Essay

Meaninglessness, Nihilism, and The Landmark Forum

By Duff McDuffee on March 25th, 2011 1

Frequent Beyond Growth commenter Jack of the 32,000 Days blog recently wrote a blog entry entitled “Landmark forum – cult, scam, or path to enlightenment” based on his experiences of the popular personal growth workshop. His review was mostly favorable but also accurate, telling of the aggressive techniques used and the reasoning behind the workshop, but also noting some important points counter to critics of The Forum like that nobody was forced to stay in the room (unlike the original est training). I am still highly critical of The Forum and Landmark Education in general and do not recommend this workshop, but it was interesting to hear about Jack’s experience nonetheless.

I posted a long comment in response that I thought Beyond Growth readers might enjoy. My comment includes some ideas I’ve been working on around the philosophy of personal growth which is also critical of some of the presuppositions of The Forum. For context, you may want to read Jack’s post first.

Interesting review, Jack.

I’ve come to believe lately that the notion “There’s no meaning intrinsic to events that happened in our lives” is false, even though “Humans act like ‘meaning making machines’ and construct the meaning of everything in our lives,” is true. There are a likely number of possible meanings to any event which is not infinite and has contours based on individual history, cultural context, etc. Of these limited meanings, unlimited minor variations can occur, but they occur in the same way that one could take “unlimited” positions within a single room, bounded by the same 4 walls regardless. I think this view on meaning is consistent with the latest research into categories in Cognitive Linguistics (see Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things by George Lakoff).

The major difference between my view and the view “There’s no meaning intrinsic to events that happened in our lives” is that the latter is aggressively nihilistic and the former constructivist but not requiring constant maintenance to avoid falling into a meaningless void. We can see this same aggressive nihilism in the movie Fight Club, where the ultimate solution from Tyler Durden is to form a violent, anarchist cult that seeks to destroy the structures of modernity.

If we believe things are ultimately meaningless, then we must constantly, consciously, and willfully be constructing this meaning. This leads naturally to the highly aggressive happy seeker who must at all times be in control of what things mean, bringing more people into their worldview or else it will all fall apart. While we do in fact construct meanings in our lives, there are not infinite possible storylines but likely clusters, common themes, etc. that bind us together as human beings. These aren’t exactly “objective” but more clusters of subjective possibility that we can select from and edit appropriately to fit the specific details of actual events in our lives.

Thus the events of our lives do have a sort of pre-given possibility for meaningfulness, meaningful specifically to the human subjects that participate in them. There is no need to fear any meaningless “objective” universe for such a thing is an abstraction—not an ultimate, observable reality—and instead we find that by surrendering into an unknowing void of meaning, we discover a peace of Being that is beyond aggressively grasping for meaningfulness or imposing our chosen meanings onto others.

I also have challenges to other basic principles of Landmark education, for instance the idea “We are all inauthentic assholes who lie and cheat our way through life, take the easy way out, and blame other people for our own problems.” I know plenty “authentic assholes” too, in fact most people who talk a lot about authenticity qualify as such, content to spew their insides out at all times, neglecting the importance of tact, of civility, and of social graces (including the authenticity of representing yourself differently in different contexts).

The shallow notion of authenticity as “just being yourself, the exact same in all contexts” is faulty for many reasons, not least of which is that who I fundamentally am changes depending on the context because I am a semi-permeable system in relation with other systems, not an autonomous impermeable entity. In fact, I feel that the biggest lie of them all is that one can act the exact same in all contexts, or that this would be somehow preferable. Should I wear a ratty tee shirt to a funeral? How about a tuxedo to a dance club? This kind of contradiction runs deep in Fight Club as well, for instance how Durden says “you are not your fucking kakhis” yet the entire movie is dressed in extremely stylish clothes. Or how millionaire actor Brad Pitt playing Durden says, “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t.” The critique of culture is nullified due to participating in creating what is being critiqued while making the statement.

These kinds of errors in philosophy multiply when you combine them all together in one seminar. While I do think there are benefits to catharsis and the various exercises performed in such workshops, I think the errors in philosophy and aggressiveness of psychological methods ultimately make it something I cannot support or recommend to others for sustainable, long-term personal change.

For those seeking other critical views of Landmark Education and The Forum, here are some good resources:

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92 responses to “Meaninglessness, Nihilism, and The Landmark Forum”

  1. 32000days says:

    Duff, I appreciate the comment. I think you raise a number of important points that are suitable for a written dialogue – i.e. needing some serious thought and a bit of time to compose a response.

    (Actually, for me, writing down my experience was partly an effort to crystallize the rapid-fire spoken conversation of the Forum into a "snapshot". I wanted to do that as soon as possible after the workshop itself, so that I could refer back to it and understand what I had experienced a little better.)
    My recent post Ego and enlightenment

  2. 32000days says:

    Here's a more complete response, as mirrored on T3D. http://thirtytwothousanddays.com/blog/2011/02/lan

    Apparently IntenseDebate doesn't like the length of the comment, so I'll see if I can split it up or something. (Didn't you guys have someone flaming you a few weeks ago because of this?)
    My recent post Ego and enlightenment

  3. Mumon says:

    Beautiful post – I will post a detailed reply on my blog later today or tomorrow.

  4. One man seems to have created a Twitter account just to give his support of Jack's view and criticize mine: http://twitter.com/#!/alanhodg

  5. I f'booked you. In many 'programs' the mantra of, "just be yourself" is chanted. I agree, oddly. As being myself changes. Their meaning, (especially in the twelve step movement) is a reflection of desire to want to be accepted in time of poorly executed self. That and of being human.

    Want to be valued is great when communicated as that. It becomes evil When I force you to embrace and deal with my imperfections.

    I am off-topic. Great post and nice way to interact between blog/comments/boards.

  6. The belief “We are all inauthentic assholes who lie and cheat our way through life, take the easy way out, and blame other people for our own problems" is more of a foundational than constructivist statement, is not constructive, and sounds self-abusive. As does the shouting at a participant. And saying that it's shouting at "their stuff" dismisses the abuse because of the pressured dissociation.

    You can take something good away from any experience, but just because you can take something away from Landmark doesn't mean that some of the tactics aren't abusive. Of course I've never been, so these are just my observations based on what's been reported.
    My recent post How to Mindfully Use Internet to Improve Your Emotional Well-Being

    • Yes, I completely agree. This statement is self-abusive, and when spoken is abusive of those to whom it is directed. I think it is obvious and well-known that Landmark is abusive. The only contention is whether this abuse feels good or bad (whether or not you are a masochist).

    • Also, by "constructivist" I meant something more like the notion that we construct meanings for our lives, not the notion that something is helpful or harmful (as in "constructive criticism"). I think Landmark's philosophy is nihilistic, i.e. the notion that things in life are inherently meaningless, whereas my view is constructivist in the sense that I think events in our lives have multiple potential meanings and require us to assemble or construct those narratives. My view does not imply that events are inherently meaningless however, which I see as an important difference.

    • 32000days says:

      It's harsh, no question about it. It's certainly not meant to be a mantra to be repeated (that would be quite the anti-affirmation or inner critic right there).

      Nor is it meant to be personal – instead, it's just description of how people sometimes behave.

      I could also say "We are all authentic, kind people who tell the truth, make hard choices, and take responsibility for our actions" and it would be just as true.

      We're all complex beings who are a mix of light and dark, good and evil. Since it's the "dark side" that usually leads us into bad situations, it's those dark side behaviors that are getting surfaced, and ideally, transformed.

      However, I can definitely imagine how this kind of exercise would be counterproductive for people who have extremely negative inner monologues or had experienced extensive verbal put-downs from others in the past.
      My recent post Ego and enlightenment

      • "However, I can definitely imagine how this kind of exercise would be counterproductive for people who have extremely negative inner monologues or had experienced extensive verbal put-downs from others in the past. "

        Unfortunately I think 90% of the population would fit this statement, hence why I think this exercise is in fact abusive in practice, even though I can see the perspective you are putting forth.

        • Megan says:

          I did the Forum about a year and a half ago. From what I experienced, I think this idea of "we are all inauthentic assholes who lie & cheat our way way through life…." does sound extremely harsh. But at the same time, within the context of the larger seminar it more presented as: at certain points in my life I have been a major asshole, I've lied to avoid responsibility for my mistakes and I've blamed people for things that I shouldn't have blamed them for. Does that make me some kind of monster? No. It makes me a human being. It's something that we, as human beings do.

          It was a real stretch to look at myself and accept some of the crap I pull….but I don't think we were encouraged to berate ourselves, in fact I think we were more encouraged to accept the negative things we did while accepting that we are faulty human beings and not hate ourselves for it…just be aware that we have that inclination and start taking responsibility.

          • Personally, I think there are FAR gentler methods for working with the ways in which we are dishonest or inauthentic, and that these non-manipulative, gentle methods are better in every way. We need not call anyone names or yell and scream at a person to get them to see the ways they have been causing harm to themselves and others.

  7. Rachel says:

    I found it interesting that some of the commenters of that blog mentioned that if Landmark uses brainwashing techniques, it was "good" brainwashing. I used that rationale myself when I was involved in a cult-like self-improvement program until I realized that washing my brain wasn't a job I wanted to outsource to a stranger. I don't doubt that some people had these positive life-changing experiences with Landmark. I do wonder what they gave up in the process, though. Maybe nothing, if so, they were fortunate but personally I would never take that chance again.

  8. Evan says:

    Well said Duff.

    The problem of the meaningless external world and the arbitrary assignment of meaning are two sides of the same coin – the fragmenting of our experience into 'objective' and 'subjective' abstractions from our experience.

    Theoretically it also discounts the possibility of discovery. We discover something 'beyond' us while the making of meaning is an active shaping. I think both are modes of our experience.

    For an exploration of a psychotherapy that takes seriously the unity of the person and their situation see Perls, Hefferline and Goodman's Gestalt Therapy. It is a work of genius in my view.

    This nihilism I think goes well beyond the Landmark Forum. I think the point you are making is very, very important. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Evan. I'm trying to hone in on the most core aspect of what is missing from shallow self-help, and I think the language of existentialism captures it best. Glad what I'm saying resonates with some people at least.

  9. I came across Landmark in London about 10 years ago, when I did some career coaching. Coaching itself was great but I kept getting follow-up invites to stuff that seemed deliberately aimed at young high-flyers.

    (argh my comment got lost) It reminded me heavily of the approach used by charismatic Christians during born-again rallies. I was indeed a fervent believer for a bit, then withdrew from it. Any time I see a stage, an audience, and a fervent preacher, I'm out of there. It may not technically be a cult but it's way too close for comfort.

    • I think the problem that you describe would indeed remain a problem if we stuck with Werner's nihilistic quotation as the basis for the philosophy. However, the philosophy does go further, and affirms that we are empowered to select / create / design a meaning for things that happen in our lives.

      Empowered to or forced to create meaning for things? What happens if we do not? I contend that from this perspective, if we do not we fall into a terrible and terrifying void of meaninglessness. This isn't just a philosophical point, it is a matter of where the individual sits in relation to their own existential anxiety. The way out is to dive headlong into The Void, to surrender and allow everything to fall away, to die before death and be reborn in the deathless (or discover that you've never been anything but). From there meanings emerge naturally, but do not end up as defenses against dealing with our existential condition, of barricading ourselves against death.

      Perhaps one doesn't have such obvious or severe death anxiety, in which case it is more natural to simply form resourceful meanings from experiences without any aggressive defensiveness when these meanings are questioned or lost. The individual who defends their view tightly however exposes their anxiety about suspending meaningfulness, of experiencing a void of meaning or worldview or sense of self, aka death anxiety.

      • @32000days says:

        Empowered to or forced to create meaning for things? What happens if we do not? I contend that from this perspective, if we do not we fall into a terrible and terrifying void of meaninglessness. This isn't just a philosophical point, it is a matter of where the individual sits in relation to their own existential anxiety.

        Good question. I tend to agree with the viewpoint in Psycho-Cybernetics – that we seem to have a goal-seeking mechanism in our neurology that is "happy" when we're going after some kind of goal, and "not happy" when we're aimless. In that sense, we experience more pleasure in moments when we are goal-seeking and in "flow", even if the big picture meaning of that goal is impermanent or insignificant.

        The way out is to dive headlong into The Void, to surrender and allow everything to fall away, to die before death and be reborn in the deathless (or discover that you've never been anything but). From there meanings emerge naturally, but do not end up as defenses against dealing with our existential condition, of barricading ourselves against death.

        This feels intuitively right to me. It sounds Buddhist in flavor. I think "meanings emerge naturally" is the key. We don't have to thrash about or expend huge effort to create meanings for ourselves – they just happen.

        This actually seems like the intention of that part the Forum – sweep away old, worn-out meanings and create ones that are more empowering or otherwise lead to a better future. I didn't get the sense that post-Forum meanings were intended by the creators of the workshop to be barricades against the existential challenge of physical death.

        Perhaps one doesn't have such obvious or severe death anxiety, in which case it is more natural to simply form resourceful meanings from experiences without any aggressive defensiveness when these meanings are questioned or lost. The individual who defends their view tightly however exposes their anxiety about suspending meaningfulness, of experiencing a void of meaning or worldview or sense of self, aka death anxiety.

        I can imagine that a person who has serious anxiety about death, who faces this assertion in the Forum, and who accepts it, might experience some difficult times ahead. As long as they were able to create new meanings that worked for them, I imagine that they would be fine. Or else they could retreat into their previous "comfort zone" of meanings and beliefs.

    • Furthermore, for the person who lacks such existential anxiety, Erhard's philosophy will not resonate. Many people respond with confusion when someone says "life is empty and meaningless," because they've never experienced such a thing. Erhard's philosophy and the philosophies of personal development generally are Existentialisms—they frame the world in terms of the classic existential problems of freedom, choice, death, responsibility, and authenticity, and then provide answers. In fact, they are fundamentalist existentialisms because they not only provide answers but the One True answers which cannot be questioned. In this way, they completely fail to deal with the problems of our existence, of our Being, instead driven anxiously to grasp onto a single position surrounded by the void of space, clutching on for deal life to the illusion of separateness, forever claiming their calcified perspective as Absolute Truth.

      My own approach consists of: "question everything – including my own prejudices and blind spots – and find my own way through learning and experimentation". As such, I tend to be skeptical of magic bullet solutions, assuming that any system is going to have its good points and bad points and that I'll have to sift through it using my own critical faculties.

      In my opinion, this open, questioning approach is the only one that can solve the existential dilemmas we confront when we examine what it is to be human. Adopting easy answers and thought-stopping cliches only seek to make our existential condition more precarious and fragile, susceptible to destruction from any and all contrary views.

      • @32000days says:

        Furthermore, for the person who lacks such existential anxiety, Erhard's philosophy will not resonate. Many people respond with confusion when someone says "life is empty and meaningless," because they've never experienced such a thing. Erhard's philosophy and the philosophies of personal development generally are Existentialisms—they frame the world in terms of the classic existential problems of freedom, choice, death, responsibility, and authenticity, and then provide answers.

        I think I get what you're saying here. In the Forum approach, the answer to the meaninglessness question is to create your own meanings for things (past events, present realities, etc), and games to play in which meaning is defined by the rules of the game. (I don't know as much about the "games" approach to this – it may be something that is treated in more detail in the Advanced or SELP Courses)

        In fact, they are fundamentalist existentialisms because they not only provide answers but the One True answers which cannot be questioned. In this way, they completely fail to deal with the problems of our existence, of our Being, instead driven anxiously to grasp onto a single position surrounded by the void of space, clutching on for deal life to the illusion of separateness, forever claiming their calcified perspective as Absolute Truth.

        My experience of the Forum was much less fundamentalist than that. The overall frame was something like "Here's some stuff that we think might be useful for you. If it resonates and works for you, great. If not, so be it." It was never presented to me as "we have found the ultimate absolute truth."

        Landmark people seem much more fundamentalist when they are encouraging you to bring guests or share your experience of the Forum, rather than about any of the specific course content.

    • Yea, I went to 10-day Vipassana Courses for the same psychological reason, the desire to go to extremes. Hopefully I'm becoming wiser in my 30's having since gone as far as I want to go and now recognizing the importance of limits.

      I should also mention that I had a lot of training in philosophy, psychology, and media criticism before attending Tony Robbins' Unleash the Power Within workshop but was still unduly influenced. Anybody who's a martial artist will also tell you that everyone gets hurt in a fight.

      • @32000days says:

        Yea, I went to 10-day Vipassana Courses for the same psychological reason, the desire to go to extremes. Hopefully I'm becoming wiser in my 30's having since gone as far as I want to go and now recognizing the importance of limits.

        At the Vipassana course that I attended, I saw lots of people who appeared to be well beyond their 30s. Do you mean that your reasons for attending the course were anchored in those young and masculine motivations? Or would you consider those immersive Vipassana courses too extreme and discourage others from taking them?

        I haven't experienced the feeling of wanting to visit the "extremes" going away over time. However, with a little more maturity I am now realizing that I can harness it to serve others and better the world, rather than pump my own ego or try to impress other people.

        I should also mention that I had a lot of training in philosophy, psychology, and media criticism before attending Tony Robbins' Unleash the Power Within workshop but was still unduly influenced. Anybody who's a martial artist will also tell you that everyone gets hurt in a fight.

        That's true. My hope is that if things "go bad" at least I will have learned something worthwhile from the experience.

        The worst-case scenario – at least from my current vantage point – seems to be that if I were to do some future courses and disliked the experience immensely, I would have wasted a couple of thousand dollars on snake oil tuition.

        My recent post Ego and enlightenment

  10. Many people talk about the good things they received from abusive relationships, whether marriages or workshops. Personally I have found that abuse is totally unnecessary and in fact detrimental to effective personal change.

    For example, continuing to receive solicitation calls when you have specifically asked to be removed from the call list is illegal telemarketing.

  11. brendanbartholomew says:

    I did the forum in the mid 1990s. Went in with my eyes wide open, even going so far as to read the Werner Erhard expose, "Outrageous Betrayal" beforehand:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outrageous_Betrayal

    I had a great time actually doing the forum, though if it's had any lasting effects on my life, those effects were pretty subtle. That is to say, it didn't turn me into a raging success machine over night.

    Nobody shouted at me during the forum, and, quite frankly, I was a little disappointed by that.

    Also, my experience contradicted those who claim that if you get involved, Landmark people will never stop calling you. People who complete the forum are then offered an additional course for free, and I did sign up for that, but then kinda flaked on it.

    Yes, Landmark employees phoned me once or twice to follow up on whether I'd be taking the free course and see about rescheduling, but I never felt like I was being hounded by Scientologists.
    My recent post Chevron Loses in Ecuadorian Court!

    • Hi Brendan, thanks for commenting.

      It seems to me from various reports I've heard that despite the Landmark Forum's emphasis on a standard procedure, the aggressiveness of facilitation and sales calls varies from place to place. This is probably because human beings are running these things and different people have different personalities and values.

      • brendanbartholomew says:

        Sounds plausible to me, Duff. I suspect, also, that different people have different thresholds for what they consider to be unwelcome or pushy contact.

        There is certainly no denying that Landmark is very manipulative in the way it gets you to commit to doing further trainings at the end of your initial Forum weekend. Of course a room full of people who are totally pumped up and "standing in possibility" are going to readily agree to taking the advanced course.

        This created a huge problem for me, 'cause my girlfriend at the time had been very worried I was getting sucked into a cult, and she made me promise that I wouldn't commit to anything beyond the initial Forum weekend. So when she came to the "graduation" night and realized Landmark's manipulations had caused me to completely forget the promise I'd made to her, well, that only served to further convince her of how dangerous the whole situation was.
        My recent post Chevron Loses in Ecuadorian Court!

        • I suspect, also, that different people have different thresholds for what they consider to be unwelcome or pushy contact.

          Right–and those who are more easily convinced get sucked into the cult, justify the aggressiveness by becoming aggressive in their recruiting methods as well, and stave off any cognitive dissonance at the methods employed by aggressively repressing or overriding inner feelings and objections as well. Hence why I think it is far better to design courses and use change techniques that are gentle, deeply respectful of the client's/participant's worldview, and use simple and direct approaches when presenting other courses or products.

          The "graduation" night is of course a recruitment effort which I find highly manipulative. Your girlfriend was right to be skeptical.

          • brendanbartholomew says:

            Yep. I was a good little recruiter too. I was so pumped up about the Forum that I phoned tons of people to personally invite them. At least one person besides my girlfriend showed up.

            I kept telling her it's not a cult, and that Landmark took great pains to avoid being cult-like, due to all the heat they'd gotten in their earlier incarnation as EST.

            She countered that it was a cult for people like me, who were too smart to get sucked into a more blatant type of cult.

            She also said, "Even if it's not inherently a cult, I know you; YOU will have it be a cult!"

            We're no longer a couple, but to this day, she is my best friend.
            My recent post Chevron Loses in Ecuadorian Court!

          • I was sucked into several "not-cults" as well. Cults for saavy, smart, post-modern people! That's what they should call them. 🙂

          • 32000days says:

            Yep. I was a good little recruiter too. I was so pumped up about the Forum that I phoned tons of people to personally invite them. At least one person besides my girlfriend showed up.

            One thing that participants are told is that the Forum works better to the degree that they get on the court and play the game, and part of that is the process of "sharing the Forum", i.e. pitching it to others.

            I believe this is true – the more you promote something to others, citing your own transformation, the more you reinforce the fact of your own transformation, and the more you believe that you have transformed, the more likely you are to witness that to others. Self-fulfilling prophecy.

            She also said, "Even if it's not inherently a cult, I know you; YOU will have it be a cult!"

            That's a good point. The capacity for people to make a cult out of almost anything is immense – people can create cults out of the text editor that they use, for goodness sake (see: emacs vs vi)

            My recent post Ego and enlightenment

          • Jack Christopher says:

            " The capacity for people to make a cult out of almost anything is immense"

            That's an important point. I might argue most cults happen unintentionally. Groups slowly and unconsciously become cultish.

            Another thing is, tango takes two. People have to play both cult "follower" and "leader". It's important to examine the power relations from both ends. It's de facto cult-apologist to solely blame "followers" for irrationality, but somehow ignore how the "leader" abuses power.

  12. Takes one to know one I guess, huh.

  13. Ok, well thanks Mr. Marti for stopping by and letting us know how self-indulgent and self-centered you think we are because we like to discuss things you think are boring.

  14. EricSchiller says:

    This is so bizarre. In the future, if you have nothing to say other than 'this is so boring', please refrain from commenting.

  15. EricSchiller says:

    Whatever you said, unlike you I actually don't care. Goodbye troll.

  16. Schwenkfeld says:

    Dear Duff –_I’d like to say something slightly controversial (and I’m not sure I’m convinced by my own reasoning so please do disagree)_I wonder if the Landmark course actually is nihilistic in any systematic way? OK it seems to state/preach that 'life has no intrinsic meaning'. However, this does not seem to lead to any old style existentialist attempt to re-evaluate all values. The values/meanings that Landmark teaches in the ‘building a positive self’ phase after the ‘negation of intrinsic meaning’ phase are rather unremarkable – being a successful self with a positive bounce, individualistic ‘integrity’, the pursuit of happiness, and a vague entrepreneurial humanitarianism.

  17. Schwenkfeld says:

    Part 2 of post
    It seems to me that these are just the sort of values that its predominantly white collar/middle class attendees already sign up to. The course reflects the values of its audience and simply teaches strategies concerning how to be better at being a successful individualist by appropriate cognitive reframing of negative thought habits. Perhaps the nihilism is merely a placebo to facilitate this reframing – and perhaps they know this deep down. As Forum Leader’s say – ‘Believe me, nothing taught in this course is true’. That’s not to say I approve – indeed I find this all deeply disturbing._

    • I think this is a very interesting line of thought, and perhaps even a more powerful critique than mine, that the re-valuation of all values taking place in Landmark Education is not a Nietzschean "Beyond Good and Evil" but a recapitulation of the values attendees by and large already agree upon.

      • Schwenkfeld says:

        Thanks Duff – actually I reckon both critiques are equally powerful and indeed complementary. Will have a think and then get back to you about this.

  18. Schwenkfeld says:

    One small correction to Part 1 my post. I wrote 'individualistic integrity'; I meant 'individualistic authenticity'.

  19. Schwenkfeld says:

    Hello Duff. You’ve summarised the crux of the observation in my last post very well: that the ’re-valuation of values taking place in Landmark is not a Nietzchean ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ but a recapitulation of the values attendees by and large already agree upon’. Now I need to turn this into a proper critique, however tentative it turns out to be. I’ll give you it in bits (and probably repeat points already made by you in my own words).

    Neitzche’s highly wrought drama of standing open eyed and fearless, apart from the crowd, confronting the void left by the death/murder of God and then, in an act of pure choice, as a new first cause, re-creating a world of values out of nothing… now that’s what I call existentialism 😉 and it’s just not the experience of the average Forum graduate. No criticism here – things have moved on (and a good thing too).

  20. Schwenkfeld says:

    ‘Nothingness’ means different things to different people depending on context, temperament etc. It obviously means something overwhelmingly terrifying to Landmark’s casualties; but my hunch is that the average Forum graduate experiences ‘Nothingness’ primarily as a paralysis of the will in the face of the bewildering array of choices and the rapidly changing roles that modern life entails, and a consequent fear of dying without having achieved anything of note.
    If I am right, values of individualism – self reliance, entrepreneurialism etc – are, by and large, the values that Landmark attendees hold and the values that the course reaffirms. There is nothing wrong with these values in my view and any training that helps a person become more self motivated is not in itself a bad thing. However these values need to be held in a proper balance with other sets of values of a more social nature.

  21. Schwenkfeld says:

    Values may be largely unchanged by the Landmark process, but the framework in which these values are translated into meanings certainly is changed by the course. This new framework is the notion that we create our own reality by the meanings we give what happens and therefore are responsible for our own individual reality (I’ll abbreviate this to WCOOR from now on).
    WCOOR is partially true; our thoughts and choices do play a part in creating g our reality. However practical reason tells us that our reality is also created by the other human selves from whom we give and receive meaning, by the external world of nature and, by our human nature (the sorts of activities, and processes of perception, reflection, and communication that we engage in as a species). All of these factors provide the framework for the meanings we create (and any framework gives a limit – and this chimes with your eloquent insight about constructivist linguistics).

  22. Schwenkfeld says:

    The WCOOR framework can be powerful and get truly transformational results. However it is a fiction – but even as a fiction I fear it must have a powerful rhetorical force for shaping attitudes and actions.
    It seems to me that if you start to believe that it is not what happens but rather the meanings we give to what happens that matters – no matter how ironic your belief – it is going to severely limit your scope for ethical thinking.
    The Forum Graduates I know in the UK seem broadly progressive in their politics; fed up with a hidebound political establishment based on rivalry, complacency and inertia. My worry for them is that with Landmark they may be unknowingly buying into an ‘ideology’ that could be used to support the status quo and even possible reactionary political and social developments in the future (or at the least not provide the resources for realistic social and political critique). I’ll look at this in my next post – if that's OK.

  23. Schwenkfeld says:

    Hi – I know you’ve had a drone interrupting the flow of this thread – so it is not just me -but I do appear to have killed this conversation stone dead. Oh well – sorry about that; inexperienced poster writing in didactic tone and whatever and etc. Please ignore my posts and continue with the thread where you left off some time back. Have fun – this is an excellent site.

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