Blaming the Victim: From New Age Thought to Conservative Politics

Recently, Republican presidential candidate and erstwhile pizza magnate Herman Cain responded to the Occupy Wall Street movement by declaring that people who are not rich have only themselves to blame. Ignoring the fact that America’s corporate kleptocracy has rigged the game just a tad in its own favor, much as he once ignored the dubious nutritional value of his junk food, Cain has become the kind of black man that Ann Coulter can be proud of. But our purpose in this post is not to draw further attention to the yawning gulf between the haves and have-nots, or to fret about the long-term viability of a resource-exploitation system that elevates profit above ecological sustainability. Our topic here is thHerman Cain - Blame the Victime blame game itself, and whether New Age thought logically lends support to the divisive acquisitiveness epitomized by America’s oligarchs or could offer us a pathway to a more inclusive, holistic polity.

Before addressing the socio-political ramifications of New Age thought, we need to deal with the issue of blame on the individual level first. While readers of this blog know that I do not regard Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret as anything remotely close to the definitive statement of New Age concepts, her little marketing exercise elicited all the responses one would expect from a general public and media who have never taken the time to actually work with these concepts in their own lives. And one of those objections was the charge that people are being blamed – just as Herman Cain would blame them – for living in poor conditions. But these objections are shared by many people who do think about issues of personal development, though not necessarily in a New Age fashion. This was highlighted by a recent discussion over at the Greater Good, which started out as a debate on the role of empathy but expanded into issues of evolving consciousness. In response to my assertion that the evolution of consciousness requires a recognition of the process through which we create our own realities with our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions, one commenter made an unusually eloquent (and civil) statement of skepticism about the merits of New Age ideas. These comments, presented below without editing of any kind, deserve a thorough response.

The idea that we create our own reality has some truth in it—we can indeed self-author our lives and creatively enact reality through conscious intent and action. However, it’s simply not the case that we create our own reality independent of the “selection pressures” of either the many cultural contexts in which we are embedded (and would do well to reflect on and disclose) or the various social systems in which we are enmeshed. As its often presented in the New Age culture, the idea that we create our own reality can/does lead to blame (including self-blame) when the world doesn’t respond to our desired creations. Also, it can/does produce narcissism, insomuch as “I” alone have this power and do not have to take others into consideration (“We”) or what is going on in the world (“It/s”). And so on. The idea does not hold up to postmodernity’s demand for intersubjective grounding (and can therefore house hidden forms of oppression and discrimination). And it all but eliminates the need to consider and meet modernity’s demand for objective (“it/s”) evidence. So, although I’m all for (re)introducing post/modern society to the importance of consciousness per se, I don’t think we’re likely to get very far with this idea as its usually understood and used.

These comments display a level of careful thought that stands in marked contrast to the glib self-assurance of materialistic atheists, for whom anything that cannot be dissected under an electron microscope (preferably, several electron microscopes) smacks of magical thinking fit only for ridicule. The objections that have been stated above seem eminently reasonable, and I have wrestled with most of them myself. Ultimately, however, they are limiting ideas that prevent us from understanding how our own lives work and, by extension, what we really are.

The Red Herring of Narcissism

Though the issue of narcissism is not the most important of the objections being leveled against New Age concepts, it needs to be dispatched quickly. One could actually level a similar accusation at any process of self-discovery, from yoga through mindfulness meditation practices to Secret-style manifestation rituals. Had I been compiling this list of objections, I would have used the term solipsism (the idea that nothing is real except the self) instead, but that would be equally wide of the mark.

There are two counter-arguments to this charge. The first is that, if it is true that we do in fact create our realities with our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions, then we must turn our attention inwards to observe, understand, and use this natural process. A strict materialism focusing primarily on outer, objective reality represents, in this context, an absurd denial of the way things really are. Secondly, one of the fundamental axioms of New Age thought – which really sticks in the craw of the Catholic Church – is the principle of oneness. All life and matter is connected. This proposition loses its apparently abstract character as soon as you start to work with the creative principle: when you see your thoughts and emotions making a difference in outer reality, that connection is no longer theoretical. (We will illustrate this in much greater detail in a little while.) Paradoxically then, focusing on our inner powers actually leads to a much greater connection to the world and people around us, adding a rich new dimension to the human experience.

The Tyranny of Objective Materialism

The elephant in the room, of course, is the fundamental question of whether we create our realities solely through considered action, which I like to refer to as “the conventional approach,” or whether our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions are much more than mere mental ephemera. Our commenter above asserts that the New Age version of creativity “simply isn’t true” and subsequently backs that up with the more persuasive point that “it all but eliminates the need to consider and meet modernity’s demand for objective… evidence.” There is an answer to this contention, but, unfortunately, it is an answer that will probably never be accepted by those who make it.

The proposition that we create our own realities – not just through direct physical action but through thought and emotion – is an empirically verifiable proposition. It can be tested by experience. The problem is that the experience in question is personal and not susceptible of duplication and independent verification by anyone else. Furthermore, our experiments cannot be conducted in a laboratory full of stainless steel instruments and petri dishes. For traditional scientists, this simply won’t do. They will never acknowledge that a legitimate field of enquiry can exist outside of their epistemological framework. Apart from the cost to the advancement of human knowledge, this is rather ironic, since the process we need to employ at the individual level is, in many respects, startlingly similar to the scientific method.

You must be your own laboratory. You must become fully aware of the contents of your mind and heart and observe, over time, the discernible connection between your inner “actions” and the life you know outside the self. As discussed in the previous post on the Law of Attraction industry, this is an intensely personal, difficult, error-prone, and time-consuming process. It is also, in my humble opinion, an essential task that we are supposed to perform. Without undertaking it, we will tragically spend our entire lives being completely ignorant of the basic rules of the game. We won’t even know what we really are. If we eschew this endeavor because independent verification of our hypotheses through peer review in learned journals does not appear to be possible, then we have elevated procedure over substance.

Blame as Edification

At the personal level, the central question of blame actually provides a fine opportunity to flesh out this creative process in graphic, personal terms that may be far more accessible and meaningful than an abstract discussion of theoretical principles. Just like the critics of The Secret (a book I panned for other reasons), our commenter above refers to the “blame the victim” syndrome. But he also makes the crucial addition that this blame often becomes self-blame “when the world doesn’t respond to our desired creations.” Having been working with these concepts for approximately 25 years, I know a thing or two about self-blame and the very real damage it causes.

As a young man armed only with dreams and a paperback copy of Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization, I reached a low point one day when I became intensely frustrated that the things I (thought I) wanted weren’t happening. It was my fault. I wasn’t doing “it” right. I wasn’t good enough. I was a failure. In this state of depression and guilt, I went into the back yard to practice some golf shots. During the course of that practice session, my ever-friendly cat sauntered over to say hello. Thinking that I could easily lob the ball over her, I flubbed the shot and hit her square in the side with a golf ball. She flailed around like a headless chicken, and for a few awful moments I thought I had killed my cat. Somehow, she flopped all the way to the garage where she sought some sense of safety under the car. Understandably, this normally loving creature didn’t want to come out when I approached her, but I eventually pulled her out and reassured her as best I could, wracked by guilt and self-loathing for a colossal misjudgment. For the next few days, she was clearly in pain and avoided interaction with me. But I was very, very lucky. She came through alright, and for the remaining two years of her life I treasured every minute of her company. Even though I now have another beautiful cat sitting in my lap as I type, the memories of this episode are still crushing. In fact, previous periods of recollection have themselves spawned further experiences that reinforced the same feelings, but it is not necessary to detail them here.

Thus, rather ironically, the question of blame turned out to be a powerful argument in favor of the proposition that we create our own reality. The example I have given, which is but one of countless others observed over two plus decades, also illustrates how physical action fits into the picture. The right actions (or should that be wrong actions?) will occur automatically when you are setting yourself up for a particular outcome. In the example, I was setting myself up to feel lousy about myself. The body – and even the “considered” thoughts that we usually credit with control over the body – took whatever actions were necessary to contribute to that outcome. Had I not been feeling so intensely negatively about myself, and therefore not setting myself up for experiences that would lend further credence to those feelings, my actions would have been different and the outcome would have been different. Let me state this explicitly: personal control does not reside at the superficial intersection between our bodies and the world around us; rather, it resides deep within the self, in our inner beliefs and emotions. That is where the action really is.

I very rarely discuss specific experiences from my own life in public fora, but I am making an exception here for a good reason. The awful events of that day in the life of a young man were a classic example of how we create our own reality. While the self-help industry tends to focus on manifesting shiny baubles, I think more about the dark side of this creative power, for the avoidance of horrible outcomes is, in the final analysis, far more important than the creation of perfect Hollywood endings. And, as I’ve said elsewhere on this site, the easiest way to open the eyes of a skeptic would be to have them play with creative fire – feel intensely negative emotions and see what happens. When you’ve been burned by that fire over and over again, as I have, then at some point the penny finally drops. While still intellectually aware of all the conventional arguments about the need for physical action in objective reality, there comes a point where the process of reality creation just can’t be denied any more. This does not mean that we abandon the conventional role of “considered action” altogether; it means that we are henceforth able to play the game on different levels. This enhanced perception and understanding constitutes a bona fide evolution in our consciousness.

There is a fine line between taking responsibility for one’s creations and beating oneself up about them. It would be tempting, given the damage that is caused by engaging in excessive self-blame, to fall back on the Buddhist mindfulness practice of being entirely non-judgmental. But, as we discussed in an earlier post, the kind of mindfulness we need – one which takes proper account of the creative principle – necessarily entails the exercise of a personal judicial function. The trick, of course, is to find a non-destructive perspective which acknowledges responsibility and then proposes practical solutions without imposing unduly harsh punishments on a self that is bumbling towards greater understanding. Learners need to be given some slack. And we are all learners, even if some of us have already completed the introductory coursework. An attitude of patient forgiveness towards oneself is far healthier and more productive on both an individual and, as we shall now examine, a social level.

From the Personal to the Political

For most observers of the political Ron Paul - Let Him Diescene, the discussion we have just had about New Age principles is either mumbo-jumbo or simply irrelevant. But for us, an obvious question now arises: if we are all, as individuals, ultimately responsible for the conditions of our lives, should we not tend to be rabid free-marketeers calling for a minimalist government? Does the New Age lead us to the stark libertarianism of Ron Paul, in which a sick person unable to afford health care should be allowed to die?

One day, in a far distant, hypothetical future in which the vast majority of people have come to live in the way I have described – fully cognizant of the role their inner actions play in producing outer results – such a polity might be justifiable. But that prospect is so unrealistic that I really don’t think it is even worth talking about, and I would strongly resent any argument against New Age thought made on the grounds that it would produce a cold, unfeeling state that left everyone strictly to their own devices.

On the contrary, I would argue that in our current state of enlightenment – which is to say a state where most people don’t have a clue how life really works and are not likely to find out – a strong case can be made for a social framework that attempts to protect people as much as possible from the consequences of their own ignorance. When people are unaware that their thoughts and emotions do not just describe reality but also affect it, they are going to get into trouble en masse. (Fans of the Seth series by Jane Roberts can explore this further in The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events.) It might be fair to object that the creative principle that has been espoused here implies that nothing can be done for them anyway. But belief in individual power does not negate belief in compassion and empathy as essential cohesive values in a society, and until we have completed a long transition to a state of universal understanding then that empathy needs to be manifested through the organs of social consensus; namely, the agencies of governance. State action of this nature may be little more than an exercise in damage limitation, but that does not make it futile.

It is also important not to forget the New Age emphasis on oneness. For many people, a feeling of spiritual connection to their fellow humans – and the other creatures with which we share this planet – is enough in itself to inculcate political values that abhor exploitation and harm. (Remember President Bush’s derision for people he described as “Marin County hot-tubbers”?) Working with the creative principles described here only heightens that sense of connection. Far from leading us to an atomized society of selfish, materialistic loners, it reinforces the ties that bind in a deep and powerful way. No man is an island because no island is an island: remove the ocean waters that create the appearance of isolation, and you find the terrestrial unity underneath. This perspective is indelibly imprinted by observing the way in which everyone and everything happens to be in just the right place at just the right time to produce a personal creation (whether desired or not). Truly, we are part of a spectacular symphony of creative energies.

At a less abstract level, I would repeat a point made earlier: awareness of the creative principle does not necessarily lead one to abandon the conventional approach to life. Thus, my own politics are diametrically opposed to those of Herman Cain and the obnoxious Ann Coulter. The sense of responsibility that I have for my own life – which some might describe as excessive self-blame – does not lead me to support federal tax policies, such as Cain’s ridiculous 9-9-9 plan, that are clearly beneficial to the small elite that has amassed a disproportionate amount of economic and political power in our society. Let me put it this way: the inculcation of personal mindfulness only serves to increase the sensitivity of social bullshit detectors.

Most fundamentally, any creative principle, be it New Age creative visualization or the conventional approach, is simply a vehicle for the attainment of the objectives we choose. Either vehicle may be used to advance a preference for empathy and compassion. I am tempted to add that these vehicles are value-neutral, but that would be about as convincing as the National Rifle Association’s ghastly assertion that guns don’t kill people. The New Age creative principle – based on universal connectivity and working discreetly yet efficiently behind the scenes – is infinitely more benign than the blunt instrument of conventional action. Social justice and environmental survival are not under threat from people who meditate, visualize, or explore their inner selves. But they most assuredly are under threat from the decidedly conventional principle of taking what you want by force.

7 Responses to “Blaming the Victim: From New Age Thought to Conservative Politics”

  1. Scott Says:

    Enjoyed the article but would like to clarify that Ron Paul didn’t make the statement you are referring to. His perception is that when “helping” others is not forced on humanity that we re-engage that empathetic parts of our nature. Here’s a video of Dr. Paul that you will enjoy and help you to better understand his position.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Rv0Z5SNrF4

    Believe it or not if you take the time to understand Ron’s positions and why he has them, you will find that following the path of liberty is equally liberating to the New Age as it opens pathway for syntropic scientific enquiry (an empirically verifiable proposition) to become mainstream. Forced anything attempts to place stranglehold’s upon the flexible maneuverings of Spirit which in turn will harm our social structures sooner or later – unity is the path. Please don’t let mainstream color your vision of Ron Paul but really go check his ideas out. Thanks again for the great post and I look forward to reading more on your blog.

  2. Mayank Says:

    Indeed we create our own identity and we can overcome any obstacles to maintain it.

  3. Rick Darby Says:

    This site may or may not be “An Intelligent Guide to Meditation MP3 & CD Brainwave Entrainment Audio,” but as socio-political discourse it is spectacularly unintelligent. You caricature conservatism and libertarianism. Neither is anything like your ridiculous parody of their ideas, as you would know if you took the trouble to learn about them.

    Like so many academic leftists, you do not yourself get out in the world and see the corruption of values brought about by the welfare state — you live in a hermetically sealed environment where your utopian fantasies need never be subjected to reality testing. Like our demagogue president, you imagine you can bring about heaven on earth merely by removing any reward for work and creativity through
    taxation and confiscation.

    I have a couple of your discs, by the way. Whether they are spiritually uplifting or just another con game I haven’t yet decided. But this foolish posting of yours inclines me to think the latter is more likely.

    By the way, if you cared about responses to your dumb postings you would know that the comments don’t work. Fix your site and publish this or I’ll know you are a fake.

  4. HigherPlane Says:

    Mr. Darby:

    Thank you for visiting Meditation-MP3.org.

    I have been having problems with the comments on this site for some time. Without getting too technical, the plug-in that handles comments is constantly updated by its author and does not seem to “talk well”
    to the rest of the software upon which the functioning of the site depends. The plug-in in question has been disabled for now, and comments are working correctly without it.

    You are actually the first person to complain about this situation. Numerous other comments have been submitted – mostly spam – in the last few months, so I was not aware that comments did not work at all.
    Thank you for bringing the matter to my attention.

    As to the content of this particular post, I will simply say that I am a million miles away from being an Obama supporter. This post was an attempt to apply certain New Age concepts in a larger, social context.
    I did not expect it to be well-received, but I would appreciate it if readers would refrain from attempting to ram the discussion into the familiar left v. right paradigm. That is not really where it belongs,
    and there are far more important (and subtle) issues here than whether “tax-and-spend liberals” are misguided.

    If you would like me to post your e-mail and/or this response on the site, I would be happy to do so.

    Have a good weekend.

  5. Rick Darby Says:

    Dr. Thompson — you are Dr. Thompson? I sign my own name on my blog (www.reflight.blogspot.com) — it will not do to promote a leftist ideology while rebranding it a consideration of New Age philosophy. That’s just bringing cultural Marxism in via the back door instead of teh front.

    As far as I can make out from all your verbiage, you believe political conservatives “blame the victim,” while you are willing to admit that some New Agers do the same. (An acquaintance of mine called it New Age Fascism: “You have cancer? What a wonderful opportunity to learn how you are thinking bad thoughts that keep you from being well.”)

    You write, “Does the New Age lead us to the stark libertarianism of Ron Paul, in which a sick person unable to afford health care should be allowed to die?” What rubbish. Cite one example where Ron Paul says that or it could be reasonably inferred from what he says. Paul is something of an eccentric and doesn’t necessarily represent my thinking, but he understands a very important and basic reality that you do not: a country cannot endlessly spend money it doesn’t have, borrowing and borrowing until the system crashes, for an infinite list of transfer payments to members of the professional victim class. When it becomes obvious to all that a person can have any number of babies they can’t afford to take care of, can shoot up drugs and receive disability payments, etc., etc. — all on borrowed money (current national debt was $17 trillion last time I read the figure) — then a significant number of people will take advantage of it instead of acting responsible. Why bother when you can get by on an EBT card from the federal government? Easier to spend the day watching TV or holding up liquor stores.

    You think that is “blaming the victim,” I guess. All I can say is you need to leave your easy chair and egalitarian fantasies and learn something about real human nature.

    Not all unfortunates fit the descrlption above, and the deserving poor (pardon me if that sounds Victorian, but the Victorians had more common sense than we do) should be helped. That is very different from supporting the undeserving poor by economic policies that will inevitably result in wildfire inflation (the Fed is creating $85 billion a year in so-called fiat currency that is paper backed by nothing).

    “I would argue that in our current state of enlightenment – which is to say a state where most people don’t have a clue how life really works and are not likely to find out – a strong case can be made for a social framework that attempts to protect people as much as possible from the consequences of their own ignorance.” Wrong. Ignorance and learning the consequences of ignorance are the great teachers. As long as Sugar Daddy protects people from their own folly — with the cost borne by people who have worked and taught themselves instead of settling for dependence — the result will just be more clueless people. Getting a clue takes effort, something many of the class you would protect lack. I have overcome a good deal of naivete about “how life really works”, and it took a long time. I was very poor for most of my life. But at least I have self-respect for figuring it out myself instead of having some remote bureaucrat decide what was best for me.

    Your own politics are “diametrically opposed” to the “obnoxious” Ann Coulter. You are not clear about what exactly is so obnoxious about her — to leftists it’s a reflex — but while she is not a deep or systematic thinker, she is an agent provocateur, skewering political correctness with wit. We need people like her to question unexamined ideas like the value of diversity, including mass immigration forced on an unwilling country by their masters in Washington.

    Thanks for your consideration. I would be obliged if you would publish both of my rejoinders (the original and this), as well as your own comments, of course.

    Sincerely,

    Rick Darby

  6. HigherPlane Says:

    As an initial matter, I am not Dr. Thompson. Dr. Thompson has his own website; this is a completely independent website that happens to recommend his products among several others. Any viewpoints expressed on this website should not be attributed to him.

    I appreciate your willingness to take the time to actually read this post. Most people who come here are simply looking for an easy backlink to their (or somebody else’s) website. As I said yesterday, the main purpose of this post was to discuss what you aptly call “New Age Fascism,” not to introduce “cultural Marxism” through the back door. (If you look at the rest of the content on this site, this is clearly not a political website.) I almost wish I had not ventured into the political thicket, as doing so has simply taken us off track. That was a writing error on my part. But, since I cannot undo that choice, we can talk about political matters if you wish.

    Your condemnation of the welfare state is all-too familiar, and reminiscent of syndicated columnist Cal Thomas. There are a couple of blindspots in this worldview that need to be addressed.

    First, the amount of money being created by the Federal Reserve is far higher than you state. The amount printed in recent years, as the economist Michael Hudson has detailed, exceeds $13 trillion. Yes, much of that has been used to purchase government securities, thereby enabling America’s fiscal binge to continue. But the part of this program that somehow escapes media attention is the purchase of toxic assets from the banks, at par, in order to restore their balance sheets. I believe the phrase I’m looking for is “cash for trash.”

    This monetary support for Wall Street has been supplemented by various Administration policies, from failing to prosecute bank CEOs (“too big to fail; too big to jail”) to creating various mortgage schemes that masqueraded as assistance to underwater homeowners but gave the banks a pretext to hang on to their vast portfolio of properties a little longer instead of foreclosing immediately and driving house prices into freefall. (See this weekend’s Counterpunch for a further discussion of this.)

    Upon consideration of these central government efforts, one has to ask: where is the real “entitlement” problem here? In poor black neighborhoods in Ohio and Atlanta, or in the concrete canyons of lower Manhattan and the beach houses of the Hamptons?

    The other right-wing blindspot is the cost of America’s global military empire. Counting all the various places that these costs are hidden in addition to the core DoD budget – Energy, Veterans’ Affairs, etc – the sum is well over $1 trillion per year, a number that coincides remarkably with the magnitude of the annual federal budget deficit. Never mind that the Framers warned us of the dangers of entangling alliances or a standing army; what did they know about the meaning of republican government? Ron Paul, to give credit where credit is due, is one of the very few politicians to discuss this openly. No wonder he never got anywhere in the primaries.

    America is not in trouble because lazy people won’t work. (And where, exactly, are they supposed to work, anyway?) It’s in trouble because its institutions have been co-opted by the corporations and the banks, who have elevated short-term profit-taking as a primary goal. The deteriorating distribution of income, the mounting stress on our environment, and the steady disappearance of genuine democracy all attest to this. If we’re going to talk about blame in a social context, let’s at least make sure that we point fingers in the right direction, rather than in the direction the right wants us to point.

  7. Jane Doe Says:

    Thank you so much for this site and your articles. I have struggled for several years with a “diagnosis” of type 2 bi-polar disorder. I have found that in combination with cognitive therapy the binaural/isochronic therapy has virtually eradicated my symptoms. I am also starting to wonder if (I speak only for MYSELF here) my illness wasn’t actually a self-fulfilling prophecy brought on by a mother who simply could never let me be myself and constantly told me something was “wrong” with me. I am NOT suggesting that mental illness is not “real” or that some very unfortunate souls do not need medical/psychiatric intervention. But I am definitely questioning my own “diagnosis” and labeling theory is still a legitimate school of thought when it comes to the mentally ill. I am very curious as to the site owner’s thoughts on this. In any case, thank you for the informative articles. I too have serious philosophical problems with “The Secret” and other self-actualization pursuits, but in general, have found relief in basic self-affirming methods.
    Best wishes,
    “Jane Doe”

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