Whirled Musings

Across the Universe with Cosmic Connie, aka Connie L. Schmidt...or maybe just through the dung-filled streets and murky swamps of pop culture -- more specifically, the New-Age/New-Wage crowd, pop spirituality & religion, pop psychology, self(ish)-help, business babble, media silliness, & related (or occasionally unrelated) matters of consequence. Hope you're wearing boots. (By the way, the "Cosmic" bit in my moniker is IRONIC.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Self-help regulation: necessary safeguard, or Nanny-state nonsense?

Here's another post I've had in the hopper for a few months. It's one of those more "serious" pieces. Frankly, I'd rather be snarking, but once in a while I have to shed the snark-skin and join the larger conversation. So on a whim, I dragged this thing out of the archives, shook the dust off of it, threw in a few updates... and, well, here it is. The focus of this post is not on "new news"; rather, it is a summary of various perspectives on the James Arthur Ray sweat-lodge tragedy and the self-help industry at large. The big issue it addresses, in an admittedly circuitous fashion, is one that won't go away: whether or not the self-help biz should be regulated.

As I've done with previous lengthy offerings, I'll warn you right off that, well, this is long. Painfully long, maybe, almost like an LGAT session (except free, and you can leave whenever you want). I know that the sensible thing to do would be to break it into two or more parts, but I wanted to publish it all at once, since it is, in a sense, paving the way to a multi-part post I will be publishing soon. But hey, at least I divided it into sub-headed sections. You can just read it in bits and pieces if you want. Feel free to skip over the stuff you already know (but at least read the "'historical' perspective" section. You might find it interesting.).
And remember, if screen fatigue threatens to make you as blind as a Russian wish dolly, you can always draw an extra pair of eyeballs on your lids, or, better yet, print this thing out. Just circle the links that look interesting to you and follow 'em later.

In the wake of the infamous incident that has alternately been called Death Lodge, Sweatgate, and the beginning of the end of the self-help industry as we know it, there's a big question being bandied about: Should the self-help industry in the U.S. be regulated? If you have Libertarian or pro-business leanings you might frame the question like this: Is throwing more legislation at the problems going to fix them, or will more stringent oversight simply strangle the industry? In lieu of government regulations, should there simply be more self-policing? 

These issues have been discussed in various ways on numerous other blogs and, increasingly, in the mainstream media, such as ABC's Nightline. CNN has tackled the matter too, one example being the link below regarding Deepak Chopra.

For a few who are involved in the industry – specifically, those who have engaged in online marketing scams – the question is moot because the party is pretty much over. The Federal Trade Commission's new disclosure requirements, implemented on December 1, 2009, have put a bit of a damper on deceptive online marketing, which, of course, has significant overlap into the self-help world, and not simply because most of the self-help gurus market their stuff online. There's also a "cultural overlap," if you will, as well, mostly in the form of some incestuous joint-venturing and cross-promoting. Also affecting some businesses were new credit card policies that became effective earlier this year. Thanks to those new regs, a few online scammers have had their merchant accounts canceled.

However, those new laws and policies were targeted to Internet marketing, not the stuff that goes on at week-long "spiritual" retreats. More than likely, none of the new initiatives would have prevented the tragedy at Sedona in October of 2009, the one in San Diego in July 2009, or any number of other deaths and injuries related to self-help events over the years.

In other parts of the world – Australia, for instance – there's a movement afoot to exert tighter controls on the multi-billion dollar self-help industry. If you've been hanging around some of the "critical" blogs for any length of time, you're probably familiar with the sad case of Rebekah Lawrence, whom I wrote about in September of 2009. Rebekah was a young Australian woman whose psychosis and resulting suicide in December 2005 have been linked to a Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT)/self-help program called The Turning Point. A couple of other suicides have also been linked to the same program. "Turning Point" seems an apt name, as the Rebekah Lawrence case, and the spotlight on those other tragedies, did indeed seem to mark a turning point in the way Australia deals with the self-help industry.

Even before Sweatgate made world news, there was considerable buzz in Oz about stricter regulations and licensing requirements. (On the other hand, the Aussies are apparently not having a lot of luck pursuing a formal parliamentary inquiry into the Church of Scientology. The stumbling block is that CoS is an organized religion, and Australia has much the same reluctance as the US when it comes to the state interfering with religion.)

So what about the good old U.S. of A., the epicenter of selfish-help/New-Wage/McSpirituality?

Right off the bat, I know a few folks who will say, "Hell, yeah, Cosmic Connie, the self-help industry should be regulated! Where have you been for the past few months?" Well, I've been right here in front of my computer, and I know that many have spoken out for more controls. One of the most vocal is Terry Hall at the Bizsayer blog. Terry and his wife Amy, a former employee of James Ray International, arguably have more inside information on which to base their opinion than do many of the rest of us. Helping to put the reins on the dangerous aspects of the industry has pretty much become the Halls' mission in life. In a December 2009 post Terry makes a case for regulation, framing it in a discussion of the retrospectively disturbing "waiver" form that participants in the fatal Sedona event had to sign. He notes that such waiver forms are common in the industry.

Terry further explains his position in a sidebar on his Bizsayer blog:
I am typically dead set against regulation of any kind. But, after the deaths caused by James Ray in Sedona I am changing my position for Seminars and Coaching Reform.
I want to see seminar companies licensed & regulated.
I want to see "coaches" licensed.
I want to see accurate results reflected in seminar advertising.
I want to see "fair business practices" defined for the seminar industry.
I want full disclosure of credentials, certificates, licenses and methods used during seminar programs.
(Here, by the way, is Terry's response to a detractor who apparently thinks Terry is just going to go away if James Ray is cleared.)
I think that at one point I may have exasperated Terry and perhaps some of my other allies by consistently expressing the opinion that the last thing we need are a bunch more rules, regulations, licensing requirements, and whatnot. Believe me, this opinion doesn't come from any lack of sympathy for the victims of self-help gurus, and certainly not from any sympathy for the victimizers. At any rate, in a comment he made this past January to my long James Ray post (comment #240, which may not show up on the initial screen), Terry wrote:
It's interesting to see your shift about seminar regulation. The seminar/self-help industry is already subject to FTC guidelines and it has not prevented financial, emotional and physical harm to their customers.

The Real Estate, Financial Services, Insurance, Contracting, Massage Industries have been licensed due to their propensity toward unethical business practices and behaviors which have caused harm to consumers and the general public.

While licensing does NOT ensure the public is protected, it does provide a "code of ethics", "business standards & practices", "a barrier to entry", "a grievance process" and "stipulated recourse for violations" which serves to protect consumers from charlatans.

The $11,000,000,000 self-help & personal growth industry, in my mind has proven that it will not "self-regulate" and continue to take everything it can, including human life from their customers.
I replied:
Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Terry. Actually I haven't shifted on my position (not yet, anyway); being the quasi-Libertarian I am, my first tendency is to advocate freedom of information rather than more laws and restrictions.

Am I being too idealistic? Maybe. It is one of the questions I've been weighing since long before the James Ray debacle came to light. On the one hand, there is the prospect of a "Nanny State," which I find a bit unsettling. How far are we prepared to go to protect people from their own choices?

On the other hand, I realize that consumers aren't necessarily making *informed* choices when they sign up for an event and aren't told ahead of time exactly what will occur during that event. (The waivers that participants are made to sign don't count.)

I also realize that businesses have a tendency to try to get away with anything they can get away with in order to make a profit. Sometimes it does seem that it takes a heavy hand to keep this impulse in check, to prevent people from being scammed or physically harmed, and to give victims some recourse. 

So I can certainly understand why many people think there should be more regulation of the self-help industry. I'm just not prepared at this point to say the government should put a stranglehold on the industry.
I think the issue is further complicated by the fact that so many of the gurus deal in the realm of the spiritual as well as more mundane areas such as, say, finances and fitness. So I wonder if freedom-of-religion issues would come into play. [Kind of like the problems that Australia is currently facing with the Church of Scientology. ~CC]

The issues are complex and I am open to more discussions about this. And I want you to know, Terry, that I respect what you and Amy are trying to accomplish, and it looks to me as if you are both motivated by a desire to help people. 

On the other hand, another vocal advocate of regulating the self-help industry is the (in)famous Deepak Chopra, who seems to be more interested in protecting his turf than in protecting consumers. That's how it looks to me, anyway. My sense is that he feels that because he is an M.D., he would be insulated from any attempts to clip *his* wings. Never mind that in the opinion of many other M.D.s (and other folks as well), he is pushing an insidious form of pseudoscience...
Anyway, thanks for weighing in on this important issue.
Regarding Chopra's stated opinions on the matter, here is a transcript of his December 8, 2009 interview on Anderson Cooper 360. He seems to think the regulation needs to come from "within the healing professions: from psychotherapists, from spiritual pastors, from people who are offering these therapies; I think this needs to be done." Could this mean that he assumes that he would have a hand in those regulations for the entire industry? Shudder. Whatever you think about Chopra, however, he did tell Anderson Cooper that the Chopra Center performs a thorough psychological screening of clients, adding, "...suicides occur in hospitals; suicides occur even in intensive psychiatric therapy treatments and in facilities. So when people can escape the vigilance of such professional institutions, it's a bit foolish for people to think that they can take vulnerable people and subject them to intensive therapies without knowing their psychological status or their psychiatric background."

Moreover, there does seem to be a problem with certain types of "life coaches" practicing therapy or even medicine without a license, as writers such as SHAMblog's Steve Salerno have discussed extensively (and I've even touched on the topic myself). I realize there are many good, sincere, and qualified people in the life-coaching industry. Responsible coaches know when to refer their clients to therapists, and do so. It's the irresponsible ones we need to worry about. 
But how do we determine what is "therapy" and what isn't? And do we really want the likes of Chopra deciding who can practice in the self-help industry?
When thinking about Chopra and other industry insiders who might possibly be in favor of more regulation, I wondered if more regulations might possibly have some unintended consequences for consumers as well as speakers or workshop leaders who might not have the "proper" credentials, licenses, or whatever (or, more realistically, the money or desire to join all of the "proper" organizations). Although the analogy is far from perfect, I couldn't help thinking of the recent discussion over IRS plans to regulate and control tax preparers in the U.S. Of that issue one blogger wrote:
Unsurprisingly, major industry incumbents have voiced their support for the new policy, because it will mean that they “won't be competing against people who aren't regulated”. Caught between increasingly burdensome taxes and IRS prohibitions on alternative services, taxpayers will have little choice but to do business with them.
Ah, the Iron Triangle between regulators, established interests, and consumers. Guess who gets the pointy end?
As I said, the analogy isn't perfect, but it's something to think about.

Another long-time advocate for more oversight of the self-help industry is John Curtis, Ph.D., founder of Americans Against Self-Help Fraud (and originator of the annual Scammy Awards, which, I imagine, will have some entirely new categories this year, thanks to Sweatgate). In the discussions on several blogs, including that of a pharmacology/toxicology expert who goes by the name of Abel Pharmboy, Dr. Curtis wrote:
It's easy to vilify Mr. Ray, however, the consequences of his actions are now in the hands of the judicial system... but what of the REST of the self-help "industrial complex?" I respectfully submit that we (consumers and producers of self-help) establish the Association of Self-Help Professionals or whatever name seems most appropriate to elevate the professional and protect the public. All that is lacking now is the motivation and leadership. If you consider yourself a self-help expert OR if you are a consumer of self-help products, I urge you to consider working together to turn the Sedona Sweat Lodge deaths into a legacy that salutes the work of the earliest self-help experts like Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie, honors the efforts of well-intentioned, self-help professionals of today and turns the deaths of those who died in the Sweat Lodge... Liz Neuman, Kirby Brown and James Shore into a legacy for the betterment of the self-help profession and society.
On the discussion on Abel Pharmboy's blog, Salty Droid responded:
@DrCurtis :: I echo your cry that this incident be used to cast a harsh light on the "self help" "industry" as a whole. But I wonder if the underlying science is objective enough to keep an association from becoming a part of the problem over time. Bernie Madoff as the head of NASDAQ comes to mind. Associations have a dangerous tendency to become cartels.
On a discussion on his own blog (here's the link to the post, and you seriously need to check out his video on that post, if you haven't already), the Droid responded to an "absolutely nameless" detractor who seemed to be the same one who had made some snide and nebulously threatening comments on the blog previously. "Nameless" told Droid to "show some 'nads" and either come out and say James Ray is guilty of first-degree murder, or shut the f--k up. (This discussion took place before James was officially charged and arrested.) Droid responded that it is clear that James will not be prosecuted of first-degree murder, so that point is moot, and he is not going to shut up, because...
I’m much more interested in showing how this was a long term pattern of abuse :: how it was just business as usual. The public deaths were an above average mistake :: but they only serve to illustrate how dangerous and horrible the situation with ConMen has become.
Of course, showing “nads” on that subject will be super bad for all the other “gurus” :: because they would like nothing more than to label Death Ray [an] aberrant bad apple. But that’s not the case. He’s just one of many cogs in a sick machine.
And Droid is busily and happily attempting to deconstruct that machine even as I write this. It is a rare and wondrous thing to see a blogger who loves his work as much as the Droid does.

Defending the faith
Everybody and his or her dog knows by now that James Ray's defense team has been very busy, as evidenced by these "white papers" that were released to the public earlier this year. In case you and your dog missed it, here's the link to White Paper No. 1 and here's the link to No. 2. From the beginning it all sounded like "number two" to most of us. Nevertheless the legal eagles did their job with great care, meticulously painting James as a hero of personal growth and all of his followers as strong, educated, capable people who knew exactly what they were getting into and willingly did so. If anyone was to blame for the terrible accident, it was those awful folks who built that darn sweat lodge. Of course, as we now know, the whitewash papers didn't prevent James from being charged on three counts of reckless manslaughter for the Sedona tragedy.

While James Ray's defense and PR teams are doing their lawyer-ly and spinny stuff, and James himself continues his own bizarre nattering on Twitter, his colleagues in the self-help biz are still, for the most part, reticent. Although a few of his close associates and fans have steadfastly defended him and continue to do so, and beleaguered Aussie Secret star David Schirmer said early on that he is in James' corner, the silence among most of his colleagues has been deafening. With the exception of Deepak Chopra, who made the dubious claim that he'd never really, truly heard of James Ray before Sweatgate, very few in the top tier of the New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality industry have made any public statements about the matter. Most who have made public utterances have been as neutral (and yawn-inducing) as possible. Bob Proctor, for example, who was one of James' earlier mentors, said James is basically a good person who is dedicated to helping people, adding that he, Bob, hopes James will learn from the experience. (See what I mean? Yawn. Here's the link to the article quoting Scientist Bob.)

Several people have mentioned that so far there seems to be no official statement from the gurus' secret society, the Transformational Leadership Council (TLC), of which James Ray was a founding member. (I briefly visited the TLC when they were in Bermuda in July 2009, and mentioned them again in January of 2009 when discussing the New-Wage kinky-sex experiments of one of their esteemed members.) While there may be no public statement from the TLC, though, James Ray's name is no longer listed on the appropriate "Members in Good Standing" page

The discretion among the gurus is understandable, of course. While I'm sure that most of them would say they simply have better things to do with their time than focus on negative stuff, my take on it is that it's good old professional courtesy, and it's good business too. They want to keep all of their options open. If James is completely cleared of any wrongdoing, those who have any sort of joint-venture deals or cross-promotional schemes with him will want to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible. Should a genuine backlash against the current wave of self-help criticism arise as a result of James being cleared, he could end up being the poster martyr – a true hero in gurudom – and they'll all want a piece of that.

I know many of y'all think such a scenario is unlikely, and you may be right, but I'm not ruling out any possibility at this point. If he is convicted, then the gurus can officially cut all of their ties with him and either denounce him or just pretend he never existed. If he isn't convicted of criminal charges but has to spend the rest of his life and all of his resources defending civil suits, and is no longer a "player" in the New-Wage biz, they can still turn the page on him and forget he ever happened. For now, it's really better for them all around if they just sit on the fence.

But not everyone has been silent or even particularly discreet. A few apologists have shifted out of neutral, declaring that both the mainstream media and blogopshere critics have seriously overreacted to the tragedies. Sweatgate, some of these apologists claim, was just one isolated example in a basically benign industry. Well, okay, it was one of two examples, if you count the Colleen Conaway suicide at a James Ray wealth event in San Diego in July of 2009. Or...well, all right... it was one of maybe a few examples, if you count the broken bones and other injuries suffered by others during exercises at various James Ray events. (Naturally, all of those unfortunate events are neatly 'splained away in the aforementioned "white papers," and I'm sure the defense team is honing their 'splanations as I write this.)

I admit to a certain annoyance myself at some of the mainstream media for hammering away at this matter. But that's mainly because some of the same media outlets that expressed such shock and outrage over Sweatgate were the very same ones who provided a platform – essentially, free publicity – for James Ray and his colleagues for years, particularly after The Secret became such a hit. But I suppose I should keep in mind that the news divisions are more about ratings than about taking a stand, to say nothing of a consistent stand. ("Just like you, you incoherent, illogical little mosquito," I hear at least one of you muttering to me.)

Some defenders of the self-help industry claim that the critics are illogically arguing that because people died at James Ray events, all self-help is dangerous or destructive, and therefore the entire industry needs to be eradicated. Although in my opinion such an argument would indeed be illogical, the truth is that very few if any critics are actually saying they think we should do away with the industry entirely, and throw the baby out with the bathwater, as it were. That is simply a straw man that enables some self-help apologists to more easily dismiss or demonize the critics.

As for the notion that the James Ray-induced tragedy is an aberration, well, see Droid's "sick machine" quotation above.

Going back in time: a little "historical" perspective
I think it's important to remember that at least some of those who have staunchly refused to criticize James Ray, or have even halfway defended him, are veterans of the untamed era of the early
human potential movement. Long ago, though not so very far away, before the Internet and smart phones (yes, before cell phones, even!), some really crazy stuff was going on. Those were the days before est became The Forum and then the Landmark Forum, and the anything-goes formats of various encounter groups were shocking the buttoned-down world. 

Although numerous bloggers and mainstream journalists have written about the casualties of those early encounter-group days (particularly those associated with the ever-controversial est), I have a feeling that some people, particularly younger ones, still fail to realize how jaded these experiences might have made some of today's defenders of the faith. To some who lived through those wild times and participated in their share of wacko workshops, the techniques and exercises utilized by James Ray and others like him can be summarized in three words: No. Big. Deal.

But it's not just a generational thing; the same NBD attitude seems to exist among some younger participants in "experiential" workshops and other events that have sprung up in more recent years. To those who are into "extreme" activities, a New-Wage retreat utilizing potentially hazardous techniques is nothing to get hysterical about. And although I would like to believe that none of the older encounter-group veterans or younger workshop participants dismiss the Sedona or San Diego deaths as NBD, I suspect some of them think that participant injuries at an LGAT event aren't all that extraordinary. It's all simply part of experiencing life "full-on," as James Ray himself (in)famously liked to say. Yes, you might break your arm or shatter your skull or accidentally end your life. But if you survive, you just might have a breakthrough.

A couple of months ago I was re-reading a story that reminded me of all this stuff. Although I've snarked many times about Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale, I have enjoyed several of his books, including Adventures Within: Confessions Of An Inner-World Journalist, which he self-published through the print-on-demand company AuthorHouse in 2003. Adventures Within is sort of a spiritual autobiography, and I find it noteworthy for Joe's frankness about his early life as well as his personal insights into various LGAT and cultish organizations. To me it seems a far more honest work than some of his later books and many of his current writings.

In a chapter titled, "The Orange Blossom Train Ride (and Crash) of Rajneesh," Joe writes about his experiences as a disciple of the late guru, Bhaghwan Shree Rajneesh (later known as "Osho"). As you're no doubt aware, to call Rajneesh controversial would be erring very much on the side of understatement. A flamboyant Indian (of the Eastern variety) who owned not one, not two, but one-hundred Rolls-Royces, give or take a few, Rajneesh was easily one of the most notorious spiritual leaders of the 1980s. Even today, twenty years after his death, he has a worldwide following. As a matter of fact, one of the most vocal relatives of one of James Ray's Sedona victims has been known to quote from "Osho" on his Twitter page.

During the more than seven years that Joe Vitale followed Bhagwan, he ran Bhagwan's Houston meditation center, visited Bhagwan twice when the guru was in Oregon, attended some of his discourses, and arranged major publicity events for him in Texas. He writes that he became interested in Bhagwan's work while he was living in Houston and working as a truck driver in the late 1970s. (Yes, I know he says he was homeless on the streets of Dallas in the late 1970s, but perhaps that was the earlier late 1970s. On some of his sites he says he was homeless on the streets of Houston. I have just plain given up on trying to keep all of the stories straight. But that doesn't matter for the purposes of this story.) Joe writes that he received his official welcome-to-the-fold letter from Bhagwan, along with his new disciple name, Swami Anand Manjushri, in September of 1979. He used his disciple name in various capacities for years, even publishing his first book, Zen and the Art of Writing, under the name Manjushri Joseph Vitale.

Like most chapters in Adventures Within, the Rajneesh chapter is divided into sub-headed sections. In the section titled, "Broken Arms, Bloody Noses," Joe describes some of the intensive and extreme experiences to which Bhagwan's followers were subjected. There was, for example, the extraordinarily strenuous hour-long "Dynamic Meditation" that included a lot of maniacal jumping around, screaming, and the like. The days-long "encounter" groups were even more grueling, and offered a hefty dose of what most of us would view as extreme physical and psychological abuse. Joe writes:
Bhagwan's groups became known for their no-holds approach to growth. He attracted some of the most respected therapists in the world, people from Esalen and England, Switzerland and Germany, and Bhagwan gave these leaders freedom. The encounter groups were often so intense that arms were broken. Yet no one -- that I know of -- ever complained. They willingly signed up for the groups and, scared as they might be, willingly went through them.
Emotional and even sexual abuse were not uncommon either in the land of the Rajneeshees. Joe goes on to describe an "intensive" he attended at the Rajneesh meditation center in Austin. He didn't get any broken bones but did suffer a bad nosebleed while watching a new disciple be humiliated in front of the attendees by the group's facilitator.

The new guy was on all fours in front of the room, bare-chested, and two big men physically restrained him while the leader taunted him. The leader said, "Your wife slept with two other men last night. How does that make you feel?" (Rajneesh's groups were infamous for encouraging promiscuous sex, which was one reason Rajneesh was sometimes called "the sex guru.") As the hapless man struggled to free himself, the leader called for the two men who had allegedly slept with the disciple's wife to come up to the front of the room. They did, and the leader continued to taunt the man, asking him, "What do you want to do?" The disciple answered, "I want to f----g kill YOU!" and he lunged at the leader, but his captors held him firmly in place. The leader encouraged him to "feel the anger" and let it go through him. The man groaned and screamed and howled like a wolf, and finally he collapsed. "My nose was bleeding now," Joe writes. "We all watched as the disciple cried and cried. It was pitiful." 

Yet he adds that as tragic and insane as it sounded, the guy was transformed, "feeling better and looking happier" after the incident. Joe writes that the disciple needed to "dump his pain about his wife's infidelity before he could relax." (All of which just raises the question of whether there would have been any infidelity in the first place were it not for the sexually-charged environment of Rajneeshee culture.) 

Joe describes other incidents as well, such as watching while the meditation center's leader masturbated an attractive female disciple as about thirty other disciples sat in a circle around her. Since the female disciple was fully clothed, Joe at first thought the leader was doing some kind of "energy work" on her. Turns out he was right. He says that Bhagwan and his group leaders encouraged people to act on their impulses, whatever those might be. Joe writes, "This sort of freedom of expression, as you can imagine, got a lot of disciples in trouble." But he adds, "Despite the insanity in these groups, sanity was usually the result of them. In a paradoxical way the madness led to peace."

He explains that encounter groups "were popular in the sixties and are still done today," adding, "But none of them gave such complete freedom – nearly a license to kill – as did the groups sanctioned by Bhagwan." Joe wrote that despite his flaws Bhagwan was a "super-psychologist" and that there was "an overall divine purpose for going through such intense encounter groups." He adds, "After all, Hemingway said a broken arm is stronger after it's healed. And lord knows I was able to breathe better after the blood came out of my nose." No word on what the long-term effects were for that hapless disciple, though. One wonders if this man or his marriage became stronger as a result of his being cuckolded by his wife and then humiliated in a room full of people by the leader of the Bhagwan group. 

Of course, all of this took place a very long time ago, perhaps before some of the people reading this blog post were even born. Joe is no longer a Rajneeshee and has not been one for many years. He had been out of the group a few years at the time I met him. In Adventures Within, Joe writes that although he maintained his love for his guru even during the time Rajneesh's organization was being accused of embezzlement, sexual misconduct, political misdeeds, and even bioterrorism, he did eventually become disillusioned. He thinks Rajneesh was a genuine teacher with a sincere desire to serve, but let his ego get the better of him. "He put himself in a dangerous position – many would hate him, many would love him – but his life would never be ignored. Or forgotten," Joe writes. He says he is grateful that he wasn’t more involved with him; many folks left their families and work, sold all their possessions, and completely redirected their lives in order to be with Bhagwan.

In Adventures Within, Joe also has an interesting chapter about his experience with The Forum, the kinder, gentler version of est. As in the Bhagwan chapter, he describes intensive encounters during the long weekends of the course. At the end of the chapter he says he's glad he took The Forum but would not recommend it to his readers, for several reasons. He explains that too much time and energy were devoted to aggressive upselling and warns that you should "be prepared for a snow job" if you go to one of their introductory sessions. (I know: the grousing about upselling is a bit ironic coming from one of the reigning princes of upselling, but there you are.) He says that the whole thing seemed too random and wasn't all that effective (pp. 115-117 in Adventures Within). Keep in mind that he wrote this in the early 1990s. I believe that was before Landmark bought out the company and Erhard pretended to go away entirely (yes, I'm one of many who believe Erhard still has a few fingers in the pie, particularly since his little brother, Harry Rosenberg, heads up Landmark Forum these days).

As for Joe, his more recent opinions of The Forum seem to be on the positive side. On the promo page for his republished edition of a 1970s work, The Book of est, Joe writes, "I did The Forum and endorse it today. But it's no est." The implication is that it isn't as effective as est, but I'll leave it to you to figure out exactly what he means. Or he can write a comment here and explain it himself. Maybe he does endorse the Landmark version of The Forum today, which seems determined to distance itself from the icky side of Erhard (though the Landmark folks are not above giving some credit to him for setting the foundation so many years ago). Maybe the caveats Joe wrote in Adventures Within only apply to the version of The Forum that he took nearly twenty years ago. However, that version was closer in spirit to Erhard's est than is the modern incarnation, and Joe wrote that he didn't particularly like it...and yet he now seems to be praising est and Erhard on the sales page for The Book of est... and oh, goodness, my brain is hurting again.

Flashing forward to much more recent events, Joe hasn't gone out of his way to publicly defend James Ray, whom he has referred to as a friend on numerous occasions on his blog (mainly by virtue of their being in The Secret together), but he has not publicly spoken out against him either. And he has been a bit snippy on his blog at the mention of Sweatgate. Like most of his colleagues in the top tiers of the industry, he seems to be taking the "let's reserve judgment" tack.

All appearances to the contrary, the point of telling those stories isn't to pick on Joe. I've picked on him plenty on this blog, some say unfairly, but that's not the purpose here. Joe's experience with Bhagwan, and for that matter with The Forum, are but two examples of many similar tales of long-time seekers. And that's my point: After hundreds and hundreds of hours of workshops and seminars, of trying one breakthrough technique or spiritual path or LGAT training after another after another, many people do have a tendency to accept as normal what many other folks would think of as pretty disturbing. Crazy becomes the new normal. 

This is not to excuse anyone who uses LGAT techniques or any kind of persuasion or manipulation to harm others, of course; it is merely an attempt to explain how some people's attitudes may have been formed. And I think it only fair for me to add that many long-time observers/critics have also developed a certain nonchalance about the wackiness that prevails in the New-Wage world. This is particularly true of those of us who have participated in LGATs ourselves at some time in the past.

In fact, I'll even go so far as to say that before Sweatgate, I was pretty complacent regarding what I thought I knew about what really goes on in these events. (I won't presume to analyze other critics' complacency/jadedness or lack thereof; I can only speak for myself.) As I've discussed here before, I've always more or less had the attitude that most of the self-help stuff is more silly or annoying than harmful. That's why Sweatgate took me somewhat by surprise.

And that's why I'm always interested in the perspectives of those who, viewing these issues with fresh eyes, are utterly appalled by some of the things that even I took for granted. Cassandra Yorgey, for example, got a bit of flak for expressing shock about the detailed and intimate questionnaires that James Ray's Spiritual Warrior participants had to answer. She wrote about it on October 29 and October 30, 2009. I'm sure that many people who have participated in or have any extensive knowledge of LGATs might think there's nothing terribly out of the ordinary about this or similar questionnaires. (I still intend to write a post about my own LGAT experiences, but the passing mention in this 1996 piece (under "What I did with a bunch of strangers in a hotel") will have to do for now.)

But really, the sex questionnaires do seem pretty smarmy, particularly in light of what apparently goes on behind the scenes with some of these New-Wage gurus. Even some people who are veterans of the self-help industry agreed with Cassandra, e.g., Andrea de Michaelis, publisher of the Florida New-Age magazine Horizons. In response to Cassandra's October 29 post (October 31, 9:45 AM) Andrea wrote, "No responsible teacher brings up anyone's shame-based, especially sexual issues in an unprotected setting, period."

Given that criterion, it seems there have been an awful lot of irresponsible "teachers" in the business over the years. Here's an example of James Ray being irresponsible with a Harmonic Wealth Weekend participant who had money and grief issues. This seems wrong on so many levels that I don't even know where to begin. But it does remind me of how much has not changed since my own LGAT days.

And yet much has changed over the years. We live in a culture that is more sensitive to things that were more or less taken for granted not so long ago, and our laws and policies reflect this. For example, it almost used to be a rite of passage for young guys to have a fling with an older woman, even — gasp! – a hot young teacher. Today that teacher would be hauled up on charges of sexual abuse of a minor. It would be the top story on the local or even the national news, and the teacher would almost certainly lose her job.

More relevant to this post: although encounter groups were certainly controversial in the 1960s and '70s, there was still a certain degree of acceptance of them in the larger society. Maybe it's more accurate to say they were ignored, for the most part, or not taken all that seriously, since they were so non-mainstream at the time. Human potential/self-help hadn't reached a critical mass in our culture. Today, if something bad happens at a seminar and it gets publicized, it's more likely to get lots of negative attention from the media.

Of course, cooking people to death in a sweat lodge, or watching an event participant jump off a balcony and then trying to cover it up, are pretty awful things by yesterday's and today's standards.

Caught between two worlds...
Despite the silence among most of the upper-tier self-help gurus, there are a few people – I guess you could call them the working grunts of the self-help industry – who cut James Ray no slack, such as Michael Port, author of the Think Big blog. In a January post he wrote, "This is not the first time a narcissistic sociopath with a god-complex has lead people to their deaths and unfortunately it won't be the last time." He also writes about how he sometimes feels caught between two worlds....
...the world of traditional, time-honored medical and psychological practices and the world of ontology or the study of being, existence, from a philosophical and personal development perspective. At times these worlds are at odds and at other times they are aligned. I grew up in a psychologically-minded home. As I mentioned above, my father is a Psychiatrist. My mother is also a mental health professional, a Clinical Social Worker, who specializes in early childhood development with almost as many years experience working with psychologically, physically and sexually abused children. My parents operate with a degree of integrity I rarely see displayed elsewhere. I imagine, it's one of the reasons that I'm so upset by what happened in Sedona.
Maybe a lot of it comes back down to the question of whether or not self-help gurus are practicing therapy – or even medicine, in some cases – without a proper license. Michael Port points out that the mental-health professions are regulated because they mess with people's minds. Since so many of the self-help gurus do the same, shouldn't they be subject to stricter oversight?

Much more in-your-face than Michael Port is motivational/sales expert and author Grant Cardone, who threw some potshots at James Ray on the Huffington Post web site a few weeks after the sweat lodge tragedy took place. He wrote that he'd met James at his (Grant's) home in San Diego seven years ago when James was still trying to break into the seminar bidness. According to Grant, he warned James...

"Don't confuse me with some of the guys out there. I teach valid measurable business skills that can be transferred. We teach companies sales skills and best practices and implement measurable processes for the company. We don't do fire walks, board breaking, trust walks, or use tricks to sign people up...Guys that do these things are not experts at anything and harm people by giving them illusions of power with no valid improvement in skills."
Now, I sort of have to take this tale with a grain of salt, especially since Grant seems a bit on the hustledorky side, and I am being kind here. Of course, his area of expertise is sales of high-end items such as cars, so hustledorkiness kind of comes with the territory. He certainly doesn't seem to be above performing fear-conquering gimmicks himself, such as eating fire, but apparently he doesn't make his seminar participants do it (though he does seem to love "Eat the fire!" as a metaphor). And it appears that he is a Scientologist, which is a whole other level of evil, beyond the scope of this blog post. Still, I have to agree with his conclusion about James Ray and his ilk.

What these individuals [such as James Ray] provide is certainly impressionable, but not transferable. Experiential and memorable, absolutely, but unusable[.] [O]n Monday when the seminar is over, if you live through it, it's gone. These guys aren't gurus, but frauds who are short on valid teachable material that is applicable in the real world and will resort to anything and everything to electrify the audience, creating a false sense of power and making it easier to sign them up for future events.
One obvious point here is that people such as Michael Port and Grant Cardone are not in the top echelon of the self-help/motivational industry, and arguably don't have nearly as much to lose by throwing James Ray under the bus as, say, Bob Proctor or Joe Vitale. But it is precisely for that reason that they have more license, if you will, to speak their minds. (Again, notwithstanding the Scientology connection where Grant is concerned.) So I think they're worth listening to, even if in some cases their own agenda to promote their products and services is...well...searingly obvious. 

"Outsiders" with "inside information"
For those who don't want to listen to someone who has a dog in the self-help hunt, there are journalists and commentators who, though on the critical side of the fence, have some interesting things to say about the industry. Start with the aforementioned Steve Salerno, author of
SHAM: How The Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless. (And by the way, Steve just completed a three-part piece on SHAMblog about The Landmark Forum. Here's the link to Part 1. I think that the discussions following the posts are as interesting in their own way as the posts themselves.) Or try Barbara Ehrenreich, who tackles the positive-thinking movement in her book, Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Both Steve and Barbara tend to take a more serious view than I do about the insidiousness of the self-help/positive-thinking culture.

If you want the perspective of someone who is more spiritually oriented than many of the critics but still has no patience for hustledorks, my own Rev Ron (who, by the way, coined the word "hustledork") has published a blog post about James Ray's possible pathology. Ron doesn't think that more regulations are necessarily the answer, and here's his reason:
I don't propose establishing a system of strict regulation to oversee the self-help industry, mostly because it wouldn't work. Remember: You can't idiot-proof the system; they'll just come up with better idiots! The scammers would simply find ways to work around the rules, and their marks would just rationalize that some malevolent "they" are trying to deny humanity of its birthright. If you doubt the second statement, just go to your favorite "guru's" website and compare the bold-headline promises with the fine-print (and frequently difficult to find) disclaimer statement. What you'll find is a deft volley, in response to the FTC's latest serve. And if you're willing to lend as much credence to the former as you are willing to put "faith" in the latter, there's little chance you'll be hoodwinked, wounded, or even killed.
Above it all? 
Since we've been discussing the various attitudes that may ultimately help determine future policy or legislation, no discussion would be complete without a nod to those who scoff at the selfish-help/New-Wage industry but also look down their noses at the victims for being weak or stupid or gullible. The categorically unsympathetic seem to be in the minority, but were quite assertive in the time immediately following the breaking of Sweatgate. There are a few October 2009 posts on the Belch.com site that, out of respect for the victims and their families, I'm not going to link to here. You can look them up.

Blogger/law professor Ann Althouse is another person who wrote that she just couldn't understand how people could be so "stupid" as to stay in the sweat lodge when things were clearly going wrong. In a post written two weeks after the tragedy happened, she wrote, "...50 people can push one man out of the way. As they should have done, after the first hurl." 

While I admit I have gotten a chuckle at some of the Belch.com blogger's other posts that so clearly portray his impatience with the human species in general, I have to say I wasn't amused at all by the James Ray posts. As for Ann Althouse, I can only hope she's modified her views somewhat since more information has come to light, but, judging from a more recent and very succinct post, I tend to think that neither she nor most of her readers have wasted much energy on compassion for anyone involved in this tragedy.

People who lack sympathy for victims of New-Wage gurus or other 
persuasive leaders overlook the fact that any one of us could be susceptible to coercive persuasion techniques under the right circumstances. I think Cassandra Yorgey did a fine job of summarizing this topic as it relates to the James Ray tragedies. It has also been discussed at length on the James Ray thread on the Rick Ross forum. That thread is nearly 80 pages long as I write this, but if you haven't been following it, here's a pretty good place to start, and then you can go forward or backward as you wish. 

Those with a really personal stake
However you may feel about the wisdom – or folly – of more oversight of the self-help industry, it's difficult to ignore the pleas of the families of James Ray's victims. The family of Kirby Brown, one of the first two who died from the Sedona sweat lodge,
has created a foundation in her name to explore regulation of the self-help industry. The site presents a pretty balanced view, all things considered:
There is value in this industry, and experts in it who genuinely have something to offer in a safe and responsible way. However, there are others in the industry who abuse the platform they have created, simply for their own gain. In seeking their own ends, they exploit their customers and even put these customers in danger, using psychological techniques they are not certified in, therapeutic treatments they are not trained in, and orchestrating dangerous physical challenges without proper safeguards in place.
Some claim that the victims of self-help fraud are weak. But anyone who knows Kirby knows she was far from weak. Many experts on the issue note that it is not just "weak" people who can become victims of this type of fraud. All types of people from all different backgrounds are susceptible. The issue is complicated, too, by the fact that the mainstream media can legitimize these fraudulent members of the self-help industry, simply by giving them the opportunity to promote themselves.
There is a great need for far more scrutiny on this industry, by both the public and the government. These people are breaking laws that already exist. It is very likely, though that there is also a gap in public policy to adequately regulate this industry. Our goal now is to bring attention to this issue, and call for some action--both in applying existing legal protections to the industry and developing new ways to help protect people from this type of fraud and recklessness.
Others who were deeply affected have spoken out in their own way. Among the most recent to raise his voice is Bryan Neuman, the son of one of the Sweatgate victims, Liz Neuman. He has been a participant on Salty Droid's blog for a while, and more recently has made some poignant and pointed remarks on Twitter, mostly in response to James Ray's own seemingly insensitive tweets. James is getting a lot of angry responses to those tweets, by the way, and seems to be responding to some of them in a rather passive-aggressive manner. (I know: big surprise that a New-Wage guru would be passive aggressive.)

Friends and family of James Shore, the other person who died after Sweatgate, and the family of Colleen Conaway, have also spoken out.

Back to the issue at hand...
Since this post has gone on more than long enough, I'll just bring it back to the original question (I warned you it might be circuitous): Should the self-help industry be regulated more than it is under existing laws? If you think it should be, what does "regulation" mean? Many people agree that there should be more safeguards in place, but exactly what are proper safeguards?

On the other hand, do you think that we might be opening up another can of worms, and running some genuinely good and well-meaning folks out of business (or preventing some from even going into business in the first place), by trying to impose new rules and regulations on yet another industry? Is calling for more regulations on the self-help biz paving the way to more government control of everything that every one of us does, says, or publishes?

Arizona blogger Trudy W. Schuett, publisher of the AZ Rural Times blog, summed up the quandary pretty well in a January 2010 post:
I think what would be called for if this industry were to be regulated in any way would require, ironically enough, not only the wisdom of Solomon but also a crystal ball to identify potential difficulties, while not impinging on the autonomy of the individual’s right to his or her beliefs. [Yep, there's that freedom-of-religion issue again. ~CC] There will always be people who are looking for shortcuts to wealth or spiritual growth, and unscrupulous providers of same. It may not even be possible to determine who those unscrupulous individuals and groups are before they cross the line into causing harm and breaking laws.
I still lean towards Libertarian-ish views myself (I'm stubborn that way). I think Ron's quotation above pretty much summarizes how I feel. But I can definitely see Terry and Amy Hall's points about some issues, particularly the need for full advance disclosure about events, so people can know ahead of time what they're getting themselves into. (Actually, even Terry says he is pretty much Libertarian-ish for the most part.)

On the issue of transparency and disclosure, Salty Droid, in his usual "fabulously hilarious" manner, gets right to the point on his March 9, 2010 post. He contrasts what the Spiritual Warrior participant guide – sent out by James Ray in July 2009 – actually said about the event...
Keep in mind that we will be working diligently to make this event memorable. For this reason, it is important that we do not disclose any further information regarding the event schedule or planned activities. However, we will tell you that it is going to be an exciting, unforgettable, and transformational week!
...with what it perhaps should have said:
Keep in mind that previous iterations of this event led to dreadful calamity and serious injury. Broken bones, broken bank accounts, brain damage, and long term health problems are all previously encountered outcomes. It is also important to note that nothing new will be learned, and that your guru for this event has not been trained in ANYTHING … EVER. He’s just a douche bag salesman with his own serious mental health issues. However, we will tell you that some people are going to die during this event … and it just doesn’t get any more transformational than that!
There's a lively discussion on that one, too. Naturally.

Even absent licensing requirements for anything marginally related to the personal growth industry, it seems clear that at the very least, consumers would benefit from more transparency regarding gurus' and coaches' credentials and qualifications, and certainly from more transparency about what to expect during a workshop or retreat. As a guest blogger on Terry Hall's Bizsayer blog wrote in February of this year:
Every professional field has the burden of being marred by idiots within that field....Hence: licensure. Even so, there are licensed idiots out there causing havoc in people’s lives. So I wonder sometimes if it is really possible to fully regulate any field that claims to help others. Ultimately, people will have to regulate themselves when they sign up for an experience (whether it is free or they are paying an obscene $9000+). But how can they do that without FULL DISCLOSURE? Doesn’t seem the attendees of JRI have full disclosure, nor did they receive their “waiver” in a timely manner!
Amen. I'm just not so sure we should get the government deeply involved. In any case, I really am interested in all opinions about this issue.

Meanwhile, I wish peace and healing – and justice – for the families of Kirby Brown, James Shore, Liz Neuman, Colleen Conaway... and anyone else whose lives have been torn by the actions of James Ray or any other selfish-help gurus.

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Blogger SustainableFamilies said...

Well I'm not really libertarian-ish. I'm actually more socialist-in-theory. Although full on socialism is a terrible idea so I kind of refrain from pretending I know what we should do.

I really just plain don't. I used to know lot's of anarcho-punks who were totally certain that anarchy would immediately create a peaceful vegan farming utopia within months because that's our "true nature" and "the government" is the source of all evil.

I don't know. I've ultimately come to the place that while I hope we can come up with something better than what we have, I'm not exactly sure what that is. And we as human beings are going to have to big the biggest source of that. But the thing is, people don't help each other.

Hmmmm, ok I'm too bent on this political ideology issue... I'm gonna go think... now I have to write a post...

The question: what would happen to the orphans if there were no state agencies to care for them?

What happens in countries where children aren't accounted for by the government is that they often get sold as slaves. I think that even happened in the US, back in "the day". I'm not sure if I fully understand libertarianism other than from my uncle who portrays it as "no social programs, those are for losers and burdens on society, who will self eliminated once social programs are abolished" ans such, but he's a wanker, so perhaps I've misinterpreted libertarianism.

GOD I'm totally off topic and I actually like this topic. I'm having to go all the way to the political ideology in order to get why you are worried about government involvement.

Thursday, March 11, 2010 6:27:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Not off topic at all, SF! You make some good points. We need government to look out for us to a certain extent. Finding the balance between looking out for us and stifling us is the trick. Anyway, I'm glad you joined the discussion here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010 6:42:00 PM  
Blogger Duff said...

Unlike Fox News, this excellent post was fair and balanced. I appreciate your efforts to bring in all the major perspectives on Sweatgate.

I also appreciate the backstory on Vitale's involvement with Osho. It almost changes my opinion about "Dr." Fire...almost, but not really given everything else!

As far as regulation goes, I can understand both points of view. Personally I feel that regulation would clean up the ranks of 2-bit guru types, but the major gurus have the power, money, and savvy to skirt the law, create a new religion, etc.--whatever it takes to take the masses for all they are worth.

The financial sector is regulated, and that didn't do a whole lot to prevent massive corruption. Ditto for the insurance companies. Massage is a pretty clean industry in the West due to regulation (except for the sex industry version), but there are no "massage gurus" in the same way as self-help gurus.

Friday, March 12, 2010 1:10:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Salerno said...

Connie: Nice post.

I can understand the aggrieved cry for "regulation!" And I think it should be clear that I--as much as anyone (well, perhaps as much as anyone who hasn't suffered a death because of it)--would like to see SHAMland have its Waterloo. But I can't even begin to imagine how most such SHAM-specific regulations would work without also resulting in horrific infringements on free speech and entrepreneurship (and an equally horrific climate of prior restraint, etc). Then again, I'm also someone who didn't like a lot of the safeguards put in place after 9/11, so maybe I'm just on the wrong side all the way across the board. I just think there are some prices we have to pay for the freedoms we enjoy. To eliminate every possible risk is to eliminate every form of freedom.

I do believe, however, that there are many existing remedies that haven't been enforced. For example, I think that the bulk of the promises made in connection with the Law of Attraction are clearly, manifestly fraudulent, and when money changes hands on the basis of those promises, surely the FTC has a legitimate interest in the matter. So too, any number of the supposed "wealth-building" programs are at least de facto pyramid/Ponzi schemes--which, of course, are already illegal. I also believe that some of the more intense seminars are an instance of practicing psychology without a license, and thus remedies exist there, too. There are numerous possible approaches to tightening the reins without resorting to the broad-scale licensing and pointed government oversight for which some are now arguing.

Friday, March 12, 2010 7:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cosmic Connie

Focusing and having an isolated trajic incident, e.g. having "James Ray" be the center piece of your write up seems distorted to me. How does one single case in any domain make a statement about the whole domain or category of domains? I am sure it can but it usually does not. One bad Dr. or dentist or molesting or being neglectful or inappropriate is not necessarily statement Doctors or medicine or even useful to focus on.

Sometimes there are random street accidents and the whole neighborhood and the local government spends a ton of $ and recourses on an inquest and studying it from many angles, when all that really happened was a bit of bad, perhaps an old man not paying attention and walked out from behind a van and being struck down by a car driven by a person who was not paying attention . It really says nothing about cars or drivers or that section of street. And the resulting inquest is often a huge distraction and misleading waste of recourses that just serves to preoccupy and perturb everyone in the neighborhood.

I am not familiar with the James Ray case but my understanding is that that kind of even is not common. I have participated in "vision quests" and sweat lodges and they were brilliant. If any person offers the community something, anything, little kids selling lemonade by the side of the road with water that has e coli poisoning for example, and does a shoddy job of taking care of people - there will be problems. They are unique accidents and the kinds of problems we face with a 7 plus billion person planet and every problem does not necessarily mean all kids should be banned from selling lemonade. It is a poor and wrong conclusion and there seesm to be allot of that type of thinking going on these days. The way you are using the James Ray case and using his name to attract readership and the broad conclusions you appear to be making, seems misleading and flawed IMO.

Friday, March 12, 2010 9:20:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Duff wrote:
"I appreciate your efforts to bring in all the major perspectives on Sweatgate..."

Thanks, Duff. So much has been written about this that I'm sure I didn't cover all of it, but I think I covered the main points that might possibly influence future policy or legislation.

"Personally I feel that regulation would clean up the ranks of 2-bit guru types, but the major gurus have the power, money, and savvy to skirt the law..."

I agree. There will always be some gurus who find a way around all of the restrictions. Add to this the other factor I've groused about on this blog before -- the fact that the public has a short memory -- and it will be all that much easier for the clever and savvy gurus to do their thing. Gurus who have been in trouble of one kind or another can simply reinvent themselves and go on about their business. And if they're clever enough they'll find all the loopholes. Meanwhile, Draconian restrictions might discourage or prevent good people from entering the industry altogether.

Friday, March 12, 2010 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Steve Salerno wrote:
"There are numerous possible approaches to tightening the reins without resorting to the broad-scale licensing and pointed government oversight for which some are now arguing."

Exactamundo. You and I pretty much see eye-to-eye on this one, Steve. (And some of the increased restrictions and safeguards since 9/11 scare me almost as much as 9/11 did.)

Thanks for stopping in!

Friday, March 12, 2010 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger RevRon's Rants said...

She's baaack!!!

Consistent with her (or similar sycophants') previous comments on this, my own, and Steve Salerno's blog, anonymous exhibits a clear desire to attack an attitude, without bothering to discover whether the target of her attacks has provided relevant context. Her contention that Ray is a "center piece" of your efforts is akin to stating that a newspaper's report on a sex scandal summarily defines the newspaper as a tabloid rag. Dismissing the credibility of a given forum without bothering to ascertain the actual premise of the forum (much less, the viability of that premise) is not only disingenuous, it smacks of laziness as well.

Furthermore, the assertion that the sweatlodge tragedy is merely an isolated incident is ignoring the well-documented acceptance of dishonesty, lack of respect for customers' well-being, and fraudulent practices so prevalent within the self-help/LGAT industry.

The analogy to the kids' lemonade stand would be more accurate if the kids were making their lemonade using water they dipped from a puddle in the street. While they would have no reason to believe that the water was contaminated, neither would they have bothered to determine whether it was safe to drink.

For all their incestuous hype and defensive posturing, too many of the self-help "gurus" have made no effort to determine the safety of the products and programs they offer. Ray's case is but a clear example of how carelessness in the pursuit of profit can be not only lacking in real value, but downright deadly. And in the final analysis, attributing their behavior to mere "carelessness" is probably giving the scamsters significantly more benefit of the doubt than most of them deserve.

Finally, I find it interesting that this commenter is so quick to label your motives - attracting readership - while defending the credibility of a man whose actions (and failure to act) have resulted in the loss of lives, and who has exhibited a complete unwillingness to so much as accept the tragedy of those deaths, much less, any kind of accountability for the part he played.

All that is lacking in her defense is a demand that you provide documented proof as to the proper meaning of "is," or other similar obfuscation. And, of course, her eventual rail against the Nazi-like censorship that is surely the reason for her ultimately being banned from participation.

Friday, March 12, 2010 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 9:20:
I used James Ray as the focal point for this issue for one simple reason: It was Sweatgate that brought the issue of self-help regulations out in the blogosphere and the mainstream media. Perhaps in your zeal to determine my motives for writing this lengthy post, you were unable to see this. Or maybe I just didn't make it clear enough in my post.

BTW, I have written about James Ray several times previously. Maybe the problem is that you haven't been a reader of my blog for very long. Your comment makes me believe that is the case.

If you've participated in sweat lodges and vision quests and found them brilliant, good for you. My post was neither "for" nor "against" such things. The only reason a sweat lodge was mentioned was that...um...it was a sweat lodge that killed three people under James Ray's tutelage.

And you mention that I made "broad conclusions." The one point I thought I did make clear was that I am still up in the air about the issue of self-help regulations and haven't come to *any* conclusion.

OMT: You have got to be kidding me when you say you are not familiar with the James Ray case. Do you seriously expect me, or anyone else reading this conversation, to believe that?

Friday, March 12, 2010 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks, Ron, for your excellent counterpoints to Anon's points. I have to admit Anon does sound a bit like the one who has been engaging Steve and you of late regarding Landmark/LGAT. (If I'm wrong about that, Anon, my apologies.)

One main point Anon seems to be overlooking is that I personally am not arguing for tight restrictions or outright bans where the self-help industry is concerned. In fact, although I haven't reached any conclusions, I'm pretty much *against* restrictions and bans. This person clearly did NOT read my post, or read it without comprehension.

And for her/him to believe that my use of James Ray was merely a ploy to attract more readers...well, again, s/he obviously either did not read my post or did not understand it, and doesn't seem to be all that familiar with my blog.

Friday, March 12, 2010 11:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cosmic Connie

I should not ever talk about other people's motives because I have no way of knowing that. I apologise.

"James Ray was merely a ploy to attract more readers..."

But on this subject of self help "James Ray" does seem to be the current, flavour of the day kicking post and villain and is the feature face and "story" on a few other blogs. It is not that outragious to say that it could be being featured because it is a hot topic and has the power to attract an audience.

But I take back saying or implying that you were doing that in any way.

Friday, March 12, 2010 12:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

I found your post long and I admit skim skim skimmed it. I may have missed your point. After I sent my comment, I looked again at the (great, and funny) photo you had embeded at the top of the post, and I got the feeling that I did not get something about you or what you were saying but it was too late - I had already sent the comment.

Friday, March 12, 2010 12:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

was it clear to you that I was not and am not "defending the credibility" of James Ray nor making any comment on or about him (who I don't know) whatsoever?
I fall short sometimes but I try not to gossip. And I would view talking about James Ray as gossip.

Friday, March 12, 2010 1:19:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

No worries, Anon. (I knew this post was loooooong and I apologize if you got screen fatigue.)

Yes, for better or worse, James Ray is the "flavor of the day" because of the number of deaths and injuries associated with his events. And as I noted in a previous comment, I made him the focal point of this post because Sweatgate was the event that brought the discussion of self-help regs to the forefront.

Past history indicates that the stink will eventually die down, however. After that, it may just be business as usual, whether there are new restrictions and regulations or not.

After all, Heaven's Gate -- and Jonestown a generation before -- caused many more fatalities than James Ray. There was enormous worldwide publicity over these events, and everyone agreed they were just awful. Yet that hasn't put an end to dangerous or just plain wacko cults all over the world (whether new-age/New-Wage, traditionally religious, or whatever).

Similarly, the James Ray tragedies could end up just being tiny "dings" that don't really affect the self-help industry as a whole. Even if James goes out of business for good, more will take his place, in this generation and/or the next -- regardless of the laws.

However, I still think that the conversations that are taking place on blogs and elsewhere will make more people aware of the pitfalls of following gurus. Perhaps as a result, some of the smarter gurus will clean up their acts, and maybe more people will stay away from the "dirty" gurus. So in that sense, change might really take place -- without enacting more laws and restrictions.

Anyway, thank you for clarifying, and I'm sorry if I sounded a bit snappish earlier.

Friday, March 12, 2010 1:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

While I don't know anything about the James Ray story other then the two minutes I saw on CNN, and now nothing about that person outside of my Television, I know a bit (a little bit) about "Gurus".

"will make more people aware of the pitfalls of following gurus. Perhaps as a result, some of the smarter gurus will clean up their acts, and maybe more people will stay away from the "dirty" gurus."

Are you using the word "Guru" as slang or as a derogitory term that anti-LGAT groups use or do you mean it in the traditional eastern meaning of this word? Or in some other way , can you clarify?

I am going to assume that James Ray is not a considered a Guru by the people around him nor relates to hmself as a Guru.

Friday, March 12, 2010 2:01:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Hi, Anon, I'm using "guru" as a slang term -- the way many contemporary Westerners do (particularly in the U.S.) -- to refer to a person who is recognized as a leader in his or her field (and/or has had considerable commercial success in that field). It's not a derogatory term by default, though I recognize that because it is divorced from its original Eastern meaning, some followers of Eastern paths might find it offensive. I can't speak for anti-LGAT groups, but I do not mean it as an offensive term. (Lord knows I have enough other potentially offensive things to say about James Ray and his ilk. "Guru" isn't one of them.)

Whether or not James Ray referred to himself as a "guru" is not relevant, IMO. He does, however, seem to fit the Western-slang definitions of guru I mentioned above. He is commercially successful (or he was), and he has been recognized as a leader in the self-help/motivational/McSpirituality field. In addition, he has (or had) many faithful followers.

Judging by the way he behaved at most of his events, he definitely tried to set himself up as a guru of some sort (or even a God-like figure), and apparently many of his followers looked upon him that way too.

If you're interested, there's more discussion on the term "guru" on this blog post:

BTW, if you only saw James Ray for two minutes on CNN, you must have turned the telly off early, because I know they've devoted a lot more than two minutes to him, LOL.

And if you want to learn more about the manipulative (nearly cult-like) techniques James Ray used on his seminar attendees, check out some of the posts on Cassandra Yorgey's blog. She goes into great detail. She doesn't have an anti-LGAT or anti-cult agenda (she's a young writer whose regular beat is young-adult speculative fiction), but she is emphatically no fan of James Ray.

Friday, March 12, 2010 2:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish we were talking in a bar instead of on a blog. I read your comments and the only parts I am inclined to take the time to respond to are the points I find inaccurate but doing that it gives a distorted view of my reaction to all that you wrote which was all over the place, from appreciative to edified to humoured. But what I am most attrcated to write to - to react to, is picking apart what I percieve as exaggerated inaccurate unrigerous statements, opinions seemingly blurred as facts and a general criticism of media and it's misrpresentation and distortion of reality. That is how I am bent I guess and where my interests sit.

Hey, Cosmic Connie, have you ever seen the film Australian film "Proof" about the blind photographer?


one of Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving ( Agent Smith in the The Matrix's) earlier films.

I strongly relate to the blind guy in that film.

Friday, March 12, 2010 3:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

"BTW, if you only saw James Ray for two minutes on CNN, you must have turned the telly off early, because I know they've devoted a lot more than two minutes to him, LOL."

I have no affection for CNN. I occasionaly catch a bit here and there when others have it turned on. Don't get me started about "the news" and journalists and TMZ. I will lose my sunny intelligent agreeable easy going composure. :-)

Friday, March 12, 2010 3:15:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

:-) Thanks for your additional comments... I agree that it's hard to get to "know" someone through a blog. But I appreciate your contributions to the conversation & I'll return to it as time permits (work deadlines are calling right now).

Friday, March 12, 2010 3:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

C.C. Your link to the Horizons Mag article mentioning Erhard and Scientology is interesting.
As is this quote made by Erhard's lawyers:

Neither the est Training nor any other work of Mr. Erhard’s was based on Scientology’s beliefs, principles or ideas. His work is not religious in nature and in fact contains no belief system. There are independent studies and reports that verify this, and published retractions/corrections when publications were fooled by Scientology and after researching the facts had to “take it back”.

I own a biography of Erhard written by Professor WW Bartley. In it he mentions the ideas and disciplines that Erhard studied. Bartley reveals that Erhard and some of his co workers at the time studied Dianetics and Scientology. Erhard underwent auditing.
I suspect that the anatomy of the mind process that EST used owed much to Scientology. Certainly Erhard acknowledged his debt to Hubbard.

So either Bartley was lying or the lawyer is. More rewriting of history on the part of the Landmark Organisation.

BTW last week in Oz the ABC aired a documentary on Scientology.


Not sure if the video can be watched outside Australia but the transcript should be available.


Friday, March 12, 2010 10:34:00 PM  
Anonymous disillusioned said...

I'm on the fence about regulation and my main reason is the one you cite, the comparison to what happened after 9/11.

We have enough statutes on the books (in Europe) already to try any terrorists in criminal courts and many have been tried criminally. That doesn't seem to have deterred much future terrorism from being plotted, the perps just get a bit more wily.

In N.Ireland there is a long history of domestic terrorism, the only workable solution has been a political one where the erstwhile terrorist leaders now share power in Stourmont, the local parliament.
Its not much of a cure but it has taken some of the heat out of the 'Troubles,' at least for a breathing space.

My problem is with the rafts of legislation produced in the wake of 9/11 which served to curtail the democratic freedoms of the ordinary citizen while making little headway against the 'bad guys.'

I see this as a problem not of lack of regulation, but of a lack of will to implement the regulations that are already on the statute books, and I think this also applies in the seminar buiness case.

Yes its hard to see the manipulations these seminar guys are employing but it is not impossible.
I think there is an institutional will to not see these manipulations, as the institutions of authority that govern us rely on those same manipulations to exert what control they do have over the masses.
So they have a vested interest in not looking too closely at others utilising the same tactics to cook people to death.

Not a popular opinion, I am sure, so I am not going to defend it. I will just recommend, for anyone interested, a old book on the subject by Etienne La Boetie:
"The Politics of Obedience"

Joe's pal Bernays had some interesting thoughts on it too, though he was interested from the perspective of controlling the masses, not on avoiding being controlled.

ps vw confan {:-O

Saturday, March 13, 2010 4:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Ratonal Thinking said...

I'd like to see full and frank disclosure of just what any of these 'personal development' seminars will entail for the participants.

I'd like to see the separation of money-making programmes from spiritual-development ones. Just to clarify, I'm not suggesting that spiritual-development courses should be offered free of charge.
One of the worst things, in my opinion, that has happened in the last few years is the increasing tacit acceptance of Law of Attraction principles, as being in some mysterious way 'spiritual'. Presumably because if it's said by 'channelled entities', you don't argue with them and they don't have to prove anything Anyone offering courses on 'manifesting' is automatically suspect, in my mind.

So, to return to my first point - let's make sure people know exactly what they are signing up for. What are the objectives of the seminar? How will the participant know if they have benefited from it? What objective, measurable, real-time skills and/or benefits will they receive? Glowing testimonials without such specific information are quite meaningless, and may well be misleading.

If coercive psychological techniques of any kind are going to be used, then that must be clearly spelled-out in advance.

On a slightly different note, people generally need to be aware of the fact that just because they firewalked, or broke boards, or bent rebars with their necks - that does NOT mean anything other than that they just did precisely those things. I think there is a strong tendency in the mind to believe that one thing necessarily leads to another. And, sadly, that is not the case. This, I think, is one of the reasons why people will put up with and endure stuff - because the perceived pay-off is so massive if they can just, somehow, do 'this'.

So let's just get really clear about what that purported pay-off actually is. How many people have actually got that pay-off?

Psychotherapy by any other name is still psychotherapy - it's just not regulated. Once you start 'messing with the mind', unless you have the professional training and procedures in place for follow-up and support, you're failing your clients. Period.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 6:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What are the tribal values that lead to something being regulated by an outside community?

Did your essay already cover that Cosmic Connie? (Sorry if I missed)

I posted another comment (which never made it up) about one group that does not like another group, using, regulation to enforce their own views on that other group, like the Montagues lobbying hard to Capulets have the Capulates regulated.

I see a risk of allowing one group who simply feels threatened or does not support or promote the views of another group in any way being the driving force in lobbying for regulation of another group.

I would exclude most (not all but most) on line "critics" of other people and groups of being a trustworthy to have a say in what should be regulated and what should not be regulated. They are too biased and their agenda to skewed. And those critics just raise the topic of regulation as a way of expressing and validating their own criticism of another. If it is the local government that would be doing the regulating, hopefully, they have a body of people who operate from and represent the predominant values and standards and practices of the whole tribe and not just a small but loud group of lobbyists and ant- people.

The Montagues and the Capulets should be left out of it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 8:04:00 AM  
Blogger RevRon's Rants said...

I've recently found myself participating in another forum consisting of Internet marketers who were complaining about those who "bash" IM gurus (http://jeanettecates.com/internet-marketing-guru-bashing/comment-page-1#comment-285 ), and observed an interesting phenomenon.

The IMers were quick to join in a predictable chorus, claiming that the bashers' only motivation was jealousy of the marketers' success. The woman who posted the blog in the first place was, as expected, very supportive of the way members of the IM "community" rallied together.

Unfortunately, the notion that the "community" would be better served by adopting some standards of integrity and encouraging others in the industry to adhere to those standards was completely ignored, while vague complaints about the strawman "other side" were strongly encouraged.

Shouldn't a cohesive community should strive for the betterment of its members? If one accepts such a notion, the next question is, which is most effective; improving the standards and thus the public perception of that community, or circling the wagons and complaining about those who would point out the things that diminish the "community's" image in the eyes of prospective consumers?

The scenario is amazingly similar to that of the current political stage. People gather together to complain about the evil "other side," yet somehow fall silent when challenged to actually listen to their critics and determine whether there might be something to learn from the criticisms. They seem to ignore the fact that any industry that doesn't police itself will inevitably suffer under the constraints of reactionary regulatory measures. And the first step on the path to self-regulation is to acknowledge that there is room for improvement. Unfortunately, the IM industry has so far refused to take even that first step.

I'm not saying that there aren't critics who are resentful, or that there are no strawmen in the critics' assertions. This isn't a case of good guys vs. bad guys, any more than our government is comprised of one virtuous political party struggling against the destructive actions of another "evil" party, because there are elements on both sides of the argument who need to improve their behavior and adopt more effective methods of improving things.

IMO, the fundamental problem is a melding of laziness and defensiveness. It's time for the marketers to acknowledge that there are scammers in their midst, and to try and make the industry less appealing to those scammers. Whining about those who criticize the scammers is an implicit approval of the scammers' unethical practices, and can only serve to reinforce the public's negative opinion of the industry as a whole. By the same token, the critics would be wise to focus upon those unethical practices, rather than attempt to create their own wholly evil strawman and project that image upon an entire industry. In short, both "sides" in the debate - whether self-help versus skeptics, Dems versus Repubs, left versus right - need to be as willing to pluck the log from their own eye as they are to point out the splinter in the other's.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 8:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Rational Thinking said...

Just to clarify something which I didn't write in my previous post, so far as regulation is concerned, my feeling is that it is going to be impossible to draft in an effective way. What I think would be effective, is to ensure that outrageous claims must be substantiated by fact - by verifiable evidence. And somehow to educate the population at large that, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't true. And it might not be safe. I do, however, have every sympathy for those who seek regulation, and I understand why they do.

WV: urayo (I kid you not!)

Saturday, March 13, 2010 9:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"IMO, the fundamental problem is a melding of laziness and defensiveness. It's time for the marketers to acknowledge that there are scammers in their midst,..."

What group of 10 or more people do not have a "scammer(s)" "in their midst"?

I would not agree with an individual who said that "it is time" for "the marketers to acknowledge" anything. I would support a view that would be useful for us all to acknowledge where we are being "scammers" and stop harming and conning each other.

IMO, to single out one group is biased and an agenda based view and (it seems to me) presupposes that that group being singled out is being accused of doing something that the person who is singling them out is not doing themselves (not a scammer) and that no one else is doing (have no "scammers in their midst."

I view targetting or singling out one group or category of society as some seem to be doing, as not fundamental enough, not balanced enough and not a community based concern, but an individual agenda or concern.

Naturally the Capulets want the Montegues to acknowledge that there are scammers in their midst,..." And what should society do with that?

Saturday, March 13, 2010 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger RevRon's Rants said...

"IMO, to single out one group is biased and an agenda based view and (it seems to me) presupposes that that group being singled out is being accused of doing something that the person who is singling them out is not doing themselves (not a scammer) and that no one else is doing (have no "scammers in their midst."

On the other hand, choosing to ignore unethical activities - or worse, to attempt to get others to ignore them - is a pretty clear indication of an agenda itself - that agenda being the desire to perpetuate those unethical activities.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 11:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rational Thinking said...

"....What I think would be effective, is to ensure that outrageous claims must be substantiated by fact - by verifiable evidence...."

I like the idea you are proposing but only as long as it applies to all of us including critics and not just some group or category of society one person or other group does not approve of.

Would what you proposing apply to every single school and business who made claims to the public about their products? Community colleges, universities, the US army, the outragious promises of lottery tickets, "Hairclub For Men"? What advetrizing in the US would be exempt from "substantiated by fact - by verifiable evidence"?

CNN claims to be the "world leader in News" and some people live their lives and make important decisions based on what they hear repeated over and over and over on CNN. Would CNN be exempt from having every story and every claim they make about themselves be "substantiated by fact - by verifiable evidence"?

Saturday, March 13, 2010 11:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Rational Thinking

"....What I think would be effective, is to ensure that outrageous claims must be substantiated by fact - by verifiable evidence...."

I like the idea you are proposing but only as long as it applies to all of us including critics and not just some group or category of society one person or other group does not approve of.

Would what you proposing apply to every single school and business who made claims to the public about their products? Community colleges, universities, the US army, the outragious promises of lottery tickets, "Hairclub For Men"? What advetrizing in the US would be exempt from "substantiated by fact - by verifiable evidence"?

CNN claims to be the "world leader in News" and some people live their lives and make important decisions based on what they hear repeated over and over and over on CNN. Would CNN be exempt from having every story and every claim they make about themselves be "substantiated by fact - by verifiable evidence"?

Saturday, March 13, 2010 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Karl wrote: "More rewriting of history on the part of the Landmark Organisation."

Yes, Karl, they seem to do a lot of that, though of course they're far from the only organization (or guru) to rewrite their past in the service of reinventing their present. Landmark, of course, owes much to est/Erhard, and Erhard in turn owes a few ideas to Scientology. And countless other LGAT leaders and other types of New-Wage gurus owe a lot to est and its descendants (and/or to Scientology). Anyone who has either been participating in or observing New-Wage culture for any length of time will notice many common ideas, beliefs and practices running throughout diverse organizations.

Thanks for the link on the Oz documentary; I'll try to watch it this weekend.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ RevRon's Rants

"On the other hand, choosing to ignore unethical activities - or worse, to attempt to get others to ignore them - is a pretty clear indication of an agenda itself - that agenda being the desire to perpetuate those unethical activities"

My post did not say and did not promote "ignore unethical activities" or "to attempt to get others to ignore them" and I do not prmote either of those ideas.

I was and am suggesting that we be cognizant of one person or one group's bias and agenda and personal definitions of "unethical activities" and their lobbying for another group to be singled out.

Hitler's definitions and lobbying for genocide was not seen for what it was. Hitler accused a whle community of being destructive and it went ininterupted by too many of us. Same thing for the Salem witch hunts. We would do well to weigh in who is lobbying for what and why. I am just talking about awareness.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger RevRon's Rants said...

"What group of 10 or more people do not have a "scammer(s)" "in their midst"?"

Neglected to answer this question in my response. I can only address my own situation, but my answer is "the people with whom I associate, who number far more than 10." If one doesn't choose to lie down with dogs, the potential for getting fleas is greatly reduced.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Thanks for weighing in, Disillusioned. I'm glad Steve Salerno brought up the 9/11 comparison, which, in the context in which he discussed it, is relevant more to civil liberties than to some of the business issues I discussed in my blog. But, obviously, civil liberties are important too. Our tendency today, more than ever, is to get into a blind panic about something (justifiably or not), and then automatically pass a slew of laws, regulations, restrictions, and rules that end up stifling our freedom and turning innocent people into suspects -- all without necessarily making us safer.

You wrote:
"I see this as a problem not of lack of regulation, but of a lack of will to implement the regulations that are already on the statute books, and I think this also applies in the seminar business case."

Another good point. I think there are already enough regulations on the books; all too often, it's just a matter of who can buy the best lawyers. In the case of James Ray, I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Rational Thinking 10:43:

I'm with you on the transparency issue. As for complete separation of money-making events from spirituality events, however, I don't know how feasible or even how desirable that is. There are numerous gurus (Joe Vitale claims to be among the first) who combine both spirituality -- or their brand of spirituality -- with marketing. Some of them, e.g., Joe, have been known to separate the two areas within one event, covering marketing one day and more esoteric matters the next. So at least there's an effort to compartmentalize divergent areas, although many people seem to be hungry for a synthesis.

I personally don't really have a problem with the idea of combining moneymaking with spiritual principles. The two are not mutually exclusive, though that sometimes appears to be the case. Besides, a mandate to separate spirituality from money gives ammo to the critic-bashers who say that all of us critics think money is evil. :-)

I think that many people look upon money as being spiritual, in the woo-ish sense that it's "energy," but also in the sense that you can use it to serve your deity of choice -- or Spirit, as some prefer -- by helping make life better for your fellow humans.

OTOH -- and this is why I do understand your reason for thinking spiritual-growth events and moneymaking events should be separate -- I think we can all cite glaring examples of ways in which spirituality (and traditional religion) are crassly exploited or misrepresented to line the pockets of gurus (of both the Eastern and Western type) or religious leaders. We see spiritual/religious leaders saying that Buddha or Jesus want YOU to be rich. The corollary to this notion is usually that in order to get rich, you have to give money to the spiritual or religious leader or the institution or organization they represent.

In addition, as we all have seen, some gurus and their followers seem to use "spirituality" as a rationale for their own material greed.

So I see your point; I just don't think there should be any sort of regulations to keep spiritual subjects completely discrete from money matters. I think education is the key to helping people make right decisions, and in my not so humble opinion, bloggers -- snarky or otherwise -- can be helpful in that process.

You wrote:
"On a slightly different note, people generally need to be aware of the fact that just because they firewalked, or broke boards, or bent rebars with their necks - that does NOT mean anything other than that they just did precisely those things."

Exactly. They're just gimmicks -- that is, unless someone is training to be a professional firewalker, board breaker, or rebar bender. :-)

Saturday, March 13, 2010 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 8:04 AM: Anon, if I did manage to address "tribal values" in my interminably long post, it was accidental. :-) Or maybe I did address it in a roundabout way, without specifically using the word "tribe." I don't really think in those terms, although there's been so much buzz about tribes and tribalism in recent years. I did touch on the social and cultural milieu that informs and influences legislation, so I guess that counts, although my treatment was probably quite superficial. (It would be under the "historical perspective" section, towards the end.)

For better or worse, one contemporary "tribal value" in much of the developed world -- whether we're talking about the self-help industry, general consumer issues, or anti-terrorist initiatives -- seems to be "safety above all else." It's a dangerous world today, as indeed it always has been, but there are new dangers our ancestors never had to deal with. Perhaps those dangers are sometimes exaggerated by media whose bread and butter is sensationalism, but if we categorically dismiss all of that sensationalism, we overlook the real hazards.

The trick is finding a balance, as my guy Ron always likes to say. (Notwithstanding James Ray's claim that "balance is bogus," LOL.)

You do make a good point about the Montagues and the Capulets, in regard to dictating legislation. It goes without saying, however, that the Capulets and the Montagues would be equally unreliable resources -- meaning that most self-help gurus would be as biased as most of their critics. We are "two households, both alike" not in dignity necessarily, but in our own indignation.

In addition, since self-help has pervaded so many areas of our culture, it's difficult to find someone who hasn't been affected or influenced by it in some way, for good or for bad. And that could very well be yet another argument against strict regulations, that is, if we expect to have those regulations shaped by disinterested parties. Best to have both the Capulets and the Montagues in on the conversation.

But I think you and I both know that in the real world, legislation is rarely proposed or passed by people who are completely free of biases, agendas, or influences that might not be in the interests of the greater good. (Yet another argument against more laws, wouldn't you say?) Actually, I think we're pretty much on the same side on this matter, Anon, though our reasons may be different.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Rational Thinking said...

Connie, you wrote:

"I personally don't really have a problem with the idea of combining moneymaking with spiritual principles. The two are not mutually exclusive, though that sometimes appears to be the case."

We can agree to differ:-) My argument is based on the fact that using faux spiritual principles lends an air of spurious respectability to some very dubious practices. And where 'faith' and 'belief' are concerned, people don't seem to see any need to apply some critical thinking and analysis. IOW - if you're told something is a spiritual principle, you possibly won't apply the same criteria that you would apply to, say, making a major investment.

"Besides, a mandate to separate spirituality from money gives ammo to the critic-bashers who say that all of us critics think money is evil. :-)"

The critic-bashers can have at it, as far as I'm concerned :-) I view that particular accusation as a very clear indication of the mindset of the one voicing it. And his or her priorities.

In my view, money, being a material substance, is neutral. It can be used for good or ill, but money itself is neither. The critic-bashers may have yet to learn the difference between "desirable" and "good". I simply don't believe they're synonymous.

You'll see I mention in my second post that I'm not in favour of regulation, per se. Sorry I didn't make that clear in the first.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 1:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

I was using the word "tribal" instead of communal. I heard somebody use it recently and it sounded cool to me. I was just fishing for your admiration is all. :-)

And, I don't think it is possible to be (completely) free, or even just free of biases, agendas, or influences, nor is that my aim. I see that it might be beneficial be up front with our true biases, and agendas and that it would be more honest to include that in the discourse. My bias is supportive of the "human potential" point of view. My agenda could be said to be as anal as I can possibly be about what I view as the chronic lack of accuracy and rigor I see in on line "critics". I have argued lack of accuracy with "critics", of people and things and groups that I personally loathe and would not touch with a ten foot pole. BS is BS.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 1:16:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Ron(8:17 AM): Eloquent as usual (not that I'm biased :-)). I'm glad you brought up the "IM guru bashing" blog post and the ensuing discussion, especially since both you and I participated in it. Your analogy to the endless bickering in the political arena is spot-on.

However, I do think that many in the IM world *have* taken "that first step" -- not only admitting that there are some smarmy practices but, in some cases, taking steps to remove themselves from such activities. Some of them never got involved in the smarm in the first place.

Granted, this re-evaluation has happened partly as a result of the new FTC regs (affecting US IM'ers), as well as the new credit card policies that have prompted card companies to cancel the merchant accounts of IM'ers who engage in deceptive practices. But I also suspect that the critics and "haters" pounding away at the scammers has had an effect, though I may be wrong there (esp. since one of those IM-ers has said almost no one reads the critics). Salty Droid has certainly had an influence, IMO.

My point is that while many IM'ers do still have a tendency to circle the wagons, more are taking an honest look and changing their practices. It seems to be getting to the point where the Internet is not the Wild West any more.

One other point: I agree that a cohesive community should and can do something to police itself, but when you think about it, Internet marketing isn't necessarily a cohesive community. It just seems that way sometimes, with all of the circle-jerking. Along with the circle jerkers, however, there seem to be some really good and ethical IM experts out there. I intend to learn from them.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 1:19:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Rational Thinking (9:11 AM) ~ Thanks for the additional comment. It sounds like you're sitting on the same part of the fence I am. Hopefully we'll be able to duck when the two sides really start hurling rocks at each other. :-)

I definitely am with you on the value of education. I'm not exactly sure how outrageous claims could be required to be verifiable, but it's a nice thought. People like Kevin Trudeau are already ahead of the game, though. On some of his sales copy for his CD set that's basically a marketing tool for his Global Information Network scam, he says, "You COULD achieve" or "You PROBABLY will achieve" rather than "You WILL achieve" whatever it is he's promising. I think more marketers would simply make use of semantics to get them out of a tight spot with the regulators.

BTW, I agree with what you said in your previous comment about the LOA nonsense and the "channeled entities." If there were requirements to keep that stuff separate from money-making or prosperity teachings, Esther and Jerry Hicks would be out of business, because supposedly ALL of their "wisdom" and "teachings" come from their imaginary friend(s) "Abraham."

Saturday, March 13, 2010 1:29:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 10:07: Ron handled his own reply quite well (good job, Ron), but I want to add that he was using Internet marketers as one example of a group that has engaged in unsavory business practices. However, as I noted in my reply to his first comment, the IM community is not necessarily a cohesive one, though it sometimes seems that way.

Besides, as it turns out, the Montagues *have* acknowledged that there are scammers in their midst.

See this, for example.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 1:34:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Hi, Rational Thinking: Just checked my email and saw your additional comment about the "spiritual versus material" issue. (I was busy typing my own long responses and neglected to check the "in" box.) Anyway, thank you for taking the time to add that. Truth is, we only disagree to a certain point. I think that spirituality has been misused more often than not in the New-Wage biz.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 1:41:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anon 1:16 PM: Well, here's my confession: I'm not really up to date on all of the cool stuff (just one of many gaps in my education, I guess). I know that marketers these days love to throw the concept of "tribe" around. (People also LOVE the word "meme," though it's not new. I have the book in which that term was coined: the infamous Richard Dawkins' 1976 work, "The Selfish Gene.") I tend not to use "meme" very much either. So much for my being cool, huh?

I do appreciate your contributions to this conversation.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 1:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie <-- I like typing this great nic name!

"Besides, as it turns out, the Montagues *have* acknowledged that there are scammers in their midst."

Cosmic Connie, I see a difference between (a) and (b)

(a)a Montague (or us or anyone) acknowledging that there are "scammers in their midst."

and a Capulet (sounds like critic) lobbying for, slating or dictating to the Montagues (or to the community) that:

(b) "It's time for the marketers to acknowledge that there are scammers in their midst,.."

I don't see (a) and (b) as being the same.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 1:47:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

And now, everyone, as much as I hate to leave the conversation, I'm going to take a break and go out into this glorious almost-Spring day. There are horses to visit and barn dogs to play with. Also my butt is getting sore sitting on this chair.

Later, Dear Ones!

Saturday, March 13, 2010 1:49:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

'Kay, I'm back from my couple of hours in the Spring sunshine...

Anon (1:47 PM), whether (a) and (b) are the same simply isn't relevant, in my opinion. Ron expressed his opinion that Internet marketers should acknowledge that there are scammers in their midst.

I pointed out to Ron that some IM'ers *have* acknowledged there are scammers in their midst. (A point with which Ron agrees, actually. He just thinks that too many of them are still circling the wagons and protecting their own. That's how it looks to me too at times.)

Near as I can tell, Ron wasn't dictating anything to anyone. His use of "It's time that..." was a rhetorical device that many people use. I'm sure that most IM'ers couldn't care less what Ron or I think, and will do what they're gonna do no matter what we say, do, or write (until they're forced to do otherwise).

I'm not totally disagreeing with what I think is one of the larger points you have been trying to make: that when we are tempted to criticize someone or something for being a scammer, we can use that as a pathway to, as you put it in one of your comments, "acknowledge where we are being 'scammers' and stop harming and conning each other." Sounds good and noble. It's the kind of thing I learned the LGAT I took years ago. But I've found that it's not very useful when you see what looks like clear evidence of someone being scammed or otherwise harmed.

I thought Ron had a very good point when he wrote, "...choosing to ignore unethical activities - or worse, to attempt to get others to ignore them - is a pretty clear indication of an agenda itself - that agenda being the desire to perpetuate those unethical activities."

A little self-examination is almost always useful, but sometimes when real wrongs are being done, it doesn't seem very useful to sit back and say, "Well, gee, I've hurt someone at some time myself, I've made mistakes, and I'm certainly not a perfect human being, so maybe I'd just better shut up and concentrate on being a better person."

Sometimes it's possible to be a critic *and* concentrate on being a better person.

Just my two-cents' worth.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 4:48:00 PM  
Blogger RevRon's Rants said...

"I've made mistakes, and I'm certainly not a perfect human being, so maybe I'd just better shut up and concentrate on being a better person."

That, in a nutshell, is the attitude which unethical marketers - and their defenders - would have everyone assume, Connie. Attempting to deflect, distract, and dismiss criticism as being nothing more than an answer to one's hunger for a feud comes right from the IM/Self-Help scammers' play book. Fortunately, the ploy is transparent enough that anyone outside the "circle of trust" can see it plainly for what it is. And that's why I don't feel any overpowering need to challenge its effectiveness or viability. :-)

Saturday, March 13, 2010 5:07:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Well stated, Ron.

BTW, I'm not saying that Anon's agenda is to defending IM scammers; that doesn't seem to be the case. It seems more likely that Anon is motivated to try to de-fuse critics, and I'm guessing that's because many of the same ones who criticize IM'ers are also critics of New-Wage gurus and LGATs.

And yet, Anon, I welcome your contributions to this discussion because they *do* make me think about what I'm writing, even as a certain favorite snarget's contributions encouraged introspection a few months back.

In any case, although it is rarely apparent, I almost always engage in a little self-scrutiny to see if any of what I'm criticizing reminds me of some quality in myself that I don't like. Sometimes the answer is "Yes" and sometimes it's "No." It's "Yes" when what's bugging me about one of my targets is their apparent narcissism, egotism, and self-centeredness. I dislike those traits in myself, but oh, boy, they're there. It's "No" when what's bugging me about a target is that they seem to be scamming or otherwise harming people.

But somehow I am reminded of an old Elvis song, which has a lesson for all of us -- critics and non-critics alike. So let's take a little musical break right now. I never was much of an Elvis fan, although my first serious b.f. in high school looked a lot like the younger, slimmer Elvis. But I've always liked this song:


Saturday, March 13, 2010 5:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

Ok this is definitely a bit ranty! Please forgive, but it is my reaction to:

"Sometimes it's possible to be a critic *and* concentrate on being a better person."

For all the lip service given to "self examination" by "new age" people and "self help movement" people I assert that most people are weak and not very interested when it comes to "self examination" and most people are very VERY VERRRRRY skilled at criticism and finger pointing at others, looking for "wrongs" out there and going after others. And, I further assert that what we need is more authenticity and self examination and less critics and less criticism. The current state of the world, if I believe what I would see if I were to watch CNN for 5 days in a row, is not a result of most people knowing themselves,or two much self examination, or too much knowing their potential and all that there is to be responsible for in being a useful adult human being. It is more a world that is put together by people judging each other and pointing at each other.

Surely people strapping bombs on thmselves is a vivid display of a person or group being critical of others and pointing the finger at others.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 5:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

You seem very considerate and balanced to me. It is hard to me by normal anal on the war path self for any lying critic self here. :-)

Thank-you for being gracious , I am sure I neither deserve nor earned it from my posts and on line demeanor.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 5:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

Elvis rules! :-)

Saturday, March 13, 2010 5:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

I though your link (little music break) was going to lead to this one :-O

Suspicious Minds http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtsmuVA0m7c

Saturday, March 13, 2010 5:58:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Hey, Anon, you made some good points in your "rant."

I'm annoyingly anal at times about some things too. Once I even corrected some punctuation in a love letter someone wrote to me. What a ghastly thing to do; I'm amazed that the person who wrote it still loves me.

"Suspicious Minds" is a good song but it seems to apply more to intimate relationships. "Clean Up Your Own Back yard," on the other hand, seemed germane to the discussion.

Actually, for me, cleaning up the back yard is not just a metaphor. Ron and I are going to have to get up tomorrow and clean up *our* back, side and front yards so we can mow for the first time this season. We tried to get the horses to do it for us but they weren't terribly interested. We could borrow some goats from our neighbors down the road, who have an organic goat dairy, but one of the barn dogs who hangs around here has been known to eat goats. So we're just going to have to get out there and cut the dang grass ourselves.

But hey, it could be worse. We could be buried under a foot of snow like some parts of the US still are.

Anyway, thanks again for your participation. I'm probably going to wander off and watch a movie now. I need to do something brainless for a while.

Saturday, March 13, 2010 8:15:00 PM  
Anonymous disillusioned said...

I've never much liked Elvis but the musical interlude prompted me to look up the one Elvis track that always makes me cry:


I watched the vid, feeling predictably weepy then at 2.12 up came an image of the Pelvis carrying a cross. You'd need a heart of stone not to laugh.
So then I looked up the Elvis song that always cheers me up:


Nothing like that old tyme religion to get you going.

spooky vw: unlitcr

Sunday, March 14, 2010 6:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...On the other hand, I realize that consumers aren't necessarily making *informed* choices when they sign up for an event and aren't told ahead of time exactly what will occur during that event. (The waivers that participants are made to sign don't count.)..."

What consumers of any type of education or sports training are EVER told ahead of time exactly, you used the word exactly) what will occur during an event?

We live in a world where people sek new experinces, that they have never doen before. I hear tell that many people with deep pockets have bought seats on Richard Branson's Virgin Group's "Virgin Galactic Space Flight". Can you imagine the waiver's they are signing? And no one has a clue what will happen!


Does *informed* choice, as you are poitng to, even exist when it comes to education and trying exciting new inherently risky things?

Sunday, March 14, 2010 12:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn woman! Have a heart and clean up my typoes!!! :-P

Sunday, March 14, 2010 1:12:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

C'mon, Anon, you're just arguing for the sake of arguing now. And this isn't even a Monty Python-ish Argument Clinic. :-)

Nobody can predict with 100% certainty what's going to happen at any event, and perhaps my use of the word "exactly" was not appropriate. But James Ray International could have been MUCH more explicit in advance about the various exercises they were planning, especially the sweat lodge, particularly since there were dicey incidents in James Ray's sweat lodges in previous years. (You might need to read Cassandra Yorgey's many writings about this, as well as Terry Hall's (Bizsayer) blog, to get a more complete understanding.)

True, there will always be folks who, even if reading detailed descriptions of past incidents, or frank disclosures of potential dangers, will take the risk anyway, assuming that the bad stuff won't happen to *them*. But at least they will presumably have given informed consent.

Comparing James Ray's well-planned and well-orchestrated events -- events that had been done repeatedly before -- with Richard Branson's space-travel experiment is a bit over-the-top.

Anyone else here who wants to tackle Anon's latest question in more detail is free to do so; I'm kind of preoccupied with other projects today.

Also, Anon, I don't have a way of replying to the comments you sent to my blog that you don't want me to publish. Blogger's system doesn't allow that. I know you're unhappy with my reference to you on Steve Salerno's blog but if you want to correspond with me privately you will have to use my email address: cosmic.connie@juno.com

Sunday, March 14, 2010 1:26:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anonymous said...

"Damn woman! Have a heart and clean up my typoes!!! :-P "

Sorry... I usually don't edit remarks published to my blog. (And I gave up editing love letters long ago. Actually, that was a one-time occurrence. :-))

But don't worry about the typos; everyone here makes 'em, and the messages are clear anyway.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 1:34:00 PM  
Blogger RevRon's Rants said...

Anonymous said: "Does *informed* choice, as you are poitng to, even exist when it comes to education and trying exciting new inherently risky things?"

It should, especially when those "exciting new inherently risky things" have a well-documented history of causing harm to participants.

Suggesting that individuals look past the "isolated problems" some people have encountered as a direct result of participating in LGAT events is akin to Ford aggressively selling their Pinto automobile years ago.

The company knew full well that the design itself was flawed to the point where it would inevitably cause injuries and fatalities, but continued to push the car (and downplay the resulting damage). Their attitude was that the amount of profit they would make from sales of the cars would greatly overshadow the damages they would end up paying to those whose cars blew up.

Connie said, "C'mon, Anon, you're just arguing for the sake of arguing now."

Gee! Ya think??!! :-)

Sunday, March 14, 2010 1:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

Re: the James Ray story, if you are talking about a specific case and instance, well everyone knows hindsight is always better then foresight. I don't disagree that in this one case, you are siting, that if things had been handled differently, there might have been a different outcome. But don't people ALWAYS cry foul after a tragedy and say it should not have happened and why did we let it happen after a tragedy? When do people ever not do this? Do you think anyone forsaw the accidental death of the 21 year old Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died after slamming into a steel pole on the luge course hours before the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics? He lost control of his sled during a training run, shot off course and slammed into a trackside steel pole at nearly 90 mph.

Many people want to tread into the unknown and want to take risks. It is probably more commonly know that self help and personal development is risky and not to be taken lightly. I know many people who backed away from doing a self help after reading a waiver. The made a very adult and wise *informed* choice for themselves.

Downhill skiing, going to university, bungie jumping, parachuting, heck even getting into an intimate relationship with an unpredictable ever changing human being and any endeavor where the unknown is part of the appeal are not that much different then self help. Both are said to be amazingly rewarding and both occasionally have unexpected incidents.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 1:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

"(And I gave up editing love letters long ago. Actually, that was a one-time occurrence. :-))"

Sounds like Sandra Bulock would be the best choice to play you in your life story! :-)

Sunday, March 14, 2010 1:48:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Good points, Ron (1:45 PM). (And the Pinto debacle is a good example of company cover-ups. Looks like some stuff is coming out about Toyota too.)

Sunday, March 14, 2010 1:53:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anon, while you make good points about hindsight in general, I'll focus again on James Ray for a moment to point out that there were numerous other factors besides the possible lack of informed consent that led to this tragedy. Lack of informed consent was only one issue. Ray apparently took many actions (or failed to take action, in some cases) during and after the actual sweat lodge event, and his actions or lack thereof may have led to the injuries and deaths. That's ultimately up to the courts to decide but if you're really interested in this case in particular, I'll point you again to Cassandra Yorgey's extensive documentation.

Sports and activities such as parachuting, bungee jumping, skiing, etc. are inherently risky but they are generally undertaken by individuals who are not acting as a result of coercive persuasion and LGAT techniques. The same cannot be said for the participants in James Ray's event or other LGAT events.

At any rate, as I've said before, I'm not arguing for tighter restrictions on the self-help industry. But I don't think the fact that life in general is risky should make us complacent about incidents such as Sweatgate or other self-help/personal-growth events that are similarly risky.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 2:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

If there is a "company cover-up", I would not disagree that that lacks integrity and is going to lead to problems.

We seem to live in an era where integrity is on the table and I see and hear less and less tolerance for it, in ourselves and others and the companies and governments around us.

But I think the exercise of "finger pointing" and putting stock in the value being a "critic" and "criticism" is to costly a distraction for people, and that we would do better to to "clean up our own backyard".

The way I see it, being engaged at pointing at others = a planet of people covering up their own messes = more of the same on earth forever.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 2:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

While I have personally done a VERY long list of various and different courses and "work", I don't know of or have ever had any personal experience of "coercive persuasion and LGAT techniques", so I cannot comment on the main point of your comment.

".....are inherently risky but they are generally undertaken by individuals who are not acting as a result of coercive persuasion and LGAT techniques. The ....."

Sunday, March 14, 2010 2:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

As I said before, I know next to nothing about the James Ray STORY, except the 2 minutes I saw on CNN but is this STORY not the STORY OF an isolated incident and is everyone not in agreement that as far as that STORY goes something went wrong and now the courts are going to look into it closer? What is the need for blogging and criticism of that specific case?

What is there to be gained and by who?

Sunday, March 14, 2010 2:27:00 PM  
Blogger RevRon's Rants said...

"... any endeavor where the unknown is part of the appeal are not that much different then self help. Both are said to be amazingly rewarding and both occasionally have unexpected incidents."

I think this video pretty well nails it:

Sunday, March 14, 2010 2:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

Isn't the genius and brilliance and sharpness of what you are saying a typical hindight kind of view and thing to say?

"But James Ray International could have been MUCH more explicit in advance about the various exercises they were planning, especially the sweat lodge, particularly since there were dicey incidents in James Ray's sweat lodges in previous years."

Sunday, March 14, 2010 2:52:00 PM  
Blogger SustainableFamilies said...

Ok, so I do ultimately think we need some amount of regulation. "That being said I also agree we should be REALLY careful and cautious about how that's done. Here's what happened with massage, the way it's regulated it's not about what title you use. You could call yourself a back rubber, or a body worker, or whatever, the regulation is in place over touching peoples bodies.

Meaning that any one, "healer, ayurvedic practitioner, reiki specialist, whatever" who touches your body needs to be licensed. Now the exact definition of what kind of touching needs to be licensed I don't know.

But somewhere in the language I think there could be a definition of what it is being done that needs to be regulated. If you just say, "life coaches and self help guides need to be licensed" they'll just call themselves religious leaders.

It's really really complicated to think of a way this could be regulated without messing things up in so many ways. I think it could be done, but ultimately, in the end I think it's going to be "consumer awareness" that is the most powerful tool in putting people out of business and allowing people to become aware of the books, seminars, and gurus (leaders, healers etc) that they spend money on.

Like I think it would be great harmful food additives were gotten rid of. Then I could shop at a normal grocery store....

That would be awesome! I'm pretty sure in some countries in Europe they've banned GMO's and other such things and I think that's cool.

Sometimes I think the "Nanny state" doesn't sound as bad as people think, if viewed in the utopian sense that it would be applied in a way that still allowed personal freedom to thrive.

I mean really if we actually could prevent people from accessing crack and meth, wouldn't that be cool? I've worked with people who have these addictions and the results are just DEVASTATING and most often people with addictions have a really hard time with birth control for a variety of reasons and it doesn't just affect them.

(I've fantasized about creating a drug addiction land where everyone could go do drugs happily and fend for themselves among the unruly crowds there but the problem of children being born into that is very complex. I mean I guess the prerequisite for going to drug island would be that you have to be snipped/tubes tied? That sounds pretty awful too)

Nanny states are scary because regulations limit individual choice. In all reality, if it were TRULY possible to elimate meth and crack (it's not, but hypothetically speaking) then it probably would actually benefit most people.

I understand wanting to do that, not out of wanting to dominate or control or be a scary bad nanny state, but simply out of caring for the humans who suffer so much as a result of those substances.

Wow, I've totally gotten off track again. I'll regroup and come back lol

Sunday, March 14, 2010 3:31:00 PM  
Blogger RevRon's Rants said...

"What is the need for blogging and criticism of that specific case?"

Were it an aberration, it might be worthy of little more a 15-second news bite... except perhaps for the fact that people actually died or were seriously injured. The fact that it wasn't the first time someone died or was injured kind of lends impetus to the motivation to look more closely at the event, if only to try to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future.

Sadly, similar logic is often applied in determining the location of traffic signals. People often have to die before preventative measures are taken. However, if the transportation boards were to use anonymous' logic, they would dismiss demands for review - much less, action - as being inappropriate or, in the New Wage version, "too negative" and a waste of productive energy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 4:04:00 PM  
Blogger SustainableFamilies said...

This is hardly an isolated incidence wherin people have been harmed by self help.

have you read the rest of cosmic connie's blog? Have you ever read at Rick ross? Have you ever read through testimonials of people who have struggled with problems within the self help/guru industry?

If it's not a concern for you, than you are free to do something else with your day! If you had a child who was diagnosed with autism, would causes of autism be of interest to you?

If scientific evidence of things that cause autism was found, wouldn't you want parents to know about that?

Wanting to make public things that are harming people is totally fine.

I'm not sure what you're criticizing anon? That no one should ever think critically of anything? You are welcome to live in a world like that, I'll stay where I am, were people are using their critical thinking skills to perceive what's happening in the world.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 4:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

May I ask, when did "self help" become interesting as a topic to criticize and what initially attracted you to criticizing and satirizing others publicly and what has held you here this long?

I am asking as someone who is not a writer nor a journalist and as someone who is cynical and purturbed by gossipy tabloid type public commentary of others that I would never wish upon myself, my family, my friends or anyone I cared about.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 5:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"harm" is part of life. I want a great existence on earth for all people.

I am criticizing witch hunts and some "critics" distorted and often unsubstantiated commentary on a categories of life they personally find inplalatable, so they lobby to villify it. I just don't trust what the Capulets have to say about the Montegues or what the Montegues have to say about the Capulets. And that does not mean I support or think either of the Capulets or Montegues are perfect or innocent (or guilty for that matter).

My own "critical thinking" shows me that there is lots of flashy sounding story being made up and circulated and recirulated but when pressed for accuracy, it never fails that the "critics" silence or discourage any voice asking for facts and details.

I have difficulty trusting the news or what I read in the newspaper or see on TV. I wasn't there. I would not dare talk abiut you publically based on something saw on the news.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 5:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ SustainableFamilies

I have no way of knowing who wrote anything on any internet message board, I have no way of knowing what are forgeries by the board moderator, I have no way of knowing what is made up, I have no way of knowing what is exaggerated.

My own best friend comes home from a fishing trip and he can't even tell me the true size of the fish that got away! My own family members exaggerate and get wrong the smallest and inconsequential facts day to day! Substance, accuracy, precision and balance are part of my "critical thinking" process. So no, SustainableFamilies, I do not consider what your suggesting as a reliable resource for all the above reasons.

"Have you ever read at Rick ross? Have you ever read through testimonials of people who have struggled with problems within the self help/guru industry?"

Sunday, March 14, 2010 5:40:00 PM  
Blogger RevRon's Rants said...

"That no one should ever think critically of anything?"

What we have here is a typical example of someone who challenges the appropriateness of applying critical thinking to a topic in which one obviously has some significant investment, while simultaneously demanding that one's own definition of critical thinking be applied in describing those who don't share that investment. Their obvious preference notwithstanding, apologists for the LGAT scammers can't have it both ways.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 5:42:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Anon, when sorting through the flurry of correspondence I've received over the past few days, I found a couple of comments you'd sent to my blog that I hadn't previously seen. I apologize for the oversight and have now published them, but they will show up on the appropriate place in the timeline rather than at the bottom, where most recent comments are.

In one of your recent comments to me you asked why I am interested in self-help, etc. This old blog post of mine should get you started, and it has some links to some older pieces I wrote.


You're free to challenge all of my assertions, opinions, and experiences as I relate them in those pieces, but I can tell you right now that it's still not going to make me a fan of LGATs or any of the stuff I snark about. But I welcome your contributions anyway.

I still think you need to write your own blog.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 6:50:00 PM  
Blogger RevRon's Rants said...

"I am criticizing witch hunts and some "critics" distorted and often unsubstantiated commentary on a categories of life they personally find inplalatable, so they lobby to villify it."

No, you're not, anonymous. You have been provided with plenty of substantive evidence, and simply refuse to acknowledge as valid anything that deviates from your own mindset/programming. All the attempts at distraction and obfuscation in the world will fail to mask your true agenda, which is to stop people from looking more closely at an industry that is rife with deception and damage to its customers.

Simply put, I cannot accept that you lack the rudimentary intelligence required to understand the problems that many critics have pointed out, especially when you've been provided with simple, concrete examples.

Furthermore, I find it difficult to swallow your assertion that all you've heard about James Ray is the "2 minutes on CNN," but even if that were true, it is, in and of itself, a clear indication of your unwillingness to consider any viewpoint that doesn't mirror your own. Anyone who has even a rudimentary interest in learning the truth about something would devote the time to learn more about it before planting their feet and committing to an opinion.

In short, I'm calling you on the honesty of your claims, as well as on the integrity of the arguments you are offering. If calling you on your BS constitutes schoolyard bullying or censorship in your book, it's a book that nobody with much sense or integrity would want to read.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 7:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Rational Thinking said...

At Anon: 11.11am

"I like the idea you are proposing but only as long as it applies to all of us including critics and not just some group or category of society one person or other group does not approve of.

Would what you proposing apply to every single school and business who made claims to the public about their products? Community colleges, universities, the US army, the outragious promises of lottery tickets, "Hairclub For Men"? What advetrizing in the US would be exempt from "substantiated by fact - by verifiable evidence"?

I'm not in the US, but rather in the UK. We have an Advertising Standards Authority, together with strict regulation on claims that can be made - and the system generally works rather well.

So far as the lottery is concerned, the lottery simply offers a chance to win a large amount - and, because the lottery is regulated, such a chance truly exists - albeit a minute one. But the regulation ensures that the chance is a fair one in terms of the lottery draw not being in any way 'rigged'.

"CNN claims to be the "world leader in News" and some people live their lives and make important decisions based on what they hear repeated over and over and over on CNN. Would CNN be exempt from having every story and every claim they make about themselves be "substantiated by fact - by verifiable evidence"?"

Well, again, in the UK we have the Press Complaints Commission, and complaints of bias and unfair presentation, etc., can be and are made to that body and then investigated. This also works quite well. As to whether people make life-decisions based on what they hear endlessly repeated, I have no idea. Personally, I would check several sources on any story. All reporting is inherently subjective rather than objective - hence the importance of comparing different views and making up one's own mind.

(I should, by the way, point out that both the Advertising Standards Authority and the Press Complaints Commission are independent bodies.)

In the wider issue you have raised in these comments, regarding criticism, I agree with another Brit, Winston Churchill, who wrote:

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Nobody here, that I can discern, is calling for a ban on self-help. What we are looking for is ways to improve the 'unealthy state of things' at the present time.

Monday, March 15, 2010 4:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

Thank-you. You are great.

And I don't want to make you a fan of anything, not now not ever, that is not part of any agenda(s) I might have. I promise.

Monday, March 15, 2010 8:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PLEASE post this one instead of the other comment which was poorly worded -as I I wrote it presumes that I could "make" another person do or be anything. <---(and delete this and this part of you would be so kind)

@ Cosmic Connie

Thank-you. You are great.

And it is not my wish or intention that out of our exchanges you become a "fan" of anything

"..... but I can tell you right now that it's still not going to make me a fan of LGATs or any of the stuff I snark about."

Monday, March 15, 2010 9:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Cosmic Connie

Ok I read:


"Confessions of a Personal-Growth Survivor, Part I"

I see your past experiences, where you started:

"...I was bored and dissatisfied; and (2) everybody else was doing it..."

and where those experiences lead and the conclusions you wound up with (the views you are currently promoting re: the self help/ human potential movement.)


Gurdjieff once said something (I wish I had the exact quote, sorry I don't) but he said something like 'people are better off not doing that kind of work, that it is a perilous endeavor and not for everyone....(I am probably ******* up what he actually said but that is how I recall it.) I tend to agree with that notion. I know many people who would have been better off not to have been participating in this or that but like you - they were/are informed adults and it was and is their choice. And, I would not want to take that away from anyone. We all are free to make out own mistakes in life, and I hope nobody ever tries to take that way from me. This United States is not the Union of Myanmar or North Korea (as they are portrayed on Amrican television anyway.)

(If I find the exact Gurdjieff quote (or if anyone else knows of it) I will come back and post it.) Please don't quote me on it and I am sure it is incorrect.

Monday, March 15, 2010 10:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Mark Ty-Wharton said...

Joe Vitale said that the forum seemed too random and wasn't all that effective...

It is VERY simple. In a nutshell...

The Landmark forum is ALL about INTEGRITY - personal integrity...

BEING responsible for your WORD - in short TELLING THE TRUTH!

Why is that random...


Wednesday, March 17, 2010 5:43:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmic Connie said...

Hi, Mark, it's good to see you here. I don't know exactly what Joe meant by his assessment, but I think we might need to keep in mind that the version of The Forum he took in the late 1980s or early 1990s was probably different from the Landmark Forum offered in more recent years. Besides the randomness/indirectness, he also complained that too much time and energy was devoted to selling, selling and more selling. Again, that was in reference to the version of The Forum that he took.

These days, I think he would have little room to complain about too much time being spent selling. :-)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 6:09:00 PM  
Blogger SustainableFamilies said...

Should this be legal?


Friday, March 19, 2010 2:16:00 PM  

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