Burning question: What happens when Fire meets a straw man?
The other day when I read a tweet by Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale, I figured he was gathering more ammo to use in his ongoing battle against some of his critics who (unlike me) actually seem to have an in-depth knowledge of the teachings of Christ and/or Buddha. I saw this tweet from May 3:
Reading 'Going Broke With Jesus' http://t.co/5zYISwQ
The link Joe provided was to a site selling an e-book telling the shocking truth about what the Bible really says about money. The meta-title appearing at the top of the screen reads, "Bible Money | Christian Money | Jesus Money." Oh, yeah, work those search engines, baby.
Anyway. True to my prediction, Joe came up with a blog post a few days later: "Eye Of The Needle, Or The Shocking Spiritual Truth About Money." As it turned out, however, the "truth" was not so "shocking" -- rather, it was the same-old same-old defense of New-Wage materialism, which some perceive as greed.
From where I sit as a critic (aka "hater"), it appears to me that one of Joe's main reasons for writing that blog post was not so much to announce that money isn't evil, but to serve notice to those darned critics to please leave him the heck alone. That said, I think his "confrontational" post is a direct reaction not so much to my own ongoing snarkitude (or even to the muckraking efforts of some of my blogging colleagues such as Salty Droid), but to the well-worded criticisms from some more spiritually oriented people on previous Mr. Fire posts, such as this one: http://blog.mrfire.com/how-much-is-enough/ and this one: http://blog.mrfire.com/who-else-is-listening/
On his "Eye of the Needle" post, I noticed that while Joe says we shouldn't let our speculations about what Jesus or Buddha would do guide our opinions about money, he certainly uses his own speculations about Jesus and Buddha -- based on all of the prosperity-gospel propaganda he can get his hands on -- to bolster his argument. He must have been up all night researching. But that's just one of numerous quibbles I have with the points he made in that post.
I have discussed these issues numerous times on this blog and on other forums, but I think it's time to revisit them. To begin with, when it comes to wealth and spirituality, it seems to me that Joe, as well as other New-Wage gurus and fans and wannabes, are battling a straw man. And when I make reference to a straw man, I'm not talking about Joe's attempts to argue with those who take issue with him on theological or spiritual grounds. I'm talking about his larger message: his claim that his critics are saying money is evil.
In his latest blog post, as well as his other spirited defenses of his brand of New-Wage spiritual materialism, Joe completely glosses over the fact that not one of his main critics -- or the critics of the New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality industry, for that matter -- has based his or her arguments on the premise that money is evil. Nor do most of us say that all rich people are evil. I've known too many goodhearted rich folks to believe such a stereotype.
It seems to me that for the most part, what critics have done is not to promote the false belief that money is evil, but simply to point out ways in which the love of money has prompted New-Wage gurus (and other money-obsessed types) to do evil things. I cannot pretend to speak for anyone else but myself, but I'm not "judging" Joe because he has money or because of what he does with his money. He can buy 100 Rolls-Royces, for all I care, just like his ex-guru, the late Rajneesh/Osho, did. But I do find his constant bragging about his acquisitions annoying, especially when he drapes it in spirituality and implies that he got this stuff because he is living a good, clean, "awakened" life and is practicing spiritual principles.
While I don't judge any New-Wage guru for the simple fact of having or spending money, what I do "judge" them for is the way they constantly and ruthlessly promote their (and their buddies') frauducts and flopportunities, as Salty Droid would call them, so other people will hand over THEIR money, which in many cases they can't afford to do. One example that comes to mind is the hard-sell campaign for Joe's pricey Miracles Coaching program, about which quite a bit has been written recently. The author of several critical pieces, In The Limelight blogger Jonathan Timar, confronted Joe on his "How Much Is Enough?" blog post, and the ensuing conversation was interesting. http://blog.mrfire.com/how-much-is-enough/#comment-198628
Here's a link to Jonathan's original Miracles Coaching piece: http://inthelimelight.net/2010/07/01/joe-vitales-miracles-coaching-hypnotic-marketing-at-work/
And here's a direct link to my comment on the dialogue between Joe and Jonathan: http://inthelimelight.net/2010/07/01/joe-vitales-miracles-coaching-hypnotic-marketing-at-work/comment-page-1/#comment-7188
One main focus of Joe's "Eye Of The Needle" blog post was that his teachings and practices are in perfect keeping with the teachings of Christ and Buddha. Many take issue with that, of course, and some have taken the time to argue the fine points with Joe. As an agnostic, however, I have no attachment to Buddhism or Christian theology, and I don't base my criticism of Joe or any other New-Wage guru on whether or not their behavior is in keeping with Buddhist or Christian principles. I do get annoyed at what I see as a misuse of Christian or Buddhist concepts for marketing ends, although of course Joe is far from the only person to have done this. And New-Wage gurus certainly aren't the only ones who exploit spiritual figures for their own ends; there are plenty of prosperity preachers who earnestly tell their followers that Jesus H. Christ wants them to be rich, and dadgummit, He will make them rich if they just fork over to the preachers.
Another message in Joe's post is that critics are self-righteous and have a holier-than-thou attitude. While I understand how we can come across as self-righteous (and sometimes we are), the truth -- and again, I am speaking for myself -- is that I have never thought I am in any way better, or more holy or righteous or spiritual, than the people I criticize. As I noted above, as an agnostic, I'm not in the holiness contest at all. I have no interest in spiritual oneupmanship.
However, as I also mentioned earlier, I have a feeling that Joe's "Eye of the Needle" blog post is his response not so much to my brand of snark as to the serious challenges he has been fielding from people who actually possess some spiritual depth. He generally seems reluctant to concede that these folks might have a point, and that maybe he has been a bit over the top in his "spiritual" marketing. Instead he seems to just keep rationalizing, and finding more material to back up his perspective, while continuing to get reinforcement from the fawning Joebots. "Amen, Joe!" "Oh, thank you for that!" "This came at just the time I needed to read it!"
What about judgment?
"Judgment," as I've discussed numerous times before, is kind of a dirty word in the New-Wage community. Christ and other great spiritual figures famously spoke against the self-righteous form of judgment too, of course. A couple of friends and I were having some private discussions about these matters, and one friend made the point that where wealth and its lack are concerned, there is plenty of "judgment" to go around. It's not just a matter of critics being "judgmental" of those who have money. Law Of Attraction believers and New-Wagers in general are also quite judgmental of people who don't have money, or for that matter, of people who suffer from illness or other misfortunes. I've written about this very point too on several occasions. It used to be that sufferers of misfortune "created their own reality." Now, in these post-Secret days, they've "attracted" the bad stuff, including poverty.
In many ways these judgmental attitudes towards poverty and those who don't have money are no different from the hoary elitist mentality that likened poverty to moral depravity. More than likely, however, the New-Wage attitudes are informed less by classic elitism than by the classic motivational mentality of New-Wagers' idols such as Napoleon Hill and Wallace Wattles. The latter's 1910 book, The Science of Getting Rich, was famously what got the Secret ball rolling for Rhonda Byrne back in 2004, when her life was at a low point and her daughter gave her a copy of SGR. Wattles believed a fulfilling life was not possible without wealth, and he wrote that a “normal” person cannot help wanting to be rich, and that if you don’t become rich, “you are derelict in your duty to God, yourself and humanity.” He stopped short of saying that being poor is a crime (although there's a lot to be said for the argument that in our plutocracy, those who don't have money are criminals until proven otherwise, as Barbara Ehrenreich, among many others, has pointed out http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article23260.htm).
Apropos of some of the above, here is a fairly recent blog post from one of Joe's b.f.f.s Randy Gage, whom he has frequently quoted: http://www.randygage.com/blog/poverty-is-evil/
In my opinion Joe is correct about a couple of things: We as a society have scads of emotional (and moral) judgments around money, and in some cases these judgments don't serve us and can actually keep us from trying to improve our lives. But he neglects to mention that there are, as my friend pointed out, equally vehement judgments about the lack of money. More importantly, the New-Wage racket of which Joe and his fellow Secret stars are a part is fueled by those very judgments.
And while Joe may get tired of having people second-guess his motives -- which seemed to be another clear message in his post -- we critics get tired of being endlessly pop-psychoanalyzed by the gurus and their followers. We grow weary of being told that we're full of hatred, that we're poverty-stricken losers (Joe and another b.f.f. of his, Kevin True-dough, have said as much), that we're unhappy with our lives, that we're railing against things we don't understand because we feel inferior to those who supposedly do understand these great mysteries, or that we're simply trying to keep others from realizing their dreams and just want to drag everyone down to our level. I should add that the gurus themselves very rarely engage the critics directly, since it wouldn't look good for them to be involved in something so negative, but their lap dogs and followers do the dirty work for them. I've been on the receiving end of some of that stuff, so I know what I'm talking about.
One more point: In his "Shocking Truth" blog post Joe invokes Jay Leno and Donald Trump, admonishing us not to judge their motives either. He says they may very well be deeply spiritual beings, and that for all we know, Leno's cars and Trump's ostentatious wealth could be spiritual expressions for them. But Jay Leno and Donald Trump are entertainers and businessmen and don't pretend to be anything else. Unlike Joe, they have not donned the mantle of spiritual marketer or Buddha of the Internet. In any case, once again Joe is waving his straw man about, trying to reduce the issues to a crass and simple envy of wealth -- a strategy that is certainly more comfortable for him than addressing legitimate criticism of dodgy business practices or just plain ridiculous marketing. Besides being another blatant attempt to silence or at least discredit his critics, his post also adds a whole new level to his rationalization of his own apparent wealth obsession.
But sometimes a straw man can catch on fire, and once it gets going, that fire can be mighty hard to extinguish.
PS added 6 June 2011 ~ Same song, next verse: Like a cat swatting at one of those fishing pole toys (except, one suspects, in a spirit of seething anger rather than playfulness), Mr. Fire once again bats at his favorite straw man: the money-is-evil mindset which he likes to pretend is the basis of his critics' arguments. On June 5 he published what appears to me to be a desperation post regarding "The Real Secret" about money. The Real Purpose of the post is to promote his free e-book, Attract Money Now, which, of course, he wrote and made free only because he cares so much about your success. (The Real Purpose of Attract Money Now is actually to promote his Miracles Coach boiler-room scheme, but that's another story, already discussed here.) In the June 5 post, he plays his favorite card, the conspicuous-altruism card. He introduces that hand by noting that once you clear all of those mental blocks about money and start attracting it, that money can allow you to do all kinds of good things. Then he shows you how it's done.
In the last few weeks I gave away three cars.
The one that I gave away today was one of the most expensive and emotional ones I’ve ever owned. But I let it go.
Word has it that Mr. Fire tried to sell "Ladybug," his beloved yellow Panoz roadster that was once owned by rocker Steven Tyler, on eBay for $100,000, but he could only get $30,000 for it. I suppose you could consider that to be "giving it away." (See PPPS below.) He has also been known to give (or at least to promise) cars and other cast-offs to some of his most loyal minions. But if the Carcissist of the Internet really is paring down his stable of beloved brag-wagons, I would lean towards the explanation that times must be tough rather than that he is doing this because he's just such a generous guy. Either that, or he's making room in his life and his garage for replacement expensive toys. But of course that's just my opinion; there I go second-guessing the motives of a great man again!
PPS ~ I just went back and looked at some of Mr. Fire's tweets; on May 26 he wrote, "Awaiting staff fr [Miracles Coaching]. One gets my BMW Z3 as gift." That's the reward for being a good little boiler-room "coach," I guess. And on June 4 he tweeted: "Giving away my BMW 645ci today," and he provided a link to his Attract A New Car web site. Which car will be next to go? Francine?
PPPS ~ Never let it be said that I rely merely on gossip or third-hand information. Here's the link to the eBay listing for "Ladybug," Mr. Fire's yellow Panoz roadster: http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=140546927673+&viewitem=&clk_rvr_id=231921425543
And here's a snippet of Mr. Fire's hypnotic marketing copy that got the offer all the way up to $30,000 in this now-closed bidding war.
Steven Tyler -- yes, THE Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and American Idol -- bought this incredible car new in 1998...I LOVE this car and will only part with it for $100,000 or more, else I'll just keep it. If it means anything, I'm a star in the movie The Secret, and author of numerous bestselling books, such as The Attractor Factor, so some might think this car was owned by two celebrities.
Here is the link to the bid history for that celebrity-studded ride (I bet things really got exciting when the bidding finally broke the three-figure barrier): http://offer.ebay.com/ebaymotors/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewBids&_trksid=p4340.l2565&item=140546927673