That ol' New Age Thing Again (Resistance is Futile)


First of all; die, 2015, die. You were an absolute blight of a year whose only virtue was that you seemed to speed by before anyone knew what was happening.

 I haven't even tried to compile a year-in-review post because I've spent the past two weeks not only trying to recover from a difficult December but also desperately trying to purge 2015 from my memory†. I'm happy to say I've been largely successful.

 2015 will enter the annals as "my year of affliction," seeing as how I struggled against the Triffid-levels of pollen clogging the atmosphere, a struggle that seemed to launch the chronic fatigue feature of this delightful condition I've been blessed with into zombie-like realms (pollen is no small thing with autoimmune disorders). How I got anything done at all this year, I still don't know. Chalk it up to sheer willpower, or the bills that need to be paid whether I can lift my head from my pillow or not.

I've been dealing with this condition since I was in high school and did the chiropractic/naturopath route for a while. Unfortunately, this condition outsmarted those approaches (it's not called the "rabid dog of chronic pain conditions" for nothing, believe me) and finally forced me to try a more conventional approach. 

After a long and rather masochistic period in my life where I wouldn't even take an Advil for an headache,  I have become a firm believer in the power of the pharmakeia, both synthetic and natural, medicinal and visionary (well, I was always a believer in that). 

But at the same time I've been working with all kinds of supplements as well as diet (eliminating wheat is a good first step to anyone with any kind of health issues) and exercise changes. Unfortunately, this condition requires a lot of trial and error and the errors can have brutal side effects. 



I was thinking about all of this when a link popped up recently in my Facebook feed, "Ten Facebook Pages You Need to Stop Sharing From." It was a link to a blog called "Dawn's Brain," the author of which seems to be an art teacher who decided to expand her resume into teaching biology (probably in reaction to arts programs being increasingly targeted by budget-minded administrators). 

As with any new convert, Dawn seems especially militant in putting forth the increasingly illiberal and authoritarian mindset so dominant in "Progressive" circles these days ("you need to stop"). It must be said that she's fighting a rear-guard action.

Dawn's rants seem mostly targeted at alternative health advocates, but she toes the corporate/ government line on every conceivable issue, so much so that you begin to wonder seriously about her agenda. One of the Facebook pages she condemns is Consumer Reports, a watchdog group that has been the bane of corporate criminals for over 40 years. Do they really belong on a list with InfoWars?

Despite the millions of dollars thrown at critics of alternative medicine (a field which I am no uncritical supporter of, believe me) and the endless arsenal of actions taken against practitioners of it (everything from nuisance suits to organized harassment to more troubling possibilities), it only seems to grow. 

The first list starts with Alex Jones (whose pages currently has 996,837 followers, up from the 856K Dawn cited in April of 2015.  Compare that to the less than 250K Dawn's hero the Amazing Randi's page has. She also includes mainstream magazine Prevention in her first list (!) along with all the other alt.medicine sites she slams.

But what is truly remarkable here is the incredible size of the New Age sites the list excoriates. Something has changed in the culture while no one was paying attention.

The list is topped by the uber-New Age Mind Unleashed, which currently has 7,098,141 fans, almost a half-million increase from the number Dawn cites in her list and now more than Mythbusters' page, a show that's been on the air for over a decade and gets all the free (and fawning) publicity it could ever ask for.



Dawn's runnerup prize goes to another extremely New Age site, Spirit Science, which now has almost 10 million members (and almost 4 million active discussions). That's larger than most Protestant denominations in the United States (larger than several of them put together). Dawn's number 3 goes to MindBodyGreen, which boasts 2.88M members

In fact all of the memberships of these pages are so much larger than the numbers Dawn cites in April that the discrepancies are somewhat suspicious, especially since she doesn't include the "likes" numbers in her screenshots. This is especially notable in the case of (New Age page) Collective Evolution, who she cites as having 1.7M fans, but now has just shy of three million.

I'm old enough to remember when New Age was the fringe of the fringe and now it is the mainstream. Despite all of the attacks and ridicule the movement has suffered (a lot of which is not without cause), it keeps chugging along and changing the culture around it in its own image. Even  the established denominations- conservative ones, even- are being transformed by it (a lot of megachurches use New Age methods and practices). 

I've written a lot about the New Age movement and how it is growing exponentially while being almost completely ignored by the mainstream media. It now shows up as a rapidly-growing demographic, the "Spiritual but not Religious." The movement has also evolved into something perhaps unrecognizable to its founders, many of whom were credentialed therapists and scientists. 

I had a discussion with a decidely wistful Michael Murphy at Esalen about the old New Age versus the new New Age in 2008, which I find somewhat poignant given that Esalen has been the engineroom for so much of the new New Age, with its therapeautic, somatic orientation and lack of intellectual content. 

I told him how exciting it all seemed before it began its long march into the mainstream, when it was more a street-level occult thing (think Robert Anton Wilson in his prime rather than Deepak Chopra). Even New Agers I find not only insipid but dangerous (particularly the Neo-Theosophist types like Elizabeth Clare Prophet) had the glamour of the new and strange back in those heady days. If you read Jacques Vallee's autobiographies you can get a good sense of the power the old New Age wielded, before it became all crystals and yoga mats.

THE SUREST WAY TO KNOW YOU'RE NEW AGE...

I can say I'm not really a fan of the New Age but very few New Agers will ever admit to the label either. It often seems like the hallmark of a New Ager is denying they're New Age. 

Yet here I sit on this blog dedicated to topics that booksellers would put in the New Age section without a moment's hesitation, listening to ambient music on SomaFM, preparing and eating vegetarian food I bought at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Later, I'll take a break and do my daily meditations not because they're "New Age" or not, but because they work for me.

So even though I look at the New Age movement and frown at its lack of content and discernment and the endless elite manipulations it's been the medium for, I am forced to acknowledge its Borg-like power. I'm not alone, the Internet is full of people who occupy some corner of the New Age but will actually criticize or even attack the New Age. 

The Great Invisible New Age Mother Church doesn't seem to mind. You can slam the New Age one minute and then advance the cause of UFOs or alternative health modalities the next. Go right ahead. Actions speak so much louder than words. Namaste.

And now Corporate America is constantly looking to establish its "Green" cred and is even promoting the latest New Age movement*, "Mindfulness." Even Televangelists are hawking health food and supplements, which--believe me-- was anathema back when all this started. We even see Republican pashas are making pilgrimages to Burning Man, even more unimaginable given the event's pagan-freak (or more accurately, old New Age) roots.

Resistance may very well be futile, given the New Age's whatever-it-takes pragmatism and seemingly endless capacity to adapt and mutate. Its lack of recognized leadership, dogma, and creed make it hard to track but also very hard to target. That, its amorphous nature and something-for-everyone variety make it immensely appealing for a culture tired of 50 years of Evangelical hectoring but not quite ready to follow so much of Europe into the nihilist wastelands. 

PEAS IN A POD

It might seem as if there are serious headwinds for the movement, the rise of Islam and campus radicalism and so on. But these are not new phenomena. 

Refugees from the collapse of campus radicalism in the 70s and 90s and actually fed into the New Age's growth. And considering the immensely fragile state of today's so-called "social justice warriors," the New Age will probably find a new influx of adherents when these movements inevitably collapse to infighting and organized resistance. Some might argue the seeds are already being planted...

The New Age seems to grow and grow while nobody is looking and now it's literally everywhere, even implanted inside the sanctuaries of its former enemies.  American New Agers are more numerous than any sect aside from Catholicism yet hardly any would identify themselves as such.

In a funny kind of way it reminds me of Invasion of the Body Snatchers- people you've known and least suspect will become followers of some New Age practice or another, sometimes precipitated by a health or personal crisis. They won't see themselves as being any different, but over time they will inevitably become distinctly New Age (though some people might say this is a case of pot and kettle).

I should mention here that the scariest version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers- the 1978 version with Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy- was in fact a parody of the original New Age movement.**




† I've also been doing a lot of sync work but that, as they say, is an entirely different story.
*Synthesizing Buddhist practice with modern psychological science is the very essence of New Age. It's the dictionary definition of the term.
** A more explicit parody is the 1980 film Serial, starring Martin Mull, Tuesday Weld and Christopher Lee.

36 comments:

  1. Eating food that is grown in organic farms, reaching out to spirit realms, considering red necks as body snatchers, reading books about strange phenoms, synch mode, are all new age type of content. Gnosis is. Some times people look downe on people searching for truth in their lives, Live and let live. Smile! Dennis

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    1. Well, the New Age didn't invent anything. It basically absorbed a lot of things that came before. Why it's been so more successful than say, Theosophy, is an interesting question.

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    2. My first thought is that the reason for its success is that it's just composed of bits and pieces of previous philosophies, ontologies and other bits and pieces. 'Western Civilization' is nothing if not a shambolic syncretized mishmash. It has been at least since the British colonized India and were, in turn, colonized culturally by it. That process took almost 100 years from the adventures of Clive and Cornwallis to the adventures of Richard Burton (not the actor, the explorer and polymath) and another hundred to George Harrison picking up the sitar. In the meantime, we got Theosophy and Gurdjieff, the Rubiyat of Omar Kayuum (which must have sold about a hundred bajillion copies). I would say that's the original New Age - the Edwardian era of Crowley and Blavatsky, Rasputin and Spiritualism. I think the reason the latest New Age, the successor to the Hippy New Age is taking hold might have to do with a palpable sense that reductionist materialism isn't working for regular people. The people who I hear cry the blues the most about New Age obscurantism tend to be bourgois types who themselves are doing yoga (hot yoga naturally since it's all about punishing themselves for their impure thoughts about Starbucks' treats). I have a dear friend who is a well paid technician on a high level who is always posting those atheist memes on G+ and many times it really comes across as class antagonism.

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    3. Well, I just read a snarly piece on the New York Post about Davos going all "New Age", though the writer seemed totally uncertain what the term actually meant. Your neckbeard types sneer at it because they don't understand any of it at all. My argument has always been that we don't need to steal from other cultures, we have a wealth of esoteric spirituality in the West and Near East that has been suppressed for centuries. I have to say seeing rich folk from Silicon Valley in sweat lodges is just plain cultural imperialism. You can't just divorce a sweat lodge from its culture, it's part of a tradition. I would argue the same of ayahuasca. Meanwhile, there are traditions from antiquity- with incredibly mysterious and exotic origins- that are every bit as powerful that should be revived. Traditions that could build bridges among peoples not only in the West (the Mysteries and traditions like Santeria and Vodoun are incredibly consonant) but across the East as well.

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    4. @Morwen & @Chris - Indeed, the 'New Age' offers yet another cultural smorgasbord for neckbeards, poseur, and the like to do their cafeteria-style nonsense. (I'm part Cherokee, ask me sometime how fun it is when skinny white chicks tell me they are 'Two Spirit').

      And that's the thing for me - if you have a genuine interest in these esoteric things from whatevers culture, then honor that by learning, growing, and doing, but not appropriating. And *if* they learned about the esoteric things from their own culture, I'd respect them more, as well.

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  2. Hey Chris,

    Excellent work, as always. I prefer the terms 'Outcast' and 'Freak' to describe myself and my worldview, but I'll take New Age. Why the hell not? As for 2015...yeah, I hope it dies horribly so I can piss on its corpse. 2015 has been an ugly, brutal year for me. Endless financial troubles, the dissolution of a loving nine-year relationship, depression issues, etc. It sucks to be Raj Sisodia even at the best of times, but 2015 sucked real hard.

    But hey ho, I'm still a First World inhabitant, with all of the luxuries that come from living within the belly of the beast. I might be living in actual poverty, and heartbroken, but compared to most of the world's population I'm still living like a fucking king. Shit's all relative, man. My pain is still real, still my own, but knowing how lucky I am despite my struggles sure does take the edge off. ;)

    Peace

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    1. 2015 was a bastard of a year. But it stripped away some things I was attached to that I didn't need. So in that regard it was instructive. Let's hope things improve for the both of us.

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    2. Chris - that happened to me, in regards to some people in my life.

      2015 was a hard year, but a good year for me. Like a fire that burns away impurities, I'm stronger and leaner than I was before.

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    3. Good to hear, Anna. Let's keep all our fingers crossed for relief and growth this year.

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  3. Another excellent post.
    I hope the new year is better for you than the last one.
    Yes, I have gotten quite a few laughs mocking the New Age. New Age Bullshit generator, anyone? http://sebpearce.com/bullshit/
    You make some excellent points. Even though, I have, on occasion, mocked the New Age, I have also spent years on the Ayahuasca medicine trail in search of healing and transformation. I am also an avid reader of your blog as well as Gordon's.

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    1. Well, that's my point. We all make fun of it yet somehow end up in bed with it at some point or other. It's downright insidious!

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  4. New Age for me, is not so much an issue of content (hell, I'm a chiropractor who studies the occult!), but more of a question of mindset. I see too much passivity and lack of discernment. All the meditation, "oneness", etc needs to be balanced with philosophy, ethics and a will to action. Otherwise we're just blissful slaves. Light the incense and pass the ammunition.

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    1. I agree. I'm not down with the whole "Oneness" trip either. I like multiplicity. Oneness seems a bit totalitarian to me. But it is what it is, as they say these days.

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    2. Funny, I was just listening to a Terence McKenna rap (h/t Lorenzo) and he was going on about DMT demonstrates a multiplicity in opposition to the New Age trip about Unity/Oneness. I always thought that the appeal of Christianity to the Roman elite (whether Atwill and Acharya were right or not) is that it lends itself perfectly to totalitarianism. Fascists love to point out that Communism is a thinly veiled extension of Christian ethics.

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    3. I think anyone who's had significant psychedelic experiences realize we live in a multiverse as opposed to a universe. The idea of a universe was thought up by philosophers who had insufficient data.

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  5. Yeah, "New Age" was something of a joke to me and my friends growing up and even in college (as we listened to Jon Anderson of Yes sing his quite New Agey lyrics over their music ;-)). Yet here I am, reading The Secret Sun and Rune Soup religiously (so to speak ;-)), thinking of myself as "spiritual, but not religious", listening to 70's German ambient music, following alternative medicine sites and blogs (have been to a homeopath myself a few times as well), and generally interested in the mystical world beyond what science allows for.

    To one of your points, there is a woman I work with who was responsible for introducing me to alternative medicine (well, I discovered it on my own, but she helped hone me in on stuff that was the most helpful to me). She visits a naturopath, takes supplements of various sorts and eats organic food. She's also a hard core right wing conservative Christian. She had to have a talking to at our work place about sending out her crazy Christian and right wing articles and links to everyone in our entire department on a regular basis. She hounded one woman who had been diagnosed with MS, by sending her constant info about "being saved". The woman with MS was/is an atheist and had sent an email to all of us about her condition and how she specifically DID NOT want to be sent religious indoctrination material.
    So this woman did just that to the point the woman with MS had to go to management to get her to stop. Crazy. Yet she still involves herself in very New Agey stuff, like alternative medicine, without batting an eye. Interesting how that works.

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    1. Well, there are certainly a lot of Christian sects- even Christian apocalyptic sects that were all about the whole natural health trip a long time before there was a New Age. On the other hand you could argue that New Age is an outgrowth of 19th Century Christian Unitarianism and Utopianism as well. So it's complicated, as the kids like to say.

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  6. Another excellent parody of the New Age movement (and many other things) is "Everything You Know Is Wrong", the classic comedy record of the Firesign Theatre. Anyone threatening to put on a pair of Chi Pants should be made to listen to this record in its entirety. A hilarious snapshot of New Age California in the early 1970s.

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    1. Even better, watch the documentary on The Source Family, probably the first fully-formed New Agers of our time. I'm sure the Firesign chaps were aware of them. Ironic too that TFST have a totally New Age name, innit?

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  7. Good post, and farewell to 2015, what a monster of a year that was..

    I can recall at least one brief flash of the New Age into the mainstream - remember The Secret?

    I'd never really considered how widespread it has become since then, and yes, I'm knee deep in it too - meditation, spirituality and natural remedies galore.

    I guess we're all just looking for happiness and what we deem truth, one way or another.



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    1. The Secret is interesting because it's one of these New Age things that come out of nowhere and become cultural monsters. Think The Celestine Prophecy, What the Bleep Do We Know? and Zeitgeist. Just as quickly they seem to fade back into the woodwork but leave a huge mark on the culture.

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  8. Sounds like the Council of the Nine have already influenced you immensely. Or perhaps, interstellar telepathy has influenced you without you being aware? I mean, Timothy Leary, Philip K. Dick, John C. Lilly, HP Lovecraft, they weren't wrong about how this operates and influences us on another level of our consciousness, no?

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    1. That's a very interesting question you raise there, Sheeple. May I ask what brings you to bring it up now? Is there something in this piece that brings it to mind?

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    2. "And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee" -Friedrich Nietzsche
      or as Paul McCartney once said; "Open the door.....let 'em in!" (let me in) Or did Jim Morrison really say that first?
      Hee Hee! But Welcome to the club, brother! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascended_master
      Use the powers, wisely.

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  9. Used to think I knew what truth is, but I haven't known for a long time. So I try on new stances all the time in order to glean some new insight that usually fritters itself away with time and experience. It could be that having no anchor is a detriment so I keep trying. Now I'm considering that the gods whapped us in the heads this year for collective transgressions, our own and/or those of the world. No one is an island. I can count some of the gods I've ignored in the interest of seeking comfort and I've been made to pay as well. Have been rereading Daimonic Reality so this may all pass away in time too.

    Great post, Chris. We can't override cultural influences, but seeking peace ain't no lofty goal. Whatever works?

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    1. I think admitting you don't know the truth is the first step on the road to real wisdom. The fool thinks he knows it all. The wise one is constantly questioning.

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  10. I haven't seen this much tripe since cruising the weird meats section of the local supermarket. And that includes a fly-by of the canned meat section. Do I have your attention? Is your Ire at maximum, cursor in the reply box flashing it's ready, mouse pointer hovering the publish button with an itchy trigger finger preemptively on the right mouse button? Good. I did not read past the second paragraph, but I will later. I just wanted to say hello. :)

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    1. I're havin lunch but Howdy!

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    2. Wow, is this THE Apollyon? Big fan of your work. Honored to have you drop by, even if just for a paragraph.

      Hey, Delorus, what's cooking? =)

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    3. Well if you must know, then...you like...already know...ya know? The one and only sucker to volunteer for the job. I read less of you weirdos stuff than you might think. ;) But if it so inclines my tickled fancy button, I just MIGHT say something real saucy.

      Seriously, title grabbed me, and you seem to have a right leaning centeredness that seems to be firmly planted on the left. Spice of life sir. The sameness of our differences.

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  11. For what it is worth, Malic Acid, naturally occurring in apples and inexpensive to take as a supplement, is supposed to be very effective for chronic fatigue among other things.

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    1. Ordered. I'll see it how works. Always looking for effective supplements.

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    2. Glad I could help. I actually stumbled on it by accident. I was eating these Sweet Tart sour candies (I never eat candy hardly) and was curious where the sour came from as their extremely sour. Well, Malic Acid was the stuff, so curious I began researching it and there is solid sciance behind it's use for Fibromyalgia, CFS, and oral hygiene of all things. Then when I read your post about having chronic pain as well as CFS, a light went off. Hope it helps, I think it might. Natural supplements are very potent and useful.

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  14. chronic fatigue, autoimmune disorders?
    have you heard of the Gut And Psych Syndrome diet?
    "allergies, chronic fatigue, lethargy"
    are "typical GAPS symptoms".
    http://www.gapsdiet.com/pregnancy-and-baby.html
    here's a summary of the GAPS diet:
    http://www.gapsdiet.com/gaps-outline.html
    my summary of the diet is:
    . if you have a gut infection or dietary reasons for
    a leaky gut that can cause the auto-immunity or hyperimmunity,
    then the GAPS diet removes infections and sources of leaky gut.
    . the GAPS diet pulls out all the germ food
    (fiber, sugar, grains)
    and replaces it with a germ-killing high fat diet;
    then you add probiotics (foods with good germs),
    and slowly bring back the fiber.

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