Friday, December 5, 2008

Dissecting The New Age Movement, Part II: The Fault Is Not In Our Stars But In Ourselves

I want to tell you a story:

The other day, I'm on a break at work, and I find my friends looking up at a configuration in the evening sky. It's a multi-cultural group - blacks, whites, a cute young woman from the Philippines - and as I approach, the woman is saying she wants to wish upon a star.

"Whatchu gonna wish for?" a black guy asks.

"I don't know."

"Whatever it is, it won't work," I say, taking my place amongst them.

"Why not?" The group asks, turning as one.

"Because those aren't stars - they're planets."

"That's the Moon, that's Venus, and that's Jupiter", I say pointing. "Jupiter's the biggest."

"How's Jupiter the biggest when we can see the Moon?" a white man asks.

O.K., this stumps me. Not because I don't know the answer but because I can't believe the simple-minded question. I look at the various faces in the group. They all want to hear the answer.

Needing to know how much they understand (so I can explain things at their level) I pose a few questions first:

"See the Moon? It looks like a fingernail, right? Where's it's light coming from?"

A few people say "I don't know" and others shrug, still giving me a look that says they're waiting for my answer about Jupiter.

"The Moon's light comes from the Sun." They look up at the Moon, then each other, and then back at me; skeptical - and still waiting.

And with that, I point to the eastern sky, using it's darkness (and the hope they at least know the sun rises in the East) to begin what had to be one of the world's most basic astronomy lessons, which I wound up by holding a dime (Venus) near their faces and tossing a quarter (Jupiter) a few feet away, and asking, "O.K., which one looks bigger now?"

Actually, that's not completely true: I really wound it up by asking them what their "star signs" were, which they all knew intimately. But not so intimately they didn't start asking each other crazy questions to see who was "compatible" with who. Now, it was my turn to look skeptically at them.

"Now Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn't already have,..."

-- America, "Tin Man"

I'm telling you about this episode to make a point - a point about what is generally known out there. None of my co-workers are dumb, and they all have more responsibility (and thus, make more money) than I do. Hell, I was the only one in the gathering who doesn't even own a car. My new friends work at a hospital. But, I've since discovered, they know very little outside of how to make it there.

I first encountered The NewAge Movement through my ex-wife, Karine Anne Brunck, a woman who was convinced coincidences were magical happenings, and talking to psychics was something worth paying money for - and she also had to have the plot lines to films, like "Memento", repeatedly explained to her. Now consider this:

She was, also, an extremely-competent secretary who could handle the business dealings of a Silicon Valley millionaire.

See, there are these huge gaps in the knowledge base of all of us, and those with "spiritual" beliefs - like the folks in The NewAge Movement - come at them from every angle imaginable, single-mindedly preying on those holes, and providing complicated answers to those of us who, for whatever reason, aren't willing to do the hard work of finding out the truth of how simply the world works. Those who stop their self-education have no defenses against The NewAge Movement. As I said in Part I: NewAgers "make an unknowing public think lies are truth and truth are lies."

And they've been at it a long time.

I just wanted to establish that much about the landscape, before I go into any further breakdown of NewAge, cultism, it's leaders, their goals, etc.. I think it's important to say - clearly - this isn't an intelligence test.

I once did two posts showing even well-known scientists have, at one time or another, fallen under the spell of some aspect of NewAge's influence. Some scientists stay that way, and don't even know it, because they don't understand it's their education level that blinds them to the nonsensical nature of what they're looking at. They feel "smart" as they mock some of the more outrageous aspects of NewAge, like the belief in Homeopathy or anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, while still defending and supporting others, like efforts to combat "man-made" Global Warming/Climate Change.

But many, if not most, believers in extreme NewAge ideas are well-to-do and very smart as well. And it's that which gives them the financial resources - along with the smug feeling they're safe - to be taken advantage of by a bunch of cultists, kooks, quacks, and charlatans. Couldn't happen to them?

Boy, could they ever be wrong about that.

*Tomorrow I'm going back to the regular format for a bit - to get all caught-up on the "news" (as it were) - and then I'll continue with this:

Stay tuned.



  1. To the The Crack Emcee,

    How about we call it what it is from now on. Stupidity. I'm not willing to struggle with the cognitive dissonance of "They're intelligent BUT".. or "They're smart..BUT".

    That your co-workers have cars and responsibilities doesn't mean they aren't dumb. They are in fact dumb and stupid, and will likely remain so.

    And well-to-do has no direct relationship with very smart. Stupid people can be TRAINED to do most things, even brain surgery. This appears to make them look intelligent, but it is only TRAINING. As you pointed out about your new friends, "they know very little outside of how to make it there".

    Stupidity should not be confused with poor memory, poor immediate recall or lack of information or facts due to lack of exposure to the subject.

    You can spot the stupid by the reaction to supplied missing information. The stupid will be left confused, bewildered or blank, and you rarely see the light bulb come on to some simple thing they didn't know before.

    Couple that with incredible tenacity in clinging to the absolutely absurd, and you have stupid to the tenth power, known as "NewAge".

    Consider this definition of stupidity from Wikipedia;

    ..stupidity denotes an incapability or unwillingness to properly consider the relevant information.

    And this:

    Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, pg A133/B172; tr. J.M.D. Meiklejohn; Paul Guyer (1998) translation:

    "The lack of the power of judgment is that which is properly called stupidity, and such a failing is not to be helped. A dull or limited head, which is lacking nothing but the appropriate degre [sic] of understanding and its proper concepts, may well be trained through instruction, even to the point of becoming learned. But since it would usually still lack the power of judgment (the secunda Petri), it is not at all uncommon to encounter very learned men who in the use of their science frequently give glimpses of that lack, which is never to be ameliorated."

    You were the only one in your group of friends that day (and everyday, judging by your excellent site) that isn't stupid. Car or no car.

    By the way, have you seen the movie 'Idiocracy'? I used to think it was an amusing comedy but I now see it as a documentary.

  2. JRN,

    You're quick:

    You noticed I chose my words very carefully - I said "dumb" (unable to speak) and didn't say "stupid" - which is exactly what they are.

    "Stupid" is what most of the people I know are, but (since many of them read my blog) I have to kinda watch my step:

    They're also prone to severe retaliation.

    For now, I live in a danger zone - the San Francisco Bay Area; a NewAge "power spot" - and they've proven, repeatedly, that I'll pay a (personal and financial) price for offending their delicate sensibilities. I've already lost my marriage, my livelihood, my friends, and my reputation, to this foolishness, so (sometimes) I try to be a little careful. This is a new job, y'know?

    Anyway, thanks for the kind words, and you can look for me using your comment for a "Best E-Mail Of The Day" post later:

    You've made my day!