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Is the New Age an LGAT without boundries?
Posted by: Carlos B ()
Date: July 08, 2009 06:35PM

I've been taking a quick look at Eckhart Tolle - watching videos, reading articles. He's treated with a lot of reverence by the media and readers of his material. It's a bit scary because he doesn't seem to know anything at all. He is though representative of what almost seems like a conspiracy to lull the population, or large parts of it, into a comforting hazy sleep. Tolle always seems to be struggling to stay awake (and I have the same problem listening to him) but there's a horrible uniformity running through the message of the New Age - from Tolle to Louisa L. Hay to Wayne Dyer and so on ad nauseum - and that is you can solve all your problems by playing around with your perception, you don't need to do anything, don't object to injustice, don't protest, life is perfect just as it is.

This propaganda, if it really got a grip, would create a society like Orwell's 1984 but there'd be no need for big brother because the soporific voices of Tolle and co. would control everything. I don't want to suggest that the New Age can really become the single dominant ideology in society but its influence is spreading rapidly and although there is no concerted conspiracy (the individual practitioners are too ego-driven to work together) it does actually spread a single message with only minor variations.

The form of the 'teaching' may shift from one writer or another but the content is always the same and the effect is that anyone who gets involved, be it in a meditation group in their local neighborhood, or a business coaching seminar, or a Byron Katie course, is being fed the same disinformation - and this process is driven by a voracious industry.

So maybe 40 years ago we were looking at a few dangerous sects like EST or Scientology - the problem could be isolated and targeted. Now it's like an airborne epidemic.

I probably approach this issue from a different angle than a lot of people here. For me one of the big problems is that the New Age destroys the possibility for genuine spiritual enquiry because everybody who's interested in spiritual matters is cocooned in 21st century Zen psycho babble. I enjoy meditation but I can't find a group where I don't have to listen this garbage.

I suppose I'm starting this thread to check my perception. Maybe I'm just too close, physically, to this world, but it seems to me that the LGAT has gone from being a relatively isolated group based phenomena to a society-wide problem carried not on the air but via the internet. Now you can be brainwashed in the comfort of your own home.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/08/2009 06:38PM by Carlos B.

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Re: Is the New Age an LGAT without boundries?
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: July 08, 2009 09:58PM

That is a very interesting question, Carlos.

An LGAT without boundaries.

My hunch is there are large swathes of the New Age scene where one is socialized into a set of assumptions that can compromise boundaries and critical thinking and make it easier for someone to be pulled in to a harmful group. Its like being in a situation where you're undernourished, your immune function is compromised and then, when you are exposed to a pathogen, you're more likely to fall ill compared with someone whose immune system has not previously been compromised.

This is a good article to start with:


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Re: Is the New Age an LGAT without boundries?
Posted by: Carlos B ()
Date: July 09, 2009 12:10AM

Hi corboy,

In direct reply to your post I'd say that it's reaching a situation where fixed groups are becoming redundant. Wayne Dyer for example doesn't have any sort of membership organisation (as far as I know) but his ideas are very influential because a powerful marketing machine has replaced the need for a formal structure. The same process and techniques that sell washing machines and cars now also sell a bogus ideology and it's depressingly effective - far more effective than Landmark or Scientology could ever dream of.

Thanks for the Karla McLaren link. Very interesting and in some ways a different (or at least distinct) discussion. I think she misses a very important point, namely, that the New Age isn't a spiritual movement or culture. It is and always has been an industry that uses the language of spirituality to sell products. This is really what I'm getting at on this thread - Byron Katie is the product of a very cynical marketing/publishing operation as is, for example, Neal Donald Walsh (Conversations with God).

A lot of points Karla makes about the New Age are very true particularly its hostility to critical thinking. There is however the question of why the language of spirituality is so seductive. This is a point that I think sceptics struggle with and the marketing men dimly understand. It's a bit like asking why do some of us want to read poetry or read great literature or listen to wonderful music (admittedly minority interests). To cut a very long story short I think it's simply that science (incredible as it is) can't give us all the answers we crave.

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Re: Is the New Age an LGAT without boundries?
Posted by: Hope ()
Date: July 09, 2009 02:25AM


I think you're perceptions are accurate. However,when I saw Wayne Dyer and Christiane Northrup on PBS, I was shocked that no one at these stations banned this kind of programming. Apparently, the public has been convinced that this is spiritually educational programming but the station is claiming the public is asking for this kind of programming.

I picked up a free publication entitled, "Inner Realm", and even though I laughed all the way through it, it was at the same time kind of frightening to see how many PhDs, LSWs, etc who are licensed in their state to practice medicine, therapies, etc. are involved in this stuff, quite frankly to make a quick buck. There are also groups with weekend-trained reverends, and all kinds of practitioners with meaningless letters after their names that have set up shop or offer mini-LGAT seminars and retreats all over the place. The guy I had worked with was setting up seminars at Catholic retreats.

You're right about meditation groups; I've found the same problem with yoga. I don't want to be converted to an eastern religion, don't want to go to kirtan, don't want to chant while I'm in downward-facing dog. I don't want all my classmates playing armchair spiritual leader when I'm having a bad day.

I think that many are craving this stuff to replace the religion they have left behind. Churches are closing or their buildings are being rented out by nontraditional congregations. Perhaps it is guilt? The failings in medicine also add to the masses of people that have turned to alternative medicine, which in many instances can have a flakey mind-body-spirit aspect to it. I think the internet has contributed to the problem of not knowing who or what to believe or trust. The internet has provided a breeding ground for many wolves in sheeps' clothing who have carried out their con jobs well, whether it be at Harvard Medical School or at a Scientology table on a NYC street corner. Look at Byron Katie who is renting a room at a Harvard-affilate hospital. How many people are going to figure out that Harvard really has nothing to do with her and is not endorsing her. Yet, the internet is the quickest way to get information that will help people think critically. I wish I had been online before I met my sociopath because I made my decision based on his associations with legitimate professionals.

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Re: Is the New Age an LGAT without boundries?
Posted by: quackdave ()
Date: July 09, 2009 03:33AM

Great points, all. I've lately wondered about the whole numbing of the masses, and the allowing of the same by an otherwise very controlling government. A lot to think about in these few posts, here.


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Re: Is the New Age an LGAT without boundries?
Posted by: The Anticult ()
Date: July 09, 2009 12:35PM

one does not need to be in a hotel ballroom anymore, for an LGAT.
They use videos, skype conference calls, email newsletters, blogs, everything else.

Of course, the heavy hitting occurs in the weeks-long LGAT seminars, where people are deprived of sleep, food, and they hit them with dozens of techniques, and imprint them. That is where the real power is, and always will be. That deep group experience.
That is not going away, and gets MORE intense every year, as they keep learning.

They then use media to keep it going.

Byron Katie is using Twitter brilliantly now, to keep her finger on the button of her Followers, and keep the LGAT experience fresh 24/7/365 in her Followers cell phones.

Twitter Love-Bombing []

Byron Katie (ByronKatie) on Twitter []

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Re: Is the New Age an LGAT without boundries?
Posted by: Christa ()
Date: July 09, 2009 02:10PM

Carlos, I'm very glad you brought this issue up. I've actually been thinking about why it is that so many "pseudo-sprituals" like Tolle, Katie, and others are getting such massive play. It's like eating Cheez-whiz instead of Cheddar or Camembert. Sure, you can do it, but why would you? (Unless you want to eat crap petrochemicals instead of real food and weigh 400 pounds, which, when you look around...)

I think every other poster so far has made some really great points, and I especially agree with Hope's point that many people are leaving religions (usually for very good reasons) or confronting a failure of mainstream medicine.

Just because there's a vacuum doesn't mean there's something worthwhile to fill it. These mass-marketed frauds rush in to take up the space Friday temple or Sunday mass took up. And it's tough to live with the hopelessness of having a disease that ultra-modern, high-tech medicine can't do anything about. So these frauds promise miracles.

I'm also concerned that by accepting the crap Dyer or Walsch offer we're prevented, or at least delayed, from finding something honest and genuinely fulfilling.

I agree, Carlos, with your points about McLaren's article. That's a pretty old article, and I think she writes more about the 80s New Age movement, which was less slickly marketed and more naively idealistic than what we see now. I'd love to know what she thinks about the post-Internet New Age Era.

So, to combine corboy's great immune system analogy with your idea that these ideas seem to be spreading in some "airborne" fashion: my concern is that as people move away from religions that, for all of their vast flaws did draw on the work of true scholars and honest participants whose goal was to make real spiritual journeys and then write about them or otherwise share them, we will lose our ability to discern real spirituality from marketing hype.

IOW, the "large swaths" of the New Age movement that have been "socialized into a set of assumptions that can compromise boundaries and critical thinking" will become large swaths of the general society. And once majority of people are spiritually immuno-compromised, pseudo-spirituality will be endemic.

That will be awful, if it happens. "1984" will look like a social activists' Utopia.

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Re: Is the New Age an LGAT without boundries?
Posted by: Carlos B ()
Date: July 09, 2009 06:09PM

Thanks for all the comments - interesting stuff.

For the moment I want to pick up The Anticult's point that the real power lies with the deep group experience. I agree that these groups are not going away and I'm not advocating ignoring them but a real shift of power is taking place/has taken place.

I want to illustrate this with the Neal Donald Walsch example. An unknown guy writes a completely unexceptional book and claims it's a conversation with God. There's nothing at all in the book in terms of ideas that wouldn't be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in philosophy. If Walsch hung a sign around his neck saying, 'I am a Fraud,' it couldn't be more obvious. But what happens? A publisher snaps up the book. The marketing machine goes into overdrive and the book sells millions of copies and Walsch becomes a huge celebrity continuing to claim to this day (12 years on) that God speaks through him.

I saw Walsch at a public event 5 or 6 years ago. In the Q&A session a woman said that she too had had a conversation with God and had written to Walsch requesting his help in getting her book published. She'd received no reply. Walsch didn't even blink. He said that the woman's conversation with God had been a private affair and God didn't want it published. Now at this moment Walsch should be being pelted with eggs or at least jeered. But the audience sat in respectful silence.

The New Age marketing machine is doing more than simply preparing the ground for cult activity (although it is undoubtedly doing that). It's creating a culture in which thinking for yourself and being in touch with your feelings are denigrated. It's mogadon for the masses and it doesn't need to get people in a room for three days to be effective.

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Re: Is the New Age an LGAT without boundries?
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: July 10, 2009 12:08AM

Carlos, there is also a concept, 'cultic milieu' which may be a good model for what you are trying to grasp.

This denizens of this milieu think themselves as 'cultural creatives' and as part of a liberating alternative to mainstream society. The ironiy is they are still very much part of mainstream culture, and have been identified as a lucrative niche market.

Denizens of this milieu can be accessed and exploited by marketing strategies designed in mainstream culture.

These marketing strategies operate by massaging craving--the very thing that a genuine spiritual environment would train us to investigate, not mindlessly indulge.

Remember when yoga people just wore leotards? And you never saw 'em walking around with rolled up sticky mats?

Now there are entire LINES of yoga clothing and sticky mats, and bags for the sticky mats, and incense oils, and jewellry and at least two magazines dedicated to yogistas.


And Green. Its a label now. Green, Green, Green.

The other day I saw a perfect joke.

A lady was carrying a green shoppingbag that read in big letters,

'Shop Locally.
'Bag Made in China.'

Here's a discussion of cultic milieu. This may be the name that fits the New Age scene.

(Note--this has existed in a variety of forms as far back as the 18th century. Casanova and Cagliostro exploited knowledge of alchemy and magic to gain the trust of people who were interested in such things. In the 19th century, the Theosophists took off, and there were various occultist and magical groups. So we have had cultic milieus around for quite some time. It is only in modern times that these groups have been identified as a niche market by capitalist marketeers.



Cultic Milieu--a Possibly Helpful Concept?

'The concept of 'cultural milieu', as developed by sociologist Bryan Wilson,is very helpful in understanding this conglomeration of alternatives. According to Wilson, there is exists in Western societies, a milieu, which he terms 'cultic' where much that is rejected by the dominent cultureaccumulates.(Corboy's italics) -- alternative therapies, alternative beliefs, and to some extent, alternative lifestyles.

'Both ideas and persons usually belong more to the milieu than to any specific group within it. Individuals easily shift their allegiences from group to group and idea to idea, and ideas and groups are themselves linked to each other by a shared network of publications and venues. ('Venues' meaning places where people socialize and meet face to face C)

From Bryan R. Wilson, The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism: Sects and New Religious Movements in Contemporary Society, (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990)

Quoted in a book by Mark Sedgwick, page 48-49 'Against the Modern World: Traditionislm and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century: Oxford University Press, 2004

All this is very interesting and might offer us a way to understand the New Age.

First, some of the alternative ideas and therapies are later found to be effective and become part of mainstream culture. I am thinking of the use of traditional Chinese medicine and acupunture. This was considered fringe and goofy forty years ago. But...what mattered was that some TCM
practitioners had the ability to learn how to do well designed scientific research and were able to start conversations with medical researchers. Even political factors such as the Nixon Administration's willingness to enlarge political and economic exchange with Red China, played a role.

Now we are at a point where tai chi is taught as part of patient education programs at hospitals after studies have shown that it preserves agility and reduces the incidence of disabling falls and injuries.

What is of concern is when portions of the cultic milieu devalue scientific research and write off critical thinking as negative, and make claims and demand personal allegiance or conceal information needed for informed consent.

The concept of cultic milieu is interesting as well because many persons are recruited into Liftonian cults by gurus and outreach workers who know how to use marketing and publicity that are geared precisely to the cultural milieu.

The sad thing is, those in the cultic milieu think they have escaped the evils of mainstream culture and have escaped from the forms of marketing and consumerism that plague the mainstream culture.

Those in the cultic milieu dont realize that the milieu is still very much part of mainstream culture, for it remains a valuable niche market and it can be targeted, accessed and exploited by advertising strategies designed in mainstream culture.

In short, the cultic milieu thinks its a sanctuary, but it is easily penetrated and cognitively colonized by those who masquerade as members of the cultic milieu but whose actual agendas, concealed by spiriitual talk and charisma, are no different than an advertising campaign meant to market cigarettes to teenagers.

This also has implications for exit counseling and cult recovery

Many who feel traumatized by abusive gurus and human potential programs may leave the specific abusive group or guru, but when they leave that group, they return to the cultural milieu...and that milieu may
1) devalue critical thinking

2) contain triggers that constantly activate conditioning inculcated by the group, since a lot of NLP speak seems to float arond in the milieu

3) the cultic milieu seems collectively phobic and unconscious about power issues and issues of abuse and power imbalance, and in my opinion, tends
to shame those who try to discuss this and issue harm reports

4) The cultic milieu seems to enable spiritually rationalized power abuse, socializing people to be codependent to gurus before they even meet a guru and at the same time has a rhetoric of shame and invalidation that is readily directed at anyone who tries to warn of guru abuse

5) The cultic milieu has a network of magazines, social events, conventions, and websites easily colonized and appropriated by enterprising entrepreneurs/eneuses who know exactly how to exploit the mindset of the New Age cultic milieu, using marketing and PR techniques that are created by the very mainstream culture that the cultic milieu sees itself as having rejected.

In short, I contend that what is damaging about the New Age cultic milieu that many of us dislike is not that it is a liberating alternative to mainstream culture, but covertly is an extension of the very worst of mainstream culture.

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Re: Is the New Age an LGAT without boundries?
Posted by: Carlos B ()
Date: July 10, 2009 04:41PM

Hi corboy

Yes that's it exactly! A lot of food for thought there.

A couple of observations. The New Age is a milieu that's antithetical to thought of any sort. Ego is bad, authentic self (or whatever the term) is good. Dualism bad, non dualism good and so on. The irony is of course that the dual/non-dual dichotomy is an idea, the product of thought, and nothing more. It's the interpretation of an experience many people have during meditation. It's what Tolle witters on about endlessly. It's true that meditation can produce moments of peace and quiet when the thoughts stop buzzing around in your head but this is not an experience that's somehow counterposed to every other experience we have. It's just another experience which, since we can recall it, cannot be radically separated from the thought process in the way many gurus claim.

The hostility to thought and thinking and in the end to having and expressing a personality and having a real chance to be happy and fulfilled (at least some of the time) is given creedence by ancient traditions in Buddhism and Hinduism etc. (personally I blame John Lennon) which treat thoughts as some sort of psychic excrement. I don't know too much about the societies these ideas - (yes, ha, ha, there's no escape - the idea that ideas are bad is just another idea) - emerged from but I suppose they were extremely hierarchical. The kind of social control exerted by these religions (grovelling in front of gurus or images of gurus) should be sitting at the bottom of the dustbin of history - I'm not sure why it isn't, but there is an idea floating around that says wisdom is buried somewhere in the past and if we dig deep enough we'll find it.

Anyway, thanks for that corboy and like I said, food for thought and contemplation.

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