Warning: This post is a long and winding road, as mine sometimes are. I could have either condensed it greatly or published it in several parts, but I thought, what the heck, just get it over with in one fell swoop. So you know the drill: if you're prone to screen fatigue, print it out and take it into the "reading room." Or just peruse a few segments if you don't feel up to making your way through the whole thing. You won't hurt my feelings a bit. ~CC
Can you believe it's been nearly a month since I've published a real post here? Do not fret, Dear Ones; although the year is coming to an end (and already has, for my friends on the Other Side of the globe), my Whirled is not, as much as some folks might wish that to be the case. I have simply been busy with other matters of consequence. A couple of clients who had put their projects on hold during the Great Recession of '09 have recently taken them off hold, and they now want the projects done yesterday. That's a good thing, and believe me, if Ron and I could travel back in time in order to get the projects completed yesterday, we would. But we're doing the next best thing and putting our noses to the grindstone now. New clients have emerged as well, and in addition, Ron and I have been in talks with a couple of colleagues regarding plans to expand our business and explore new ventures. And then this major holiday came up...well, actually, it's still going on.
All in all, I've been too preoccupied to indulge very much in my hobby of "snarking lividly," as one of my detractors put it not long ago, though I have been participating on a few other forums. (If you're interested, I've mostly been hanging around "The Pyre" and Salty Droid's blog, as well as Duff McDuffee's and Eric Schiller's party, and Cassandra Yorgey's place too. I've also been enjoying Terry Hall's Bizsayer blog. Terry, by the way, is married to Amy, an ex-employee of James Ray International.)
If you've been hanging around these blogs, you know it's been a veritable sh-t storm lately, as my pal at The Pyre noted a while back. The Pyre has done a terrific job of documenting some of these matters, as have the Droid, Duff and Eric, Cassandra, and Terry. The big news of the moment is that Duff has been on the receiving end of intimidation efforts by Secret star and former James Arthur Ray joint-venture partner Bill Harris, of Holosync infamy (and of course I will have more about that later on, but scroll down to "The hustledorks circle the wagons" if you can't wait).
On second thought, in the spirit of the holidaze, scratch that sh-t storm metaphor. It has been one big happy snowball fight here in the blogosphere.
To add to the lively fun, I've recently been pelted with a few snowballs myself, and I truly hope you will pardon me for going on about myself, but I am a narcissist, as you know. In fact, I've been dodging snowballs from both sides in the New-Wage wars. Although I've discussed some of this on other forums, I'm thinking that a recap here is also in order – not merely to rehash some silly and perhaps pointless online battles, but to summarize a few issues these conflicts are bringing to the surface. These are issues that affect all of us, no matter where we are on the belief (or non-belief) spectrum. It goes without saying, but in light of current issues I feel compelled to say it anyway, that this blog post reflects my interpretation of events. Maybe you'll find something of value here for you as well.
Revenge of the snargets
Earlier this month one of my minor snargets (snark targets) wrote a blog post in which he criticized the critics of the self-help industry. Before I go any further let me make one thing clear: I refer to him as a minor snarget not to diminish his importance in the big scheme of things, but merely to indicate that he has not been a frequent subject on this blog.
Minor Snarget has referred to some critics as "haters," and it appears that I am one of those "haters." On a Twitter post he wrote some weeks before the blog post, he had defined those "haters" as "a bunch of losers who got their noses out of joint over The Secret and can't get over it."
Though his blog post was not only about critics, it was clearly a reaction to said critics' increasingly pointed Tweets and blog posts, some of which were about him. Accordingly, he let us have it with both barrels, and mounted a spirited defense of the selfish-help industry in the process. He expressed disdain for the alarmists in the news media, saying they are using the James Ray sweat lodge tragedy to indict the entire industry. He implied that everyone who criticizes James Ray or the self-help industry wants to put an end to the entire industry just because some folks died at one little event.
In a special rant section in his original post, he said he understands the motives of the news media and their need to engage in what was once commonly known as "yellow journalism," because they are, after all, primarily concerned with ratings and money. More puzzling, he wrote, are the "pro-bono" critics, the snarky bloggers such as yours truly – those "haters," in other words. He went to some length to rant about me, though he didn't mention me by name. He called me "a first-rate writer with a second-rate mind," and went on to describe me as incoherent and incapable of logic. He claimed that my blog is full of inaccuracies and that I'm wrong more often than I'm right, though he provided no examples.
He also puzzled over why I – and other critical bloggers – spend so much time snarking and criticizing when most of us aren't making any money from this activity. He said we are all snarking in a vacuum anyway, since it is clear that we have very few readers. He based his judgment about our dearth of readers on what he imagines our collective Twitter following to be, falsely claiming that among all of us we barely have 200 followers on Twitter. He also falsely claimed that all we do is Tweet and blog about how our lives suck. I can only suppose that he deliberately wrote those untruths partly because he was trying to get back at me for what he seems to think are intentional untruths here on my Whirled. (I'll address that point below.)
He added that we pro-bono critics hate people who have money because we don't have any ourselves, that we have no useful tools to make our lives better, and that we don't want anyone else to have those tools either.
Part of the remainder of the post was dedicated to explaining the real value of self-help, which, Minor Snarget noted, is an individual judgment each of us has to make for ourselves. He devoted a bit of time to justifying what many people perceive as exorbitant fees charged by some self-help gurus. He scoffed at the media and critical bloggers who seemed shocked that people paid nearly $10,000 to attend the fatal sweat lodge event. Minor Snarget explained that high fees for events are justified by the experience and expertise of the events' leaders. He reminded his readers that the sweat lodge was but one portion of a five-day event. He mentioned that billionaires such as Sir Richard Branson would laugh in your face if you tried to offer them so paltry a sum as ten grand for even a few hours of consultation. He added that he would pay ten grand to spend a few days with someone like the Dalai Lama. In other words, when you're in the presence of greatness, ten grand is nothing compared to what you're getting in return. That amount or much more can be a real bargain if you're getting what you need from an event.
He added that his own consulting fee is now a thousand bucks an hour. This, he explained, is due to his years of experience and study, plus his success at helping numerous other people start businesses of their own, plus the fact that he has read a bunch of books over the years. For good measure, he also threw out some somewhat condescending lessons about business, such as the eye-opening fact that "in business, we keep score with dollars." He implied that this is a concept the critics are too dense to get.
Despite the condescension and obvious anger in his post, there were some basic points on which I agreed with him. I disagreed with him on numerous details, of course, but I felt we could have a civil exchange about all of it anyway, so I decided to join in the discussion on his blog. Ron did too. (Here's a link to Ron's blog, by the way.) All of the comments preceding ours had pretty much been favorable to Minor Snarget, with some commenters tsk-tsk'ing over the terrible things the critics were saying about poor James Ray. Ron and I were the first dissenters, apparently, and it was clear from the beginning that our input was not welcome. Although we were civil, Minor Snarget repeatedly shot us down, attacking our personal and professional credibility. He questioned our qualifications to express an opinion about "his" industry. He challenged us to list all of the great products we've created, the implication being that because we are not actively churning out bestselling self-help products, and don't have a bunch of bestselling books on Amazon, we know nothing about the industry and are therefore not qualified to judge it.
He did not question the qualifications of those who agreed with him, though none of them seemed to be Amazon bestselling authors either. He simply agreed with them and congratulated them for their insightful comments and evolved way of looking at things.
He said any putz can tear stuff down, but he, on the other hand, is working to build things and make the world a better place, and he suggested we do so too. In the end, he declared victory by virtue of having "proved" that Ron and I are incapable of creating anything of value.
He was similarly dismissive of anyone else who expressed a dissenting opinion about his piece, including one of my regular readers, Dave, an admitted non-fan of self-help. I was moved that Dave, who is currently risking his neck every day in Afghanistan, would take the time to defend my blog. Dave's remark wasn't only about me, though; he also summarized the points that bug him most about self-help gurus, including his opinion that they sell half-truths and shortcuts more often than not. Minor Snarget was having none of it. He lashed out at Dave as well, saying Dave doesn't know him or his work and was apparently basing his own opinion of Minor Snarget on what he'd read on my blog. He added that Dave's comment was yet another example of what the anti-critic rant was all about in the first place.
Admittedly, Minor Snarg was probably letting out years of pent-up anger, not only for my occasional potshots at him but also for my more frequent ones at his buddy and business partner – let's just call him Major Snarget* – who took him under his wing a few years back and saved him from a life of being broke. One would expect such loyalty, especially since Major Snarget probably believes he can't afford to sully his own name by getting down in the trenches with those filthy critics. I speculate that to some degree, Minor Snarg was simply running interference for his bud.
But he also seemed enraged about what I and others have written about him. While I haven't criticized his primary enterprise of coaching online entrepreneurs, and I actually agree with him on many matters (including politics and social trends), and think that he is a talented writer, musician, and photographer, and have even had friendly exchanges with him in the past, it is also true that I've devoted a bit of attention to a couple of his products that I think are quite silly. He markets them as joint-venture deals with Major Snarget, and I am sure they make up a minuscule portion of Major and Minor Snargets' respective and collective income stream. But apparently the stuff I wrote about these products got under Minor Snarg's skin.
That said, Ron and I weren't the only ones who thought he was unnecessarily rude in his comments to us and others who disagreed with his take on critics. That's not the way I treat people who take the time to comment on my blog, even if they've said snarky things to or about me in other forums. I may sometimes be a bit curt or snarky to them, but I generally end up apologizing even for that (though not always). At any rate, I am never abusive or outright rude to them, at least by my standards. But who said everyone has to follow the same rules I've set for myself? Besides, in fairness, Minor Snarget did mention on his blog that he had told his
therapist...I mean, his meditation mentor...that this is not his incarnation for sainthood. Well, then, that excuses it.
Moreover, he thinks I have been unnecessarily snarky for several years and that he has been more than patient. He accused me of writing with "ill will" and indulging in "character assassination" of his bud, Major Snarget. He suggested that I should remember I am writing about real people, and should therefore be more empathetic and "mindful" in my writing. He also claimed that I am "inciting" others to write negative blogs about his buddy and others in the industry.
My first thought upon reading the incitement claim was that in his opinion, nobody reads my blog anyway, except perhaps for those other critics whom no one reads either, so why is he so concerned? At any rate, one of the bloggers whom he claimed I was "inciting" addressed that point by stating that the "incited" blog was inspired by Major Snarget (and to a lesser degree Minor Snarget), not by moi.
In the days that followed publication of his confrontational blog post, as the discussion grew to what seemed to be an unprecedented number of comments for his blog, Minor Snarg also created a counter-blog to my little Whirled, apparently for the sole purpose of humiliating and completely discrediting the critics. I believe his plan was to crush me first, since I'm the easiest target, and then go after the rest. He also created a couple of Twitter accounts to have a little fun with the "haters." While he was at it, he locked out his main Twitter account so critics couldn't get as easy access to his immortal Tweets as before. And he Tweeted about hiring lawyers and private detectives to help him deal with the critics. "I'm rich; I can afford it," he boasted.
A few days later, however, he deleted the part in his blog post that contained his rant about me. He also deleted all of the dissenting comments – not just mine and Ron's – and his own responses to same. His explanation to someone who asked about the disappearing comments was that he had tried an "experiment" on his blog and it didn't work, so it was back to the regularly scheduled programming. My sense is that he either realized on his own, or was reminded by his buddy Major Snarget, that the rancorous discussion made both of them look pretty bad, while giving those pesky critics unnecessary publicity. Besides, there were fine cigars to be smoked, good Scotch to be consumed, and new ventures to be planned.
In the time since then, however, Major Snarget has written several posts on his blog, explaining why all of the critics of the selfish-help/New-Wage industry are wrong. Here is Cosmic Connie's capsule summary of his critique of the critics:
Critics of the self-help and personal growth industry are all under the delusion that money is evil, and are beating up on those who have money because they harbor these false ideas about wealth. But in reality those they criticize are all about love and Spirit and all of that good stuff, which the critics would be able to clearly see if only they weren't so blinded by their own false beliefs. (Fortunately, Major Snarget sells an expensive program to help people "clear" such beliefs. He links to it several times in every one of his blog posts, and there's a link on every page of his new free e-book, which he seems to have created for the sole purpose of marketing the pricey program.) In addition, Jesus, Mother Teresa, Buddha, and a few famous churches would all agree that money and marketing are always good. Money is Spirit; there is no distinction, so there is nothing wrong with making tons of money, especially since the snargets are making the world a better place in the process. Nor is there anything wrong with using some of that spiritual energy known as money to buy expensive cars and houses and such. So in reality, the critics have no basis for their criticism.I'm oversimplifying, of course, but not by much.
In one post, Major Snarget went on a bit about how history rarely remembers the critics, who are doomed to obscurity, whereas the targets of their criticism will no doubt be remembered forever, because they are doing important things with their lives. (So there, you critics.) He also suggested that engaging in criticism is keeping the critics from their true calling. A couple of points he didn't mention: (1) Not everyone is a fame-whore; though fame is a form of currency these days more than ever, not everyone aspires to be "wealthy" in that way, and many folks, including me, don't give a hoot if history remembers them or not; and (2) As the blogger on The Pyre implied, there's always the possibility that some folks' true calling is parody, satire, or even...gasp...criticism – even if they're not currently getting paid handsomely for their efforts.
It's probably all moot anyway, for it seems to be back to bidness as usual with the snargets and their buddies, who, last time I checked, were indeed still sitting around puffing on pricey cigars, plotting new ways to separate people from their money, and congratulating themselves for being masters of their little corner of the Universe.
That's how it looks to me, anyway. Your perceptions may vary.
And now a few words from the other side...
An anti-New-Wage blogger who had once been sort of an ally, but whose politics as well as his views on the evils of New-Wage culture are a bit too radical even for me, recently published a blog post about what a complete and utter hypocrite I am. One big point of contention is that I live with and deeply love Ron, and my detractor has issues with Ron. Not the least of his issues is that Ron has long been a student of a form of Buddhism, and the blogger despises Buddhism as well as most other flavors of religion and spirituality. Since I've frequently snarked about the McSpirituality factions of the New-Wage industry, my detractor wonders why I continue to tolerate Ron, whom he has called a "faux-Buddhist" (as if he is in any way qualified to know a "real" from a faux-Buddhist). In addition, since Ron and I ghostwrite, edit, and design books, and in the course of our years in business have worked on numerous self-help or spiritual titles, he accused us of knowingly running a scam and helping "scumbags" make money off of others.
I should note that he had previously published a derogatory post about Ron and me, but in this latest one he really went to town. What set him off was that I made the mistake of mentioning his name recently in a post dedicated to another one of my frequent and recent snargets, a notoriously deceptive but very successful marketer who has actually served prison time for fraud. Angry Blogger said I was using that guy's name to discredit him.
Actually, I wasn't. My reason for mentioning him in my post was simply to illustrate that not only politics, but commerce, makes strange bedfellows, as the old saying goes. Angry Blogger pretty much places New-Wagers in the same category as the liberal left, and he hates both, for he feels they are destroying our culture. My point was that the hustler extraordinaire who was the real topic of my offending blog post has somewhat invalidated the belief that New-Wage is inexorably tied to the liberal left. Said hustler seems on the one hand to pander to the conservative/anti-government paranoia crowd, but he is also catering increasingly to New-Wagers and the Law of Attraction crowd, who are indeed traditionally more likely to be political liberals. His appeal to both factions is that he is trading in "forbidden" information that "they" don't want the rest of us to know about. Naturally, his real agenda is capturing as large a market as he possibly can, so politics and belief systems don't matter nearly as much as having a valid credit or debit card and possessing the ability to sign up, wittingly or unwittingly, for automatic-billing schemes.
Angry Blogger himself is another illustration of "strange bedfellows," though in his case it's more related to politics and belief than to commerce. He's a right-winger who, unlike most right-wingers in the US, also happens to be an atheist. However, he is also anti-New-Wage to the extreme, which has led to what seems to be an uneasy alliance at best with some Christians who agree with his political opinions and/or his anti-New-Wage views. He has acknowledged the oddity of his alliances, explaining to me in the discussion accompanying his blog post that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
I responded that while this may work for the short term, it doesn't bode well for the future of the "friendship" once the common "enemy" has been properly smitten. He replied that he simply doesn't feel nearly as threatened by the Christian Right agenda as by that of the New-Wagers and the liberal left. He thinks the Christian Right is about preserving America, while the liberal left/New-Wagers are all about tearing it down. I'm the opposite; I feel more threatened by the Christian Right than by the New-Wagers. I would have suggested that we simply agree to disagree on that point, but in previous exchanges he had made it clear that "agreeing to disagree" is for wimps.
Although the point I was trying to make in my discussion with him was that things are not all black-and-white, he declares that they are all black-and-white, at least to those few who can see the world as clearly as he. There is good and there is evil and there is no in-between. He truly seems to believe he is fighting the good fight, and he says it will be a fight to the death. And not only was he angry that I had mentioned his name in conjunction with the notorious marketer, but he said that I, by refusing to acknowledge that all self-help/New-Wage is patently evil, am simply playing dumb. He speculated that this is either to preserve what he imagines to be my source of income, or to protect my relationship with Ron, or both.
This conflict could have gone on indefinitely, but I did a little blog sanitizing of my own, for the sake of restoring some peace. I simply deleted his name from the offending post, as well as two comments about him in the discussion section. After all, my big issue was and is with the actual subject of my blog post, not with him. As wrong as Angry Blogger is about Ron, and as much as I disagree with his politics, I also feel he's right about some, though not all, of his observations about New-Wage culture.** In the end, he made what I feel was a wise decision to remove his entire blog post.
Cognitive dissonance and me
I suppose by now it's pretty clear that I've received criticism from more than one faction in the belief spectrum. This could mean I am doing something very wrong and am indeed an incoherent hypocrite. Or it could signify that I'm just doing my job as a pot-stirrer. Or it could simply be an indication that I have mood swings and feel strongly about something one day, and not so strongly the next, and that I am always weighing my own beliefs and thoughts, and that this blog is an expression of all that stuff.
The one factor that both Minor Snarget and Angry Blogger have in common is that they have, in their own ways, suggested that I must surely be suffering from some form of cognitive dissonance, and that my writing reflects it. Take Minor Snarget, for example, who, as I noted above, has written that he believes the media are using the James Ray sweat lodge tragedy to try to destroy the entire industry. Not only does he feel that is unfair, but he also feels the critics are wasting their time, as neither James Ray nor the victims can hear us. He recommended that instead of playing judge, jury and jailer for James' gang, we devote our time and energy to worrying about and working to change real problems in the world, such as AIDS or genocide.
He even noted that he himself has participated in sweat lodges and wasn't harmed. He said that James Ray has led sweat lodge ceremonies at previous events and nobody died. He added that some of the folks "popped out" of the fatal sweat lodge "feeling just fine."
Increasingly, such declarations seem callous or just plain absurd to those who have really been following this story, particularly as more and more information comes to light about the October 2009 Sedona tragedy and previous James Ray events. This recently released affidavit for a search warrant is just one example of many. Although this document was released a couple of weeks after Minor Snarget wrote his blog post, a great deal of similar information had already been made public. Most people who have been following this story are well aware that there were problems at previous James Ray sweat lodges too.
Despite his ludicrous sweat lodge statements, however, there were some points on which I agreed with Minor Snarget regarding the media hysteria, and in my first comment to his post, I tried to express those points of agreement as well as the points of disagreement. Here's what I wrote, in part:
As for your larger points about the fear-mongering in the wake of the James Ray debacle, I completely agree with you that the talking heads have jumped on this story because it is sensationalist, and they're out for ratings. After The Secret came out, they were all over it, mostly in a positive way, for the first few months. Then when the waves of criticism hit, they took that and ran with it. Now comes the Death Lodge, and they're on that as well, playing up the tragedy from every angle...
Even so, the James Ray incident *was* a real tragedy. Moreover, I think it is disingenuous to try to dismiss the incident as just one extreme exception in a generally benign industry. There are some real issues and hard questions about the industry that I think need to be openly discussed, and "Sweatgate" brought some of these issues out into the open.
Personally, I don't advocate more laws. My general position is that there is already too much government interference in business and other aspects of our lives, and we don't need more policing. We do need to do a better job of teaching critical-thinking skills, and exercising those skills. We also very much need the free exchange of information, and yes, that includes criticism.
Minor Snarget replied that my comment was well-written but "perfectly incoherent" as usual, adding that my remarks didn't sound as if they came from the same writer who had gone on about "Death Ray" on my own blog. I responded that I do indeed have mixed feelings about certain aspects of this case, adding that I have used my long "Sweatgate" post to provide links to differing opinions on James Ray, and while most of them are anti-Ray, not all of them are. (And by the way, I don't advocate more laws and regulations governing the selfish-help industry. I have been consistent on this point throughout.) But those points of agreement were irrelevant, and the conversation rapidly deteriorated as Minor Snarget turned his focus on attempting to discredit Ron and me. His main point seemed to be that Ron and I are ignorant of our subject matter and therefore have no right to criticize it. End of story.
Though Angry Blogger and Minor Snarget are united in their annoyance with my apparent inconsistency, they couldn't be more different in their respective attitudes towards the self-help industry. While Minor Snarget thinks the industry creates enormous value for its producers as well as its consumers, and that for the most part the critics have their heads up their asses, Angry Blogger thinks the industry is made up of killers – of whom he feels James Ray is one, but far from the only one – as well as liars, thieves, sociopaths, psychopaths, and two-bit con artists.
Even if people don't end up dead, or even if marriages or other relationships don't break up because of the influence of some self-help guru, the industry is still harmful, he believes, because it forces its ludicrous and sometimes destructive ideas on our culture, often in insidious ways, and because, at best, its very survival depends upon persuading people to waste billions of dollars every year.
I realize that in most cases, whether or not folks are "wasting" their money or their time is their call, not yours or mine, and this is another point on which I essentially agree with Minor Snarget. (Of course this does not take into account instances in which people are coerced into purchasing products or participating in self-help activities, e.g., by bosses, teachers, parents, or other authority figures.) At any rate, I am simply explaining Angry Blogger's opinions of self-help. His opinions were formed by some harrowing personal experiences with some New-Wagers, as well as his own observations of New-Wage culture. He believes he is one of the few people who can clearly see what is going on, and he told me that by being even marginally involved in the industry, through having had self-help or spiritual authors as clients, I am participating in evil.
Got a gripe? Get in line.
It will probably come as no surprise that the two bloggers mentioned above are not the only folks who have criticized me. In the time since I first created The Whirled in late July of 2006, I've been lambasted at various times for being too skeptical or snarky, and for not being skeptical enough. Publicly and privately, I've been called stupid, naive, hypocritical, inconsistent, lame, incoherent, incapable of critical thinking, uneducated, unevolved, too willing to criticize things I don't understand, rage-filled, hate-filled.... and on and on and on. And those are just the criticisms I can publish. The others are random obscenities and death threats that, in my opinion, add nothing to the conversation.
Truth is, although I lean towards snarky more often than not, I do occasionally vacillate on some issues. This has been the case for many years, since long before I began writing this blog. And I generally am willing to listen to "the other side," allowing people who disagree vehemently with me have their say here, though I haven't and won't become a mouthpiece for them myself. (Apropos of hearing from the other side, I've recently spent nearly six hours talking on the phone with a self-help "insider" who is or has been very close to some of my major snargets, and I will be posting about those conversations soon.)
Regarding that accusation that my blog is fact-challenged: I never knowingly publish falsehoods, and with rare exceptions, such as this post, I provide links to all of the material I write about, so people can read it in context and make up their own minds. If I get a fact wrong, or if I make a wrong guess or speculation regarding something that is verifiable, anyone who notices it and doesn't like it is always free to inform me, and I'll publish a correction or retraction. I have always been pretty honest about being a lazy researcher at best when it comes to this blog – which is, after all, a hobby, not my livelihood – and I appreciate your help if you want to take the time to offer it.
More often than not, though, I get comments from people who say I'm spot-on in my observations and opinions. "Well, of course, Cosmic Connie; you're preaching to the choir here," you protesters might be saying. Perhaps, but some of those choir members have had some eye-opening personal experiences of their own with some of my snargets, not to mention years of experience in and around the self-help industry. In most cases, that's why they joined the choir in the first place.
Can the snark survive outside the "vacuum?"
Now we're getting to the part that's less about me and more about other folks. One point I hope to make with this rather long and convoluted piece is that critics of the self-help/New-Wage industry are not a tiny little group of broke, envious, uneducated losers, and they cannot be dismissed as easily as the gurus might wish.
First off, contrary to Minor Snarget's above-quoted Tweet, it's not just The Secret that has us "losers" up in arms. I don't think even he believes that, but that's the way he explained it to one of his followers on Twitter. Even I, with my second-rate mind, have been a critic of New-Wage culture since long before The Secret was, as I like to say, a gleam in Rhonda Byrne's third eye. The same is true of many other critical bloggers. The Secret merely brought much of what we've been satirizing and criticizing more into the mainstream.
Secondly, the criticism against self-help is not solely confined to a small group of "haters" on Twitter – again, contrary to Minor Snarg's claims. When Minor Snarg thinks of critical blogs he may be thinking of my Whirled, The Pyre, Salty Droid, Cassandra, and Terry Hall. He probably figures we are pretty easy targets (well, except for The Droid, who has legal expertise on his side, and doesn't hesitate to bite back).
But I wonder if Minor Snarg or his eager followers have ever so much as glanced at SHAMblog, written by Steve Salerno, author of a well-researched 2005 book called SHAM: How The Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless (again, a pre-Secret work). Actually it was my discovery of and participation in SHAMblog that first inspired me to start Whirled Musings back in 2006.
I wonder too if Minor Snarg has taken the time to read the considerable research of tireless reader Chris Locke, who runs the Mystic Bourgeoisie blog. I don't always agree with the way Chris connects the dots, but his research is impressive and he is a wickedly entertaining writer when he really gets going, and I can't wait for the book version of Mystic B, which he assures me he is working on.
Then there's Jody Radzik's Guruphiliac blog. Jody generally deals with the Eastern gurus, but he has done his fair share of criticism of some of the Western/faux-Eastern New-Wage gurus as well.
I've already mentioned Duff McDuffee and Eric Schiller's Beyond Personal Growth blog. But I'm mentioning them again because these guys are about as far from "haters" as anyone I can think of, and their knowledge of the personal-growth industry and its products is both deeper and broader than my own. This is not to say that I am ignorant of the self-help industry, as Minor Snarget claimed – far from it. I'm simply saying that on their blog, Duff and Eric are not casual snarkers as I so often am. Yet you don't see them with their noses up the hustledorks' arses.
And there's Steven Sashen, who has fielded some of the same criticism I have. Some say he's playing both ends against the middle because, they say, he has a finger in the New-Wage pie, and yet he has a critical (and very funny) blog, the Anti-Guru Blog. Some have criticized me for quoting him rather than snarking about him. It doesn't bother me. Steven is clever and funny and he probably knows enough dirty little insider secrets to put a few gurus out of business if he were so inclined. But I suspect that he'd rather just be clever and funny, and here's yet more evidence of that.
And there is Skeptico's blog. I've had my differences with Skeptico (see the link in the PS below), but we've worked them out. I enjoy his blog. He takes no prisoners. (By the way, on his December 29 post he makes it clear that Minor Snarget isn't the only one who's gotten a bit snippy at the critics. Deep-Pockets Chopra has too.)
Last but far from least is Respectful Insolence, a thoughtful and well-researched blog written by an M.D. who goes by the name of Orac.
All of these writers and many more are, in their own way, a part of the growing wave of dissent against New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality.
Most of the bloggers listed above probably aren't nearly as easy to target as I am, so it could be a while before Minor Snarget gets to them. And, interestingly enough, not all of these folks are on Twitter. (By the way, Salty Droid, whom I mentioned a couple of times earlier, says he has been banned from Twitter. Even so, he seems to have a rapidly expanding audience.) Together all of the bloggers mentioned here have a pretty broad readership, and an influence that reaches far beyond that of my little Whirled.***
The hustledorks circle the wagons
It seems clear that many of the hustledorks and New-Wage leaders are now on the defensive. They're not just annoyed; some are scared that their source of income might dry up. The bad publicity surrounding the James Ray incidents is indeed shedding new light on the industry as a whole, and even if this doesn't result in crippling laws and regulations, it is raising more questions and perhaps inspiring more folks to examine the industry with a more critical eye than before.
Threatening critical bloggers with "defamation" seems to be more popular than ever these days. Minor Snarget is certainly not the only one who's been rattling the legal sabers, threatening to go after the Pyre blogger and other critics. As I mentioned above, another of my allies, the aforementioned Duff McDuffee, has been threatened by Bill Harris, star of The Secret and perpetrator of that Holosync gimmick. As I also noted above, Duff is pretty much into personal growth himself, much more so than I, but he's fed up with the New-Wage hustledorks too. (He was one of the participants in Minor Snarget's discussion, and has respectfully participated on Major Snarget's blog as well, but has had his comments summarily dismissed and "blessed" by the Major.)
Bill Harris took umbrage at a post Duff wrote, "The Hollow Sink of Push-Button Enlightenment," in the wake of the James Ray debacle. As participants in James' Spiritual Warrior event were required to invest in the Holosync system, and as Holosyncing was apparently a big part of the Spiritual Warrior event, this was a very timely article. In addition, Duff has tried Holosync and has discussed it with others who tried it. In his opinion, it's way over-hyped and over-priced. Bill didn't like that opinion one bit, and sent Duff a cease-and-desist, along with threats of further legal action. You can read all about it here, in this piece by Duff's co-blogger, Eric Schiller.
Apparently Bill is worried about his pristine reputation being compromised by Duff's opinion piece. In an email to Duff he summarized the unpleasant ways in which Duff's life would be changed if Bill chose to pursue a lawsuit. Eric pointed out something that perhaps Bill hadn't considered:
What Bill Harris does not realize is that Duff McDuffee (and I for that matter) have zero monetary assets to speak of. Additionally, if Harris does actually bring suit against Duff, we will do everything in our power to make it as public as possible. This publicity would negate the whole point of a defamation lawsuit in the first place, the preservation of the “public image” that Harris’ seemingly holds so near and dear. Finally, Harris will have to prove in the court of law that he does not use manipulative marketing techniques and that his “holosync” program does exactly what he says it does. We are confident that Harris would not be able to prove either of these things in any manner enough to satisfy a federal judge.If you follow the link above and read the comments to Eric's post, you'll see that Duff has a lot of supporters (as well as a persistent detractor or two). And if you follow this link, you'll see what Salty Droid has to say, in his own inimitable way, about Bill Harris' lame attempt to silence Duff. And do follow that link. Salty Droid is always a fun read, and his Photoshopping is hilarious.
Speaking of someone who has been on the Droid's radar (and mine, too, for nearly three years), Aussie Secret star David Schirmer is a legal saber-rattler too. In March of 2009 David, who has been accused of and is apparently still being investigated for various wrongdoings in Oz, effectively put a chill on some of his critics on Twitter by threatening to sic "a top defamation barrister" on them. They took their critical Tweets down and issued identical apology Tweets: “I unreservedly apologise for posting any tweets directed towards @davidschirmer that have been proved wrong." Some even canceled their Twitter accounts.
I've heard that other New-Wage gurus have been issuing legal threats as well, though I'm not at liberty to share details right now.
Certainly the gurus have a right to protect their own interests, and if someone is deliberately spreading lies about them they have a right to act. And certainly bloggers have a responsibility to both their readers and their subjects to be as accurate as possible when reporting facts. (Opinion and satire are other matters entirely.) But if you're a New-Wage guru, hollering "Defamation!" whenever a critical blogger calls you a name or criticizes your product doesn't serve anyone except the lawyers, and it makes you look like a doofus.
Yet there has been a concerted effort of late to silence the critics. Well, guys (and gals), it's too late; the word is out. The critics have your number. Silence one, and three more will pop up.
Okay, we're back to talking about me now.
As for me, my Whirled just keeps turning. It has been a contentious few weeks in my corner of the blogosphere, but ya know what? I'm grateful for all of it, because it has given me yet another opportunity to re-examine my beliefs (or lack thereof), as well as my motives. Yes, really. I'm not so arrogant as to believe that there aren't lessons for me everywhere. Smart people learn more from critics than from the folks who love them, after all. I have actually mulled over the question of whether I do indeed create value, a question we all need to ask ourselves at various times in our lives. However, I was reminded once again, even as I was mulling, that "value" is in many ways a subjective judgment – which, as it happens, was one defense of the self-help industry offered by the very guy who told Ron and me that we are incapable of creating anything of value.
The various discussions have also given me another opportunity to think about whether I really am suffering from cognitive dissonance, something I've pondered at different times for many years, since long before I even knew what a blog was. And yes, sometimes I do feel conflicted about seemingly contradictory things in my life. Most of us do, if we're honest. I've sometimes wondered if I am being a little dishonest by working with self-help or spiritual or inspirational authors, when I snark so much about the culture from which they spring. Yet the truth is that I do enjoy some books in these genres, and most of the clients we have dealt with have been genuinely nice people who seem to want to help others. I make no attempt to hide my hobby blog from anyone, and you could say it serves as a screening device to help weed out the types of clients who would not be a good match for Ron and me. (I should add that Ron and I have turned away many more projects in this genre than we've accepted.)****
For the most part, I'm pretty comfortable with having mixed feelings about lots of things and few pat answers for anything.
Finally, the discussions in which I've been involved have served as a reminder to me that I do not always err on the side of kindness, empathy, or "mindfulness" (which, let's face it, means different things to different people, whether or not they are schooled in mindfulness meditation or whatever). It occurs to me that perhaps some of the people I've snarked about simply got their feelings hurt by my snarking, and maybe that's what their real issue is. That said, I cannot promise at this point to set a new course for kindness and gentleness. I sometimes feel I am being too kind anyway, and that I am wisely erring on the side of restraint if not kindness. And, obviously, when people end up dead, injured or scammed because of some New-Wage guru, kindness and gentleness towards that guru are not the first priority. Everyone deserves compassion, but I guess I'm not enough of an evolved being to have as much sympathy and empathy for James Ray at this point as I do for the families who had to deal with newly empty places at their holiday tables this year.
However, where my own snarks about certain subjects are concerned, I have taken the time to consider the hurt-feelings factor. Let's just say I'm taking it under advisement.
I'm wondering if some of the snargets and "critic watchers," or their followers, have been using these online discussions as opportunities to re-examine their own motives and practices. No doubt several of their recent blog posts were influenced by these conflicts as well as by the growing wave of criticism in the larger world. It's far more likely, however, that the conflicts have only strengthened the snargets' resolve to keep on doing what they're doing, and believing what they're believing. That's what it's looking like to me right now, based upon various Tweets and blog posts I've glanced at recently.
I am sure that to a certain degree all of us who were either involved in or have witnessed these recent conflicts have used the experience to justify our respective choices to think and do whatever it is we're thinking and doing. Some would call it rationalization. Whatever you call it, it seems to be what we human animals do, more often than not, in order to keep ourselves marginally sane in an insane world. I'm not excusing it, just stating an observation. Besides, I often suspect that we're all just fooling ourselves about being even marginally sane.
However it all plays out in the year to come, I hope all of you are having a happy holiday and that your new year is just grand – and that even goes for those of you who don't like me. To my friends on the road, and you know who you are, I wish you a safe trip and a joyful arrival at your destination. To those who like me, thank you for the support. To those who don't like me, thank you for the lessons.
And to all of you... hey, you're welcome.
PS ~The links below might provide a little more insight into the "incoherence" of your hostess. Those of you who have been with me a while have no doubt read all of these posts, but those who are fairly new might want to take a look at some of them. I'm thinking I should incorporate some of the points in the posts into a FAQ page for this blog.
- My backstory, and I'm sticking to it: http://cosmicconnie.blogspot.com/2006/07/how-i-got-so-cosmic-or-not.html (this one also has links to some older pieces I wrote that may provide more insight)
- In which The Snark gets all squishy and introspective at Yuletide: http://cosmicconnie.blogspot.com/2006/12/yule-blog.html
- Taking some of those Yule thoughts a few steps further: http://cosmicconnie.blogspot.com/2007/03/chopra-secret-and-unenchanted-world.html (this was written at the height of The Secret's popularity)
- Some critical thinkers take me to task: http://cosmicconnie.blogspot.com/2007/02/confessions-of-not-so-skepchick.html
- A believer takes me to task: http://cosmicconnie.blogspot.com/2009/03/hell-hath-no-fury.html
PPS added in 2010: My conversations with self-help insider Peter Wink (alluded to in my post above) also touch on some salient issues.
** I should note that Angry Blogger is not representative of skeptics in general (and, by his own admission, has been banned from some skeptical forums). I simply consider him to be an extreme case of anti-New-Wage sentiment.
*** Some might think that when listing critics I am overlooking Barbara Ehrenreich, whose recent book, Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, had a few New-Wage gurus and their followers up in arms. Many dismissed the book as the work of someone who has lots of rage issues, and some even suggested that was why she contracted cancer. I am definitely a fan of Ehrenreich's work and I enjoy her blog, but I didn't list her with the others because she doesn't confine her commentary to New-Wage/selfish-help matters. (Of course it could be argued that Orac doesn't either, but he has discussed some of the New-Wage gurus, such as Deepak Chopra, at length, so I included him on the list.)
**** I was a writer, editor and author's advocate before I was a snarky blogger, and believe it or not, I even tried to be an author's advocate of sorts for Major Snarget when I noticed a borderline-insulting author's biography on the web site of the publisher of one of his recent books. It was lifted straight from a particularly unflattering incarnation of the man's now-defunct Wikipedia page. Why would a publisher allow such a thing? I wondered. Does this publisher or his webmaster dislike Major Snarg that much? Since Major Snarg had put me on his spam blocker, I couldn't send an email to him, so I sent one to his assistant. There was no response so I sent another one. There was still no response, and the entry stayed on the web site for several more weeks. Finally I sent an email to someone else in Major Snarg's circle of influence, and the entry was corrected not long after.