About the "New Age"
Posted: 08 November 2006 05:56 PM   [ Ignore ]
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[b:e039a6452d]About the "New Age" [/b:e039a6452d]
by Takis Fotopoulos
(taken from a longer essay called, The Rise of New Irrationalism…)

(Somewhere in the middle of last century) millions of people in the "First and Second World" moved to religious dogma or irrationalism in general. This move reflected the inner need of many people for ‘certain truths’ in the aftermath of the crisis of ‘objective’ rationalism (science) and in particular of ‘scientific’ socialism (belief in historical, social and economic ‘laws’ etc). In all these cases, people, taking for granted that the world has to have a meaning, independent of the one we give to it, began looking for external sources of truth.

This led to the revival of traditional religions (‘reborn’ Christians in the USA, neo-orthodox Christians in Greece etc), or to the expansion of other forms of irrationalism (astrology, esoterism, New Age mysticism and so on). No wonder that today the largest percentage of Americans in a decade say they never doubt the existence of God, value daily prayer and believe in miracles!.

The rise of the New Age movement, which once was a joke but today has become big business, financially but also spiritually, and threatens established churches, perfectly illustrates the crisis of ... rationalism in general…

A flight to facile irrationalism is today being put forward in the name of protest against the great ideas developed by the philosophical systems of the past. Naive faith in UFOs, astrology and New Age is meant to replace the great philosophical questions of the past about the meaning of life and value systems. New Age ‘philosophy’ contains both rational and irrational elements in a monstrous ideological ‘soup’ which reflects the degradation of intellectual activity in our era.

Examples of rational elements in New Age ‘philosophy’ are its postmodernist critique of objectivity and the use of Jungian psychotherapy, as well as of parts of Western science, like quantum physics, or ecology, which are exploited to show, (in a way full of contradictions and inaccusracies) the interconnection between all living entities. (Fotopoulos is not a postmodernist, and means rational here as intelectual vrs emotional. He thinks these "rational" elements are just as false as the irrational elements below)

Examples of irrational elements, which in fact are the dominant ones, are its use of Eastern and non-Christian spirituality, mysticism, emotional healing etc.

The fact that the New Age movement went from strength to more strength over the two stages in the rise of irrationalism could be explained by its intrinsic connection to both the consumer society and the neoliberal internationalised market economy. Thus, as regards the connection of New Age to consumerism, as Madeleine Bunting points out:
"The New Age bears many of the characteristics of the consumer capitalist culture which it critiques. What Chopra and Dyer have grown rich on is promising the Western consumers spiritual thrills—peace, love, wisdom-as well as wealth and health for the perfect life. The smash and grab raids on ancient spiritual traditions become a form of spiritual consumerism for workshop junkies."

In other words, New Age ‘philosophy’ was the perfect ideological complement for the consumerist life-style of the thriving middle classes, which desperately needed a spiritual ‘bubble’ to fill the void created by material consumerism. One could therefore say that New Age, objectively, functions as the ideology of consumer society (in the sense of justifying it).

Also, as regards New Age’s connection to the present neoliberal internationalised market economy, one should not forget that a basic characteristic of New Age ‘philosophy’ is its individualism. Thus, starting from its fundamental principle that there is no objective reality, New Agers are led to the conclusion that they should create their own experience of reality in their thoughts. The inevitable outcome is that each New Ager becomes obsessively pre-occupied with changing his/her thoughts, rather than changing the world. It is the same individualism of New Age which attracts all those, particularly in the middle classes, who wish to find a ‘meaning’ in their empty lifes. In fact, one may argue that even the New Agers’ attraction to ecology (many Western ecologists are also New Agers) may be explained by the same motive: to maximise individual happiness which is threatened by the deterioration in the quality of life implied by the continuous expansion of the growth economy.

Still, this does not mean that New Age appeals only to the middle classes, although its class structure seems to be dominated by them, since they are the only ones who can afford, anyway, the expensive New Age workshops, healing courses, holidays, etc.

Needless to say that the combination of mysticism and individualism that New Age represents is a fertile ground for the rise of any type of totalitarian regimes, this time, perhaps, of the eco-fascist/spiritualist variety. The conversion of Rudolf Bahro (the ex- radical critic of bureaucratic socialism and green radical) to New Age mysticism is a case in point. Thus, Bahro, starting from what he perceives as a fact, i.e. that many people in the depth of their hearts are already calling for a "Green Hitler", he argues for an antidote in terms of a self-transformation with a transpersonal, spiritual or religious dimension rather than in terms of creating a new politics for a true democratic society. No wonder that Bahro’s conclusion is that "we must think of the (ecological) movement as an ellipse whose axis has two poles, Brown and Green" and that he ends up with an appeal to reject the dichotomy between them!

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Barry F. Seidman

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Posted: 09 November 2006 01:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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We would like to avoid multiple identical postings ... refer to Forum Etiquette. Also, is this not copyrighted?

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Posted: 09 November 2006 02:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Reply to Doug

Hi Doug!

The small portion of Fotopoulos’ essay is on the web, and he has told me that as long as no one is making money off of, or is plagerizing it, he does not mind I post parts of it on blogs - which this is.

I posted it in two places because there are too many subdivisions on this forum and this is not just a one-topic essay.

Barry

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Posted: 09 November 2006 03:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Hi Barry,

If he’s OK with you posting it, then no harm done.

It’s really better if you want it in two folders to put it in one folder and put a thread with a hyperlink in the second folder. That way people don’t have to read through the same thing twice. (Or start up two identical discussions).

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Posted: 09 November 2006 04:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Doug Said: It’s really better if you want it in two folders to put it in one folder and put a thread with a hyperlink in the second folder. That way people don’t have to read through the same thing twice. (Or start up two identical discussions).

Good idea!

I will…


Barry

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Posted: 01 February 2007 08:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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It strikes me that those most prone to new age ideas are the baby boomers, especially those in their teens and twenties during the late 1960s. Much of the “interconnectedness” and “universal spirituality” nonsense is a direct descendant of similar statements in the 1960s, when George Harrison led a bemused set of Beatles into the muddy waters of Indian spirituality, jazz musicians found gurus faster than flies find honey (John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Carlos Santana, etc.), and the phrase “new age” arose because of the supposed “dawning of the age of aquarius.”

New Age spirituality continues the childish me-centered lifestyle of the hippies, yippies, drop-outs, and truth seekers. New Age spirituality is a kind of thumbing the nose at “the man” represented in the traditional churches; it is getting back at one’s parents with an “I’ll show them” attitude. It promotes much of what traditional churches deny, such as more open sexual attitudes (a plus), toleration for contrary beliefs (a plus), and respect for the environment (a plus). One seeming plus, however, works against it, and that is the attitude toward science. This, too, seems very 60s-70s, and works like this: wherever science sounds mystical, it is true, and wherever it is about hard facts and strong skepticism it is a tool of the government and “the man.” Followers of new age ideologies also tend to be impressed by words that sound mystical (interconnectedness, for instance) or have a ring of scientific validity (“energy” being a particular favorite).

All of these aspects were prevalent enough in the 60s and 70s to create songs mocking new age claims, notably The Who’s “The Seeker” from 1970 (note also the latter portions of the 1969 rock opera “Tommy” in which Tommy sets up his own alternative church), and a brilliant parody recently re-released on CD, The Firesign Theatre’s satiric audio drama “Everything You Know Is Wrong” (1975).  As the 70s wound down into the dreary 80s and Reagan Republicanism sapped the last dregs of hope for the much-desired total transformation of culture, the battered and bruised new age movement bled into the mainstream, there to find solace as an accepted, because fairly neutralized, “alternative.” The fast-buck merchants moved in and completed the conversion from anti-culture to branch office of American consumer captialist protestantism. This is where we find it today, with Deepak Chopra as prime example of the new age equivalent of Jim Bakker, a slew of popular books telling us (incorrectly) that Eastern philosophy somehow predicted quantum physics, and supermarkets for the spiritually needy.

It is sad, in a way, because there was much that was good in new age thinking: a much healthier and happier attitude toward sex, skepticism toward certain traditions, openness and tolerance for human differences, respect for the environment, and a readiness to take in new scientific insights. But it all gets muddled and buried in gibberish (Chopra being the master of it), false analogies (the speciality of Fritjof Capra), and a particularly American form of self-centeredness.

[I hadn’t intended to write anything this long; it just came out that way. Apologies.]

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Posted: 02 February 2007 07:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Hmmmm. Ok, so the New Age movement is full of fuzzy thinking and is in general pretty ridiculous and close to self-parody. I guess we can all agree on that. Of course, mainstream religion, despite centuries of intellectual apologia, is also pretty ridiculous (as the hysterical bit of light satire you referred us to earlier, Mr. Diety, illustrates so nicely). And the use of postmodernism and ill-use of science are certainly evident in the New Age outlook.

But I have to say I’m a bit skeptical of some of the historical and cultural argument in the essay above. How does a reaction to the spread of scientific outlook develepment of “scientific socialism” (not clear exactly what that means) responsible for this flight from reason? Seems like Europe (certainly part of the “First and Second Worlds), has developed pretty widespread atheism/secularism instead. And isn’t religious irrationality at least as potent a force in the Third World? And the cry that the ills of society are due to the lure of mammon (or as you call it “material consumerism”) is raised every generation and seems a bit thin to explain any major cultural/ideological shifts. And history is full of examples of “facile irrationalism” during previous periods, so I don’t think the case is very strongly made that the New Age tbhing is a unique phenomenon reflecting something fundamental about our times or circumstances.

Don’t get me wrong- I agree there is a crises of irrationalism in the U.S., and in other parts of the world. And I think our technology and economy have developed to permit an irresponsible and excessive consumption of resources. I’m just not convinced the rise of the New Age and fundamentalist religions are a reaction to some spiritual void created by this consumerism. Priests have always tried to turn our attention away from the material world and to their version of the spiritual world, and they have always used the argument that material possesions corrupt mind and spirit as a way to do this. How is Fotopoulos’ argument different from this old device?


Finally, there is a good bit of implied contempt in the essay for non-Western thought (“Examples of irrational elements, which in fact are the dominant ones, are its use of Eastern and non-Christian spirituality, mysticism, emotional healing etc. “),and for the concept of personal transformation (which is labeled as Eastern, though this is debatable). While this concept figures prominently in some Eastern religions (I can’t say I’m enough of an anthropologist to know if it is widespread as a cultural notion outside the West), these cultures are arguably more community-focused and less stridently individualistic than ours, so it’s hard to see how borrowing the idea of inner transformation from the East leads the New Age movement to a narcissitic individualism that then distracts adherents from the business of actually changing the world, as the essay implies. The references to the Eastern mystical elements of the New Age melange smack some of ethnocentrism to me.

In general, the essay seems to be using an attack on the New Age “ideology” (if such a thing can really be said to exist as a distinct or definable entity) as a way to promote some pre-existing ideas about the evils of consumer capitalism and the “neoliberal international market economy.” New Ageism certainly deserves all the scorn we can heap on it, but I’m not sure I buy the thesis that it has arisen because, and is a manifestation of, the ills of a market economy.

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