Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On the Personal, the Political, the Pathetic, and the Commoditization of the Spiritual

James Arthur Ray, the leader of the recent "Spiritual Warrior" workshop that ended up killing two people during a sweat ceremony gone horrifically wrong, is one of three people identified in The Secret as, and I am not making this up, "philosophers". The three are:

John Demartini
Bob Proctor
James Arthur Ray

"Philosopher" is just one sub-category of the 24 "teachers" credited as part of the spiritual juggernaut that is The Secret. One "teacher" is identified simply as "The Miracle Man", another as a "Visionary", one a "Metaphysician" and one as a "Past Life Plant Therapist" (OK, I made that one up). I guess the makers of The Secret just asked people what they wanted to be identified as. I would have said "astronaut".

Interestingly, two people are identified as Quantum Physicists, and both of them actually are that: Fred Alan Wolf and John Hagelin have Ph.D.'s in physics (Wolf from UCLA, Hagelin from Harvard). (If Fred Alan Wolf knew the secret to success, btw, he would not be hanging out with these low-brow sleazebags. But you gotta pay the mortgage, I guess.)

James Arthur Ray's "philosophy" appears to be a mish-mash of the teachings of P.T. Barnum, Dale Carnegie, and Professor Harold Hill. Here are some representative quotes taken from his website:

"The real key to creating the life of your dreams is achieving true Harmonic Wealth®."

"You simply (and deeply) want to make more money and become more successful."

"You've come to the right place [if] you want to double, triple, even multiply by ten the size of your business."

"Since the beginning of the Journey, I have increased my monthly commissions 100%." [from a satisfied customer]

The following is taken from a fascinating paper by George Davis (Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marshall University in Huntington, WV), Pop-psychology and the Spirit of Capitalism: Self-Help, and the Work Ethic as Neo-Liberal Governmentality (a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Western Political Science Association, March 2007, Las Vegas, NV):
Understood as a governmentality, neo-liberalism represents a rather distinct approach to social and political life. Although neo-liberalism shares traditional liberalism’s concern with the ways in which individual freedom might be maximized, where traditional liberalism posits the market as simply one domain of freedom among others, neo liberalism “extend[s] the rationality of the market . . . to areas that are not exclusively economic” (Foucault 1997, 74). Neo-liberalism, in effect, crashes the barricades that separate the economic from the social and political. It breaks down any distinctions between the market and other possible domains of modern life and considers all facets of human existence governable by the same economic logic or rationality. Perhaps Gordon (1991) puts it most succinctly when he explains how this logic of the market now
concerns all purposive conduct entailing strategic choices between alternative paths, means and instruments; or, yet, more broadly, all rational conduct (including rational thought as a variety of rational conduct); or again, finally, all conduct, rational or irrational, which responds to its environment in a non-random fashion . . .
Economics thus become an “approach” capable in principle of addressing the totality of human behavior, and consequently, of envisaging a coherent, purely economic, programming the totality of governmental action. (43)
Where traditional liberalism imagined the state functioning only as the ultimate arbiter and regulator of market freedom (e.g. Smith 2000, 779), American neo-liberalism reverses this relationship between state and market and offers the organizing principle of free market as “the organizing principle for the state and society” (Lemke 2001, 200, emphasis mine). The individual commitment to self, work, and personal responsibility that Max Weber christened the Protestant ethic seems an important foundation stone in this neo-liberal worldview (see Taylor 1984).
Foucault 1997 is: “The Birth of Biopolitics.” In Paul Rabinow ed. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. Essential Works of Michel Foucault Vol. I. New York: New Press, 73-80.
Gordon 1991 is: “Governmental Rationality: an Introduction.” In Graham Burchell et. al. eds. The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality.Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1-52.
Lemke 2001 is: “’The Birth of Biopolitics’: Michel Foucault’s Lectures at the Collège de France on Liberal Governmentality.” Economy and Society 30 (2): 190-207.
Taylor 1984 is: Sources of the Self. New York: Cambridge University Press.
For any other sources or references please see Davis' original paper linked to above.

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