Back to previous post: First Frost

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Chili-Dog Casserole

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

October 15, 2009

$9,695 New Age sweat lodge session kills 2, injures 19
Posted by Teresa at 08:40 PM * 980 comments

1. The story.

I recommend starting at VerdeNews.com, a small-town news operation that’s done a good job on this story.

Friday, October 09, 2009: Two die, 19 ill in sweat lodge incident.

SEDONA — Two people have died and a total of 19 were treated at one of three medical centers Thursday night when participants collapsed after a New Age-type sweat lodge experience near Sedona.

As many as 68 people are reported to have packed into a tarpaulin-covered dome at the remote retreat in Deer Pass Valley about 6.5 miles south of West Sedona along Oak Creek.

Saturday, October 10, 2009: Investigators seek answers in deaths, illness during sweat lodge ceremony.

…[Yavapai County Sheriff Steve] Waugh also said that [James Arthur] Ray, who led the sweat lodge ceremony, refused to talk to investigators on site and returned to California.

“We will at some point in time schedule another interview with him,” Waugh said.

“I do not know why he chose not to speak with us,” Rhodes* added. “Everyone else we have spoken with has been very forthcoming with information.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009: Teamwork: Verde Valley Fire talks about Angel Valley rescue.

There is much finger-pointing in the wake of two sweat lodge deaths at the Angel Valley Retreat. Yavapai county building officials say they issued no building permit for the temporary sweat lodge structure measuring 20 by 20 feet in which 68 participants crowded around steaming rocks.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Spiritual Warrior self-help instructor James Arthur Ray, Howard Bragman, disputes that Ray’s staff built the structure saying that Ray’s contract with the Angel Valley spiritual retreat called for Angel Valley to “design and construct” the sweat lodge.

Three people remain hospitalized, one in critical condition, one is listed as fair and one in good condition at the Flagstaff Medical Center.

Meanwhile, the chief of the Verde Valley Fire District, Jerry Doerksen, and his public information officer, Merry Shanks, told the press Monday about what they described as the “most significant mass casualty event the Verde Valley has ever experienced” from a medical emergency. …

“We’ve never seen anything like this before.”

2. The guy who made this happen.

James Arthur Ray is a failed businessman turned New Age hustler who sells what he calls “the Science of Success,” and runs exceedingly pricey workshops.

A New York Times article on him from 07 March 2009, Even in Difficult Times, a Self-Help Guru Finds a Willing and Paying Audience starts with a description of an audience of some 500 people, many of whom are unemployed and looking for something better, and have gathered in a hotel in New Jersey:

They were here to see a motivational speaker and self-help guru, and paying a hefty price to do so: $1,297 for a high-decibel, two-day seminar. In this case, the speaker was James Arthur Ray, one of the emerging names in the $11 billion self-improvement industry, and the event was called the Harmonic Wealth Weekend. …

[P]articipants ponied up even more money at tables in the back of the ballroom, where they could sign up for more seminars or purchase an assortment of Mr. Ray’s books and DVDs. The showcase item was a package of three workshops, including one called “Practical Mysticism,” on sale for the discounted price of $13,685 (a $5,695 savings), which Mr. Ray pitched throughout the seminar.

Given the current economic climate, industry analysts say it may seem incongruous for those in need to spend this kind of money. John LaRosa, research director for Marketdata Enterprises, a market research firm in Tampa, Fla., expects the recession to mean far slower growth for an industry that had been red-hot, nearly doubling in sales since 2000. The industry includes infomercials, self-help books, motivational speakers, seminars and personal coaches.

“Consumers are being squeezed,” Mr. LaRosa said in a telephone interview. “They’re not going to have as much to spend on discretionary purchases for things like expensive workshops and seminars.”

If the economy is cutting into his business, Mr. Ray, 51, says he isn’t seeing it. “I think it’s holding steady,” he said backstage during a break, as Van Halen and U2 blared over the speakers. “We have over 500 people here this weekend. I think what I’m providing is a tremendous value, and there’s always going to be a place, regardless of the economy, regardless of the market, for people who are providing tremendous value and tremendous service.”

In Mr. Ray’s case, attendees paid to listen to a former preacher’s son and a junior college dropout who has fashioned a successful business on the promise that he can help people build financial wealth as well as strengthen their spiritual and physical well-being. …Though he’s not in the ranks of Anthony Robbins and Phil McGraw (Dr. Phil), his appearances on “Oprah” and “Larry King Live,” and in “The Secret,” Rhonda Byrnes’s documentary and book that have become a New Age phenomenon, have won him a following. His own book, “Harmonic Wealth,” appeared on the New York Times best-seller list for two weeks last spring. …

More on The Secret in just a moment. Meanwhile: a very funny video about the movie version of The Secret.
Drawing on his own brushes with bankruptcy (once in 1997 and again in 2000 after the dot-com bust),
Because that’s exactly the kind of background you’d want in a guy you’re paying thousands of dollars to teach you how to be a success.
Mr. Ray advised the crowd that for every negative turn, there is an equally positive opportunity. “There has to be, it’s the law of physics,” he said.
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” is a Newtonian law of motion. It predicts the behavior of billiard balls and rockets, not opportunities to acquire wealth.

I doubt the error bothers James Ray. It’s hardly his worst offense against science or spirituality. (For that, I nominate pages 51-55 of his book, Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want, in the chapter on The Science of the Law of Attraction, where he invokes Albert Einstein, quantum physics, parallel universes, vertical time, the Everett-Wheeler-Graham multiple worlds theory, and the Wheeler-Feynman absorber theory.

Ray is one of the cadre of self-help gurus who’ve been helping push Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, a book I myself have described on Amazon as a feelgood book for losers. The Secret has the distinction of being equally loathed by serious magicians (as Diane Sylvan succinctly puts it, “the Goddess ain’t your bitch”), and by the likes of Michael Shermer, writing in Scientific American, who said:

The secret is the so-called law of attraction. Like attracts like. Positive thoughts sally forth from your body as magnetic energy, then return in the form of whatever it was you were thinking about. Such as money. “The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts,” we are told. Damn those poor Kenyans. If only they weren’t such pessimistic sourpusses. The film’s promotional trailer is filled with such vainglorious money mantras as “Everything I touch turns to gold,” “I am a money magnet,” and, my favorite, “There is more money being printed for me right now.” Where? Kinko’s?

A pantheon of shiny, happy people assures viewers that The Secret is grounded in science: “It has been proven scientifically that a positive thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought.” No, it hasn’t. “Our physiology creates disease to give us feedback, to let us know we have an imbalanced perspective, and we’re not loving and we’re not grateful.” Those ungrateful cancer patients. “You’ve got enough power in your body to illuminate a whole city for nearly a week.” Sure, if you convert your body’s hydrogen into energy through nuclear fusion. “Thoughts are sending out that magnetic signal that is drawing the parallel back to you.” But in magnets, opposites attract—positive is attracted to negative. “Every thought has a frequency…. If you are thinking that thought over and over again you are emitting that frequency.”

The brain does produce electrical activity from the ion currents flowing among neurons during synaptic transmission, and in accordance with Maxwell’s equations any electric current produces a magnetic field. But as neuroscientist Russell A. Poldrack of the University of California, Los Angeles, explained to me, these fields are minuscule and can be measured only by using an extremely sensitive superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) in a room heavily shielded against outside magnetic sources.

So there.

I’m reasonably fond of my own arguments in my Amazon review:

If Rhonda Byrne’s advice were any good, neither she nor her publisher would have to publicize her book. They’d just think the right thoughts, and readers everywhere would automatically be moved to pick up a copy.

Average global income would be far more evenly distributed than it is. After all, anyone can hope. Anyone anywhere can think good thoughts.

Alternately, there could be Third World sweatshops available to do our believing for us.

[T]he Evil Overlord list wouldn’t include the observation that an Evil Overlord who shouts “I AM INVINCIBLE!” is a sure bet to die almost immediately afterward.

Las Vegas wouldn’t exist. People don’t place bets they think are going to lose. Gamblers are powerfully into positive thinking. Someone who’s betting heavily while drawing to an inside straight is unquestionably visualizing success, and they’re telling the universe exactly what form they want it to take. They nevertheless fail to fill their straights at exactly the rate predicted by plain old statistical probability—that is, most of the time. …

Positive thinking is all around us. The world is full of unemployed theatre majors, unpublished writers, unsuccessful beauty pageant contestants, unheard-of musical acts, and college athletes who never made the big time. None of them got there by thinking they wouldn’t succeed.

If Rhonda Byrne’s advice were any good, no singer would ever hit a wrong note. That goes double for singers who are drunk.

I know other reviewers have already covered the implications of The Secret’s suggestion that misfortunes are caused by our own negative thoughts. Still, I have to say: NO KIDDING? SOMEBODY PHONE DARFUR NOW!

Look at Enron’s employees and stockholders. They didn’t expect to get screwed. New Orleans residents who didn’t have cars never envisioned themselves drowning in their own attics. Homeowners with subprime mortgages never imagined they’d wind up in foreclosure.

Are we to understand that some families have an inexplicable tendency to attract the same ailment, generation after generation? How is it possible for devout Christian Scientists to die of cancer or eclampsia or ketoacidosis? If a guy in his late 50s has been in denial about his radiating chest pains for the last ten or twelve hours, and the first thing he says when the EMTs come through his door is “I’m not having a heart attack,” has his attitude improved or decreased his chances of surviving the episode?

If I worry about drunk drivers, and then some night I get t-boned at 60 mph by an irresponsible lush with a DUI record as long as my arm, is the accident actually my fault because I had all those negative worries? If I’ve got a cheerful toddler with me, who’s responsible for her death? And if I kneecap Rhonda Byrne, and set fire to the warehouse where her books are waiting to ship, will she apologize to me for thinking thoughts that obliged me to do it?

It’s only logical.

James Ray’s own gospel, Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want, which I mentioned earlier, says the law of attraction will let believers “create wealth through all aspects of their lives—financially, relationally, mentally, physically and spiritually.” Ray says “wealth” a lot. I think it’s his favorite word. See, for instance, the blurbs on his website:

James boasts the unique and powerful ability to blend the practical and mystical into a usable and easy-to-access formula for achieving true wealth across all aspects of life.
and
His Journey of Power® events fuse together the wealth-building principles, success strategies, and the teachings of all great spiritual traditions and practices that he has experienced and assimilated over the last 25 years.
Ray also has a workshop for becoming a spiritual warrior, which was what everyone was doing in that sweat lodge in Sedona. “Becoming a spiritual warrior” sounds impressive, but it doesn’t seem to mean a lot, at least not as Ray explains it on his website.

3. The Spiritual Warrior come-on.

The quotes that follow are taken verbatim from James Ray’s Spiritual Warrior page.

“Virtually all top achievers know that to really get ahead, you’ve got to be willing to color outside the lines. Here’s why…”
—James Arthur Ray
He never says who these top achievers are, or what they’ve done that constitutes “coloring outside the lines,” and he never explains how this will make you a success.

“Coloring outside the lines” just means you’re not following standard patterns. It doesn’t say whether following them is the right choice. Does learning a new trade constitute coloring outside the lines, because it’s new, or is it coloring inside the lines, because you’re still thinking of your work in terms of mastering a specific trade? And while we’re on the subject, doesn’t the fact that his clients are paying thousands of dollars for James Ray to give them permission to color outside the lines mean that they’re still coloring inside the lines?

Ray is arbitrarily privileging one of two symmetrical choices. Claiming that “learning to color outside the lines” will bring you success makes about as much sense as choosing to always turn right at intersections, or always passing up the first choice you’re offered and take the second.

Let’s face it, in our culture (no matter what people say), uniqueness is not rewarded.
If that were true, there’d be no point in cultivating uniqueness, much less paying thousands of dollars to do so.
When you were in kindergarten, you were taught to color inside the lines. When it was time to snack, you snacked, and when it was time to take a nap, you took a nap. Conformity was a highly-rewarded virtue.
If he thinks that constitutes pointless conformity for its own sake, he’s never had to supervise a roomful of kindergarteners. In the meantime, he’s right: our culture doesn’t automatically reward small children for ignoring the rules, procedures, and skills they’re still struggling to master.
In elementary school, it became even more important to be just like everyone else. If you dressed a little differently, you were laughed at. If you spoke funny, you were ridiculed. And God forbid you had your own ideas and opinions…
Am I supposed to recognize myself in that? Are you? Are all of us? Because everyone I know suffered that same trauma.
In high school and college, it became absolutely critical to fit in… But by this time, you were good at it. You knew what was expected of you, and if there was any way you could, you delivered.
I am not in the target demographic for this part of the pitch.
Yesterday’s biggest nerd is today’s richest man in the world (and he doesn’t even have a college degree). Do you think he colored inside the lines? Hardly.
Do you think Bill Gates got where he is by hanging around in woo-woo sweat lodges, or by exhausting his working capital paying for workshops and inspirational speeches? Hardly.
So here you are, attempting to achieve your heart’s desires, and all you’ve ever been trained to do is stay within the lines and do what everyone else does.
So here’s the question: will “coloring outside the lines” will get you your heart’s desire? And is it a universally applicable strategy?
In Spiritual Warrior, you’ll build upon what you started in Practical Mysticism.
Remember Practical Mysticism, a workshop mentioned in the NYTimes article I quoted earlier? Attendees started by paying $1,297 for “a high-decibel, two-day seminar,” throughout which Ray pitched a package of three workshops. One of them was Practical Mysticism, regularly priced at $19,380, which he was offering at only $13,685. If this is the usual procedure, the seekers in Ray’s sweat lodge had paid him at least $24,677 - $30,371 total, though it may have been more if they attended the other two events in his three-workshop package.
You’ll become privy to techniques (many kept secret for dozens of generations) that I searched out in the mountains of Peru, the jungles of the Amazon (and a few other places I don’t care to recall).
Paging Carlos Castaneda! What secret spiritual warrior tradition did James Ray study in Peru and the Amazon? If he’s supposed to have studied it prior to his “flirtations with bankruptcy” in 1997 and 2000, why didn’t it keep him from screwing up? If he studied it after his bankruptcies, there would have to be a significant gap in his post-2000 personal timeline to accommodate this spiritual warrior apprenticeship. Personally “searching out” secret traditions takes a while. So does mastering a genuine spiritual discipline.

(Note: Whatever Ray was studying among the Indios of Peru, it’s highly unlikely that he was studying it between 1980 and 1991, when the Sendero Luminoso movement was active. One side or another would have shot him.)

Mastering these (quite esoteric) practices
So esoteric, in fact, that no one else knows about them. One has to wonder how James Arthur Ray found out they existed. One also has to wonder how many languages he speaks. It’s a relevant question.

Let’s arbitrarily keep this simple and assume he was dealing with Quechua-speaking Peruvian and Amazon populations, because otherwise we’d have to think about the hundreds of languages spoken by indigenous Amazon tribes, some of them singular isolates; and then we’d have to wonder how Ray knew which of those tribes to go to and ask about their ancient secret esoteric spiritual warrior traditions. I’m not assuming that James Ray speaks Quechua, but if he’s got some Spanish, there are plenty of bilingual Spanish/Quechua speakers he could hire to translate for him.

Curanderos are part of Peruvian culture. If you go googling on them, you’ll find woo-woos and tourism sites referring to them as shamans. I wouldn’t call them that because shaman is a Siberian word, and shamanism is a Siberian tradition, but woo-woos use the term pretty damn loosely. (Personally, I’d think better of them if they spent their own culture’s terms, and referred to traditional practitioners as wizards, or Wise Men, or priests. They’d object, of course: wizards makes it sound like D&D, Wise Men makes it sound like a Christmas pageant, and priests makes it sound like religion. And so it does! Funny thing, that.)

Anyway, insofar as Peruvian curanderos have the jump on traditional healers and counselors anywhere else, it’s because they have access to Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) and San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi or Trichocereus pachanoi). Like other hallucinogens (and a good many spiritual disciplines), they’re a technology for taking off the cover plates and poking at the underlying machinery. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on the machinery and what you do with it.

I’m not going to assert that any specific person took any specific actions, down there in Peru. I’ll state as my personal opinion that I very much doubt James Ray did any significant first-hand research in Peru and the Amazon. And I’ll observe that there’s exploitive Ayahuasca tourism in the Peruvian Amazon, just like there’s sweat lodge tourism in Taos and Sedona, “spiritual shopping” in Glastonbury, and travelers manifesting Jerusalem Syndrome in (where else?) Jerusalem. If James Ray logged actual time in Peru and the Amazon, I expect he did so as a tourist. (And I suspect—nay, hypothesize—that the biggest lesson he learned was, “Hey, you can sell this stuff!”)

What I don’t believe is that James Ray is teaching his followers effective techniques he learned in South America. The message he constantly preaches is wealth, wealth, wealth, like Scrooge McDuck diving into a swimming pool full of money—wealthy body, wealthy mind, wealthy relationships, wealthy everything.

The native peoples of Peru and the Amazon don’t have easy lives. They aren’t especially healthy, they’re materially impoverished, and they’ve gotten pushed around a lot by the outside world. If they’re an illustration of the results you can expect from James Ray’s “spiritual warrior” program, why would affluent gringos want to absorb it? Whatever those traditional practitioners in Peru are doing, it’s clear that it doesn’t attract wealth. And if James Ray has reformulated and transformed those teachings into a powerful “spiritual warrior” thingie, why isn’t he down in Peru, teaching his reformulation and sharing the wealth with the people who made it possible?

What a jerk.

(My actual suspicions about the source of Ray’s Peruvian claims are even less complimentary; but never mind.)

required me to think and act more differently than I’ve ever had to before. At first it was quite grueling, but the results…well…all I can say is, “Wow!”
That’s certainly saying nothing.

Remember “quite grueling.” It’ll be relevant.

It wasn’t until I had completely mastered these concepts and techniques that I was able to combine them with state of the art scientific technology
The closest thing to “state of the art scientific technology” Ray uses is spammy online self-promotion, plus Twitter—he’s an enthusiastic Twitterer. Not long after the sweat lodge debacle he went back and deleted all his tweets from that night, but Tech Crunch got hold of them anyway:
JamesARay: is still in Spiritual Warrior… for anything new to live something first must die. What needs to die in you so that new life can emerge?

JamesARay: Day 5 of SPW. The Spiritual Warrior has conquered death and therefore has no enemies, and no fear, in this life or the next.

Commenters have observed that Ray’s advance promo for the Spiritual Warrior thing in Sedona says very little about what’s going to happen there. You have to wonder whether the participants knew what they were getting into.
and, as always, create practical real-life applications (you should know my style by now).
Uh-huh. James Ray created the practical real-life applications of this esoteric Peruvian/Amazonian warrior tradition. That’s very odd. What kind of warrior tradition doesn’t come with practical real-life applications already installed?
Check it out:

* You’ll accelerate the releasing of your limitations and push yourself past your self-imposed and conditioned borders (no more coloring inside the lines)…

* You’ll carve out your own destiny and quickly develop the strength and determination to live it…

* You’ll learn (and apply) the awesome power of “integrity of action”…

* You will (perhaps for the first time in your life), have a gut level understanding of “The Four Enemies of Power.” You’ll learn to recognize them at a glance, and instantly defeat them when they arise…

* You’ll define and enforce your own boundaries—without someone else telling you what they should be…

* You’ll experience a new technologically-enhanced form of meditation that creates new neurological pathways, allowing you to experience powerful whole-brain thinking (this one’s gonna knock your socks off)…

Remember all of these when we’re asking why participants stayed in James Ray’s misbegotten sweat lodge beyond the limits of their own endurance.
* You’ll experience, at the spiritual level, the ancient methodologies of Samurai Warriors; and gain a true understanding of the authority and strength that come from a life of honor.
Samurai? A lifetime of pious discipline, self-control, self-sacrifice, nonstop training, subordination to hierarchy, strict adherence to the class one was born and raised in, disregard for personal wealth, and next to no tolerance for coloring outside the lines? What does that have to do with Peruvian mysticism? Or with N’Am sweat lodges? Or the law of attraction, or the modern American quest for wealth and self-fulfillment, or anything else Ray has been talking about?

The only reason I can see for invoking the samurai is that Ray felt he needed a little more emphasis on the “warrior” part of the concept in order to maintain the overall balance of the presentation, even though historic samurai values are seriously at odds with the rest of his program.

All this guy has to sell are his words. If I’m right about the sudden anomalous presence of “samurai” in the mix, he allows himself far too much latitude when he’s striving for effect. Given that degree of imprecision, he could be saying anything.

Someone who believes that words and intentions are magic ought not be that sloppy.

Look, you’ve most probably spent your whole life staying within the lines to get what you’ve got (or at least a major portion of it). Join me outside the lines in this heroic quest for higher consciousness.

There is no sacrifice—only greater and more magnificent results, wealth, adventure and fulfillment.

Four points. First, if the idea is to make you a warrior, with or without concepts like samurai and honor being thrown into the mix, you can’t say “There is no sacrifice.” The possibility of loss, death, and self-sacrifice is always going to be part of what it means to be a warrior. Without that, all you have is an oaf in fancy dress.

Second, there is no real change without some sacrifice. Becoming something different means giving up some of what you were.

Third, this is yet another message from James Ray to his followers in which he tells them to ignore signs of possible trouble. It’s not a responsible message for someone who runs boundary-pushing, physically stressful, improvisational mass therapy sessions.

Fourth, it’s bleeping disingenuous for him to say “there is no sacrifice” right before he announces the price of this little shindig in Sedona.

You owe it to the rest of your life to get to Spiritual Warrior as quickly as you can. The investment is ONLY $9695 per person.
Here’s a joke Elise Matthesen told me:
Q. What’s the difference between Pagan and New Age?

A. Two decimal places.

The point being that New Agers will accept insane markups. It’s why they’re preyed on by so many parasitic species.

4. What happened.

From the New York Times:

Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, died on Thursday after collapsing inside the Angel Valley sweat lodge. Three other people were airlifted in critical condition to Flagstaff Medical Center.
One of them, Liz Neuman, continues to be reported in critical condition.
At least seven other people have died in ceremonial sweat lodges since 1993 in the United States, England and Australia, according to news accounts compiled by Alton Carroll, an adjunct professor of history at San Antonio College who also moderates the Web site Newagefraud.org.
The same list can be found on the In Memoriam page at Don’t Pay to Pray, and in the Huffington Post comment thread.
James Arthur Ray, a self-help expert from Carlsbad, Calif., led what was billed as five-day “spiritual warrior” experience at Angel Valley, which concluded with a tightly packed sweat lodge ceremony. Participants paid about $9,000 each for the weeklong retreat, which included seminars, a 36-hour fast and solo experiences in the forest.
The “solo experience in the forest” was a “vision quest” in the uninhabited country around the ranch following the 36-hour fast. On the day of the sweat lodge fiasco, participants were served a buffet breakfast in the morning, then sat through a few hours of seminars before the sweat lodge got going around 3:00. Near as I can make out, the sweat lodge session went wrong somewhere around 4:30, and had become a multi-victim emergency scene by 5:00.

By the way: as with sweat lodges, sun dances, and other traditional ceremonies, Native Americans complain that vision quests are being misused by non-Indians. As one writer put it, vision quests are supposed to be undertaken by youngsters in their teens; but since kids that age don’t have much money, non-Indian entrepreneurs sell inauthentic vision quests to middle-aged spiritual adventurers.

If you’re not familiar with the long-term anger and dismay of Indian tribes over the misappropriation of their cultures, especially their traditional religious practices:

Plastic Shaman.
New Age Mystics, Healers, and Ceremonies.
New Age Religions and Plastic Medicine Men.
Paying to teach and “play Indian.”
Native American Wannabe FAQ
For All Those Who Were Indian in a Former Life.
A Line in the Sand. (On cultural property.)
Our Red Earth.
Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances.
Blue Corn Comics’ Stereotype of the Month Contest.
The Ripoff of Native American Spirituality.
Spiritual Commodification and Misappropriation.
Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality.
New Age (and other) ripoff sites.
Don’t Pay to Pray, incl. their list of frauds.
New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans, incl. their NAFPS Forum.
One of their biggest objections to inadequately trained poseurs running their own versions of these ceremonies is that if you do them wrong, people can get hurt.

Back to the story in the New York Times:

The authorities say that at any one time 55 to 65 people were packed for a two-hour period into a 415-square foot structure that was 53 inches high at the center and 30 inches high on the perimeter. Mr. Ray’s employees built the wood-frame lodge, which was wrapped in blankets and plastic tarps. Hot rocks were brought into the lodge and doused with water. Mr. Ray, who conducted the ceremony, left the area on Thursday after declining to give a statement to the police.
The largest Amerind sweat lodges I’ve heard of will hold eight to twelve people, max. They’re made out of natural materials that “breathe,” and they don’t use airtight construction methods. The hugely oversized sweat lodge James Ray had built was crowded, unventilated, had no interior light, and was swathed in impermeable plastic tarps. No one seems to know how hot it was inside the structure; but as many commenters (some of them experts) have pointed out, Ray created a set of conditions where it was impossible for him to monitor the people who were under his guidance.

There’s a largish picture of the sweat lodge here, and more (if smaller) photos at ABC15.com’s Northern Arizona news site. You should also read Jim Macdonald’s entry about heat stress.

Switching over to the AP version of the story:

Between 55 and 65 people were crowded into the 415-square-foot space during a two-hour period that included various spiritual exercises led by Ray, [County Sheriff Steve] Waugh said. Every 15 minutes, a flap was raised to allow more volcanic rocks the size of cantaloupes to be brought inside.

Authorities said participants were highly encouraged but not forced to remain in the sweat lodge for the entire time.

This is where I get All Judgemental. Remember Ray’s come-ons?
At first it was quite grueling, but the results…well…all I can say is, “Wow!” :: You’ll accelerate the releasing of your limitations and push yourself past your self-imposed and conditioned borders. :: You’ll carve out your own destiny and quickly develop the strength and determination to live it. :: You will have a gut level understanding of “The Four Enemies of Power” … and instantly defeat them when they arise. :: You’ll define and enforce your own boundaries—without someone else telling you what they should be. :: You’ll experience a new technologically-enhanced form of meditation that creates new neurological pathways, allowing you to experience powerful whole-brain thinking. :: There is no sacrifice—only greater and more magnificent results, wealth, adventure and fulfillment.
As I said earlier, “Remember all of these when we’re asking why participants stayed in James Ray’s misbegotten sweat lodge beyond the limits of their own endurance.” If you have the sense God gave a soda cracker, you do not (1.) promise people results that will both transform them to the point of temporarily estranging them from themselves, and automatically provide them with the means to endure that transformation; (2.) put them through multiple exercises that are both psychologically and physically challenging; (3.) push them to test their own limits, and give them the impression that bailing out of the exercises is wussy, a defeat, and a waste of their ten thousand dollars; and (4.) fail to monitor them closely for signs of distress.

Fasting, vision quests, and sweat lodges are all stressful, and they all produce altered mental states. Basically, they’re mind/body hacks. That’s why they’re so dangerous: they operate in an area where mind and body interact in strange ways, and normal judgement is suspended. Under those circumstances, someone trustworthy has to be there to exercise judgement for you. If the person guiding you is also pushing you to test your limits, they have to be even more careful and pay even closer attention.

“Cosmic Connie,” on her weblog Whirled Musings, talks about this class of problems:

[W]henever there is discussion about the negative aspects of selfish-help/New-Wage stuff, and particularly, it seems, when tragedy strikes, there is invariably discussion about how we shouldn’t place all of the blame on the gurus or leaders; the followers should bear some personal responsibility as well. I agree. Even so, as I said in a recent post about another New-Wage workshop-related tragedy (and please forgive me for quoting myself, but I’m too lazy to paraphrase):
I’m all for personal responsibility. But one problem with these seminars and just about everything else in the New-Wage/selfish-help industry is this: While the [legal] disclaimers are whispered out of one side of the mouth (or written in fine print on one page of the web site), what comes out of the other side are the loud (or large-point-size) proclamations that THIS technique or path or technology or course or workshop or whatever will improve the quality of your life and deliver miracles—whoever you are, and no matter what your problem is. Add a bunch of poetic marketing copy, and throw in a few filmy trailers with mystical music and special effects interspersed with ecstatic testimonials from “graduates,” and you have a very powerful emotional cocktail.
Back to the New York Times again:
Dr. Carroll, who is partly of Mescalero Apache descent, said the Angel Valley sweat lodge was the “best example I have seen, sadly, in a long time of why it is extremely dangerous to conduct sweat lodge ceremonies without proper training.”

Katherine Lash, a co-owner of Spiritquest Retreat in Sedona and a veteran of more than 100 sweat lodge ceremonies, said she had never heard of a sweat being conducted with as many people as were involved in the Angel Valley event. “In my experience it has been very rare to have more than 20 people,” she said.

Limiting the number of people inside a sweat lodge is critical because the person leading the event is supposed to carefully monitor the mental and physical condition of each participant, experts said.

“It’s important to know who is responsible for your spiritual and physical safety in that lodge,” said Vernon Foster, a member of the Klamath-Modoc tribe, who regularly leads ceremonial sweat lodge events in central Arizona.

So how did James Ray get around that requirement? Simple: He always has his attendees sign a comprehensive waiver. There’s considerable interest in whether the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office will bring criminal charges.

5. Interpretation.

There’s been a lot of online discussion of this event. The most interesting comments I’ve seen have come from Duff McDuffee, at a weblog called Beyond Growth. He’s written three entries about James Ray, two of which are recent and deal with the Angel Ranch fiasco. The earliest of the three, Good News: You Can’t Have It All was posted in August of this year. I can’t summarize the whole thing—he makes a long string of connections—but here’s a core statement:

Let’s continue with James Arthur Ray, as he is such a clear example of the excesses of personal development culture. If you click the pyramid marked “begin your journey” on Mr. Ray’s website, the headline on the next page asks…
“Are you 100% totally and completely happy with your life?”
The implication is twofold:

1) that Mr. Ray is the first person ever to answer this question “yes,” making him either a pathological liar or a narcissist (or both).

2) that everyone on Earth needs to purchase his products, forever, until they too are as perfect as him.

The biggest irony is in the video clip. … Ray begins by talking about the “large amount of stress and fear lately” due to the global recession. “Who could imagine that some of the largest banks in the United States could go belly up?” He then implies that we are not in a global recession but that this is merely media scaremongering, and then says “but stop, just suppose I could show you a way to use the Law of Attraction, as well as the six other Laws of the Universe, to rise above all external circumstances?” Uhhhh, say what?!?

…Ray goes on to explain that when you understand the secrets of the Universe (which elsewhere says he learned from Peruvian Shamans amongst other spiritual teachers and gurus), you can succeed no matter what external circumstances. Implied is that he too used to be a loser like you, until he discovered the Laws of the Universe. Now he’s a winner, his life is perfect, and your life can be perfect too…

James Arthur Ray is suggesting that to solve the problem of the global recession, we should do exactly what caused it. He’s recommending that we deny reality and inflate our expectations—exactly what happened with the housing bubble, the subprime mortage crisis, the crisis on Wall Street, the credit crunch, and all the other aspects of the U.S.-led global recession we are now experiencing.

It would be worth reading even if the Angel Ranch fiasco had never happened.

McDuffee’s main article, James Arthur Ray’s Spiritual Warrior Event Kills 2, Injures 19 in Sweat Lodge Fiasco

Whoah! Breaking news! The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office has upgraded its investigation to a homicide inquiry. I’m going to go live with this post and finish up the last few paragraphs as soon as I can.

Where was I? Right. McDuffee’s main article. Best single source of information I’ve found, on several counts.

One of them is McDuffee’s superior collection of James Ray’s tweets. As our estimable readers will no doubt recall, Ray is an indefatigable twitterer, but right after the debacle with the sweat lodge he deleted all his recent tweets that mentioned death or the Spiritual Warrior workshop. TechCrunch got its hands on four of them before they disappeared from Twitter Search, but Duff McDuffee got fifteen. I’ve collected sixteen—McDuffee’s lot plus an extra one TechCrunch snared—and mine are transcribed text, not images. I’ll be posting them anon.

Another reason it’s so informative is that McDuffee has been following this story closely, he’s got good sources of his own, he’s familiar with the self-improvement scene, and he’s been posting updates all along. He doesn’t mince words:

Two hours in a sweat lodge!? This is insane. … But this is the logic of these kinds of workshops—break you down to build you up. Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within is very similar—long hours, no breaks, constant full-on exercises. While there is usually no explicit instruction that you must remain with the group, the pressure to do so can be enormous even when way beyond your limits.

I’m guessing that these deaths and injuries were not a result of “carbon monoxide” (which tested negatively) but intense psychological pressure to remain in a dangerous situation far beyond the limits of safety and sanity.

I know several people who have gone to the hospital for various reasons after “large group awareness trainings” such as Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior Event.” Many people online have complained of received mild to moderate burns on their feet after Tony Robbins’ firewalk, for example. It’s time we brought these gurus to justice and demanded that personal change workshops be safe for all.

When something goes wrong in such a seminar due to it being overly intense and dangerous, usually the victims are blamed for “not taking 100% responsibility,” thus dodging the responsibility of the seminar leaders. Personally, I think we should hold James Arthur Ray 100% personally responsible for the death of these two seminar participants, up to and including going to jail.

The excessive focus on pushing past your boundaries (treating inner objections as “resistance”) is in my opinion what creates the conditions for dangerous approaches to personal change. …

UPDATE #7

AOL has a new article giving some back story on the two who died. The woman, aged 38, “was an avid surfer and hiker who was ‘in top shape,’ took self-improvement seriously and had a passion for art, a family spokesman said.”

Some other relevant quotations from the article:

Nineteen other people were taken to hospitals, suffering from burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest, kidney failure or elevated body temperature. Most were soon released, but one remained in critical condition Saturday. …
I am especially concerned that participants had fasted for 36 hours and had just broken their fast. I recently tried fasting for 36 hours. The first 24 were wonderful, then I started going into a kind of toxic shock, feeling nauseous like I had the flu (which is apparently common), so I broke the fast at about 36 hours. I wasn’t ill, but it did take about 24 more hours to feel normal again. I would have had a very difficult time doing anything strenuous, let alone a two hour sweat. A friend who fasts regularly says that one’s first fast can be the most challenging, but that they can get easier over time. For anyone fasting for the first time, this fast alone could have been quite challenging. If it had only been a two hour sweat, the risks would have been greatly reduced.

And again, “highly encouraged” to stay within the sweat lodge is almost certainly an understatement of the intense psychological pressure most participants in such an event feel to conform to group norms. I think participants in seminars should be “highly encouraged” to speak up when they feel that a process is too much for them. In my direct experience on both my own path and in facilitating change with others, there is no sane reason to push yourself or anyone else so close to death in order to engage in conscious transformation.

UPDATE #8, 10/13/09

[From the NYTimes:]

Fire department reports released Tuesday show the incident wasn’t the first involving a sweat lodge ceremony at the resort. Verde Valley Fire Chief Jerry Doerksen said his department responded to a 911 call in October 2005 about a person who was unconscious after being in a sweat lodge.

Angel Valley resort owner Amayra Hamilton confirmed that Ray was leading the sweat ceremony during the 2005 event. Ray’s spokesman declined to comment.

WOW! Ray almost killed somebody in 2005, but wasn’t stopped. This is exactly what I’ve been attempting to warn people about with my guru criticism on this blog and elsewhere.
Ray’s spokesman, Howard Bragman, has said Ray would speak when it’s appropriate. He declined Tuesday to address the Brown family’s concerns. …

A statement released by the family of Liz Neuman, who remains in critical condition at the Flagstaff Medical Center, said she is in a coma and doctors are working to stabilize damage to multiple organs

In addition to the other two dead, there is another woman in a coma!
Two others remained hospitalized. Fire officials say the victims exhibited symptoms ranging from dehydration to kidney failure after sitting in the sweat lodge.
Two dead, one in a coma, two more hospitalized. Do they have health insurance? Why kidney failure?
Duff McDuffee, if you’re reading this, that’s one question I can answer. Kidney failure accompanies severe dehydration. As for the “damage to multiple organs,” see Jim Macdonald’s piece on heat stress. Once the hypothalamus packs it in, you get cascading system failures. I’m not sure they make dice that’ll yield the saving roll Liz Neuman needs.

6. Questions answered, and new questions.

Update #9 is the prize catch. It’s McDuffee’s notes while listening to a 90-minute podcast that includes an interview with someone named Shawna who was there, helping with the fire:

Shawna has done many sweats in the past. She was invited to help with the fire for the sweat. When Shawna arrived at the location, her friend who had invited her was very upset and said “something went terribly, terribly wrong.” She ran to the sweatlodge. There were people lying in the dirt and sand around the lodge, with other people attending to them.
Bad scene, severely disoriented ambulatory casualties, paramedics dispensing IV hydration.
2 hours later, the other people still looked like they had suffered from physical trauma, shivering in blankets.
That’s because they’d suffered physical trauma. They were in shock.
One woman told Shawna her story, she passed out in the sweat lodge. She was in the very back of the sweat lodge. Most of the people who ended up with a severe trauma were in the back of the sweat lodge.
Location of the victims was a datum I’ve been waiting for. If the worst traumas were clustered together, it was the sweat lodge environment that injured them.
When the door was being opened in the lodge to put in more rocks, air rushes in. She was so far in the back and the door was so small, she never felt any relief, no fresh air. This is very unusual, probably unintended. Usually opening the door, everyone feels some fresh air before the next round. She wondered if she was even breathing any oxygen by the end.
Since she could still walk and talk, I’d say the answer was yes.
2 days prior attendees had gone into a vision quest where they were encouraged to fast and not drink any water. Sedona is a desert, an extremely dry climate. Participants were already dehydrated and then sweating it out.
Hmmmf. Sedona isn’t extremely dry; it’s just very dry. You still have to drink lots of water, though.

James Ray is a coastal Californian, and I am biting my tongue.

That morning they had a breakfast and encouraged to hydrate, had about 4 hours to rehydrate and get nutrition in them. In Shawna’s opinion, the sweat was way too long, should be 4 rounds not 6.

People were throwing up water.

Okay, I can call that one. If they were trying to hydrate but their bodies weren’t accepting water, they were already in shock. These people were in trouble. Jim Macdonald, who’s present here in a chat window, adds that they wouldn’t be throwing up pure water. It would be acidified water, so their acid/base metabolism would be going out of whack, and their entire ability to move oxygen in their blood would be compromised. To which I reply that that might account for the woman Shawna talked to feeling like she wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

James Ray was in the sweat lodge with them when people were going into shock, passing out, and in some cases dying. He was supposed to be responsible for their well-being.

Shawna … shared with her husband that she was seeing people dead, passed out, etc. when “relief was on the other side of that door.” One man said “yea, I wimped out, I got out on the 5th door…I wasn’t playing full on.” This man had shamed himself, felt like he was letting Ray down. Shawna defended him as maintaining his own limits, speaking up to authority. This man questioned Ray’s authority and took care of himself, Shawna told him. And then he took that in and said “and thank God I did that, because I was well enough to carry the other people out.” …
He may have saved his own life, and he may have saved others, but it took Shawna pointing it out to him for this man to realize he wasn’t a failure for bugging out early.

Continuing on with excerpts from Duff McDuffee’s notes:

Shawna interviews Jim Tree, a Native American man who does ceremonies. Many reactions from the community—not a sweat lodge ceremony, but a huge aberration from what a Native American sweat lodge is like. He’s never seen more than 20 people at a lodge.

Years of training to be sensitive to everyone in the lodge. Sweat lodge construction has certain materials—red willow branches for frame. There is a reason for this. Plastic tarps trap in gases. …

“We do fast the day of the sweat, but don’t fast from water. Start hydrating all day of sweat.”

“This was a recipe for disaster.”

“Usually people prepare for a year for a vision quest.”

The elders have been warning people. Apparently the elders went to Ray and confronted him and told him that he shouldn’t be doing this, that “you’re hurting people.” Most every time people have been nauseous and sick for the six or seven years Ray has been doing this event. …

Jim was stopped from doing lodges after a year from the elders and trained more to sense the condition of people in the lodge.

During the 5th or 6th run, people were calling out to be let out and were denied. “That would never happen” in Jim’s tradition.

No kidding. If that can be substantiated, James Arthur Ray is in a world of trouble—and he deserves to be.
Pouring the water is gently sprinkled on the stones to precisely control it. Ray poured water from the bucket directly onto the stones, creates an uncontrollable amount of heat.

Jim would be glad to have Ray call him and talk to him about all of this.

This is really bad. People have been sick and nauseated almost every year, which is a clear sign of overheating. One person collapsed and was unconscious in 2005, which datum prompted Jim Macdonald to remark, “When you start passing out from the heat, you’re on the friggin’ edge.” This year, by report, participants who wanted to leave weren’t getting to do so. Some unspecified elders are said to have previously remonstrated with Ray, to no effect. If this all comes out in testimony, Ray could be looking at several counts of negligent homicide.

7. If magic is real, it’s terrifying.

Duff McDuffee’s third entry about James Ray, The Dark Side of The Secret: Reading James Arthur Ray’s Sweat Lodge Disaster through a Magickal Lens, was the one that spooked me. He turned the event around and looked at it from a completely unexpected POV:

[W]hat if we read this event through the eyes of magick? James Ray claims lineage in the Western esoteric or occult tradition, so perhaps we could learn something interesting from reading this terrible event in this way that would deepen our understanding. Perhaps we could even find some ideas for moving forward in a positive new paradigm for personal development.

When I begin to think about the deaths of Ray’s seminar participants in this way, I find myself having a change of heart towards the man, far less cynical about his words and basic message while still holding him accountable for what transpired. Perhaps you will have a similar change of heart.

James Arthur Ray as Powerful Magician

From the magickal perspective, it’s not that James A Ray has been bullshitting us about a mythical Law of Attraction, but that he is indeed a powerful magician who attracted some very powerful, albeit unwanted results. We’d want to ask, “how did he attract this experience?” and “how can we protect ourselves from attracting similar experiences?”

We can see Ray as having successfully evoked the Warrior. The event was called the “Spiritual Warrior.” Fifteen tweets in seven days (all since deleted, but captured here) mentioned death, the Warrior, or war, and two mentioned words and actions being congruent. A magician casts spells with his or her words and intent, thus influencing reality. Ray evoked the Warrior, and powerfully so. As he would say, “energy flows where attention goes.”

This is the power of Intent and Word, cultivated by magicians to influence reality. One could see this disaster as “the dark side of The Secret,” which is not just “negative thinking” but even positive intentions gone horribly wrong. Thus, positive thinking and intent are not enough if they lead to negative consequences. Indeed, Ray himself emphasizes that the results one brings about in life are what are most relevant to one’s spiritual progress. Therefore this result should be read as part of the whole of Ray’s spiritual/magickal attainment. Or as he said, “The kingdom of heaven/expansion is w/in. But it will always be measured w/out. Your results tell and [sic] interesting story…They tell the truth”.

(Much thoughtful commentary follows. You should all read it.)

I too was struck by the content of James Ray’s deleted tweets—so full of death, war, and sacrifice, not to mention warnings that not everyone would make it through. However, I wasn’t struck by the same thoughts as a result. Since I don’t like cynicism, I’ll credit the difference to Duff McDuffee and I having very disparate worldviews.

What I thought on reading those tweets was that if James Ray honestly believed what he preached, if he truly believed that thoughts and words and intentions are magic, he would never have written those tweets and sent them out into the world. Therefore, my much more mundane conclusion was that he never believed that stuff in the first place.

What disturbs me is that the universe nevertheless contrived to behave as though the things he’d been preaching were true.

Comments on $9,695 New Age sweat lodge session kills 2, injures 19:
#1 ::: Rick York ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 09:02 PM:

So, Darwin anyone? What do they call people who believe in faith healing? Dead.

#2 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 09:10 PM:

So, Darwin anyone?

I don't believe that anyone is so smart that the right conman with the right pitch at the right time can't take him.

#3 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 09:27 PM:

Sounds like the Black Hole of Calcutta (Kolkata) which shows what may happen when you pack so many people into a hot, cramped, airless space for hours.

Disclaimer that the Black Hole may be a British colonialist legend. Now we have an uniquely American version, featuring capitalism, wacko self-promotion, and the gullible.

#4 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 09:29 PM:

I know people who buy into this kind of feel-good stuff (it's right up there with the work-from-home pyramid schemes). Fortunately they don't have the money to buy into Ray's scam.

#5 ::: Bacchus ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 09:31 PM:

James Macdonald #2: "I don't believe that anyone is so smart that the right conman with the right pitch at the right time can't take him."

I agree with this. It's the nature of my business that I have to cast my eyes over a couple of thousand spammy email subject lines every day, looking for a few real business emails. (That's after filters.) And what I've learned is that even with the greatest skepticism in the world, there are moments and circumstances where one of the phishy spams meshes up perfectly with something I'm wanting or expecting to see, and I'll open the email in all innocence, expecting it to be mail I was looking for.

Expectations and desires are powerful stuff. Following them down a primrose path is often regrettable, but it can be damnably hard to avoid.

#6 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 09:48 PM:

Expectations and desires are powerful stuff. Following them down a primrose path is often regrettable, but it can be damnably hard to avoid.

I see it every day too, as I look at vanity presses and scammy agents, and listen to the starry-eyed unpublished writers who are certain that this is the great opportunity to get published that they've been looking for, hoping for, dreaming about.

#7 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 09:53 PM:

This is a very comprehensive post that I'll have to digest for a while, but the spiritual warrior stuff just jumped out at me.

How, exactly, is being a spiritual warrior supposed to get you material wealth? Yes, I know the garbage from The Secret is supposed to make that connection, but I thought that was all about intentionality and desire, not power and force. (I wish, I wish, I wish not to be in a traffic jam, but I am. Does that mean that all these other people wished for a traffic jam harder? What sort of loon wishes for a traffic jam, anyway?)

The reference to Samurai threw me for as much of a loop as it seems to have thrown Teresa. I think that Teresa sees a good reason for him to invoke that, but I also think that part of the reason is purely because, Oriental things are cool right now. Just go to Target and buy a tile with a Chinese character on it. It might even be the character for what it says it is. It's that fetishization of the other. You also get a bit of a crossover with the people just coming out of university who have been exposed to anime. Of course, they're not necessarily capable of spending $10k and up on a retreat.

Lots of people have already used the lure of the Proud Warrior Race Guy (Native American Edition), so that's no longer fresh. But Samurai also fit, and they're still exotic enough to be workable. I still don't see how Samurai and Peruvian spirituality go together, but perhaps my mind's not open to all the possibilities.

Rick York @ 1:

So if you ever get killed while doing something dangerous, and remember that even crossing the road has a certain amount of risk to it, I'll remember that you don't need to be mourned because it was just natural selection. Thanks. James Macdonald and Bacchus have already explained the other half of the reason that I truly detest using natural selection as an excuse for feeling superior to people who have died.

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 09:55 PM:

Lots of perfectly sane people do sweat lodge sessions.

Near as I can make out, many of the victims at Angel Ranch had been in sweat lodges before, experienced no difficulties, and felt they were the better for it. In this case, it was the execution, not the concept, that caused the problems.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 09:58 PM:

KeithS @7: Yes! That's it exactly -- there's no connection made. Ray just throws it in as an adjunct image.

#10 ::: ChrisB ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 10:05 PM:

"The message he constantly preaches is wealth, wealth, wealth, like Scrooge McDuck diving into a swimming pool full of money — wealthy body, wealthy mind, wealthy relationships, wealthy everything."
Actually, Scrooge's ability to dive into money - "I like to dive around in my money like a porpoise! And burrow through it like a gopher! And toss it up and let it hit me on the head!" - is also a learned skill that's very dangerous for the untrained novice: at one point he lures the Beagle Boys into trying it, and they all nearly kill themselves ("Fancy that! heads like canned tomatoes...")

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 10:14 PM:

Rick York @1: I know it sounds dumb. Why didn't they get up and leave? I'm convinced it's in part because they'd repeatedly been instructed to ignore the inner voices that were telling them to get the hell out of there. Also, apparently there really is a huge amount of psychological pressure to stay with the program.

And there's another reason I know from experience: hyperthermia, like hypothermia, poleaxes your brain just when you need it most.

#12 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 10:29 PM:

Huh.

I wonder if he's involved in the 'structured water' nonsense that's also being peddled out of Carlsbad.

It's odd. I spend a lot of my time hanging out in coffee shops in Carlsbad, and I don't think I've ever seen that dude around. I'd recognize him, he's obviously one of those people that sucks up oxygen when he enters a room.

(frex, I do see Dr. Ramachandran around, and once or twice Kary Mullis, though he's more of a surfer than a coffee and/or tea drinker)

And I know all the places where someone swimming around in that kind of cash would live. The best coffee shops are near'em. Hell, until recently the only Trader Joe's serving the Carlsbad area was right next door to where I live.

What I get outta that is that he doesn't live in his community, and based on all his seminars (and oh how very pertinent the root word is in this case, considering the tenor of his product) I'd guess he doesn't spend much time here. He's probably also one of those assholes who bribed a local geologist to let'em build a house just off the Pacific Coast Highway where there used to be a nice surfing beach but there is now a sea-wall so that a local attorney's house doesn't get a little more beach-front than he intended.

#13 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 10:33 PM:

Was it hyperthermia or CO poisoning that did them in, or a combination thereof?

I can easily see a scenario where people were disoriented by a combination of CO poisoning and hyperthermia. Also, there's a weird sort of peer pressure in situations like that which tends to cause people to push themselves beyond their limits.

And Sedona has a higher than average percentage of complete nuts. The landscape has an almost otherworldly beauty to it, and I swear it attracts folks who aren't fully grounded in the realities of this world ...

#14 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 10:43 PM:

Reportedly, the firefighters didn't find any CO. Hard to see where the CO would come from: The heat was being provided by hot objects being brought in, rather than by combustion inside the tent. Which isn't to say that they weren't in a low-oxygen environment. The competent experts can figure that out.

And there is a real psychological pressure: If I can hang on another ten minutes, fifteen at the outside, I'll forge new neural pathways, make a spiritual breakthrough, and be wealthy forever. But if I wimp out, I'll have blown ten grand for nothing.

Add a big dose of Willing Suspension of Disbelief plus some Emperor's New Clothes, and you've got a disaster heading your way with a totally predictable outcome.

#15 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 10:55 PM:

Teresa, #11: Where were we having that "seed crystal" discussion a few days ago? If there had been one person willing to risk the contempt and social ostracization which would have been invoked by saying, "This isn't safe, I'm leaving," and walking out, s number of others might have followed suit. But nobody wants to be the first one. Add the strong desire to believe that what this guy was peddling really works, and the loss of mental astuteness that comes with extreme physical stress, and you have a guarantee for disaster.

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:10 PM:

Bravo, ChrisB! That's exactly the sequence I had in mind.

#17 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:17 PM:

I loved Teresa's review!

Every day on the way to work and back I pass bland little office park. Tan stucco buildings, dark tinted windows. The most colorful thing about the place is the FedEx drop off kiosk.

There's also a sign by the side of the road, one of those folding easel things. Not a very professional sign. It reads: BOOK SALE, UP TO 80% OFF. The sale has been on for going on eight years now.

Who is running the book sale in this bland little office park? Beyond Words, the publisher of The Secret.

You'd think positive thinking, much less the proceeds from a book that spent a few weeks on the bestseller list, would have let them upgrade their venue.

#18 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:20 PM:

17
You'd think positive thinking would keep the book on the best-seller list, so they don't have to have a permanent book sale with amateur signage.

#19 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:23 PM:

The kidney failure really bugs me. I wonder if the prior fasting included low or no water rations— something I've sometimes seen cited as part of "fasting" by those who don't have a long spiritual tradition backing it. (Most religions allow or encourage water during fasts.)

As for the book, I remember when I was working at a bookstore that there were almost no paperbacks in the business section. This should tell you something about how the "Get Wealthy!" authors make money. You almost never find mass market paperbacks in the New Age section for the same reason, though they do tend more towards trade paper size, probably to keep initial costs down.

#20 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:26 PM:

Incidentally, I am completely incapable of completing the traditional Lenten fasts— which include one meal on the day and one small snack. I'd like to blame the family tendency to mild hypoglycemia but the truth is that everyone around me is scared to let my blood sugar crash. :D

#21 ::: JamesK ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:28 PM:

-Thank you-

I'd just found the CNN article and was wondering what the rest of the story was. Then my daily blog-cycle brought me the answer in more detail then I could've ever dreamed.

Creepy creepy stuff.

#22 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:31 PM:

Rick @ 1: [long discussions of what Darwin's theories do and do not say, the idea that there is indeed such a thing as culpable negligence and it is indeed widely considered to trump in whole or in part the victim's 'personal responsibility', and a whole bunch of other stuff skipped by way of cutting right to the chase. It's been a long day.]

Yeah, no, sorry about your pretty pink bubble.

You are not infinitely smarter than anyone who went into that hellhole, your ability to detect lies and incompetence is not that much greater than theirs is or was, and it could totally happen to you.

If not that particular flavour of scam/negligence/reckless endangerment, some other flavour.

Your implied conviction that you, unlike those idiots, can't be scammed into doing something life-endangering actually increases the odds of it happening to you.

P.S. The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, 6th Edition is available as a free Gutenberg e-book and you should maybe read it.

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:32 PM:

You're welcome, JamesK. I'll be finished soon. Just a couple more bits to add.

#24 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:33 PM:

Hey, cool.

If you go to maps.google.com and enter "beyond words, hillsboro, or" and select "satellite", you can see the office park. It's actually a little bit NW of the icon, in the leftmost of the three buildings. Beyond Word's suite is about in the middle.

And there's a white rectangle, in the shade of a tree on the grassy median of Cornell Road, that I'm pretty sure is the easel sign!

#25 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:36 PM:

B. Durbin, 19: (Most religions allow or encourage water during fasts.)

In addition, the religions I know about absolutely require that the fast end as soon as it endangers the person's health.

#26 ::: janine ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:39 PM:

After college, I worked in a bookstore in Flagstaff for five years. We had people come up from Sedona all the time. There were two sections that we could not keep in any form of alphabetical order: Children's and New Age.

#27 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:39 PM:

#7 Keith
Samurai and Peruvian--in 1491 or whatever it was, Number Ten Ox or whatever the name of Chinese eunuch who led an exploratory fleet far and wide. Uh, yeah, a Chinese eunuch traveling the world leading a fleet is not exactly a Samurai, but hey, it's only across a relatively short distance of water, it's the same part of the world, and for the geography-challengd, isn't that the same thing?!

(I think that there have been pre-Columbian artifacts from East Asia found on the west coast of the Americas...)
==

As for get rich quick scams in general, where people pay for seminats, etc., I went to a free feeder real estate seminar back around five or six or so years ago, given by someone who did get rich quick apparently from flipping properties, and giving paid seminars to other people, and probably getting kickbacks from the types of companies and businesses and business tactics that created the housing bubble and then implosion... his advice included incorporating in the southwestern state which has a shield law to prevent the identities of principles of private companies incorporated in the state from being identified, promotion of his for-pay seminar and the materials with it on getting loans originating from companies offering balloon loans which would qualify almost anyone for a home loan, instructions on how to pocket money flipping properties, getting friendly assessors, and how to look for distressed properties from people over their heads with house payments...

#28 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:55 PM:

I'm Wiccan. I pronounce it Newage (rhymes with sewage).

Combining indigenous body-challenging techniques with European (actually Middle-Eastern) body-denying messages is a good way to get people kilt.

#29 ::: Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:56 PM:

That "Law of Attraction" stuff -- that brings cargo cults to mind. People seeing others getting rich, and latching onto the wrong part of the process that made them rich -- not "have a brilliant marketable idea," but "be iconoclastic and think positively" -- is cargo-cult thinking.

#30 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2009, 11:58 PM:

James Arthur Ray is a very powerful person. He got Teresa to spend the time and energy to put together this post and, if I understand her narcolepsy correctly, she has a limited amount of time and energy to spend.

This isn't death through misadventure, this is essentially death-for-profit. The "reasonable person" test would apply, and a reasonable person wouldn't subject people to an environment like that. 68 people in a sweat lodge isn't a a spiritual event, it is a profit event as in "all the market will bear", "a sucker is born every minute", and "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public". There is no way you can monitor 68 people in the dark in close quarters, unless, at a minimum, you have a UTB thermometer in each of them, and having a thermometer up the butt doesn't lend itself to spiritual enlightenment (68 people squirming from rectal thermometers has a peculiar entertainment value, but I digress).

I hope they find a felony committed somewhere along the way so that James Arthur Ray can be charged with murder one, death while committing a felony (as opposed to manslaughter by greed).

I am morally opposed to capital punishment, but that doesn't mean I can be tempted.

At approximately 105°, proteins in the brain denature and start to tangle (like frying an egg in slow motion) — this is a permanent brain injury. Cases of this due to fever in children is a cause of life-long seizure disorders. 105° temp or positive signs of heat stroke at a sporting event gets you tossed into a kiddy pool and ice dumped over you (while supporting the airway). Cool them down as fast as you can without drowning them.

P.S. When I started this comment, until the spirits moved me, all I planned on doing was to point attention to Teresa's brilliant line on outsourcing:
"Alternately, there could be Third World sweatshops available to do our believing for us."

#31 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:01 AM:

Smackdown! Thank you!

The self-help section was my least favorite part of the bookstore when I worked there. The problem I find with all these "programs" that promise you your "heart's desire" is that most people don't know what their "heart's desire" really is. They want to be rich and happy, or think they do, and they want getting those things to be easy. That's their heart's desire, for success to be easy.

People who have a good idea what their heart's desire actually is generally don't need anyone telling them how to get it.

#32 ::: Nightsky ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:02 AM:

To address one eensy little portion of TNH's essay, above; to wit: the appropriation of Native cultures because they're sexxay.

My mother is French; immigrated 40-odd years back. As a lass, reading up on French history instilled in me a deep envy of French kids, living in this enchanted countryside full of castles and Gothic churches and ancient villages and just general history, so much history that it seemed like it'd be a force of nature... whereas I lived in northern California, where there was no history.* It seemed most unfair. I hoped the French kids appreciated their immense good fortune.

The most recent time I was in France was last summer, for a cousin (and dear dear friend)'s wedding. As I do whenever I'm in France**, I scoped out the used bookstores, and happened upon a young adult novel written with the same envious yearning to be from somewhere, anywhere more interesting than wherever it is that one happens to be from: it was a fantasy novel about a young American girl who could see ghosts and whose mission it was to fight them, and whose woes were mostly due to a succession of Indian curses/magic/graveyards/etc. Where I had envied the French their history, their deep-set roots, the audience of these books envied a supposed American way of life: wandering (the protagonist's family lives in a camper van, though they are in all other respects middle-class) the wide unpopulated spaces of the American West, with extra cool danger coming from exotic and poorly understood cultures.***

The point I'm fumbling towards here is not as trite as "the grass is greener"; something uglier and less easily resolved, something where "everyone, learn to appreciate your own cultures" doesn't even begin to address the issue. Should we demand that even light escapist reads be culturally sensitive? And what does that even mean?

* I was wrong about this--of course California has history, but it wasn't White history, so it didn't count--but that's a different essay for another day.
** Or anywhere else, come to think of it.
*** I also saw a bande desinee (comic book in the Franco-Belgian tradition), about a Native American princess and her tribe, that featured teepees AND primeval forests AND totem poles. My cousin was ashamed on behalf of France for producing it.

#33 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:03 AM:

I'd be happy to lead a spiritual retreat weekend for those seeking enlightenment. All you have to do is pay for your own transportation, food, and hotel, kick in a little for function space, and we'll all achieve spiritual growth by hanging out, eating chocolate, and talking about fantasy and science fiction (or anything else we feel like talking about).

Much cheaper than a Newage weekend, and I promise not to kill anyone.

#34 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:07 AM:

Carrie 30: People who have a good idea what their heart's desire actually is generally don't need anyone telling them how to get it.

"The only thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart." (Lois McMaster Bujold)

Sounds like some of these people tried. (After being led astray by this greedmongering selfish piece of shit, I mean.)

#35 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:09 AM:

Xopher@#32, don't we call those science fiction conventions?

#36 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:10 AM:

Carrie, shhhhhh! You'll spoil my fun!

#37 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:17 AM:

What I thought on reading those tweets was that if James Ray honestly believed what he preached, if he truly believed that thoughts and words and intentions are magic, he would never have written those tweets and sent them out into the world. Therefore, my much more mundane conclusion was that he never believed that stuff in the first place.

This is still a charitable interpretation. He might actually be evil, as opposed to merely greedy. I think any sufficiently advanced greed is indistinguishable from evil, but if he DID believe that stuff and sent those tweets mindfully, he MEANT for people to die. Maybe he's more of a monster than we know.

Nahh. Just a con man. Not even a magician.

#38 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:20 AM:

John Houghton, you're right. Thing is, I'm distressed by fraud and folly, so I try to force them to make sense by writing about them.

Everyone -- I've finished writing the entry, except for a couple of bits of endmatter I'll add tomorrow. Read it if you've got the wakefulness, but I'm going to sleep.

#39 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:31 AM:

TNH: Samurai?

Must've gotten his training from Alberto Fujimori.

#40 ::: Laura ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:35 AM:

It appears to be a homicide investigation, now.
http://verdenews.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=33140

When I was in college, one of my housemates built a sweat lodge. Permeable walls, check. Ocular, check. Timer that went ding so that everyone left when the timer dinged, check. Few people (no more than fourteen, ever), check. Leaving before the timer dinged encouraged, check.

I remember asking questions when this hit the news. "How many people? How long were they in? Who was doing this?"

In the end, this is crazy bad stuff. Telling people to ignore their body's danger signals, and then putting them into a place of danger is just flat-out wrong. And it sounds as though there's now official agreement with that "flat-out wrong" position. Too bad it didn't happen earlier.

#41 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:36 AM:

Keiths @7: [wrt Samurai reference] [...]I also think that part of the reason is purely because, Oriental things are cool right now. Just go to Target and buy a tile with a Chinese character on it. It might even be the character for what it says it is.

At least it's less permanent than getting a tattoo you can't understand.

#42 ::: anon ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:51 AM:

Regular poster here.

The techniques sound a lot like large group awareness training, with a quick setting change to the southwest.

The one that I'm somewhat familiar with is the Landmark Forum (nee est) -- a group that promises success with the completion of many weekend seminars, all for many $$. The seminars are run so that there's very tight control on bathroom breaks, food breaks, and extremely long days so that judgment is impaired. There's huge pressure exerted by the leaders exploiting the psychology of not standing out in a large group or not letting the group down.

It's profitable. Very Profitable. I'm not at all surprised that they're talking about $10k weekend seminars. The object is to extract as much money as they can from each person, while convincing them that they're undergoing a life expanding change and should get all their friends and relations in it.

#43 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:05 AM:

Chris Quinones @ 38: You read my mind. Except I wasted time hunting up a link. [g]

#44 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:06 AM:

John @ 29:

I agree with your post. I am not a lawyer but it sounds to me like some charges ought to be filed. I think a DA could make a case for criminal negilence at the very least. I'd also suggest obstruction of justice since Ray was quick to leave and refused to talk to the sheriff.

Of course this news story is competing with the Balloon Boy. I'm not waiting up nights for justice to be done.

#45 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:09 AM:

John @ 29:

I agree with your post. I am not a lawyer but it sounds to me like some charges ought to be filed. I think a DA could make a case for criminal negilence at the very least. I'd also suggest obstruction of justice since Ray was quick to leave and refused to talk to the sheriff.

Of course this news story is competing with the Balloon Boy. I'm not waiting up nights for justice to be done.

#46 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:11 AM:

Sorry about the double post. The browser is acting up. Thanks for nothing Bill Gates.

#47 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:15 AM:

Thanks for nothing Bill Gates.

If only Bill had learned to color inside the lines perhaps we wouldn't be patching Windows every couple of days.

#48 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:22 AM:

Nightsky @ 31: I scoped out the used bookstores, and happened upon a young adult novel written with the same envious yearning to be from somewhere, anywhere more interesting than wherever it is that one happens to be from

One of the things I was thinking about earlier was why this sort of thing piggybacks on a distortion of someone else's culture. He doesn't focus on American or European warriors, it's Japanese Samurai, Peruvian secrets, Native American sweat lodges. Perhaps Europeans and Americans never developed their own mystical traditions? I think we have plenty of people right here who will say that's not so.

I still also want to know what, exactly, these spiritual warriors are supposed to fight or fight for. It makes a certain amount of sense for certain strains of Christianity to talk about spiritual warfare, because they believe that they're going up against evil things in the spiritual realm. But I don't see that here.

Xopher @ 32:

I'll happily sign up for your spiritual growth weekend. (With that amount of chocolate, something's going to grow, anyway.)

Julie L. @ 40:

That's exactly what I was thinking!

Fasting messes with your brain in interesting ways, as it's not getting the energy it usually does. For a single day's fast, you can start off all right, go off into being a bit down, then float back up into a slight light-headed, euphoric sort of state. (Yom Kippur liturgy is structured around this same sort of pattern, if I remember correctly.)

But adding the huge stress of a crowded, poorly-constructed sweat lodge can't help any. I wonder if the excessive heat (65 densely-packed people get hot, never mind the heat of the lodge), plus a higher concentration of CO2 pushed things past dozy and euphoric straight into can't think clearly at all territory.

#49 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:29 AM:

I have to confess: At the height of the tea bagger / town hall / death panel silly season, I was so disgusted that I more than a little seriously considered coming up with a way to fleece suckersReal Americans. Like writing Diet Secrets of the Masonic Sisterhood: The Rebekah Paradigm.

#50 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:30 AM:

Perhaps Europeans and Americans never developed their own mystical traditions? I think we have plenty of people right here who will say that's not so.

Yes, we do have our own mystical traditions. But it's well-known how one goes about becoming a Catholic, and paying a thousand bucks to sit in a hotel ballroom for a weekend isn't part of it. It is also well-known that while saints can levitate, bilocate, heal the sick, remit sins, and do all kinds of other cool things, that their lives are also notable for poverty, self-denial, prayer, and service to others, and what fun is that?

#51 ::: Nightsky ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:36 AM:

KeithS@47: One of the things I was thinking about earlier was why this sort of thing piggybacks on a distortion of someone else's culture.

Yes! That's more like the idea I was aiming to articulate. Simple exoticism doesn't seem to be enough--it has to be a distortion, and specifically a distortion that brings teh sexxay.

He doesn't focus on American or European warriors, it's Japanese Samurai, Peruvian secrets, Native American sweat lodges. Perhaps Europeans and Americans never developed their own mystical traditions? I think we have plenty of people right here who will say that's not so.

Exactly. I'll submit the romanticized "Celtic" culture as seen in bad fiction as Exhibit A.

Going back to my YA novel*: if you're going to write about the adventures of a ghost-hunting teen, why NOT set it in France? Haunted castles! Haunted abbeys! Angry spirits GALORE! So it's not a question of the author only being able to tell his stories in the millieu of the American West, it's specifically (or seems to be, anyway) that he set out to tell stories that required his distorted America as a setting.

*FWIW, the series is called "Peggy Sue et les Fantomes"; and it's--interesting cultural windows aside--not that good.

#52 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:41 AM:

This seems like a face of the beast of which Prosperity Theology is another face -- which we've discussed here before, I believe. Change the espoused belief system from a horrible mélange of Native and ghods-know-what-else to Christian, change the situation to a faith-healing, and the results are the same.

#53 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:42 AM:

It strikes me that this person was wielding very powerful tools without having a clue what he was doing with them.

I am wondering if part of his willingness to do this, as well as his client's willingness to follow him, is related to, well, a lack of education about/knowledge of spiritual things?

As a culture we can be pretty aggressive about freedom from and of religion, but perhaps learning about belief is not the same as believing?

This is not a really well-formed idea right now, and it's late here on the left coast and I don't think I can make it make more sense right now. Perhaps someone else can try?

#54 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:50 AM:

WRT novels, YA or otherwise, and cultural distortions and such, it's also easier for authors, I imagine.

A French ghost-hunting YA novel might catch flak if the author moves a French abbey from it's well-known real-life location for dramatic purposes, but a French audience likely won't blink if some random American ghost town is invented/tweaked/distorted or whatever. You can even change larger details of geography or culture and get away with it.

The exotic is often easier to fudge.

Fudging it for a novel is usually acceptable; fudging it for mystic-warrior horse-manure to fleece people out of thousand of dollars, not so much...

Somebody upthread, or one of the original articles, mentioned the figures of a 415 sq ft sweathouse, and 68 people inside... that's crazy, crazy crowded. (Oh, and no ventilation) You'd hardly need hot rocks/water/steam/etc to get a sauna atmosphere going...

#55 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:56 AM:

Ah, yes. As discussed here before, the "Spiritual Warfare" of the far-right whackoids.

#56 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:28 AM:

Stefan Jones: Rebekahs aren't Masonic, they're IOOF; Eastern Star are the female branch of the Masons. (Mom was a Rebekah).

Thanks for putting this together, Teresa. I've been watching a different flavor of this brand of crazy up in my childhood neighborhood in Yelm, where all Hollywood has wandered through the Ramtha School of Enlightenment over the last couple of decades.

#57 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:36 AM:

Margaret, #52: perhaps learning about belief is not the same as believing

That's a very good point. For example, there have been reports of Avengelicals performing rituals which partook of name-compulsion magic -- something that anyone with a little exposure to genuine paganism would recognize as very black magic indeed -- but because those Christians have never looked at any other belief system (indeed, they are forbidden to look), they don't recognize what they're doing at all. And this applies to the leaders as much as to the followers.

I can very easily imagine that someone whose primary motivation is fleecing the gullible might never have looked into the potential real spiritual power of what he's calling up.

#58 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:51 AM:

Great piece, Teresa.

The "ancient wisdom of the Samurai warrior" fascination that some people were mentioning isn't at all a new trend, it has been going steady for at least 3 decades now. I'm a bit susceptible to that one myself, and was even more so when I was actively studying some Japanese martial arts. As one example, Miyamoto Musashi's guide to swordfighting, A Book of Seven Rings was (I think) first published in the US in the mid-'70s for martial artists and Eastern wisdom devotees; it became a surprise hit in the '80s among businessmen trying to figure out why the Japanese were doing so well - before it became apparent that perhaps they weren't.

As to your last section, which I think starts touching on some deep and dark truths, I think I need to go read some more from the Duff McDuffee you cite.

I was rather reminded of one of my favorite bits from the Book of the Subgenius. That was never so much a joke as it appeared to be on the surface; rather more an assortment of serious, sarcastic, and mystic truths disguised as a joke disguised as a religion, and somewhere in there it suggests (paraphrased) "Maybe nothing is really real - maybe everything you experience and the whole universe is inside your head! Until somebody starts beating the outside of your head with a truncheon; then you can pretty well call that real." The universe has a way of suddenly whipping those truncheons out when people fall into that mental trap.

#59 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:56 AM:

"Avengelicals performing rituals which partook of name-compulsion magic -- something that anyone with a little exposure to genuine paganism would recognize as very black magic indeed"

A tad too far inside your own paradigm there, methinks.

#60 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:15 AM:

Can you unpack that comment, dave?

#61 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:31 AM:

@Margaret Organ-Kean, #52:

It strikes me that this person was wielding very powerful tools without having a clue what he was doing with them.

I am wondering if part of his willingness to do this, as well as his client's willingness to follow him, is related to, well, a lack of education about/knowledge of spiritual things?

Ignorance is bliss until somebody ends up in the ER. Or, "My wishful thinking is just as important as centuries of practical experience." Except that the idea that this thing might require practical experience isn't even in the brainpan.

This mess reminds me of a leaflet that I kept around for years for the sheer crogglement factor--"Southern Utah Wilderness Peace Project, a Family-Tribal Vision Quest, June 1-21, 1988." The organizers admitted that the solitary Native American vision quest (tribe unspecified) was not the best model for modern USians to follow, so they recommended instead that a whole bunch of people take their kids into the desert for two weeks of "men's and women's healing circles, children's learning games, family times, alone times, sweat lodges, yoga and movement, ceremonies, music and silence," followed by a week of "integrating and refining our new visions and information, deepening the healing, and preparing ourselves to carry our well implanted new visions and mode of being back to our communities." (I copied the best-worst bits into my diary.) All of this was to be preparation for an astrological event that was shortly due to channel vast power from the galactic core . . .

Among the list of people who "might" be attending was a Utah wilderness guide. Hope he had some paramedic training, if he showed up at all.

Other stuff that showed up with the leaflet included a list of publications that were either books of healing (full stop) or magpie collections of assorted bits of more-or-less ancient more-or-less secret more-or-less wisdom. The publishing house associated with the "Family-Tribal Vision Quest" appeared to specialize in the feeling of having penetrated a mystery and/or overcome a trauma, using whatever means sounded cool. Not the kind of hard work found in 12-step groups or between the covers of The Courage to Heal, just the emotional highs.

If the Southern Utah Wilderness Peace Project actually took place, I'm pretty sure that the worst anybody had to encounter was boredom. It was probably on the other end of the spectrum from Ray's sweat lodge disaster, but I'm willing to bet that they were prompted largely by the same unexamined ideas: That if a bunch of people can get together and feel, really feel, that transformation is happening--why, then, they'll be transformed; that anything that produces such a feeling must be completely wholesome and harmless; and that the whole thing is really easy to learn and teach.

#62 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:44 AM:

Lee @15:
Where were we having that "seed crystal" discussion a few days ago? If there had been one person willing to risk the contempt and social ostracization which would have been invoked by saying, "This isn't safe, I'm leaving," and walking out, s number of others might have followed suit. *But nobody wants to be the first one*.

Albatross linked to an article in this comment. From that article:

Lonely dissent doesn't feel like going to school dressed in black. It feels like going to school wearing a clown suit.

and

What takes real courage is braving the outright incomprehension of the people around you, when you do something that isn't Standard Rebellion #37, something for which they lack a ready-made script. They don't hate you for a rebel, they just think you're, like, weird, and turn away. This prospect generates a much deeper fear.

I think this is a really good point. These people paid for Standard Rebellion #37, and the pressure will have been enormous against anyone putting on a clown suit and harshing their in-group mellow. If Ray has a strong instinct for interpersonal manipulation (and I suspect he does), he'll have put them into a state where the social pressure to go along with whatever he told them to do was enormous. The cost of the weekend will also have added to the pressure.

Otherwise someone might have got the giggles, or asked awkward questions. Or just plain listened to their bodies. And then the whole thing would have fallen apart.

(In point of fact, I think the article rather understates how harsh a small group that already identifies as outsiders treats the guy in the clown suit. When I went through my own profoundly weird phase in high school, it was the "rebels" who gave me the most trouble.)

#63 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:58 AM:

John Houghton @29 is still making me laugh out loud when I re-read him this morning:

There is no way you can monitor 68 people in the dark in close quarters, unless, at a minimum, you have a UTB thermometer in each of them, and having a thermometer up the butt doesn't lend itself to spiritual enlightenment (68 people squirming from rectal thermometers has a peculiar entertainment value, but I digress).

I know this is going to sound weird, but this story reminds me of reading bad slush: when you look at the people behind it, it's pitiable and sometimes tragic, but when you look at what they do, it's funny.

#64 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:01 AM:

Epslootlay, Abi, ole bean. You can't criticise one kind of woo by saying it's getting dangerously close to invoking another kind of woo, which you happen to think is real, and expect to be taken seriously. What the poster says is no different in kind from a fundie who says you can't read Harry Potter, because satan might climb in through your eyeballs.

There is no real spiritual power. There are various forms of bullshit, some of which different groups of people take seriously. [For some this may be part of a deep, historic culture. Yay for them. For others, it may be a random book they pulled off a shelf.] Some of these bullshit ideas can scare the pants off impressionable people; some of them can produce real mental problems for vulnerable individuals exposed to them. In that sense, they can have real effects. But there are no spirits, sorry.

Now, I appreciate that this kind of brute-force approach to reality might be seen as insensitive, but alas, I don't care. Umpty thousand years of structural oppression based on people being forced to listen to their local woomeisters has rendered me intolerant.

Just because some people these days get to make up their own brands of woo doesn't stop it being woo. They should know better. Any life-enhancing effects that they may feel are produced by their woo are attributable to the fact that it makes them feel good to do what they feel like. That's fine with me, have any funny ideas in your head that you like, folks. Just keep them wrapped up in public, where statements about reality really ought to be based on reality.

To sum up: "spirituality" is just a nice feeling. Nice feelings are good, but not when you mistake them for reality, and especially not when you start issuing portentous messages about the "power" that is being messed about with. The only "power" around is the power of bad ideas to scare people into doing bad things. [Or worse, to induce them into doing them for their own ends.]

#65 ::: nothing ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:13 AM:

I was just struck again by the numbers given above. 68 people, in the dark, in a space with 415 sqft? Ranging from 50 inches to 30 inches high? With supposedly some space left free for hot rocks to be brought in?

The only way that comes close to working is cheek-to-jowl, curled up in roughly the fetal position. There's no way to get out even if you want to, because there's literally no room to move past people, or even over them.

I think I'm going to go have nightmares now.

#66 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:18 AM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden #37:

Thing is, I'm distressed by fraud and folly, so I try to force them to make sense by writing about them.

I understand completely. It gave your brain a powerful itch.
And when Teresa's brain has an itch, it gets scratched thoroughly and completely, with footnotes, citations, historical and cultural context, and unassailable reasoning. In four part close harmony. In Middle English if it supported her argument.

We watch in awe.

#67 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:21 AM:

Nightsky @50: On the other hand, "Peggy Sue et le Fantomas" might actually be quite amusing.

We now return you to your regular scheduled bumbling killer ...

#68 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:48 AM:

There is no real spiritual power.

Maybe there isn't. But there is a wide variety of practical experience, built up over many years, about the ways humans think and behave and what happens to their bodies under various conditions.

So, maybe sweat lodges work to expand your knowledge or maybe they don't, but there's a reason you don't make 'em out of impermeable materials, that you have no more than a dozen or so people inside 'em, that the time spent inside is limited, the folks who are there are well hydrated, and those folks are encouraged to bail out if they start feeling bad.

#69 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:30 AM:

dave @63:
You can't criticise one kind of woo by saying it's getting dangerously close to invoking another kind of woo, which you happen to think is real, and expect to be taken seriously.

Oh, you most certainly can. Indeed, I have seen it done right here on this website. It may not get taken seriously by you, but you are not the Lord Arbiter of the Internet.

Now, I appreciate that this kind of brute-force approach to reality might be seen as insensitive, but alas, I don't care.

Feel free not to care on your own blog then, because on this site, we treat other commenters with respect, even if their views differ from ours.

If the next comment you post does not actively contribute to the conversation, instead of merely sneering and asserting your superiority, you're banned from Making Light.

Not because your views are somehow too controversial for our tiny and (in some cases) superstition-befuddled minds to handle, but because your conversational pattern is really boring:

  1. Toss a short, cryptic and cynical comment into the thread. If no one bites, toss another.
  2. If someone does bite, take it as permission to post with no regard for the other people in the conversation.
  3. When people pick up on your contemptuous manner, bite back. Be rude, because you're just robustly defending your views. Call anyone who disagrees with you harsh.

I was going to demonstrate how all but four comments in your (view all by) fit this pattern, but frankly, it's not worth my effort.

#70 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:04 AM:

I'm not an expert on paying for spiritual guidance... but is it normal to pay $10,000 to not eat, not drink, and not breathe air?

From my very limited experience with self-help people, their line is that they're doing THIS because they want to share their happiness. If that's your line, how do you really justify exceeding expenses?

Then again, paying more money sometimes makes people feel MORE comfortable for what they're getting regardless of what it is. (In America, I'd be nervous about buying sushi for a dollar a plate, out of fear of bad fish... because I don't feel able to judge safety myself... see also Bruce Schneier's stuff about assymmetric knowledge in the security industry?) is that the sort of thinking that makes somebody pay $10,000 to be deprived of bodily needs? (assuming I'm interested in being deprived in the first place))

#71 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:16 AM:

Well, you asked, I answered. I refer you back to the brief comment #56 to which I was responding. To my mind, the assertion that there are "real spiritual powers" out that that will, I paraphrase, mess you up if you mess with them is at least as offensive as anything I might have said. It is offensive on several levels:

1. It asserts esoteric knowledge, and by implication power, to which the knower has access and others do not, placing the knower in a position of superiority to them;
2. It creates the conditions for the use of such superiority for the exploitation of others, by encouraging them to place faith in the knower's version of a 'higher' reality not accessible to evidence and testing, and subjecting them to manipulation;
3. It denigrates the millennia-long struggle for human knowledge to be freely and equally accessible to all, and not subject to the whims of a priesthood;
4. It, of course, denigrates by implication every other form of non-compatible 'spiritual' belief, asserting their falsity by the very act of asserting its own truth [I am, perhaps unsurprisingly, less bothered about this one than the others].
5. Finally, like all assertions of a higher reality to which mere materialists have no access, it denigrates me, and others like me, as inferior beings.

Therefore, for all these reasons, I am offended by such statements. That seems to matter. Normally I would say, with Stephen Fry, 'So fucking what?' to my own offence; but you have made offence the currency of the discussion.

In my first response to the offensive remark above, I was merely lightly allusive, indicating to the party concerned that there might be certain difficulties with accepting as valid the assertion of what they sought to assert, when seen from outwith their own frame of reference. You asked me to clarify, I did. Now I have again, because, on the basis of my clarification, you condemned me as offensive. If you want to ban me for it, go ahead. But I invite you to reconsider which is more fatal to civilised discourse: to ask that discussion, if it is to be free, adheres to minimum standards of openness and rationality, or to demand in the name of 'respect' that esoteric assertions be accorded the same validity as empirical facts.

#72 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:17 AM:

dave @70:
Well, you asked, I answered. I refer you back to the brief comment #56 to which I was responding.

See point two of my list of your conversational patterns.

Now I have again, because, on the basis of my clarification, you condemned me as offensive.

Point three.

But I invite you to reconsider which is more fatal to civilised discourse: to ask that discussion, if it is to be free, adheres to minimum standards of openness and rationality, or to demand in the name of 'respect' that esoteric assertions be accorded the same validity as empirical facts.

I had a bet on with myself that you'd play the "you must tolerate my intolerance" card. That's 20 Euro to charity.

Goodbye, dave.

#73 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:29 AM:

Margaret Organ-Kean, #52: I am wondering if part of his willingness to do this, as well as his client's willingness to follow him, is related to, well, a lack of education about/knowledge of spiritual things?

I think it's more directly related to a lack of education about/knowledge of biology, medicine, and physics.

Nightsky, #50: The mention of that French series reminds me of James Thurber's essay "Wild Bird Hickock and His Friends," about French dime novels in which Wild Bird Hickock took the baths in Atlantic City at the advice of his physician, and sheriffs greeted rough strangers with "Alors, je vais demander ses cartes d'identité!"

#74 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:46 AM:

As an aside. Anyone want to bet that Ray vanishes? I am kind of surprised the sheriff just let him go and did not hold him at least. They could have held him for 24-48 hours.

I've had heat stroke (I was a kid and my stupid cousin thought I was being a wimp when I started complaining.) Luckily my mother stopped it right before I threw up. I can very much see people not wanting to get out of there to show they are strong and not quitters. It's not about being dumb at that point.

#75 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:55 AM:

abi, with all due respect, your banning of dave really bothers me. I share his position; that there is no supernatural. I am aware that just stating this position offends people who do believe in some sort of supernatural or other. I have exactly two choices: keep quiet about it out of respect for them, or speak, and offend them. Of course I can try to cushion my speech in disclaimers and verbal acts of peacemaking, and I usually do so. But the fact still remains that I do consider their deeply held and most intimate and genuine beliefs woo. And that is offensive no matter what terms it is couched in.

For the record - I don't think believers are deluded fools. They have good reasons to be believers. I just happen to think they are wrong. But I do feel like I had to append this appeasement, because I am afraid that otherwise my position would be taken as offensive. Is that fair?

#76 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:02 AM:

I know I'm far from a frequent commenter here, but for whatever it's worth I agree with Anna @75.

#77 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:06 AM:

For what it's worth, Abi's analysis (in her #68) of the late commenter "dave's" modus operandi seems spot on. There's nothing wrong with a rigorously materialistic view of the world, but if you're consistently using it as an excuse to be a jerk to others, you're no more charming than any other kind of jerk.

Life is short and there are other interesting things to talk about, including in this very thread. Best of luck to dave in his internet travels--elsewhere.

#78 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:06 AM:

Charlie Stross: On the other hand, "Peggy Sue et le Fantomas" might actually be quite amusing.

And "Mary Sue et le Fantomas" is one of those disturbing ideas that I'm sure will show up at 3:00 a.m. in the future when I'm trying to sleep. Urk.

#79 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:13 AM:

Anna @75, I think Dave @63, 71 was banned for being a jerk, not for his view that there is no supernatural. I did go back and read most of his (view all by), and he's got a history of being a jerk. The internet's a big place; I'm sure he'll find somewhere that amuses him.

#80 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:27 AM:

B. Durbin@19

My impression is that both the Moslem fasting during Ramadan and the Jewish fasting for Yom Kippur do not include water during the period of actual fasting.

Of course, neither of them include fasting periods of anywhere close to 36 hours.

(From what I gather, the Ramadan fasting is dawn to dusk, and the Yom Kippur fasting is just over 24 hours.)

#81 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:42 AM:

Anna @75 and Ian @76:

Dave's banning really had nothing whatever to do with his views on religion; it was entirely to do with his manner of engaging other people. Read his commenting history; his pattern really is as repetitive and disrespectful as I've described.

He was already on thin ice after this comment in the headscarf thread. And I could find no case where a comment of his improved the conversation to the same extent that his pattern has tended to damage it.

Now, I don't even have to look at either of your commenting histories to think of times I've found myself giving that little nod of "yes, that" at something you've each said. You both contribute materially to the conversations that you grace with your presence, and I'd love to see you both more on Making Light.

#82 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:56 AM:

dave has been at it again?

#83 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:05 AM:

$9,695? I can kill you for half that money.

#84 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:08 AM:

Michael I--it's also worth noting that fasts for such things as Lent, Ramadan, and Yom Kippur have limits on them for people who are not in good shape for them physically (frex, diabetics), or who are otherwise in a situation where fasting might be unwise--soldiers on active duty in the field are speciifically exempted from Ramadan fasting, as are women who are pregnant or nursing. The rules are often not expected to apply to very young children, as well. This is because these rules were thought up by people with good sense.

Ramadan and Lenten fasting are also good examples of conditional fasting--Ramadan by when one is allowed to eat, and Lent by what one is allowed to eat. Both also have safety valves; as I understand it, if you can just make it to nightfall in Ramadan, you can eat what and as much as you like, and in Lent, Sundays and other major feasts are officially-sanctioned days off. Athough the faster experiences limits, and may be deprived of some favorite foods in Lent, they aren't subjected to severe physical stress.

I had a professor who used Lent and Advent fasts as a diet mechanism--since the traditional forms for these fasts are vegetarian* (or even, in the most traditional, vegan)--fish is a later loophole, or so I'm told--they were a helpful way to cut back on high-calorie foods, and since she was combining them with a course of spiritual study, she said she found she didn't resent the deprivation nearly as much.


*It is no doubt entirely coincidental to the rules of Lenten fasting that in pre-modern European and Middle Eastern agrarian societies that by late February or March most people would be running out of stored animal-based foods anyway, and that things like eggs for eating, fresh milk, and fresh butter would be short on the ground, since you'd be letting the hen set whatever eggs she had to have chicks come spring, and the cows, goats &c. either wouldn't be giving milk as they were close to giving birth or else already had, and the milk had to go to their offspring.

Yes, I know that was an awfully long sentence.

#85 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:16 AM:

Carrie V @31 The problem I find with all these "programs" that promise you your "heart's desire" is that most people don't know what their "heart's desire" really is. They want to be rich and happy, or think they do, and they want getting those things to be easy.

There's an old Barry B. Longyear book called The God Box which involves a character in a fantasy world who acquires a box that gives him whatever he most needs at the moment. Not, note, whatever he wants. I found it thought provoking as well as amusing.

#86 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:17 AM:

Anna @75:
Reading this comment, and comparing it to dave @70, I hit this minimal pair that illustrates what I'm getting at.

Quoth dave:
To my mind, the assertion that there are "real spiritual powers" out that that will, I paraphrase, mess you up if you mess with them is at least as offensive as anything I might have said.

While you say:
But the fact still remains that I do consider their deeply held and most intimate and genuine beliefs woo. And that is offensive no matter what terms it is couched in.

You are worrying about the effect of your beliefs on other people. You care about mitigating that impact (Of course I can try to cushion my speech in disclaimers and verbal acts of peacemaking, and I usually do so.).

By contrast, dave is focusing on the effect of other people's beliefs on him, even if they weren't addressing him at all. Meanwhile, he doesn't give a toss about how he affects them. (Now, I appreciate that this kind of brute-force approach to reality might be seen as insensitive, but alas, I don't care, from comment 63).

And that, as they say, made all the difference.

#87 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:20 AM:

#74 Anyone want to bet that Ray vanishes?

Now Radio Ray is a goin' hound
He's goin' yet and he ain't been found.
The police have his picture but they got it too late
'Cause since he's been goin' he's lost a lot of weight.

-- Aimee Semple McPherson

#88 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:29 AM:

OtterB @ 85... That reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode What You Need, which itself was based on a Lewis Padgett story.

#89 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:31 AM:

Bruce E. Durocher II # 78: Right now Peggy Sue et le Fantômas fut mariés (if I got the verb right) is going through my head; starring Kathleen Turner and Nicholas Cage.

#90 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:32 AM:

fidelio @84: My grandfather, straight off the boat from Italy, had a serious problem with the Lent fasting after watching the priests as an altar boy. He'd see them eat what they wanted and get drunk off the remaining sacramental wine.

From what I can recall, Lent fasting has from the earliest been a bit of a crap shoot depending on where you were. And I think it was actually St. Augustine who pushed the vegan ideal onto it pretty hard. And yes it was always done sanely. They made a lot of changes over the years to allow people to, well, not die or get seriously sick.

What never ceases to amaze me is how people can totally and completely misunderstand how to do something because they barely read about it or don't really care. You don't even need common sense to know a closed room with very high heat exposure should be bad.

@87: Never heard that one before, it's perfect! Time for me to consult with the googles I think.

#91 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:35 AM:

Laurence Gonzales in his excellent DEEP SURVIVAL observed "Sometimes an 'expert' is someone who's gotten away with a really stupid thing a couple of times."

In the greater scheme of life, taking out the time to question authority, asking if assertions add up, asking 'who profits from this?', and giving thought to whether the butterflies in your stomach are onto something are all good survival mechanisms.

#92 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:42 AM:

I'm amazed at the willingness of people to throw their money at clowns who put together a half-baked mess of mysticism, exotic ritual, and plain hokum, in the hope that this will overcome the difficulties of their lives. It's no different from what is promised by evangelicals in bad suits. By the Lads from Lagos is ungrammatical emails. Or, for that matter, by Lush Rimbaugh.

Give me your hope, and I will make you richer/better/happier. But first, I need your trust/love/bank account info.

#93 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:44 AM:

My father got heavily involved with that Landmark Forum for a while. Spent a huge amount of money on "life-changing" seminars; alas, it did not have any long-term effects that I could see. (He could certainly use some life changing.) At the time he was very excited about it, though.

The second seminar he attended happened to be right down the street from where I lived in Alexandria (VA) at the time. Although their time was very tightly scheduled (on purpose, I'm sure), he invited me to ride up to the Baltimore aquarium one afternoon with him and some friends from the seminar.

They spent the ride there enthusing about the seminar and the ride back trying to recruit me. Any requests for concrete information ("what do you do at these things?") was met with "well, come to the free session and see."

The insidious bit was the way they raved about how [massive life issue, e.g., a divorce] was clarified and/or solved outright, and then asked whether I had an issue to be worked through. Doesn't everyone? The clear expectation is that if you answer yes, you're agreeing to come to the recruiting session; if you answer no, you're in denial. That kind of pressure from friends or family members is very powerful.

(Also, where my dear father thought I was going to get several thousand dollars for this seminar, I have no idea.)

For all I know, the people attending that seminar really did go home and change their lives. I've yet to see any evidence of it, though.

#94 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:49 AM:

Fragano @ 89... Close enough. It should be 'furent', but my metaphorical hat to you, monsieur.

#95 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:51 AM:

James Macdonald @ 50:

Yes, we do have our own mystical traditions. But it's well-known how one goes about becoming a Catholic, and paying a thousand bucks to sit in a hotel ballroom for a weekend isn't part of it.

I think this is extremely important. We're familiar with it, so it's mundane and uninteresting; it's part of the background unless you already partake of or are interested in the tradition. Ah, but those other people around the world have belief systems that are exotic and interesting, not stodgy and Western. And you have to learn about them somehow.

Scott @ 70:

Then again, paying more money sometimes makes people feel MORE comfortable for what they're getting regardless of what it is.

It also helps to encourage people to apply the sunk cost fallacy. They've already paid at least $10k, probably more because they do it multiple times, so they can't admit to themselves that they're wasting their money.

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan @ 75:

You don't have to be a believer in any kind of magic or mystical to recognize that what the people in Lee's example were attempting to do, if given any real thought, was particularly nasty. Likewise, Ray here is abusing something that has power, whether you see it as mystical or something that 'merely' alters the physical, to make scads of money.

Michael I @ 80:

Also, fasting for Yom Kippur, Ramadan, or Lent does not include extreme physical stress.

#96 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:51 AM:

Quick side question here: I'm Jewish, and always thought that standard Jewish practice was avoid drinking water (or other fluids) when fasting. But I know that my family often got standard practices slightly wrong, because the generation two before mine was atheist and didn't want to talk about that sort of detail. Am I mistaken here?

Regarding fasting and safety valves -- absolutely crucial. In any Jewish group I belonged to, it was understood that no ritual was supposed to actually endanger safety. The shorthand here was "choose life" -- it is good for people to be living and healthy, and they shouldn't worship in ways that damage that. It's important that this not only be understood by each individual, but that everyone knows that their companions know it, so that it feels safe to admit you don't feel well.

Also, although Yom Kippur (and some other fast days) are 24 hours, they start at sunset and one often goes to bed early that night. I'm only really aware of fasting from the time I skip breakfast until sunset the next day, about 12 hours. I'm sure it would be much harder to go to bed hungry.

#97 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:51 AM:

James Arthur Ray

"It's a death ray. Why don't you call it a death ray?!"
- Jack on Eureka

#98 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:02 AM:

DavidS @ 96:

It is standard practice to avoid water, however standard practice also does not involve sweating out what little water you have left in an ill-constructed sweat lodge and makes exceptions for the sake of health. The saving of life comes well above the requirement to fast. It's not a test of how macho you are.

#99 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:06 AM:

Larry #90: Here are the complete lyrics and tune. A ballad about (another) spiritual con artist, written by Pete Seeger.

#100 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:07 AM:

I'm sure that Dave will find a more congenial forum. Personally, I'm a lot more polite here than I am in some other fora, because civility is the mode here. That's fine with me. On PZ Myers's blog, I might be a bit tarter. On [Title Withheld] I'm positively acidulous. Avoiding smartassedness isn't always easy; I got punched out for it a lot when I was a kid, and it's a hard habit to break.

#101 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:10 AM:

But I love "Avengelical".

#102 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:12 AM:

Maybe someone else addressed this point earlier, but the point of Christian fasting (and maybe Yom Kippur and/or Ramadan) isn't altering your brain chemistry or what not; it's to remind you of your religion.

#103 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:24 AM:

This plugs into a couple basic bits of the human experience, especially w.r.t. self-improvement.

As an adult, a lot of what you do to improve yourself or your life involves ignoring some levels of unpleasantness or discomfort or even pain. For example, eating less food to lose weight is unpleasant--it involves ignoring fairly urgent signals from your body, signals that evolved to keep you alive but now are encouraging you to kill yourself by overeating. Quitting smoking, or getting regular exercise, or forcing yourself onto a stable schedule, or leaving an abusive lover--all those involve ignoring discomfort and psychic pain. And yet, that's a necessary part of self-improvement, of bettering your situation in life. No pain, no gain.

Similarly, when you learn an entirely new thing, you usually have to start out taking a lot of stuff on faith. I can teach you the basics of cryptography in a few days, but you're going to have to take a lot of stuff--from the hardness of the discrete log problem, to the idea that iterating a weak cipher a lot of times with different keys can get you a strong one, to some notion of what randomnes means--on faith. Later, you can play around with those ideas, even prove them wrong. But not till you've spent some time in information-absorption, taking-it-on-faith mode. (Or maybe you can prove each step, but I think it will take you a long time to learn something new, then.)

And religion is a fundamental part of the human experience--not universal, and some people find little worthwhile in it[1]--but a big part in many lives. Religion fundamentally involves faith, and many social movements, even atheistic ones like Marxism and Objectivism[2], use the same mechanisms of faith and belief in a community and heresy and doctrine. Again, religion requires opening yourself up to being conned, because it requires faith and an accepting spirit in some sense[3].

These are basic things you have to be able to do to improve yourself and your life, to make things better and learn new stuff. And yet, they also involve opening yourself up to con men and deluded fools.

I infer that conmen of this kind shall be always with us, because they exploit necessary and valuable parts of the human experience. Like a virus that uses some critical receptor on the surface of a cell to gain entry, these guys make use of stuff we need, and so can't easily get rid of.

[1] Not all people participate in all such things. I find that the "team spirit" experience mostly leaves me cold, in much the same way my dad just doesn't find religion to be interesting or rewarding or meaningful.

[2] Was it Charlie Stross who had the Objectivist Marxists in one of his books?

[3] As I write this, I find myself wondering whether this is universally true, and particularly wondering what Xopher might have to say about it.

#104 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:26 AM:

Xopher @ #33

Wait.... I thought those were called conventions. Are you proposing Making Light start it's own "SpiriCon"?

#105 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:27 AM:

#29 ::: Lawrence:

Not only is Ray's business cargo cultish in regards to business, it's cargo cultish so far as religion is concerned.

Imitation without full understanding is a basic part of how humans learn and play, but it's risky if you don't have a teacher, and riskier if you shut down the rest of your mind.

In re the safety valves built into Ramadan and Yom Kippur: Does anyone know if they were there from the beginning, or added after a while when it became clear that they were needed?

I'm pulling together a theory that a lot of Americans (I can't speak to other cultures) don't know what it means to be competent at something. This is a much more serious problem than any specific ignorance or incompetence.

I do have some belief in woo, but even if one doesn't, it quite plausible that if you're vigorously pursuing a project, what's on your mind and in your emotions at the time is going to shape it.

Framing it as what spirit you're invoking might be useful.

#106 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:32 AM:

...the point of Christian fasting (and maybe Yom Kippur and/or Ramadan) isn't altering your brain chemistry or what not; it's to remind you of your religion.

That forty days in the wilderness stuff suggests there may at one time have been those who thought otherwise.

#107 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:37 AM:

68 people?! The sweat lodge I participated in had a half dozen attendees. And $10K to attend -- unbelieveable.

The most I've ever paid to attend a Pagan/Wiccan event (PSG) was $120 -- for a week at a private campground. The money went for campground and portapotty fees.

That one had 2 dozen people on its emergency staff -- EMTS, MDs, and RNs, plus a psych contingent. The difference between Newage and Pagans -- we damned well take care of our fellow attendees!

#108 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:37 AM:

@102: That is a good point. From a Roman Catholic perspective (I was raised as such) it's about the sacrifice. It's a mix of payback to Jesus for dying for us, a way to emulate his sacrifice, and a showing of devotion to God by doing so. It's meant to show piety not reveal new things due to altered states of being.

That is how they presented it when you heard about saints and what not fasting and doing stuff. It was because of the pious nature they showed and the intense faith.

#109 ::: Beth Friedman ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:45 AM:

Serge @ 88: Fascinating. I haven't read the Padgett story, but the first thing that came to my mind was Theodore Sturgeon's story "Need."

I suppose it's a common enough riff to have two stories (at least) based on similar ideas.

#110 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:52 AM:

Carrie 31:

People who have a good idea what their heart's desire actually is generally don't need anyone telling them how to get it.

I've been trying to figure out what makes my spiritual practices different from the kind of thing illustrated in this post (aside from the fact that I'm not interested in endangering my life or paying somebody tons of money to tell me things I can figure out for myself) and I think that pretty much nails it.

Margaret Organ-Kean 53:

I am wondering if part of his willingness to do this, as well as his client's willingness to follow him, is related to, well, a lack of education about/knowledge of spiritual things?

Furthermore, you can educate yourself about these things very cheaply. Any library will (hopefully) have some good books that describe safe, basic techniques for experimentation.

Ray's focus on nonconformity really struck me. Because we all hate conformity, right? But telling someone "Listen to your heart" is not the same thing as telling them "Listen to me telling you to listen to your heart, and pay me for these words of wisdom."

Lots of spiritual traditions stress the importance of having a teacher/guru/intermediary of some sort. I've always been mistrustful of such people . . . and this post is why.

#111 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:55 AM:

Beth Friedman @ 109... Besides, two writers(*) using the exact same starting point will wind up in very different places, by virtue of the differences in their imagination's landscape, if not simply because of their voices being different.

(*) three in this case as Padgett really was Henry Kuttner & Catherine L Moore

#112 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:56 AM:

Victoria #104: I'd say that in the spirit of multiculturalism, affirmativeness, openness, and experimentation it should be called ConSpiriSí.

#113 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:00 PM:

There seems to be a real connection between "hucksters tapping into things they don't understand how to do safely" and "pagans taking care of their own." Those without a spiritual community surrounding them - people who are members of a mainstream religion but want to dabble in mystical experiences, say, or someone who's searching for the spiritual path that's right for them but hasn't found it yet - are not necessarily more gullible, but more likely to be caught up in a situation without proper safety nets.

#114 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:04 PM:

LDR, one reason for the teacher/guide/guru is to have someone to test your ideas and inspirations against--someone who will test you when you think you've come up with The Answer, or even just An Answer--and they aren't in it for their benefit; they're there to help you; generally the reason for this is because someone helped them at some point, and they ought to pay it forward. Another reason for the "master" is for there to be a person of some experience available who can say "Stop that; it's not safe" or "Are you sure you're ready for this? Ask yourself carefully why you want to do this now, and make sure you tell the truth."

Socrates, as Plato depicts him, was operating along those lines in some ways, although not so much in a sense of spiritual discovery. He asked people awkward questions about what they believed about the way their social world worked, and why, and then picked away at their answers until they (supposedly) had a better understanding of things.

You are free to imagine how someone like that would have dealt with the notion of paying big-timecashmegabucks for a weekend of badly-mixed superficial woo. Please share the results if they're entertaining.

#115 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:05 PM:

#99 A ballad about (another) spiritual con artist, written by Pete Seeger.

Sung by Pete Seeger, yes, but written by him? I doubt it. Mr. Seeger was only seven years old when the events in the song took place.


--------------

Speaking of plastic medicine men, shall we mention the loathsome Montague Summers, who (based on the fact that he could read Latin and owned a cassock) claimed to be a Catholic priest (although no record of his ordination exists nor did he belong to any diocese) and went whipping around early-twentieth century England writing books (including the first (and badly flawed (perhaps deliberately so)) translation of the Malleus Malificarum, which has been getting folks into mischief ever since). His Witchcraft is a thing of wonder. He starts out by describing the ability of street magicians in India to grow a mango plant from a seed to fruiting bush in a matter of moments, as attested by British officers of unquestioned veracity, and from this that these street magicians really were growing these plants by supernatural means, that they were doing so by the power of Satan, and from this that therefore Satanic Witchcraft is real and various persons during the middle ages and renaissance were genuinely in league with Satan and were no-kidding flying around on broomsticks, cursing cattle, and otherwise misbehaving.

That Summers' books are pure bunkum should go without saying, but they are still widely referenced in the Satan-hunting community today.

#116 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:07 PM:

I forgot to mention that the seminar-giver regarded himself as a highly moral and positively-principled person because he tithes to the religious branch he is a member of and didn't squeeze for every cent possible when property flipping. Barely legal tax evasion and exploiting every loophole and lobbying for more, weren't things that bothered him in the least though, and he was an enthusiastic proponent of and partisan for the oligarchy 2001-2008.

As for addictive group experiences etc., going to F/F conventions and participating on Making Light, are experiences that are a lot more freeform, creative, and inexpensive than getting sucked into being an expensive seminars-for-profit attendee. But then, I doubt if the regulars here tend believe in "Come attend my Seminars for $10,000 each and that will fulfill your life self-ctualize you..."

For that matter, the US Civil War allowed people to avoid the draft by paying someone else to go into the military in their stead... in some ways this stuff seems to me to be a related type of vicarious buyout....

#117 ::: Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:08 PM:

I was delighted to see Teresa's write up of this, as I'd been following it since the story broke. One thing I've been noticing *missing* from the coverage, however, is really interesting. What, exactly, was the intention of the work?

What I've seen out there in public is general statements about being a spiritual warrior - but very little about how this stuff (vision quest, fast, sweat) is necessarily supposed to help make that happen, other than demonstrating that you've got enough stubborness to make it through the sequence. That's not only bad ritual design, but it's really bad teaching design.

It is, however, very good brainwashing technique, to have lots of vague and generic good things that will happen if you just follow the recipe without actually working through the steps inside your own head attentively and consciously.

On the issue of risks in ritual and related experiences: I'm a priestess in a Wiccan-influenced religious witchcraft tradition. We have practices that have risks - some that could be health risks in some settings, some that could be mental well-being risks, because we're doing work aimed at self-transformation, which always has that risk.

However, when I talk to people about this, I compare it to something equivalent to learning to drive a car. Cars have risks, if we don't know what we're doing. And there's some risks from just being on the road, because there are other things out there we don't control.

However, we can learn how to mitigate those risks. We learn to drive slowly in parking lots and low traffic, starting in a parking lot, not on a winding road at high speed in bad weather. We learn to use the safety tools available (a well-maintained car, a seatbelt, lights, signals). We have agreed upon community rules that help keep things working smoothly (traffic lights, signs, ways to handle types of situations). We practice with someone else around who can give us feedback. And we should be (we hope) taught to figure out when we just really should not be driving (because we're exhausted, have been drinking, whatever.)

None of this makes driving a car 100% safe. But it makes it a risk that most of us are not only willing to take on, but take on daily.

I teach people I talk to in my religious community to look for the same kind of thing in ritual and group work. Are people taking the fact there *are* risks seriously? Do they provide education in advance, so you can make a reasonably informed choice and ask specific questions based on your own needs? Do they know you well enough to make thoughtful suggestions about what makes sense for you right now, or (in the case of public events) design so that the risks are minimal and there's enough support around if someone has an unexpected problem?

A week workshop doesn't provide a chance for the leader(s) to know the individuals well enough to make that judgement. And yet, it also doesn't provide enough time for much education about the specific demands of each step, unless someone's very careful and organised about it. Both of those should be big warning signs.

(Oh, and Jim et. all: I consider one of my basic obligations as a priestess to have my first aid and CPR requirements reasonably up to date. We haven't had major issues in my nearly 10 years doing fairly intense ritual work - but we have had occasional moments of faintness, blood sugar issues, and similar things that could get nasty if not handled sensibly.)

#118 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:16 PM:

I have participated in Native American Church sweat lodge ceremonies.

I've seen sweat lodges that could hold up to 20 people, no more. The leader of the ceremony is always very aware of the state of the participants. If Anglos are present, they often open the lodge two or three times during the ceremony.

The point is not to "build neural connections". It is to make a sacrifice of your suffering in order to speed your prayers to god. The hottest sweat I ever attended was held to pray for a young man who was going to Sun Dance. He was about to attempt something very difficult, and so it called for stronger prayers. But even there, the lodge was opened between rounds of prayers and singing.

It's very troubling to see con men abusing the religious practices of another culture to make money, and then have them do it so badly that people die.

#119 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:17 PM:

Beth Friedman @109 and Serge @111, I haven't read either the Padgett or the Sturgeon stories. I'll have to look for them. I suppose all of this belongs at least loosely to the ancient genre of cautionary tales with morals like "be careful what you wish for."

#120 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:24 PM:

Given the current economic climate, industry analysts say it may seem incongruous for those in need to spend this kind of money.

Somebody is surprised that in times of FUD snake oil sales are up? Especially with the cult of personal responsibility that denies such ancient truths as "shit happens", throwing all of one's money and energy at changing one's self instead of at least trying to change the circumstances, snake oil can be expected to be the only growth market in an economic downturn.

Teresa @ 11: I know it sounds dumb. Why didn't they get up and leave? I'm convinced it's in part because they'd repeatedly been instructed to ignore the inner voices that were telling them to get the hell out of there.

Anything useful the inner voices might have said has been pre-emptively invalidated by the adverts, the way I read them. That exercise was something which everyone would expect to be extremely uncomfortable and possibly painful. So the thought "I feel like hell, this cannot be right" is used as a sign that everything is on-track.

I have a very bad record of falling for that kind of thing, but even though I'm aware of it, kicking the "it's only good for you if it hurts" habit is hard.

James Macdonald @14: I would expect a lot of CO2, not CO, from how tightly people were packed in an unventilated room. Out of curiousity, is that likely and how dangerous would it be?

KeithS: One of the things I was thinking about earlier was why this sort of thing piggybacks on a distortion of someone else's culture.

Considering some of the stuff that goes as "Christian" in the US, there seems to be no dearth of piggybacking on distortions of one's own culture.

Margaret Organ-Kean @ 52: It strikes me that this person was wielding very powerful tools without having a clue what he was doing with them.

Hearing some drama and psychodrama from these kind of seminars, it seems that the people running them usually have less of a grasp of psychology and group dynamics (or care less) than a halfway experienced D&D DM.

Jenny Islander @ 60: This Utah wilderness weekend sounds like Taize without running water. Though I suspect the Utah desert is a little more dangerous to the inexperienced than Burgundy?

#121 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:26 PM:

OtterB @ 119... Or the positive side of that old saying. By the way, Padgett's story is quite different from the Twilight Zone episode. For one thing, the former is outright SF while TZ is... well... TZ. It doesn't explain. All things considered, I think TZ's use of the core idea made for a better story.

#122 ::: C.S. MacCath ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:28 PM:

What's troubling to me as a Pagan is the notion that difficult times motivate spiritual searching, and both the times and the quest are motivated by deep vulnerability. I read about this when it happened and was appalled by it all; the huckster, the PRICE (oh, my Gods!), and the stupidity surrounding the sweat ceremony itself. Truly, this person was a charlatan who had little knowledge of what he was doing, physically or otherwise, except as it pertained to taking money from vulnerable people. Very upsetting.

#123 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:32 PM:

Serendipitously, I ran across mention of Barbara Erenreich's latest book _Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America_ and her shorter-version blog entry on the topic.

#124 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:35 PM:

fidelio @114:

Unfortunately I haven't read enough Plato to be able to construct a really good Socratic dialogue. But I can envision the entertainingness of the Ideal dialogue on the subject of "paying big-timecashmegabucks for a weekend of badly-mixed superficial woo." I open it up to contributions from the floor.

It's quite true that a teacher who actually knows better than you and doesn't have too many ulterior motives can be very helpful. But how to find such a person?

James D. Macdonald: I find Montague Summers extremely amusing in small doses. ISTM that if you believe Satan a) exists and b) is virtually omnipotent, then you pretty much qualify as a Satan-worshipper yourself.

#125 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:38 PM:

I feel absolutely no need to pay $10 k for a newage retreat.

However, I have my eye on this $5000 all-inclusive 7-day dive trip to Fiji... And I'd have more fun...

#126 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:42 PM:

caffeine @ 93: The insidious bit was the way they raved about how [massive life issue, e.g., a divorce] was clarified and/or solved outright, and then asked whether I had an issue to be worked through. Doesn't everyone?

Exactly. These sorts of programs find people at a low point in their lives, then 'solve' them in their own way. It works as a support group, but people attribute feeling better to whatever magic or philosophy the group preaches, rather than the fact that they're building up a new circle of friends. It doesn't really matter whether it's evangelical Christianity, Landmark Forum, Amway, or what have you.

Nancy Lebovitz @ 105:

The safeties built into fasting on Yom Kippur are noted in the Mishnah, which means that they are, at the very least, 1800 years old, and probably much older.

#127 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:46 PM:

#123 ::: Janet Croft

Serendipitously, I ran across mention of Barbara Erenreich's latest book _Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America_ and her shorter-version blog entry on the topic.

Erenreich always hits the zeitgeist bullseye, doesn't she? She is being interviewed, provided welcome guest slots, on all the radio talk shows these last two weeks.

I've found this tendency in the U.S. to be ever more disturbing. For me it began when my their 'guardian angels' and the guardian angels of other family members in all seriousness. My mother?????!!!! talking of guardian angels? The strict Lutheran religion in which we were reared, which she practiced, particularly eschewed such concepts as either pagan or Catholic or as ignorant, uneducated superstition. This was about 25 years ago. This is when I knew the nation had changed drastically from what it had been, and that the Enlightenment was effectively being rolled back just about everywhere.

Love, C.

#128 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:53 PM:

I read “ . . . audience of some 500 people, . . . . $1,297” and my brain goes 500 times 1300, four zeroes, 5 times 13 is 65, 4 zeroes, get the comma in the right place [$650,000] two-thirds of a million, minus costs, net of half a million for just one weekend  shit
It was a tragedy long before it was a calamity.


Then there's the earworm: Pe-eggy Sue, Pe-eggy Sue, les Fantomes de do-de-do . . .
Were are the filkers?

#129 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:57 PM:

Anna 75: To give a personal perspective on what abi said, I am not offended by people who believe different things than I do. I am not offended by your saying so, or even by your saying that you think my beliefs are woo. I'm offended by people who act like my expression of my beliefs is grounds for them to take offense and "retaliate" with whatever level of rudeness they feel like using. I suspect that dave was raised Evangelical, of the proselytizing sort, and hasn't changed his basic character, only the content of his beliefs; now he feels an obligation to Witness and draw others to the Truth that there is no God.

I would never call you stupid and imply that you're evil or gullible because you're not religious. I feel confident, because of the way you've always behaved, that you would never do those things to me because I am.

theophylact 101: Hmm, I took that for a typo. Is there a joke there that I don't get?

albatross 103: Again, religion requires opening yourself up to being conned, because it requires faith and an accepting spirit in some sense[3]. ... [3] As I write this, I find myself wondering whether this is universally true, and particularly wondering what Xopher might have to say about it.

Thank you for thinking of that and of me, and for putting these things so courteously. (I'm glad to see dave banned, but would be crushed and horrified if Anna or Ian were, or even started feeling unwelcome here.) I have a whole lot to say about that, probably more than I have time for right now. I don't think religion requires faith; this is a good thing, because I'm a profoundly spiritual and deeply religious person, but the gift of faith has never been given to me. I believe that reality is really real (pace, Zen, I respect you but you're not for me for that reason), and that science is how we find out about the Universe, and that the Universe is worthy of worship, without its needing to be anything other than what our best science says it is (well, plus the things that science has not yet found out about it; but those things are knowable, just not known).

You don't have to "believe in" (in the usual American sense) gods to worship them, either. Belief/faith is a gift; some have it, others don't, and some lose it or gain it. I have never had it at all. Worship, on the other hand, is a choice. It seems strange to some, no doubt to worship something without "believing in" it, but through worship (and ritual, and (less) prayer) I get benefits I could not otherwise get. None of that compromises in the least my belief in scientific fact or the difference between data and anecdote, etc. The way I put it to a Hindu coworker, I pray to Ganesha every morning ("You're more religious than I am!" she exclaimed) and hope it's OK that while my heart is devoted to Him, my mind has a hard time with faith, because of the deep skepticism and scientism* with which I was raised.

As for "an accepting spirit in some sense," well, you can't learn something if you're not open to learning it. That part is as true of calculus as it is of any spiritual discipline. But I think you mean something deeper than that; a willingness to allow one's mind and ways of thinking to be changed by religious/spiritual instruction or experience. This I do think is essential. A religion that never asks you to do anything differently than you would if you didn't have that religion is no religion at all (to paraphrase Teresa). I think that can open you up to being conned IF you don't have a well-honed bullshit detector to begin with. I always modeled one for my students, and tried to pass some of my skepticism on to them.

For example, there's a watered down, Newagey version of Wicca known to the rest of us as White Light Wicca, or Fluffy Bunny Wicca, or Elves and Strawberries Wicca, and by many other (equally derisive) names. They act like nothing bad ever happens, like they never do anything they regret, like they never have uncomfortable feelings...or at any rate, like such things have no place in their spiritual practice. You won't see Kali or Anubis invoked at their rituals. I believe that the spirit, like the body, has to eat, but also has to shit. Getting rid of what you don't want is important; you can't get rid of it if you don't acknowledge that it's there. Any of my students would roll their eyes at anyone putting out that "only the WHITE LIGHT!!!" crrrap.

Victoria 104 and Fragano 112: I was thinking more in terms of ChocoCon, but hey, the idea of an actual convention (relaxacon, please!) just for Making Lighters sounds very cool.

Jennet 117: Hail and well met. I'd add that when you're doing trance work, you don't let people drive until they're back in a more ordinary state of consciousness!
___
*Bonewits' term. I'm using it here to mean the belief that nothing exists unless we've proved scientifically that it does, which sounds OK until you realize it entails believing that neutrinos did not exist until the 1950s. I find it an arrogant viewpoint. Good scientists are not scientistic; they know that there's all sorts of things they don't know, and that what is neither proved nor disproved is an open question.

#130 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 12:57 PM:

Teresa, the samurai reference did not jolt me. I took it as a reference to the "Katanas Are Just Better" trope. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/KatanasAreJustBetter
While the site's banner page says TV Tropes, my site mining has revealed an equal number of movie and book references as well. I would say TVtropes.org to be a popular entertaiment reference site. However, the Samurai and their "signature tool" have been codified into pop culture. Nightsky explained the attraction for exotic cultures better, and with examples, so I'll just ask you to re-read comment #32.

I read the excerpts from James Arthur Ray's "message" as a mix of pop culture and pop science references spin doctored into a self-help format by a confidence man. So, for me, the sudden inclusion of the samurai wasn't jarring at all. In fact, it more or less rang true -- if one buys into the "I'm Superman and you can be a Superman, too!" worldview. Ignoring, of course, that he's actually holding classes on how to be Batman...with a sword.

Also, Peruvian Mysticism blending neatly into Samurai-ness does make sense if one assumes that a Tom Cruise-esque samurai equals Jackie Chan flicks equals Kung Fu (the movie and TV series) with some "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" added for color.

#131 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:05 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 112.

I like that much better. So the next question is where? And when?

#132 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:24 PM:

Victoria #131: Good point. Also, how we can persuade Xopher to be Guest of Horror, I mean, Honour?

#133 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:24 PM:

Anna, Iain, you may not be the most frequent commenters here, but we value your presence. *I* value your presence.

Dave didn't get zapped for being an atheist. Lots of people here are outright atheists, including Avram, and lots more are some finely-graded variety of doubter, disbeliever, denier, or "I'm sorry, my brain can't even process that as information." The shades and gradations of belief are just as various. We respect them all.

Orthodoxy at Making Light has always consisted of making good conversation. The sole exception I can think of was a period lasting a few days when we avoided a certain topic until the urge to shed blood had passed, and that was practical, not political.

Back to Dave. Abi's comment to him was very precise. He got zapped for being a sneering, unpleasant, non-interactive jerk. It's a bog-standard trollish interaction: he thinks we can't handle his opinions (which in fact are unremarkable), when it's his manners that are the problem.

Abi was easier on him than I would have been. I was just about to partially disemvowel his posts -- literally, I was just opening them in separate tabs -- when I noticed your comments, and wrote this reply instead.

#134 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:27 PM:

abi, I didn't take a look at his previous history (having, alas, spent the whole morning sucked in by Teresa's link, bad Teresa, bad!). On the grounds of his interactions in this thread alone, it seemed a quick ban, but I had no idea that it represented a pattern.

Sadly, I also think that my bar for civility has been set very low by the fact that no matter how much I know I shouldn't, I read Comment is Free under too many Guardian articles and by comparison to your average CiFer even obnoxious people sound reasonable and civil. This afternoon I was musing glumly on how much more I would enjoy my life if I either managed to stop reading CiF or it was moderated even a tiny little bit.

Barabara Ehrenreich was on The Daily Show yesterday talking about her book that is, yes, exactly about this kind of stuff. Much of what she said had already been covered in Bait and Switch: the selling of the power of positive thinking to become Rich and Happy. Jon Stewart introduced her with a "What's up, grump?" And no, B&S is not a happy book. In fact, no reading experience re Ehrenreich has been followed by joy and relief.

She's right, of course. But I wish she was a bit more cheerful about it. I read B&S while I was looking for work and it was instrumental in making me effectively give up. She made the excellent point that all these seminars, motivationals workshops, gurus and so on hammer on the fact that it's your fault, the individual fault, if you are broke/poor/unemployed. And this chimes in with a strong and dark undercurrent in American contemporary outlook: the same that is fed by the Ayn Rand fans at all levels, the same that Charlie Stross was talking about when he wrote about the lack of compassion in American society. (One that is emerging strong and lively in the Daily Mail section of our own voting public, alas).

Ehrenreich also points out that this has another effect, obviously political: if you manage to convince en mass the disenfranchised, umemployed, underemployed, alienated, corporate slaves, that it's all their fault and only their fault and by unleashing the power within they can save themselves, you stop them from uniting and organizing.

And after reading all the links that Teresa provided, one thing keeps resounding in my mind: that all Native Americans who are so mad about the misappropriation of their culture and tradition keep repeating that their rituals are rituals of their community, and that it is damn strange that the same people who seem so fascinated with the Native Indian culture are so indifferent to actual Native Indian people and the plight of their community.

Of course they are: one thing is the flip side of the other. They can't understand why appropriating NA rituals has no sense because the whole philosophy they are investing lots of money and effort and emotional involvement in preaches the exact same opposite of the importance of community.

#135 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:30 PM:

Another aspect of "spiritual power" and how thinking influences humans has been in the scientific news.

Placebo effect (Reuters), Times online (UK) version, or original Science abstract.

It's not coincidence that descriptions of these types of seminars & self-help meetings sound like cult indoctrination & similar historic versions. The techniques work.

#136 ::: Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:32 PM:

Serge@111: Actually, sometimes Lewis Padgett was Kuttner, sometimes he was Moore, and sometimes he was both. Sort of a Schroedinger's author, though since Moore's death no one can open the box.

#137 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:33 PM:

Xopher:

. . . through worship (and ritual, and (less) prayer) I get benefits I could not otherwise get.

What is your explanation for how that works?

#138 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:34 PM:

I tend to think that inappropriate cultural appropriation, for all its problems, is still at root a healthier attitude than xenophobic know-nothingness. At least you're thinking about learning from someone else and some other culture.

Though it is much easier to pick out one or two useful characteristics and admire/imitate/mangle them, than it is to adopt the whole network in which they exist and make sense, and which (sometimes) makes them possible.

(In the reverse direction, there are a lot of, um, interesting misfires on ways to adopt the Enlightenment and the Scientific Method and other fun Western traditions.)

#139 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:37 PM:

My goodness. This is quite fascinating, in a horrifying sort of way, but I'm sure there was something else I was planning on doing with my day than read all this. I wonder what it was...

While I can't say I know much about sweat lodges or fasting, I have spent a few years working as an archaeologist in the high heat and humidity of DC area summers, including a few notable weeks of record heat index, and a behind-deadlines project that involved 10 hour days digging on a former sod farm with barely a tree in sight. Even with all the air you can breathe, the number one recurring catch phrase/joke is: "Drink more water!"

The other thing that comes to my mind is that this is a classic case of cognitive dissonance in action, and I worry somewhat about the attendees who survived continuing to buy into further of this nonsense. (For those not familiar with it, I highly recommend the book Mistakes were Made (but not by me). The relevant argument is essentially that as most people don't wish to believe themselves to be gullible idiots, when they make a decision such as paying large sums of money, possibly while unemployed, for what a non-invested observer might consider a dangerous and content-free experience, they have a huge invested interest in neither admitting this to themselves nor examining why they might not do so, and thus will often become its strongest defenders.)

#140 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:39 PM:

I am forced by new data to issue a correction and a sincere apology to Beyond Words.

First the first time in a while I actively at their their "BOOK SALE" sign on the way to work this morning.

Somewhere between the time I stopped paying attention to it and today they replaced the stenciled-letters on white-painted-plywood sign with a spiffier model with their logo on it.

Left open is the matter of how it got there. Did they use some of the profits of The Secret to buy a sign, or did they manifest it with the power of positive thought?

I smell a sequel.

#141 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:47 PM:

Re Dave, Anna, Xopher at al:

I am a hard-core atheist, I got there via extraordinarily ecumenical Christianity at an American Baptist church associated with a leading theological school that (now) also has a rabbinical college. Early exposure to wild-eyed fundamentalism is certainly a factor as well.

I fully believe in peoples' spirituality. I just believe that it comes from the inside — the brain is a wonderful thing. But knowing that doesn't diminish their spirituality one bit. Sometimes I envy them.

#142 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:47 PM:

LDR 137: What is your explanation for how that works?

I don't fully understand the mechanism, but I know that it does. That's pretty close to my definition of magic, and yes, implicit in that is the idea that today's magic is tomorrow's science. I suspect that the placebo effect plays a large role. (Hey, it's a real effect...why not use it effectively?)

I have a deep need for ritual in my life. With no ritual, I get unhappy after a few days to a week. I get cranky, in fact. Beginning each day with Ganesha puja lets me have a more settled mind. I also know that no matter how cruddy I feel when I start, I feel better when I finish. (Not "all better" or "completely fine," necessarily, but at least somewhat better.) That means it's good.

Also, since I sing most of it, I get to sing first thing in the morning. Gives me some idea how my voice is doing, but more importantly, singing lifts the heart. I don't know why; again, I have no scientific explanation for it.

I guess the key here is that part of what makes it spiritual practice (instead of mental hygiene or something) is that I don't know how it works, just that it does. FOR ME, not for anyone else.

#143 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:53 PM:

Republican Gommarah is a book about the current Republican party being dominated by the politics of personal crisis.

In particular, there's a lot about James Dobson (Dare to Discipline), a child psychologist who's built a movement of people who come to him (his staff) for advice, and who then get lots of advertising to push them into political action.

If the teabaggers seem crazy, there's a reason.

Fair warning: I've read about the book, but haven't read it.

I would like all this much better if it were fiction. It works very nicely as fictional villainy. See Purdom's "The Barons of Behavior" (bad guys manipulate neighborhoods to be attractive to particular psychological types, thus making political control easier because propaganda can be precisely targeted) and Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky (dictatorship rules by creating and ameliorating Emergencies).

#144 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:53 PM:

Anna @134:
And after reading all the links that Teresa provided, one thing keeps resounding in my mind: that all Native Americans who are so mad about the misappropriation of their culture and tradition keep repeating that their rituals are rituals of their *community*, and that it is damn strange that the same people who seem so fascinated with the Native Indian culture are so indifferent to actual Native Indian people and the plight of their community.

Of course they are: one thing is the flip side of the other. They can't understand why appropriating NA rituals has no sense because the whole philosophy they are investing lots of money and effort and emotional involvement in preaches the exact same opposite of the importance of community.

This is a really insightful observation. From my own heavily community-centered worldview, I also think that's why these things end up feeling so promising and unsatisfying at once, so that people go for stronger and stronger doses of the woo-woo each time. There's a need that's not being met, because that crucial component isn't there. It's like eating sawdust: filling but not nourishing.

You know, you should spend less time reading unmoderated comment swamps on the Grauniad and more time on Making Light ;)

#145 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 01:56 PM:

Teresa #63:
Thanks for letting me know I made you laugh, it is an especially good day for me to hear something like that.

I was already inordinately proud of that sentence, I had just enough hard lemonade to disinhibit me* and slow my brain down to typing speed, and enough time to polish it.

*spirits wasn't a typo.

#146 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:01 PM:

I've also seen somewhat from Native Americans that their religion is about their ancestors, and what's wrong with these white imitators who are neglecting their own ancestors?

#147 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:01 PM:

John 141: I fully believe in peoples' spirituality. I just believe that it comes from the inside — the brain is a wonderful thing. But knowing that doesn't diminish their spirituality one bit. Sometimes I envy them.

When I say "sometimes I envy them," I generally mean "I sure wish I had the good parts of what they have—but then I think of the price they pay, and it's not worth it." Is that what you mean?

If so...well, why not see if you can get some part of what they have without paying that price, or at any rate not paying a higher price than you're willing to?

It's quite possible to sit around in a circle with friends saying "OM" without believing you're aligning your chakras, or connecting with the Soul of the Universe, or Filling Yourself With White Light, or doing anything besides sitting in a circle saying "OM." In fact, the benefits of doing so come most easily when that's all you're doing.

And if it doesn't do anything for you (see how you feel right after, and after sleeping on it), don't do it again. If you don't think it's worth it, or you think you'll feel too silly, or...anything, well, don't do it. I'm not a guru. But if your envy of spiritual people comes out of a lack you feel in your own life, why not do something to fill that lack?

And if the brain is a wonderful thing (and I'm completely with you there!) why not use it (in a new way, I mean, one that makes you happier) yourself? It really doesn't require self-delusion.

#148 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:02 PM:

Nancy @143: For the sake of nostalgia, an old thread about Dobson and his dog.

#149 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:06 PM:

Xopher: if you don't mind me asking, what's your definition of "faith?"

My experience is similar to yours, in that I have a spiritual practice that works for me, and something makes it work. I can't/don't understand it completely, but the fact that it does work gives me a sense of faith in this something. It does exist. (Of course, that's only the rational explanation. There are irrational components to it as well.)

But it seems like my definition of faith must be different from yours.

#150 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:06 PM:

Oh, dear. I'm not trying to criticize you, John, or proselytize you. Apologies; rereading my post (which I swear I read before posting it!) it really sounds that way. I just see someone sitting on the lawn wishing and wishing for a blade of grass, and can't resist telling them "well, pick one!" Sorry.

#151 ::: Nightsky ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:09 PM:

ConnieH@91:"Sometimes an 'expert' is someone who's gotten away with a really stupid thing a couple of times."

A most excellent point. "C'mon, I've done it tons of times!"

Lori Coulson@107: That one had 2 dozen people on its emergency staff -- EMTS, MDs, and RNs, plus a psych contingent.

This. I can totally see the value of spending a few bux to experiment with fasting and/or other states of altered consciousness in an environment like this, where qualified people are around to look after you and exercise judgment when you aren't able to.

But nearly $10K? And for less than competent criminally negligent supervision?

fidello@114
You are free to imagine how someone like that would have dealt with the notion of paying big-timecashmegabucks for a weekend of badly-mixed superficial woo.

*Ray poofs into existence at Socrates feet at the School of Athens, ~2500 years ago.*
Ray: Hey, Socrates! So I'm having a life-changing philosophical warrior's retreat next week, and I've come back in time just to tell you that I'd be totally honored if you'd come by. It'd be a big draw; plus, you could work on some of your own issues, eh, big guy? *chuckles* We're all going to dress up and pretend to be Spartan warriors, which will enable us to go all Spartan warrior on our problems! *mimes imaginary sword moves* It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dynamicize your life and realizate your destiny! Only a year's wages, which I know you'll agree is damn cheap for finding enlightenment!
Socrates: *shock at the realization that this guy comes from the future*
*despairs*
*kills himself*
Western Civilization: *vanishes*

#152 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:10 PM:

KeithS #48, inge #120:
There wouldn't have been a significant increase in CO2, it dissipates readily even in that kind of environment. Excess CO2 gets your lizard brain to need fresh air NOW. It might have saved them.

I would actually expect them to have blown off all their CO2 by hyperventilating as their body tried to cool itself any way it could, causing poor O2 uptake. Do not mistake lightheadedness for enlightenment.

#153 ::: Chaos ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:11 PM:

It seems to me like he called up a demon he could not put down. Whether or not it was outside his head in any way isn't that important - he was, just as his victims were, enveloped in the mindset-maintaining elements he was using to sell his ideas. Plus he had the feedback of all these people who believed him, and (if he has had as little training as seems likely) his own success really was largely to do with positive thinking of the "I reckon I can fool a lot of people with this" variety.

I think that, on some level, he may have fooled himself. He evoked the Warrior strongly, and that's what he got. The nonsense about not needing sacrifice is, as pointed out by others, non-sense on every level for a Warrior; so when he was in the Warrior mindset, he started to send out tweets which acknowledged the dangers, and the likely results - his conscious mind may not have known what he was doing, but on some level he seems to have had an idea of how it was likely to turn out.

Of course, in the Warrior mindset, he didn't care.

He was trying a half-assed ritual cobbled together from bits and pieces of mythology and mysticism he didn't understand, and the results killed people.

#154 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:13 PM:

I think that avoiding water for a long religious ceremony is an extraordinarily bad idea from a health perspective. If I want to indulge in an altered state, I'll just read some genre fiction.

#155 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:20 PM:

LDR: Well, faith means a number of different things to me, but in this context I'm using it to mean "belief without, or in some cases contrary to, evidence." This overlaps and shades into meanings that are more like trust; most people I've asked can't really nail down what they mean when they say they "believe in God."

If I believe in things because I've experienced them myself, that's not faith, that's experience. If I believe something because I trust someone who tells it to me, that's closer, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; this is the very opposite of the certum est, quia impossibile asserted by some people of faith.

I am not a person of faith. I am a person of doubt. If I had to have a motto, it might be "Through doubt, striving; through striving, learning." If someone could translate that into Latin for me I should be very grateful!

#156 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:26 PM:

I hope enough water has passed under the bridge since the previous reaction to Lee's #57 for me to ask the question that immediately occurred to me (and which a busy-busy late afternoon/early evening, with dinner, kept me from posting earlier)

"Name-compulsion magic" was what caught my eye, even before the rest of the explanation "something that anyone with a little exposure to genuine paganism would recognize as very black magic indeed -- but because those Christians have never looked at any other belief system (indeed, they are forbidden to look), they don't recognize what they're doing at all. And this applies to the leaders as much as to the followers.

That label looks like a mightily condensed package of meaning, and I'd like an explanation, in short words and easily-understood sentences. (I've tried to use my Google-fu, but in the end, decided that there are some unanswered anxiety issues being plucked by the search - and I'd rather trust the folks I've read here to tease out stuff so I could see it better.)

Crazy(and grateful to Teresa for the original post, but - whoa, nellie! - the resultant semi-flashback introspective reaction, it's making tough going)Soph

#157 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:34 PM:

#156
I think it was Xopher, a year or so back, who commented on some evangelical-fundamentalist students who were writing names on paper and doing stuff to the paper, in connection with prayers for the named.

There's also the churches who burn books by people who don't agree with their views - the latest one I heard about is also going to burn non-KJV Bibles because they believe the KJV is the Only Right Version, along with other stuff, including books by Rick Warren.
I'm hoping for a sudden cloudburst there, if not a full-on thunderstorm. (I don't people to get killed, but having the bonfire drowned out sounds good.)

#158 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:44 PM:

I've recently started meditating (along with other things more in line with modern medicine) to help manage some long-term stress/anxiety issues that are causing some physical issues. Like yoga, meditation seems to be the shallow end of a deep pool of cultural and spiritual knowledge and practices (including several religions; some of the guided meditations I'm using even call on Christian concepts). I'm primarily interested in meditation in its simplest form, though: sitting in front of a candle for five minutes a day clears my mind like nothing else.

Is this sort of "take what you need and leave the rest" an American characteristic? Is it cultural appropriation? Can it be done respectfully?

Is the sweat lodge disaster the other end of the spectrum from a tea light on a table and a cushion? Are they even on the same spectrum?

#159 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:47 PM:

I'm not sure if it was me or not, but someone posted a link to an article that talked about the new Christian youth camps where the kids are trained to do everything we hate about proselytizing Evangelicals, like harassing people endlessly and never listening.

In one ritual, they wrote the names of non-Christian (or insufficiently Christian) friends on pieces of paper and nailed them to a cross with the explicit intention of compelling their "friends" through the "power of Jesus" to convert! I can't recall whether they then burned the cross or not; it would certainly align the symbolism appropriately if they did.

From my point of view this is coercive magic (or actively baneful if they burned the cross). It's if nothing else extremely rude and unfriendly. If I were a highschool student and a friend did that to me/my name, I would never speak to them again.

But even from their point of view, I'd have some questions to ask these misguided young people: So, you think the crucifiction was such a good experience that you symbolically crucify your friends? And your intention is to compel them to convert—does that mean you think Free Will, which that would take away from them, is a curse rather than a gift?

#160 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:49 PM:

Xopher: Okay, that's a very traditional definition of faith. For me, the word that means "belief without, or in some cases contrary to, evidence" is either "stupid" or "crazy."

If I believe something because I trust someone who tells it to me . . .

That's sort of like having faith in the person, isn't it? Are they reliable? Or is there value in the idea because they believe it?

I suppose part of having an open mind is neither to believe nor disbelieve in certain things. Faith in the sense of "absolute certainty" doesn't really enter into it.

#161 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:50 PM:

Arrggh. 'Crucifiction' was a thoughtless typo, not a deliberate slam on Christianity.

#162 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 02:56 PM:

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan @ 75: "I share his position; that there is no supernatural. I am aware that just stating this position offends people who do believe in some sort of supernatural or other."

I share that position as well, but I don't think believing in any particular brand of woo (or in the generalized existence of woo) is necessary to understanding its potential real-world benefits and dangers. Whether or not one considers woo to be genuine, it can clearly have a real and significant effect on how people behave. Behavior is a nice and materialistic criterium, and to the not inconsiderable extent to which woo can effect behavior, woo can be said to have real and objective power.

So: mystical woo which causes/inspires/misleads people into doing things that they otherwise could/would not do is, objectively considered, powerful. Likewise, bits of mystical woo which drive people towards doing dangerous and harmful things that they wouldn’t have done otherwise is, objectively considered, both powerful and evil. Now, I don't know nearly enough about name-compulsion magic to know whether I would agree with Lee that it's evil, but I do think that there's a paradigm under which we could discuss the issue comprehensibly. Or rather, I think that this thread as a whole is an example of it already happening.

(Also, I'm terribly glad we've all been using the word "woo.")

albatross @ 103: "I infer that conmen of this kind shall be always with us, because they exploit necessary and valuable parts of the human experience. Like a virus that uses some critical receptor on the surface of a cell to gain entry, these guys make use of stuff we need, and so can't easily get rid of."

Sadly, yes.

#163 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:02 PM:

LDR, that's what I was trying to shorthand by saying "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." More explicitly, if someone tells me it's raining outside, and they're not a known habitual liar, I'll probably believe them. If they tell me space aliens have landed in Central Park, then no matter who they are I'll ask why they believe that and what the evidence is.

There are people I'd believe (pending evidence) about the aliens, who if they told me that in 29 CE a man died for my sins, and that only through him will I get into heaven, I still wouldn't believe. That's much harder to believe than the aliens, and no one has ever shown me even marginally credible evidence in favor of it.

#164 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:05 PM:

I believe in woo (actually, for a Daoist that's even a joke.) I'm not offended by people who don't believe in woo . . . I'm more likely to be offended by people who believe in different types of woo from me, and/or make us woo-believers look bad.

Most importantly, I don't expect people to judge me by anything except my behavior. What I say I believe is almost irrelevant.

#165 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:12 PM:

Xopher: I agree with you, but I'm not going to criticize Christianity on this thread.

#166 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:13 PM:

Nancy @ 146: what's wrong with these white imitators who are neglecting their own ancestors?

That might point to a motive for cultural appropriation of that type. Those white imitators know exactly what crap their ancestors were up to (or know that staying ignorant once they look in that general direction will be hard work), so they prefer ancestors that are less well documented.

#167 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:16 PM:

I have my own variety of woo, but all my husband ever wooed was me.

#168 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:19 PM:

LDR: Fair enough, but recall that I don't believe it's necessarily wrong to have faith/believe things without evidence. It's just not a path that works for ME. So I actually wasn't criticizing Christianity, just saying why I don't personally believe it.

#169 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:20 PM:

How much woo would a woo-shuck shuck if a woo-shuck could shuck woo?

#170 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:21 PM:

Xopher:

If I pick a blade of grass, it is no longer a blade of grass.

I can't imaginer a group of my friends sitting around chanting OM. Chanting Harry Seldon?
Maybe.

You did sound a bit preachy there, but you caught yourself in time.

What I envy, I think, is the idea that the universe is being personally benevolent to them. The universe is clearly benevolent to a degree: we exist after all. But it isn't benevolent to any of us in particular.

#171 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:26 PM:

John 170: What I envy, I think, is the idea that the universe is being personally benevolent to them.

Ah. I agree, in that case, that the price is too high, and essential to the thing envied.

#172 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:30 PM:

Xopher: ah, but my Vulcan ancestry causes me to believe that the statement "There is no evidence for that" is a serious insult : )

#173 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:30 PM:

John Houghton @ 152:

Thanks for the information about CO2.

Chaos @ 153:

I don't think he fooled himself at all. I think he's into fooling other people in order to make piles of money, and he didn't give a wet slap about making sure the experience was safe.

crazysoph @ 156 and Xopher @ 159:

It was Lee responding to Xopher in this post a couple years ago.

caffeine @ 158: Is this sort of "take what you need and leave the rest" an American characteristic? Is it cultural appropriation? Can it be done respectfully?

I don't think it's a uniquely American characteristic, but it does go with the broad caricature of Americans wanting everything without having to put any effort in.

I think that taking parts of other people's cultures can be done respectfully, but it's harder to do. Since they're full-on cultures and religions, they have interconnecting tendrils that you can't just snip off and take any old bit from. All the same, some bits are more easily isolated than others.

Your candle and cushion work for you, and that's fine. You're not pretending that clearing your mind in front of a candle for five minutes now makes you an Authentic Oriental Mystic-Type Person. You're also not taking something large and important to someone else, stripping it of all its cultural context, using it to make money, then waving it in the face of its traditional owners.

#174 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:36 PM:

Anna Feruglio Del Dan @ 134: "She made the excellent point that all these seminars, motivationals workshops, gurus and so on hammer on the fact that it's your fault, the individual fault, if you are broke/poor/unemployed."

Something my partner and I discuss occasionally is the way in which admitting fault for something is in a perverse way very self-empowering. If something is wrong, and it's your fault, that means that you have the power to fix it. You can change yourself, and thereby change your circumstances. The shoe in the gears is that actually, sometimes it isn't your fault and so no matter how hard you try to fix it, you still fail. Then you start to feel broken, an irretrievable failure. But still--a failure who is the master of your own destiny, not the pawn of forces beyond your control. (Writing this I suddently thought of the Stephen Crane poem: "In the Desert")

#175 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:37 PM:

Would it be too derailing to mention how interesting I find the full and frank discussion of woo in the most recent section of this thread?

#176 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 03:48 PM:

inge @ 120: I would expect a lot of CO2, not CO, from how tightly people were packed in an unventilated room. Out of curiousity, is that likely and how dangerous would it be?

In this case, the room was not completely unventilated; the door was opened for additional hot rocks, so the CO2 levels would be variable. Part of that variability would be how far away from the door each patient was -- further away, less mixing of fresh air, increased heat and CO2 buildup.

The most dangerous component of this mixture was the heat. Hyperthermia kills all by itself -- that's what happens to children and dogs left inside parked cars.

Hyperthermia with hypoxia kills faster. Hyperthermia with hypoxia and hypercarbia probably makes more people sicker and sooner.

Hyperthermia, with pre-existing dehydration, and hypoxia is a recipe for disaster. I fully expect the comatose woman to go into complete organ failure and die from this.

#177 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:01 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ #132

Well, where is he located on the globe? Who has access to the kind of chocolate he likes? How much is needed and/or what varieties? How about the bribe of home made truffles?

#178 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:06 PM:

This whole story is more or less "local" news here in Prescott (same county, different town), and what has struck me most is the recent charge of homicide. What con man posing as a guru, or even deluded type who thinks he *is* one, would want to do away with any of his well-paying followers?

The "spiritual warrior" element mentioned above might have something to do with it, but as for the official charges I can only guess (without further evidence at present) that they're thinking in terms of negligent homicide, since people have gotten ill during previous retreats even though no deaths seem to have occurred.

It's all a sorry mess, and pollutes a beautiful place in a beautiful season (once known as Indian Summer).

#179 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:06 PM:

Harriet Culver @ 175: I'm not sure about disruptive, but I agree entirely. I'm particularly finding Xopher's take on spirituality fascinating and rather inspiring, although I'm sure that by the time I sort out anything useful I might have to say about it, the thread will be several days out of date.

Do these conversations always move so fast?

#180 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:07 PM:

(I'm not through reading all the comments yet, but I'll say a few things before I forget about 'em)

Someone upthread mentioned "EST." I used to live with a woman who (extremely briefly) worked for the people putting on those seminars. Her job was to take attendance,track that everybody had the required issued literature,no recording devices, etc.

It was an extremely brief job because, during the second day of a three-day seminar, afdter watching all the people who *really, really, REALLY needed to use the restroom, but were forbidden to do so by the organizers (if you left during a session you were not allowed back in, and your fee was not refunded).

When the more than 200 people were finally released for their potty break,she was (I suspect intentionally) next to a live microphone when she said "Baaaahh, Baaahhh" several times.

Second -- Abi -- in regards to The Poster Who Is Now Gone -- thank you -- You have saved me from saying some things to "Dave" I likely would have gotten my wrist slapped for (at least)

#181 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:08 PM:

Reading this post gave me one of those nasty sorts of moments of epiphany when I realize just how much worse an even in my past could have been, and thus highlighted that yes, I am the sort of person who could be vulnerable to this kind of thing. It would be much more comforting to believe that I'd never be so foolish as to pay a huge sum of money to a charlatan for the privilege of being physically and emotionally abused. And yet...

Early high school, I decided to go on a mission trip. I was full of the gung-ho adolescent evangelical Christian "We must save the world!" spirit, and more so, I wanted an excuse to travel. So I signed up with Teen Spirit, and spent several months diligently raising the few thousand dollars necessary to go on a proselytizing trip with them.

From the moment I arrived on the compound, I was uncomfortable; partly the literal uncomfortable of being in a hot, damp room packed with other people and a lot of flashing lights and loud music going on during the worship service, partly the sheer culture shock. (Missionary culture, where I'd grown up, != American middle-class evangelical culture, despite a lot of overlap.) And it just got worse as the trip went on: the complete control of where you could go and what you could do* and what you would eat and how much you could take with you and what you could say and who you could talk with... I had one of my three books that I'd packed along confiscated as being insufficiently godly, and there was the constant pressure to Obey Authority. Hanging over everything was the threat that if you broke any rules, they could put you on a flight immediately and send you home to your parents, and your family's expense.

Did I mention not being middle-class myself? The cost of a flight from Bolivia back to Ecuador, and then again to the United States for the upcoming furlough, would have put my parents into a few thousand dollars of debt that they certainly couldn't afford. So in the midst of the constant pressure to conform was the knowledge that I could seriously hurt my family's finances, with a debt that would take years to repay, by breaking any one of the many rules.

But that was just the emotional pressure. The physical pressure was that this form of proselytizing involved doing a fairly physically active dramatic performance several times a day, usually out in direct summer sunlight. We were allowed to pack a single water bottle, which would be our only hydration between breakfast and dinner. (Lunch was provided.)

I came down with some mild illness--a cold, probably. When I told the leaders, they insisted I keep performing, though they graciously allowed me to bow out of any entertainment activities they planned. Within a few days, when I was complaining of fatigue and sore throats and coughing constantly, they added praying out the "demons of illness" to the group prayer every evening. When I started running a fever, they gave me aspirin and prayed harder. When I hadn't slept in three days because of the constant fever, and passed out in the middle of a performance... the leaders tried to convince me to keep going as soon as I regained consciousness, rather than throwing off some of the symmetry of the performance by sitting it out.

When I started hallucinating due to sleep deprivation, they let me sit out the rest of the performances for that day. And their one saving grace is that the following day, they finally took me to a doctor.

I wasn't a stupid kid. I was, by day two of the fever, thoroughly convinced that these people were foolish and dangerous. My parents worked with missionary doctors; I knew full well that the appropriate response to illness was not to only pray about it.

And yet it wasn't until I actually passed out in a performance that I was able to argue against their insistance that I continue. And it wasn't until I was literally hallucinating and unable to form any more coherent arguments of any sort that they got medical attention for me; by that point, I was in no state to request it. What if they had just continued praying? Maybe I would have recovered. Maybe I would have ended up as one of those people where afterwards online commentators shake their head and ask how someone could be so stupid as to keep following an obviously dangerous course of action, just because a person in a position of authority over them tells them to.


* To some extent, I'm sympathetic; being responsible for a large group of teenagers you've never met before, in a country belonging to none of you, for a month straight, is no easy proposition, and so you need some rules. But they went well beyond "some" in that setup.

#182 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:20 PM:

Namcy Lebowitz @ 143 said: I would like all this much better if it were fiction. It works very nicely as fictional villainy. See Purdom's "The Barons of Behavior" (bad guys manipulate neighborhoods to be attractive to particular psychological types, thus making political control easier because propaganda can be precisely targeted) ...

The scary bit there is that I just finished reading Bill Bishop's _The Big Sort_, about how people are sorting themselves into like-minded communities and avoiding contact with people who don't think the same way they do.* In it he discusses techniques the Republicans deliberately adopted from mega-church evangelists, insurance agents, and real-estate delevopers to do just that: to create and encourage like-minded groupings that can then be more easily manipulated as a group.

(That's one thing I like about Making Light -- I think what we self-select for is intellectual curiousity and a penchant for civil discourse [with an occasional bit of moral outrage], but we don't exclude anyone on the basis of differing opinions IF they can adhere to these norms.)

*I was rather surprised he never mentioned _The Bell Curve_, which raises similar concerns about self-sorting by education.

#183 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:21 PM:

Haven't read all the comments yet -- there are certainly a lot of them! -- but I've got personal experience to toss into the mix, of a similar type of seminar -- the Excellence series from Randy Revell of Context Associated (also the founder of Lifespring).

The psychological pressure to go along with the program is indeed intense. Context's seminars did not have life-threatening portions, as far as I can tell, but they are psychologically grueling. Overall, I think I did get some good from them, and they probably were worth some reasonable portion of what I paid for them. But for years I've been describing them as part of the Western secular initiatory tradition -- these seminars are actually initiations, and are structured as initiations. (The direct transmission lineage from Crowley to Hubbard to Erhard to Revell is well-documented, for example -- and one of the levels of initiation into the OTO requires one to go out and found one's own religion, the Knight of East and West level IIRC.)

I personally experienced one of those "flip" moments when I was going through one of the advanced seminars, called Mastery, which was basically about learning to ask for help when one needs it. That, and finding a personal totem-figure ("Vision-Quest Light", I think would be a good description). For most of the weekend, they kept pounding into me that there were challenges in my life that I was not up to facing, that I was dissatisfied on a deep level, and a lot more like that. The final night, before the last daytime, I snapped -- and I came to the realization that the biggest problem I had in the present moment was that these people were telling me I had problems, and that I needed their help to get beyond them. And I said that. They graduated me anyway. In a very real sense, I'd "gotten it", as the estians say.

Two points about that particular series: they were quite explicit about the use of the phrase "I attract to me that which happens." They admitted that it wasn't true, but that it was useful as a way to get past falling into blaming others for what's going on (which is a very disempowering way to deal with the world). And they said it was never appropriate to apply it to anyone else's life. I can use "I attracted that to me" as a working hypothesis: I won't say as a general rule that someone else attracted something negative to themselves.

Two good things about the seminars, that have been very worthwhile to me: a firm grounding in the "look at the other person's viewpoint before trying to change something they're doing" approach to making change in the world (that works surprisingly well); and a much deeper understanding of how I personally approach the world. The former was incidental; the latter was (IMO) the primary thing they were trying to teach. The seminars were not all bad, not all good, and if they were high-priced -- in our society, cost is often related to how seriously people will take something.

That said, I really hope Ray gets his ass seriously prosecuted.

#184 ::: Jon Marcus ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:30 PM:

Going off-topic here, but question to John Houghton way back @ 30 (or to Jim or anyone else knowledgeable):

105 starts scrambling proteins? That seems kinda low to me. My eldest son regularly went above 105 (via aural thermometer, but repeatable and in both ears) as an infant, with no noticeable damage. And my 9-year-old was up at 105 (aural, repeatable, both ears) just last week with something very flu-ish, and seems to be okay. No fancier treatment than ibuprofen and cool wet towels on the neck and arms.

I'm not bringing this up (and going off-topic) to be disagreeable. I'm seriously wondering what the "danger level" is. At what point would you say more drastic treatment necessary advisable?

#185 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:37 PM:

Jon, my understanding is that children, especially very young ones, can spike up to those temperatures and take no lasting damage, because the mass of their brains is low enough that the heat dissipates quickly once the fever is no longer driving it higher (and 'spike' is a key word here). It's much more dangerous for adults.

But perhaps I should wait for Jim to weigh in.

#186 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:48 PM:

Sometimes there are advantages to having to be away from the computer for a while! Thanks to everyone who responded to questions on my behalf (especially KeithS, who saved me from having to do an exhaustive search back thru my View All By).

I'd like to clarify one thing which was not expressed as well as it should have been in my #57. I self-identify as pagan, because it is emotionally comforting to me to believe that there is some variety of (for lack of a better term) Higher Power in the universe. Sometimes I think of this as the Goddess, sometimes as the Force.

However, I am very well aware that just because I find it emotionally comforting to believe this, that does NOT necessarily make it true! I also have a very strong atheist/rationalist streak, and I am not by any means convinced that there is in fact such a Higher Power.

Furthermore, I find nothing objectionable about engaging with those who do believe in the literal existence of a Deity from the position of, "Well, if you believe X, then Y follows from that." Christians clearly do believe in magic (although they don't call it that), so it is perfectly fair IMO to call them on it when they are practicing black magic -- whether I believe in it or not is irrelevant.

#187 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 04:58 PM:

I also am finding the subthread on woo interesting. I believe in woo. I am not offended by the statements of other people who do not, or who believe in different variations of it. I usually (nearly universally here on ML, sometimes less so in real life) enjoy interactions that follow up "I believe this" with a side dish of "here's why" or "and here's my understanding of how this differs from your beliefs; shall we discuss?" I'm offended only when it slides over into "and anyone who disagrees with me is a gullible fool, a heathen, or more generally someone unworthy of being treated like a human being."

And yet. I do not hold all beliefs as equal. I find some beliefs pernicious, loathsome, or simply laughable. There is a line between beliefs I respect even if I don't share them, and beliefs I do not respect.

This discussion is making me think about where and how I draw that line.

LDR @164, I agree we should be judged more on our behavior than on our stated beliefs, but intention does matter. So does the consistency between our beliefs and our behavior, or between various parts of our beliefs.

Oh, and heresiarch @169 snort

#188 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:10 PM:

#129 ::: Xopher

(And forgive me if this has already been answered)

When you asked theophylact 101: Hmm, I took that for a typo. Is there a joke there that I don't get?, I think folks were struck by the possible use of "Avenge" in the new portmanteau word "Avengelical". Or, of course, not. (I liked it, too.)

#189 ::: Ariella ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:10 PM:

albatross @ 103

As an adult, a lot of what you do to improve yourself or your life involves ignoring some levels of unpleasantness or discomfort or even pain. For example, eating less food to lose weight is unpleasant--it involves ignoring fairly urgent signals from your body, signals that evolved to keep you alive but now are encouraging you to kill yourself by overeating.

Funny you should mention that. The other day my newspaper ran a glowing front-page article about a real estate agent-turned-motivational speaker who runs very expensive, high-energy seminars for Toronto businessmen, teaching them to lose weight by just not eating as much. According to this guy, weight loss brings happiness, wealth and success. Some of his clients are indeed a lot thinner. It took me the better part of an afternoon to figure out why the article creeped me out. I eventually realized that the reason was because the rhetoric sounded exactly like a pro-ana website. There's a scam for all of us, I guess.

#190 ::: Ariella ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:11 PM:

albatross @ 103

As an adult, a lot of what you do to improve yourself or your life involves ignoring some levels of unpleasantness or discomfort or even pain. For example, eating less food to lose weight is unpleasant--it involves ignoring fairly urgent signals from your body, signals that evolved to keep you alive but now are encouraging you to kill yourself by overeating.

Funny you should mention that. The other day my newspaper ran a glowing front-page article about a real estate agent-turned-motivational speaker who runs very expensive, high-energy seminars for Toronto businessmen, teaching them to lose weight by just not eating as much. According to this guy, weight loss brings happiness, wealth and success. Some of his clients are indeed a lot thinner. It took me the better part of an afternoon to figure out why the article creeped me out. I eventually realized that the reason was because the rhetoric sounded exactly like a pro-ana website. There's a scam for all of us, I guess.

#191 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:12 PM:

I majored in religious studies as well as in physics, so I got a lot of opportunity to contemplate how rituals work in different religions. I bracket my skepticism in order to more fully grok the perspective of someone who does understand their ritual in a supernatural way. But even with skepticism unbracketed, I think that ritual makes meaning, creates thoughts and emotions and affects your construction of reality.

And I mean even such rituals as how you sit down for dinner, whether you greet a friend with a handshake, a hug, or a kiss on the cheek, how you end a conversation. It need not be woo-oriented.

Even woo-oriented rituals still do something even if you don't intellectually accept the woo. I don't mean that they do something supernatural. But they still make meaning, in the way people understand themselves, other people, their relationships with other people, their interactions with material objects.

The jacked-up "warrior" stuff here, and the "sweat lodge" ritual, did create bad meaning -- in a totally non-woo way. They created really unhealthy ways of dealing with your body, for example: ignoring bodily distress signals, searching for holiness and enlightenment by punishing the body (see: Byzantine saints). They caused damaging ways of relating to the other people doing the same ritual: a competitive endurance mindset. They set up damaging ways of relating to yourself: your financial misfortunes are personal failures of belief or morality; if you were a good/enlightened person, you would be rich and happy.

Rituals do stuff. They may or may not talk to gods, demons, or spirits, but they definitely talk to other people, and to yourself. And they show, don't tell -- which is more effective in life as in fiction.

(And obviously, if your ritual includes physically dangerous components that are not handled in a way that prevents or at least mitigates injury, the psych effects will be the less important meanings created.)

#192 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:13 PM:

Anna @75, abi@several: Hey, I'm a materialist/rationalist too (at least on odd-numbered days :-)), and even without consciously picking up the pattern, I was starting to flinch when I saw "dave"'s byline. (Thanks, Abi!)

Teresa: Thanks for this thorough chronicle and takedown! I wish there were a few folks like you at the major newspapers....

Abuse of Other People's Traditions... well, the knightly virtues (for example) would actually require courage, self-restraint and honesty. Someone already commented about the privations of Christian saints... I'd add "martyrdom" to the list.

Fasting: The practices of Yom Kippur, Lent, and Ramadan, have all been through several centuries of selection -- that is, if they had killed off too many adherents, their practice would have been abandoned or changed by now .

Personal experience: I was at a firewalk, which included a sweatlodge as preparation. My first warning was that making the fire for the coal bed involved gasoline... impatience does not mix well with any spiritual practice! During the sweat lodge, I started feeling nauseous. Fortunately, by that time in my life, I was aware enough of my body to recognize an emergency signal, so I left the lodge early and hung around until the others emerged.

Later, when I did the firewalk, I got burned by picking up a coal between my toes. I also noted afterwards that my "talisman" (each of us hung one by the fire before the sweat, mine was a floppy disk) was destroyed by the heat of the fire.... Afterwards, several other participants commented that they'd also noticed a "lack of respect for the fire".

#193 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:13 PM:

I would just like to say thank you to the Making Light community for restoring my faith (heh) in religious people after 4 years of Catholic high school destroyed it. I love the ritual of going to church, although it was never something my family did. It centers me in a way nothing else I've found does. The hypocrisy that I found among all the people I knew who described themselves as religious put me off the very idea though. They were in high school, I know some of them grew out of it, but the bad taste lingers.

I long for that sense of ritual again, along with a sense of community that I think belonging to a church could provide. Unfortunately, I don't have the belief necessary to feel like I'd be joining a church in good faith. In addition, I'm married to an atheist who is happy for me to do what I want, but will not be joining me. I have thought of trying a simplified version of meditation, but at this point I could really use the community as well.

Anyway, long way of saying, I really appreciate being able to discuss this here, even if it is only tangentially related.

#194 ::: Nightsky ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:13 PM:

Re: woo
Recently I've been looking into Tarot cards. Not because I genuinely believe they can tell the future or interact with the spirits or any such rot*, but because I like them--a library of usually beautiful pictures, rife with symbols just waiting for a mind to find meaning out of them. In my case, it seems to help punch through psychological denial: examine your thought processes as you shuffle, draw, examine; learn to notice what you dread seeing, and why; learn to recognize that sinking feeling of "DAMN, the cards are good" as the first solid hit of a wrecking ball against a wall of denial. Not a message from the cosmos, but a message from yourself.

And that is my experience with woo.

*I identify as an atheist, with vaguely pagan leanings--much like Xopher, evidently, I like rituals. I'd say credo consolans, I believe because it's comforting, but even that's not right: I tell stories to myself in the dark, because the alternative is being alone in the dark.

#195 ::: Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:15 PM:

Xopher @129 - Hail and well met likewise! (And I agree about the no driving after trance. More than one reason for post-ritual food, after all.)

LDR @137 - on the "Why do ritual". Ritual consoles me, comforts me, challenges me, and changes me. Like Xopher, I get cranky when I don't, which is probably a good enough reason. (I get cranky when I don't read, too.) But more than that, it's as good a way as anything else I've found to be aware of what's going on in my head and my heart, and what I want to do about that. Best way to start making better-informed choices is to know where I'm starting from.

There's other ways at that self-awareness, and I use some of them too (journalling, talking with friends), but ritual often illuminates the bits I'd try and duck out of facing in other settings.

Another thought about 'why do people do these workshops':
I spend a fair bit of my time in my religious community talking to people who are looking for *something*, but who haven't yet figured out what they're looking for. The self-aware ones, and the ones who run into the people with ethics and who care about education figure out (given some time) what they want. But the ones who fall in with the 'don't bother thinking, just do what makes you feel right' crowd always worry me. Some of those folks are harmless, but far too many are dangerous out of inexperience or lack of knowledge (of practical safety issues, even before you get to ritual specific stuff.) And a few of them are predators of various stripes.

We talk about literacy of various kinds - academically, emotionally, interpersonally, online. I think there's something to be said for religious and spiritual literacy, both in the sense of it being handy to be able to deal with someone else's religious life moments meaningfully (baptisms, funerals, high holy days, Ramadan, whatever), but also because understanding what the draw is for some people, and the different kinds of things that might feed it can help avoid the more dangerous bits of the search process. That said, I have no idea how you implement something like that, other than getting born into a family and community that's got a diverse religious background, and being willing to keep looking for information on an ongoing basis.

#196 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:21 PM:

I mostly just lurk here, but always find the conversations to be enlightening and thought-provoking. Like OtterB at 187, I am trying to define my own beliefs and where I draw the line at respecting other's.

For me, the questions that any belief-system has to answer are 1) is it life-affirming and 2) does it foster personal liberty. If the answer to either is no, then I have no respect for it at all.

I'm not sure what I feel about the "fairies at the bottom of the garden" type. I tend to think that the "wishing makes it so" crowd are deluded. Sometimes, shit just happens, and it's nobody's fault, and there's nobody to blame, there's only living with it and getting on with life as best you can (the attitude I have about my own mental illness).

I personally identify myself as a pagan/agnostic (atheist when the wind blows from the right direction). I'm not sure I believe in a god or gods, but I have a deep sense of wonder at the universe, and everything I learn about science reinforces that sense of wonder. I have a need for ritual in my life, and like the symbol-set of the particular branch of paganism that I follow. it may be True in some ways, for me, but that doesn't necessarily make it true (for differing values of "true").

#197 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:26 PM:

One thing no one's touched on so far, on the subject of goals...any profoundly transformative experience, like the one that these people were seeing, changes not only how you think but also what you want. Indeed, if you come out of it wanting the same stuff you went into it wanting, you're probably doing it rong.

There are no serious mental or spiritual disciplines that reliably make people rich, for instance. But there are a heck of a lot of them that teach them value other things more than money.

#198 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:26 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz makes a generalization about "Native American" religion at 146 and by doing so participates in the same error that underlies the hucksterism under discussion. There is no such thing as "Native American" anything. There are traditional beliefs special to diverse cultural groups, some fraction of which have aspects of ancestor worship, which have persisted more or less in their original form into the post-contact world. There are modern synthetic religions like the Native American Church and the Indian Shaker Church which combine spiritual beleifs and practices from multiple sources. There are ad hoc Pentecostal movements which combine Christian belief and traditional practice in a fluid mix, and there are mainstream Christian missions which try to reach Native groups by (sometimes mindfully and respectfully and sometimes not) using Native language and concepts in talking about Christianity.

And then there's woo: taking a grab bag of Don Juan and Black Elk and mixing well with Tim Leary and every purveyor of religious/spiritual shenanagins ever. Some of it's merely a way to separate the rubes from their money but then there's practitioners who are working out the ultimate evil: the human drive for complete life-and-death power over other humans. One does not need any other demon.

#199 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:34 PM:

@EClaire - Not sure where you are but reading that comment I'm wishing I could invite you to my local UU church. Spiritual diversity, we can has. Also strong community.

And coffee.

#200 ::: Nightsky ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:36 PM:

Thena@199: Does that mean we can host the Making Light Con there? It sounds like it has all that's necessary. :)

#201 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:37 PM:

This is just to say

I have borrowed
the woo
that was in
your beliefs

and which
you were probably
saving
for Heaven

Forgive me
there are trusting souls
to fleece
and deceive

#202 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:40 PM:

John Houghton #170: That's Hari Seldon. Get with the Plan.

#203 ::: Nightsky ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:43 PM:

Hari, Hari Seldon
Hari, Hari Seldon
Hari, Hari Seldon

#204 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:43 PM:

I would totally go to a Making Light Con, and I've thought about a UU church. I'm in New Orleans, which leans precipitously Catholic. I've done a little research into the Friends Meeting of New Orleans, thinking that striving toward simplicity and less materialism is something I could use encouragement in, and sitting quietly pondering the spirit of the divine sounds, well, divine. I haven't yet overcome my social hesitance enough to go to a meeting though.

#205 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:44 PM:

EClaire @194: For meditation practice and ritual, I can highly recommend attending a Tibetan Buddhist temple. Taking classes at KTC here in Central Ohio is what snapped me out of a bout of depression in 2002.

I found it also enriched my Pagan rituals, and Tara and Chenreizig don't seem to mind sharing my room with Dana, Isis and Brighid...

#206 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 05:49 PM:

#198 ::: JESR

Good point. I'll avoid that mistake in the future.

#207 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:02 PM:

I thought of something, but keep forgetting to mention it: the plastic they covered the thing with...when it got warm, could it have emitted toxic gases?

#208 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:08 PM:

John Houghton @170: What I envy, I think, is the idea that the universe is being personally benevolent to them.

There was an SF short-short story titled Narapoia (google tells me it was authored by Alan Nelson).

In it, a patient tells his doctor that he is suffering from 'narapoia', an inverse of paranoia. He believes that complete strangers are out to do nice things for him. And he thinks he is following someone, but he doesn't know who.

I've always enjoyed that notion that people are conspiring to do nice things for me.

#209 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:11 PM:

Albatross @ 103: As an adult, a lot of what you do to improve yourself or your life involves ignoring some levels of unpleasantness or discomfort or even pain

Not only as an adult.

I find the "no pain, no gain" (or, the way I have been taught it, "stuff that is good for you hurts, stuff that stops the pain is bad for you") hard to un-learn. I used to think that people working with adults would respect their clients or customers (or their money) enough to not push that meme, but ... obviously not.

#210 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:14 PM:

Xopher@33: I recently investigated hotel function space, in NZ it's around $NZ45 per person per day for a package that includes rooms configured as classrooms, tea, coffee, and lunch. I expect that the deals are similar in most hotels around the world (although the price will vary). The minimum number of delegates is about 20.

An un-conference arranged by a group of like-minded individuals would be quite economical. When staying in a foreign city $45 per day (plus whatever dinner costs) really isn't much money to spend. Usually tourists spend more.

I think that the idea of having an un-conference for people who comment on a major blog is viable.

#211 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:23 PM:

Tom Whitmore #183 : ...But for years I've been describing them as part of the Western secular initiatory tradition -- these seminars are actually initiations, and are structured as initiations.

An excellent point! It's also worth noting that running initiations takes a good deal of both expertise and responsibility.... Not every initiation has real hazard involved... but most do, and sometimes that gets shoved under the rug.

#212 ::: JamesK ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:25 PM:

I'm sorry if this comes off as disjointed or somehow insensitive to the real victims, I'm still trying to digest this all through the process I know best: Recontextualizing.

While reading through all the links last night, the ones that stood out the most were Jay's deleted Tweets where he talked about needed sacrifices and mastering death and the rest. I realized: I've seen this scenario before. Many times.

My stance on woo shifts back and forth depending on whether my "But it feels empowering and good" side or my "It's all in your head, you don't need to actually do any of it" side is stronger, but I always enjoy approaching these things with the assumption of - well if it -is- real, then what happened?

If we assume that summoning The Warrior archetype is real, and belief creating reality is real, then Ray is either very stupid, or he is very evil.

I do a lot of roleplaying. 'Exalted', 'Unknown Armies', 'Mage-tA', and I've put Ray into games before as the Villain of the Week. To answer someone's question from further up: "Why would someone kill his followers?" If you assume magic is real (and some of those Tweets read like they were coming from the sort of headspace where someone would think it is), and you assume someone is an amoral monster, then there is an excellent reason to kill a lot of people all at once.

Magically, (in settings such as 'Unknown Armies' or 'Mage') death is very powerful. Control that much death, and you are controlling a lot of power. Taking a mystically significant number of people into the wilderness and getting them to kill themselves at your command is one of the time honored techniques for the villain that wants to attain Godhood/Awakening/Ascension/Assumption of Avatarhood/Soforth.

Of course, it didn't quite work. The Conquering Death sweat lodge was stopped after just half of the planned cycles, and nearly everyone lived. Godhood assumption thwarted, Jay quickly left.

Or he didn't believe any of what he was spouting, but still managed to cobble together enough ritual to manifest The Warrior within himself in all it's dark, greedy, abusive glory. Because you can't be a manipulative power-abusing dick and manifest The Warrior positively. The Rules never work like that.

I don't know if Ray had actually gone so far around the bend that he'd actually try and do something like that, but if I ever gave out those Tweets in a game, the players would be complaining that they -got- it already and I didn't need to hit them over the head with "Bad guy bad, going to kill a lot of people for power now."

Not sure what I'm trying to say, but regardless of whether you look at this from a "Woo is real" or a "Woo is Woo" stance, James Arthur Ray has done some very very bad things.

#213 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:35 PM:

re 106: The devil begins by tempting Jesus with nothing more mind-bending than a bite to eat.

#214 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:48 PM:

"Christians clearly do believe in magic (although they don't call it that), so it is perfectly fair IMO to call them on it when they are practicing black magic..."

Orthodox (small o) Christianity doesn't involve a belief in magic in the sense that seems to be implied in #57, where you follow a particular ritual or recipe in order to compel supernatural forces to do your bidding (in that example, pinning people's names on a cross to make something happen to the people named).

There is obviously a belief in the miraculous; we do, after all, believe that our founder rose from the dead, and performed other miracles as well. But we don't believe that we have power over miracles. We do have certain rituals which we believe convey grace, and in some cases even have "miraculous" effects (if normally undetectable, as in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist). But we can't use those rituals for some arbitrary desire; it's whatever God ordains, not us. We can, of course, ask God in prayer for something, as can anyone else, Christian or non-Christian; but we can't *compel* God to do what we want.

That said, there are a wide variety of different beliefs and traditions that people identify as Christian, some of which are pretty far off the traditionally orthodox strains. Slacktivist has posted more than once on the heresy of the "name it and claim it" strain of belief, which is basically The Secret in Christian clothing. Similarly, the "St. Jude" notices you sometimes see in classifieds, that claim whatever you want will be granted by saying the prayer and publishing the ad, are generally treated by Catholic authorities as superstition rather than religion.

#215 ::: Jon Marcus ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:57 PM:

JamesK,

I like the gaming twist, but I'm not sure it's wholly convincing. (There's a lot of things Real Life (tm) throws at us that feel like an over the top GM. Truth may or may not be stranger than fiction, but it's often much less subtle.)

Still those tweets are really disconcerting, especially in retrospect. Interesting that he had enough presence of mind to realize that and try to destroy them.

#216 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 06:59 PM:

re 143: Nancy, I've read Dare to Discipline and it does not "urge beating children into submission in order to restore the respect for God and government that America’s youth had lost during the 1960s" (quoted directly from the first paragraph here). Dobson is not on my list of political authorities, and I do wish he would shut up; but if we're going to complain about tea-bagging we ought to eschew it ourselves.

#217 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:01 PM:

David Harmon @211 -- thank you! I've thought the tracing of that tradition was worth a book, or a thesis, for several years now.

One place I'd disagree with you: any initiation that someone believes in has the chance to do real damage. That damage may be physical, or it may be psychological -- but if there isn't risk, it's a ritual that isn't an initiation. At least, that's the way I use those words.

#218 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:01 PM:

John Mark, please note that Lee said ""Christians clearly do believe in magic," not that belief in magic was orthodox in Christianity. The fact that the toes of saint statues are rubbed down to bare metal in St. Joseph's Church in Manhattan is evidence of Christians (not the Church) believing in magic.

And 'superstition' is what people call other people's religious practices.

#219 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:05 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @214 -- you remind me of an obscure joke:

Q: How can you tell which St. Jude classifieds are posted by the Illuminati?

A: They're in the Business Personals.

#220 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:06 PM:

I went through a two-month-long period of intermittent sort-of-fasting last year (three periods of no solid food, the longest approximately a week and a half long). I'm not really sure you can call these 'fasts' as they were medically essential -- my digestive system had essentially jammed. Even keeping my blood sugar levels up with lucozade and fruit juices and the like, after a couple of days it was impossible to concentrate on anything, and after a couple more anything approaching rational thought became pretty much impossible. Oh, and you soon start smelling like something dead, as well. Really attractive.

I can easily imagine someone in that sort of condition doing all sorts of horrifically dangerous things simply because they weren't thinking clearly enough to realise they were dangerous, and were weak enough, from hunger and heat, not to want to get up and walk out anyway, even ignoring the social pressures, assuming they were even conscious.

(I was lucky: I was at home, not in a sweat lodge, and I knew this was not normal, not good and not remotely voluntary, so I took no risks at all and didn't engage in any strenuous activity --- other than the risk of not eating, which I judged to be less risky than the risk of exploding. I never ever want to undergo anything like this again. Voluntary fasting is for people who've never had to cope with the involuntary kind.)

#221 ::: Duff ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:06 PM:

Thanks for the amazingly comprehensive article on this event. Excellent blog journalism.

Thanks also for the links to my articles.

Indeed, I agree with both Shermer and Sylvan. Whether you're a serious skeptic or a serious magician, the naive views of Ray et al should be criticized strongly, especially when combined with narcissism and cult dynamics.

#222 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:15 PM:

abi @ 167... While we woohoo for you at what you do, yes we do. Woot!

#223 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:20 PM:

lawrence @ 136... Yeah, I think I read about Padgett's shifting nature. I wonder who Padgett was when he/she wrote Vintage Season or Mimsy Were the Borogove.

By the way, I met Moore at 1981's worldcon in Denver. Got my French edition of Shambleau autographed. It was a strange experience. She seemed nervous when I approached her. Maybe I looked insane.
("Saying 'looked' implies that insanity is a thing relegated to your past, Serge.")
I heard that.

#224 ::: Duff ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:35 PM:

Thanks for the information on kidney failure due to severe dehydration too.

#225 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:37 PM:

Jon Marcus, #184, kids can go higher in temp without problems. Adults really don't want to get that hot -- the cold water bed is awful.

Earl Cooley III, #201, great!

#226 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 07:40 PM:

Duff @ 224... I took my wife to the ER a few days a go because she was in a lot of pain, and it was because of a kidney stone. They told her that it can be caused by dehydration. Luckily they didn't tell her "Hydrate! Hydrate!" I might have burst out laughing because of the Doctor Who story about Earth 5,000,000,000 years into the Future. At least she wasn't treated by Doctor Faust as happened a few years ago.

#227 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:12 PM:

Once again, I am awed by Teresa's pit bull approach to investigation, and by this community's ability to converse with clarity, attention, and respect.

Some random remarks:

I find it sad (and scary) that Mr Ray's website asks, "Are you 100% totally and completely happy with your life?” -- which suggests that you should be, and if you are not, something's wrong (which he can fix.) Such a statement and what it implies seems to me to be insane or, at best, utter bulls**t. It is, in my opinion, impossible to be 100% totally and completely happy and be human. Such a statement, on any website, should warn just about any adult that the folks who put this material together are untrustworthy and want to sell you something that could be physically, morally, and spiritually dangerous: run. I am sure there were many such statements on the website.

Spiritual hucksterism has been around a very long time; Ray is one example of this moment's version of it. Note that he appeared on Oprah, which provides a kind of cultural imprimatur,a suggestion that what he's providing is safe. But initiations aren't necessarily safe, especially those that require a physical ordeal -- that's why they require a long period of study and preparation with people one trusts. Why, one wonders, would anyone trust this guy? His charisma? Hmmm. I think none of these people had any idea of what they were getting into.

However, when people go looking for 1)something to ease their pain, or 2) power, or both, they tend to lose whatever common sense and good judgment they might have once had.

As a long time student of a Japanese martial art, anytime I hear anyone, and particularly -- though not exclusively -- anyone non-Japanese, call upon the traditions of the samurai to support this or that activity, practice, or discipline, my hair stands up and I look around for an exit. Are there ways in which aspects of Japanese culture, (for example, martial arts, or Zen, or tea ceremony, or taiko drumming) can be relevant to the life we live now? Sure. But not in a way that can be understood and internalized over a weekend in a sweat lodge.

I agree entirely with McDuffee, that Ray should be held accountable for these two deaths.


#228 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:17 PM:

Harriet Culver @ 188... The Avengelicals sounds like a neat name for a religious superhero group, when they fight the Creatures of Habit. Joanna Lumley dressed like a nun is an excellent idea.

#229 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:24 PM:

Xopher, 155: Your motto, in Latin: Per dubium, contentiō; per contentionem, eruditiō.

I think you deserve a good Latin motto.

(Abi, feel free to amend as you see fit, my Latin is decidedly rusty.)

#230 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:24 PM:

My dad was a surgeon. I once asked him how he let people know that they were going to die. He said that if they didn't want to hear it, it was impossible. They would interrupt with the latest ball game stats, anything, to hide from themselves what was going on. No one can make anyone else pay attention.

I do not believe that most people who do terrible things believe themselves to be evil. They simply avoid thinking about the consequences of their actions. If pushed, they may come up with elaborate justifications, but it's usually obvious that they're the one they're most anxious to convince. Rather than waking up chortling and rubbing their hands over the awful things they'll do that day, they get up like the rest of us and get on with it, perhaps feeling pride in how much they enlarged their assets with the recent seminar.

They should be called on the results of bad decisions with appropriate severity. Turning them into demons only adds static.


#231 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:40 PM:

Jon Marcus #184:
Going off-topic here, but question to John Houghton way back @ 30 (or to Jim or anyone else knowledgeable):

105 starts scrambling proteins? That seems kinda low to me. My eldest son regularly went above 105 (via aural thermometer, but repeatable and in both ears) as an infant, with no noticeable damage. And my 9-year-old was up at 105 (aural, repeatable, both ears) just last week with something very flu-ish, and seems to be okay. No fancier treatment than ibuprofen and cool wet towels on the neck and arms.

That's a question for your doctor. Neither Jim nor I can diagnose or prescribe ("Your arm is bent at a 90° angle halfway between your elbow and your wrist. I think it may be broken"). If I see signs of a temp that high, I'm calling for an Advanced Life Support ambulance. I'll start cooling them down with their consent (implied consent if they are not conscious or able to understand and answer my questions). If they are showing signs of heat-stroke, I'll be icing them if ice is available, spraying them with water and fanning them if not, and hoping the paramedics get there quickly. As someone that happens upon a situation, I have a lot less intervention that I can do than if I am working an event or in a situation where I have specific protocols.

Where the danger line is for young children with fevers is well outside of my standard of care and standard of training. The precise temperature and conditions that each protein in the brain starts to break down is well outside of my knowledge. I'm trained to work with conservative rules-of-thumb, and to escalate to higher levels of care if I'm uncertain.

Oh, and when I get different answers from different doctors, I go with the one who's more worried.

#232 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:45 PM:

Xopher, #129 & Harriet, #188: "Avengelical" is certainly not original with me, and in fact I'm pretty sure I picked it up here, back in some of the discussions about the Religious Right in 2007/2008. It bears the same sort of relationship to "Evangelical" that "Christianist" does to "Christian" -- referring specifically to the hate-based subset of a larger group.

John, #214: I will grant that magic, in the "manipulating the supernatural to affect other people or the world" sense, is not part of orthodox Christian dogma. Nonetheless, a good many orthodox Christians do believe in it casually, cf. "the power of prayer" and the sort of things Xopher mentions @218.

Believing in it seriously is one of the attributes that distinguishes the Avengelical variety of Christian. That names-on-the-cross ritual is most definitely that sort of magic, as is what was done to a friend of mine by a cow-orker who said that she would "pray for [my friend] to be broken at the feet of Jesus". I consider it important to spotlight this sort of thing, for a number of reasons.

#233 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:50 PM:

LDR@110: Wrote: "Lots of spiritual traditions stress the importance of having a teacher/guru/intermediary of some sort. I've always been mistrustful of such people . . . and this post is why."

I think that the motive of the spiritual leader is the main issue. I can walk into almost any church and have a pastor/vicar/priest tell me as much as I want to know about their variant of Christianity at no cost. Opinions vary as to the benefit of such spiritual advice, but people who offer such advice for free tend to believe it and want to help others.

Most variants of Christianity strongly encourage giving 10% of your income to the church and also helping out at church events. The poorest people at a typical church will receive gifts of food, clothes, accommodation, and sometimes money from church funds - often to a value that greatly exceeds what they donate. The real spiritual leaders take only what people can afford and give to those who need it.

Any "religion" that starts with "give us all your money" almost certainly doesn't have the best interests of it's followers at heart.

Perhaps a good first step towards evaluating a spiritual system is to demand that something be given for free with no obligation. If you want me to consider your variation of Christianity then give me a free Bible and study guide, if you want me to consider the benefits of Hari-Krishna then give me a free vegan cook-book. But I won't give you my address or phone number.

#234 ::: tariqata ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:52 PM:

Nightsky@194: your post sums up my feelings regarding Tarot cards exactly. They are beautiful and can offer a way to think about one's own life in different ways; the important thing, to me, is the recognition that the interpretation and meaning are coming from me, not from some outside power.

That's been my experience with ritual, as well. Not that I'm at all experienced with it, but I do think that it's a way that you can tell yourself things and perhaps convince yourself more deeply than you might just by repetition. (The ends, of course, can be good or bad.) My personal experience was incredibly silly, but the feeling of it has stuck with me. As a teenager, on a visit to relatives, I had to sleep in an unfinished basement which smelled of gasoline and in which I was completely surrounded by the pipes and tanks of a furnace: I've been terrified of this sort of environment for as long as I can remember (and still am; no idea why). I don't think that the half hour I spent on my bed, "casting" a protective circle called up spiritual guardians to prevent the furnace from exploding or whatever, but it helped me to convince myself that I was going to be safe in that environment. And I really did feel safe after, when I had been feeling increasingly edgy and panicky.

I still have to avert my eyes from the furnace room in my own house so that I can pretend it's not there, but I slept just fine at my relatives.

#235 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 08:55 PM:

Tom Whitmore #217: I agree with your statement in general, but there are some initiatory rituals where the danger has been reduced to symbolism or voluntary embarrassment (sometimes because the ritual is recognizing an already-passed test). Mostly, I was being wary of making an absolute statement, when I'm not secure in my expertise on the topic.

#236 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:03 PM:

Lizzy L @ 227:

I'd like to combine your observation about people hawking 100% happiness with Anna Feruglio Dal Dan's point at 134 that many of these sorts of scams focus on the idea that if bad things happen to you then it's your own fault. It runs like this:

You're not happy and successful, but they are. You must be doing something wrong. You don't necessarily know why you're unhappy, or, if you do (e.g. messy divorce, annoying boss), you don't know how to make it better. But they, out of the goodness of their heart, will share their secret with you. And it is a secret, too. But they'll share it. If you're feeling down enough, you pay up.

Once you come out the other end, you might be happier. You'll be riding the feel-good wave of a motivational speaker, or you'll have come out of some bonding exercise, or you'll have made new friends. Or you'll have spent a lot of money, so you tell yourself that you're happier. But the happiness isn't 100%, and it has to be your fault. But they made you feel better before, you just need to keep going with it. And so on it goes.

#237 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:13 PM:

[when seeing Fozzie perform for the first time]
Kermit: This guy's lost.
Waiter: Maybe he should try Hare Krishna.
Kermit: Good grief, it's a running gag.

#238 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:15 PM:

Brain damage won't occur until the core body temperature goes above 107.6 degrees F. When the patient is at 105, you do want to take measures to bring down the temp before it continues to rise to a dangerous level. A fever of 105 is not pleasant anyway, so cooling is a relief.

In malignant hyperthermia, the temp continues to rise despite our best efforts. I had a rabbit go at least 108 F, and we did lose him.

#239 ::: cherish ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:18 PM:

Caroline @191: Even woo-oriented rituals still do something even if you don't intellectually accept the woo. I don't mean that they do something supernatural. But they still make meaning, in the way people understand themselves, other people, their relationships with other people, their interactions with material objects.

I can testify. I did two years of group work with this guy in Seattle. The money we paid only went to rent the space, and the intent was to discover in ourselves and as a group how to create spontaneous, meaningful ritual without any shared social or ideological relationships between us. From the first hour, the "instigator" (as he called himself) hammered on the rule that we were absolutely responsible for our own safety, and that if we felt we were in danger, we were to leave the floor and just witness. To take care of oneself was considered a valid and honorable part of the personal work.

It was an amazing two years and I still have great friends from it.

I have had two painful experiences with people who rocketed out of Landmark having disconnected from all common sense, and promptly ruined their lives; I have also reconnected with two good friends whose natural common sense was validated and encouraged by Landmark into new careers and joyful living. Go figure.

#240 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:23 PM:

#236 ::: KeithS:

This reminds me of something I've read: that believing pain = failure is a symptom of having been abused. It sounds plausible to me, but I don't have evidence or a system that it's from.

Any thoughts?

#241 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:26 PM:

James MacDonald, #2: "I don't believe that anyone is so smart that the right conman with the right pitch at the right time can't take him."

In other words, anyone can be deceived. Sure. But it amazes me how many people don't think so. I've taken some serious heat for saying things like that. It's the ultimate fantasy of power: believing that one has a line to ultimate truth, and it's a fantasy that some people hold a death grip on, sometimes all too literally.

#242 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:41 PM:

Carol Kimball #230:
My dad was a surgeon. I once asked him how he let people know that they were going to die. He said that if they didn't want to hear it, it was impossible.

I had a hernia repair when I was in my 20s. I asked the doctor to tell me exactly what he was going to do. He told me, using all the wonderful doctor words used to obfuscate meaning to lessen the impact*. Or at least I think he did. I spent several minutes watching his lips move, without hearing anything at the conscious level. It was interesting to observe this happening, and to realize why it did.

*Debride, as a general example. It means to remove debris from a wound. I would recommend the anesthesia, you'll need it.

#243 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:45 PM:

LumiCon? I'm all for a Making Light relaxacon.

As a religious person, I find the discussion fascinating, because faith/belief (and the choice of traditions you pull it from) is deeply personal. Most peoples Christianity (or pick your organized/disorganized religion) is a mishmash of several different trads christian and non, with or without their conscious knowledge. It's much like a chicken soup 'recipe' - it's your grandmother's or your mother's or something you picked up somewhere. Then you change it, tweak it according to a variety of things. Some people believe it should be made with dumplings, or noodles, or matzoh balls, with or without vegetables, with or without garlic, reflecting your upbringing, ethnicity, tastes, choices, and ability to appropriate out of the local enviroment. About the only tradition involving chicken soup we can all agree on is that we're using chicken stock. The Church Herself, ancient and modern, embraces a wide variety of traditions and it's one of the things that eventually drove me to be an Episcopalian, the *stated dictum* that all are welcome here, no matter what your personal path or what it comes from, as long as we can pray together.

The only time I have problems with other belief systems (and most recently, it's been the militantly evangelical atheists) is when other people attempt to impose their beliefs on me, or belittle me for mine. We see a prime example above, and I was all set to make a point by point reply last night when I saw Abi's responses. It's a much better method. I'm just annoyed that others feel the need to dictate the validity of my beliefs and so I let them invade my personal space and get more angry in the process. It will take learning.

#244 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 09:54 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #202:

John Houghton #170: That's Hari Seldon. Get with the Plan.

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa,
Culpa Culpa, Mea Mea.

I actually dithered for a second on checking the spelling, and decided against open another window of Task Avoidant Procrastination.

#245 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:01 PM:

@243 - Gee, thanks, now I'm going to bed with THAT stuck in my head (and mental images of the book-bashing monastics from Monty Python and the search for the holy grail).

I'm all for a LumiCon if we ever get sufficiently organized. I'm not sure we'd all fit in my church at the same time but we could take turns standing on the lawn befuddling the local populace.

#246 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:06 PM:

Opening
Task-Avoidant* Procrastination

*Language rule learned from Teresa's joke:
"Only when used as a compound adjective."

#247 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:08 PM:

John Houghton #241

all the wonderful doctor words used to obfuscate meaning to lessen the impact

When my dentist told me I would have to have two wisdom teeth removed, he said "We'll get you into hospital, and they'll pop those out for you". When I quibbled, he did concede that "wrench" would be a better word than "pop".

#248 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:10 PM:
The most common causes of acute renal failure are dehydration, serious illnesses that cause heart or liver failure, severe blood loss, shock, or traumatic injury such as a burn. It may also occur in: those with conditions that block the flow of urine, such as kidney stones, tumors, or enlarged or inflamed prostate gland; those with a blood infection (sepsis); or those with kidney damage caused by kidney disease or exposure to a toxic (poisonous) substance.

Acute Renal Failure

#249 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:29 PM:

EClaire@204, try visiting that Friends meeting; maybe you'll like the practice, and probably you'll like the people, though of course it always depends. There are some meetings that are relatively Christian, and some that are primarily not, but they're pretty much all fairly radically accepting of other people. I attended a meeting in New Jersey for a few years - we had people there who had come over from the Unitarian church because the UUs were really too dogmatic and organized (:-), and people who were more traditionally orthodox, and some Buddhists and Jews and a yoga teacher, and people from other backgrounds, and some who'd grown up in the Friends, though most of us hadn't, and I found the quiet spiritual searching together to be really meaningful.

In general, most Quaker meetings are what's called "unprogrammed" - there's no preacher, there's no ritual, you sit quietly together and if you feel God or whatever calling you to speak, you might speak, but mostly you're sitting quietly reflecting. There's another Quaker tradition, "programmed", mainly in the Western US, that has more traditional Protestant services with a preacher and structure and maybe even music. My wife and I started going there one week when we realized that we really didn't want to put up with a Memorial Day sermon at our regular Baptist church near the local military base and we knew some of the Quakers from the local peace movement. I've really missed that kind of religious community since I moved out here - mostly we've just been slacking, but also haven't really connected with the local Quaker or Christian congregations we've visited.

#250 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 10:49 PM:

Count me in for LumiCon, if it gets organized and providing our schedule doesn't have a conflict!

#251 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:03 PM:

#216 ::: C. Wingate:

I'm not sure exactly what in the quote you're disagreeing with.

However, here's a list of the more offensive bits from Dare to Discipline-- "beating a child into submission" doesn't seem like an unfair reading.

The amazon reviews may imply that the effect of the book (on both parents and children) is pretty variable, but it does seem to be an excuse for abuse at least some of the time.

#252 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:32 PM:

EClaire @ 204 - Quakers or UU, depending on how much structure you want. With the caveat that local congregations will always have differences. It's part of the attraction of those services, that there is no central authority dictating...much of anything, and it's all congregational.

Nix @ 220 - Voluntary fasting is for people who've never had to cope with the involuntary kind.

Not really - done both. Actually, we're pretty sure adhering to 14th c. Lenten Practices caused my hypoglycemia to manifest, and that means that my days of voluntary fasting are over. But sometimes? It reminds you of the sacrifices you've made, that your ancestors made, that your God made. And that's important to me.

Ritual has power. Sometimes, it's just the psychological power of tradition and what that does to/for you and those around you. (Think, turkey at Thanksgiving or family decorating the Christmas tree. These are rituals, often involving food, a certain order of events, and remembering other times.) For me, I believe that ritual has some other attributes, having the weight of time and what should be pressing down on it as well. The fact that in the seventh month of the year, all the leavened bread is thrown out of the house and meat is eaten with bitter herbs for 2500 years (at least), gives it weight, and in reenacting that particular type of feast it has more meaning than what exists solely at the table. Places become imbued with tradition - houses of worship remember what the ritual should be, both good and bad. When it is changed, the building itself adds it's protest to that of the congregation against moving away from the status quo. You'll often get major facilities failures with major ritual changes. Yes, this very well might be because the old people in charge weren't doing their jobs and that's *why* there are so many new changes all at once. I've participated in some fairly major changes at churches and it keeps happening. Sometimes it goes the other way - that recurring problems disappear upon new ownership or new, better leadership (I'm specifically thinking about a leaky basement here. It leaked badly at the end of a certain pastor's tenure. He left in a scandal. A year later, we installed a new pastor. The basement doesn't leak now.)

People who are sensitive to it often feel it most during the really common parts of the ritual that are all being enacted at the same time. Because of various placement in liturgies, on Sunday there is a version of the Lord's Prayer rolling constantly around the world. A common comment on why we do it; "It makes me feel a part of something larger than myself," and on Sunday morning, it's true - logic says that because of Christianity's shear size, there is pretty much always another congregation somewhere in the world saying the prayer as well, with almost 2000 years of tradition adding it's weight into the mix. It can get even more pronounced at midnight on Christmas eve as many Christians in the time zone end up singing Silent Night - that's slightly more in the "part of current community" vein than the "longstanding traditional weight". Both have power in my eyes. It is part of the magic of Christianity, outright "woo" that it is. (And watching a 'sensitive' priest do mass is a wonder and a joy for me, because it has the weight of history adding to the impetus of channeling that 'woo' raised by ritual into something [hopefully] productive.)

#253 ::: Jeremy Hornik ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:39 PM:

Through my reading of this post and the long and fine set of comments, I can't help thinking of the kind of limited, qualified faith implied in Pascal's Wager*.

Look, the come-on says, you don't have to really believe all that mysticism stuff I'm babbling on about. Act like you believe... pay the money, follow the forms of belief, stick it out in the sweat lodge. Then, if it turns out that it's all true, you're covered. And what if everything I promise is true? Wouldn't you want at least a shot at it?

As a dyed-in-the-wool cynic and skeptic, I feel like this applies to every seminar I go to, everything from Agile Programming Methods to Robert McKee's Story Seminar. The honest ones own up to it... we can't guarantee this will work for you, but try it. Maybe it will. The dishonest ones just let it go.

Sorry: I'd write more, but my laptop battery is dying.


* Or my own shallow misreading of it.

#254 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:41 PM:

Lee @ 232: "That names-on-the-cross ritual is most definitely that sort of magic, as is what was done to a friend of mine by a cow-orker who said that she would "pray for [my friend] to be broken at the feet of Jesus"."

I'm not sure what cow-orking is, but it sounds awful. (The name's not great either.)

#255 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:51 PM:

173/232
That's the one I was sort-of-remembering.

I don't mind prayer trees (which are usually for people who are in the hospital or otherwise in need of help), but that one is a little too close to forcing conversion.

#256 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:58 PM:

I have a somewhat different viewpoint on woo than most folks here. My dad was an attorney, and an extremely good one. (He would have liked to be a painter, but his school counselors refused to accept that as an option.) Since he'd handle legal matters for folks with unusual beliefs without denigrating them he ended up with a huge amount of clients who were experts in woo, and who often passed along freebies: color breathers, psychic healers (who recommended you do what your doctor recommended and deferred to the doctor's treatments), Tarot card readers, you name it. Because of this I've been exposed to the lot (with the exception of the Tarot--don't know how I missed that one), often as a cross between a dressmaker's figure and a dummy, which is why I always used to grin at the Molly Ivins line "I was born again three times before age 13 and it doesn't seem to have hurt me any."

Combine this with a membership in the Society of American Magicians in college and having had the luck to take a course from Rodney Stark while at the UW (Teresa may know who he is, but the rest of you will probably need to look him up. Basically he's THE expert on cults and indoctrination, and he ended up testifying to the Vatican II folks as an undergraduate.) and I ended up with a profound grounding in how and when it's possible to sell a load of bilgewater.

My favorite moment was back when I was in high school. My dad suddenly developed a blood clot in his eye that damaged his vision, so he ended up doing a lot of exercise, taking blood thinners, and looking at various relaxation techniques. Because of that he ended up signing up for Transcendental Meditation in the early days, when it was billed as a relaxation technique, and why he ended up paying for mom and me to get the training. Remember, this was years and years before the claims of learning levitation, invisibility, and walking through walls for only $6K each. Anyway, I found TM a good way to relax, at least until my roommate in college started bringing in groups of people to stare at me while I did so, which is why I've lost touch with that roomie.

Anyway, back to TM. The local training setup ended up flying in the first guy that the Maharishi had taught TM to in England, and dad got us tickets to the session so we could find out more about the guy who'd come up with the technique we'd been using.

I will never forget that meeting. The guy somehow brought to mind the shopkeeper in the Dead Parrot sketch, and when he'd come out with a sloppy statement dad would ask questions to try to figure out what the guy was going on about. This threw the guy because he clearly wasn't used to being asked detailed questions by a non-Journalist, and he'd come out with something else that was stranger, and dad would ask more questions. It all fell apart when he loudly asserted that the Maharishi could make the most perfect building in the world appear overnight but wouldn't do so because it would never pass local building codes...

#257 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2009, 11:59 PM:

Cow-orker is the Scott Adams description of the sort co-worker who tends to show up as the point of the joke in the latest Dilbert strip. If you're the sort of person that triggers Alice's Fist of Death or makes Dilbert's head explode from your stupidity, you're a cow-orker. (Like "filk", I think it started as a typo and got adopted.)

This discussion has got me thinking about the worship group I'm involved with at my university, and our regular use of the same Biblical passages for repetition over and over. One of the points of a properly structured ritual system [1] is that, from an internalist point of view, it forces you to confront stuff that is true but might not be in accord with the mood of the moment. Having a virus-checker running on your internal meme-structure is a valuable thing.


[1] Ignoring for the moment the debate about exactly how you determine "properly structured", and just assuming that well-done structures exist and can to some extent be distinguished from badly-done.

#258 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 12:12 AM:

Lizzy L #227: As a long time student of a Japanese martial art, anytime I hear anyone, and particularly -- though not exclusively -- anyone non-Japanese, call upon the traditions of the samurai to support this or that activity, practice, or discipline, my hair stands up and I look around for an exit.

I feel that way about Six Sigma TQM (Total Quality Manglement) "Black Belts".

#259 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 12:21 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 239:

This reminds me of something I've read: that believing pain = failure is a symptom of having been abused. It sounds plausible to me, but I don't have evidence or a system that it's from.

Any thoughts?

Pain is often a result of doing the wrong thing, such as smashing your thumb with a hammer, incautiously picking roses, or eating that potato salad that's been left out too long, so in that sense pain can be said to be related to failure. It's a mechanism that announces that something's wrong, and, if it's related to something you just did, not to do that again.

Beyond that, I don't really know, I'm afraid.

#260 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 01:24 AM:

To go off on a slight tangent here: I have to confess that I have mixed feelings about the idea of "cultural (mis)appropriation." On the one hand, white people passing themselves off as Authentic Native Americans is stupid and tacky and disrespectful. But I can't quite get on board with the notion that you shouldn't adopt any other culture's custom (or clothing, or food, or iconography) unless you have an immersive textbook understanding of its cultural context. Which, yeah, is probably the ideal when possible, but doesn't strike me as a very practical standard.

Part of it, I must admit, is that my approach to life is syncretic by inclination, and "a small slice of each, please" is as close to a working philosophy as I'm likely to get. I don't especially want to be limited to only the experiences I'm "entitled" to by virtue of heritage, and notions of cultural purity - my own, or other peoples' - leave a bad taste in my mouth. At the same time, I understand that "take what's useful, leave the rest" has its own unpleasant resonances in light of a history of imperialism, so I get why it's a sensitive tangle of issues. But I'm just not sure where the line is; I'm pretty confident that making curry doesn't make me much of an appropriator or a wannabe, but I'm less certain about wearing a kurta*, or worshipping a god with an elephant's head without adopting the rigors of living as a Hindu** otherwise.

And my feeling about clumsily appropriated cultural trappings is that it's a lot like a bad movie based on a good book: it sucks that the movie is what most people think of, but the book, as has been famously pointed out, still exists. But then, two days ago I'd have said that if rich white people want to put a makeshift sauna on their campsite and call it a "sweat lodge," there's no harm in that, so it's possible I'm missing something here.

But in any case, I really want my culture to be a melting pot rather than a neatly sectioned cafeteria tray. And not only because I'm an over-privileged Westerner who feels entitled to chicken tikka masala*** and oud music and kung fu lessons, but because (as Eddie Izzard points out) a mongrel nation is a healthier society than a purebred one. I have to wonder if a certain amount of tacky and disrespectful is the cost of doing business in a genuinely diverse multicultural world.

___

*My friend Vishal says no more so than businessmen in Mumbai wearing white shirts and ties, but note that that's at least one bingo square right there.

**Whatever that even means, complicated by the fact that there's not much consensus of definition among Hindus, and that it's not generally seen as something you can even convert to.

***A dish originating in Scotland, which surely goes to show something or other.

#261 ::: K. G. Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 01:50 AM:

This story brought back a couple of nasty memories of times when I was cornered by a group of people who pressured me into doing what they wanted. As a teenager, I came within inches of being the victim of a gang rape (I managed to outrun two of the very stoned rapists). While doing research for my college senior thesis, I was locked in a room by a group of Synanon grads (my fellow counselors at a juvenile detention facility) who demanded that I admit that I had betrayed the group. After three hours of verbal abuse, they gave up and let me go.

Putting yourself into a situation where someone (a date, an employer, a spiritual guru, or a cult) has power over your physical safety and your life is a thrill for some people. I am grateful that I got over it early in life, and got out without too much damage.

#262 ::: Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 01:58 AM:

@#137Xopher:
. . . through worship (and ritual, and (less) prayer) I get benefits I could not otherwise get.

What is your explanation for how that works?

(I know this is from far upthread but had to butt in.)

oo! oo! I just attended a fascinating workshop regarding the physiological effects of spiritual practices. They included these really nifty brain scan images showing how meditation actually changed the function of the brain, with areas like the frontal lobe and parietal section giving patterns of activity which were consistent with establishing mental boundaries between oneself and others (as well as "other" from "different other.") I.E. Meditating shifted how the brain processed information, allowing the participant to feel more "at one" with the Universe (or whatever.)

If any one is interested, I could dig out my notes for more specifics.

#263 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 02:05 AM:

Tony Zbaraschuk @ 256: "Cow-orker is the Scott Adams description of the sort co-worker who tends to show up as the point of the joke in the latest Dilbert strip. If you're the sort of person that triggers Alice's Fist of Death or makes Dilbert's head explode from your stupidity, you're a cow-orker. (Like "filk", I think it started as a typo and got adopted.)"

How interesting! I did not know that.

#264 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 03:16 AM:

I believe cow-orker evolved on Usenet, starting among the "usual suspect" fringe groups, and then spread everywhere. It didn't really have any special meaning to start with AFAIK, it was just based on noticing that "coworker" visually kind of wants to be divided after the cow. Googling a bit, I see Usenet cites going back as far as 1989. See e.g. the jargon file. I think I might have seen it before that, in which case it probably originated on t.b.

#265 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 03:48 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @239:

For people with a background of abuse, it is often true that pain=shame. Not "I am being hurt because what I did was wrong," but "I am being hurt because I am wrong." This comes from abusers insisting that their victims deserve pain because of who they are. As in, "You are such a brat!" Whack! Many, possibly most, victims respond by showing the appeasing, submissive behaviors that usually prompt the abuser to stop inflicting pain. Later in life, an alert con man or abuser in search of an adult victim can find these triggers and exploit them.

#266 ::: Shweta Narayan ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 04:02 AM:

@259 Dan

I'd say the line is where one's convenience/desire causes other people harm. And that's easier to say than to figure out, sure, and people don't necessarily agree.

Myself, I wouldn't be bothered by any of the options you suggested, though I might be on the picky side if I was supposed to *eat* the curry you made. Then too, I strongly suspect Ganesha's position in the Hindu pantheon is itself syncretic. He has the feel of a local deity cobbled in after the fact.

Thing is, other Hindus might draw the line elsewhere. And (using us as an example) that doesn't mean you need to live in fear of those other hypothetical Hindus. But it does mean that they may have reasons to be upset, and those reasons are worth listening to respectfully.

To take on your book/movie analogy: the issue is if the book has only a small print run, or doesn't get publicity from the movie since it's easier to just see the movie, and in a little while the movie is all one can find of that story. That's when it starts being a problem.

Similarly, when people tell me that Zelazny, Simmons, and Ian McDonald write Indian SF, and don't know names like Anil Menon or Vandana Singh, that's where I find myself feeling like I'm on one end of (mis)appropriation (though I'd only really point the "mis" finger at Simmons on that end.)

Does that help clarify?

#267 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 04:10 AM:

Rachel @ 261, & anyone else interested, Possibly-relevant work on the physiology of placebo analgesia has just been published by some Hamburgers called Eippert, Finsterbusch, Bingel & Büchel in Science. Links @135, supra.

Mind/Belief influences Body ::: Body certainly affects Mind – experienced both. Intermingled at a very deep & intimate level indeed.

sisuile @242, As a sympathetic agnostic/atheist, I understand why some "militant atheists" get stroppy. The bile, mendacity & destructiveness of "militant theists" & their abuse of power recently often gets me reacting snappily in kind. The reaction still upsets & disgusts me, tho'.

Keep the Sabbath, fine. Just don't encircle & rain spit on those who don't. Same with women's headcoverings, men's beards, getting contraceptives banned, burning down beef/pork butchers, &c. The old "blame natural disasters on sin" meme gives me the screaming (h)abdabs. There was one [redacted] blaming the February fires on Victoria relaxing its abortion laws. If sins did contribut to them, they were a different kind.

#268 ::: Shweta Narayan ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 04:12 AM:

Something I haven't noticed mentioned in this fascinating and disturbing thread is that there are plenty of psych studies showing that "Are you really 100% happy?" or "Do you have problems in your life?" are questions that actively decrease people's happiness/evaluation thereof.

So the question causes unhappiness, and the con artist claims to know how to solve it, and seems even more prescient because you hadn't even realized how unhappy you were till they pointed it out.

#269 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 04:29 AM:

Nightsky@194: I think that's fairly common attitude to Tarot - it's an alphabet of archetypes you can use to nudge yourself into looking at things you may have been sweeping under the carpet. There's no need to invoke woo-bosons striking the cards and dictating the spreads, though there's obviously a contingent who swing that way.

#270 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 04:34 AM:

re 213: A solid glucose hit can be pretty mind-bending to a person on the edge of starvation, I hear.

#271 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 04:46 AM:

heresiarch@162: Also, I'm terribly glad we've all been using the word "woo."

A moment's silence for dave the banished, who left it to us. Not every day you get a satisfying new uncountable noun like that.

#272 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 05:26 AM:

A note on legal terms.

"Homicide" is often used as an administrative word for investigations into deaths. In some US Jurisdictions I know it also is the label for some or all criminal charges possible.

What it certainly means, in this context, is that the local law enforcement people are inverstigating this event with a view to presenting evidence in court.

I don't know what the Arizona laws are on murder and manslaughter (those are the basic UK terms) and what they call the different levels of unlawful killing. The names at that stage maybe don't matter. I've heard UK cops talk about "homicide investigation", and it has the virtue of being neutral about likely criminal charges.

"Suspicious death" is the wider classification. If they say they're not looking for any suspects, it was likely suicide.

There's a lot of circumlocutions because the words we'd naturally use might be confused with terms of legal art. In the end, a Coroner's Court, or a Criminal Court, pins the formal name on a death.


#273 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 07:57 AM:

sosuile @ 242... LumiCon? I'm all for a Making Light relaxacon

Heck, some of us have been having Gatherings of Light in the Bay Area, once or twice a year, when I travel there. Since they usually are held in places where food & beer are available, that makes them like a con suite.

#274 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 08:04 AM:

Epacris @ 266... My wife and I are both atheists. Me, I'm planning to set up the Christmas Tree as soon as she's off to Australia in a couple of weeks. Not because she's against Trees. On the contrary. It's just that she usually thinks it's weird of me to want to do the setup so early each year and this time is even earlier than before. Rather than have scorn & ridicule heaped upon me, I'll be sneaky.

#275 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 08:18 AM:

He didn't call up a demon; he called up reality, which is harder to deal with.

It was an extremely brief job because, during the second day of a three-day seminar, afdter watching all the people who *really, really, REALLY needed to use the restroom, but were forbidden to do so by the organizers (if you left during a session you were not allowed back in, and your fee was not refunded).

That's interesting; this has been used as a form of interrogation under borderline torture. Keep giving the guy more coffee, whilst being all nice cop, then turn on the nasty cop act while he squirms.

It seems that a lot of people have strange baseline views about water intake; interestingly, this has gone from the sporting world. Racing cyclists (!) used to refuse water on the road because they thought it slowed them down; these days, it's practically a status symbol in any field of sport to hook down as much electrolyte as possible (it shows you're working hard). The military has gone the same way; once they used to demand water discipline, now they spend startling amounts of money out of their own pockets on Camelbaks.

I don't know what the origin of this killer meme is, but it does seem that it dies out among people who regularly exercise themselves thirsty, probably because of the banging your head on a wall principle (it feels so much better when you stop).

Also, I heard the phrase "spiritual warfare" in the context of Bush-era right-wing Christianism as well.

#276 ::: Chaos ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 08:27 AM:

KeithS @ 173: I don't think he fooled himself at all. I think he's into fooling other people in order to make piles of money, and he didn't give a wet slap about making sure the experience was safe.

I think that's where he started - but the tweets sound like he believed it, and not in the way he wanted to fake. He was immersed in the experience as much as his marks were, and words have power.

Whether or not that actually contributed to his disastrous set up of the situation is a different question, of course.

Alex @274: He didn't call up a demon; he called up reality, which is harder to deal with.

To me, the difference is basically meaningless in this context.

#277 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 08:42 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ #239:

This reminds me of something I've read: that believing pain = failure is a symptom of having been abused. It sounds plausible to me, but I don't have evidence or a system that it's from.

Any thoughts?

I didn't get it from a belief system, but--

I was in an abusive relationship for four years. One of the things I learned from it (she says with a bitter laugh) is that if I hurt, I'd Done Something Wrong. Tears at words were a sign that I Wasn't Accepting Something Important, physical discomfort was a sign that I Wasn't In The Right Mindset, and when he 'had' to hurt me, well, that was Just Punishment. Things even he couldn't twist around to be directly my fault--like a hip problem I was born with--couldn't possibly be so bad if I didn't HAVE to see a doctor about them, so it was my fault I was in pain for making such a big deal out of it.

Even when he'd defend me in an argument I was having with someone else, it was always with a side of "But she's a total bitch and so deserves your anger and abusive words."

Now, I had a touch of this before I'd ever met him--it's freefloating in the culture, especially for strange girls like I was--but that relationship is what made it sink in bone deep. Eight years after I got out I'm still fighting it off on a weekly basis, even though now I'm very aware of how much bullshit it is.

Friends of mine who suffered from abuse suffer similar effects.

And now I'm going to go shake in a corner. It's always more upsetting to talk about than I think it will be.

#278 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 08:48 AM:

Aaand html fail that I of course don't notice until half a second after I hit post. Argh, sorry.

#279 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 10:23 AM:

Sarah Vowell did an incredible piece way back in the day for what turned into "This American Life" (PRI - Public Radio International) on the Prayer Warriors of Colorado Springs.

This has been going on for decades now in the U.S. Reagan let them out from under the rocks, and the dubcheney regime was their time to parrrrrrrrrrrrrrrteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! They're not going home now, either.

Love, C.

#280 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 10:42 AM:

Renatus: my condolences for the ordeal you endured, and my congratulations on your escape.

#281 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 10:53 AM:

I think "woo" may have originated either on Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog, or on the associated forums.

It's a terribly useful term.

#282 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 10:58 AM:

Lila @ 160:

For me, trusting people is some combination of a low-level default understanding that most people aren't malicious; awareness of the social and legal structure that constrains some forms of self-centered and, yes, malicious behavior; experience with specific people and contexts; and sometimes an inexplicable feeling that I can trust someone beyond what I have justification for. I put a lot of little things on that first one: if someone on the subway asks to borrow a pen, sure, why not, I have plenty of cheap pens (and have always gotten them back). And I am wary about the last one: if it makes it emotionally easier to do something I have reason to think makes sense, great. But I realize that that reaction could lead me into trouble.

And I'm not sure any of that is practically applicable, except for the degrees of: that I trust someone not to randomly start screaming and attacking people on the street doesn't mean I'm going to lend them my life savings, or even let them sleep on my couch.

#283 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 11:03 AM:

re 241: Nancy, of course if you are opposed to corporal punishment at all, then you'll reject Dobson's advice. The problem is that "beating children into submission" sounds like "pounding on children until they cry for mercy", not "administer the occasional spanking". There's a world of difference between complaining that his advice invites abuse and saying that it advocates abuse, which is what the sentence I quoted says. Calling Dobson an advocate for corporal punishment, while still a bit slanted, at least sounds something like a factual statement rather than cant. And again, you're getting your story about the book from people who focus on the CP material and ignore the other 85-90% of the book. It's pretty much the equivalent of reading police training materials and representing them as advocating shooting people, or should I say, "brandishing guns at people to force them to respect the political establishment."

#284 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 11:19 AM:

Re: Dobson's book:

My parents read his book after having one child, and switched from "don't stifle the child's natural impulses!" to "any time the child doesn't immediately respond to commands, apply a spanking" pretty much overnight. It wasn't the kind of beating that left bruises, but it sure as hell left emotional scars on the sibling in question.

Anecdote != evidence. But I've seen pretty clearly that, yes, following Dobson's child-rearing advice like it's the word of God can cause some serious problems for a kid. I used to read his books when I was a kid, just out of curiosity, and these days they feel to me a lot like zero tolerance school policies: a way of abdicating responsibility while exercising authority. If you follow the procedures in the book, you're excused from having to actually think about effects and use your own judgment and adapting things for different personality types.

(Dobson did address different personality types among children, as I recall, but the only advice about handling them differently that I now remember was something along the lines of "Some kids, you're just going to have to punish a lot more often.")

#285 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 11:20 AM:

re 270: Maybe that was Satan's plan.

#286 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 11:21 AM:

#283
The problem is not so much what Dobson is advocating as that a lot of the people who buy that book, and follow it, are very much more into punishment, corporal or otherwise - spanking isn't one or two swats with the flat of the hand, it's a heavy belt used until the victim is genuinely hurting, and possibly bleeding.
The limits aren't being laid out clearly for them, or they don't seem to get the idea of limits to punishment. (You only win if the loser is totally humiliated and completely subject to your will: that kind of mindset.)

#287 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 11:37 AM:

#283 ::: C. Wingate:

I did look at the amazon reviews, which were mixed, as well as at the "worse of" web page. He advocates hitting children for defiance, presumably until they give in completely.

Now this could work out reasonably well if the parents' demands are doable, and the child basically trusts the parents.

If the demands are impossible or too extreme, or if the child just isn't compliant with being hit, then Dobson's advice is going to lead to abuse.

I also don't much like his advice to use an object to hit with. Not only does this result in less feedback for the parent as to how hard they're hitting, but I can't imagine being stupid enough to physically trust my parents' hands just because they happen not to have a hitting object in them at the moment.

Also, that "worst of" page has rather a lot of insults about children. One of the underlying points seens to be that if the parent wants to discipline, the child is never in the right.

I'm not sure I see a huge difference between "invites abuse" and "advocates abuse", though there is a difference.

#288 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 11:45 AM:

With regard to whether those tweets indicate James Ray is practicing black magic: I think intent is relevant here. If he believes what he claims to, he was trying to use magic in ways that he should reasonably have thought might kill people. If he had, instead, pointed a gun at someone, told them to do X, Y, and Z or he would shoot, that would be criminal even if he knew the gun wasn't loaded. If he pointed what he thought was a loaded gun at people and fired, and the gun proved to be empty, I don't know whether that's legally attempted homicide, but ethically I think it is. Trying to use black magic is wrong even if there is no such thing as black magic.

In this case, it's more like someone who quietly dosed his guests' food with what he (perhaps falsely) believed to be a powerful drug, and then pressured them into other stressful activities. It's an attempt to further stress the people who were going through that expensive weekend he created. Yes, sneaking what he thought was a mind- or personality-altering substance into their drinks may make no material if the dealer cheated him and all they got was distilled water, but the attempt is still unethical. (In case it's not obvious, the unethical thing here is dosing people without their knowledge or consent.) And if it had been a real drug, a court is not going to look kindly on a defense based on either ignorance of the drug's effects, or a claim that he thought it was distilled water. Especially when there's years of evidence, from his own writings and past experience, both that he thought this stuff was real.

There's also evidence, from the 2005 case that Teresa pointed to in this post, that he knew or reasonably should have known that the "spiritual retreats" and sweat lodges as he was running them could be harmful.

#289 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 12:00 PM:

Fade, I'm not here to defend Dobson. One's degree of dissent from his advice is irrelevant to describing it with some faint taint of accuracy and objectivity. "Beating into submission" is dishonest political rhetoric.

#290 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 12:02 PM:

C. Wingate @102:
the point of Christian fasting (and maybe Yom Kippur and/or Ramadan) isn't altering your brain chemistry or what not; it's to remind you of your religion

Yes, precisely. Lent is about altering perceptions, but social rather than physical perceptions, and the fasts of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are not enough to put any real stress on the body [if they are, it's a valid reason not to do them]. The point of fasting, prayer, and alms-giving is to rearrange your life for a period around different priorities. Lent isn't intended as a mind-body hack, but as a mind-soul hack.

As a specific distinguishing point, I think most people would agree that the purpose of Lent relies on its religious assumptions: as the Apostle Paul said If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.

Some of the Native American traditions (and in other parts of the world) seem to have a different purpose -- they are intended to mess with your physical perceptions. This was motivated by the desire to allow specific spiritual perceptions, but transformative experiences (Abi) or mind-body hacks (TNH) can still make sense in a woo-free way. This does require a level of physical or emotional stress that is risky; thus the need for the process to be designed carefully around those risks.

#291 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 12:29 PM:

Adrian Smith @ 271: "Not every day you get a satisfying new uncountable noun like that."

Indeed not!

Chaos @ 276: "I think that's where he started - but the tweets sound like he believed it, and not in the way he wanted to fake. He was immersed in the experience as much as his marks were, and words have power."

I think that the "he believed it/he didn't believe" binary isn't a very useful way of looking at it--in order to run a scam like that, you have to be able to believe in it one-hundred-percent, pass-a-polygraph when you're looking the customer in the eye, and then not believe in it at all when you're drawing up the payment schedule or running with the money. It requires double-think, the ability to overlay both beliefs in your mind and flip back and forth like a smarmy Schrodinger's cat.

(I think it's worth differentiating between this kind of long-term scam, where ideally your mark walks away happy and proselytizes for you, and the short-term type where your mark realizes he's been conned--but only after you're in the next state over with a new name and a new scam. They require very different mindsets.)

Fade Manley @ 284: "I used to read his books when I was a kid, just out of curiosity, and these days they feel to me a lot like zero tolerance school policies: a way of abdicating responsibility while exercising authority. If you follow the procedures in the book, you're excused from having to actually think about effects and use your own judgment and adapting things for different personality types." [emphasis mine]

Strike "authority" and sub in "power," and you have the Milgram experiments all over again, with Dobson playing the part of the supervising researcher. It's a strange thing, but people are willing to impute a much greater degree of certainty into an external authority than they're willing to grant themselves. Not that strange, I guess--for all you know, they truly are certain, whereas your own doubts are unavoidable. (That's a major branch of woo right there: putting your faith in something outside yourself in order to imbue its claims with unquestionable authority.)

#292 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 12:47 PM:

C Wingate @288. Does he advise parents to hit their children until the children obey their commands without physical coercion?

Sounds very close to "beating into submission", once stripped of rhetoric & justifications.

#293 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 01:31 PM:

C. Wingate, I didn't think you were defending him, nor am I really trying to get into a discussion about the validity (or lack thereof) of his parenting methods. I was trying to provide a data point for the angle of "He is not actively advocating extreme physical abuse, but what he advocates can have some of the same psychological effects as abuse." But I don't think I made that very clear in my post.

I think that the phrasing "beating into submission" is emotionally loaded, and not what Dobson is explicitly recommending, and a plausible outcome of people following his advice. (Whether it's a common outcome, I don't have evidence to speak to.)

In retrospect, stepping into the middle of a disagreement to say "I think both sides are absolutely correct" was probably not a useful move on my part, especially when I expressed it without any great clarity.

#294 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 01:55 PM:

This is too small a site for LumiCon, but: http://www.vacationrentals.com/vacation-rentals/13128.html

Because a theoretical LumiCon needs a kitchen.

#295 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 02:55 PM:

I belong to a group of Christian mothers who are attempting to raise their children (sometimes with the help of their husbands, sometimes not) in considered opposition to the teachings of Dobson, Ezzo, the Pearls, et al. They point out that Dobson assumes that the relationship between child and parent is, at its foundations, adversarial; that is, it's always about power and that is the fault of the child. Whether or not a parent applies physical pain, approaching childrearing from this mindset is bound to do damage. If you think that your child is always trying to control you, rebel against you, and so forth, you're not likely to look at a screaming toddler with compassion or consider, "Well, that settles it--he's definitely getting sick," or, "I'm the one with the bigger brain, he just can't grok the word "no" right now, so let's go home and let him get his big feelings out (although the answer is still "no!") and we'll take him out in public again tomorrow," or "I shouldn't have bought her that cookie because now she's crashing from a sugar high, so let's go for a drive until she calms down and I can finish my errands after that." Punishment has nothing to do with these situations and may make them worse. But punishment is the default tool in Dobson's kit because every situation is a power struggle.

Dobson also wrote The Strong-Willed Child, which recommends breaking the will of children who do not immediately obey--for their own good, of course.

#296 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 03:29 PM:

Shweta @266: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, which are pretty close to where I see things myself. "Listening respectfully" is, I think, always a good idea, even if you end up disagreeing with what's being said.

I'd say the line is where one's convenience/desire causes other people harm. And that's easier to say than to figure out, sure, and people don't necessarily agree.

Well, there you go. No one wants to be That Asshole who says "Oh, come on. This isn't really hurting you." But I'm not sure it's reasonable to say that a party who claims injury is always right, either. ISTM that there's a difference between being actually hurt and just being annoyed*, but I sure don't want to be the one making that call.

Pondering on this a little more, I wonder if a better yardstick is pretention to authenticity, because it seems like the most harm is done by appropriating something and passing it off as the genuine article.** If I make a curry, I'm not going to try and convince anyone that it's Real Authentick Indian Cuisine*** (though I might call it something like Practically Chicken Korma in the spirit of creating some kind of ballpark expectation). That seems a pretty good distance away from doing a half-assed imitation of some other tradition, pretending it's the real thing, and trying to make money from it.

And on that note, having thought about it some more, I think my good-book-bad-movie parallel breaks down at the point of looking at who profits by it. A bad adaptation is likely to create at least some market for the original work, assuming the filmmakers are reasonably upfront about their source material. So if you're that author, it might be annoying to have the schlock identified with you, but you might at least get some sales out of it. But exoticized misrepresentations of appropriated cultural stuff seem to mostly create a market for more of the same, which results in NinjaMania (on the relatively benign end) and You Too Can Be A Mystical Shaman seminars (on the other).

I've also been thinking more about the parallels between cultural appropriation issues and fanfic, both of which seem to cause arguments along similar faultlines, and which seem to me to spring from a similar impulse: "Wow, there's some Cool Shit that would be fun to play with." And I think that the appropriate "marketplace" for both, in the vast majority of cases, is a gift economy; it's probably okay to share these things, but it's probably not okay to sell them. I recalled after writing my previous comment that I have in fact been to an event where middle-class white people participated in a "sweat" (organized in part by both actual Indians and Caucasians who had spent a significant amount of time immersed in Native - in this case, Lenap'e - culture); one of the reasons I have a hard time seeing it as objectionable is that no one paid five figures for the privilege.

___

*There's a set of objections to appropriated stuff that read a whole lot like accusations of BadWrongFun as much as anything else, with the harm, if I understand it right, being mostly having to know that there's someone out there Doin It Rong. But Doin It Rong is, I think, an inevitable byproduct of transmission, and also the means by which we get wonderful things like rock music and Voudun.

**Though I also think fetishizing "authenticity" leads to some strange places, not all of which are good or healthy themselves.

***But, if I were ever foolish or unlucky enough to be serving it to someone who'd grown up on the real deal, I'd at least hope for a certain level of courtesy on their part the same as any other guest, in the same way that I don't get a pass to be rude about the lasagna at my very not-Italian in-laws' just because it's not like what Mom used to make.

#297 ::: truth is life ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 04:20 PM:

@James MacDonald Yes, we do have our own mystical traditions. But it's well-known how one goes about becoming a Catholic, and paying a thousand bucks to sit in a hotel ballroom for a weekend isn't part of it. It is also well-known that while saints can levitate, bilocate, heal the sick, remit sins, and do all kinds of other cool things, that their lives are also notable for poverty, self-denial, prayer, and service to others, and what fun is that?

I would like to offer the small elaboration that most branches of Christianity have their own forms of mysticism, ranging from the formal monasticism of the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox Churches to various activities undertaken by a number of Pentecostal groups.[1] Really, it's quite amazing how rapidly any religion, even ones with formal rules restricting common mystical practices[2], seems to grow it's own mystical branch.

[1]eg., as snake-handling.
[2]Such as Islam, with formal rules restricting diet restrictions or the like above and beyond what was prescribed in the Qu'ran.

#298 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 04:54 PM:

Vicki @288 -- there's a very real question of whether the people he was taking into the event were actually capable of informed consent. Most of these events have a great deal of secrecy about exactly what the attendee will encounter in them. They talk a great deal about the positive results that one will get, but not much about what's going on. One thing that's almost never mentioned in advance: the mixture of group-formation and isolation. It's seldom that an event like this allows the participants to talk freely when the event is in recess. And that's a mind-altering situation indeed. And I expect that people who run them knows this *works*, but don't think of it as being the equivalent of a drug.

I wonder how much of the scam in these things is a "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy, These people have done this thing and had good results; therefore if I do it I will have good results. Ignoring time, place, context and personality, of course. It's similar to thinking that drinking milk leads to smoking marijuana -- almost everyone who smokes marijuana started out drinking milk, after all.

#299 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 06:13 PM:

truth is life #298: most branches of Christianity have their own forms of mysticism, ranging from the formal monasticism of the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox Churches

I hope "formal monasticism" was a mistyping, because monasticism != mysticism, at least in my rather dog-eared book.

#300 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 06:17 PM:

Some monks are mystics, and some mystics are monks.

#301 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 06:24 PM:

James #301:

But they are not one-to-one, and onto, as the math people like to put it.

#302 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 06:26 PM:

Vicki #288 ::: I think you're being way too charitable here.

...practicing black magic: I think intent is relevant here.

I don't, because knowing what you're doing is a prerequisite of responsible use of magic. It's easy to drift into evil even in mundane life -- when magic (with it's self-manipulation) gets involved, it's even easier.

If he believes what he claims to, he was trying to use magic in ways that he should reasonably have thought might kill people.

Regardless of what he believed, he established leadership and gained the trust of sixty-odd people, and then, while they were in a condition of impaired consent, he put them into a physical situation which he damn well should have known was likely to kill some of them. Remember, he'd had multiple close calls before!

dosed his guests' food with what he (perhaps falsely) believed to be a powerful drug

Never mind "thought to be" -- fasting is a mind-altering practice. (Water deprivation is more so, with a significant chance of permanent damage to the brain -- along with other organs.) Other such practices (not a complete list) include sleep deprivation, breath control, rhythm/music, exhaustion, and many others. Many of these are often dismissed as just "trimmings", but all can be used to enter altered states of consciousness -- and/or to manipulate a group of followers.

------

Since there's already been some comparison of traditions, allow me to point you to Michael Harner's Way Of The Shaman. This dude started out as an anthropologist who learned shamanic techniques first-hand from a whole bunch of tribes, so there's your "traditional cred". But then he came back and founded what I consider a Western school of shamanism, based on common elements of several traditions, but stripping away most of the mythology and a lot of the more dangerous practices.

Using just drums (or tapes/CDs), his techniques allow for some pretty damn dramatic excursions into alternate states of consciousness -- basically, all you need is the book and either a CD player or a (minimally talented, but reliable) friend to play the drum.

It's also worth noting that as of when I was still following them (a few years ago, at least 15 years after tWotS was published), he and his foundation were not making grandiose claims about wealth, power, or such -- they pitch it strictly as a spiritual practice, and their "evangelism" was distinctly lackadaisical. (Also, his foundation directly supports many individual shamans and groups, in threatened traditions around the world.)

#303 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 06:35 PM:

Addendum to "all you need"... oh yeah, a pair of rattles too. (even if you're using the CD for the drums). Also, it's perfectly fair to hold off on buying CD and rattles until you've read the book and decided you actually do want to try it.

#304 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 06:40 PM:

David @303:

What I'm getting at is that the would-be black magic is an aggravating factor: if he'd had no previous bad experiences, and hadn't been trying to invoke "the warrior" in verbal ways, but had shut that many people up in that sort of small space, and overheated and dehydrated them, and two had died, it would still likely be criminally negligent homicide.

As it is (and no, I Am Not A Lawyer), it sounds more like depraved indifference to human life, which is a more serious matter. And the attempted magic, while not the main thing, is an aspect of that.

#305 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 07:41 PM:

Dan Layman-Kennedy @ 297: I don't really have much to add, but I really like the way you lay out the issues. Historically, "exploring other cultures" has been largely synonymous with "exploiting other cultures." Real intercultural learning, in a non-hierarchical, non-exploitative way, is an endeavor that we humans are still just barely starting to figure out. The scars left from earlier failed attempts are still pretty raw, and I think you've hit on some good guidelines on how to avoid irritating those wounds.

#306 ::: truth is life ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 08:06 PM:

I hope "formal monasticism" was a mistyping, because monasticism != mysticism, at least in my rather dog-eared book.
Oh no, I was not attempting to assert that monasticism and mysticism are isomorphic. I was merely giving an example of a practice designed to promote and facilitate mystic experiences, insofar as the Christian practice originated in early Christian mystics, and that monastic practices are often the same as mystical practices elsewhere.

#307 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 08:44 PM:

As to monasticism versus mysticism, certainly the Christian contemplative orders are much inclined to the latter. Indeed, I think it is largely their purpose.

There has been a dialogue going on for decades among some of the Catholic contemplative orders and monastic and/or mystic groups of other religions, particularly Buddhist but also including Islam. Thomas Merton could be considered exemplary, but he is certainly not the only one.

The saying "All mystics come from the same country and recognize one another" is attributed to St. Martin of Tours. I first heard it quoted by my Zen teacher, speaking approvingly of the German mystic Meister Eckhart. (In Googling to confirm the wording of the phrase, I find it quoted by Avram Davidson inter alia, in regard to Crowley. An interesting juxtaposition.)

#308 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 08:46 PM:

James D. Macdonald, #248, two of mine have been/are poisonous substances -- NSAIDS (Motrin, to be exact), and prednisone (the med that's fixing my brain from March's stroke). But my other was an autoimmune form of focal glomerulosclerosis. Ha! Medline says "Some patients will receive high doses of corticosteroids or a drug called cyclosporine". I was the first person to take cyclosporine for focal glomerulosclerosis -- I had to sign a lot of papers because they considered it experimental for that use.

#309 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 10:12 PM:

Vicki #305: Well, I'm certainly with you on that. This guy basically has no excuses to hide behind, neither on the rationalist nor the mystical sides of the story. IANAL either, but I doubt he'll fare well in court.

#310 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2009, 11:27 PM:

Upon reflection, and in regards to the concept that mysticism is somehow cooler if it comes from a different culture, I am surprised that no one has brought up The Way of Mrs. Cosmopolite.

#311 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 01:13 AM:

Just wanted, briefly, to add that I very much appreciate the work that Teresa has done here, & I hope it finds wide application.

#312 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 01:37 AM:

According to the AP, 49 year old Liz Neuman, who was hospitalized with damage to multiple organs, has died.

#313 ::: Shweta Narayan ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 03:02 AM:

@Dan 297 --

Agreed. A couple other thoughts:

No one wants to be That Asshole who says "Oh, come on. This isn't really hurting you."

But Dan, I see people doing this all the time. Especially on race issues. It's generally phrased as "You're overreacting" or "I don't like your tone", but that's what people (generally not of the target group) say quite often.

And I don't think it's assholishness; I think it's that when one hasn't faced a particular type of pressure, it's hard to see why other people would react to it. It's also that we're enculturated to believe that some people are inherently more rational than others, and most of us believe that unconsciously. It's wrong, but it's not necessarily malicious.

But I'm not sure it's reasonable to say that a party who claims injury is always right, either.

Agreed, and it's even possible for someone to claim injury in all honesty and for that injury to come more from previous injury than from the current situation -- but it's probably a good idea (and I say this for myself, too, rather than meaning to lecture) to pause and consider the possibility that someone who claims injury is right, and try to make sense of why that would be true.

I figure if we all do that, then it becomes a lot more possible to resolve individual situations as they arise.

ISTM that there's a difference between being actually hurt and just being annoyed*, but I sure don't want to be the one making that call.

Agreed, and me either.
Though, thinking about it (and thinking out loud here), I wonder whether "annoyed" and "hurt" aren't coming from very different places? Can someone who's vulnerable and hurtable *get* "annoyed" really? It seems like something that happens more when one has the high ground on some axis.

Which doesn't pattern exactly with the group one belongs to, of course. I just think the situations in which I get hurt, annoyed is not really an option. Does that make any sense?

#314 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 03:42 AM:

Samurai is more than just, "the other". They have been being used for ages as the apotheosis of the "warrior mind."

I recall (because I was very interested in Japan in my teens; I read Ruth Benedict, and then moved on from there) the sudden rise in Samurai stuff in the '80s (with the Japanese set to "take over the business world" and the attempts to apply "The Book of Five Rings" to everything

Add the misundertandings of Zen, and the present militarisation of the US, and all the rest. I was surprised it took him that long to bring them into the equation.

dave (ole bean, you don't mind the condescending moniker I've not actually earned the social right to use, do you? Din'nt think so chap, where was I, oh yes):

Get it. Probably not.

Then again, you came in with your own paradigm, and then applied to to all, and made a hash of it (see above, about the affected plummy tone you used; in itself an interesting tell of class, culture and nation; in that you seemed to be using an affected British tone [hard to do in text, but hey points for trying, or not). That you believe to have The Truth, and wish to shoehorn every other way of seeing the world into it, with dismissive comments about how it's fine and dandy to believe thing, until other people actually start to act like such beliefs mean something....

Well that's offensive. It's offensive even if you are right (which, when all you packed into that little sentence is dragged out of the box and into the light, you aren't, not really. Because how people perceieve the world isn't a problem until they start forcing people to kowtow to them).

Not, of course, that I think you are still around. I'm engaging in a point of rigidifying the local morés , which as abi points out, are not about you; but about how the people here treat each other, and how you failed to be a decent member of the community.

Which is one of those belief things, and one, even with a relatively brief history here (as you have) you ought to have picked up.

EClaire: Check out the meeting. They will be quite friendly, in a low key way, and very accepting.

Re "water discipline". The Army has been doing some pendulum shifts on it (not least because of Desert Storm, and then the over-watering [leading to deaths in 1998 at Ft. Sill from overhydration. I actually had minor overhydration issues in 1993]). The reason, however for the massive fondness for camelbacks is a two-fold tactical one.

First, they are easy to drink from. If you are disturbed in the middle of drink, you just spit out the nipple. Add the convenience of distributed weight and it's pretty nice.

But more importantly, when using a canteen one has two options. Carry it full, or carry it empty. Taking a couple of swallows out of one turns it from a leaden lump on the hip, to a sloshing pain. Not only does the balance shift, it makes a lot of noise.

That's why we spend the money on camelbacks.

#315 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 03:49 AM:

C. Wingate: I'm of a mixed mind on corporal punishment. I was spanked, and I seem to have not suffered from it. But I look at children reared, and animals trained, with positive reinforcement, and they are more biddable, and more responsive to correction.

Which is context; because I read that book. I also read it's companion, "The Strong Willed Child" and I was appalled. The passage with the dog pretty much summed it up. The dog, "talked back" and he beat the thing with a belt, in what he described as a pitched battle; an existential battle of wills.

""When I told Sigmund to leave his warm seat and go to bed, he flattened his ears and slowly turned his head toward me. He deliberately braced himself by placing one paw on the edge of the furry lid, then hunched his shoulders, raised his lips to reveal the molars on both sides, and uttered his most threatening growl. That was Siggie's way of saying. "Get lost!"

"I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me 'reason' with Mr. Freud."

"What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt. I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!"


If that's something he sees as appropriate to a dog, then what shall we do with a child, more rebellious, and who ought to know better. The implication is they need a stronger application of the rod, lest they be spoiled, which isn't just my take on it, it's Dobson's too:

"But this is not a book about the discipline of dogs; there is an important moral to my story that is highly relevant to the world of children. JUST AS SURELY AS A DOG WILL OCCASIONALLY CHALLENGE THE AUTHORITY OF HIS LEADERS, SO WILL A LITTLE CHILD -- ONLY MORE SO." (emphasis in original)

It may be a poor shorthand to sum the two books in the single title, but to say Dobson believes in beating children into submission does not seem to me to be, "dishonest political rhetoric., and when you try to say he doesn't argue for it, you are defending him, and doing it by painting those who have the gist of his position as either ignorant, or dishonest.

Then again, the shorthand was yours. Nancy said Republican Gommorrah had a lot about Dobson, and referred to his best known work. You said that reference was unfair, because the idea of beating children into submission, which he clearly makes part of his philosophy, isn't in bold type in that particular, book.

Which isn't exactly honest political rhetoric.

#316 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 04:59 AM:

Three

#317 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 04:59 AM:

What struck me when I read "The Book of Five Rings" was the way in which it differently expressed some pretty standard guidelines. It's about personal combat, but "every stroke must be a cutting stroke" covers a lot of the basic Principles of War.

Yes, there's the appeal of the exotic. And most of us get these things through a translator's interpretation and rephrasing. And what may be more important is that they come with a different cultural baggage. In the end, a successful US Army officer is drawing on the same principles, but he's US f???ing Army, dammit. And Miyamato Musashi isn't.

#318 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 07:25 AM:

A book that changed my view of spiritual metaphors that invoke and mayhem was "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning" by Christopher Hedges.

In the book, Mr. Hedges refers to Freud's theory that all people are comprised of two drives: Eros, the drive to create, and Thanatos, the drive to destroy.

What Hedges says is that at the beginning, the the path to love and the path to destruction feel the same. They are both wonderful forces that lift us up from our cares and give our lives meaning. The difference is that one enriches our lives, and the other ultimately claims them.

That's why we so often choose the path of destruction, because we don't know it for what it actually it. It feels like creation.

Anyway, the warrior and sacrifice talk reminds me of this.

Thanks for a great post!

#319 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 09:16 AM:

Terry, excerpts of Dobson @316 remind me of the mindset in this story, linked in The Nomination Thing @83,

Edward said, inter alia, "he thought [his sister & her husband] were at times "too easy" when they disciplined their children.

He also said that 'it wasn't just Christmas' when he wasn't invited over. It was also Thanksgiving in 2005, the year his and [his sister]'s father died.

"When someone does that, they hate you - they're out to destroy you," Wycoff said.
His response to this vicious attack was sheer self-defence: a night break-in, stabbing & beating the pair to death wih a knife & wheelbarrow handle. Then, of course, adopting the orphans so as to raise them right. I wonder if they'd've survived.

#320 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 11:14 AM:

Iain Coleman @ 281: I think "woo" may have originated either on Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog, or on the associated forums.

I've been hearing it since the Eighties at least (although it was more likely to be the full "woo-woo" back then).

#321 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 12:07 PM:

Terry@315: Then again, you came in with your own paradigm, and then applied to to all, and made a hash of it (see above, about the affected plummy tone you used; in itself an interesting tell of class, culture and nation; in that you seemed to be using an affected British tone [hard to do in text, but hey points for trying, or not).

Possibly reading "a tad" too much into "Epslootlay, Abi, ole bean." I liked the way he reckoned "Umpty thousand years of structural oppression based on people being forced to listen to their local woomeisters has rendered me intolerant." as though he'd personally had to sit through all of it.

But he still brought us "woo", even if it has been around since the umpties. "Woo-woo" isn't quite as good IMO.

#322 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 01:11 PM:

A third person has died from multiple organ failure.

#323 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 01:18 PM:

On the topic of sweating it all out, there is some evidence to suggest that Bronze age humans in the English South Downs and Midlans used some sort of sauna. The evidence is large amounts of damaged flint which had been heated then cooled, apparently by having water dropped on it.

The small scale reconstruction attempt by 1st year archaeology students involved ill fitting tarpaulins over a framework of flexible boughs and a clay lined pit into which the hot rocks were placed. And of course safety glasses in case bits of rock went flying due to rock fracture.
Mentioned here, page 12, for example:
http://www.le.ac.uk/lahs/downloads/Clayvolume73600dpism-2.pdf

#324 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 01:22 PM:

Last time I heard "woowoo" was a few years ago when MythBusters's Adam Savage gave his verdict on pyramid power.

#325 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 01:23 PM:

As somebody pointed out when that passage from The Strong-Willed Child was discussed in my mothers' group, the whole situation was Dobson's fault because he doesn't know what discipline is for dogs or anybody else. "I told him 'down off the chair' and he growled at me" is a sign of bad dog raising.

#326 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 01:27 PM:

Sometimes, when I tell Freya to get off the spot I want to use on the couch, she'll growl. It's not a lack of discipline. She's just a bit deranged.

#327 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 02:00 PM:

#316: I'll never be getting over the dog scene. Is there any clearer indicator of "you fail at authority" than getting menaced by one's own dachshound? Mind-controlled by a goldfish, maybe?

Buying into Dobson's ideas about creating and exerting hierarchical authority is like falling for a beggar's get-rich-quick scheme or taking a notorious jailbird's advice on "how not to get caught".

I know they say "those who can't, teach", but there should be some level of incompetence below which you can teach only by bad example.

#328 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 02:16 PM:

I just had a rather horrible thought: I wonder if Ray even knows the names of the people he killed?

#329 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 02:17 PM:

"What I thought on reading those tweets was that if James Ray honestly believed what he preached, if he truly believed that thoughts and words and intentions are magic, he would never have written those tweets and sent them out into the world."

Or, perhaps, he is death-obsessed. He speaks (or tweets) much of death.

It seems to me that a big part of the reason these "instant enlightenment" scams are so popular is because there are no legitimate outlets for spiritual hunger in our society. For this, I see two reasons: first, and simplest, from my viewpoint all religious forms are past their use-by dates, and out of touch with current reality. We await the new revelation. This I see as a global problem. The second is specific to Western culture: the dominant religion is hostile to mysticism. Consider the fate of St. John of the Cross. It is not a coincidence: the Nicene Creed contains, among other things, a rejection of mysticism, and Christianity often treats its mystics little better than Rome and Israel treated a certain famous itinerant preacher from Galilee. Contributing to the problem are unrealistic Christian attitudes towards the physical. Make no mistake about it: there are people for whom the hunger for the spiritual is as real as the hunger for human contact. And most Christian churches offer these people only a harsh monastic creed which barely admits the possibility of mysticism. The times are unsettled and there is much hunger of many sorts. It is not, therefore, surprising that many people are prey for the likes of Ray.

"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves."

#330 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 02:23 PM:

Inge #328: "those who can't, teach"

Pedantic mode on: That saying originally was about people who can't do their Thing for some other reason than incompetence -- like the football player who turns to coaching after his joints give out.

#331 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 02:37 PM:

Inge #328, cont'd: But yeah, that is total "fail at authority". My understanding has always been that it's the low-ranked types who tend to resort to violence -- the true dominants don't need it.

And for small dogs or small kids, simply picking them up and putting them in their time-out corner makes a much more useful impression than hitting them.

#332 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 02:43 PM:

Well, it began as a joke, but I think the idea of a worldwide gathering of Making Light commenters is a terrific idea, and I would show up if I can possibly manage it! OTOH I think the idea of selecting ME as the GOH is patently absurd. How about, you know, Teresa? Or Patrick? Or abi, Jim, or Avram? Even outside those people, I can think of others who would be better GOHs than me. Inside them...I would be too busy trying to get out to think.

I think the idea of a Unified Spiritual Field Theory Conference also has merit. If you all think I should be GOH I will humbly accept and work my ass off to deserve it. You won't have to bribe me with anything; I'll even pay my own way and all that. Gifts of chocolate will be gratefully accepted!

OK, now to get a little more serious. I have a lot of catching up to do, because of a film project.

C. 102: the point of Christian fasting (and maybe Yom Kippur and/or Ramadan) isn't altering your brain chemistry or what not; it's to remind you of your religion.

The point of the Ramadan fast, I have it on excellent authority, is to keep you mindful of the fact that there are poor people who don't have enough food or water at ANY time. This also encourages almsgiving, which is another of the Five Pillars of Islam. I told a Moslem friend this past Ramadan that in New Jersey (where we both live) reminding yourself of the plight of the poor might be better served by simply not bathing or sleeping indoors for a month. He agreed, but said he would keep the traditional fast, and consider the different plights poor people are in around the world.

Chris 229: Your motto, in Latin: Per dubium, contentiō; per contentionem, eruditiō. ... I think you deserve a good Latin motto. (Abi, feel free to amend as you see fit, my Latin is decidedly rusty.)

Thank you!! I have a question. Contentiō is clearly the source of our word 'contention'; does it carry the meaning of conflict between different parties that our word does? I realize 'striving' can mean that (cf. 'strife'), but what I meant was striving in the sense of "keep on trying (esp. to improve oneself), even when it's really hard."

Lee 232: "Avengelical" is certainly not original with me, and in fact I'm pretty sure I picked it up here, back in some of the discussions about the Religious Right in 2007/2008. It bears the same sort of relationship to "Evangelical" that "Christianist" does to "Christian" -- referring specifically to the hate-based subset of a larger group.

I'm definitely stealing that one. I've been uncomfortable for some time using 'Evangelicals' and 'Fundamentalists' to mean the hate-filled anti-reason "Christian" right. I know some Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who are none of those things, including on the political right. Now I have a word I can define once and use thereafter. Thanks!

Dan 260: I'm pretty confident that making curry doesn't make me much of an appropriator or a wannabe, but I'm less certain about wearing a kurta*, or worshipping a god with an elephant's head without adopting the rigors of living as a Hindu** otherwise.

Well, I worship Ganesha, as I've said, and none of the Hindus I've spoken about it thought it was in any way inappropriate for me to do so. I've never heard of a Hindu saying that the Hindu gods are only for Hindus, in fact. I suspect this is because "to a Hindu all things are Hindu," as a friend once put it, but also partly because Hinduism really isn't threatened with extinction. Hindus aren't being herded into reservations and forced into dire poverty that they can escape only by becoming Christian.

Rachel 262: If any one is interested, I could dig out my notes for more specifics.

I'm VERY interested! Spirituality and the brain (no, I'm not equating spirtuality with Pinkie) is a subject so fascinating that it makes me wish I'd studied neuroscience in school.

Shweta 266: Thank you. I can only quote Hindu friends; having the word of an actual Hindu on these matters is invaluable.

C. 283: Nancy, of course if you are opposed to corporal punishment at all, then you'll reject Dobson's advice.

Dobson advocates corporal punishment of babies for arching their backs. That's abusive by any non-insane definition. Dobson is a manifestation of evil in the world, and all righteous people will oppose him and all his works. Parents who follow his advice should be rewarded by having their children taken from them (or if they grow to adults, cut off all contact permanently), and by rotting in poverty and neglect in their old age.

But perhaps I'm hypersensitive on such issues. He's undeniably an advocate of abusive behavior.

Clifton 308: The saying "All mystics come from the same country and recognize one another" is attributed to St. Martin of Tours. I first heard it quoted by my Zen teacher, speaking approvingly of the German mystic Meister Eckhart.

I had an interesting experience a few years ago, when a Christian drummer came to do Christian drumming mysticism with some people from our congregation. He and I had completely different frameworks, except when we talked about where we go when we drum. Our experiences were identical—no, not even identical, because that implies they were separate things. They were the same experience, and we were going to the same places.

Terry 316: Damn that Dobson. I was going to say "Damn that Dobson is a piece of shit," but actually the shorter sentence expresses my feelings about him even better.

Jenny 326: As somebody pointed out when that passage from The Strong-Willed Child was discussed in my mothers' group, the whole situation was Dobson's fault because he doesn't know what discipline is for dogs or anybody else. "I told him 'down off the chair' and he growled at me" is a sign of bad dog raising.

Absolutely. Notice his dog isn't a big German Shepherd, or he wouldn't even try his abusive methods. I hope his dog rips his fucking throat out while he's asleep. The dog would be killed, of course, but I'd add its name to my list of Martyrs in Good Causes.

David 331: That saying originally was about people who can't do their Thing for some other reason than incompetence -- like the football player who turns to coaching after his joints give out.

I like that better, but I can't resist quoting an addendum my father gave me: "Those who can't teach, teach gym."

#333 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 02:45 PM:

David Harmon #331: that saying originally was about people who can't do their Thing for some other reason than incompetence

OK, I thought it was about how people who had to work hard and study all the nuts and bolts of a skill to become passably competent in it make better teachers than naturals.

Dobson, however, even if he had studied dog training for years, doesn't seem to have learned enough about it to understand that he's bad at it and why -- which is the minimum requirement for teaching from lack of talent.

#334 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 02:46 PM:

Feh. I wrote a nice long comment, addressing a bunch of other people's comments, and linking to the other comments because I'm so far behind.

I forgot that putting in a lot of links gets your comment held for moderation. Dræt.

#335 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 02:57 PM:

The Raven@330: It is not a coincidence: the Nicene Creed contains, among other things, a rejection of mysticism

Say what?

I just now went and looked up the Nicene Creed (in order to make certain I was remembering all of its bits correctly), and I'm entirely unclear about which of its many and various clauses could be construed in that manner.

(If you're talking about qui locutus est per Prophetas -- "who has spoken through the prophets" -- which is the only thing I can think of that comes even remotely close, that's still stretching the meaning past the point where the rubber band goes snap.)

#336 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 03:15 PM:

The raven #330 - perhaps you can define mysticism more clearly for us? I can thinks of a couple of slightly different responses to what you wrote, depending on what we do or do not agree is mysticism.

#337 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 03:39 PM:

Pendrift #323: A third person has died from multiple organ failure.

I mentioned that up-thread @317, but I suppose people usually just skip over one-word link posts.

#338 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 03:39 PM:

Debra Doyle, #335: the Nicene Creed contains no requirement for study or discipline or anything other than baptism. There is no requirement that adherents make an effort to know the spiritual, no requirement of practice. In every other religion I am aware of, core dogma makes greater demands. As this worked out historically, any mystical interest was treated as suspect--indeed that too much interest in any kind of knowledge was suspect. Hence the destruction of the libraries of Hellenic paganism.

#339 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 03:47 PM:

The Raven, 330: And most Christian churches offer these people only a harsh monastic creed which barely admits the possibility of mysticism.

I go to church every Sunday, mas or menos -- the above sentence does not describe my church at all. Neither my bishop nor my pastor have any objection to mysticism per se, though they would rightfully be wary of any particular instance of it. (I'm fairly certain that Warrior Spirit retreats would not find much support in the diocese of Oakland.)

I'm not sure what "a harsh monastic creed" is. The Rule of Benedict, one of the principal Christian monastic rules, is remarkably gentle given the restrictions and assumptions of its time. The Nicene Creed, which we say every Sunday, is not "monastic," nor is it "harsh." It says, I profess this.

Could you explain, please?

#340 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 04:07 PM:

#239 I have had two painful experiences with people who rocketed out of Landmark having disconnected from all common sense, and promptly ruined their lives; I have also reconnected with two good friends whose natural common sense was validated and encouraged by Landmark into new careers and joyful living. Go figure.

Another handy illustration of Momma's Wisdom, "It takes all kinds."

#296 Dobson also wrote The Strong-Willed Child, which recommends breaking the will of children

In Albion's Seed, David Hackett Fischer writes about different colonial groups' typical attitudes toward child-rearing. "Breaking the will of the child" was one way, bending it was another, and I have forgotten the others, but I remember it as a fascinating view of where and how different threads in American culture were spun. The Dobsons we will always, apparently, have with us.

#341 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 04:15 PM:

Doug 341: The Dobsons we will always, apparently, have with us.

You have spoken words of ill omen. Spit for luck.

#342 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 04:17 PM:

Lay Christians and mysticism:

My acquaintance with Christian mysticism is almost entirely Catholic. From what I have seen, there are plenty of avenues into the mystical for even lay Carholics (though several of my friends who started down that road as lay Catholics later "turned pro.")

There is a substantial population of Roman Catholics who find the rosary and its attendant meditations (the Mysteries) a gateway to substantial mystical experience. Don't sell those little old ladies muttering over their beads short because they don't look like televangelists.

Others are fans of the Jesus prayer, which (in my personal experience) can lead to the same mental states as I have read about from other repetitve prayer traditions.

Lay people (and vowed religious from other orders) who get really interested in this stuff can join the more contemplative orders; I know several Third Order Carmelites. This gives budding contemplatives access to established traditions and experienced spiritual direction.

I know less about the options available for vowed religious members of the church, and nearly nothing about Protestant and Orthodox practice, but there is certainly a deep, wide and publicly available tradition of mysticism down at Saint Whosiewhat's Catholic Church in your neighborhood. It won't necessarily be the exotic flavor of woo you want, but on the other hand, it's free and won't kill you.

#343 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 04:26 PM:

Lizzy L, #340, you have found a place for yourself; I am happy for you. I know many people who have found places in Christianity. None of this is directed at you or the church you attend. Yet I know many more people who were shut out, anathemized, abused. You and your church are members of a minority. Look at Catholicism throughout the third world. In Mexico, people still make pilgrimages on their knees. Examples multiply, and I can cite horrific ones from the present day, and many more from history, but enough. I would never send someone who was looking for a mystical practice to Christianity unless that was the only path they would accept--there are too many traps, and a majority of Christians regard mysticism as, at best, an aberration and at worst evil.

It is perhaps useful to regard the place of mysticism in Christianity as similar to the place of music in Islam. The more stringent sorts of Islam outlaw music and nowhere is it more than tolerated. Yet Muslims still make music, and the muzzein's call itself is a kind of music. So with mysticism in Christianity. It is not loved by the Church's authorities. Yet there are still Christian mystics, and despite all secularization there is a kind of magic in the rituals.

#344 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 04:30 PM:

Abi, #343: see my remarks on music in Islam and mysticism in Christianity in #344. No religion can completely reject the central experiences that lead to the creation of religions. But it can push them to the side, and this is common in Christianity. And, yes, I believe it does a huge amount of harm.

#345 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 04:35 PM:

Quoth the Raven:
It is not loved by the Church's authorities.

And yet, John Paul II was himself a Third Order Carmelite.

#346 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 04:36 PM:

The Raven@339: the Nicene Creed contains no requirement for study or discipline or anything other than baptism.

You appear to be misunderstanding the purpose of the Nicene Creed completely. It is not meant to be the directions for a course of study in becoming a Christian -- there already exists, believe it or not as you will, a separate program for that. It's meant to be a summary of the core points of mainstream (at the time it was written, and to a large extent still today) Christian doctrine.

#347 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 04:44 PM:

The Raven @344:

I am not a Christian and never have been, but listing specific Catholic, or other Christian, practices that you find problematic doesn't show that Christianity is anti-mystical. For that, at least, I would want specific actions or rules that were opposed to mysticism, preferably large-scale or from higher-ups. (Like it or not, mortification of the flesh does produce mystical experiences in some practitioners; whether those pilgrimages you mention are worthwhile for the pilgrims, I have no way of knowing.)

In fact, without more specifics, this reads rather like dismissing a theorem by claiming that the mathematician who proved it is a drunkard. Even if that were true, it's irrelevant: you're changing the question from "does the Catholic church reject mysticism?" to "have Catholic authorities done bad things?"

#348 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 05:01 PM:

#330 ::: The Raven"

It seems to me that a big part of the reason these "instant enlightenment" scams are so popular is because there are no legitimate outlets for spiritual hunger in our society.

It seems to me that there's any quantity of outlets for spiritual hunger-- but there are no high quality mainstream, more-or-less vetted outlets.

If your judgment isn't good enough to start out with recognizing what's worthwhile, you're screwed unless you're very lucky.

#349 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 05:12 PM:

xopher @ 333... I think the idea of selecting ME as the GOH is patently absurd

You could be the emcee.

#350 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 05:19 PM:

By way of one of Duff's commenters, I found this somewhat fisked transcript of a phone call from James Ray and his staff to his sweat lodge participants.

It doesn't look good. The money quote:

Barb is one of James Ray’s staff members and she goes on to talk “of the two that had passed and they left their bodies during the ceremony and had so much fun they chose not to come back and that was their choice that they made.”

So much for a leader's responsibility....

#351 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 05:26 PM:

PS: The follow-up article is also worth reading.

#352 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 05:42 PM:

The Raven, 330: there are no legitimate outlets for spiritual hunger in our society.

...that The Raven approves of, and anybody who is happy with his/her religion is wrong wrong wrong.

Raven, my spiritual home is legitimate. So is Lizzy L's. And Xopher's. I wish you'd find some way to condemn the crazies without being rude to the sane.

#353 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 06:06 PM:

Nancy Leibowitz, #349: thank you, yes, that was my point. "If your judgment isn't good enough to start out with recognizing what's worthwhile, you're screwed unless you're very lucky." And even most of the lucky ones spend years involved in practices they end up rejecting. The unlucky ones, well, that's what started this thread.

Debra Doyle, #347: and none of those central points involve spiritual practices, and only limited knowledge is required. There are huge omissions and, as you know, they were implemented in the actual conduct of the religion.

Vicki, #348: I cited the treatment of St. John of the Cross. Add his contemporary Teresa of Avila. They won their way only with the greatest of struggles. Examples multiply. Eckhart von Hochheim, a more controversial figure, was tried for heresy. Margarete Porete was burned at the stake.

Christianity usually honors its mystics only after they are safely dead.

Abi, #346: The Third Carmelites are a lay order, and I can't find any reference to them that in JP II's short official biography, so that's probably not so.

#354 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 06:19 PM:

C. Wingate, re corporal punishment: I am by no means dead-set against corporal punishment as a tool; there are times (particularly WRT very young children and safety issues) when it's invaluable. Where I take issue with Dobson is on two points:

1) He advocates beating children with objects, and pretends that this is the same thing as spanking.

2) His response to the real-life observation that hitting your child isn't working is not, "Then try a different approach," it's, "Then hit your child harder until it does work." (And exactly how does that differ from "beat your child into submission"?)

There is NOTHING you can say which will convince me that this is not going over the line into advocating child abuse. Moreover, Dobson's approach is flat-out guaranteed to turn every single disagreement between parent and child into a power struggle, and you won't convince me that this is a healthy relationship paradigm either.

#355 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 06:21 PM:

Vicki @ 348: "you're changing the question from "does the Catholic church reject mysticism?" to "have Catholic authorities done bad things?" "

Yes, I had the same feel. It's hard to imagine what the point of pilgrimaging on your knees is, if mysticism is out.

I think there's juice in the argument that modern American culture has a troubled, distant relationship with mysticism, and that one of the consequences of a very non-religious popular culture is to leave people without a convenient outlet for their spiritual impulses, but I think that has a lot more to do with the way American society developed (within the larger development of the Enlightenment), not something inherent to Christianity.

#356 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 06:24 PM:

TexAnne, #353: I'm sorry. It was not my intent to criticize your choices. (Please also ready my reply to Lizzy L at #344.) I am glad you have found a place for yourself. Yet your statement that Xopher's spirituality is legitimate would be rejected by the authorities of many Christian churches, probably most Christian churches. I'm glad there are liberal Christian churches. I'm glad that many US Christians are tolerant. But one can hardly talk about legitimacy when so many churches reject mysticism. At most one can say that mysticism is controversial, and sometimes accepted by some churches. There is nothing in Western Christianity like the small but secure place mysticism has in Judaism, let alone the centrality of mysticism in Buddhism.

BTW, I see I need to qualify this as applicable only to Western Christianity and its daughter churches; "Eastern" Christianity has a strong mystical streak.

#357 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 06:34 PM:

The Raven @ 357: "There is nothing in Western Christianity like the small but secure place mysticism has in Judaism, let alone the centrality of mysticism in Buddhism."

Can you please explain what you mean by mysticism? Wikipedia yields "Mysticism is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight." And that seems to me to include a vast swathe of typical Christian practice. Are you sure you don't mean "esotericism?"

#358 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 06:49 PM:

James Macdonald (2): "I don't believe that anyone is so smart that the right conman with the right pitch at the right time can't take him."

I have nothing but sympathy for the victims of this scam, and others like it. There but for the grace of, etc.

We got taken for a couple of thousand dollars by people we hired to do work around the house a few years ago.

I expect we'll get ripped off again sometime. Because, you know, in the end you have to trust people sometime, and sometimes when you do you get burned.

anon (#42): My brother went to a Landmark Forum, he seemed to think he'd gotten a lot out of it. I don't know what he thinks about it now, but it doesn't seem to have done him any lasting harm.

dave (#64): "Now, I appreciate that this kind of brute-force approach to reality might be seen as insensitive, but alas, I don't care."

Actually, I think you do care. You want abi, and others, to be offended by your statement, because you're looking for an argument.

"Any life-enhancing effects that they may feel are produced by their woo are attributable to the fact that it makes them feel good to do what they feel like."

Seems to me that force, in and of itself, is pretty powerful, and not to be dismissed offhand by Skeptics with a capital S.

I've been reading and thinking about spiritualism and religion a lot in the past few weeks, probably more than I have done in my previous life. The sum total of my thinking on the subject is contained in the preceding two paragraphs.

dave (#71): Now I see the subject has changed from a tragedy in Arizona to you, which is I suspect what you wanted all along. Because it's intolerable to you that you should not be the center of attention.

And now I see dave has been banned. Drat. Just when the flamewar was getting to be fun.

Albatross (#103): "As an adult, a lot of what you do to improve yourself or your life involves ignoring some levels of unpleasantness or discomfort or even pain. For example, eating less food to lose weight is unpleasant--it involves ignoring fairly urgent signals from your body, signals that evolved to keep you alive but now are encouraging you to kill yourself by overeating."

Actually, you're wrong--I speak from experience on this, having lost 27 pounds since March by counting calories. I still have 65 pounds or so to go. And good grief, how did I ever allow myself to get this fat?

If you're losing weight the healthy way, you shouldn't be hungry. You should get enough food to keep you going through the day.

You will on the other hand, have to stifle your compulsion to eat when not hungry. Part of the work of losing weight is learning the difference between the compulsion to eat, and actual hunger. And that's unpleasant, but rewarding (so I guess you're right after all).

#359 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 06:50 PM:

James Macdonald (2): "I don't believe that anyone is so smart that the right conman with the right pitch at the right time can't take him."

I have nothing but sympathy for the victims of this scam, and others like it. There but for the grace of, etc.

We got taken for a couple of thousand dollars by people we hired to do work around the house a few years ago.

I expect we'll get ripped off again sometime. Because, you know, in the end you have to trust people sometime, and sometimes when you do you get burned.

anon (#42): My brother went to a Landmark Forum, he seemed to think he'd gotten a lot out of it. I don't know what he thinks about it now, but it doesn't seem to have done him any lasting harm.

dave (#64): "Now, I appreciate that this kind of brute-force approach to reality might be seen as insensitive, but alas, I don't care."

Actually, I think you do care. You want abi, and others, to be offended by your statement, because you're looking for an argument.

"Any life-enhancing effects that they may feel are produced by their woo are attributable to the fact that it makes them feel good to do what they feel like."

Seems to me that force, in and of itself, is pretty powerful, and not to be dismissed offhand by Skeptics with a capital S.

I've been reading and thinking about spiritualism and religion a lot in the past few weeks, probably more than I have done in my previous life. The sum total of my thinking on the subject is contained in the preceding two paragraphs.

dave (#71): Now I see the subject has changed from a tragedy in Arizona to you, which is I suspect what you wanted all along. Because it's intolerable to you that you should not be the center of attention.

And now I see dave has been banned. Drat. Just when the flamewar was getting to be fun.

Albatross (#103): "As an adult, a lot of what you do to improve yourself or your life involves ignoring some levels of unpleasantness or discomfort or even pain. For example, eating less food to lose weight is unpleasant--it involves ignoring fairly urgent signals from your body, signals that evolved to keep you alive but now are encouraging you to kill yourself by overeating."

Actually, you're wrong--I speak from experience on this, having lost 27 pounds since March by counting calories. I still have 65 pounds or so to go. And good grief, how did I ever allow myself to get this fat?

If you're losing weight the healthy way, you shouldn't be hungry. You should get enough food to keep you going through the day.

You will on the other hand, have to stifle your compulsion to eat when not hungry. Part of the work of losing weight is learning the difference between the compulsion to eat, and actual hunger. And that's unpleasant, but rewarding (so I guess you're right after all).

#360 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 06:54 PM:

Raven, I have to say that I parse your words as meaning, "You may be happy, but I'm the one who's right." I'd like to second heresiarch's request for the definition you're using; I suspect that clarifying our terms will help a lot.

#361 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 06:58 PM:

The Raven@354: and none of those central points involve spiritual practices, and only limited knowledge is required. There are huge omissions and, as you know, they were implemented in the actual conduct of the religion.

Once again, you are confusing doctrine (which the Creed encapsulates, in handy "is this orthodox Christianity yes/no?" form) with practice, which does -- and historically has -- required a good deal of education and preparation.

#362 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 07:03 PM:

Lee: I am by no means dead-set against corporal punishment as a tool; there are times (particularly WRT very young children and safety issues) when it's invaluable.

When a kid's too young to understand that "everyone's unhappy because of something I did, this is bad" (much less an explanation why something is dangerous and should not be done), I'm not sure how hurting the kid will help. Instant karma is one thing (I never pulled the dog's tail again after he bit me), but "you nearly did a thing that might have hurt you so I'm going to hurt you now" to an infant or toddler? Isn't that a little too complex?

#363 ::: Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 07:04 PM:

Xopher @333 (halfway to hell!)

Regarding the physiological effects of spiritual practices, the lecture I attended as part of a conference was titled How God Changes Your Brain, presented by Andrew Newberg, MD (www.andrewnewberg.com).

The parietal lobes help with orientation and differentiating between oneself and the rest of world. (I think these are the parts that are being developed when an infant stuffs its foot in its mouth and suddenly realizes, "Hey! That's part of me!")

Our frontal lobes involve our will (conscious decision making, etc.)

Certain types of meditation, like praying, affected the activity of parietal lobes, leading to a feeling having boundaries between entities/objects relaxed (being One With The Universe.)

Other spiritual activities which involve "surrendering oneself to God" or viewing oneself as a vessel for a higher power impacted the frontal lobes.

For more description and nifty pictures, check out http://andrewnewberg.com/research.asp

There was also a study that provided evidence that spiritual practices performed over an extended period of time can change the baseline state of a resting brain. For example, use of the hypothalamus shifted in a group of subjects with memory problems who practiced Kirtan Kriya over an 8 week period, with before and after tests showing correlating increase in verbal fluency (and something else I didn't take enough notes to remember.)

You might want to take a look at The Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the U of Pennsylvania to see what other aspects of neuroscience are being studied there.

#364 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 07:05 PM:

In interests of clarity, by "esotericism" I mean the religious idea that mystic experiences (per the Wikipedia definition) are only accessible via secret methods, rather than being available to anyone who wants it. In other words, esotericism holds that there are secrets, and you do need to learn them. Some examples from within Japanese Buddhism: Pure Land traditions hold that salvation can be achieved by nothing more than chanting the Amitābha Buddha's name ten times--that would be an exoteric sect. An esoteric sect like the Tendai tradition, in contrast, holds that there are particular actions and rituals which must (should) be learned and performed in order to achieve enlightenment. (In practice of course, these distinction aren't nearly as clear-cut.)

#365 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 07:05 PM:

Heresiarch #358 - indeed, I was thinking that the kind of happy clappy baptist church* my sister and husband etc attend would surely meet the definition of having some mysticism involved. Middle of the way Church of Scotland doesn't have so much mysticism involved, by deliberate choice, but I have come across mention of plenty of Christian denominations which would fit the description of Mystical.

*Simplified because I really don't know exactly where they stand on stuff.

#366 ::: Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 07:13 PM:

Inge @363

When a kid's too young to understand that "everyone's unhappy because of something I did, this is bad" (much less an explanation why something is dangerous and should not be done), I'm not sure how hurting the kid will help. Instant karma is one thing (I never pulled the dog's tail again after he bit me), but "you nearly did a thing that might have hurt you so I'm going to hurt you now" to an infant or toddler? Isn't that a little too complex?

I am a firm believer in discipline, not punishment. Consequences, both positive and negative, of a child's actions should be clearly and lovingly explained and implemented. I do NOT believe in corporal punishment.

At the same time, when my little one was two and ran into the road (after being told many times not to do so), I had no problem swatting his butt and saying NO!! loudly enough to startle tears into his eyes. After I had his attention, I gave him hugs and reassured him I still loved him, but the shout and swat (especially because they were so seldom used) got the point across that this was serious.

#367 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 07:40 PM:

Lee #355: Moreover, Dobson's approach is flat-out guaranteed to turn every single disagreement between parent and child into a power struggle, and you won't convince me that this is a healthy relationship paradigm either.

Not to mention what happens when/if your kid gets big enough to fight back!

Mitch Wagner #359: Yeah -- I've fended off a lot of cult and scam attempts, but I've also been caught by a couple, and they totally fit into the "right scam at the right time" pattern. However, I will note that there's a difference between getting hooked by a "professional manipulator", and just getting ripped off on a straight commercial transaction.

Also: the experience of ritual is itself ecstatic (when I was in Wicca, we talked about "magic junkies"). So is the experience of finding or joining a community (see also "honeymoon syndrome"). A properly prepared leader can easily arrange both, and someone who isn't "well-traveled" in these respects (or indeed, some who are) can easily think "oh, this group is so special, I feel like I belong, and the rituals move me so deeply..." etc.

This is part of why you see some people hopping from one "life-changing" workshop, gathering, or seminar to the next -- they haven't realized that it's not that specific group/tradition/teacher who makes them feel so good, it's an (unsettlingly) general phenomenon.

#368 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 07:42 PM:

Heresiarch, #358: "Mysticism is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight."

I would go along with that, generally. I'd caution, though, that uncritical belief is not mystical knowledge, though it has been promulgated as such by religious groups.

Vicki, Heresiarch, pilgrimages on one's knees were chosen as an example of a harsh mystical practice. Christianity is replete with them. I suppose this is partly because many people trust pain more than joy. Still, it is perhaps not so large of a step from that practice to the disaster in Arizona.

TexAnne, #361: I'm sorry. What I'm trying to convey is that your personal experience is not universal. It is not my intention to invalidate your experience at all. As someone whose beliefs are shared by very few people, I'm rather envious of you.

Heresiarch, "esotericism." In between the "secret knowledge" beliefs and the "baptized = saved" belief, there is, I hope, the moderate idea that applying openly available knowledge takes some effort, and that the effort is worthwhile and worthy of respect.

#369 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 07:49 PM:

Minor point: my name is Lebovitz. If you don't look at the spelling carefully, the odds are high of getting it wrong.


****

So far as the availability of spiritual sustenance goes, I think it's there in the mainstream religions, but the locations aren't clearly marked.

My take on the problem is influenced by Idris Shah, who made the point that when you start on a spiritual quest, you don't necessarily know what you're doing. It's amusing (this is me speaking, not Shah) that people are so sure about something they don't have experience with.

****

As for Ray, it's intriguing that he may have gotten entangled in malevolent magic without intending to. At the moment, I'm more inclined to think he had a mean streak (got a kick out of not letting people have what they wanted), and he got away with a little more and a little more until he overreached and killed people.

After all, there are a lot of sociopaths and sadists running cults and scams, and very few of them kill people. Maybe the interesting question is what make Ray take the brakes off as much as he did.

#370 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 07:52 PM:

Debra Doyle writes on the Nicene Creed:

"It's meant to be a summary of the core points of mainstream (at the time it was written, and to a large extent still today) Christian doctrine."

More precisely, it's meant to be a summary of the *distinguishing* points of orthodox Christian doctrine; that is, the main ways it's different from other teachings. So there isn't anything in it, for instance, about the two great commandments to love God and to love neighbor. Those are important, and core to Christianity, but they're not *distinguishing* characteristics; other religions and traditions teach them too.

Likewise, there wasn't any mention of baptism at all in the original creed adopted at Nicea, even though it was practiced from the start (see e.g. the Gospel accounts of John the Baptist). The "*one* baptism..." phrase was added by a later council, to distinguish the belief of the orthodox church, which held that baptism was a one-time "rebirth", from the Donatists and others who taught that re-baptism was necessary to forgive sins after the first baptism.

So, basically, you can't assume that because something is not mentioned in the Nicene Creed, that Christians consider it unimportant, much less that they're opposed to it.

#371 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 07:59 PM:

Earl @338 It's a big thread with a lot in it. Easy to miss things, like Lizzy L's message @313

#372 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 08:05 PM:

inge, #363: Rachel answered this better than I would have, at #367.

By the time a child is old enough to be in school, the stage at which corporal punishment is useful at all is largely past.

David, #368: IOW, what they're really hooked on is NRE.

#373 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 08:16 PM:

The Raven @ 369: "Vicki, Heresiarch, pilgrimages on one's knees were chosen as an example of a harsh mystical practice. Christianity is replete with them." [emphasis mine]

I can't reconcile that with "And most Christian churches offer these people only a harsh monastic creed which barely admits the possibility of mysticism." Either Christianity is all but devoid of mysticism, or it is rife with harsh mysticism, but I don't see how it can be both.

(I think it would be fair to say that Protestant Christianity is, in the broad sweep, quite hostile to esoteric traditions of any sort, and that this hostility has interbred with American anti-intellectualism in a noxious way. Therefore European-Americans who are attracted to esoteric mysticism are left with a very impoverished selection within their own culture, and consequently latch on to 'exotic' esoteric mystic traditions with an unseemly fervor. Widening the lack of esoteric mysticism beyond the confines of American Protestant culture is a much more problematic endeavor, however.)

"In between the "secret knowledge" beliefs and the "baptized = saved" belief, there is, I hope, the moderate idea that applying openly available knowledge takes some effort, and that the effort is worthwhile and worthy of respect."

Of course--I was simply defining both ends of the spectrum.

#374 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 08:43 PM:

Lee #303: IOW, what they're really hooked on is NRE

Um, could you unpack that acronym? Maybe it's just the late hour, but I can't figure out what it would stand for.

#375 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 09:00 PM:

Specifically, "NRE", I got "IOW" as "in other words".

#376 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 09:03 PM:

Xopher, 333: Contentiō is clearly the source of our word 'contention'; does it carry the meaning of conflict between different parties that our word does? I realize 'striving' can mean that (cf. 'strife'), but what I meant was striving in the sense of "keep on trying (esp. to improve oneself), even when it's really hard."

The source verb contendō, contendere does mean "to argue" as well as "to aspire" (the striving you mean), and a bunch of other things. The most basic, literal meaning is "to stretch" (as in a muscle or a bowstring), the other meanings being metaphorical extensions thereof.

David Harmon, 231, and Inge, 234: I bet "Those who can't do, teach" is one of those ambiguous statements that can sustain multiple interpretations, every single one of which is right, like some of the lines in the Tao Te Ching, and unlike "you can never put too much water in the reactor core." (SNL Transcripts hasn't typed up that sketch, but I'm pretty sure it's "Nuclear Retiree.")

#377 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 09:19 PM:

David, #375: Sorry -- New Relationship Energy.

#378 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 09:26 PM:

re 355: Lee, if you're going to announce that you aren't going to be reasoned with, I'm not going to try, one way or the other. It just saves time. Personally I don't think it's worth the effort to hate one person so energetically.

#379 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 09:31 PM:

379
I tend to agree with her.
No matter how much it's described as not child-beating, it still comes across that way to many of us.

#380 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 09:33 PM:

Lee @#303, #378: Hmm. That's certainly at least part of it (again, there's that "honeymoon syndrome", seen in newbies to any given path), but I wouldn't underestimate the lure of the ecstatic states themselves, or of the "friendly crowd" even before proper relationships start forming.

Incidentally, what's backed me away from a lot of groups/techniques (notably NLP) was noting that no matter how enthusiastic the new proponents were... they didn't seem to have actually "fixed" any of their own personal problems!

#381 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 09:51 PM:

C., nothing in 355 is unreasonable, or justifies your post at 379. Beating children is beating children, no matter how much lipstick you put on that pig.

#382 ::: Chris Johnson ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 09:52 PM:

As a Quaker, I'm part of a tradition for which mysticism has a central position. As hersiarch @374 says, Protestantism in general has not been friendly toward mysticism. In many ways Quakerism grew as a reaction to the aggressively anti-mystical viewpoints of 17th century English Protestants.

#383 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 09:53 PM:

C. Wingate @ 379: "Personally I don't think it's worth the effort to hate one person so energetically."

Arguing that someone's views are wrong and dangerous is not the same thing as hating that individual on a personal level. Lee's post made no mention of her opinions on Dobson personally--rather, it was entirely on the subject of Dobson's parenting techniques. By attributing a personal motive into her criticism, you've made the argument about Lee, which it wasn't before. In effect, you're engaged in a sort of ad hominem via accusation of ad hominem.

#384 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 09:58 PM:

Hmm, maybe C. was confused between Lee and me. But I think Dobson's parenting techniques make him a scumbag and I hate him for them, not the other way around.

#385 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 10:11 PM:

Heresiarch, #374: no, you're right. Those two statements are contradictory: one reflects US Protestantism, the other Mexican (and many other sorts of) Catholicism. The commonality, though, is how hard mysticism is in both. It's not just that the churches outlaw esotericism, it's that many churches treat all unapproved mystical beliefs and practices as esotericism and forbid them, and there are either no allowed practices or only very painful practices. From there, variations.

I am now wondering how many of the physically painful practices lead to spiritual experiences, and how many just hurt.

Debra Doyle, it seems to me that we're talking past each other, and the only way I can see to reestablish communications is by doing a lot more study than I am willing to do at this time. I'm going to let that thread drop. Peace.

#386 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 10:30 PM:

C. Wingate, #379: Do you realize how much that post sounds like an assertion of male privilege? Disagreement with you on the basis of factual evidence is not even remotely the same thing as "not being willing to listen to reason", or being "too emotional" (per your dismissal in the second sentence).

#387 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 10:32 PM:

Speaking of the Nicene Creed, I was startled this week to hear Stephen Colbert recite it as part of his comedy show. Googling informs me that he does this frequently.

(Apparently both Stephen Colbert and the right-wing buffoon he plays on TV are Catholic.)

#388 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 10:39 PM:

Found in LumiCon's first program book:

The Nicene Creed... Does it contain a rejection of mysticism or not?

The SerCon to top all SerCons.

#389 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 10:49 PM:

The Raven @ 386: "Those two statements are contradictory: one reflects US Protestantism, the other Mexican (and many other sorts of) Catholicism."

So where do your statements about all of Christianity and the Nicene Creed fit into this? I'm all for you narrowing your claims and adding specificity, but without some acknowledgement from you when you do it, it's hard to figure out which claims you're revising.

"The commonality, though, is how hard mysticism is in both."

Speaking in tongues in Pentecostal churches isn't hard at all--anyone can do it at any time, with no training. It's pretty clearly a kind of mysticism, right? And Catholic mass literally delivers the miracle of Transubstantiation into your mouth--it's hard to imagine mystical practice made easier than that. I'm sorry, but I just don't buy your argument as it's currently constructed.

#390 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 10:55 PM:

386, 390
I've heard about Roman Catholics converting to Orthodox (Greek, usually, IIRC) because the ritual in the eastern church satisfies them in some way that the western church doesn't.

#391 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2009, 11:37 PM:

Raven @ 386

Are you sure it's not just that you're not aware of mystical Christian practices? I've got an Anglican friend who is extremely mystical in outlook, and he regularly uses Ignatian visualization, for instance. Not harsh, not painful, and formally approved since 1548.

#392 ::: truth is life ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:09 AM:

Are you sure it's not just that you're not aware of mystical Christian practices? I've got an Anglican friend who is extremely mystical in outlook, and he regularly uses Ignatian visualization, for instance. Not harsh, not painful, and formally approved since 1548.
Yep...hard to find a group more integrated into the Church hierarchy than the Jesuits (well...recently, maybe not so much). As others have pointed out, there's the rosary, too. Meditation is allowed. There's fasting. There really aren't that many mystical practices forbidden by the Church.

#393 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:15 AM:

David Harmon@381: Incidentally, what's backed me away from a lot of groups/techniques (notably NLP) was noting that no matter how enthusiastic the new proponents were... they didn't seem to have actually "fixed" any of their own personal problems!

What backed me away from NLP was how creepy the Speed Seduction crowd were.

#394 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:44 AM:

An editor/pedant's worry. Should headline: "session kills 2, injures 19" be changed to "session kills 3, injures 18" now? Or footnote/extra par added to update figures?

#395 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:53 AM:

re the various Dobson detractors, and particular Xopher's reply in 382: Saying "beating children is beating children" is saying that there's no difference between someone who hits their child with a hairbrush once and one who cripples or kills their child in the course of a single or series of episodes. Of course, that isn't true. Degree isn't unimportant here. The phrase "beating children into submission", at least when I read it, gives an impression of extreme acts. I'll have to dissent that Dobson intended that, even if other people used what he said as an excuse for that kind of treatment.

Likewise, there is a difference between saying that one doesn't agree with Dobson's (however limited) approval of corporal punishment and the kind of rhetoric to which I objected. The problem seems to be that merely identifying him as someone who is against the mainstream on this issue isn't strong enough language-- probably because the eschewing of CP among the populace isn't so complete as to make that identification sufficiently damning.

#396 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 01:40 AM:

C Wingate: How do you interpret the parallel of the dog and a child (and what Dobson said was needful with the dog; married to the idea that children are morewilful).

What do you say of his urging the use of corporal punishmet on infants, and his admonition that what is needed when the "spankings" fail is more, and harsher spankings?

Those aren't questions of what we take his words to mean. Those are questions about why you are defending those words.

#397 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 01:47 AM:

The Raven: BTW, I see I need to qualify this as applicable only to Western Christianity and its daughter churches; "Eastern" Christianity has a strong mystical streak.

And so too does Western. The Protestant sects are a little less tolerant of it (though there have been any number of mystical protestant sects). The RC Church has a huge swathe of it, and it's been present in every parish I have ever been a regular member of (which included a slice of rosary mysticism in Iraq).

Anchorites, the flagellents, the mendicant orders, the other; various, orders of nuns and monks, the Third Order Carmelites, temporary retreat to monasteries, the Jesuit principle of "All for the greater glory of God" be it baking bread, teaching school or lecturing the Pontiff on theology, all is to be done as an offering to God, and the Society will; guided by the Holy Spirit find the niche in which each member is best able to make his offering.

The Church is so rife with mysticism that it can't be avoided.

As to the Creed, it's not a limit, but it is a meditation. It's gone over in detail at confirmation. Most devout Catholics (at least those of my acquaintance) use it as a meditation in the midst of the Mass. It's a private contemplation on the mysteries of the universe, even though it's presented as merely a public profession of simple faith.

The Mass is a daiily miracle in the lives of the priests, and at least weekly for the laity. For those (like myself) who served at the altar it is (at least for a term) a more than weekly miracle, in which we take an active part.

The unsanctified host is just pasty bread. Come the mass it becomes a sacred thing.

Quakerism is a protestant faith which hinges on mysticism. One is silent in Meeting for Worship until the Spirit moves one to speak. A whole lot of people in mystical meditation, sharing those moments of quiet, communal striving to become, even if briefly, "one with the light."

So, either you have a strange view of what mysticism is, or you have it confused with something else.

Insofar as the problem you are having; most of us have done that (made a sweeping generalization from how something we don't really know in detail looks from the outside), and found our foot stuck in a trap.

I'm willing to take your offering of peace as read and let it drop.

#398 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 02:57 AM:

Terry, #397: I want to make one point very clearly again here, because it cuts to the heart of this discussion, and because it's one of the commonest tricks abusers use to disguise what they do.

The minute you hit a child with anything BUT your bare, open hand, that is not "spanking", it is beating.

Which is not to say that it is not also possible to beat a child with one's bare, open hand, but most people don't. Then they describe their actions as "spanking", and decent people who were genuinely spanked by their parents and took no harm from it are confused or fooled. Yes, there are differences in degree; you can be beaten lightly or heavily, but it's still a beating.

Someone who advocates hitting a child with a hairbrush, a belt, a paddle, a stick, or ghodhelpus a fucking riding crop like that creep who was selling them as "parental discipline tools" a few years back -- that's a person who is advocating child abuse.

#399 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 03:30 AM:

Lee, for what it's worth my parents used to hit us with a belt. It was saved for special occasions of severe misbehavior; I can only remember being punished that way two or three times. My Dad did it, he bent us over the bed and struck us on the rear, pants up, with the leather end of the belt, folded in half, rather than the buckle, and only a few blows. It made a lot of noise and it hurt a little bit, but not a lot, and it didn't leave a mark. It wasn't even hard to sit down afterward. The point, I think, was about the ritual, to impress upon us that we'd done something very, very wrong, with physical sting to underline the point.

Also, I lived the first 8 years of my life in Brooklyn, around busy streets, and I remember the toddlers frequently trying to make a break for it into the car-travelled streets, and the mothers yanking them back by the arm and delivering a few hard swats to the rear with their hands, and yelling at the kids but good. And they didn't always hug the kids afterwards, either; sometimes they just let the kids cry it out. I don't think these were necessarily bad mothers--even the ones who didn't hug the kids afterwards.

#400 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 04:55 AM:

350: Well, it began as a joke, but I think the idea of a worldwide gathering of Making Light commenters is a terrific idea, and I would show up if I can possibly manage it!

FOURTEEN HOSPITALISED IN PUN LODGE DISASTER

#401 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 05:40 AM:

Lee @399:
Someone who advocates hitting a child with a hairbrush, a belt, a paddle, a stick, or ghodhelpus a fucking riding crop like that creep who was selling them as "parental discipline tools" a few years back -- that's a person who is advocating child abuse.

A Christian bookstore in Manila used to* sell wooden paddles with "Spare the rod, spoil a child" written on them.

*Perhaps it still does; it's been a while since I've been there.

#402 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 06:14 AM:

Yeah, I can foresee a future of geezerhood where I regale young relatives during All Proles Eve with horrific tales of the Vice Principal's "Old Faithful" huge wooden paddle which had holes sloppily drilled in it. Of course, the kids' V-Chips will just show me babbling and snoring, and will dutifully transmit evidence of my crime to the Thought Police. The Party has no sense of humor at all.

#403 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 08:39 AM:

I've read about teaching a small child that cars are dangerous by putting a bag of sticks in the street and then letting the child see what happens to the sticks when they're run over.

Do people here who've had experience with children think it would work?

#404 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 08:45 AM:

*reads whole comment thread* *responds as she goes along*

Victoria @130: you are evil... (she says, two hours after she just looked over at TV Tropes for that *one* article... and the other six dozen that got spawned from chronic clicky while I was there).

Honestly, that site needs a warning label or something: CAUTION - May consume large slices of your free time. Not for use by folks at work.

JamesK @212 - If we assume that summoning The Warrior archetype is real, and belief creating reality is real, then Ray is either very stupid, or he is very evil.

Or he could be both - "stupid" and "evil" measure two different things, after all.

Epacris @267 - I have to admit, I tend to find my patience getting exhausted when particular theists blame disasters on whichever demon they profess not to believe in, but give their God all the credit for the good stuff.

No. The good year with the excellent rainfall which preceded the bushfires? Yeah, that was a gift from God[1]. So were the five years of drought beforehand. The bushfires themselves? Yup, another gift. Of course, they might not have all been the gift of the same god (and if they were, it was likely one of the Trickster types, given the dubious taste in gifts). But if the good stuff is the gift of the gods, so is the bad - can't get one without the other (it's worth noting that a year earlier, at the tail end of five years of poor rainfall, there wasn't enough tinder to sustain a bushfire for long enough for it to get out of control - there were still bushfires, but not disastrous ones).

Dan Layman-Kennedy @297 - I'm another who thanks the universe for the notion of multiculturalism (or Western cultural appropriation of native practices, depending on where you stand) since without it I would be condemned to a lifetime of boiled whatever with mint sauce (or in other words, stereotypical British lower-class cookery). Instead, as an Aussie, I get to lay claim to a "national" cuisine which mixes together southern European and south-eastern Asian influences with the traditional British meat and three veg, and gets quite a few interesting results, most of which taste a darn sight better than various members of the cabbage family boiled into submission.

I'll also point to my religious beliefs, which started out from a Protestant Christian base, and broadened from there. I acknowledge many different deities in the nature of my belief system, although mostly I'll tend to keep my addresses to the divine phrased in a "to whom it may concern" form[2]. But represented in my personal theology are various deities from Egypt, the Middle East, Greece, Rome, the various Celtic tribes, some of the Norse pantheon, a few Hindu representatives, some animist deities out of various animist societies, and various bits and pieces picked up here and there from the general pool of European mythology over the course of thirty-mumble years.

What I *don't* do is try to sell this to anyone else. (Heck, I can barely describe it to myself). I certainly don't pretend it's "authentic" whatever. I'm quite clear on the reality that this is something I've cobbled together myself out of bits of whatever happened to be lying around in my brain at the time, and while it makes sense to me, I certainly don't expect anyone else to believe it. If someone else wanted to subscribe to it, that's their choice, but I'm not going to prescribe any rituals (I only have one, anyway - I try to stay awake for 24 hours on the days of the solstice, purely as a way of connecting to the wider cycles surrounding me).

B. Durbin @311 - "It won't get better if you pick at it".


[1] I should clarify: in my theological view, the English language three-letter term "God" is shorthand for "the sum totality of all that was, is and will be". I tend to define my belief system as a paganish pantheism - all gods are equally likely to exist (and contrariwise, either they all exist, or none of 'em do).
[2] This is due to another theological quirk of mine - I hold to the strong theory that if this universe was created by divine beings, it was done by a committee, probably of the Trickster gods, and it wasn't an authorised action. Prayer, therefore, is not recommended, since it might draw the attention of their bosses, and we can't be certain that attention would be positive.

#405 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 09:01 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @404: It depends on the child*. It's worth teaching to parents as an example of proactive methods for use in their children.

*My son, for example, would get distracted by the coolness of the sticks being crushed, and want to do the demonstration over and over.

#406 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 09:08 AM:

Raven & C. Wingate: Looks from here like you're both standing in holes. You do know the First Rule of Holes, right? (Relevantly, I recently heard my brother-in-law invoke it to his 10-year-old son.)

Agreed with Rachel and Lee: The proper use of corporal punishment is not dominance (as per Dobson), but conditioning -- and you want to be damn careful about using that sort of conditioning on a fellow human being.

Incidentally, both my mother and my sister (a different Rachel) have mentioned "the one time they hit their kids" -- and both were exactly the situation you cite -- a toddler trying to run into a busy road, getting a yank and a smack for their efforts. My sisters and I grew up pretty well, and my recent trip with my sister and family demonstrated that her kids are the sort that people coo over, rather than wincing away from.

----
Regarding mysticism: I like to think in terms of the distinction between Jovian (formal) and Promethean (mystical) religion:

Promethean religion is the origin -- it emerges spontaneously in any human society, because it's based on the human capacity for altered states of consciousness. But some people are better than that than others, so you get "professionals", who can help lead others into ecstatic states, or just provide first-hand reports from there. That would be the second-oldest profession -- the shaman (witch doctor, medicine man, whatever).

As society develops, the shaman eventually makes an alliance (or merger) with the chieftain, and that leads to Jovian religion, where entrance to ecstatic states is controlled by a seat of authority. But this means that individual, "uncontrolled" mystical experiences are now in competition with the official religion, which accordingly tries to suppress or control them. Since that's ultimately a futile endeavor, that leads to either schism or reform, producing a new Promethean strand. So for example Judaism was originally (at least mythologically) based on individual contact with God (Promethean), but then developed a temple hierarchy, evolving into a Jovian religion (plus several Promethean offshoots) by late (Christian-)OT times. When it was crushed by the competing (and eponymous) Jovian religion of the Romans, the survivors (the rabbinicals and cabalists) re-emerged as a Promethean faith. In modern Israel, Judaism actually gained political power -- and, no surprise, they're starting to act more like Jovians.

Meanwhile, of course, one of those Promethean offshoots of Judaism went on to consume the others (such as the Essenes), and eventually took over the Roman power structure, thus shifting to Jovian form. That trick of assimilating other religions turned out to be important -- Christianity has been through several rounds of schism, including any number of Promethean "outbreaks" -- but it also assimilates some of its own schisms. That's how you got all those mystical monks in Catholicism -- but those orders have had very uneven relations with the Mother Church over the centuries, reflecting the Church's need for control of the "wild magic".

#407 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 09:15 AM:

Ajay #401:

FOURTEEN HOSPITALISED IN PUN LODGE DISASTER
Several participants were treated for split sides and/or coffee exhalation...

#408 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 09:26 AM:

If what is meant by mysticism here equals transcendence, then there's an enormous swath of trancendence experienced regularly in the protestant Christian churches, particularly if you included the so-called 'Black' Church here n the U.S.A., and other parts of the former British Empire that were recipients of the involuntary African diaspora, like Jamaica.

Trance - transcendent: you will get there with music and dance, particularly if there are drums and campanas, played by those who know what they are doing.

A week ago yesterday, i.e. Sunday, a white friend of ours participated for the first time as a full member of a traditional New Orleans Second Line club. He is the second person not of color in his group (the first is old time president, called Old Joe -- who is an old time New Orleans Wobbly from the Irish Channel).

This is a huge life commitment: Our friends pay l $1500 dues annually, meeting with the group every second Friday all year to plan the annual parade, to discuss other business -- these are also mutual aid organizations for their members -- and to have made his own expensive matching outfit for the parade day (he bought $300 handmade ostrich leather shoes!) -- and most importantly then, via his dues and other ways, help pay for the outfits and other expenses on behalf of members who this year may not be able to meet their obligations.

The parade, of course, hires a brass band (see where the New Orleans brass band richness is maintained?) and the ropers who help keep the Second Line and the band in line form (as the clubs parade they pick up ever more people until there are thousands marching through the New Orleans streets that are the group's route); they also have scheduled rest stops -- the bars depend on their patronage as part of their annual revenue. Our friends group this year included Commodore's Palace as their mid-route rest stop.

Spouse was there, along with other Tulane friends in honor and support of our friend -- and because we love Second Lines on go on every one we can.

I was looking at the photos shot of our friend last Sunday. Some were with our other friends. When Spouse showed our friend these photos he had no recollection at all that these photos were taken at the rest stops.

He was in the Zone, i.e. a trance. You march for at least 4 hours in whatever weather -- this is New Orleans, on Sunday afternoon, it's usually going to be HOT, and it will be humid. You are committed to complete the entire route, no matter what the weather is. You aren't merely walking. You are DANCING. You are expected to dance. That is what makes it a Second Line, not a mere parade. The brass band is there pumping you the whole time -- that is how you do it and how you get home, i.e. you move out of yourself, up there, and join with more than you even know. You are with an entire community of people who going there too, with routes of getting there this way that go back at least into the 19th century.

The peace on our friend's face afterwards ... and that of all who managed the entire route -- that is what it is about -- among other things.

The club members, like the people who join during the route, also belong to any one of the very many Black Churches of New Orleans, also probably practice others forms of what we loosely call "spiritism" though of a particularly local variety -- and many probably also belong to Mardi Gras Indian tribes. Community ....

I just thought I'd toss this into this interesting conversation.

As for corporal punishment of children -- I was beaten a lot with everything from extremely hard spanking of my dad's open farmwork hard hands (could not sit down afterwards) to fists, sticks, belts, hairbrushes -- and hardly ever did I believe I had actually been bad. It was more than obvious that most of the time this was because my parents were in a bad mood.

Love, c.

#409 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 09:33 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz #404: Not really (for the reason given by Ginger #406), but it might be worth doing that to the inscribed paddle seen by Pendrift #402....)

Meg #405: I recently inaugurated a separate bookmark-folder for "Timesinks". ;-)

"stupid" and "evil" measure two different things, after all.

Well... not always, as they can certainly converge at the extreme. ("Any sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.")

without it I would be condemned to a lifetime of boiled whatever with mint sauce

I think it was here that I heard someone crack that the British conquered the world in order to get some decent food!

I hold to the strong theory that if this universe was created by divine beings, it was done by a committee, probably of the Trickster gods, and it wasn't an authorised action.

Heh, but you don't need the whole crew to be Tricksters -- one in the bunch is plenty. (Coyote was recognized as one of his tradition's creator gods.) Certainly, polytheists have much less trouble with theodicy!

#410 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 09:42 AM:

I hold to the strong theory that if this universe was created by divine beings, it was done by a committee, probably of the Trickster gods, and it wasn't an authorised action.

That sounds familiar: ObPratchett!

"People said that clearly there had to be a Supreme Being because otherwise how could the universe exist, eh?
And this was obviously true. But, Koomi argued, given the state of the universe, it was obvious that the Supreme Being had not, in fact, made it. If he had made it, he would, being Supreme, have made a much better job of it, with far better thought being given, to take an example at random, to the design of the human nostril... The universe had clearly been put together in a bit of a rush by an underling while the Supreme Being wasn't looking, in much the same way as Boy Scout Association minutes are printed on office photocopiers across the country. It was therefore, Koomi reckoned, not a good idea to address prayers to a Supreme Being. It would only attract his attention, which might cause trouble."

#411 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 09:45 AM:

Lee, I have no desire to engage you on your authority-driven denunciation of Dobson's advice; it's not my purpose here to get into arguments about child rearing. Whether or not I agree with you that hitting a child with an object is BEATING, it seems to me that the rhetoric to which I objected is relying upon a different definition. The phrase "beating into submission" brings to my mind an image of a man standing over a cringing child and striking him over and over with a cane or baseball bat or whatever weapon. I have every confidence that I see the exact image that the writer intended, and I have every confidence that Dobson intended no such thing. I can accept your rejection of beating as you define it, and it doesn't affect my original complaint one iota. The point of that rhetoric was to tag Dobson as a monster, not as someone giving out bad and outdated advice.

#412 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 10:03 AM:

Mr Wingate, why don't you answer Mr Karney's questions?

By flogging Lee with tangential arguments about her semantics, you never quite answer the core argument she's making, which Terry also addressed. And in so doing, you make an appalling mess of your own position, going further than you perhaps intend toward aligning yourself with the qualities of Dobson that so many of us here oppose.

#413 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 10:35 AM:

Lila @ #280: Thanks. I thank human ingenuity for the Internet; the friends and confidence I made from online experiences went a long way toward helping me get out.

Anyhow, I meant to tie how my experiences relate to getting sucked into harmful cult-ish groups (psuedo-spiritual, pyramid scams, what have you). It looks like they can and often do start at the same place--an emotionally vulnerable person desperate for something outside of themselves to help them fix their problems/get their life on track/ease their suffering. Sometimes the desperation is dire and immediate, sometimes it's a constant low-level ache, but it's there.

So you have someone who is already suffering and desperate on some level to do something about it, and who more likely than not has some underlying idea that it's because of something they've done wrong. Enter people like my abuser or James Ray, who are oh so full of helpfulness and pretty words and oh so confident. They have so little doubt in themselves, it's hard for a vulnerable person to doubt them even when things are going pear-shaped. After all, their saviour is so confident, the vulnerable person can't be sure that they aren't just screwing things up for themselves again.

We already know where this goes.

So, yes. IME, the mindset of experiencing pain = failure (and probably = your own fault) is can definitely be a sign of having been abused in some fashion.

#414 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 10:38 AM:

I wonder if we can pull the corporal punishment subthread away from the people involved (both here and absent) and back to the theme that ties it in to the starting point of this thread: how practices recommended or conducted without appropriate limitations can get out of control and seriously hurt or kill the people involved.

That's what really troubles me about the snippets I've seen quoted here from Dobson's book; in particular the bits about beating the dog to the extent of "threaten[ing] it with destruction", and then analogizing that to what to do with one's child.

Whether or not Dobson *personally* thinks that's also a good idea with children doesn't worry me as much as what Dobson's *readers* might conclude. If you advocate a course of action that could easily be dangerous and harmful (particularly if you illustrate it with examples like that of the dog that clearly tend that way), you have a responsibility to make clear to your audience about dangers and limits that should be taken into account, and make some reasonable attempt to pull back elements of your audience that you notice are taking things too far.

Ray, by all accounts I've seen so far, didn't do any of this, and that's part of why he bears culpability for the deaths and injuries that took place under his watch. My question is: Does Dobson do so, in his books discussing corporal punishment? If so, are there examples that can be shown?

#415 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 11:01 AM:

Ajay #411: Grabbing The Color Of Magic [Hmm, no "u" in "Color".]...

"... on the disc, the gods are not so much worshipped, as blamed." And later, "... the gods had a habit of going around to atheists' houses and smashing their windows."

#416 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 11:11 AM:

Back to the woo...

pitch woo (pitches woo, pitched woo, pitching woo)

(Antiquated) to court
to make love
to flatter

I wonder if there's a British spoof of the well-know time-traveling Doctor called Doctor Woo.

#417 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 11:13 AM:

Right now, I have severe doubts that Gareth would learn that it's wrong to run into the street even with a swat on the behind. Luckily, I have a monkey harness which negates the question, and we go for walks. I *have* bat-bat-batted his hand to try and get the point across that touching the floor lamp is wrong. (He's a strong lad and can quite easily bring it down on himself.) It seems to have associated the word "No" with "Don't do that."

Really, though, when he's crying it's not because he's trying to make me angry, it's because he's hungry/tired/lonely/hurt, and if I fix the problem, all is well.

Or thwarted, but he will just have to cope with that. :)

#418 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 11:36 AM:

Alex - # 275

The point of restricting the bathroom visits was for the seminar organizers to exert more and more control.

Being able to demand obedience from strangers on something that is at such a basic biological level is very dis-empowering for those being controlled -- and a large component, it seems, is that they are agreeing to the abuse

#419 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 11:45 AM:

C. Wingate, #412: Given the quoted text regarding Dobson's battle with the tiny dog, I don't see how you can say that he is NOT in fact advocating "standing over a cringing child, striking him over and over". That's exactly what he did to the dog, and he then said that it was MORE applicable to a child! The more you say "I am sure he intended no such thing" -- in the teeth of direct evidence to the contrary -- the more it looks as though your own grip on reality is a little fragile.

#420 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:13 PM:

Serge #417:

My question: How does one caulk woo?

#421 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:13 PM:

I've read about teaching a small child that cars are dangerous by putting a bag of sticks in the street and then letting the child see what happens to the sticks when they're run over.

Do people here who've had experience with children think it would work?

Not with children too young to make the association reliably. With older children, yes. Which is the group most likely to run out into the street, though?

#422 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:23 PM:

C. 412: The point of that rhetoric was to tag Dobson as a monster, not as someone giving out bad and outdated advice.

But he IS a monster. Are you objecting to our opinion that he's a monster?

#423 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:27 PM:

re 420: Lee, I've gone back and looked at that thread, and at the reference therein. If you search on a phrase from the supposed quotation, it only hits that article and other references to it, but not on the book itself; it doesn't hit in Google Books, for example. Searching in the latter for "Sigmund" does return another reference to the dog, but not to the passage in question; I don't know whether that's because the GB version is incomplete or because the quotation is spurious. Searching the current edition doesn't find the dog at all. Of course, there is no page number or anything like that in the accusatory article, so even if I do find the correct edition (and the local libraries all only have the 1993 revised edition) it's going to take some time to find the passage. But neither my wife nor I remembers that story from reading the book. And while our memories of something we certainly haven't read in fifteen years could be faulty, it is also possible that the anecdote could have been embedded in a larger narrative about how stupid it was to get in a fight with a dachshund over sitting on the toilet. See, I don't trust the source. We can resume this when I have located the book and verified the passage. But it's not going to be pretty if I find that this story was just made up, or that it has been grossly misrepresented.

#424 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:32 PM:

Serge #417: Dunno if it's British, but I turned up this.

And then there's Steely Dan....

#425 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:34 PM:

C. Wingate @ 396: "Saying "beating children is beating children" is saying that there's no difference between someone who hits their child with a hairbrush once and one who cripples or kills their child in the course of a single or series of episodes."

That's ridiculous: saying "A rose is a rose is a rose" does not imply that there is no difference between an American Beauty and a Lady Elise May. It implies only that this class of things has a set of similarities which outweighs its constituent's differences.

@ 412: "The phrase "beating into submission" brings to my mind an image of a man standing over a cringing child and striking him over and over with a cane or baseball bat or whatever weapon."

You are reading connotatively, rather than definitionally. I'll not argue the connotations, which are infinitely variable, but "beating" means to strike physically, and "submission" means to surrender control to another. What Dobson is advocating is the use of physical violence to force children into submission to their parents' will. Whether that takes one slap or a savage beating, it is equally "beating into submission." I, and most of the other people on this thread, read Dobson's example with the dog as advocating the use of whatever level of violence it takes to get that submission--and the goal is submission, not education, not punishment, nor anything else--just submission. What argument do you offer to convince us we are reading Dobson wrong?

"I have every confidence that I see the exact image that the writer intended, and I have every confidence that Dobson intended no such thing."

My question then, I suppose, is where does that confidence come from? You demanded textual support from Dobson's detractors, and they provided it. Where is the evidence for your position?

#426 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:37 PM:

C. Wingate #424: Dude, you're still digging.

#427 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:42 PM:

The dog anecdote is in the first chapter of The Strong-Willed Child--just click the See Inside icon. It's on page three.

Are things "pretty" now?

#428 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:45 PM:

Fragano @ 421: With latex, of course.

#429 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:50 PM:

#428 points to the revised copyright-2004 edition, but the incident can also be found in earlier editions of the book. Go to this page and click on "Search Inside!". In this edition, which Amazon identifies as being from 1992, the incident with the dog starts on page 4 and continues into page 5 (with some details omitted in the quote upthread).

In both editions, the analogy to children is drawn on the following page.

#430 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:54 PM:

David Harmon @ 407: "I like to think in terms of the distinction between Jovian (formal) and Promethean (mystical) religion:"

I've heard a similar distinction drawn within Christianity between the Constantinian and prophetic branches. I'm not quite sure (mystical) is the best tag for the latter type, though--after all, there's plenty of mysticism in formal religious institutions. Perhaps (idiosyncratic), or (individual)?

#431 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:58 PM:

Terry K - # 398
For the past several years I've been playing a small harp to provide prelude music in my church (American Episcopal - can't get much more mainstream protestant than that)

It started out as giving a break to the organist so she had more time for voice rehearsal with the choir.

At some point it has evolved from that to, for me, offering that music as worship, and as witness.

One one level when I'm playing through my selections, I'm perfectly aware of what is happening in the church (people coming in, coughs, children making the squirming noises that distinguish them from an adult settling into the pew), aware of choosing which piece from my practice book I'll play next. On another level, I've completely lost myself into the effort, within the music itself.

Mysticism or trance?

Feels like worship to me.

#432 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 12:59 PM:

Lee #399:

I don't think using a hairbrush or a belt or whatever makes it a beating or abuse. It's probably a good rule not to use those things, since it's easier to be abusive with them and you aren't getting direct feedback about how hard you're hitting, but I don't think it's a simple line. (Though I gather that's the line some places use w.r.t. the law.)

Growing up, I went to schools where corporal punishment was used, with a paddle. I didn't like it, but I don't think it was done abusively, I wasn't scarred or hurt too badly, and I don't think I was harmed in any way. I was also raised with spanking as the last resort form of discipline, and I don't think that harmed me. (I found inconsistent discipline much more upsetting, even when it wasn't physical, but that may be more my personality than anything fundamental.)

And my wife and I use spanking occasionally with our children. My experience is that this works with our kids, but that it requires a lot more judgment and attention than other punishments like sending a child to his room or timing him out by making him count. (Both my kids got to preschool able to count very well, because I'd make them count to 50 or 100 in timeouts.) For any punishment, it's really important to understand when your kid is just at a limit, and they're no longer really able to control themselves. At that point, all you can do is contain them until you can get them home, because punishment can't work. That's just as true of spanking as timing out or longer-term consequences (no playing on the wii the rest of the week, no TV this week, etc.).

#433 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 01:09 PM:

Ginger @ 406: It's worth teaching to parents as an example of proactive methods for use in their children.
In which spirit, it's no bad idea taking small children round the outside of a parked car and getting them get to touch it1. Children usually experience cars from a passenger's viewpoint, as soft, comfortable non-threatening things that take them interesting places. Touching the outside of one can show them that it's hard and unfriendly2 and could hurt them.

1. After scouting for heat, dirt, sharp edges, paranoid owners etc, naturally! ;)
2. Modern family cars might have too much plastic for this, but a typical car park ought to have something a bit more rugged that would do.

#434 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 01:22 PM:

Ginger @ 429... Safe caulking with latex, otherwise one might get a keeljoy?

#435 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 01:25 PM:

David Harmon @ 425... I'll have to check that out tonight. My browser is acting up right now, probably because my work computer is still stuck with Internet Explorer 7.

#436 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 01:26 PM:

Disclaimer: I've read nothing by James Dobson, nor do I intend to.

Have you ever read something with a sympathetic eye, looking for useful information or ideas or guidance? When you do that, you tend to (at least I tend to) gloss over the stuff that doesn't make sense, or that leads in directions that would be silly or evil. You read and remember the stuff that makes sense, and you put it into your own worldview. That how I could read _The Fountainhead_ in college without thinking rape made for a good first date. It's how I could read _How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World_ and learn some useful insights, while not buying into the fundamentally goofy family organization/non-marriage idea, while not completely going along with the fundamental underlying selfishness that was the theme of that book.

I think we all read liberally[1] most of the time. That is, when we come to something that could be read in a way that is nonsensical or evil, we usually look for some other way to read it, or just gloss over it as "I must be missing what he's trying to say here." I sure do. I start from the assumption, most of the time, that the person who wrote this book is neither monstrous nor crazy, and is honestly trying to convey some ideas and information to me.

One result of that is that the same book often looks very different, when read unsympathetically. If I start reading with the idea "this guy is crazy or evil or both," I can often find evidence for that. This is true even when the writer isn't actually crazy or evil.

I don't know whether Dobson is crazy or evil, as I haven't read any of his books, and excerpted quotes aren't enough to judge a book. But even assuming he is, it's entirely possible that most sane, decent people who read his books simply try to take the useful information from it, while glossing over or ignoring the over-the-top bits that demonstrate the crazy or the evil. That's also extremely common--particularly with parenting and self-help books, which can and often do mix useful insight with a nice helping of crazy, or industrial strength woo, or even ideas that, followed consistently, lead to genuine evil.

[1] Think of Postell's Law: ""be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you receive." This is basically a way to optimize our ability to communicate.

#437 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 01:39 PM:

What struck me (and worried me greatly), reading the story about the dog, was that Dobson's first response to the dog's behaviour was to go get a belt to beat it with. He's bigger and smarter (supposedly) than it is and his first option in a battle of wills is violence? That disturbs me. How about picking the dog up and putting it in its bed? If he was seriously concerned that this small dog - his pet - would bite him, he could have thrown a large towel or rug over it first, then grabbed it by the scruff. (And I'm not going to go into the positive reinforcement training which would have avoided the situation in the first place).

So, he indicates his first option in dealing with a defiant dog is violence, then gives the analogy to children. Yes, this is going to colour how I read the rest of the book and how I feel about the author.

#438 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 01:41 PM:

Nancy @ 404: It might work, but it's unecessary. I used two things: the simple explanation "the cars are very large, and you are very small, so they can't see you:" and the stopping game. On quiet streets, on long sidewalks, have them run ahead a bit and stop when you say stop (or you could use a cute keyword but that wouldn't help if someone else is telling them to stop for a car). You give them plenty of room to stop before corners and driveways, that's why you need quiet streets and long sidewalks. You can do it on playing fields too but that's a bit more abstract.

They win the stopping game, see, and now stopping when you say so because you see something they don't is easy.

Also, stop at every driveway and corner when they're little. Elaborately emphasize the looking around.

Much more organic than bags of sticks, though there's nothing wrong with a fancy trick too.

#439 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 01:47 PM:

heresiarch #431: "individual" would work fine, and I've often put it in terms of "hierarchical" vs. "individual". But it's also "formal"* vs. "mystical".

The thing is, "natural" mystical experiences are intrinsically private. Most "group" experiences are so only in that they're arranged for a bunch of people to go into similar trances at the same time, with common environment and prompting. But even if you have, say, a dozen monks in the same room meditating on the same text, any one of them can come back with something unexpected, and not shared by the others. Even in a true group trance (not so common, nor easy), the shared experience is still separate from the outside world, restricted to the "magical space".

The point of the Jovian pattern is to try and constrain the mystical experience, both by set and setting ("bottling the stuff") and by discouraging independent experimentation. To cross subthreads, they're trying to maintain dominance over the mystical experience. But then, some people will go and have their own personal mystical experiences without any help, which may not match up with the "approved revelations". When their mystical experiences breach the dominance of a Jovian system, that becomes a Promethean outbreak.

* I'm actually less happy with the term "formal", but I can't think of something better and equally simple.

#440 ::: Chris Johnson ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 01:50 PM:

I don't think Dobson would make much of a dog trainer. I've trained lots of dogs, and in my experience beating them doesn't help anything. So never mind the ethics -- beating just doesn't work well. I don't think it does with children, either.

Putting on my pediatrician's hat, I think Dobson is just wrong. I can't say he's evil, but the natural extension of his viewpoint on child discipline can clearly lead to evil.

#441 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 01:51 PM:

re 426: When you that I am reading "connotationally rather than definitionally", you are correct. And in decoding a piece of political writing, that's the way to do it. Indeed, that's pretty much the point. In all the talk about memes and dog-whistles and every other kind of rhetoric, the thing they all have in common is a reliance on anything but the denotational sense of the text. Political rhetoric is routinely emotionalized to the point where we look for hidden emotional appeals when they are not apparent on the surface; analysis of Rethuglicrap rhetoric here routinely relies on that kind of analysis, and nobody thinks that there is anything wrong with that, not even I.

Meanwhile, Lee and Xopher, I see I have looked in the wrong book, and now I have read the passage in question. I think we're just going to have to differ on the monstrosity of Dobson.

#442 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 02:08 PM:

David Harmon @ 425... I was finally able to look up Doctor Woo. You should have warned me that this wasn't safe for work, not just because of the locust sex, but also the gratuitous display of poutine. The horror. The horror!!!

#443 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 02:13 PM:

C. Wingate: Any person who thinks beating a small dog (Dachshund??!) is the way to train it should be considered certifiable.

Dobson is a monster in my eyes, and I would not trust him with any of my animals, much less a small child.

A dog that snarls at you (if it is YOUR dog) should be rolled onto its back and held there until it submits -- NO beating, NO screaming, just calm assertive restraint. If the dog is NOT YOURS -- leave it alone, it isn't your place to discipline it, and attempting to do so will result in the dog biting you, and you will have earned that response.

Dobson is a snake oil salesman, pure and simple, and I see little difference between him and James Arthur Ray -- if anything Dobson may be worse by cloaking his crimes in the cape of Christianity.

And I am willing to bet that somewhere out there in Dobson land some stupid parent has beaten their child to death, and you will find a copy of Dobson's book in their possession.

#444 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 02:21 PM:

Ok, if people here are in fact deeply, and sincerely interested in Lumicon, may I present the Tennessee State Park system, which has quite a few conference facilities, many in places not all that far from an interstate highway or a large airport?

Cabins can range all the way from simple and Spartan to "as nice as most hotel rooms costing under $150 a night". Cabins classed as AAA tend to have large central rooms which can be used for small group meetings; many parks also have conference facilities. Cabins have small, simple kitchens; several of these parks also have motels included in their facilities. The parks with motels (called, for the sake of the rustic spirit, "inns") all have restaurants as well.

The parks are all dry; I have never had my luggage searched, but a keg would be Right Out.

I have some experience with (to list parks that are close and convenient to interstates and airports) Meeman-Shelby, Natchez Trace, Montgomery Bell, Edgar Evins, Henry Horton, Cumberland Mountain, and Cedars of Lebanon. I don't know all that much about most of the facilities in the eastern parks, except for Fall Creek Falls, which is in a beautiful spot that fails "ease of access" with bells and ribbons and litle singing cherubs.

The parks closest to Nashville would offer fairly easy access to that fair city's cultural attractions, and I can't think of any of the parks that do not include easy access to that mainstay of local tradition, barbecue.

Other state park systems may offer similar facilities; the kitchen access is a nice option which many hotel don't offer, for those on special diets or smaller budgets, or who cannot face the park restaurant food, which is generally edible but not in any way inspired.

#445 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 02:31 PM:

albatross, #433: If we're getting into anecdotal evidence, I can offer up at least a dozen people who were beaten abusively with a hairbrush, belt, or paddle in the guise of "discipline". I submit that this practice is sufficiently subject to abuse that it should be discouraged as strongly as possible -- as a tool, it's as unsafe as a lawnmower with no blade-cover.

I went to a school system where corporal punishment was not allowed -- this was common, outside of the Deep South, as far back as the 60s. And guess what? Our schools weren't full of out-of-control hooligans; teachers found other ways to enforce class discipline. So do my friends who teach now in schools that don't allow corporal punishment. It's not necessary, and for a lot of kids it just flat doesn't work -- so what's the point of keeping it?

Also, as long as we're on personal anecdotes, my parents spanked me too (although they never beat me with objects) -- and it never had any effect except to make me angrier and more determined to do whatever it was they didn't want me to do. In a Dobson-style household, I'd have been dead before I was out of junior high. I wonder how many of the child-abuse deaths we hear about in the media are the direct result of practicing Dobson-style "discipline"? But there's no way of knowing, because that doesn't get tracked in the police reports.

For any punishment, it's really important to understand when your kid is just at a limit, and they're no longer really able to control themselves. At that point, all you can do is contain them until you can get them home, because punishment can't work.

And this is exactly the point that Dobson misses. For him, punishment always works, and if it's not working, you just escalate until it does. Even if that means the child is unconscious, catatonic, or dead. Whatever it takes for the parent to win.

and @437: It's also fairly common for people to read books -- especially books presented as problem-solving methods -- for validation of things they already do. Someone whose idea of relationships is structured on the authoritarian model (and this is a widespread subculture in America) is likely to take Dobson's examples as permission, or even instruction, for abusive behavior.

dcb, #438: Also, WRT the dog, no one else has mentioned this -- how likely is it that the reason the dog growled in the first place was that it was afraid? That's what a fearful dog does, and the rest of the description does nothing to indicate otherwise. The dog is running, growling, snapping, trying to get away from the threat -- and Dobson interprets that as "defiance". It's very similar to the way we sometimes see cops interpreting someone ducking and flinching from blows as "resisting arrest", and it leads to exactly the same result.

#446 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 02:53 PM:

Terry, I think you have the right of it; I posted my first unedited thoughts, and they contained errors & were incendiary. My apologies to everyone. I do have some second thoughts, based on this discussion, & perhaps--provided the discussion is still alive & I have time to think them through--I'll put them up in a day or two.

#447 ::: SarahM ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 02:55 PM:

I've been lurking on this site for years, and I finally felt compelled to post:

Thank you for such an interesting and calm conversation about flavors of woo! I am an atheist, and have found that the shrillness and loudness of a group of very religious folks in American public life are pushing me to be more and more shrill myself. It is a comfort and a delight to be reminded that reasonable people exist with many kinds of woo, and it will help me to be more mellow myself.

#448 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 02:55 PM:

Lee @446 "...how likely is it that the reason the dog growled in the first place was that it was afraid?" Very likely, given the description of it going and hiding behind his wife while he goes to get the belt, and of course he's already mentioned what a coward it is (refusing to tackle an intruder) - and implied his disgust with it for being a coward.

Monkey see, monkey do: you teach good behaviour at least partly by living it. An instantaneous smack to a child who is about to run into a road, or (in my case on the receiving end when I was small) is poking things into electric sockets is one thing, but, while I totally agree discipline is important, there are better, safer, more effective methods of disciplining than corporal punishment.

#449 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 03:00 PM:

Lee @446 "...how likely is it that the reason the dog growled in the first place was that it was afraid?" Very likely, given the description of it going and hiding behind his wife while he goes to get the belt, and of course he's already mentioned what a coward it is (refusing to tackle an intruder) - and implied his disgust with it for being a coward.

Monkey see, monkey do: you teach good behaviour at least partly by living it. An instantaneous smack to a child who is about to run into a road, or (in my case on the receiving end when I was small) is poking things into electric sockets is one thing, but, while I totally agree discipline is important, there are better, safer, more effective methods of disciplining than corporal punishment.

#450 ::: strawhat ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 03:07 PM:

This has been one of the most interesting posts and comment threads I've read in a long time. Thank you.

To chime in on the conversation about mysticism in the Roman Catholic tradition, as a Chicago Irish Catholic of the easy-going sort (see also Greeley, Andrew): Almost all of our practices outside the Mass are popular devotions -- popular meaning "of the people." They did not come down in a decree from the hierarchy (if they did, we probably wouldn't do them).

But anyway. I once asked a wise old priest what would he and his colleagues do if someone like Bernadette came to them saying they'd had a vision of Mary or direct revelation from God. And he said they'd tell them to go away. More than once. If the visionary kept coming back saying the same thing, they'd start to listen -- but very cautiously. And they'd never promote it officially. People can get carried away, and suffering people can be hurt. See what's happened with the so-called visionaries at Medjugorge. See what happened in the sweat lodge.

Someone way upthread mentioned Rodney Stark -- the sociologist, right? He's got some fascinating books. I didn't realize he had advised the bishops of Vatican II. The initiation rites -- Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults -- were reformed about that time. I bet he had something to do with that.

#451 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 03:14 PM:

Drawing from my own experience and some of the comments I've seen here and in other conversations, I think that the critical characteristic of the type of corporal punishment that some loving, effective parents use is that the idea of a spanking is more powerful than the spanking itself.

At least in my personal experience, the handful of times my parents used physical punishment the worst part by far was knowing that I had done something so bad that it had pushed my otherwise loving and supportive parents to spank me. The punishment was predicated on the fact that I knew what I had done was wrong, and the physical discomfort was largely irrelevant except as a reminder of their disappointment. (This is why I hesitate to accept Lee's formulation that any spanking that involves an implement is a beating. I can think of a thousand ways in which the use of an implement might suggest that corporal punishment in question isn't the type I consider acceptable, but one can spank with a belt or brush handle just as easily as one can beat without them.)

This is the exact opposite of the rationale offered by Dobson. According to Dobson, both dogs and children will only obey if they are "threatened with destruction." I.e. if your kids aren't in fear for their lives every time they are punished, then you aren't doing it right. The emphasis is on submission, rather than understanding, and, oddly enough for one who spends so much time bloviating about morality, the appeal is entirely to physical power, rather than moral authority.

#452 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 03:32 PM:

Chris W #452: According to Dobson, both dogs and children will only obey if they are "threatened with destruction."

I repeat: Dobson utterly fails at dominance.

#453 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 03:37 PM:

On Dobson: My mother has a saying, which I think she picked up from her father: "Weak people worry about looking strong; strong people worry about being right."

Like a lot of other adages, it's not always true, but it expresses something useful and important.

#454 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 03:45 PM:

Ginger #429: That is, of course, safe woo.

#455 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 03:48 PM:

McDuffee's "Good News: You Can’t Have It All" reminds me of Bujold's great comment: "You can have anything, but you can't have everything."

#456 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 03:48 PM:

#454: Which certainly explains a lot about Granny Weatherwax.

#457 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 03:52 PM:

Serge #443: What uses of poutine are not gratuitous?

#458 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 04:01 PM:

Frasgano @ 458... It's obvious that poutine was included in the montage purely for its shock value.

#459 ::: Alvrodul ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 04:03 PM:

Meg Thornton @405: I really like your theology - perhaps you will be getting a convert soon? ;-)

Personally, if pressed on the issue of religion, I tend to describe myself as a "happy heathen" - particularly since those who ask tend to be Christians on the lookout for people to be converted to their particular brand of Christianity.
I am actually an agnostic - who tends to take forays into the realm of the atheists for mental relaxation.

#460 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 04:25 PM:

@Lucy Kemnitzer #439:I used two things: the simple explanation "the cars are very large, and you are very small, so they can't see you:" and the stopping game. On quiet streets, on long sidewalks, have them run ahead a bit and stop when you say stop (or you could use a cute keyword but that wouldn't help if someone else is telling them to stop for a car). You give them plenty of room to stop before corners and driveways, that's why you need quiet streets and long sidewalks. You can do it on playing fields too but that's a bit more abstract.

They win the stopping game, see, and now stopping when you say so because you see something they don't is easy.

Also, stop at every driveway and corner when they're little. Elaborately emphasize the looking around.

Yes! We play the stopping game in the supermarket and practiced stopping and looking every--single--time when the kids were tiny, even when we were just walking past a parking lot that had multiple entrances and nobody going in or out. Every curb, every time.

Also, there is nothing wrong with putting a toddler on a harness. If they simply cannot comprehend or remember what you are saying and cannot insert a pause between "There is something interesting in the road" and "Here I go to get it," then it's up to the parent to keep them safe. This developmental stage will pass. Meanwhile, the toddler is free to explore within a safe radius of the parent. I recommend the TommiGuard brand, a no-frills harness that can be stuffed into a pocket when not in use, but there are very cute ones that look like a backpack with a monkey or lion on it, the leash being the animal's tail.

My mothers' group also places great emphasis on monitoring one's tone, so that the child knows that Mommy and Daddy never scream "STOP!" unless things are getting REALLY SCARY. The natural impulse then is to turn back to the parent.

#461 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 04:27 PM:

Long comment about Dobson, and argument, and semantics, definitions of submission, and with personal anecdata about spankings, beatings and abuse):

C. Wingate: The thing you describe is one sort of submission. It's not what Dobson describes. Dobson calls a rapid (even if unwilling) response to the will of the Official Authority figure.

In the case of Siggie, that figure was Dobson. Siggie refused to get off the toilet seat. Rather than lift the dog (all what, 15 lbs, if it was a fat, full-sized dachshund), and remove him from the seat Dobson regales the reader with a depiction of an epic brawl, worth of Jackie Chan filming it.

Over what? A moment of non-immediate obedience.

He doesn't limit this application of submission (and this is, recall, from a man who has a creed which calls for "submission" to God), to individuals who have attained reason. He says it must be done to infants who act in ways the parents dislike.

He says that any sign of a lack of such subordination is wilful, and needs to be trained (with an implement, a paddle, a spoon, a belt; that is to say with a magnified, and ceremonial/ritual/fetishistic object as the implement) until such time as the child submits

I spent 16 years in the army. I learned to submit. I learned to expect (and demand) submission. I didn't want my soldiers to cower in abject fear. I wanted them to do what they were told, when they were told. I had a number of tools to hand (from putting them on details, denying them passes, and generally making their free time less, to recommending them to the commander for an Art. 15, or even putting them on report in such a way as might lead to prison).

I had a lot of leeway as to what constituted insuborndination (eye-rolling was enough; and when I got someone who did that sort of sullen lack of submission, in a place where it was bad for my position, I dealt with it. He painted a wall, which really didn't need it, twice).

Why? Because there would be time I needed those troops to jump when I said to jump, and not wonder as to why.

The corrolary, of course, is there were people who could do that to me.

Not so in Dobson's world. The child is the property of the parent, and the parents power is implicitly absolute. Which absolutism Dobson avers must be forced, at whatever cost (yes, I extrapolate, but I also recall that he was boasting of seeing how essential it was that a dog never think about refusing to move when Dobson wanted him to).

Now, you can tell us, until your fingers are bruised from banging the keys, that Dobson never said, "Beat them until they are limp rags on the floor." You will be right.

You will also be making an irrelevant point. Dobson does say that submission to the parents will; without question as to the merits of the thing willed, is the aim. He does day to gain that, if needed, with brute force.

Which is to say, he argues for beating children into submission. No, he doesn't say all children will need to be beaten, but he does say that; should they lack the proper deference (see the dog), beating them is not only allowed, but a moral neccessity.

And you, through your railing at Lee, accusing her of misreading Dobson, and averring she is unwilling to debate the question (when all you have done is repeat, "but that's not the words he used, and not what I think he meant"), are still defending him.

You are defending him, even as his words are being made more plain.

Me, I am of a mixed mind on the use of the ceremonial object of chastisement. I've been spanked with a belt. I've been spanked with a wooden spoon. I've been beaten with a belt (twice). I've been beaten with fists.

All of the people doing those things would say they were disciplining me (even the kids with the fists; they tought I had failed to give proper respect. I gave better than I got. No one ever tried to beat me up twice).

Apart from the one I desribed as being beaten with a belt, I don't think they were beyond the realm of chastising. I say this because the thoughts I had in response, both during, and after, were different (the beatings were a sense of, "this is unfair, and all I have to do is endure; it will pass. The spankings were, more, "shit, this hurts". I can't better explain it, save to say I had gone beyond normal bounds of misbehavior).

My mother also, because she used a very specific sort of wooden spoon, could warn us that we were going too far. I think this problematic, because she was using fear of pain to get submission for things she actually wouldn't (as I look at it now) spank us for.

But we didn't now that. So she would holler at us, and rattle the baking drawer, and we'd stop whatever it was we were doing.

And when something really bad happened (like my sister running away) physical punishment was never considered.

But Dobson... he doesn't discuss that. He talks about the ways in which children are wilful. He says all children are in opposition to the parents (as opposed to acting in what they see as their best interests, at the moment. It's just that they see moments differently from the way adults do).

He doesn't really believe in reason. He teaches,"tell them what to do. Offer them a reason, if you like; but it's not needed, "I'm the father, and I say so," is enough, and if they don't obey, use the belt.

That's abusive. When looked at in toto, it's "beating them into submission." You can pretend it's all semantics on out parts: that it's not what Dobson want's the reader/student to take away from his teaching, but he's had lots of time to clarify it, and he hasn't. If anything his subsequent books make it more plain, to me, that my first take on it was the correct one.

(p.s. I thought I had made it clear @316 that I was quoting from "The Strong Willed Child, esp. as you made a point of there being more than one book, and accused Lee of glossing that. I see I wasn't as clear as I meant to be, I apolgise.)

#462 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 05:01 PM:

Craig R. @ 419 - The point of restricting the bathroom visits was for the seminar organizers to exert more and more control.

Not at the Training I attended, or at any of the subsequent events I took part in. Maybe the one you went to differed.

At the ones I went to, the point of agreeing to stay in the room except at designated bathroom breaks and designated meal breaks was to make clearer exactly what "agreement" was about. In a sense, a lot of it was like this: if you're going to "be here now," then really BE here. There were people to talk to before the event began, if you had any reservations about any part of the agreements; in my experience, they were courteous, and they were pretty clear on the concept that the discussion you were having with them was part of the event, and that the event was something that was, among other things, designed to focus you on exactly what you were agreeing to, what your word was about, and when you would and wouldn't (and quite possibly when you should and shouldn't) agree to things and/or keep those agreements.

I hesitated writing this, because almost always there are people who were never there who know exactly beyond a doubt what was going on, and are glad to tell those of us who were there what the deal really was, but I decided to write it anyway, because Making Light isn't generally so much about that sort of telling-without-experience.

Being able to demand obedience from strangers on something that is at such a basic biological level is very dis-empowering for those being controlled -- and a large component, it seems, is that they are agreeing to the abuse.

It would indeed be disempowering to have someone demand such obedience from me. I wouldn't have gone forward with the event, had that been the case. I am a very stubborn one.

For what it's worth, the meal breaks thing was adjusted for people with blood sugar and medical issues; it wasn't adjusted for people who decided they needed to go have a beer or some coffee or a doughnut while the group was in the middle of grappling with an issue that was perhaps a little too personally applicable. I was given the impression pretty strongly by the people I talked to that if a person needed suddenly to go to the bathroom as a matter of biological urgency, that we'd deal with it sensibly, not stupidly. The whole thing, though, did focus a great deal of attention on what an agreement was, on what holdbacks people put on things in their mind, and on what reservations to full participation we might have had. As a setting in which to examine that kind of thing, a hotel ballroom with rest rooms just outside seems preferable to me to a lot of other settings.

No, I don't still do those kinds of seminars. Yes, the ones I did actually did change -- no, let me be clear: when I took those, *I* changed my life.

A lot of it is about agency. If anything, those experiences made me the kind of person who is less likely to unquestioningly follow an order that seems to me to be harmful.

#463 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 05:18 PM:

Disclaimer: this is anecdotal, and one problem with being an only child with no cousins who grows up not to have children of her own is that you're working with only one data point. That said...

When I read excerpts from Dobson, or things others have written about his writings and method, what stands out to me is the assumption that children must be made to comply with their parents' orders immediately and without question, or they'll never do what they're told to. (That's a bit of a simplification, I recognize.) What's interesting to me is that that's basically the exact opposite of how my mother raised me. Apparently (she told me this later), when I was just learning to speak, she decided that if she told me to do something and I asked "why?", if she didn't have a reason for it she had to back down. Because she almost never invoked "because I said so" or "because I'm the mom, that's why", I never got into the habit of rebelling against her when she said to do something (or not do something). And the seemingly counterintuitive result was that on the rare occasions that she did say "just do it because I say so", I'd hop to and do what she wanted me to, knowing that there'd be opportunity to discuss it later (and argue about it, if necessary).

(Note, I did flake off on things like raking the leaves and other household chores like any other kid — "have a reason for what you tell them to do" isn't a magical child-rearing technique that yields perfectly-behaved offspring, unfortunately.)

#464 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 05:30 PM:

Elise #463

It may be that there are different flavors of trainers.

As I mentioned, I was not the one who was attending -- It was the lady who I was living with. I would trust her judgment. Her description was that the participants were told the "rules," and that during the course of the seminar more and more controlling behavior was evident, to force conformity, and that those who needed time out were "wimping out" and "didn't really commit" and told they "would never get any better" and that they were "selfish" and that the troubles in life they would have after that point when they went out that door "would be their own fault."

A lot of this sounded very like the manipulation that occurs in abusive relationships with spouses and partners (she and I both have had that kind of experience, which may have sensitized us to that kind of pattern - once you are able to break free from an abusive relationship,and are able to *not* enter into another one it is, in itself, very liberating)

She also told me that the attitude of that troupe of "trainers" about people with medical needs was that If you weren't willing to bypass those issues and conform you really didn't want to better yourself, and whatever happened would be your own fault.

Again,apparently your mileage *did* vary.

#465 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 05:30 PM:

Folks, I'm not arguing Dobson's parenting theories, pro or con. I'm not arguing ANY person's parenting theories. If you want to discuss it among yourselves, count me out.

#466 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 05:45 PM:

Serge #459: And I am shocked, shocked that poutine is going on in this establishment.

#467 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 05:46 PM:

Terry Karney @ 462... I learned to expect (and demand) submission. (...) I wanted them to do what they were told, when they were told.

I was recently asked by upper-management to contact another group within the company about having them take on something that was our responsibility. I kept asking why because the request didn't make much sense. I didn't say the request didn't make sense. I only kept asking why and pointing out why I was asking. I eventually got the sense it might be better to stop asking why, and I contacted the other group, whose manager then asked me in a very annoyed manner why I was asking. Turns out that upper-management was making a demand based on their having no idea how the thing worked that they wanted transfered to another group. It was rather amusing after that to have upper-management acting as if there had been a simple failure to communicate. They wound up doing exactly what I had been saying we should do.

Anyway, I mentionned this to one of our users. She's a Republican, but that doesn't change that she's probably the user I get along with the best. When I said I said I'm not good at not asking 'why?', she said she's the same and it's why she never volunteered to serve in the military.

Blah blah blah...

#468 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 06:16 PM:

Fragano @ 467... I think I'll try to cobble together my own poutine in a couple of weeks, while my wife is in Australia. Hmm... I'm afraid that the word 'cobble' will probably be all too appropriate in this case. Well, I have 3 dogs who'll eat pretty much anything.

#469 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 06:22 PM:

Poutine strikes me as a senseless waste of good potatoes.

#470 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 06:31 PM:

Hey! I like poutine! And Serge, if you can find squeaky cheese in the States, I'm on the next plane to your house.

#471 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 06:41 PM:

Make it with mushroom gravy instead of that nasty meat stuff, and I'll give it a try.

#472 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 06:54 PM:

Yup, sounds like my mileage varied a lot. At least at those particular events I attended.

(And I've got some sensitization to those issues of abuse-and-control as well.)

However, later on in the endless cycle of stuff-they-want-to-sell-you, they were pretty hard-sell about it, and I did succeed in getting myself entirely removed from their mailing/calling lists. They were doing some money/prosperity seminar thingie, and the pitch was, "We really hope you'll sign up, because we really think you have important things to add to the event." I thanked them, and told them that if they thought I really had important things to add to the event that I would be happy to consider it, asked them how many hours the event took, and told them what my current hourly wage was. They never called me back. I was deeply amused.

That said, I think that what I got from the whole deal might not have been what they intended. And I did definitely see where various people involved were shading into "true convert out to proselytize everybody" and then into "power-mad leader" mode, and I'm not real thrilled with either of those, and tend to Be Elsewhere Now, if you know what I mean.

#473 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 07:07 PM:

strawhat, #451: "But anyway. I once asked a wise old priest what would he and his colleagues do if someone like Bernadette came to them saying they'd had a vision of Mary or direct revelation from God. And he said they'd tell them to go away. More than once. If the visionary kept coming back saying the same thing, they'd start to listen -- but very cautiously. And they'd never promote it officially. People can get carried away, and suffering people can be hurt. See what's happened with the so-called visionaries at Medjugorge. See what happened in the sweat lodge."

yes, I'm getting at that kind of thing. Thank you. I have more to say on this, but I want to try to get my thoughts a bit more together before I post them.

#474 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 07:17 PM:

If seminar leaders were to attempt domination by withholding bathroom privileges, a valid response would be to defy them whilst technically following orders by staying in the room; respectfully approach the podium and pee on the floor. If that doesn't provoke applause from the audience, then I'm probably in the wrong durned seminar.

#475 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 07:20 PM:

Lee @ 446:

Agree with you about the dog. A dog might growl at its owner when the owner has made the dog the alpha in the house, or when the dog is scared or in pain.

One of our dachshounds got cancer -- we didn't know how bad it was, but when he growled and snapped at everyone coming close, it was "to the vet, now". We had to have him put down that day, he was far beyond help.

#476 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 08:03 PM:

Chris, #452: Perhaps a better way of stating my argument about hitting children with objects is that it shares some important characteristics with military torture, to wit:

- It does not provide any results which can't be gotten just as well or better by not using it;
- In inexperienced, unskilled, or malicious hands, it goes wrong far too easily;
- It dehumanizes both the person doing it and the person to whom it is being done.

Not hitting children with objects is unlikely to get into any of those areas. (For purposes of this discussion, a closed fist may be considered equivalent to an object.)

So at the end of the day, our choice is between an approach which is never necessary and often risky, and a different approach which avoids this. Why is the first approach even still on the table? Because that's the way we've always done it? Because some of the people here were among the lucky ones? I don't consider those to be convincing responses.

#477 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 08:19 PM:

Xopher @ 470... As with other things, how do you know you won't like it until you've tried? Or did you?

TexAnne @ 471... When I drove thru Oregon's Tillamook, circa 1993, one of the places there did make and sell squeaky cheese. Maybe it can be sold over the internet. You might need overnight delivery, to ensure the sqeekiness keeps by the time it reaches you, though.

#478 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 08:22 PM:

Serge: Or I could go visit my friends in Portland. Hurray!

#479 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 08:47 PM:

Is poutine sort of a version of non-redemptive calorie intake, like chicken wings, which for some reason the city of seeming origin of them as a bar finger snack, Buffalo, called buffalo wings?

#480 ::: Thena (who has somehow got logged out again) ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 08:56 PM:

Mmmm. Tillamook cheese.

#481 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 09:04 PM:

Constance, 480: Poutine is a traditional dish of Québec, consisting of fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy. As you can imagine, it tastes better in winter when one needs lots of calories--but it's still pretty darn good in summer.

#482 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 09:40 PM:

Poutine is an irredeemable source of calories. You can't make, fake, or buy your way out of an evening that includes poutine. If you didn't need those calories to rebuild your body following a week summitting Mt Everest, or rescuing schoolchildren from a flaming train wreck, you will keep the result for the rest of your life, or until you DO summit Mt Everest/rescue flaming children.

Poutine is the hammer of an angry god. An angry, snarly, accountant kind of god. With a hammer.

#483 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 09:52 PM:

Serge: I'm a vegetarian. Brown gravy counts as meat.

#484 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 09:55 PM:

Most cheese curds are squeaky when consumed. We can buy cheese curds at cheese outlets here around Kansas City and in some grocery stores.

I loves some poutine. but I"m not making it myself, so it will have to wait until another visit to Canada.

#485 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 10:29 PM:

pericat: Is that Cholesterol, the god of middle-aged regrets?

#486 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 10:32 PM:

I think that Southern-Style Poutine would work: replace the brown gravy with black pepper cream gravy.

#487 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2009, 10:58 PM:

There are a whole bunch of reasons why people need not take advice from people who believe that compliance under the implicit threat of pain is the same thing as actual understanding and competance.

I taught my kids and my dogs not to go into the road the same way: I took them down to the edge of the road when I knew big trucks would be going by and let them hear the noise and see the speed and feel the rush of air; the dogs I just held and let them experience it, but the kids were told "You are small and soft and slow and breakable but vehicles are big and hard and fast and much stronger than you are."

And then I taught them how to cross the road safely, never entering the road if there was oncoming traffic that would cross my path behind me before I was all the way to safety, talking the kids through steps and teaching them how to see cars which were accelerating and therefore a danger. I've never lost a dog to the road, and my kids started taking public transportation alone when they were quite young.

#488 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:13 AM:

albatross @ 437: "I don't know whether Dobson is crazy or evil, as I haven't read any of his books, and excerpted quotes aren't enough to judge a book. But even assuming he is, it's entirely possible that most sane, decent people who read his books simply try to take the useful information from it, while glossing over or ignoring the over-the-top bits that demonstrate the crazy or the evil. That's also extremely common--particularly with parenting and self-help books, which can and often do mix useful insight with a nice helping of crazy, or industrial strength woo, or even ideas that, followed consistently, lead to genuine evil."

I'd be a lot more willing to grant that if I were more certain that the people reading Dobson's books were reading it with the same definitions of "crazy and/or evil" as I have. I don't think they necessarily do, however. It's quite conceivable that (some fraction of) Dobson's audience is reading it filtering FOR justifications for psychological domination and its violent underpinnings. I think they will find it a much richer vein than those readers who are reading it for the kind of parenting advice I would find sensible. I think that for people who are unsure of what makes up good parenting--which is the audience parenting books self-select towards--Dobson's philosophy will pull them towards some very dangerous models of parent-child dynamics.

It's not impossible that someone could read Dobson's books, pull out some useful techniques and insights while avoiding the bad stuff, and thereby become (per my definition) a better parent. It seems less likely than not, however. It seems quite likely that they could end up worse.

#489 ::: Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:42 AM:

FWIW, before I read of Dobson's books here however many years ago, I only knew of him through his "Focus On The Family" radio snippets. The thing is that, for the most part, I found the vast majority of these "helpful parenting tips" to be full of common sense. I agreed with them. I was actually shocked to discover the "darker side of Dobson," as it were.

But every once in a while, I'd hear one that made me go, "Uh, WTF?" Most recently, he was lecturing on the necessity of allowing teenagers a tiny bit of authority at a time in order to keep them from rebelling.

That's the key point: the object was NOT to prepare them for life (although I believe some lip service may have been given to that idea.) The object was to keep them just satisfied enough not to make waves. The bit in this that really got me was the statement, "Well, of course you can't give a four year old any power! You have to be the one in control!"

Um, WTF? I started asking my now-five year old his opinion on things before he was even capable of knowing how to express it: Are you done eating, or would you like some more? Do you want to wear the red shirt, or the blue one? As far as I'm concerned, one of the primary responsibilities of a parent is to teach a child how to competently function in the world. This requires a lot of practice making decisions (which, on a meta level, also builds confidence in one's ability to make good decisions.)

Even removing the whole "Does Dobson recommend child abuse?" commentary, this one supposedly benign FotF blurb says a helluvalot about his view of parenting.

#490 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:47 AM:

David Harmon @ 440: "The thing is, "natural" mystical experiences are intrinsically private. Most "group" experiences are so only in that they're arranged for a bunch of people to go into similar trances at the same time, with common environment and prompting."

Hmm. I see what you're saying, but I think you're underestimating the role group dynamics can play in creating situations where mystical experiences occur. Even if the experience is inevitably private, the situation that precipitates the experience can be intensely social. While some people find singing alone in a forest an intensely mystical experience, others might find it hollow. They might instead need the togetherness of choral singing to spark their encounter with the divine.

Similarly, formality can be an important part of people's mystical practice. Proscribed rituals and behaviors are part and parcel of mysticism, and always have been--existing within a hierarchal institution, practicing the rituals as instructed by others, is no barrier to mystical experience. Indeed, for some people might be a necessary prerequisite.

To put it another way, by juxtaposing "formal" and "mystical" like that I feel that you're writing off the possibility that someone attending Catholic mass, or praying in a mosque according to the rules laid out in the Qu'ran might be engaged in a mystical experience. I don't think that this is necessarily any more OR less mystical than wandering around in a desert all on one's lonesome. To put it a third gripping way, a Jovian tradition is only successful in "bottling the stuff" insofar as it actually contains authentic mysticism.

I think the distinction this points to is "formal" versus (maybe) "natural," but your mileage may vary.

#491 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:52 AM:

Lee @ 446: "And this is exactly the point that Dobson misses. For him, punishment always works, and if it's not working, you just escalate until it does. Even if that means the child is unconscious, catatonic, or dead. Whatever it takes for the parent to win."

This ties nicely back into The Bully Pulpit thread--treating social interaction as a struggle to be won, above all other considerations.

The Raven @ 447: Kudos.

#492 ::: J. Random Scribbler ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:52 AM:

Mmmm, Tillamook cheese indeed - reason #218 why I'm glad I moved back to Oregon.

Not much to add to the conversation other than that.

Well, except to say thank you, Teresa, for your pursuit of the original story. There should be more like you in the media.

#493 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:57 AM:

albatross @ 486 no, no, Cholesterol is a traffic court judge compared to the Wrath God of Poutine. You can practically phone in your regrets, with cholesterol. Pay your fine by paypal. "Very sorry, please don't kill me, gotta go, Magic Chef's on pay-per-view."

Think about it. Cheese curds. Brown gravy. Deep-fried potato pieces. Is there anything here that resembles virtue? There is not. Any one of those three could be passed off, perhaps, with an apology to the court and a promise (fingers crossed, even) to never do it again. But all three together on one plate, steaming hot, is blatant defiance of all known nutritional precepts.

The Wrath God of Poutine admits of no wiggle room. If the diner is not fresh from the field of heroism, still bedecked with garlands bestowed by a grateful and loving populace, one standard serving will tack on poundage to match the caloric needs of whatever deed of valour the Wrath God thinks is most pressing.

Seriously. There's rejection of all that is good and holy, and then there's poutine. You should just have the fish, with a squeeze of lemon and a side of fried ice cream. None of the nutrition deities have taken an interest in fried ice cream yet.

#494 ::: Duff ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:59 AM:

A very important insider account exposes some very cultish activity:
http://bit.ly/Z8b3s

#495 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 01:20 AM:

C. Wingate: You are, however, defending Dobson. Care to explain why?

Serge: Asking Why isn't forbidden, it happens a lot. It's just not always an option. Then again, if one can't just, "shut up and soldier" a lot of the time, life will sort of suck.

On the flip side, the times when one can't ask why are usually times when why is irrelevant: Smythe, Dobson, go paint the rocks along the walkway."

"Why..? Because they've gotten chipped."

Texanne: TJ's has sqeakers. Hrmn... maybe I ought to make some poutine tonight.

#496 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 01:25 AM:

Elise @463 and @473: It is very interesting how different people take different things from even the same seminars. One thing I learned was to be careful what I commit to; others learned that committing makes things happen. I kinda prefer wanting to keep my agency intact.

If we had a Lumicon we could have a discussion among people who'd been to the various seminars and Compare Notes. That could be amusing (as you suggested in another conversation).

#497 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 02:20 AM:

Okay, I am wicked behind in this conversation, and I really appreciate the thoughtful responses from Shweta, heresiarch, Xopher, and Meg Thornton, and I apologize if I've dropped the ball on the wee subthread I started.

Shweta @314: I admire your generosity of thought towards the "you're overreacting" folks; I think you're right that people don't do it because they're trying to be jerks, but likely from just not having the frame of reference to understand why something that's not a source of pressure for them can be one to anyone else. I think, too, that there are an awful lot of people to whom various kinds of adversity don't seem "real" unless they've experienced them personally. (Not just insensitive blowhards, either; my mom, from whom I got much of my socially-conscious sensibility, is like this in a lot of ways.)

Though, thinking about it (and thinking out loud here), I wonder whether "annoyed" and "hurt" aren't coming from very different places? Can someone who's vulnerable and hurtable *get* "annoyed" really? It seems like something that happens more when one has the high ground on some axis.

Though I think I get what you're saying, here's where I have to mostly disagree; I'm a depressive, and I confuse "annoyed" and "hurt" all the time. There are certainly things in my history that qualify as genuine injuries and wrongs, but the quirks of my neurochemistry can make it hard to tell, unless I really remember to stop and pay attention, if any current reaction I'm having is the result of someone else doing me harm or something I'm conflating with it. (The flip side of this is that it's very easy for someone who knows this about me to convince me that I'm just being crazy and irrational when they really are doing harm, and here we are back at "you're overreacting" again.) I don't think annoyance is a state that requires being in a position of power already; being vulnerable to injury doesn't mean that some of what you encounter isn't anything more significant than an irritation or an inconvenience. It's just that being wounded can make some of those irritations seem more grave than they are.

Xopher @333: Your discussions with Hindus match up with my own experiences; when it's come up at all, the reaction I've gotten most has been pleasant surprise that I had the Remover of Obstacles in residence on my desk. But I'm always a little bit self-conscious that I'm a white guy who got the Ganesha puja from another white guy, and, like Shweta, I can imagine people who might take exception to that. (It would be one of those cases where I'd likely listen respectfully and disagree, while doing my best to own the inauthenticity of what I'm doing, just because I have a hard time with the idea that gods and food and clothes "belong" to anyone in particular.)

Meg Thornton @405: A witchy friend of mine once said to me, while I was going through a crisis that was stretching me nearly to my limits, "The Goddess is good, but sometimes She eats Her young." It was, weirdly, a much more comforting thing to hear than the sentiment that God never gives us more than we can handle, which is demonstrably neither true nor useful.

Prayer, therefore, is not recommended, since it might draw the attention of their bosses, and we can't be certain that attention would be positive.

The tradition of pulp horror reminds us that there are other possible cosmologies than a benevolent creator with our best interests at heart; we should also allow for the possibility of the Lovecraftian blind idiot god of chaos and insanity, and the Ligottian anti-god who actively has it in for us. :) (And even short of that, there's Carla Speed McNeil: "Woe betide the favorites of gods who think they're funny.")

My own brand of DIY syncretic woo has as one of its cornerstones an idea I had from Alan Moore, talking about his explorations of magic: "The idea of a god is a god." Which is something I both believe and cannot wholly explain, which I think qualifies it as a Mystery worth a lifetime, at least, of contemplation.

On Dobson: I think he and his followers are exactly the kind of people my grandfather was talking about when he said "If you can't outsmart a two-year-old, you don't deserve to have one." (Also, if beating a little dog with a belt doesn't make someone a "monster," the word has ceased to have useful meaning. And his gleeful, smarmy-not-funny description of that event makes me come awfully close to hoping for the existence of a Hell, one full of very large Dachsunds with very sharp teeth. Signed, Dan L-K, weiner-dog-owner.)

I myself am not an anti-corporal-punishment absolutist, but I'll say that I have serious misgivings about the use of a "discipline" technique that implies the message "If someone weaker than you is doing something you don't like, you can hurt them until they stop."

#498 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 02:24 AM:

@heresiarch #489: It's not impossible that someone could read Dobson's books, pull out some useful techniques and insights while avoiding the bad stuff, and thereby become (per my definition) a better parent.

It happens all the time with these adversarial, punitive parenting handbooks that claim to be based on the Bible. It works like this: "I want to be a good Christian parent. A fellow Christian whom I trust has recommended XYZ parenting book to me. Therefore, I will read it. Hmmm. This sounds just like what I think good parenting should be and I will certainly apply it. As for this other stuff--no way, I can't be reading this right; after all, this is a good Christian book recommended by a fellow believer, so this writer can't really be saying that a three-week-old baby is already plotting to overthrow my natural authority as head of household. I must be reading it wrong. I'll just skip that chapter." This type of filtering was called "picking the raisins off the cow pie" by a poster at my mothers' group forum.

But of course, if you read the book without a firm foundation in parenting, and you're tired, frustrated, let down by the post-birth crash, and terrified that you're going to ruin the baby, it's very easy to swallow everything said by Dobson (or Ezzo or the Pearls or . . . ) as if it were Gospel.

Bonus fun fact: The idea that child raising equals smacking has affected the translation of certain key verses in many translations of the Christian Bible--what it says in English is, according to students fluent in Hebrew, not what the verse actually means. Extra bonus fun fact: "Spare the rod and spoil the child" has been cited by more than one "Biblical" parenting expert. Actually it's from a rather bawdy British poem; IIRC, the "child" in question is Eros.

#499 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 02:34 AM:

Terry Karney @ 496... if one can't just, "shut up and soldier" a lot of the time, life will sort of suck.

I noticed.

#500 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 02:45 AM:

C Wingate @424:
But it's not going to be pretty if I find that this story was just made up, or that it has been grossly misrepresented.

Never make that kind of statement on this website again. I am dead serious about this.

It is several different kinds of inappropriate conversational dynamic, but most importantly for these purposes, it is a threat that you are not entitled to carry out.

#501 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 02:56 AM:

Xopher @ 484... Somehow, the true nature of modern 'gravy' had eluded me. No offense was intended. My apologies.

#502 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 09:39 AM:

Terry Karney, #462: connecting the two threads of this discussion: consider that Dobson's idea of discipline is very likely the same as his idea of how God disciplines. It is perhaps accurate to say that Dobson's idea of his--of our--place in the world is similar to that of a damned soul.

#503 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 11:08 AM:

Earl 487: What are the ingredients of black pepper cream gravy?

abi 501: Thanks for that. That statement rubbed me the wrong way, but I wasn't sure why, and you put your finger on it. I'm not sure he meant it the way we took it, though.

Serge 502: None taken at all! I was just explaining why I haven't tried poutine.

#504 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 11:15 AM:

"I recommend the TommiGuard brand, a no-frills harness that can be stuffed into a pocket when not in use, but there are very cute ones that look like a backpack with a monkey or lion on it, the leash being the animal's tail."

We go for a lot of monkey walks, and here's the interesting part: Toddlers can be harness trained, even if they're not yet at a level where they can communicate verbally. A slight tug in one direction or another will get Gareth to go in that direction, usually without a fuss. Of course, you also need to understand when walking your toddler that you're going to stop for rocks, bugs, cats, and pinecones, and not misuse the power of the pull.

#505 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 11:40 AM:

Xopher @504--The basis for black pepper cream gravy is a white sauce, and while traditionally bacon fat (or the fat left from cooking sausage, if you're going for sawmill gravy) is used as the fat, there is no reason why a vegetarian version using other fats couldn't be made. The famous vegetarian (and kosher!) bacon salt, or liquid smoke, could be added to give some hint of porky verisimilitude. I don't know how well soy milk does in sauce making, so I can't speak for whether a palatable vegan version is possible.

#506 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 11:54 AM:

The Raven @ 503: "It is perhaps accurate to say that Dobson's idea of his--of our--place in the world is similar to that of a damned soul."

I get the feeling that for Dobson, being disciplined by an all-powerful rule-giver is actually the state of grace. It's freedom that is damnation--thus the moral imperative behind getting submission from your child.

abi @ 501: Seconding Xopher, thanks.

#507 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 11:58 AM:

Hmm, poutine can't be VEGAN, I'd think (I don't know of any vegan cheese substitute that melts the right way or anything like the right way), so for this purpose vegan isn't a requirement. The traditional vegetarian trick for making things taste like sausage is to add sage and fennel; I could probably simmer some in butter over low heat, then strain out the fennel seeds and use that as the "drippings" in that recipe.

The liquid smoke is also a good idea, though I'd probably add it with the milk and cream rather than at the drippings stage (to avoid messing up the roux).

#508 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:06 PM:

This thread is making me feel hungry.

#509 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:13 PM:

As much as traditional religions can have its problems (misogyny, homophobia, assistance in racism, war, and in oppression of the poor) simple cultural evolution means that they tend not to be as fatal as some of the newer variants.

Religions tend to either settle down (Judaism, L.D.S., Christianity maybe, Islam maybe) and live, or flame out (Mansonism, Heaven's Gate, the Skoptsi).

Think of how The Pox evolved after it, or a new-to-Europe variant of it, crossed the Atlantic---it used to cut a wide swath of death, now it will generally settle down for awhile, giving you time to breed and pass it around (and down) before it leaves you an insane sort who'd best avoid relatives who like to play "Got your nose!".

#510 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:14 PM:

Soymilk makes an adequate bechamel, if people need this information. I find the flavor a little off, but I'm very sensitive to the soy aftertaste -- good seasoning should handle most of it.

#511 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:14 PM:

Also connecting the two discussion threads (I hope): Negative reinforcement (such as spanking) can be applied instantly and at any time when a problem arises, while positive reinforcement requires some (sometimes a lot of) work and generally takes some time before you see clear results (and should ideally be started before any problems arise). Similarly people like Ray are offering a "quick fix" to people's problems in life, and in this case a fast, relatively work-free (but not cash-free!) route to success. Unfortunately lots of people will go with the apparently quick & easy route, even if you can show them proof that the slower, harder route is more effective.

#512 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:22 PM:

heresiarch, #507: Now I have this mental image of Dobson as a closet sub, searching desperately for a dom strong enough to control him.

dcb, #512: Much like fad diets and vanity publishing.

#513 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:24 PM:

heresiarch #491: Excellent points. Thinking about it some more, the "formal"/"mystical" descriptions are just wanting.

That said... to me it's still a basic issue, that from the Church's point of view, the Christian chorus (and monks) are trancing "in approved manner", and that's exactly what makes it acceptable to the Church. But the thing is, a secular or Pagan chorus can get essentially the same mystical experience -- but it simply won't be recognized as such by most Churches, because it lacks the imprimatur of "approved Christian practice".

And I'm not just talking about modern Christianity under modern governments -- consider the historical attitudes of various Christian faiths toward music, dancing, etc.. As I understand things, the historical reason they have choirs in church, is because people were going to sing anyway, and this way the Church could maintain control over it -- including condemning any competition as "the devil's music".

#514 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:32 PM:

Lee @ 513... I have this mental image of Dobson as a closet sub

That's a sandwich I'd rather not think of.

#515 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:35 PM:

Rikibeth dixit: Soymilk makes an adequate bechamel, if people need this information.

While we're still on that subject, you can also make a fairly decent vegetarian brown gravy out of vegetable stock, if you experiment a bit. Butter can substitute for the usual pan drippings. The main challenge is finding a stock that has the right flavor balance and doesn't taste too strongly of the wrong vegetable.

The very idea of poutine scares me though, and from the sound of it the idea of non-dairy poutine is even crazier than vegetarian poutine.

#516 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:45 PM:

Lee @ 513: "Now I have this mental image of Dobson as a closet sub, searching desperately for a dom strong enough to control him."

What do you mean, searching? Dobson is quite sure he's found Him.

David Harmon @ 514: "That said... to me it's still a basic issue, that from the Church's point of view, the Christian chorus (and monks) are trancing "in approved manner", and that's exactly what makes it acceptable to the Church."

Definitely! Jovian religions are all about determining the RIGHT way of reaching mystical experiences, and making sure that everyone does it that way and only that way. At its best, this tendency comes from a desire to help others take part in the same positive mystical experience that you've had; the more harmful aspects arise from the desire to harness a deeply disruptive force and turn it into a mechanism of control--thus the "state" in "state religion."

#517 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:46 PM:

Clifton Royston: Caramelized onions + some form of well-browned mushroom (for the umami note) + red wine = good vegetarian approximation of the "beef" flavor. It can even be vegan if you caramelize the onions in vegetable oil. This forms the base for what I call my Seitanic Stew.

Approximating "chicken" flavor is more about mirepoix (carrot/celery/onion) and only taking the onions to pale gold instead of caramelizing them dark brown. There's also Imagine's No-Chicken Broth, but from reading the label, that's what they're doing, too, and it's three or four dollars a quart, which is pricey. Thyme/bay/savory and some garlic probably also figure in. Or whatever's in Bell's Poultry Seasoning.

Thyme, bay, and garlic are also part of Seitanic Stew, but don't, IMHO, contribute to the "beefy" notes, not in the same way they make mirepoix stock taste more chickeny.

#518 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:52 PM:

Michael Turyn #510: Religions tend to either settle down (Judaism, L.D.S., Christianity maybe, Islam maybe) and live, or flame out (Mansonism, Heaven's Gate, the Skoptsi).

Which is exactly how selection works. I will note that each of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have diversified into a "memetic genus", rather than remaining a single "species", thus none of them is in danger of dying out in toto. Individual strains (sects) thereof are, of course, another story.

#519 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 12:57 PM:

David Harmon @514-- Another problem with those uncontrolled mystics is that they're likely to come up with messages that aren't entirely in line with the Church's program. One of the more famous examples in Roman Catholicism is the gingerly treatment St. Francis of Assissi got, what with all his vows to My Lady Poverty (just when the issue of the Church's wealth was raising eyebrows among the laymen); the Beghards and Beguines (see Margaret Porete especially), and the Brethren of the Free Spirit are other notable examples. All of them have a strong mystical strain, and that mystical strain tended to be very disruptive to prevailing orthodox (not Orthodox, in the sense of the Eastern Church) church teachings. The Franciscans have managed to trim their sails carefully over the years, although not always easily.

Jesuit mystics have also managed to get themselves in trouble; the late Anthony de Mello managed to get quite sideways with the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, and he is only one of many of that order who has managed to wander a little too far afield from the proper pastures.

#520 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 01:24 PM:

Duff's link at 495 gets you a loudish talk-radio soundtrack. To turn it off, scroll fairly far down--there's a turquoise thing with a tiny little pause button.

#521 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 01:26 PM:

heresiarch #517:

I think much of the exclusionary side of various religions, explicitly or implicitly telling people not to take part in some mystical experiences, comes out of experiences like the one that led to this thread. Mystical experiences are powerful and they can easily be misused, or lead you astray in dozens of ways--including getting you to follow some cult leader without question, or getting you to ignore your body or physical reality in ways that can kill you, or leading you off into some weird and wrong set of beliefs. (The assumption here is that there is knowable truth and falsehood, some subset of which is actually known.)

I think this happens pretty regularly in mainstream churches. I know of a catholic church near here where there was a rise of a cult-like group of parishioners and priest that got very weird (and ugly in lots of ways) rather quickly. And it was stopped by the Church, correctly as far as I can see. (I know about this secondhand, as it involved one of the schools we considered for our oldest child.)

Religion and faith and openness to some experience beyond yourself seems to me to require a certain vulnerability. And people can take advantage of that vulnerability intentionally, and group dynamics and strong personalities can drive a group of people off a cliff without anyone trying to do anything evil. (Note how easy it is to come up with justifications for why God wants you to do just exactly what you really wanted to do anyway.)

#522 ::: Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 01:33 PM:

dcb @512 Unfortunately lots of people will go with the apparently quick & easy route, even if you can show them proof that the slower, harder route is more effective.

Bingo - especially the word "apparently" attached to "quick & easy."

#523 ::: Pedantka ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 01:40 PM:

Clifton Royston 516, Rikibeth 518:
A recent accidental discovery is that dissolving condensed vegetable or mushroom stock in boiled stout, rather than boiled water, yields a much more robust, suitable-for-brown-gravy-making flavour. It's not really a beef substitute--you can definitely taste the difference--but it will do the same job as a base for layering other flavours over.
Plus, beer makes everything better.

Everyone on the Poutine thread: Poutine is heaven on a plate (or, rather, in a styrofoam cup), you *can* get it with mushroom gravy if you know where to look, it tastes just fine if you do, and you're making me hungry!

#524 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 01:46 PM:

fidelio @ 520

Ecco's The Name of the Rose is a novel about the appropriation and domestication of the generation of '68 told via the similar story of St Francis and the other movements of his tim---among many other things.

#525 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 01:49 PM:

Please note that Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola, Simon Stock, and Francis of Assisi all made saint.

#526 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 01:54 PM:

Making cream gravy without some sort of hog drippings would seem to me to be a matter for the Culinary Heresy Courts to adjudicate, were it not for the monumental backlog of Beans vs. No Beans Chili disputes. I suppose that extra black pepper might serve to ameliorate such a sad lack, but vegan cream gravy sounds to me like the sort of thing that I'd only consume as a gesture of goodwill toward a friend. "Ooh," (barely suppressed cringe) "this is outstanding. May I h-have some more?"

#527 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 01:57 PM:

albatross @521 I think much of the exclusionary side of various religions, explicitly or implicitly telling people not to take part in some mystical experiences, comes out of experiences like the one that led to this thread. Mystical experiences are powerful and they can easily be misused, or lead you astray in dozens of ways

And strawhat @451 I once asked a wise old priest what would he and his colleagues do if someone like Bernadette came to them saying they'd had a vision of Mary or direct revelation from God. And he said they'd tell them to go away. More than once.

Here is where I think there's a legitimate positive role for the conservative viewpoint. It's altogether too often used and abused to mean "do it my way because I have the power to make you." But there's value in a person or group whose message is "Let's be careful here, and have a better idea what's around the corner before we all go running off blindly down this trail."

A research colleague of my husband's once said that ideas were no problem, he had hundreds of them every day. Good ideas, those were rarer. That applies at least as much to religion and other flavors of woo as it does to science. Perhaps more, since there's less of a built-in correction mechanism to weed out the not-so-good ideas.

Ideally, there would be a healthy give-and-take between progressive and conservative that didn't disintegrate too quickly into hunkering down into their respective bunkers and lobbing insults over the space in between.

#528 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 02:01 PM:

heresiarch, #517: Imaginary Doms don't count -- that's just an excuse for *him* to play dom non-consensually with other people's lives.

#529 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 02:03 PM:

#512 ::: dcb

Yes, double that Bingo!

So many friends I know spend much of not most of their socializing off in another room with their very little ones, talking, reasoning, comforting them, time-outing them, in their years' long devotion to raising adequately socialized, happy, unselfish, thinking adults.

Judging by the results as children of many of these friends are now at young adult or adult stages, they succeeded brilliantly.

The time and the energy, the devotion, the constancy -- I am in awe.

This is why we are childless. We don't have what it takes.

Love, C.

#530 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 02:09 PM:

James D. Macdonald @526 Please note that Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola, Simon Stock, and Francis of Assisi all made saint.

You're talking about mysticism, I think, but it also applies to challenging the status quo. A few years ago we sat down as a family to watch "Brother Sun, Sister Moon," an old favorite my husband and I hadn't seen in years and the kids had never seen. At the scene where Francis is stripping off his clothes in the public square to repudiate his father, my husband and I looked at each other and began to laugh, then had to explain to a 12-year-old why we were amused. To me, it was a reminder that saints are often not easy people to live with. In common usage, when you speak of someone as being "saintly" it usually means a meek attitude, not "steadfastly following their own vision of the will of God while pushing the bounds of normal polite behavior all out of recognition."

And, of course, not everyone who is steadfastly following their own vision has a vision worth following. They laughed at Galileo, but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

#531 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 02:24 PM:

James Macdonald @ 526--Yes, indeed, and they made some people in church hierarchy very nervous while they were alive as well.

Hierarchies don't like sudden and startling developments very much, and tend to find things they can't control upsetting. Mystics fall into both categories, often at the same time. In the case of St. Francis especially, it's worth noting that although he was always very careful to be submissive and obedient to church authority, there were plenty of troublemakers who claimed his preaching and sayings as an inspiration and didn't give a hoot about church authority (often quite loudly). That's another hazard of mystics--people who listen to them will get dangerous ideas, often ideas the mystic wasn't trying to promulgate.

#532 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 02:46 PM:

If you take a look at a list of the saints, after you get past the martyrs, you find rank after rank of mystics.

#533 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 02:52 PM:

Jim--

Yes, there they are. While they lived, a lot of them worried people a lot.

Sort of like Billy Mitchell before and after his death--although mysticism wasn't the problem in his case.

#534 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 03:00 PM:

Re: Poutine -- since I can't eat potatoes, I will have to try this with sweet potato fries. I must do this, because you all are making me hungry.

#535 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 04:00 PM:

Rikibeth @ 518 Thanks for the vegetable base/stock suggestions. Please can I have the Seitanic Stew recipe? Sounds like it should be interesting

Pedantka @ 524, we'll have to sacrifice a bottle of stout to try that one sometime.

Think I'd better wait until my cold's gone and I've done a several-mile run before allowing myself to try to make and eat (vegetarian) poutine.

Constance @ 530. That's partly why we're child-free as well - we were worried we wouldn't want to give the time we knew would be needed.

#536 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 04:13 PM:

Arvol Looking Horse, the 19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, weighs in on the various aspects of this case. He has several things to say, and among them is that Inikaga (the Lakota term for the purification rite known as sweat lodge in English) is not what was going on down there under Ray's supervision, and that Inikaga is not, and cannot be about, money.

He is not pleased.

#537 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 04:14 PM:

fidelio #520: Yep -- as I and others have noted a few times above. That's the essential tension between Jovian and Promethean faith. Zeus holds the gods' fire as a monopoly (and a weapon), Prometheus gives it freely to humanity. It's no coincidence that it was Prometheus, God of Rebels, who the Christian Church conflated with the Hebrew Samael and Shaitan, and condemned as the Devil (under his Roman name of Lucifer).

And I'm a little amused to be debating this with, inter alia, folks dubbed "heresiarch" and "fidelio"....

albatross #522: Yeah, but your own example, and others earlier in the thread (especially the contrasting experiences with Lifespring) show how the hierarchy's control offers only limited protection against leaders gone astray, especially if religious status comes with secular power. One problem with the newer religions and pseudo-religions is exactly that they generally don't monitor their "priesthoods", and can't effectively squelch those who go rogue.

PS: Just who laughed at Galileo? My impression is that he was taken all too seriously as a threat to doctrine.

#538 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 04:16 PM:

Don't you live in New Jersey, Xopher? I am compelled to mention T Poutine in New York, which has seven or eight flavors of Poutine including several that are vegetarian.

#539 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 04:19 PM:

Earl Cooley III, # 475

"respectfully approach the podium and..."

I think I'm a trifle too socialized for that response to be feasible for me.

I would probably cast some loud pithy aspersions about mental ability, mating habits and ancestry and go out the door.


David Harmon # 514

"..and this way the Church could maintain control over it -- including condemning any competition as "the devil's music"..."

I guess I'd better make sure that those self-appointed authorities don't get a look at the tunes I select from for the preludes (or what the choirmaster/organist uses for her postludes after services.... :)

#524 Pedantka --
How do you accidentally get boiled stout? And do the people at Guiness (sp?) know where you live?

#540 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 04:33 PM:

albatross @ 522: "I think much of the exclusionary side of various religions, explicitly or implicitly telling people not to take part in some mystical experiences, comes out of experiences like the one that led to this thread."

No argument here! I don't want to give the impression that I think Jovian traditions are just the MAN trying to keep us DOWN, man, because they aren't--they're lots of other things as well as the man trying to keep us down, and some of those things are truly necessary and beneficial. As you say, one of the major benefits of organizing your mystical tradition is the mapping out and demarcating of dangerous spiritual terrain. But inherent in the capacity to protect people from danger is the capacity to "protect" them from things that threaten the status quo. The potential for corruption is always present within Jovian traditions, just as the potential for wandering off into insanity is always present within Promethean traditions. It's the same set of trade-offs between freedom and guidance, individuality and conformity, that apply to all human institutions.

fidelio @ 534: "Yes, there they are. While they lived, a lot of them worried people a lot."

Another example is Martin Luther King--the "Hallmark-ization" of his memory, transforming his revolutionary challenge to the status quo into an example of its moral authority ("See? We listened to him! We sure are awesome!"), is a very clear example of the process by which institutions de-fang their opponents' critiques and absorb their influence.

#541 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 04:50 PM:

David Harmon @ 538--I'm all about the Beethoven, really.

#542 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 04:55 PM:

Rikibeth: I second the Seitanic stew recipe request, if it's something you can share!

#543 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 05:03 PM:

This over the weekend on the Emptywheel section of Firedoglake: Treachery at the Red Rocks Sweat Lodge. The post includes links to relevant portions of Arizona statue law.

Thanks to P.J. Evans, they have been given a link to this post.

#544 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 05:13 PM:

Pedantka @ 524... boiled stout

William Stout got drunk, then was dunked?

#545 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 05:17 PM:

fidelio @ 544... portions of Arizona statue

Which portions of the statue did you have in mind?

#546 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 05:30 PM:

Emily 539: Thanks! Their Menu page appears to be down, but when it's up I'll have a look.

#547 ::: Pedantka ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 05:34 PM:

Craig R. @ 540:

I was already making a chocolate cake (the famous Guinness Stout Cake, although in this case I was using something brewed in the Hebrides) and had stout left over from that, and in a moment of madness decided to toss it in the mushroom soup, since there really wasn't enough to make a satisfying drink. The boiling was a natural extension of a) what one must do to effectively thin the stock paste and b) what I'd already been doing to make the cake.
Best mushroom soup I've ever eaten.

Serge @ 545:

...and then they put him in the stock.

#548 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 06:20 PM:

Lee@355: There is NOTHING you can say which will convince me that this is not going over the line into advocating child abuse.

Thanks for letting us know. It's a useful bit of self-knowledge to realize when you've crossed over from being a rational human being who can participate in discussion of opinions into a zealot with a cause.

Even if I pretty much agree with you on the precise point in question.

Between that and your declaring an absolutely hard-and-fast line between "spanking" and "beating" @399, I'm starting to feel you have a lot of very absolute positions that don't have any room for any give and take with anybody else. If I accepted your definition of 'beating', I'd then find myself arguing that a spanking can do as much psychological damage as a beating. And that either one can physically cause death. Which leaves me seeing no reason to prefer one to the other; whereas I believe you intend which one is "wrong" and which one is "not totally wrong" to be obvious to everybody.

I don't think it's possible to make hard-and-fast rules about what's damaging, especially psychologically. That, in fact, seems to me to be the primary argument for making the socially acceptable (and perhaps legally acceptable) limits of corporal punishment very far indeed below the point at which damage seems to indisputably happen. (Well, that plus the widespread belief that rewards work better than punishments for nearly everything.)

#549 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 06:22 PM:

fidelio: Thank you for those links. Interesting observations and informative.

EmilyH: Thank you for the link to T Poutine. I don't think I want to try making poutine but a sampling at a restaurant would be interesting.

#550 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 06:55 PM:

There is a food cart in Portland that serves vegetarian poutine - cheese curds and fries and non-meat-based brown gravy.

I was so thrilled when I found it. See, I'm half Canadian, and having never tried this national dish was a source of disappointment to me. Well, now I can have it whenever I like, ten blocks from my house. A bit too salty to become a staple, but hey.

#551 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 06:57 PM:

albatross@522: Note how easy it is to come up with justifications for why God wants you to do just exactly what you really wanted to do anyway.

Well, She does want you to do just exactly what you really want to do. Gods are scary that way. (Sez my pan-poly-theism, which sees the universe itself as the God/ess, and various pieces of it as gods, including each of us. So at least one god wants you to do just exactly what you really want to do -- once you've pinned down a particular you out of the many possible ones, and decided what that you really really wants to do. Meanwhile, the Big What Is consists of/approves of/creates the whole kerfluffle.)

#552 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 07:02 PM:

AJ: of course it's salty--this is where the Canadian love of beer becomes important.

#553 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 08:40 PM:

I don't know whether it makes a difference, but I'm wondering how many of the people in that sweat lodge had so much money that 10K wouldn't make a big difference to them, how many had enough to spare that they could splurge on a hobby of self-improvement, and how many were making a last desperate throw of the dice.

#554 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 08:42 PM:

What is an appropriate beer pairing for poutine?

#555 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 08:54 PM:

Nancy #554:

Yeah, there's a very different feel between:

a. The messed-up rich kid dropping $10K of his trust fund money on yet another attempt to get his life straightened out.

and

b. The barely-making-ends-meet sales manager with a wife and two kids maxing out the credit cards or draining the savings account because he's desperate for some chance at a better life than the lousy one he's made for himself.

or even

c. The former middle-manager who's been unemployed for the last six months, and has reached the point where he's willing to toss the last of his savings into what he hopes will solve his problems and get him back to the success he once knew.

I don't suppose it matters in the sense of the law--negligent homicide of rich people or well-off-enough people is no less a crime than negligent homicide of desperate poor people. But it sure puts a different feel on the whole class.

#556 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 09:03 PM:

Xopher @508: poutine can't be VEGAN, I'd think (I don't know of any vegan cheese substitute that melts the right way or anything like the right way)

Mochi (sticky rice[*] dough) can get pleasantly gooey in a mozzarella-like fashion when heated, though the moisture content has to be right. Probably the easiest way to experiment[**] would be to get a box of mochiko (the corresponding powdered flour-type substance) and make a small batch of mochi according to instructions, rather than starting from scratch and mooshing cooked sticky rice into a smooth paste.

[*: sometimes also called "glutinous rice" although it doesn't actually contain wheat-type gluten, so it's celiac-safe if that's a problem for anyone]

[**: unless wherever you find the mochiko already has pre-made unfilled mochi dumplings-- I don't think the usual sweet bean-based fillings for mochi dumplings would be helpful in this context, and iirc Xopher hates bean-based sweets anyway]

#557 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 09:17 PM:

I haven't read through all the corporal punishment sub-thread, and may never*, but I want to give a datapoint:

My father beat me frequently with (mostly) wooden kitchen utensils for infractions significant, trivial, and imagined.

My mother spanked me once, when I was in 1st or 2nd grade, for crossing the street by weaving through cars like I had seen adults and older children do.

Three guesses as to which effected† an appropriate change of behavior? As is traditional, the first two guesses don't count.


*Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-precious Stones, of limited availability.

†'Taint many places on the 'net that you get to see this word used correctly.

#558 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 09:21 PM:

Earl Cooley @ 55: "Lots" is probably the correct answer.

#559 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 09:25 PM:

55 should be 555.

#560 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 10:43 PM:

James D. Macdonald, #526, on sainting mystics, see #354. I agree that Western Christianity incorporates mysticism--what I wrote on that was flat wrong and I wish I'd edited it out. In any event, it's the reaction to mysticism outside the walls of the churches and monasteries that concerns me. Perhaps more later. I'm still considering my thoughts on this.

#561 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 11:06 PM:

David, #549: I expanded on the reasoning behind my drawing that hard-and-fast line in #477, if you're willing to read it.

#562 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 11:08 PM:

@David Harmon #538: The Church of the day didn't have a problem with Galileo's content as long as he was able to back up his numbers with observations, IIRC; it was his presentation that stung. If you want the Pope's support, you don't put him into your book as a sort of Juan Bobo figure. Especially in an age when the Pope had the power to imprison people until called for.

#563 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 11:27 PM:

Julie L, thanks for sharing. I lurves the bean-based sweets. Our favorite* place for DimSum serves a steamed coconut-paste covered sweet bean paste dessert balls that I would die for. I usually order two and take one home.

*Bo-Ling's on the Plaza has DimSum on Saturday and Sunday for a form of "Brunch." Various groups meet there in the holiday season to gorge on DimSum. it is always an adventure, one of the ladies in the SF club makes sure we get ONE plate of duck feet and the other group pretty much eschews anything that odd.

#564 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2009, 11:48 PM:

Xopher @ 508... poutine can't be VEGAN

Panel member: If you were to meet these Vegans, and were permitted only one question to ask of them, what would it be?
Ellie Arroway: Well, I suppose it would be, how did you do it? How did you evolve, how did you survive this technological adolescence without destroying yourself?

#565 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 12:15 AM:

I jumped over to Firedoglake to read their post -- thanks, Fidelio -- and it says that Ray was not inside the sweat lodge during the "Spiritual Warrior" experience. Teresa's post states that he was.

He's culpable either way. But if it's true that he wasn't inside the tent, AFAIAC it proves that he is pure charlatan, a complete con man -- not, as some have suggested, a man who may have partially believed his own constructions. A believer would have been inside.

#566 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 12:17 AM:

Jenny:
Quoting Wikipedia,

Galileo was found "vehemently suspect of heresy," namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture.

That matches what I recalled. He might not have ended up in such a highly publicized trial had he written his dialogues differently, but he had already been ordered to recant heliocentrism once and the idea that the Earth moves and the Sun stands still at the centre was still considered heresy for some time after his death. Books on heliocentrism remained on the Church's list of prohibited books until 1758.

I believe the Church still defends its conviction of Giordano Bruno for heresy while disclaiming responsibility for his being burned at the stake as the sentence was carried out by the secular authorities.

#567 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 12:57 AM:

Clifton Royston, Bruno was indeed convicted of heresy, but the charges against him had very little to do with science. The charges against him were: Holding opinions contrary to the Catholic Faith and speaking against it and its ministers. Holding erroneous opinions about the Trinity, about Christ's divinity and Incarnation. Holding erroneous opinions about Christ. Holding erroneous opinions about Transubstantiation and Mass. Claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity. Believing in metempsychosis and in the transmigration of the human soul into brutes. Dealing in magics and divination. Denying the Virginity of Mary.

According to some scholars, he was executed mostly because he substituted astrology and magic for faith. He did believe that the earth moved and the sun stood still. He also believed that the universe is filled with an infinite array of stars like the sun, and that there must be life elsewhere in the universe. The Church objected to this, of course, but she objected even more strongly to Bruno's assertion that Christ was not the second person of the Trinity, but actually a very powerful magician who had survived his crucifixion through black arts.

He was, by all accounts, brilliant, and a pain in the ass to know. He alienated all of his patrons across Europe. He probably could have saved himself if he had been willing to recant -- but it wasn't in him, alas.

#568 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 01:10 AM:

Okay, vocabulary tangent.

Back in the Ice Age when I was a young adult I worked at a vegetable freezer plant. One season was brussels sprouts and the other season was spinach. They gave us a rule card, and the one rule I never got an interpretation for was "no soldiering."

I thought it might mean "no pretending to work when you're really just hanging around waiting for the floor lady to punch your card."

But Terry has used the phrase "shut up and soldier" to mean "just follow orders." And how come a freezer plant would want its workers not to do that?

I can tell a few stories to demonstrate that wasn't what they wanted, anyway.

Anybidy know what that rule really meant? West Coast, if that helps. The rules were written sometime after WWII and before 1974.

#569 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 02:03 AM:

The Very Separate World of Conservative Republicans

Another claim that the most dedicated Obama-hatred is not race-based, and this one is fairly strongly supported; I may have been skeptical too soon. Several things jumped out at me while I was reading this. I wonder if anyone else will have the same reactions?

#570 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 02:07 AM:

As far as I know, Giordiano Bruno was executed for being, basically, his period's version of a neo-pagan and for being, just as Lizzy L says, "brilliant, and a pain the ass to know."

Ref: (but I haven't read it, just heard good things about it) Yates, Frances A. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, University of Chicago Press, 1964.

#571 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 02:40 AM:

There's another (extremely quick) brown gravy flavoring that's vegan, though I know it's not to some people's taste, but I've used it quite successfully when I was either out of meat or out or time or both: make up a little bit of strong brown broth using hot water and some marmite, and use that in the gravy. Be careful not to overdo, though.

No, really: something about the yeast really works, taste-wise.

#572 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 03:34 AM:

Lee @570, Another claim that the most dedicated Obama-hatred is not race-based, and this one is fairly strongly supported; I may have been skeptical too soon.

My impression is that it's not aways race-based in origin, but still often race-related in form. In other words, people on the right are more or less strongely anti-Obama for all kinds of reasons, but with many of them, once they've become anti-Obama for whatever reason, their anti-Obama attitudes all too often take racist forms.

#573 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 04:22 AM:

Lucy Kemnitzer @ 569... Maybe it was a typo and they meant "no soldering", or "no smoldering". Both would make sense at a freezer plant. Possibly.

#574 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 05:25 AM:

elise @572, that's an old favourite trick with Vegemite, as well.

Some of this thread is like self-torture. I've had a pretty bad stomach bug for a week or so, able to ingest extremely little: clear liquids as long as they're sipped quite slowly, small amounts of jelly ditto, little bits of dry crackers, sucking on barley sugar or a mint for sugar energy. I've been sometime-sickened, sometime-salivating reading all the recipes and food hints.

#575 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 06:12 AM:

Earl Cooley III #555: A Quebec beer appropriately named Fin du Monde, of course.

#576 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 08:12 AM:

elise #572: something about the yeast really works, taste-wise.

One word: umami

#577 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 08:47 AM:

Fragano @ 576... Fin du Monde, the beer, if not the bier, to be sampled on Jug-ment Day?

#578 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 08:48 AM:

Lee #570: I see two main themes:

1) Unblinking tribalism. They feel they, and only they, represent the "original and true" American political and religious positions. FOX News and Glen Beck are the Truth, anything that disagrees with them is propaganda and deception.
"Socialism" becomes synecdoche for "everything America isn't".

2) Massive projection -- accusing Obama of trying to do everything that ShrubCo actually did, plus "secret plans" drawn directly from their own fears.

#579 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 08:57 AM:

David Harmon @ 579... Synecdoche? I presume you're not referring to the 2008 film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, but to this...

Synecdoche is closely related to metonymy (the figure of speech in which a term denoting one thing is used to refer to a related thing); indeed, synecdoche is considered a subclass of metonymy. It is more distantly related to other figures of speech, such as metaphor.

That sounds like the subject of another panel for LumiCon.

#580 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 08:59 AM:

Lucy @ 569:

Wikipedia is your friend. Apparently it was a synomyn for loafing.

#581 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:07 AM:

Serge #578: It's the beer for those who are definitely sure Mr Godot's coming. Or not.

#582 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:13 AM:

Everybody, Lee's link is an excellent one and should be read carefully, and soon.

David Harmon @ 579--the other significant theme is socialism.

This group represents the last Cold Warriors, along with everything else.

#583 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:20 AM:

Fragano @ 582: I've been waiting for someone to say that.

Maybe I've just been waiting.

#584 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:45 AM:

Ginger #584: I'm just the messenger boy.

#585 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:00 AM:

Fragano @ 585: You should have been a poet.

#586 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:10 AM:

I'll second fidelio: Lee's link was fascinating.

One weird thing, to me, was that I found many of the concerns and worldview of the hardcore conservatives to be sort of like my own, but passed through some very weird distorting figure. I mean, being worried about scary increases in government power seems very reasonable to me, but it's hard to see the road to socialism paved with political appointees from Goldman-Sachs. And the media really are a poor window on the world, but Glen Beck is supposed to be better? Really? And yes, the Republicans have betrayed their ideas, and do need better leadership. But is Sarah Palin really the best they can do?

#587 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:14 AM:

albatross, I think the important thing there is that Sarah Palin is someone like them, and they feel comfortable with her as a political leader because of that.

#588 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:40 AM:

fidelio, it is possible you do not realise what a profoundly disturbing sentence you just wrote....

#589 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:06 AM:

Oh, but I do, Mark, I do.

Some of these people are my relatives.

Bless their hearts.

#590 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:30 AM:

Lee@562: I don't disagree with much of anything in your 477; except for the indirect implication that we don't have to worry about spanking with an open hand much. Which is what mostly bothers me about drawing such a huge firewall between the two.

Some implements, in fact, make it physically harder to do serious physical damage (such as a switch, for example). But in ALL cases, the attention and care of the person administering a spanking is vitally necessary to avoiding physical damage. If you lose control or just have excessive ideas of what's appropriate, you can do very serious damage with your bare hand.

(Psychological damage has additional complications and dimensions, of course. I'm pretty doubtful that there's any real utility to anything beyond a couple of instant quick swats on the seat for something like trying to run out into traffic. Well, outside consensual adult relationships, which is a completely unrelated topic.)

#591 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:53 AM:

Ginger #586: I tell myself that frequently.

#592 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 12:00 PM:

Raphael, #573: One of the things I was thinking while reading it was, "They keep talking about taking America back to its principles, and how that relates to government. But what does their internal vision of America's population look like?"

#593 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 12:15 PM:

Fidelio #583: I just reread the article, and from there:

Fear of government control is at the heart of virtually all of the concerns raised by these voters about Obama’s agenda, and it is literally a fear of two things – government and control.

There's also much discussion of his "hidden agenda" and some of "making people dependent":

The notion that Obama’s health care reforms represent a government takeover of all aspects of health care is an article of faith; they reject as laughable the suggestion that it might not, pointing to his arguments to the contrary as further proof of his determination to lie and deceive....

I still think that "socialism" is being used as shorthand for "whatever Obama's trying to do", plus an assertion that it's "not the American Way". ShrubCo's actions trashed the economy and the workforce, but it's Obama they blame for their being "dependent" -- that is, needing help because of what ShrubCo did to them.

Yes, these are the last of the Cold Warriors -- to them, "socialism" is the Bogeyman, the essence of America's Enemy. And if America's having problems, well then it must be the fault of the Enemy, because the Cold Warriors and their leaders are defined as Good, and Good leaders wouldn't do anything like that!

#594 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 12:18 PM:

One of the things that I remember from the back of my mind is that often, MSG is disguised as 'yeast extract' in ingredient lists.

#595 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 12:37 PM:

Lee @ 593... But what does their internal vision of America's population look like?

It obviously isn't the same as Norman Rockwell's.

#596 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 12:39 PM:

FRELL ME DEAD. Is THAT what that means?!?!!? Dammit. I'm sensitive to MSG, and I check for it, but it never occurred to me that they'd disguise it that way.

Time for more labeling reform. They put Phenolketonurics: contains phenylalanine on everything that has the vile and reprehensible aspartame in it, but they're still not labeling the Crunchy Frogs. ("FUCK your sales; I have to protect the general public.")

Ooo, that's a good idea! Things on a certain list, like MSG, should be called only by a certain name, and for MSG I think the name should be LARK'S VOMIT. Actually they should have a LARGE RRED SIGN saying "WARNIN': LARK'S VOMIT*" with the asterisk referring to the particular kind of Lark's Vomit in the package; MSG, aspartame, zombie goldfish scales, whatever.

#597 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 12:42 PM:

Lee # 570 --
I think that the degree of overt racism across a large minority of the GOP base may be overstated, but it is still there.

Witness the opposition to immigration (anecdotal evidence here: When I've questioned those who are against allowing legal and non-legal immigrants more help in obtaining health care fully 7 out of ten couch their responses in terms of characterizing the immigrants in question as being Hispanic, Asian (Middle East, India, south Asia) or African. A rare response was to the effect that "they can always go back to Germany or France")

A large basis of opposition is a worry about the erosion of white privilege, especially in the arena of availability of jobs. there is still hefty opposition to the very idea of affirmative action (with the subtext of "'They" don't deserve those jobs -- 'they're' only getting those jobs because the government liberals are giving them to them" -- no matter how qualified for the job a particular person would be).

A further trend, that was shown in the report, was the sense of em-battlement and need to "protect" "American values" from being subsumed. Again, the subtext if to protect the straight white male privilege that had been the norm when they were growing up. (witness the self-designated "truth police" who declare they can document all the news/"truth" that only Fox News shows, and all the liberal media ignores or lies about, and the expressed fear that Glen Beck (!) is in danger of assassination, as Beck is a very vocal proponent of "taking back America" and "restoring Core American Values" -- and, lets face it, "core American values" for a long time included xenophobia, Manifest Destiny, "people should know their place," "nice girls don't need abortions," "a woman's place is in the home" and a decidedly unhealthy dose of the unexpressed "*I* had to walk to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways, and by Ghu everybody else should have to suffer through that as well" )

I really would have liked to have seen this demographic sample's directly expressed opinions on advancement of women in the workplace, and on women's rights in general. The opposition stated by the study targets on issues such abortion and gay rights is only touched upon, not explored in depth, which I would have liked to see.

Bear in mind, also, that this group was very self-aware that the were being interviewed for analysis, and were very careful to couch their responses in terms that made it very clear that "they" didn't consider *themselves* racist, but that everybody would assume it was so.

As I stated in my opening sentence,for myself, I don't think the majority of opposition to Obama is overtly racial in bias, but there is a very vocal minority that leaves that impression, on me.

Of course, as in all matters of opinion, YMMV

#598 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 12:56 PM:

I was just realizing two things that makes me glad I read/participate in the Making Light comments

The ability for topic drift to flourish ("What do you mean the Topic Compass has started to list? It can't do that! WeHaveRules!") and the fact that, whereas a Wall Of Text (that sans white-space or punctuation) is not usually appreciated, comments in the conversation are not limited to a three sentence maximum lest the reader's eye glaze over (which is why I will never be able to Truly Embrace Twitter)

#599 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 01:10 PM:

Craig, #599: Well, this particular topic drift can be chalked up to "it was really too late for me to be posting". I'd meant to put that link in the Open Thread, and forgot which tab I was on. By this morning, there were already several responses and I decided to leave it be.

What I found most interesting about the article was the difference in the core beliefs of interview groups that were selected for similar political and economic-class characteristics between the Deep South and the rest of the country.

#600 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 01:17 PM:

Lee@600: That was a great article (and a great study). I'd probably have found it if you'd posted it in the other thread too, though, so I can't quite credit the mistake for my seeing it. But thanks! I can credit you for my seeing it.

#601 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 01:21 PM:

elise @572:

That "something" would be "umami".

Recognizing umami as a taste, and what provides it, is really helpful in good vegetarian cooking, especially when stocks are involved. (Carnivores can get away with not knowing about it to a greater extent because meat is loaded with umami.) I tend to add a tiny bit of miso paste to a veggie stock when I'm substituting it for chicken stock(maybe a quarter teaspoon for a cup of stock) to give an umami boost. As with salt, you shouldn't be able to taste the miso as miso, just the flavor boost it provides.

#602 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 01:29 PM:

David Harmon@538: This may not be the time or place to argue that the Catholic Church, as one of the oldest religious organizations functioning in the world, has been doing a good job monitoring and controlling the behavior of their designated "priests", though. Even compared to relatively new cults like some of the self-improvement programs.

#603 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 01:30 PM:

Great link, Lee.

Has everyone seen this? Watch out Dems -- the Town Hall protesters are not accurately described as “racists”. It's a nice companion to Lee's link.

Racism has been at the center of the Republican strategy for so long that it's hard to remember that it isn't, in the end, the point: opposition to governmental interference (redistribution) is. Reagan's anecdote about the "strapping young buck" buying a T-bone with food stamps is about using the visceral emotion of racist sentiment to build opposition to governmental programs, not the other way around. It seems that those who fundamentally oppose government have come to the conclusion that racism is more of a distraction than an aid in their strategy, and have re-focused their rhetoric on anti-"Socialism" and "real American values." While I doubt racism as a force is entirely gone, I think they're telling the truth when they say they don't really hate him for his skin color. It's much deeper than that.

#604 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 01:50 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet #603: Well, the CC certainly holds a line on its priests' theology. For their behavior... well, there's been a few cracks and boners, as exposed in recent decades. ;-)

#605 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 01:57 PM:

Xopher (597): My mother is not just sensitive, but actually allergic, to MSG (rash, hives...). There's a whole list of things she has to look for on labels, including "natural flavoring". One problem is that they don't have to call it MSG unless it's 90% (95%? I forget the exact number) pure. But she's still allergic to the less-pure stuff. Also, there are a number of things that are not actually MSG, but which are broken down/made into MSG in the body, that also cause her problems.

If you have a big problem with MSG, I could ask her for her complete list.

#606 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 02:05 PM:

Mary Aileen, it's a mild sensitivity. Headaches, that sort of thing. Don't worry about it.

I do think they should have to call it MSG if it's got MSG in it. I also think they should have to put "(contains caffeine)" after any ingredient that does, like guarana, but I'm sure that makes me a pinko.

#607 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 02:17 PM:

#604 ::: heresiarch:

Unfortunately, we don't have the alternate universe with Colin Powell as president for comparison.

#608 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 02:26 PM:

Craig R:

When someone provides an armchair psychoanalysis of their political enemies, as you did above, I very rarely find it informative. It's an almost irresistable temptation to create a model in which your political enemies are basically motivated by agreeing with your worldview, but being evil, and so wanting all the things you (as a good person) do not. Or to define your enemies in such a way that they're pathetically ignorant of obvious realities. That always ends up looking more like self-congratulation than like any kind of informative analysis. It's also very obvious when it's done from the other side to your own views, as with the strawman versions of liberalism attacked by Coulter or Goldberg.

The article did something very different, and much more informative, by actually listening to people from different groups, and then using this data to draw some conclusions. There's some reasonable chance of actually learning something from that kind of analysis, because it's based on information the writers didn't start with as part of their worldview.

#609 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 02:55 PM:

heresiarch #604:

Political movements are made of coalitions, right? Presumably, some folks care a lot about lower taxes, some about bigger defense spending, others about deregulation, others about pushing back against civil rights laws, others about abortion, etc. In that environment, it's pretty natural to piece together different messages to pull and hold a coalition together. So, when you want to cut welfare benefits (which various members of your coalition want to cut, for various reasons), you invoke fiscal responsibility (to get the fiscal conservatives), black welfare queens (to get the racists), single mothers raising multiple kids on welfare (to get the religious and social conservatives), etc.

This often makes for some very odd rhetoric and policies. Look at the way the Iraq war was sold, with a weird mix of "we've got to get them before they get us" and "let's go kick some ass to show the Arab world who's boss" and "Saddam is a monster and we must depose him" and "Once we build a democracy in the middle east, the rest of the region will fall to democracy like dominoes" and so on. This jumble of motivations and rhetoric didn't lead to sensible behavior on our part, as a politically unacceptable but cynical policy of "let's invade them and take their oil" might have. (That would have been evil, but sane.)

#610 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 03:17 PM:

#606 ::: Mary Aileen
If you have a big problem with MSG, I could ask [my mother] for her complete list.

Yes, please. MSG starts me off with a headache, which intensifies and goes downhill from there. A moderate dose knocks me out for three to four miserable days.

There were all kinds of condescending attitudes laid on me for often getting sick when I traveled, or ate the gourmet meals my sister prepared.

Avoid MSG? Then I'm fine. Naturally-occurring unami doesn't do it, just the synthesized stuff. Anybody got insight on that?

#611 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 03:25 PM:

Carol Kimball (611): I might have the list at home; I'll check tonight. Otherwise, I'll ask her. Either way, I'll post it when I can (might be a few days).

Naturally-occurring vs synthesized might be a matter of concentration?

#612 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 03:32 PM:

dcb: The thing with negative reinforcement is that it must be immediate, and unfailingly applied every time the non-desired behavior takes place.

An electric fence can do it, but that's the sort of method one needs. If it only happens somtimes, the reaction will be inconsistent (in keeping with the nature of variable reinforcement), and the actual lesson learned will not be in the control of the person trying to do the teaching.


re the Lakota, and sweat lodges: To be pedantic (I know, a shock in this crowd), there are a lot of sweat lodge traditions in the Americas (and I'm not going to deal with the asian shamanisms, because I don't think Ray was using them, so they don't apply). I agree, this was not any of them, but I am amused at the categoric nature of Arvol Looking Horse.

There is (as I think someone mentioned) no single religious stream in Native American/First Nations peoples.

The Ohlone sweat lodges were different from the Lakota, were different from the Chumash, and different from the Haida. So, while his comments are good, insofar as they apply to LAkota tradition, and to how that may have been appropriated, the way he presented them is a bit misleading, because it plays into the monolithic view of, "The Indian Way". You can really see it if you read the comments to the column.

Lucy Kemnizter: I don't know what they meant by "soldiering". The actual use of the phrase (in the army) isn't so much, "just follow orders" as it is, "some things are just what they are, and complaining about this one is a waste of time".

There's a lot else packed into the phrase, and it's meaning will depend on who says it, and the circumstanes.

I would guess it has more to do with the Army (and the other services) being the last examples of a labor rich economy. In garrison one can have duty days which are largely not done with more than standing about. This is because the number of people the Battalion can find real work for is far less than the number of people to do the work. So police calls, and hanging about between rock-painting, and long smoke breaks, etc. happen a lot.

#613 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 04:36 PM:

Mary Aileen -

Thank you. Whenever it comes will be fine. The concentration is certainly a component, much like overdoing caffeine from a product like No-Doz vs. multiple cups of coffee.

Maybe we need a thread dedicated to food additives and sensitivities?

#614 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 04:42 PM:

Back when this thread was about half it's current length I meant to add a couple of stories loosely related to the conversation, but failed to get to the end. So a little late;

I was once on a team-building/problem solving course, which would involve rock-climbing, raft-building, an obstacle course on ropes 4 feet off the ground and all kinds of silly games. In our initial talky session, the instructor suggested we might want to come up with some rules or objectives or something like that. Someone suggested that we should support each other and not let anyone fail. "Uh-oh" I thought and suggested that we should support each other, even if someone wants to give up, or when they failed. others re-wrote this and eventually eventually it became "We support each other, whatever we choose to do".

Three of us couldn't/wouldn't cross the rope bridges. We had them cheer us and offer advice on how other people had done the tricky bits of the obstacle course. It worked well.

I'm teaching kids maths at the moment. Some of them aren't doing well, not so much because they are really bad at taking exams. I have a handful of different pieces of advice for them of various levels of woo (breathing/relaxation, imagine yourself back in the classroom/at home/on the beach, find a question you can do and start there) and tell them that "This may not work for you. Everybody gets exam stress in different ways and so needs different ways of coping. Pick one you think helps, but if it doesn't, don't panic, try the next thing we've talked about."

#615 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 04:48 PM:

Terry Karney #613: Umm... so where would you put the examples of Rachel Heslin #367, my family at #407, dcb #449, and at least one other I can't seem to find in the thread?

There seems to be a second mechanism at play there, more akin to the one time I reached up to touch a live stove burner. Ben Franklin's comment about cats and "stove-lids" shows that it's not human-specific, either -- but also shows a potential hazard in the teaching.

#616 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 05:16 PM:

Lee, I haven't finished the article yet (I keep getting interrupted), but so far it tallies exactly with the thinking of the office hard cases. Thanks for finding it.

594/598: I'm having a really hard time translating the almost insane opposition to healthcare reform into "white privilege". Perhaps the similar if less intense craziness when the Clintons pushed it has been forgotten.

And the thing is, the opposition, metaphorically, is to Sweden, whose males, I am told, are mostly heterosexual and almost entirely (literally) Nordic white. There is definitely a very strong xenophobic element to the birther-etc. faction, but the foreign that they oppose is Western Europe.

One side note of the article is that, if anything, the ideological opposition to Obama is even crazier than whatever racially-motivated opposition exists. Obama is, at least, black; but he is no Swedish (much less Soviet)-style socialist.

#617 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 05:19 PM:

Albatross -- # 609 - I'd like to point out that both the article describing the study, and the study itself, make direct reference to the disconnect from reality of this group on several salient points, including a direct reference to the subjects' "rewriting history"

Please note that I did not describe this group as "evil," nor did I describe them as being "pathetically ignorant."

What I did say, and this is something that bears repeating, is that many people, "liberals" and "conservatives" and all the stripes in between, carry a lot of baggage in the form of unexamined assumptions.

Most of the time these assumptions are present because of upbringing, and they are unexamined because they were part of the basis for upbringing, and are part of that foundation.

For example, earlier in the thread there was the example of Dobson and his attitude towards child-rearing. The attitude that says that the parent/authority figure needs to be regarded as infallible is one that actually directly comes from Dobson's expressed choice of faith. It also likely stems from his own upbringing (numerous studies have shown that the pattern for abusive relationships, both to be the abuser or the acceptance of being the target, are set in early childhood, and that abuse does "run in families," except that it's a societal/sociological basis, rather than genetic)

Probably the most self-unexamined assumptions are those that provide "us" as our basis when dealing with "them," whether the "us" are "liberals" or "conservatives." These assumptions are also the basic on how we formulate our self-image, be it assumption that "the Earth needs our protection" or that "the earth and its denizens are here to serve us" or the unconscious assumption that "because I am white, male, xtian and straight I am the apex, and my inherited wealth proves that G/d prefers me and mine."

As any writer will tell you, there's a shootload of subtext in any piece of writing, whether fiction or otherwise. And just as much subtext gets read into the work. Witness your "read" that I'm considering the study subjects as being either evil or ignorant.

Now, what I will say that I certainly do disagree with your implication that Coulter or Goldberg are making mistakes in analysis -- rather, I believe that Coulter, Goldberg, Malkin, Beck and Limbaugh are purposely misrepresenting and demonizing the "liberals" solely to be able to boost ratings and book sales in an amoral manner.

There are likely "liberal" writers who do so as well, but maybe they can't really put their hearts into the effort, and are not as successful. (OK, maybe Jon Stewart) (and Stephen Colbert) (But they're *different*)

#618 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 05:48 PM:

C Wingate @ 617... Obama is, at least, black; but he is no Swedish

Great. Now I have this image stuck in my head of Obama dressed like someone from Hagar the Horrible.
Thanks for the chuckle.
Heeheehee...

#619 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 05:58 PM:

The thing about Hillary's health plan is that it was more complicated and more expensive than what was currently in place. It also included huge giveaways and power to the insurance industry. She was a good friend to the insurance racketeers' lobbyists then, and probably still is. But since she's Secretary of State now and not a senator, it maybe isn't so important.

Recall the insurance companies were in favor of it. For some reason then the AMA was not -- they were the ones who were making money hand-over-fist then. Now the insurance racketeers have cut deeply into their profits too.

Anyway that is why she wasn't able to rally people like me to her side in that really really really messy, complicated bad plan.

Love, C.

#620 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 06:00 PM:

O'Bama? The Irish guy?

#621 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 06:01 PM:

C.Wingate - # 618 - The health-care debate comes not so much as directly from "white privilege" as from the underpinning that says "if you are favored by Ghu you will not need assistance to find funding, and besides, because Ghu favors you wyou will not get sick beyond the means to pay for it"

It's a world view that says "my life is built on the assumption that I am favored, and that the institutions I support are right and just."

The same worldview that blames Barney Frank for supporting the Community Reinvestment Act and blames the CRA for the sub-prime mortgage meltdown -- bypassing the fact that the CRA did not force banks into accepting loan applications without documentation, the CRA did not lead inevitably to the fraudulent mortgage brokers who falsified data, nor did the CRA force the financial world to "securitize" mortgage instruments, and the CRA most certainly did not force the U.S. Congress to dismantle a regulatory framework and protections that had been in place for over 60 years, including specifically exempting "bucket shops" from regulation.

It's that world-view that says "what I've always assumed to be the basis for my identity cannot possibly be wrong, so I'll have to continue to view it as correct, no matter that my own eyes must be lying to me."

In some manner, the current "conservative movement" has been able to do a masterful job of making a whole lot of the United States citizenry act and vote against both their own, and the world's better interests.

Another anecdote -- I took my boys to the Providence (RI) Children's Museum over the weekend. One of the exhibits was about the ongoing construction of highway ramps and interchanges going on in the Providence area. A part of the exhibit (a crane) was stuck so the children could not actually operate it. A man was there with his child, and when the little girl complained that "Daddy, it doesn't work" his response to her was "it must be a union job, and they're looking for more money for less work." Now, appearances can be deceiving, but this fellow and his daughter seemed to be dressed in a manner consistent with "middle class." I was there with my boys, so preferred not to get into the discussion about why he was able to be there, on a Saturday, spending time with his kids, instead of working, and also didn't ask about the assumption that things like reflective vests and hard hats should be presumed to be the norm at a construction site. Or that it should not be considered extraordinary that a girl would want to play with the crane. What we have is, again, unexamined privilege.

#622 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 06:12 PM:

It took me three days, but I have succeeded in reading to The Very End of the comments. What a marathon; what an extraordinarily smart, talented, insightful, interesting group of people is met here.

I just wanted to make sure that nobody else had remarked on the thing that jumped out at me in the original debacle: Never trust anybody with three first names. Ever. How much suffering, money, life could have been saved if only people had followed this simple rule.

#623 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 06:23 PM:

Constance - # 620
I was working for an insurance company when the Clinton administration tried to get their health care plan passed -- as I RECALL IT, the insurance companies were *not* in favor -- they had full-court presses going on to push employees to contact their congress critters to oppose the plan. It was insurance companies who come up with the "working class couple" they used as a public face to attack the plan.

#624 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 06:24 PM:

I think the Dobson (ugh. Thanks for the FotF reference - I thought I knew the name from somewhere. I haven't been able to read any of those things without either it breaking my cute meter, my real-world meter (as in "you don't live there, do you?") or having all the "I-centric Christianity" alarm bells go off in my head. So I'm not supporting him in any way, even though I don't and won't have kids, and haven't and won't read the stories) discussion is at least partly semantic and connotative. Let me analogize...

- Americans, by and large, agree with America's founding documents.
- The U.S. Declaration of Independence posits, among other things, a right to life.
- Therefore, Americans, by and large, are Right To Lifers.

Now, I can hear the screams from here in Canada.

- Dobson recommends that parents require immediate obedience; that children must submit to the parent's will.
- Dobson recommends physical coersion with an object as a tool to enforce that requirement.
- We define "beating" to be, among other things, "hitting someone with an object" (as opposed to the bare hand "spanking"). Note: this is a reasonable definition, but not unarguable.
- Therefore, Dobson recommends "beating children into submission".

That phrase, like "Right to Life", has connotations that simply can not be ignored in an argument, and attempts to argue "but I mean it perfectly literally" are unworkable

Unfortunately, "beating children into submission" connotatively means "beating children well past the point of submission" or "beating children within an inch of their lives". I am certain that that does happen from people with those tendencies who read Dobson; I can't say if Dobson believes that this far is okay or not (and really, really don't want to know). But denying the connotation while insisting on the expression is "pay no attention to the Man behind the curtain" territory.

I disagree with Dobson's premises (of course, I might disagree with Dobson if he said that the sun rises in the East). I also believe (with no evidence) that fully non-contact discipline is not optimal. I don't know where to draw the line; I do know that "Proof by Authority" has never worked for me, whether authority was my father, teacher, or the best player of my game in the world; and anyone who read that other thread should realize that to get "yes, sir" compliance would have required abuse levels of correction.

On other notes: @512 re quick and easy: didn't somebody say something about that a few years ago?

Beer for Poutine: I prefer Maudite over Fin de Monde for this; FdM is a Nice (overproof) Lager; Maudite tastes like it's titled, and suits the aggressive flavours of the Poutine.

#625 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 06:25 PM:

siriosa @623: Yeah, trusting Robert Sean Leonard is right out...he DID play the schmuck Claudio in Much Ado About Nothig, so there you go.

#626 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 06:28 PM:

dcb @536: Seitanic Stew isn't a recipe, exactly. What I said above, about the beef-tasting stock? That's a base. Then you add potatoes and carrots, at a minimum, and other vegetables you find suitable for stew, and at least one package of seitan chunks (depending on how much stew you want). Barley is also a nice option, but will soak up a lot of liquid. Simmer until the vegetables are tender. Let it reduce with the cover off, if you want the broth thicker. It's just... stew.

#627 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 06:32 PM:

David Harmon @ 605:
well, there's been a few cracks and boners, as exposed in recent decades.

*Snort* ... don't know if you intended that double entendre there, but it sure brought a wry smile to my face.

#628 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 06:34 PM:

Oh, I forgot -- tomato paste is another good addition to the beef-like stock and the stew. Say two tablespoons per five-quart Dutch oven.

#629 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 06:54 PM:

elise @572, yes, Marmite! It's got a strong umami taste to it and works wonders for meaty-tasting vegetarian thingies. It can be put in Seitanic Stew (I wouldn't use more than half a teaspoon in the pot, though) and I also add it to vegetarian onion soup.

#630 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 07:04 PM:

Not to mention Stephen Thomas Gregory. Dude's turning into a damn Diver, ferfoxsake.

#631 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 07:13 PM:

Curse you, Tommy Lee Jones!
Curse you, Mary Tyler Moore!
Curse you, Charles Martin Smith!

Should I curse Dick van Dyke too?

#632 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 07:31 PM:

Moore, Smith, and Dyke aren't exactly in common use as first names.

#633 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 07:50 PM:

Craig R #622:

The health-care debate comes not so much as directly from "white privilege" as from the underpinning that says "if you are favored by Ghu you will not need assistance to find funding, and besides, because Ghu favors you wyou will not get sick beyond the means to pay for it"

So, can you point to, say, polling numbers that back this up? Because I've heard a lot of arguments against government-provided healthcare and other services. I've even made such arguments. And I don't ever recall anyone arguing that we shouldn't have government provided/paid/whatever healthcare because God only let the fallen get sick, or get sick beyond their ability to pay. There's a good reason for that--it's a completely idiotic argument, and it's hard to imagine a functional adult that really believes it. Instead, I think pretty much everyone recognizes that many people get sick through no fault at all of their own. (One walk through a childrens' hospital will resolve this to everyone's satisfaction.)

The arguments I have heard are things like "this is going to cost a lot of money which will come from everyone's taxes, and I don't think it's worth it." Or "government has no authority (sometimes, US government has no authority under the constitution) to provide healthcare at public expense." Or "a properly regulated healthcare market plus some minimal amount of private charity or even government-provided catastrophic coverage will provide a cheaper and more humane system." Or any number of other arguments.

Now, most of those arguments seem pretty hollow to me at this point. If we were in any danger whatsoever of having a small, constitutionally-limited government, I'd be more interested in them[1]. The efficiency arguments are contradicted by observable reality.

But nobody I've heard makes the arguments you're attributing to the other side on this issue.

[1] But we can't even get the f--kers to have congress declare war, despite the explicit requirement to do that in the constitution. We punted on the question of whether the president can have American citizens disappeared off US soil, and held incommunicado indefinitely, on his word alone--because it was very important to avoid limiting the power of the executive branch. Limited government has come to mean something more like "you can't have the full police state this week, you must wait until the next terrorist attack."

#634 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 07:52 PM:

If the article I linked is accurate about the worldview of the Republican conservative base (and I see no reason to think it's not), then the next question becomes, what's the counter? Is there a counter? Is there any argument at all which can nudge someone in that group into questioning anything in that set of core beliefs?

My gut feeling is that there's not, because they've locked themselves into the equivalent of an infinite loop. Normally the way you convince someone that they might want to take another look at some cherished belief is by presenting real-world evidence against it. But the only input sources accepted here are those that already reinforce the beliefs -- anything else, no matter where it comes from, is automatically tagged "liberal" and "lie". It reminds me of the way my roommate who went crazy assured me that just because his chest was going up and down, that didn't mean he was breathing.

Do we have any options here beyond "wait for them all to die off"?

#635 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 08:00 PM:

Xopher @ 633... Rare, yes, but it does happen.

#636 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 08:03 PM:

Xopher @ 633... I guess I could have cursed Lamont Waltman Marvin, but I might not have lived to tell the tale as Lamont Waltman Marvin was better known as Lee Marvin.

#637 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 08:09 PM:

Xopher @597:

Also, recalled from somewhere the depths of my mind, people are disguised as soylent green.

#638 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 08:10 PM:

Xopher @597:

Also, recalled from somewhere the depths of my mind, people are disguised as soylent green on ingredient lists.

#639 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 08:12 PM:

Dick van Dyke doesn't fit because his surname is van Dyke, two names as one unit.

#640 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 08:20 PM:

Purple Girl @ 640... True for Richard Wayne Van Dyke, but what of Charles Van Dell Johnson aka Van Johnson, and Emmett Evan Heflin Jr aka Van Heflin?

#641 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:04 PM:

Serge -- Van Johnson and Van Heflin don't count because the comment was to not trust people with three first names. Also they took their acting names from their original names: Van Heflin took the Van from Evan and Van Johnson dropped the Charles and the Dell, becoming Van Johnson.

#642 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:13 PM:

albatross @ 610: "So, when you want to cut welfare benefits (which various members of your coalition want to cut, for various reasons), you invoke fiscal responsibility (to get the fiscal conservatives), black welfare queens (to get the racists), single mothers raising multiple kids on welfare (to get the religious and social conservatives), etc."

I do tend to assume that certain factions--namely, the factions with more money--take the lead in determining which issues are pushed, which then determines what rhetoric gets employed to attract which other factions. It's just interesting that racism has become a strategy that's more trouble than it's worth.

#643 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:28 PM:

Carol Kimball @611: Avoid MSG? Then I'm fine. Naturally-occurring unami doesn't do it, just the synthesized stuff. Anybody got insight on that?

A speculation, not an informed opinion.

Compounds coming from organisms usually have a preferred symmetry, while synthesized compounds will contain an equal mixture of 'left-handed' and 'right-handed' forms.

This was a plot-point in The Documents in the Case (by Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace).

This is relevant in the body's ability to digest sugars and proteins, and as we get our sugars and proteins from organisms we have some kinship with, instead of factories, it doesn't present a problem. There have been science fiction stories where our heroes have landed on a planet which has life based on the opposite form of protein, and therefore cannot live off the land.

I have no idea whether MSG has this kind of molecular form.

#644 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 09:38 PM:

611/612/614: As promised, my mother's list of what ingredients to avoid because of her MSG allergy:

monosodium glutamate [duh!]
autolyzed yeast extract
sodium caseinate
calcium caseinate
maltodextrin
hydrolyzed lecithin
hydrolyzed soy protein
yeast food
yeast extract
natural flavor(ing)
flavor(ing)*
stock**
broth**
textured vegetable protein
HPP/hydrolyzed protein product
GMO soybeans, corn, and canola, including oils***
note: enzymes combined with protein (in the manufacturing process) create free glutamic acid (MSG) [so she has to avoid cheeses made with enzymes, which is most of them]

*specifically artificial flavoring is okay
**may contain MSG
***about 70% of the soybean crop is genetically modified. It's used for commercial applications, including soy sauce, soy lecithin (in most breads and chocolates), etc. Tofu, on the other hand, is okay. (I'm not entirely sure that this is an MSG problem; it may be a separate issue.)

#645 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:05 PM:

One of my favorite comic book writers is named Peter Allen David. He is a definite counterexample.

#646 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:29 PM:

Bruce Cohen #628: Well, I started with an accidental word choice, but then I ran with it.

The point behind it, of course, is that even (especially!) the most Jovian organization, is led by individual people. Not only are those leaders vulnerable to corruption, but they can take the whole structure with them.

#647 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:52 PM:

Rob Rusick @ 644: Glutamate (and its parent, glutamic acid) are chiral ("handed") -- most amino acids are -- but I don't think that's relevant in this case. Regardless of how the glutamate is produced from protein, it's going to keep its chirality (unless it's subjected to much more extreme chemical conditions than are usual for simple hydrolysis). It would be different if it were being synthesized "from scratch", but that's not how it's done for food purposes.

#648 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 10:59 PM:

Natural Flavors hides a world of icky stuff you don't really want to know about. They're basically artificial flavors (i.e. chemicals) that are derived from something vaguely food like, rather than synthesized directly from chemicals.

I don't like what's been done to food.

And now, I'm off to start some bread. 4 ingredients. (unless I add barley malt, and then it's 5).

#649 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:04 PM:

Lee (#635) said "Do we have any options here beyond "wait for them all to die off"?"

It looks like that might be a poor hope. Also from that article (#507) (aka
Why Republican Leaders will have Trouble Speaking to the Rest of America):

"I don’t watch anymore because we are unemployed and I had to cancel cable but I listen to him on the radio… I record it… My 16-year-old watches [sic] Beck. She says, 'Is it recorded? I hope you didn’t delete it yet'.

So it seems the family may be a victim of the GFC1, and is passing down its belief structures to younger generations.

heresiarch (#541), David Harmon (@647), once a religious tradition reaches a certain level in a society, it becomes a way to power, influence, and often wealth. Thus it attracts to itself the people who are strongly attracted to getting those (eg The Bad Popes), as well as others who may have 'better' motives. It seems JAR leans towards the wealth part, but I suspect he enjoys having power and influence over a group too.


1. Which could be unpacked at greater length, if people wanted.

#650 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:07 PM:

I know at least one person who tolerates essential oils fine, but not the synthetic otherwise-equivalent versions.

I file it under 'we have some really good detector systems, but their controls are not at levels we can access'. (Like the ones that can tell the difference between drinks sweetened with sugar, and those sweetened with a substitute, even when the flavors are identical - they found that out using brain scanning: the brain knows which one has the real stuff.)

#651 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:14 PM:

Hmm. Wikipedia claims that these days glutamate is manufactured by bacterial fermentation, and adds:

Only the L-glutamate enantiomer has flavour-enhancing properties. Manufactured MSG contains over 99.6% of the naturally predominant L-glutamate form, which is a higher proportion of L-glutamate than found in the free glutamate ions of naturally occurring foods. Fermented products such as soy sauce, steak sauce, and Worcestershire sauce have levels of glutamate similar to foods with added MSG. However, glutamate in these brewed products may have 5% or more of the D-enantiomer.

It's also dubious of the sensitivity, though.

Despite quoting them here, I note that this is a "hot" enough topic that the usual hazards of Wikipedia are likely to be in play, and I'm not up to more thorough research at this hour.

#652 ::: Claire ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:59 PM:

CBC has just posted an article that adds to the scary factor. One of the people involved has spoken out, describing Ray continually urging people to stay inside, even after reports of people collapsing inside the lodge.

http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2009/10/21/sweat-lodge021.html

#653 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2009, 11:59 PM:

Re: MSG & etc.
Thanks to everyone responding.

#654 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:00 AM:

PurpleGirl @ 642... I know. Just being silly. Heck, I had only 3.5 hours of sleep within the last 40 hours.

#655 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 01:15 AM:

Albatros -- 634 -- refer back to subtext.

#656 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:31 AM:

Serge -- Argh. Ah. Hope you get (or got) some sleep real finally.

I was looking for updates on the "sweat lodge" story and saw various write-ups of the interview with Dr. Bunn. It does not make James Ray look good.

#657 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:32 AM:

Serge -- Argh. Ah. Hope you get (or got) some real sleep finally.

I was looking for updates on the "sweat lodge" story and saw various write-ups of the interview with Dr. Bunn. It does not make James Ray look good.

#658 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 10:23 AM:

PurpleGirl @ 657... Thanks. The darn project got signed off late last night, which may mean a wee bit more sleep from now on. (Yes, I do sometimes go thru episodes of foolish optimism, but Reality usually cures that quickly.)

#659 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:21 AM:

Today the New York Times caught up with this ML discussion, with a front page story on the sweat lodge disaster, and in the Fashion and Styles section, a story on parenting that posits yelling is the new spanking.

Love, C.

#661 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 04:20 PM:

Sweat lodge deaths won't stop programs, Ray says

Well, maybe not. Do y'all think jail time will stop them?

#662 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 04:51 PM:

Jim #661: From the video's text:

Beverly Bunn: He made one comment and they did say "she's passed out, she's passed out and I don't know if she's breathing" and he said "the door has now closed and this round has begun, we'll deal with that at the end of this round.

That's "depraved indifference to human life" right there.

#663 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 05:28 PM:

627 ::: Rikibeth @ 627
I wasn't familiar with the word "saitan". Have now Googled and been informed. Thank you.

613 ::: Terry Karney @ 613

"The thing with negative reinforcement is that it must be immediate, and unfailingly applied every time the non-desired behavior takes place."

I read this last night but was too tired to reply. I do think negative reinforcement can work. However, it's often used incorrectly: it always annoys me when someone is calling their dog and the dog is busy sniffing another dog's butt or whatever and when the dog finally returns - it gets scolded (negative reinforcement for having returned...). And negative reinforcement doesn't have to mean spanking. I know someone who reads stories to his young daughter every night. If she's naughty, she gets told that if she continues the behaviour, she'll lose a story. If she continues, then she does lose a story - even if she's then good the rest of the day. It's applied consistently, as you say, and come bedtime, she's reminded why she's only having one story read to her (or even none).

One problem I see with the "wilful child" approach is: what if you're interpreting the child's behaviour as "wilful disobedience" when it isn't? Or if the child has got worked up to the point where s/he just cannot stop crying/screaming. Punishment in either case is wrong.

David Harmon @ 616. I think the cases you and I and others have refered to are more of a direct "cause-and-effect" than "negative reinforcement". Or to put it another way, real pain due to real actions (or, as an alternative, the urgency with which the negative reinforcement is applied by the extremely concerned, not to say frightened adult) has a much stronger learning result than repeated beatings. The child picks up on much more than just the pain of the smack in such emergency situations.

#664 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 05:28 PM:

He's "hired [his] own investigators" to find out what happened, too. More like to see how they can spin it so it's Not His Fault.

#665 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 05:44 PM:

dcb #664: Yeah, I think the parent's fear is probably the real "lesson" there, with the smack just forcing the kid's attention. I'm reminded of Abi's "Electrogirl" incident:

After dinner the three year old came to my seat and told me that her light "wasn't working any more" because one of the batteries was "gone". [...] I wanted to find out where to look for [it], and she said, "it's in my tummy." She then saw the expressions on our faces and burst into tears.

#666 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 06:12 PM:

dcb: we do the story thing here, but we can't withhold stories due to behavior from early in the day because the boy started budgeting things so that he'd get one story. He was willing to lose the other two to do whatever he wanted to do for the next x minutes.

#667 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 06:21 PM:

eric #667: Yikes! How old is this kid again?

At least he's clearly considering the consequences of his actions. And has a sense of priorities....

#668 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 06:57 PM:

Me, #661:

Beverly Bunn is a health-care professional who was participating in the event. Here's a transcript of most of that video segment.
-----------

[Bevery Bunn] Everyone was throwing up everywhere, there was spitting going on, there was, ah, people were so disoriented they were screaming at one point in time 'cause I know that they were yelling and yelling and yelling at this man because he was so disoriented that he actually started crawling into the pit with the hot rocks.

[Interviewer] He wasn't alarmed by what was happening inside this sweat lodge?

[Bunn] No, because actually they had taken a couple people out that had passed out and then there was some people yelling, you know, calling different names to see if anybody else was passed out and see if, who was responding, but I don't think they called everybody's names.

[Interviewer] So people were passed out, though, and he was still continuing and not making any comment on it?

[Bunn] He made one comment and they did say, "She's passed out, she's passed out, I don't know if she's breathing," and he said, "The door has now closed and this has begun, we'll deal with that at the end of this round."


...

[Bunn] The person actually doing the chest compressions did know CPR but the person doing the breaths didn't know CPR, and I told them about ten times when I actually got, stood up and I saw what was going on and I saw all of these people lying around and mucus coming out of their nose and mouths and eyes rolled back in their heads and one guy's eyes were, all the blood vessels were burst and there was just people lying everywhere, just unconscious and everything and then I saw them doing CPR and I told them, I said, "I know CPR I can help," and one of the Dream Teamers, I told them about ten times, and one of the Dream Teamers, said, "I know it's Kirby over there and I can help I know CPR," and they would not let me. They would not let me go over there and help. And that, that's one of the hardest things that I have to deal with 'cause I ... I do this ... I didn't do this.

[Interviewer] I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.

#669 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 07:27 PM:

From a story in the New York Times:

She also described a game — enacted again at the retreat this month — in which Mr. Ray wears white robes and plays God, ordering some participants to commit mock suicide.

The story also reports on the flabbergasting remark from the conference call mentioned earlier in the thread:

On a conference call Mr. Ray held last week for sweat lodge participants, Dr. Bunn was shocked to hear one recount the comments of a self-described “channeler” who visited Angel Valley after the retreat. Claiming to have communicated with the dead, the channeler said they had left their bodies in the sweat lodge and chosen not to come back because “they were having so much fun.”

I absolutely cannot fathom how these people's minds work. If they can be said to work at all.

#670 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 08:26 PM:

Wesley #670: That would be the phone call whose partial transcript I linked back at #351 -- the speaker was one of Ray's staffers, though the transcript doesn't mention channeling. (The remark is about half-way through -- you can search the page for "so much fun".)

#671 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 09:27 PM:

David Harmon, #671: That's the post I was thinking of--thanks.

#672 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:24 PM:

dcb, you're very welcome! I didn't know that was the question.

For others who might not know what seitan is: it's wheat gluten. You can prepare it yourself by making a flour-and-water dough and kneading it in multiple changes of water until there's no more starch, but you'd have to be very, very dedicated to the idea, because it's available in handy refrigerated pouches in natural foods stores, and sometimes even right next to the tofu in ordinary grocery stores. Obviously, it isn't suitable for those with gluten intolerance. It's generally vegan.

I would not suggest substituting tempeh (a fermented soy product) in this stew. Some people like the flavor of tempeh and consider it "nutty," but I find that it has all of the unpleasant properties of mold and none of the pleasant ones I find in, for instance, gorgonzola. I tried a tempeh stew recipe once. We ordered pizza that night.

If you require a gluten-free, vegetarian substitute for beef stew, I suggest changing the name to Mushroom Ragout.

#673 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2009, 11:57 PM:

David Harmon@668 - He's 5. You know in Jurassic Park when they realize that the raptors are intelligent and plan ahead? That's sometimes how I feel.

#674 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 12:56 AM:

@#581: apparently, Wikipedia is always improving, because it wasn't there some years ago the last time I went on a search for it! That's what I thought they meant, anyway.

Terry, that's probably the source -- I recall a lot of cultural references to soldiers who have nothing much to do until they have everything to do. Like firefighters, I guess. They all have to be there, because when you need them you really really need them.

#675 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 01:52 AM:

@Rikibeth #673: Yes. If one puts enough umami in the broth, a stew made from bite-sized chunks of mushroom and potato is so satisfying that it doesn't need any beef. And I'm a carnivore.

I am preparing a recipe for an SCA feast this Saturday that comes from a 13th-century Andalusian cookbook. It calls for beef or mutton, chickpeas, a sauce similar to soy sauce, and ground walnuts, with a dark green vegetable such as Swiss chard. There is so much umami in the pot already that I am leaving out the meat.

#676 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 03:02 AM:

David Harmon: The hazard being that the cat won't jump up on cold stove lids either?

I don't think it's conditioning (having done a lot of animal training, and spent time with Maia/Sola/Pat doing a lot more). No, that's not true, it is conditioning, but the thing being conditioned isn't really not doing the thing, it's not getting caught.

Take cat's and squirt bottles. If you squirt a cat, it will stop doing the activity. If, however, you film the space in which the activity is being performed (say getting on a counter), the first thing which will happen is the cat will learn to not get on the counter when the human has a squirt bottle, but with care the cat can be convinced the human always has a bottle. But when there is no human in the room, the counter will be jumped on.

The same with things like roads, matches, etc.

Better is to reward them for not being on the counter (or running into the street, etc.). One, it's more pleasant for everyone involved, and two, it doesn't require there to be some negative act; which is then punished.

I wish I could give a better answer, but the question was awfully vague, and the answer hinges more on correlation not being causatitive. There are a lot of interaction in the way people do things, and the swat may not (in fact almost certainly isn't) the primary factor in such events being limited occaisions.

dcb: See eric's comment at 667. The problems with repercussive training is that the shift of power actually moves to the "punished" because they get to decide what they are willing to pay to get away with something.

When the system is rewards for good behavior (which is not the same as bribes), the ability to say, "that was good, I'm proud of you, here is your treat," keeps the power in the relationship in the hands of the trainer.

re seitan: You can also get powdered gluten in the baking section.

Lucy Kemnitzer: Yep, when it's peacetime, the number of, "needed" grunts, gun-bunnies, and treadheads is much less than in a war, but the ramp-up to get qualified troops is such that you have to have too many.

Even then, some jobs (like mine) are expected to have most of the qualified personell doing cadre work to train the bodies in a full-scale war.

#677 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 03:27 AM:

Rikibeth @ 673: that wasn't the original question, but when you answered I realised that (a) I had no idea what saitan was, and without that information your answer was not useful to me; (b) (having looked it up) if I'd known, I probably would not have needed to ask the question in the first place, as "saitanic stew" would have made sense.

Terry Karney @ 677: Oh I agree, positive reinforcement is better (I nearly said so in my post, then left it out because I'd indicated as much earlier). I thought eric's example was fascinating and shows one of the problems with negative reinforcement.

Regarding cats, the one thing we did manage to train into ours at an early age was not jumping onto the kitchen surfaces. Flicking water, yelling and dumping them on the floor were involved, as I recall, two or three times per cat (two cats). I'm pretty sure they don't go up there when we're not around either: there have never been kitty footprints, or things knocked over, or suspicious noises, or sound of cat jumping down in a hurry as we approach the door. We're also sensible and don't leave things that smell really interesting on the counters overnight - no point in tempting them.

#678 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 03:56 AM:

Terry, #677: My partner is fond of what he calls "cat training tapes" to teach the no-kitchen-counters rule. It's very simple -- take a few longish pieces of plain 2" packing tape and leave then on the counter, sticky side up, when you're not there. Cat jumps on counter, cat lands on tape, tape slides and redeposits cat on floor, cat now has tape stuck to one or more paws, which is a sensation they don't care for.

I will note that, while it's virtually impossible to train a cat not to jump on the furniture, it is perfectly possible to make a few specific places off-limits. In our current house, that's the kitchen counters and the table on which we eat our meals. And they're very good about complying with those limits.

#679 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 09:37 AM:
some jobs (like mine) are expected to have most of the qualified personnel doing cadre work to train the bodies in a full-scale war. — Terry (#677)
That's my father's story in WWII. He'd been in the civilian militia (like the reserve) for some years before September 1939, and was called in straight away. But he was training new recruits to send to help the Allies in the Middle East and Europe (2nd AIF), so didn't see combat until after the Japanese opened up the Pacific theatre.

After the Imperial Army's sweep south through Asia, with most of our troops thousands of miles away, and Churchill reluctant to let them go, it was all hands on deck, especially after the disastrous Fall of Singapore lost a whole Division (plus other Allied troops), and tens of thousands were captured in Malaya. Curtin's defiance of Churchill began our still-current US alliance (see www.flickr.com/photos/sketchesbymez/454840199).

#680 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 10:41 AM:

#677 ::: Terry Karney:

What's the formal difference between a reward for good behavior and a bribe?

#681 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 01:36 PM:

Bribes are proactive, rewards are reactive.

#682 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2009, 10:02 PM:

Way back in #32, Nightsky commented, with regard to envying Europe with its long history, "...whereas I lived in northern California, where there was no history. (I was wrong about this--of course California has history, but it wasn't White history, so it didn't count--but that's a different essay for another day."

I would offer a small modification that there is *lots* of history in northern California, it's just that most of it is now stuff that nobody knows, because those who originally made it and kept it were mostly displaced and persecuted.

I've often driven past obvious natural landmarks in the area and thought, "Too bad we will probably never know now what that rock was called or why."

#683 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 12:02 AM:

Nancy: Tom has hit it on the head: "If you behave you will get, 'y'," is a bribe.

"Since you did 'x', you get 'y'," is a reward.

The nature of the timing is the issue. A bribe is a promise of future reward for behavior. A reward is not promised, it just happens.

We make the same distinctions in things where we charge someone with bribery. If a cop gives me a warning, and I then go and buy him a pair of tickets to a ballgame, that's legal.

If I say, "give me a warning, and I'll give you tickets to a ballgame," that's not.

#684 ::: Nightsky ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 02:42 AM:

fidelio@506: My veggie friends tell me that smoked paprika does a great bacon impression. Another veggie friend uses lapsang souchong tea as her secret "smoky" ingredient.

Serge@509: If we ever do get around to doing Lumicon, the food will be terrific.

Paula Helm Murray@565: steamed coconut-paste covered sweet bean paste dessert balls that I would die for.

Oh my, yes. I love those. Actually, I love most all dim sum (Sweet! Salt! Fat! HOORAY!), except for the chicken feet, which I've never been able to figure out just one does with. I was at a dim sum brunch with a group from work once, when someone ordered the chicken feet. I suppose I'd been subconsciously expecting them to be... well, to have some sort of food content on them, but no: actual chicken feet, lying on a serving dish in front of God and everybody. I had no idea how to even begin eating such a thing.

eric@574: Uhhh.... do they have some sort of early intervention available to prevent him from turning into a diabolical criminal mastermind? Because wow, he's GOOD.

chris@683: I do--and to some extent, did, even then--know that, but I was also being childishly picky about what kind of history I wanted. Specifically, I wanted the European Middle Ages: castles, ideally, but also old churches or anything similarly old. (Roman edifices or ruins would also have been acceptable.) That these were not present in Northern California was not Northern California's fault, but knowing that didn't stop young me from idly wishing for a catacomb or two to explore.

#685 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 02:53 AM:

Nightsky @ 685... the food will be terrific

Especially with Xopher overseeing the culinary travails while doing an impersonation of a French chef. ("I canNOT work under these conditions!")

#686 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 08:37 AM:

Nightsky: I think chicken feet are for people who actually like chewing cartilage off the bones.

#687 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 09:44 AM:

Lee @679, and it really doesn't hurt (as in "causing serious injury") the cats? Odd.

#688 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:07 AM:

"Bribes are their own rewards."

#689 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:09 AM:

"Rewards can be promises of future bribes."

#690 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:12 AM:

Serge @ 686: Chef's hat pattern. It's not difficult to do, though the instructions could be clearer. (Instead of "wrong sides of the band" use "non-interfacing sides of the band".)

#691 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:16 AM:

Raphael, #688: Not as far as we can tell. Now mind you, all ours are shorthairs; this might be more problematic if your cats have fur long enough for the tape to get stuck to it. But you can test what it feels like on paw-pads by putting a small piece on your skin and then pulling it off -- it's not nearly as bad as removing a bandaid, let alone duct tape!

#692 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:19 AM:

Joel Polowin @ 691... I definitely see Rikibeth and Xopher wearing those hats while seeing to it that Fluorospherians are fed with something with more mass than photons.

#693 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:42 AM:

Raphael @ #688--No, it damages their dignity and causes them inconvenience, as well as feeling funny. Being cats, these are possibly worse than anything.

#694 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 10:56 AM:

Raphael #688: Lee @679, and it really doesn't hurt (as in "causing serious injury") the cats? Odd.

Yep, sticky tape for cat no-go areas does work. Another thing that works is putting cookie tins on the edge of counters: the cats walk on them as if they were a reliably solid surface, they acrobatically slip to the floor, and the cookie tin makes an amazing clatter that does the training work for the no-go area.

#695 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2009, 05:29 PM:

Duff @ 495:

I understand the use of those tiny URLs on Twitter, but I much prefer the actual URLs in places like Making Light, which don't have that sort of length restriction. In this case, I had to take a moment to figure "okay, probably safe" and then click through--to find an article I'd read days ago. Even aside from the risks of malware, there's no way for me to know whether I've already been to that site when the URL is obfuscated and no title, author, or source is given. (If that tinyurl is labeled with "so-and-so passes on insider accounts at TheExaminer.com" rather than "a very important insider account," I am much more likely to know whether I've already read it.) Leaving that out saves your time, but either wastes the reader's or, from another angle, reduces the number of people who will read the linked article.

Ginger @ 535:

I can and do eat basic/standard poutine, but sweet potatoes instead of potatoes seem like a variation worth trying. (I feel a little sorry for all the people who are looking at good comfort food and thinking "sin." Folks, calories are a measurement of energy, not of virtue.)

Emily @ 539:

I really hope TPoutine's cooking is better than their web design--an all-flash page that, when I want a menu, requires me to download a PDF? Just give me the PDF, if plain text is beyond you because you believe your menu must be in yellow, orange, and white on dark olive.

On the other hand, that their variations on the basic poutine include the smoked meat version is promising (though I'm more tempted to try the mushroom burger version, or ask for the steak and caramelized onions, but with regular cheese curds instead of blue cheese bits). And I'm not going to be in Canada for a couple of months, so a trip down to the Lower East Side may be in order.

#696 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 12:51 AM:

Serge, when I cook, I keep my hair covered with a bandanna, or else a Red Sox cap. The poofy chef's hats don't stay put on my hair without a bobby pin, which in turn tends to pull on my scalp.

#697 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 01:40 AM:

From what I've heard, yeast extract isn't actually a source of monosodium glutamate but rather of free glutamic acid:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glutamic_acid_(flavor)

Which may cause problems for people with sensitivities (YMMV) but is also naturally present in a fair number of things - more information at and branching off from the article.

I never had a major problem with MSG, but got to requesting that it be left out of my food ("bu yao wei jing") when I lived in China, since too much of the stuff seemed to make the food taste like wet dog.

#698 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 10:04 AM:

Lee @692, I wasn't so much wondering about the paws themselves or the fur, more that when the cat falls from the counter after it has been tripped, its paws are entangled in such a way that it can't move its legs freely enough for its normal safe landing trick. But if didn't hurt your cats, then I guess it's ok.

#699 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 11:04 AM:

Happy birthday, Ginger!

#700 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 11:48 AM:

Raphael #699: I suspect that the 3-4' drop just isn't enough to be a problem for something of a cat's mass. At least for younger cats -- mine (13 yo) is visibly cautious jumping in or out of the bathtub (a bit over a foot). But she *still* insists on drinking from the faucet, and the sink here is hopeless for her. (My last couple of apartments, she could go from floor to tub-edge to sink, but not here.)

#701 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 03:41 PM:

Albatross @700: Thanks!

#702 ::: Yogaforcynics ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 06:55 PM:

I don't know about this complex conversation that's transpiring in the comments here, so will comment on the original post:

Wow--this is as comprehensive and solid a take-down of the "law of attraction" as I've seen. Ultimately, I think much of New Age belief is based on a blatant misappropriation of some basic ideas from Buddhism--particularly that of nonattachment. Basically, they take part of it: "if you have the right state of mind, you won't want anything," and ignore the rest--"because you'll be content with what you have"--instead coming up with this incredibly greedy and ridiculous idea that you can bring material riches to yourself by having a positive attitude. I mean, look at Ann Frank: she was thinking positive thoughts about everybody basically being good until they dragged her off to Auschwitz. Wonder how well these "Secret" people would do in Darfur...

#703 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2009, 08:38 PM:

Yogafc, Teresa is fascinated by fraud, and people's repsonses to fraud, and digs until she's got it sorted to her satisfaction. She has some older posts on similar topics, although I don't recall her taking on a case quite like this one.

Fear not the comment thread; it is for the entertainment of the readers, and the posters, whether it stays on topic or not.

We even have a new open thread, ready for hot and cold running puns and poetry.

#704 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 06:36 PM:

When I was sick as a kid and my grandmother would make chicken soup to make me better, she would always put a chicken foot into the pot while cooking the stock. Supposedly they have much mojo for the immune system. On the other hand, Bubbe was only there when it was our turn for a visit and inspection¹, and when it was my mother's job to take care of me, the chicken foot got left out. I failed in my scientific duty to keep careful notes of any differences in the course of the
illnesses.

1. My grandmother was a matriarch of the old school; having 8 children and 31 grandchildren just meant she spent more of her time visiting the family, making sure everyone was doing their best.

#705 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 08:25 PM:

Vicki @696 said: I feel a little sorry for all the people who are looking at good comfort food and thinking "sin." Folks, calories are a measurement of energy, not of virtue.

Or, as a commenter to the fat-acceptance blog Big Fat Deal put it, "It's pizza, not genocide."

#706 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 08:45 PM:

Rob Rusick @ 644:

Compounds coming from organisms usually have a preferred symmetry, while synthesized compounds will contain an equal mixture of 'left-handed' and 'right-handed' forms.

This was a plot-point in The Documents in the Case (by Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace).

To say nothing of Spock Must Die!

#707 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 09:45 PM:

Terry #677: The hazard being that the cat won't jump up on cold stove lids either?

Exactly. I think that's a hint that this sort of learning is a different, lower-level mechanism than that triggered by punishment as such. I suspect that the key elements for this "fast lesson" phenomenon are that the results are not only unpleasant, but immediate and, especially, surprising. This "circuit" would implement basic lessons about the world, on the order of "fire hurts", "water is wet and chokey", and such like. Naturally, this sort of experience is very hard to "forge", not that we don't occasionally try.

Where parental reactions are part of it, there would be at least two other factors involved. First, you've got the instinctive perception of the parent's mental state. The second... well, at first I was thinking "the knowledge that the parent is looking out for the kid", but on reconsideration, I don't think that's right. I think the second factor is even more basic than that -- it's the instinctual knowledge that the parent is a conspecific, with similar vulnerabilities -- that is, if something scares the parent, it's a pretty good bet that it's a hazard to the child as well.

#708 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 10:49 PM:

In the WashPost Outlook section yesterday, Christine Whelan tells about what happened to her friend at that sweat lodge.

#709 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2009, 11:37 PM:

David Harmon: If all those factors have to come into play, I don't think the punishment aspect of it is the factor either. Which means that, if all those factors are what does the work, and the punished child is a rational actor, then the need to inflict pain isn't there.

Or, the rest of it is a side effect of something not related to the intent, but rather the action; and as such isn't replicable.

There is a stroy of Karen Pryor's (she of "Don't Shoot the Dog" and other books on the use of positive reinforcement training, famous for her work with dolphins and sea lions): she had a cat which had jumped up on the counter. She yelled "No" just as it was landing. By happenstance a tray fell and made an hellacious clang at the same moment.

That cat never jumped up on that counter again.

But a child is not a cat (just as a cat is not a dog; see above re squirt bottles). The child knows the swat wasn't some unthinking response. It know mama/papa/auntie did, and the desire to avoid being hit again may inhibit future action, but it's not really training them not to do "x", it's training them not to get caught at it.

And yes, I have been engaged in child rearing. I was secondary caregiver for my sister, and have twice been an au pair. I know about the scared/reactive angry responses. I've trained myself not to strike the child, in the same way I trained myself not to strike my dogs, because the cause/effect relationship isn't clear.

#710 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 10:25 AM:

Terry #710: If all those factors have to come into play, I don't think the punishment aspect of it is the factor either. Which means that, if all those factors are what does the work, and the punished child is a rational actor, then the need to inflict pain isn't there.

Whoops, you've got two errors there, or at least one-and-a-half:

the ... child is a rational actor -- In this context, they're not even close. Remember, we're talking about something that's not even limited to humans, here, which is where the cat stories come in. A toddler may be canny, but they're hardly "rational actors" -- among other points, they lack control over their drives. I agree with you that "punishment" isn't a factor here, this is happening at a much lower level than the dominance behavior which Dobson tries to fake.

the need to inflict pain isn't there. Half-right -- the human cases we've described share a common factor: The parent doesn't normally hit their kid. The painful blow, besides focusing the kid's attention, is thus a shocking surprise. That's the correct half -- shifting emphasis: "the [ongoing] need to inflict pain isn't there". Inflicting that "short, sharp, shock" was part of the parent's instinctive reaction to a rare crisis. And yes, that means this tactic won't work for a Dobson-style parent -- they've long since debased the coin, and hitting the kid is no surprise.¹ Of course, Abi's example didn't involve a blow -- but her daughter was already focused on both her parents and her prior action, and their reaction was sudden, genuine (as with the other cases), and unexpected.

By comparison, the feline examples depend, not on the owner's direct signals², but on the useful fact that cats are much worse at time-binding than humans. They won't connect their experience with tape or cookie pan, to what their owners were doing ten or twenty minutes ago -- so it's the "reaction" of their environment that they pick up on: "This is an unsafe route." That puts it on a par with my own early discovery that "stove-burners are hot": "reach, poke" --> "OW!" == "let's not do that again...". Later I did learn how to check things for heat -- but even 40 years later, my default (and correct) reaction to a stove-burner is "dangerous (until tested safe)".

¹ As noted by Constance #409 inter alia, it's not even restricted to the child actually misbehaving, which is why Dobson fails at ordinary conditioning, too.

² Which are slower and less reliable than the cat's awareness of the human's stance.

#711 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 10:46 AM:

Addendum (sigh) to my #711: A parent's reactions are also slower and less reliable than their child's awareness of the parent's stance -- except when the parent's reaction is instinctive and unheralded -- then, the parent is acting on an "environmental timescale". If the parent's "fast" responses are too inconsistent, the child imprints that their environment is unpredictable (and unsafe).

#712 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 11:12 AM:

I think to a certain extent, people may be misreading the story about Fiona.

The battery incident occurred about three months after a major international move, one which included her first introduction to a foreign language environment (she was going to a Dutch-speaking nursery). We were living in a strange and relatively un-welcoming house, and everyone but her was profoundly depressed.

Furthermore, she was about 2 1/2 months past having fallen in the shower and broken her finger. Although the medical care she received was good, she found the experience of going to the emergency room deeply upsetting.

I think she was trying to find a way to tell us she'd done something that she knew was really wrong, both in the context of the family's rules and with her body. But in that confusing and frightening environment, she didn't feel she could just say it; she had to find a way to get me to ask her. Then she could let her existing fears out by bursting into tears, knowing we would deal with the practicalities from there.

I suspect she hoped we would laugh and tell her it was all OK. When our facial expressions confirmed her fears, she felt dreadful.

#713 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 11:27 AM:

abi (713): I initially read 'battery' there in the criminal sense (as in 'assault and'). Boy, was that jarring.

#714 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 12:43 PM:

Er, mumble. Obviously, I didn't know all that backstory, which clearly doesn't fit at all into the pattern I was discussing. (But I'd still bet she hasn't swallowed random objects since, and probably won't for a long time!)

#715 ::: Nightsky ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 01:27 PM:

Possibly the last thing I have to say about chicken feet: in the soup, the feet probably contribute gelatin to the broth, which would improve mouthfeel.

The thing about the deceased "having too much fun to come back" made my jaw drop. What an appalling, insulting thing to say to people in mourning.

#716 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 01:58 PM:

The one thing I will say about chicken feet is that they have really nice skin. It's neat and scaly and takes dyes well.

I have chicken foot leather in multiple colors; I keep intending to do something dragonish with it.

#717 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 02:07 PM:

Nightsky @716, I was driving when I listened to the story on NPR and almost drove off the road at that reported comment. Holy crap, what an arrogant.... grr.

#718 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 02:17 PM:

Abi @ 717... I have chicken foot leather in multiple colors

I must be more tired than I thought after yet another all-nighter because I first read that as 'children foot leather'.

#719 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 03:18 PM:

I've seen this pattern in 2/3 of my kids (the other is too young), as todlers:

a. Fall down

b. Look at mom/dad to see reaction.

c. Visibly *decide* to burst into tears because desired reaction has not yet materialized.

The useful response to this was pre-emptive: when he would fall down, I'd say something like "Bonk!" or "Whoops!" This somehow acknowledged the fall without requiring theatrics. (Now, if he was actually hurt, there were still tears and consolation, but not when he was just feeling neglected for not getting any attention out of falling on his butt in front of me.)

#720 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 03:50 PM:

albatross @720:

I have a very clear memory from when I was 3, when I slipped on my way down the stairs, rolled down 6 steps, and landed on my back on the carpet. It hurt a lot, but I remember deciding not to cry because I was alone at the time. Just picked myself up, sniffling, and crawled on top of the living room couch.

Same thing when I was 7 or 8: cut my thumb with a Swiss knife, bled all the way to the bathroom, held my hand under running water, and somehow managed to tie one of my mother's handkerchiefs as a tourniquet using my uninjured hand and my teeth (I'd read about tourniquets in a book about snakes, and hadn't known about applying direct pressure). I was trembling all throughout. When I staggered to the door and opened it, my father happened to be passing by. I promptly burst into loud, noisy tears, mostly out of relief that someone in charge would take care of it.

#721 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 03:56 PM:

albatross @ 720 I've been told that when I was very young, if I fell down while playing in the garden, any adults watching from the kitchen window ducked out of sight: no audience, no crying...

Re. pain and learning: pain is a good teacher; it's been designed that way. People who are born with a nervous system abnormality such that they don't feel pain, generally don't survive to adulthood (you probably all know this, so forgive me for giving a lecture). A single, spontaneous, rapid spank in response to a child sticking something into a plughole, starting to dash into the road etc. might result in the "doing that hurts = don't do it again" response being triggered, just like touching a hot stove. Repeated physical punishments for infractions, particularly if the child wasn't intentionally infracting, is not likely to have the same effect.

#722 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 04:17 PM:

David Harmon: The problem is the child is a rational actor; it's just the reasoning isn't always the same as ours. The child will associtate the smack with the person, in a way the cat didn't with the pan (further Pryor made it plain that had she not been saying "NO" at that precise moment she doesn't think the cat would have been so suddenly trained. Attempts to replicate it, with just loud noises failed to get consistent modifications of behavior).

Your model still requires them to be rational actors. The reason the use of corporal response works, according to you is, "the human cases we've described share a common factor: The parent doesn't normally hit their kid.

That, to use your model, has errors. It requires that pain works to modify behavior, and justifies it with "I couldn't help myself, it was below conscious thought."

It then extrapolates the toddler (to use your example) will rationally extrapolate from the rareness of the action that it was directly related to the thing the toddler was doing at that instant. It may be that only using force that occaisionally, isn't abuse, but it doesn't correlate that it is, ispo facto a useful, and reliable, tool.

I mentioned cats because cats are able to measure respsonses. If there is an action performed by people to keep them from doing things, they will modify behavior in ways which keep the people from doing it; even so far as to know they can get away with it when the squirt bottle isn't in arms reach; and will leave the forbidden action/place when the person approaches the squirt bottle.

As with cats, so too with children. If they don't reason that the strike was because the behavior in question was actually dangerous to theml; and so wasn't punishment, then they may be trained by it. If they don't so reason, then it's just a thing for which getting caught = punishment. A phsyical one, if they are in arm's reach, and some other form if they aren't.

#723 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 04:20 PM:

abi @717--Just how big a piece of leather does one get from a chicken foot? Inquiring minds, you know.

#724 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 04:35 PM:

fidelio @ 724... Enough for a very small wallet?

#725 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 04:36 PM:

fidelio @ 724... Enough for a very small wallet?

#726 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 04:39 PM:

Serge @726: But if you rub it long enough it turns into a briefcase?

er... never mind.

#727 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 04:49 PM:

Rikibeth... Of course, if one got enough chicken feet, one could make a book, the Necronochicon, a Most Fowl Tome.

#728 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 05:14 PM:

Silly Serge, any chef will tell you, use eggs for binding, not chicken skin.

#729 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 05:38 PM:

Mark... But can eggs bind Yolk Sothoth?

#730 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 05:50 PM:

fidelio @ 724 -- Depends on the size of the chicken, of course.

#731 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 06:02 PM:

The "hmm, chicken-foot leather — what's that look like?" feeling was too strong to resist, and I managed to find a page on exotic leather. From the shape of the piece, I'm guessing that this page shows a piece of chicken-foot leather (not merely chicken leather). Abi, does this look like what you have?

#732 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 06:08 PM:

fidelio @724:
Just how big a piece of leather does one get from a chicken foot?

Measuring one...it's about 60 square centimeters, but oddly shaped, with the leg bit (narrowing from 6 to 4cm, then the skin of three toes, each about 15mm wide).

They're roughly tree-shaped, basically. Quite neat.

#733 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 06:10 PM:

Lexica @732:

Yes, the funny tree-shaped thing is chicken-foot leather.

#734 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 06:29 PM:

Abi @ 734... Tree-shaped? They look like gloves for George Pal's Martians.

#735 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 07:25 PM:

Terry #723: It requires that pain works to modify behavior, and justifies it with "I couldn't help myself, it was below conscious thought."

I believe you have drastically misinterpreted me.

My point wasn't that instinctual action "justifies" hitting the kid, the point is that the associated signals of mental state are nearly unforgeable. Interpreting all available signals of other humans' mental state is normal and natural for humans at any age; even the cognitive disabilities of the autistic spectrum tend to interfere mostly with perception of the highest-level, "social", signals -- not so much the low-level "animal" signals. And I agree with you that in the context described in this discussion, the pain is not the primary conditioning factor, rather it's the animal-level communication ("that's scary!") which carries the signal.

It then extrapolates the toddler (to use your example) will rationally extrapolate from the rareness of the action...

Again, no -- the process doesn't involve rational extrapolation, it's animal-level learning of the child's world conditions. Remember that the information content of a signal isn't solely determined by it's reliability; rare signals carry more information, even if they're unreliable. So, if the parent is whacking the kid irrespective of the kid's behavior, then such incidents carry no feedback about the kid's behavior, only about the parent's current dangerousness. (Mutatis mutandis for unconditional withdrawal, or for sexual impositions.) Rational thought (or even awareness) isn't needed for this sort of learning, the only circuitry needed is stuff that's basic to the structure of an animal's central nervous system.

In practice, a child¹ in such an abusive environment becomes fearful in general, but also hypersensitive to the parents mood and/or level of intoxication. (Hypersensitive, because they're dealing with a signal that's weak and/or noisy, but is critical for them to interpret anyway.)

¹ Or for that matter, most higher mammals -- abused dogs, especially, show a very similar pattern.

#736 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2009, 07:31 PM:

Whoops, I somehow muffed italicising my first quote from Terry.

#737 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 02:49 PM:

David Harmon: But the problem is, the parent (and the stimulus) won't be present all the time. The child/animal has to extrapolate the single instance to a general condition.

There is a lot of study (and I've read a lot of it), which says this; intuitive though it may be, isn't what happens.

We like to think it does (because it has a certain narrative consistency), but it's not the case. Like most Ev-Psych, it's a post-hoc argument.

It can't even work as a variable re-enforcement, because that moves to abusive (since the major variable is the presence of the negative re-enforcer). Since it's almost impossible to have the application of force be absolutely consistent, it's not a good teaching aid.

That it does work is more dependent on the reasoning of the punished, than the specifics of the actions.

#738 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 03:32 PM:

Does this mean we can't install shock collars to train politicians to vote correctly? It would probably be covered under most health insurance policies.

#739 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 04:06 PM:

Earl, the politician shock collars that would be covered would have AHIP firmware installed. The Liebermouse has already got that.

#740 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2009, 04:25 PM:

Terry, it sounds like you're still thinking in terms of ongoing conditioning, and "trying to teach". Sometimes, a single incident does make a lasting impression! But with humans, it's remarkably hard to arrange such an incident on purpose, precisely because we're so good at recognizing the attempts to do so (and discounting them as "social messages").

With cats, it's only possible because cats aren't very bright. Even with dogs, it's easier said than done, because dogs are smarter and more socially aware (of humans) than many people give them credit for.

#741 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 11:53 AM:

David: I am not thinking of ongoing training. We are both discussing persistent conditioning.

Sometimes, a single incident does make a lasting impression! Key element, sometimes.

But with humans, it's remarkably hard to arrange such an incident on purpose, , which, combined with the aforementioned sometimes, is what I have been saying.

1: You can't design such a teaching tool.
2: It's not reliable. You can't know what you are going to end up teaching.
3: Therefore it is a bad teaching tool.

#742 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 02:49 PM:

Terry #742: Um, I think we're in violent agreement here, with a caveat:

You can't design it as a tool, but you can create a context where such incidents are more likely to lead in desired directions. That's done by consistently acting with integrity -- in other words, be what you want to teach.

#743 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2009, 07:51 PM:

Coming late to the conversation, a couple of comments.

B. Durbin:

I wonder if the prior fasting included low or no water rations— something I've sometimes seen cited as part of "fasting" by those who don't have a long spiritual tradition backing it. (Most religions allow or encourage water during fasts.)

yeah, yeah. Jewish fasts are either dusk-to-dark or (twice a year) 26 hours sunset to dark the next day. No food, no water. If you feel ill, lie down. If you really feel you need to eat/drink, then eat/drink as much as you need.

Most years, we manage. Last year, Debbie had a stomach virus a couple of days before Yom Kippur, and almost fainted about 1:30 during services, so someone got her a bottle of water, and she had some, and felt better and was able to continue without water/food until dark.

If you feel you must eat/drink, do so in a weird way so it doesn't look like normal eating: a bite or a swig, then wait 10 minutes, then the next bite/swig. If you're actually sick, or pregnant (or nursing?), eat/drink. There's a long discussion in the Talmud (natch) about under what circumstances one should eat/drink on Yom Kippur; the ancient Rabbis are much more lenient than people's own consciences; people want to be strict on themselves.

anon @ 42:

>Landmark Forum

I did the Lifespring program, which was a splinter off of est, sort of kindler-gentler, in the late 1980s. Yes, several somewhat expensive seminars ($400 for the Basic, $1200 for Advanced, $800 for Masters, and the /s/a/l/e/s /t/r/a/i/n/i/n/g Leadership Program was $40, but you were expected to go out and recruit people. I was terrible at LP, not being a born salesman.

They were much like you said. Re going to the bathroom, they let you go out, but would give you a big argument about whether you really thought it was the Right Thing to do. They wouldn't touch you physically.

Fortunately, I had had anti-cult training in high school (it was a Jewish school, they were really afraid of cults and missionaries attacking us when we went to college), and recognized the tactic, so I eventually stopped arguing and just left. Came back, but ultimately, they didn't own me. I paid them.

Ultimately, I got some self-confidence from it, but it didn't last more than a year or two. Still, at $2000 for the year, cost less than therapy.

Tom Whitmore:

>Randy Revell of Context Associated (also the founder of Lifespring).

The founder of Lifespring was John Hanley, also a co-trainer with Werner Erhard, IIUC. Revell may claim to have co-founded Lifespring, but the Lifespring people never mentioned him.

Huh, here's a thing saying where the Mind Dynamics people went: http://www.culthelp.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=957&Itemid=12

The Lifespring trainers only talked about Hanley and Erhard, not Alexander Everett or the other three people who supposedly founded Lifespring. Must be some interesting politics behind that.

#744 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2009, 01:22 AM:

David: I think, with care, one can manage to salvage a mistake; in such a way that it won't teach the non-desired outcome (hide this thing from authority).

But that's about as good as it gets.

#745 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2009, 10:58 AM:

I ended up on James Arthur Ray's mailing list some years ago, and never got off. I'm glad now. I got this, dated 10/29:

The lives of the families impacted by the Sedona tragedy have been changed forever. These families deserve to have the questions raised by the tragedy answered as quickly and authoritatively as possible. That is the goal I'm dedicated to achieving.

In the days following the terrible accident, I struggled to respond in the right way. This is the most emotionally wrenching situation I've ever faced, and it's now clear I must dedicate all of my physical and emotional energies to helping bring some sort of closure to this matter. That means helping the authorities and the families get to the bottom of what happened.

I'm committed to devoting all of my time, for as long as it takes, to achieve this goal. For that reason, I'm postponing all the events I had planned for the remainder of 2009. These events will be rescheduled as soon as possible in 2010—once the essential work that must be done on the Sedona tragedy has been completed.

I appreciate your patience and understanding during this difficult time. I will keep you updated regularly as we move forward about our progress and about our plans for rescheduling the postponed events.

#746 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2009, 03:28 AM:

Given that the last post on this thread is a week old, and there's a significant gap before it, too, I hesitate to add a comment. Still, the late subthread involving training cats against jumping on counters does seem to imply that 3-4 foot falls are harmless.

One of my cats is currently recuperating from spinal injury. The damage was acquired indoors, without witnesses, without any other living thing to interact with but the other cat. The vet says it's consistent with a fall from a counter-top or shelf such that he impacted the edge of another surface on his way down.

By "spinal injury" we mean that one of the processes broke off and there was hemoraging and swelling severe enough to cut off all sensation and motor control in the hindquarters. He spent more than a week in the hospital just regaining the ability to urinate on his own. He's home now, beginning to walk again, slowly and wobbly for sure. Still can't really use the litter box; he's just able to get in and out of it on his own, but doesn't seem to be able to "hold it" yet in time to get there. He will be confined to small spaces and no unsupervised running or jumping or interactions with the other cat or *anything* for, we are told, 90 days. His follow-up appointment on Friday may alter that timeline though.

We got off light; he didn't need surgery, thank the Gods. I'm not even going to go into the vet bill. That he is home and purrs when I interact with him, I have come to view as a small daily miracle.

Before this happened, I might have thought, "Yeah, cookie sheets on counter-tops, that would do it; teach him the route isn't safe in a way that has nothing to do with human intervention." Hell, before this happened, I watched him fall off a TV top in his sleep and hit the ground about 6 feet down, and I laughed at how funny he looked, all undignified and confused and what cat falls off of things in his sleep anyway?

I'm a lot less OK with the idea of deliberately engendering a slip-and-fall hazard as part of cat training now that I would have been, is what I'm saying. Which is why I'm posting.

#747 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2009, 09:04 AM:

Nicole, my sympathies -- and best wishes for your cat's continued healing.

I agree; we don't need to make it hazardous for proper training. I've always advocated a spray bottle and spritzing the cat while looking away. Then again, if a cat is on the counter when no human is there to see it, does it really matter?

#748 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2009, 09:48 AM:

Nicole... he is home and purrs when I interact with him, I have come to view as a small daily miracle

Yay for the kitty!

#749 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2009, 10:55 AM:

Ginger @ 748 -- if a cat is on the counter when no human is there to see it, does it really matter?

Depends on the reasons for wanting the cat not to be on the counter. If it's something like wanting to be able to keep things on the counter that the cat might damage, or not wanting paws that have been in a litter box contaminating a food-prep surface... yes, it does.

#750 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2009, 12:01 PM:

Joel @#750: then there's accidentally leaving a butter lick block on the counter. One of our first cats, though tiny, would get up on the counter and hoover down the butter. So we learned to keep it under cover and/or in the fridge.

Fast forward many years, said tiny cat is gone, we got back in the habit of leaving it out. None of the cats we had even attempted to get on the kitchen counters.Then we got the new kids.

Siegfried is large enough to stretch up and touch the top of the counter with his paws. And leap up there in one bound. And then lick up the butter.

Retraining of humans ensued.

#751 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2009, 05:06 PM:

Thanks for the good wishes, Serge & Ginger and all. Null says hi.

About countertops and temptations: We have to retrain friends. Not just butter, but EVERYTHING has to be put away and out of cats' reach. No candy on the counter, in case they take it into their heads to sample the chocolate; no dried fruit-and-nut snack mixes since Uno investigated THAT and besides Null things nuts are the bestest things EVAR. Uno will reliably destroy any packaging that smells like yeast within minutes of leaving it out and turning your back, so bread stays in the fridge. Null (the recuperating kitty) will eat things a surprising distance up the Scoville scale, so those peel-and-eat Cajun shrimp aren't safe either. Neither are the chili cashews.

Reasons we want the cats off the counter whether we're there or not: electric stove burners stay hot longer than one realizes; dishes soaking in the sink should not be broken nor licked; cabinets above counter should not be explored and their contents broken.

Once I left the glasses cabinet opened (brainfart) and later that evening heard a terrible crash--Uno and Null were chasing each other around the house, and apparently Uno had attempted to escape into this convenient floating cave in the kitchen. We were lucky that only two wine glasses (and no kitties) got broken.

On training cats via short sharp shocks: When we lived for a year in a campus-area apartment in Boulder, we were limited due to a single income to one big purchase a month. Furnishing the apartment often fell behind Neat Computer Stuff or Awesome Entertainment in priorities, so we didn't actually acquire a bed for months. We slept on the floor in the corner of the bedroom where two windows met. Have you ever had a cat jump down from the windowsill and land on your belly when you're lying on the floor? Ooh boy. I would wake up, lash out entirely by instinct at the monster that had punched me in the stomach, and then roll over and worry about 1) whether I had internal injuries, and 2) whether I'd broken my hand when it smashed against the wall (Uno dodged). Still, both cats very, very quickly came to treat Top Of Humans as unsafe places to perch or land.

That said, we've totally undone this training, because when you're lying in bed and the cat gently climbs up on you it's much more cute. It was especially sweet last week when Null demonstrated himself strong enough to reclaim his favorite nap-nook: the small of my back while I lay on my belly on the floor reading or using the laptop. He wasn't even really taking steps yet at the time, but he managed to drag himself up with his front legs (which have gotten really, really strong, compensation-style).

Bwah. Long post. Sorry. Always easy to go on and on about cats, isn't it?

#752 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2009, 05:28 PM:

Nicole: My sympathies and well-wishes for Null's recovery. That said, it sounds like his accident may have been a "Black Swan" type, something that can't really be predicted. I know I've* nearly-sprained an ankle just by stepping on it "wrong", with no warning (and my ankles are normally pretty strong).

The big thing to realize is that "training" an uncooperative creature without having to hurt it, is very dependent on having a strong power imbalance on your side. Infants, dogs, cats, and older kids, are all dependent on you, and you likewise control their environment (both roughly in that order). F'rex, the reason I can call my cat back from the front yard is because she knows that if I have to, I'll go out and pick her up and carry her in. (Despite having an abundance of claws, she's too old and lazy to argue with that -- and way too dependent to run away!)

Compare to the difficulty of arguing "territory" with a raccoon, which is strong, smart, and independent -- and worse, it has its own environment to retreat to.

#753 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2009, 11:14 AM:

Joel: even though all of my cats are trained to stay off the counters, I have no doubt whatsoever that at least one cat* can get on while no one is around. Adding to that, our dogs will try for any food (or possible food) on the counters. Our workspace is always cleaned before food prep, and so on.

My question was more philosophical, although as a gas stove user, I'd forgotten about the hot elements.

*In this case, Kedgie's well-known inability** to jump has allowed us to eliminate her as a suspect.
**She only thinks she can't jump, so she doesn't even try.

#754 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2009, 11:27 AM:

Ginger @ 754... I have no doubt whatsoever that at least one cat* can get on while no one is around.

"If a cat jumps on a counter and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

#755 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2009, 12:01 PM:

That depends on whether it's Schroedinger's cat. Or the Cheshire cat.

#756 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2009, 02:10 PM:

Nicole: sympathies; good luck for a rapid and complete recovery for Null.

David Harmon @ 753 The big thing to realize is that "training" an uncooperative creature without having to hurt it, is very dependent on having a strong power imbalance on your side

That's why positive reinforcement training is preferable - it involves training a cooperative creature, which situation does not require a power imbalance. The animal gets to choose whether or not to cooperate. Of course, you encourage it to choose to cooperate by rewarding cooperation, but there is no coercion involved.

#757 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2009, 12:28 PM:

Thanks again, y'all. Null is at the vet for 2-week follow-up, and I'm hanging out in the neighborhood waiting for that to be done. Mainly I hope to be reassured that everything I'm seeing is normal, or better than normal, for a kitty in his situation. The coffee at the Englewood-area Le Peep's is... well, it's OK. I think this particular Le Peep's is aspiring to be an IHOP.

#758 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2009, 01:48 AM:

Ddavid Harmon: 1: I still aver that what's being trained with that power imbalance is more fear, and unerstanding of the imbalance. If the thing trained isn't something the trainee later comes to accept as reasonable, the results will last only so long as the power imbalance remains.

As dcb says, the uses of recognition, praise and reward create a much different relationship. When training the dogs with a clicker, they became joyful and eager to find out what today's game was going to be.

Cats were willing to be trained to jump through hoops and to fetch and to avoid chairs. When we moved to training them to do such things on cue, we had; effectively, trained them not to do it, because the knew the reward they had come to associate with the action wasn't going to be forthcoming without the cue part of the equation.

The only problem we ever had was that of unintentional training, where an animal (less common with people) decided the click had been for something other than we'd meant to train for. Sienna (a horse) took to biting her flank. We had to create a cue for it, so we could train her out of thinking we wanted her to do it.

#759 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2009, 08:11 AM:

@254,264: alt.folklore.urban claims "cow-orker", from quite some time ago; I don't remember whether it was already in use when I found Usenet in September 1993 (yes, THAT September), but it was at least shortly afterwards.

(Yes, I'm reading up through a couple months of old threads a bit at a time...)

--Dave

#760 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2009, 08:52 PM:

“Cosmic Connie” has continued to update her article at Whirled Musings -- most recently on November 14, 2009. It's quite an impressive roundup!

#763 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 12:13 AM:

Brought from another thread (hat tip to Josh Jasper): James Ray Defends Himself

#766 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:34 AM:

There's an excellent couple of posts on James Ray's drugs stash on Scienceblogs' Terra Sigilata. He's on a cocktail of testosterone, human growth hormone, and several drugs typically used to regulate the physical side-effects of the testosterone (although not the psychiatric ones...)

#767 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:08 AM:

I expected the ML posse to notice this development, and you all did not disappoint. :)

Love, C.

#768 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:11 AM:

Apparently the bastard is in jail right here in Prescott AZ. Though I'm glad they charged and jailed him, that's a bit too close for my liking! Oh well. What counts is that justice be served, and he doesn't weasel out of it.

#769 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:19 AM:

Apparently the bastard is in jail right here in Prescott AZ. Though I'm glad they charged and jailed him, that's a bit too close for my liking! Oh well. What counts is that justice be served, and he doesn't weasel out of it.

#770 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 10:27 AM:

Oops! Not Prescott, but Camp Verde. And I don't know why the machine said my first message didn't go through, then placed it anyway. Oh well, it happens often enough....

#771 ::: Lee Kuan ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 08:20 PM:

If YOU felt you were dying from the heat would YOU go back into a sweat lodge? Why not?

What do you think of people who go back into sweat lodges when their bodies are telling them they are dying from the heat? Do you consider such people to be wise?

#772 ::: Lee Kuan ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 08:24 PM:

The participants made a promise when they signed this liability waiver. They are MORALLY BOUND to keep that promise whether you or I like it or not!

http://www.thoughts.com/LeeMajorMinor/blog/james-arthur-ray-sedona-liability-waiver-511361/

#773 ::: Lee sees blatant trolling ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 08:48 PM:

Someone isn't familiar with the facts, and thinks we aren't either.

#774 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 08:51 PM:

If YOU felt you were dying from the heat would YOU go back into a sweat lodge? Why not?

One of the first symptoms of heat stress is altered mental status. If you were under heat stress you might very well make poor decisions too. I've written extensively on heat stress elsewhere. You might read those posts. We've already discussed the psychological reasons the people at this "Spiritual Warrior" event might have tried to tough it out, even though they were getting into a non-survivable situation.

What do you think of people who go back into sweat lodges when their bodies are telling them they are dying from the heat?

It's understandable, given the altered mental status I mentioned above. What do you think of people who prevent others from leaving sweat lodges even though those persons are clearly in physical distress?

They are MORALLY BOUND to keep that promise whether you or I like it or not!

Assuming that that's an accurate copy of the release, and even assuming that it's possible to sign away one's rights in the first place, I don't believe that the Yavapai County Sheriff signed a release.

Tell me: what's your interest?

#775 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 09:14 PM:

Lee Kuan: astroturfer, spammer, or monomaniac?

Googling on "Lee Kuan" + "James Arthur Ray" brings up an astonishing 23,000+ hits.

Including word-for-word duplicates of what he/she posted here.

#776 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 09:24 PM:

23,000 hits? I'd say that qualifies as astroturf and spam. How disgraceful! And what do we know about astroturf and spam? When it's being distributed in those quantities, the people responsible aren't doing it for free.

Lee Kuan, pending further developments and/or information, I will assume that (1.) you're a professional liar; (2.) you're employed by James Arthur Ray; and (3.) you're doing what he hired you to do.

Congratulations on discrediting him further. I hope he takes it out of your check, and you sue him for non-payment. May you be very unhappy together.

Now get the hell out of my weblog and stay out, or we'll write about you on the front page. Fetchez la vache!

#777 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 09:40 PM:

Faren, I'm charmed to think of him in the Camp Verde jail. I've never met the place personally, but I have faith that it's nothing like his usual digs.

#778 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 09:48 PM:

Camp Verde was pretty neat, actually.

#779 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 10:35 PM:

You've been to Camp Verde? I know it's about twenty times the size it was when I was a young lady, but I still don't expect anyone to have actually been there.

#780 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 10:39 PM:

When I said I'd never met the place personally, I meant the Camp Verde jail. I've been to Camp Verde more than once.

#781 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 10:44 PM:

I didn't see that much of Camp Verde, actually, and especially not its jail. What I did see was the Fort, and I remember my surprise at how cooler things are inside adobe buildings.

#782 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 10:54 PM:

"Lee Kuan" posts all over the 'net wherever James Arthur Ray is mentioned, not only under the "Lee Kuan" but also as LeeMajorMinor, Lee Majorbig, and JasonDaro.

Without access to the server logs I can't prove it's him/her, but I can state that they're cut-n-pasting the exact same material word-for-word.

#783 ::: Lee Kuan ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 05:55 AM:

If you are walking in the desert to the point where you are about to die from the stress of the heat and you see a shady place are you trying to tell me YOU would not go into the shade? OF COURSE YOU WOULD!

The sweatlodge rounds lasted 10 to 15 minutes. There was plenty of water to drink between rounds. People agreed, IN WRITING, to take full responsibility for their actions at that workshop.

Only an idiot would go back into a sweat lodge if their bodies were dying from the heat

In case you are curious, I am not filled with only wonderful things to say about James Arthur Ray's philosophy. See my Twitter account if you don't believe me. Look as my responses to James Arthur Ray's comments:

http://twitter.com/LeeKuanMajor

#784 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 05:56 AM:

I can't help thinking that sooner or later one oif these astroturfing bastards is going to cross the line in one of the myriad legal jurisdictions of the US, and discover a judge is having a hard look at an attempt to unduly influence a trial jury.

Might not happen: from my British PoV American courts seem much less fussed about such things. But I can see more notice being taken when the scale of the operation is large enough to suggest a commercial relationship with a party to a case, and the case is a homicide.

The internet rather strains the British standards, because it is so easy to publish comments. British Courts could set limits on the pre-Internet news sources, but they're not the irresistible force any more.

In the end, a jury represents the world outside the court. I can see judges and lawyers having to become more aware of what is being said on the internet, when a case is argued before a jury. How long before lawyers routinely warn that Britain is different, and the loudest voices on the Internet are likely to be American: not neccessarily wrong, but irrelevant.

#785 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 08:45 AM:

If you are walking in the desert to the point where you are about to die from the stress of the heat and you see a shady place are you trying to tell me YOU would not go into the shade? OF COURSE YOU WOULD!

Not necessarily. Heat stress produces altered mental status. One of the very first changes is the person loses the sense of self-preservation. I've seen this myself, with a person working in their garden on a hot, humid day in northern New Hampshire, not in a desert, not after having paid ten thousand dollars to be there where the going inside would mean flushing that money down the drain by not getting the promised results of Spiritual Renewal, and where there wasn't a charlatan putting heavy psychological pressure on them to stay in a deadly environment. (Which that fake guru either knew, or should have known, was in fact life-threatening.)

"OF COURSE YOU WOULD" is an unwarranted, counter-factual, assumption. And, in reality, three people died--two right there, a third after a week in hospital--and many others were sickened and perhaps permanently damaged due to a charlatan's irresponsibility.


The sweatlodge rounds lasted 10 to 15 minutes. There was plenty of water to drink between rounds.

Heat stress, as you know, or should know, does not depend on water consumption. So give up that line of argument, please. And fifteen minutes is plenty of time for heat stress to turn fatal, as you know, or should know, and the facts support, because three people are dead right now.

In addition, the people were not exiting the sweat lodge between sessions. What was happening every fifteen minutes was a flap was raised and more hot rocks were being brought in. So that line of argument of yours is also false to fact.

Shall we mention here that this sweat lodge was far larger than, held more people than, and was built of different materials than a traditional Native American sweat lodge?

As to the times, 10-15 minutes, those very numbers are used explicitly in my article on heat stress. Please review it before continuing.

People agreed, IN WRITING, to take full responsibility for their actions at that workshop.

So what? As I already mentioned, the Yavapai County Sheriff didn't sign a waiver or release. In addition, this argument is meaningless, since the elements of proof for manslaughter do not include "the victim did/did not sign a waiver" or any variation of that theme. Rather, what we're looking at is "Killing in the prosecution of a lawful act, improperly performed," which is one of the definitions of manslaughter, and of which Ray stands accused. Those waivers may help Ray dodge civil suits (though I wouldn't bet on it--while his victims may have signed waivers, their families did not), but have no force in a criminal proceeding, which is what he's facing.

Only an idiot would go back into a sweat lodge if their bodies were dying from the heat

"Blame the victim" always works so well here. This has already been disposed of two ways: First, the people weren't being allowed out so going back in wasn't an option, and second, people in heat stress have an altered mental status.

In case you are curious, I am not filled with only wonderful things to say about James Arthur Ray's philosophy. See my Twitter account if you don't believe me. Look as my responses to James Arthur Ray's comments:

No, I'm not curious about scammers, spammers, astroturfers, sockpuppets, netkooks, or trolls.

#786 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 08:48 AM:

If Lee Kuan develops a fixation about Lobsters it will be just about perfect...

#787 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 09:27 AM:

Jim, why are you responding to this idiot? Why do hir comments still have vowels? Why is hir IP still allowed to post here?

Apparently s/he thinks it would be a good thing for Teresa to write about hir on the front page. S/he couldn't be more wrong.

#788 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 09:50 AM:

Xopher, sometimes we let idiots post, and allow their posts to stay, as examples.

See, for example, "FRank Persol" in the recent J. K. Rowling thread.

I find refuting his/her claims fun and educational, not because I hope to convince him/her, but in order to answer the nonsense so that others may see that these defenses are empty and meaningless.

Meanwhile, cry piñata and let slip the dogs of puns!

#789 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 10:13 AM:

Jim, fair enough, and let me add bwah-hah-hah.

#790 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 10:29 AM:

Let us say, purely for the sake of argument, that drug traffickers working for the Barrio Azteca gang sign waivers prior to their employment, in which they specifically hold harmless everyone in the world for any and all untoward outcomes of that employment, including but not limited to loss of income, prison, pain and suffering, assault, battery, false imprisonment, kidnapping, torture, loss of bodily parts, and death.

Let us say that three such narcotraficantes are found having been buried alive in the desert outside Sedona, blindfolded, gagged, tied up with barbed wire, and clutching those signed and dated waivers in their now-dead hands.

If "Kuan" is correct, the government cannot prosecute anyone for murder, manslaughter, wrongful death, or any other offenses, since the victims took personal responsibility.

#791 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 11:57 AM:

Every message James Ray was sending told those people that he knew what he was doing; in fact, that he knew what he was doing to an extraordinary and surpassing degree. That was his justification for charging them quite remarkable amounts of money.

The sweat lodge was the climax of the workshop. The people had been told repeatedly that this would be a new experience, unlike anything they'd done before, and that they'd break through old barriers and limitations. That is: they'd been told that their previous experiences of life on this planet didn't apply to events in the sweat lodge.

In legitimate sweat lodge ceremonies, the leader of the ceremony is intensely responsible for the other participants, and monitors them closely. To the extent that the workshop members knew anything about sweat lodges, their expectations would have been that the same safety standards were being observed.

What James Ray had built for the ceremony was a sweat lodge many times larger than any traditional structure. It was not built of traditional materials, and was missing essential traditional features like adequate ventilation.

People in the sweat lodge were being pressured to "push beyond their limitations," to persevere in spite of their own internal reactions. They were also packed in, so that leaving meant disturbing other participants. And everyone was in the dark, so there was no way to monitor participants for physical distress.

For a more detailed discussion of the "physiological disaster" in the sweat lodge, I refer you to a discussion of it by the knowledgeable Tsu Doh Nimh, in the comment thread of Terra Sigillata's writeup of the drug cocktail Ray was taking at the time. (Thank you, Alex @767, for the Terra Sigillata link.)

So. James Arthur Ray, the mighty Spiritual Warrior, the man who by his own accounts had sought out and learned superior mystical techniques and enlightenments, and for a stiff fee would teach same, was completely unaware that only a little way away from him in the sweat lodge, his students were dying.

James Ray required his students to sign a charlatan's waiver that freed him of any and all responsibility. Its purpose is to keep them or their families from suing him.

What you have failed to understand, Mr. Kuan, or are pretending you don't understand, is that even if they've signed a waiver, it is still illegal to intentionally or negligently kill one's fellow citizens. As Jim Macdonald pointed out to you some messages back, the formulation is "a lawful act improperly performed."

It's like operating a carnival ride at speeds in excess of the known limits when you haven't been doing basic maintenance and safety checks on the equipment. If you kill someone, the charge isn't that you've failed to deliver the promised goods or services. The charge is manslaughter.

I don't think much of your protestations of personal integrity. You've posted your cut-and-paste message all the hell over the place, under a variety of names including (but not necessarily limited to) Lee Kuan, LeeMajorMinor, Lee Majorbig, and JasonDaro. They may all be false, but they can't all b