have seen, is that all the positive thinking and all the self-belief in the world doesn’t make a single bit of difference to so many of these people, or possibly to you. Many of these gurus are as dysfunctional today as they were yesterday, and I don’t see that changing at all, at all. In fact, it seems to be getting worse.
All that “self-development” and “Me! Me! Me! Me!” seems to reduce people’s income, career prospects, familial relationships, friendships and so on. It gets ugly.
I’ll tell you more in a future blog entry, beginning with the personal development industry obsession with “status.