Sunday, January 03, 2016

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.

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