By Michael Parenti
Escapist politics takes many forms—including a complete “rejection” of politics.
There are many roads to political quietism. In contrast to the cynical defeatism discussed in the previous chapter are the beliefs of the 1960s youth culture or counterculture that carried over to what is called the “New Age” approach of today; an amalgam of Eastern mysticism, Western occultism, self-help psychology, and alternative health practices. In place of political impotence, New Age enthusiasts teach a kind of personalized omnipotence, reducing social problems to a matter of interior mind-set.
NEW CONSCIOUSNESS, OLD PROMISES
Some people indulge in New Age enthusiasms by reading and practicing on their own and occasionally attending a workshop or lecture. Others submit to the regimens of one or another cult. New Age books, artifacts, and programs constitute a billion-dollar industry. A 1978 Gallup poll estimated that some ten million Americans were engaged in some aspect of Eastern mysticism. Additional millions of adherents embrace the more secular “self-help” approaches.
New Age consciousness has some things to its credit. Back when the good life was defined as the immobile life (the less physical exertion expended, the better), New Age adherents were jogging and doing yoga and aerobics. While soft-drink companies were pushing their sugar-ridden products and the meat and dairy industries had us convinced that daily servings of beef and milk were vital to our health, New Age nutritionists were promoting the benefits of a sugar-free, low-fat, whole grain intake. While agribusiness thought nothing of spraying crops with toxic pesticides and utilizing chemicalized food processing, New Age proponents opted for organic and natural foods.
While the medical establishment monopolized what still passes for health science, New Age adherents pursued less invasive and sometimes beneficial alternative treatments. It was the established allopathic medical practitioners who for centuries bled their patients, burned and poisoned them with mercury, chained and tormented the mentally ill, ordered homosexuals and recalcitrant women into insane asylums, and spread a variety of fatal diseases in their filthy hospitals while remaining steadfastly ignorant of minimal sanitary standards. Today many physicians remain just as ignorant of nutritional science, preventive medicine, and alternative treatments.
At the same time, some New Age practitioners are themselves not above promoting dubious claims. They offer workshops in self-realization, dream harnessing, guided imagery, visualizations, primal screaming, channeling, rolfing, polarity balancing, aura readings, tarot readings, palmistry, psychic readings, gemstone healing, astrological charting, rebirthing, levitation, spiritual counseling, and other strategems. The promised payoffs range from minor practicalities to miraculous cures, from being able to keep a neater home to transforming one’s entire personality.
In the diverse array of enthusiasms that come under the New Age rubric, two general orientations might be discerned. There are the “inspirationists,” who focus exclusively on benefits in the here and now, and the “spiritualists,” who tell us that the material world is but a passing shadow compared to the mystic realm beyond, where transcendent bliss awaits us. Many New Age theories are not new at all, being borrowed from Yoga, Hinduism, Taoism, Zen Buddism, and other ancient disciplines, transmitted by gurus from India and Tibet or, as it might be, from Brooklyn and California.
What I want to criticize are not New Age practices—some of which strike me as possibly beneficial, others as grossly counterfeit—but the way New Age notions discourage engagement with social problems and political realities. [ 1]
HYPER-INDIVIDUALISM AND SELF-EMPOWERMENT
Both inspirationists and spiritualists believe that individuals have great untapped powers within themselves that have been overlooked or kept submerged. Inspirationist guru Leo Buscaglia tells us “You do have magic. Get in touch with it. . . . It all starts with you. You make the world.” [ 2] For the spiritualists, this internal power reservoir is linked to a metaphysical realm. The goal is to experience “the larger reality of the sacred wholeness that lies at the heart of being, to become one with the cosmic One. [ 3] Whether inspirationist or spiritualist, the supreme guide for comprehending the world is to be found in solipsistic experience. The approach is not much different from psychotherapeutic methods that brush aside the victimizations of the real world; what counts is how reality is perceived.  As est founder Werner Erhard proclaimed, “Reality is make-believe.” [ 5]
Intuition is valued over reasoning. The New Age approach to knowledge is quite different from the scientific method that seeks empirical evidence, replication, and validation, and treats purely subjective experiences as largely unreliable. In the New Age mode, the more subjective and grounded in personal feeling a perception is, the more true it must be. The very ineffable quality of an experience is taken as evidence of its depth within oneself and its veracity and reality—as with mystical revelation and other experiences of faith.
The sociologist Charles Horton Cooley once said that a separate individual is an abstraction unknown to experience. Yet many New Agers place great value on a self-contained individuality. To need others is viewed as a sign of insufficiency, rather than a normal desire of social beings. To be in need of no one is supposedly to be more developed and liberated. [ 6] Thus are the unfortunate necessities of modern-day isolation transformed into virtuous accomplishments.
Not all New Age advocates are of this persuasion. Those who have been called the “touchy-feelies” do not promote individual detachment; just the opposite. They congregate to touch, smile, laugh, and cry together, always with lots of hugs. Here too, the emphasis is on self-affirmation.
New Age self-centeredness resembles the hyper-individualism of the free-market society in which it flourishes. Under capitalism, self-reliance is glorified (most persistently and most ironically by those corporate interests that themselves depend on the government for all sorts of services and supports). The corporate capitalist myth of “rugged individualism” features an atomized person, attached to no one else (except possibly an isolated family molecule), producing and consuming for himself or herself, owing nothing to society for whatever he or she accomplishes. [ 7] Society becomes an amalgam of self-interested beings who enter into market relations that reduce other people to instrumental values. In their focus on the self, the yuppie and the yogi are not that far apart.
In truth, no human accomplishment is an autonomous thing. The athlete, the artist, the business leader, the scientist, and other such achievers, all draw upon the accumulated skills and material resources of those who preceded them and those who currently work with or for them. Even the other-worldly guru is dependent on others who feed and shelter him while he ventures into “higher realms.” Peter Mann sums it up:
Every privilege, every object, every “good” comes to us as the result of. . . the shared labor of others; the language we use and the beliefs we hold and the ways we experience ourselves. Each of these involves a world of others into which we are entered every moment of our lives. Idly, for instance, we take coffee and sugar in the mornings, and even that simple act immerses us immediately in the larger world. Both the sugar and coffee . . . have been harvested by specific persons, most probably in a country where the land belongs by right to others than those who [now possess] it, where the wages paid those who work it are exploitive and low. No doubt, too, the political system underlying the distribution of land is maintained in large part by the policies enacted and the armies acting in our name. . . . [T]he coffee . . . has nothing to do with individual will and everything to do with economics and history. [ 8]
What the New Age ideology leaves out is the common struggle for collective empowerment and social betterment. It is one thing to affirm our faith in the value of the individual and something else to reduce all valued affirmations to individual experience, to see reality only through the prism of self.
PERSONALIZED OMNIPOTENCE—WITH NO VICTIMS
Once we treat interior experience as all-important, it is but a short step to claiming a personalized omnipotence. As New Agers frequently say, “You create your own reality,” or “You choose your own reality.” Everyone is supposedly the author of his or her fate. Self-help inspirationist Buscaglia instructs us: “If you don’t like the scene you’re in, if you’re unhappy . . . change your scene. Paint a new backdrop. Surround yourself with new actors. Write a new play—and if it’s not a good play, get the hell off the stage and write another one.” [ 9] Social reality becomes nothing more than a matter of mind-set and self-will.
Such notions can be carried to chilling extremes by right-wing ideologues. Thus Eileen Marie Gardner, special assistant in the U.S. Department of Education during the Reagan administration, maintained that even the handicapped and disabled make their own destiny:
They falsely assume that the lottery of life has penalized them at random. This is not so. Nothing comes to an individual that he has not, at some point in his development, summoned. Each of us is responsible for his life situation. . . . There is no injustice in the universe. As unfair as it may seem, a person’s external circumstances do fit his level of inner spiritual development. . . . Those of the handicapped constituency who seek to have others bear their burdens and eliminate their challenges are seeking to avoid the central issues of their lives. [ 10]
These “central issues” include Down’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, paralysis, spina bifida, and other incapacitating afflictions.
Gardner’s obscurantist notions bear a strong resemblance to the yogic view that congenital disabilities are deserved, for they reflect the karmic development of one’s soul. In other words, if you were born with cystic fibrosis, it is a punishment for the sins of past lives. The same holds for one’s class condition. As a disillusioned Hindu devotee puts it: “Our spiritual leader taught us that if you are born a poor peasant in a Third World country, destined to live out your life in hopeless poverty, it is because you acted badly in past lives. Conversely, if you are born to wealth or accumulate it, it is because you have earned this good fortune through previous good actions. It is yours to enjoy guilt-free.” [ 11]
One critic interviewed therapists and est devotees who maintained that individual will is all-powerful and determines one’s fate, that those who are poor and hungry must have wished it on themselves, that suffering is merely the result of imperfect consciousness, that those who live well amidst so much deprivation have a higher consciousness, that someone who had been raped and murdered in some way willed it, that the victims of the Holocaust brought themselves to their awful fate, and that whatever one thinks to be true is true, for truth is identical to belief. [ 12]
When injustice is recognized, it is given an individualized genesis. Social, political, and ecological problems “are part and parcel of our way of viewing ourselves and the world. . . . Nothing short of an inner revolution in the way we experience the world will truly help solve them. ” [ 13] It follows that “you cannot hope to improve the world until you first set yourself aright.” Once that is accomplished, you may find nothing wrong with the world. A brochure for a New Age workshop entitled “A Course in Miracles,” tells us that “love” is what “happens when we stop trying to change the world, and change our minds instead about how we see it. . . . We are not victims of the world, and when we understand this we learn to forgive others, enabling us to forgive ourselves.” [ 14]
“If you resent rich people, you’ll never become rich.”
If there are no victims, there are no victimizers. We are all equally responsible for the world’s ills, both the powerful and the powerless, the oppressor and the oppressed, the rapist and the raped, the child abuser and the abused child, the exploiter and the exploited, the warmonger and the war victim, the polluter and the sickened, the greedy few and the needy many. Commenting admiringly on how South African Bishop Tutu preached “humility and forgiveness” in the face of tyranny, one writer concluded, “If we truly want peace, shouldn’t we stop passing judgment on others and look into our own hearts, so that we, too, don’t become part of another collective evil? . . . Who are we to say that those dead [Nazi SS] soldiers at Bitberg were guilty? It is too easy to project our own aggression onto an evil other.'” We must not ignore “the thinly veiled hatred within our own hearts.” [ 15] Resentment and anger are the problem, not the social injustices that might cause them.
For the New Ager, a calm mind is essential for spiritual progress. Unselfish personal actions may be advocated as a way of healing and nurturing the self (which makes them anything but unselfish), but political action against unjust policies is thought to encourage antagonisms and personal negativity. [ 16] In The Greening of America, a book that lamentably became a best-seller in the early 1970s, inspirationist Charles Reich tells us, “Nobody wants inadequate housing and medical care—only the machine. Nobody wants war except the machine. . . . There is no need, then, to fight any group of people in America.” Reich further assures us, “All that is needed to bring about change is to capture [the machine’s] controls—and they are held by nobody.” Messy questions about state power and class privilege, economic exploitation, and inequitable life chances are reduced to life-styles. “The way to destroy the power of the corporate state is to live differently now. The grand strategy is this: resist the state, when you must; avoid it, when you can; but listen to music, dance, seek out nature, laugh, be happy, be beautiful. . . .” [ 17]
One New Age devotee criticized the environmental movement for “broadcasting a doom, gloom and guilt message” and “projecting waves of doom and disapproval” that have caused the movement to be “disregarded for so long.” But luckily “the tide is beginning to turn. It is being realized that the way to bring healing change is to love and nurture ourselves and others; to have fun, to enjoy delicious food, to cultivate prolific gardens [and] make beautiful clothes.” [ 18] To be sure, there is nothing wrong and much good in loving and nurturing ourselves with fun and food. What is wrong is the notion that those activities will rectify the terrible realities of the ecological crisis. Such nostrums seem more like a way of wishing away that crisis.
For most New Agers, involvement in worldly affairs is little more than a distraction from self-development. The yogi Swami Sivananda advises, “Reform yourself. Society will reform itself. Get worldliness out of your heart. The world will take care of itself. Remove the world out of your mind. The world will be peaceful. That is the only solution. . . . If each man [sic] tries to work out his own salvation, there will be nobody to create the problems.” [ 19]
The New Age nexus is largely a class-bound indulgence. One study shows that most cult followers are college educated Caucasians from upper- or middle-class homes. [ 20] Drastically underrepresented are impoverished farm laborers, unemployed factory workers, besieged inner-city dwellers, battered women, and other victims, who have a need for empowerment and protection that has little to do with the rarified refinements of self-absorbed consciousness. How do we empower ourselves without also acting on the social conditions that limit our life chances and our ability to be empowered? “The personal is political” means that political realities have a dimension in our personal lives. But it does not mean that the political can be reduced to the personal.
Most New Age leaders manifest a level of thought and information regarding gender, racial, and politico-economic struggles that is not very profound, being ingested mostly from conventional mainstream news sources. What Jeffrey Masson says about many psychotherapists would hold for most New Age leaders. In their world view, “there is no class analysis, and no [concern about] poverty, inequality, hunger, or traumas such as war, rape and child abuse.” [ 21]
New Agers claim, but do not demonstrate, that improvement of self will lead to improvement of the world. Without denying the desirability of self-improvement, we might ask, does there exist a two-step process: first, I reform myself, then the world around me? Do devotees ever feel sufficiently enlightened, energized, and self-empowered to do battle with the injustices of the larger world? Most New Age enthusiasms do not bestow a more developed ethical commitment. The goal is self-gain not moral advancement. [ 22] A New Age ideology that says only you, not the world, needs fixing is not likely to produce dedicated reformers. One personal growth practitioner noted, “People have taken est, and now they want a business plan”; now they seek classes in “prosperity training and creative financing techniques.”  They become careerists within the system, not crusaders against it.
What we call the “self” and “inner consciousness” are not finished entities, rather they are intimately linked to social experience. Individual realization needs community and communion with others. [ 24] To be sure, we all have a subjective, intrapsychic environment that sometimes needs tending to. But we should not overlook how the process of democratic struggle itself can help bring about inner growth, as we become participants in worldly affairs.
“GOD IN ACTION”: MONEY AND POWER
New Age gurus advocate spiritual regeneration while themselves manifesting a notable fascination for material acquisition. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, one of the gurus who came here from India to do good and ended up doing well, had this to say when interviewed in the Washington Post:
Q: You’re a multimillion dollar corporation. You have property all over.
A: But that is not yet enough. Want more and more. . . . Here I sit with all the possiblities. I need as much money as possible.
Q: Why don’t you raise money and distribute it to needy people? Would this not be a more effective way to bring about change?
A: No, no, it’s not the money that can make one happy.
Q: How can Third World people think about their consciousness when they’re hungry?
A: If they use their brain properly . . . the infinitivity of nature will make them capable of not only earning their ordinary bread but very first-class bread. [ 25]
Phil Laut of Theta Seminars (a western Massachusetts association calling itself a collection of “divine beings in the self-improvement business”) conducted a “Money Seminar” in which he proffered these revelations: “What actually creates money is the mind. . . . Money in the material universe is like God in the spiritual. Money is God in action.” Nor is there not enough to go around. That sort of thinking divides people. “If you resent rich people, you’ll never become rich.” [ 26] One student at this seminar, an ironworker, injected a dash of reality: “At my job I inhale cast-iron dust, so naturally I associate work with suffering. . . . I have to suffer in order to make money.” Did he not therefore have the right to resent his rich and exploitative employers? Laut responded, “So you feel . . . ‘the more money I have the more I have to suffer.’ How can you increase your income with an attitude like that?” The worker was describing an occupational victimization—which the enlightened teacher reduced to a subjective attitude within the victim.
A cult participant described a common problem within New Age organizations: the discrepancy in riches between leader and followers. “I know of several people who have several children who were living on less that $300 a month, and in some cases $7 a week. That disturbed me when I saw [the guru] with a fleet of Mercedes and Cadillacs and several homes.” [ 27] How does the holy leader, who supposedly lives only to impart spiritual teachings, explain his or her opulent life-style? One guru contrasted himself favorably with the Indian ascetics who remove themselves from worldly temptations in order to progress spiritually. How much more advanced was he who could live uncorrupted amidst so much wealth—all of which supposedly gravitated to him because of his elevated spiritual state. The truth was, wealth came to him because his followers worked long hours at the guru’s enterprises and lived in poverty so they could donate the better part of their earnings and life savings toward the further enrichment of their holy leader. [ 28]
Many (but not all) New Age businesses operate like other corporate enterprises. The Whole Foods Market in Berkeley, California, is a case in point. It offers organic foods and a community bulletin board. Its CEO described his enterprise as “driven by a vision of creating a better world” with management and labor working together “with openness, trust, community, shared purpose, joy, and love.” [ 29] But not much love was shown to a worker who was fired for being an outspoken union supporter, nor to the other employees who went out on strike. Whole Foods was the only nonunionized supermarket in Berkeley, paying workers an average of $1 to $5 less per hour than the town’s other supermarkets and offering inferior benefits. While its CEO claimed that the store was owned mostly by its workers, closer examination revealed that he and other upper-level executives possessed the vast majority of stock. Furthermore, Whole Foods Inc., the country’s largest natural foods retailer, is partly financed by venture capital from firms whose portfolios include corporate polluters and contracts with the defense industry, the Air Force, and the CIA. [ 30]
As the guru is elevated, the followers are infantilized and diminished. Many persons (but not all) emerge from cults feeling embittered and exploited by the experience. They relate how their self-confidence was undermined, how they learned to distrust their own judgment, how they gave their money, labor, and uncritical obedience to the self-enriching leader, and how they were separated from former friends, given new names, identities, and belief systems. As one ex-votary put it, “It’s classic brainwashing. They make them so they cannot fit in with other parts of society.” [ 31]
Some New Agers believe “there are changes taking place internally in the whole nature of government and corporations” because more of their numbers are moving into positions of power. [ 32] There is no evidence to support this view. To the extent, if any, that corporations and government show regard for the public interest, it can be credited to the organized pressure of democratic forces and not to any new enlightenment manifested by those at the centers of wealth and power.
At least one erstwhile national leader now promotes a sort of New Age spiritualism. In 1992, the former president of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel—who was raised by governesses and chauffeurs in a fervently anti-communist, wealthy family and who has reclaimed for his private ownership a publicly owned building and other holdings that once belonged to his family—called for a new breed of political leader, who would rely less on “rational, cognitive thinking,” and show “humility in the face of the mysterious order of Being” and “trust in his own subjectivity as his principal link with the subjectivity of the world.” We should have a “sense of transcendental responsibility, archetypal wisdom,” and the ability “to get to the heart of reality through personal experience.” Havel lists the ecological dangers facing the world but denounces the idea of rational, collective social efforts to solve them. He denounces democracy’s “traditional mechanisms” for being linked to “the cult of objectivity and statistical average.” [ 33] He thinks he is being visionary when in fact he is putting forth an elitist subjectivism and antidemocratic obscurantism.
By propagating an apolitical Weltanschauung, New Age enthusiasms have done little to thwart the retrogressive forces that accumulate wealth and military power, destroy the environment, obliterate indigenous cultures, build authoritarian organizations, and oppress millions of people throughout much of the world. One might recall the counterculture that arose in Germany during the 1920s. German youth, mainly the offspring of affluent middle-class urban professionals, took to the countryside to rediscover nature, revived ancient festivals, and remained determinedly apolitical. Emphasis was on personal experience. These Wandervogel talked of an “Inward Way” to enlightenment. Change people, then society would change. Having ignored poltical realities for so long, they added little strength to the anti-Nazi movement. If anything, “they gave Hitler space.”
Other secret cults emerged in Germany. Anti-Semitic, nationalistic, and atavistic, they glorified the primitive volk spirit and “pure” ancient Teutonic culture. [ 34] The Nazis were soon to exploit this marriage of occultism and nationalism. Hitler talked of the Volkgemeinschaft, one people bonded in mystical community under the leadership of the fuehrer. The Hitler youth movement copied the folk mythology, arcane symbols, and nationalistic racism of the earlier cults, adding a strong dose of Nazi discipline. [ 35] In addition, Protestant youth groups, or “Bible circles” abounded in Germany. By 1931, more than 70 percent of Bible circle devotees were pro-Nazi. [ 36]
A moving spirit of New Age thinking is the famous psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jungian symbols and archetypes abound in New Age writings. Jung himself was an anti-Semite and Nazi admirer who talked of “the Jewish problem” and the differences “between Germanic and Jewish psychology.” He thought well of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and saw Adolph Hitler as “the truly mystic medicine man . . . a spiritual vessel, a ‘demi-deity.'” [ 37] When the president of the German Medical Society for Psychotherapy resigned because of the Nazi takeover in 1933, Jung filled the post and became editor of its official journal. In that capacity, he associated with Nazi sympathizers and Nazi psychiatrists like M. H. Goering, nephew of one of Nazi Germany’s leaders Hermann Goering. Jung’s journal carried occasional articles that quoted Hitler favorably, praised Nazism, and propagated racism, including a selection by Jung himself that talked of the deficiencies of the Jewish race and the moral superiority of the “Aryan unconscious.” He hailed Nazism for energizing the deeper recesses of the Germanic soul. Not surprisingly, his work was quoted favorably by Nazi authors. [ 38]
Jung offered racist apologies for colonialism: “The savage inhabitants of a country have to be mastered. . . [The master] must be ruthless. He must sacrifice everything soft and fine for the sake of mastering savages.” [ 39] Jung believed that the modern-day African and other non-Europeans had a more primitive mental development than the European and were childlike in their impulses and thoughts, or lack of thoughts. Referring to the primitive traces of his own unconscious Jung wrote, “I have been led by dreams, like any primitive. I am ashamed to say so, but I am as primitive as any nigger, because I do not know!” [ 40] After the defeat of Nazism, Jung began to heap criticisms on Hitler in an attempt to prove himself clean of collaboration. But he continued to spin theories about the biologically less-developed nature of the African’s mind. [ 41]
Jung was immersed in mythology, spirituality, “archetypal memories,” the wisdom of the “collective unconscious,” alchemy, Teutonic mythology, and other occult phenomena—many of which interested the Nazis also. New Age ideology cannot be equated with Nazism just because it draws upon the work of a Nazi collaborator. But it is worth noting how Jung’s obscurantism serves both, as myth is transformed in accordance with the demands of its historic audiences.
An alienating social matrix becomes fertile land for aberrant enthusiasms. Real grievances cause people to embrace hokey healers or fascist leaders. These false solutions do not make the original complaints any less real. The ancient Greeks understood that when we are divorced from the polis, deprived of engagement in the community by exile or by a tyrant, or confined totally to the privatized realm, we are denied our full humanity. Native American Indians and other indigenous peoples know that to inflict upon our natural environment a misdirected accumulation process for the enrichment of the few also removes us from our full humanity. Real self-empowerment should combine personal awakening with political concerns. We must show that greed and self-enrichment for the few should not be—and really cannot be—the way to a happy society for all. Blending private and public concerns is the best method of ridding ourselves of poverty, including the poverty of compassion and personal feeling that plagues too many of our citizens. All this is easier said than done. Whatever self-help is gleaned from New Age thought, it would seem that the political quietism it fosters does not bring us toward any real liberation—neither social nor personal.
Michael Parenti’s searing critiques of capitalist culture have gained a well-deserved global audience.
1. For critiques of New Age practices by participants, see Martin Gardner, The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988); and Michael Rossman, New Age Blues (New York: Dutton, 1979). For a critical reading of recent New Age best-sellers, see Scott Tucker, “New Rage vs. New Age, Z Magazine, September 1992, pp. 50-51. A more sympathetic treatment is offered by Karen Trester, who sees the New Age as “a visionary movement” that challenges the status quo and existing cynicism and ennui. See her “The New Age Movement: Ideology, Practices & Politics,” unpublished monograph, Green Bay, WI, 1992. For another sympathetic treatment, see Michael D’Antonio, Heaven on Earth (New York: Crown Publishers, 1992). [—> main text]
2. Leo Buscaglia, telecast, December 11, 1984; see also his book, Living, Loving and Learning, (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1982). [—> main text]
3. See Charlene Spretnak, States of Grace (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1992); Dennis Lewis, “Beyond Postmodernism,” Yoga Journal, May/June 1992, p. 81. [—> main text]
4. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Final Analysis, The Making and Unmaking of a Psychoanalyst (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1990), p. 107. [—> main text]
5. As quoted in the Utne Reader, March/April 1987, p. 97. Est workshops, which teach a mix of Zen meditation and personal-growth affirmations, have reached over 300,000 paying customers. [—> main text]
6. James Lynch, “Companionship, an Important Form of Life Insurance,” Prevention, February 1978, pp. 100-102; Elfriede Kristwald, “Now They Call it ‘Co-Dependency,'” Los Angeles Times, February 14, 1990. [—> main text]
7. See the discussion in C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (London: Oxford University Press, 1962). [—> main text]
8. Peter Mann, “The New Narcissism,” Harper’s, October 1975, p. 56. [—> main text]
9. Buscaglia, Living, Loving and Learning, p. 53. [—> main text]
10. Quoted in Molly Ivins, “Thanks for the Memories,” Progressive, December 1988, p. 39. Gardner was eventually ousted from her post. [—> main text]
11. Margaret Noton, “Life with the Guru,” unpublished manuscript, San Francisco, June 1992. [—> main text ]
12. Mann, “The New Narcissism,” p. 46, encountered New Age therapists and devotees of these persuasions. [—> main text]
13. Lewis, “Beyond Postmodernism,” p. 81. [—> main text]
14. The workshop was offered by Dr. Kenneth Wapnick in Bellow Falls, Vermont, June 9, 1984. [—> main text]
15. Carolyn Slack Cage, letter to the Washington Post, May 13, 1985. [—> main text]
16. Some New Age groups like “Peace the 21st” are “politically involved” in their own way. They conduct group “actions” for peace by gathering once a month to meditate for an hour on world peace. These groups supposedly set up powerful waves of peace vibrations that change the course of history. [—> main text]
17. Charles Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Random House, 1970), pp. 305, 347, 348, and passim. [—> main text]
18. Letter by Chris Marsh in Natural News, May 1993 (published by Chico Natural Foods, Chico, CA). [—> main text ]
19. Swami Sivananda, “Peace, Yoga Life, Winter 1984, p. 8. [—> main text]
20. Nancy Duvergne Smith, “Spiritual Despotism,” New Age, March 1978, p. 37. [—> main text]
21. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Against Therapy (New York: Atheneum, 1988), p. 208. [—> main text]
22. Marian Leighton, “Victoria Woodhull Meets Karl Marx: Spirituality and the Radical Movement,” Liberation, Fall 1977, p. 20. [—> main text]
23. Bart Brodsky quoted in San Francisco Bay Guardian, March 5, 1986. [—> main text]
24. It should be noted that most schools of Eastern religion would agree that community and communion are desirable. But the emphasis is on changing one’s own behavior, not that of others; hence, the lack of political involvement. [—> main text]
25. Washington Post, January 22, 1984. [—> main text]
26. Valerie Vaughan, “Money: God in Action,” CenterPeace (Northampton, MA), March 1977, p. 3. [—> main text]
27. Quoted in Smith, “Spiritual Despotism,” p. 81. [—> main text]
28. Noton, “Life with the Guru.” [—> main text]
29. Whole Foods chief executive officer John Mackey, from a company position paper reprinted in Utne Reader, March/April 1992, pp. 75-77. [—> main text]
30. L. A. Kauffman, “Tofu Politics in Berkeley,” Nation, September 16, 1991, pp. 294-296. [—> main text ]
31. Smith, “Spiritual Despotism,” p. 38. [—> main text]
32. An opinion enunciated by Will Noffke, of Shared Visions, a Berkeley personal growth center: San Francisco Bay Guardian, March 5, 1986. [—> main text]
33. Vaclav Havel, “The End of the Modern Era,” New York Times, Op-Ed, March 1, 1992. [—> main text ]
34. Dusty Sklar, The Nazis and the Occult (New York: Dorset Press, 1977), pp. 1-46. [—> main text]
35. John de Graaf, “The Wandervogel,” New Age, March 1978, p. 47; Sklar, The Nazis and the Occult. [—> main text]
36. De Graaf, “The Wandervogel,” p. 47. [—> main text]
37. Masson, Against Therapy, pp. 94-112; Dusty Sklar, The Nazis and the Occult, pp. 134-139. [—> main text ]
38. Masson, Against Therapy, loc. cit. After the war Jung changed his tune and claimed he had spoken up for Jewish doctors and had been in conflict with the Nazis. Masson could find no evidence to support these claims. [—> main text]
39. Masson, Against Therapy, p. 115. [—> main text]
40. C. G. Jung, Collected Works, vol. 18, p. 286, cited in Farhad Dalal, “The Racism of Jung,” Race and Class, 29, Winter 1988, p. 14. The editors of the Collected Works appended a footnote claiming that the word “nigger” was “not invariably derogatory in earlier British and Continental usage, and definitely not in this case.” In fact, “nigger” was most certainly a derogatory term used by British officers in the nineteenth century against rebels in India and native peoples in Africa and by British leaders like Lloyd George—all well before Jung wrote. To claim that Jung was using some earlier innocent usage of the term is only one of a number of whitewash and salvaging jobs done on Jung by the Jungians. [—> main text]
41. See Dalal, “The Racism of Jung,” pp. 1-22; also C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973; first published in 1963). [—> main text]
SOURCE: Parenti, Michael. Land of Idols: Political Mythology in America. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. Chapter 2: The New Age Mythology; pp. 15-25, 175-177.
©1994 St. Martin’s Press, Inc.
©2002 Michael Parenti. All rights reserved.
Published by The Autodidact Project with permission of the author.
Dr. Michael Parenti is a progressive political analyst, lecturer, and author of 17 books including The Terrorism Trap (2002) and the forthcoming The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome . For further information see the Michael Parenti Political Archive.
William R. Clark is Professor and Chair Emeritus of Immunology at the University of California, Los Angeles. His new book, Bracing For Armageddon?: The Science and Politics of Bioterrorism in America, provides a reassuring overview of what we really need to worry about – and what we don’t. In the excerpt below we learn about one early bioterrorism attack in America.
In 1981, the Rajneesh cult, founded by a displaced Indian mystic named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, purchased a 60,000-plus-acre ranch in north central Oregon, not far from the city of The Dalles (population 11,000). The Rajneesh commune soon grew to several thousand souls, who enjoyed various degrees of success in their search for peace and enlightenment, in an atmosphere of easy drugs and sex. But the Bhagwan clearly flourished. He accumulated ninety Rolls Royces, five private jets, and a helicopter.
Not content with having built a thriving community on their own land, cult members gained electoral control of the nearby small (population 75) town of Antelope in Wasco County. They named their new town Rajneesh and quickly converted it to their own needs and ends, to the utter disgust of the mostly retired locals. Soon, perhaps growing weary of life in such a small town, Rajneeshees began vying for seats on Wasco County boards and commissions. Reaction at the county level was mixed, but mostly negative. A few saw potential downstream benefits from the influx of money and reasonably educated people, but most shared the views of their compatriots in Antelope.
In mid-September 1984, a dozen people who worked in or had recently eaten in several restaurants in The Dalles became ill from food poisoning. One of the restaurants, a Shakey’s Pizza franchise, was co-owned by a member of the Wasco County land-use board, but this raised no particular flags at the time. The number of victims grew over the following week, and the biological culprit behind it was soon identified by public health officials: Salmonella enterica typhimurium, a bacterium commonly causing food poisoning. Everyone was treated with appropriate antibiotics, no one died, and the incident seemed to have subsided.
But a week later it was back. This time ten restaurants were involved. Local health services, including medical laboratories, were overwhelmed. The only hospital in The Dalles quickly ran out of beds. The number of persons who became ill soon exceeded 700, considerably beyond what might be expected in a community of this size for a normal outbreak of salmonella poisoning. The city called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) in Atlanta for help. By the time help arrived, local health officials determined that most or all of the affected people had eaten at salad bars, and restaurants were immediately advised to stop serving salad. They did.
There followed an exhaustive investigation of all suppliers of salad vegetables and dressings to local restaurants. Everything came up clean; even the local water. Preliminary reports from state and federal health investigators stated that the poisonings were most likely caused by accidental incursions of salmonella into the food supply of the restaurants involved. Even the CDC felt that the food handlers were the most likely source for introduction of the bacteria into the salad bars. Some locals, in particular another member of the Wasco County land committee, believed the Rajneesh cult was somehow involved, but lacking any hard evidence or direction from health authorities, investigations into this possibility eventually fizzled out.
The involvement of the Rajneeshees became clear only as the result, a year or so later, of internal squabbles within the cult. The Bhagwan himself implicated some of his lieutenants in the affair, and called for a government investigation, after which he beat a hasty retreat to India. Authorities found abundant evidence at the commune of not only S. enterica typhimurium but a fairly sophisticated medical research laboratory and evidence that the cult had considered employing other deadly pathogens, including HIV – the AIDS virus. They had purchased salmonella essentially over the counter, from a Seattle scientific supply house. Among their intended victims, in addition to various county officials, was U.S. Attorney Charles Turner, the top federal prosecutor in Oregon. He was to be spared infection with salmonella. Cult members planned to shoot him. They failed. But they also intended to use their cultured salmonella to poison the Dalles water supply in the days before an upcoming election. The grand plan, as it turned out, was to reduce the number of Wasco County citizens able to vote, thereby increasing the influence of Rajneeshees. For various reasons, this never came about.
Probably no more than a dozen Rajneeshee leaders were fully aware of our involved in the salmonella poisonings. Seven cult members were ultimately indicted in various murder or attempted conspiracies. The cases against the conspirators came to a close only in 2005, when the last of these returned from self-imposed exile in Germany and surrendered to authorities.
While the Rajneesh incident gained national and international attention among those who had been predicting bioterrorism in America, it could be argued that what happened in Oregon was not so much a form of bioterrorism as a simple criminal attempt to manipulate a specific civilian population and its various civil agencies through malicious intimidation – a biocrime. There was no discernible political aim beyond an attempt by a few members to influence a single election and to expand their power and influence within the cult, and perhaps the intimidation or possible elimination of some individuals. Still, many of the features of bioterrorism were there: preparation and crude weaponization of a human pathogen, delivery of the pathogen to intended victims, and serious social and psychological disruptions in the targeted population.
– See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2009/10/bioterrorism-beginnings/#sthash.Pe1sZLvM.dpuf
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