individualism (1)

The Shadow Side of "New Age" Thought


I first became aware of something like "New Age" thought (some call philosophy or spirituality) in my early 30s. I was more influenced by the Human Potential Movement and its positive optimistic view of human beings and our potential. I then got into Anthroposophy texts (e.g., Rudolf Steiner) and esoteric thought in my late 30s. Without going into all that detail, I became more interested in "mystic" dimensions of reality.

All those forms of knowledge were fine but the more I saw the holistic health movement take-off in the 1980s-90s and to this day, and the use of esoteric "New Age" thought about this sense we are going through a major transformation of consciousness, etc... the more skeptical I became. I was studying Ken Wilber's work parallel at this time of these explorations into alternative forms of reality and philosophies of life. All a long story.

This blog I merely want to point out the shadow (if not pathological, if not violent) side of "New Age" thought, from the perspective of its theories about reality, about human subjectivity, about knowledge, knowing and understanding (i.e., epistemologies), and its politics, etc. There is nothing "value-neutral" nor innocent, I have found out the hard way, about how people of all stripes use and abuse "New Age" thought.

Here is one example I saw today in a book someone gave Barabara. It is a book on someone healing themselves (apparently) of their cancer diagnosis, which if you turn to the chapters in the Table of Contents, there is a chapter called "Diagnosis of Fear"--indeed, many have written about the problem of fear in relation to both getting cancer and in treating it effectively (if the latter, is actually even possible in some cases). So, there are a lot of books on cancer, and a lot of holistic, 'new agey' books too. Let's look at the quote by the author of Dying To Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing by Anita Moorjani (2012). Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.

I merely want to keep this blog short, and will give you the essence of my critique of what is typical of New Age thought (holisitc health as popularized and spiritualized, and of which Hay House publishers pumps a tonne of these kinds of books on the market and has for some 20 years or so, often based around Louise Hays' kind of thinking and attitudes). Moorjani (2012) wrote in the front pages her Dedication (and her faith statement):

I believe that the greatest truths of the universe don't lie outside, in the study of the stars and the planets. They lie deep within us, in the magnificence of our heart, mind, and soul. Until we understand what is within, we can't understand what is without."

This statement of faith, belief, and epistemological claim (teaching) is very common and very troubling to me from many perspectives (i.e., an integral perspective for one). It wants to more or less diss the external (more Objective) world of information (that "lie outside") and replace it with a privileged inner (more Subjective) experiential world of information to guide our lives. The author falls into the swinging pendulum trap of trying to correct the abuse of Objectivism (e.g., hard empirical science) as the privileged source of information for guidance toward the opposite of what is now abuse of Subjectivism ("lie deep within us"). This subjectivism is individualism in another disguise, and it is what Wilber in his Integral Theory diagnosis of the problems today, a form of Upper Left quadrantism (all value is put on inner psychological and spiritual truths and ways of knowing). It's 1/4 of reality that Moorjani is privileging in her Subjectivism excess. Why not simply give the "outer" and "inner" worlds their equal due as important in providing us guidance and a relationship with reality in the entire Kosmos (to use Wilber's term)? This is actually quite a violent epistemic move on Moorjani's part and one made way too often, way to uncritically, by the Human Potential Movement/New Age (e.g., holistic spiritual health discourses) today.

If you want more on my critique on this epistemic violence, you can share your views on the FM blog. I am more interested in an epistemic fearlessness as guidance than this fear-based quadrantism of Moorjani's. Her way, which is a discourse common beyond just her that she has adopted, is very inadequate to solving the "wicked problems" of the 21st century, and we have to get over thinking that excess Subjectivism is going to correct excess Objectivism--that's simply 'bad' advice, and worse, it is violent to the Kosmos (and that means, to you and I as well).

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