[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!
Barry F. Seidman