Essay

The Logic of Evil in Personal Development

By Duff McDuffee on October 11th, 2010 1

How does one go from sincere seeker to psychopathic guru?

There is a line of argument that I’ve seen again and again in many forms and from many individuals—in personal development, NLP, communication, spirituality, and philosophy. A seeker begins by questioning the nature of Reality, of behavior and emotion, and learns many techniques for changing their own and others’ state/behavior/beliefs…only to end up going down a very dark path of manipulation and control. It often happens so slowly that many others often get wrapped up with this individual until one day they realize they’ve been had (at least for the lucky ones that wake up).

How does this happen? This dark view has it’s own internal logic which sounds good at first yet leads to psychopathic conclusions. My hope is that by clarifying this logic, showing it’s inevitable destination, and pointing out it’s errors, unaware readers can wake up early and choose a different path (or guru) before it’s too late. In fact, I believe this evil logic can be a very real danger to anyone involved in personal development, philosophy, or spirituality of any kind if left unexamined. The good news is that “psychopathology leaves clues” (to invert Tony Robbins’ motto “success leaves clues”) and therefore red flags can be easily discovered by the critical observer.

The following is a kind of summary account of this evil logic, spoken as if from the first person. Please note that I do NOT believe the following argument—this is written as a mix of multiple gurus, all of whom I find to be manipulative in various ways. (If you think I might be making a strawman argument, I will be happy to provide more primary sources.) Also note that this post might be a trigger for anyone who has been psychologically or sexually abused. If that’s you, you might want to pass on this article.

Love doesn’t “just happen”—it has a structure, as do all states like peace, joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm, and passion. That structure can be determined and then the state can be elicited. In other words, emotions are something you DO, not something that “happens to you”—even though it normally feels that way.

If you want to feel good, you can simply change your state—it’s your responsibility and your choice. If you want someone else to feel something towards you, you can do that too, if you know how to elicit their strategy. Once you know how to do this sort of thing, you can’t “un-know” it, so you may as well accept the responsibility for how you feel and how you make others feel around you.

Since all emotions are created in this way, they aren’t “real” in the sense of permanent and unchangeable. There’s a kind of arbitrariness to how we feel, but we can take control of this process as soon as we understand how it works. Since emotions aren’t quite real you could say that they are imaginary, so there’s no harm in doing whatever I want with them.

So…why not make myself feel really good by constructing emotions I want to feel, at the intensities I want to feel them? After all, I would be irresponsible not to do so, once I am aware I have such a capacity. Why not feel good all the time? Isn’t happiness just an emotion? If so, then happiness is entirely in my control, so I may as well do it!

Similarly, why not change the not-really-real emotions of others too. After all, I’m just making other people feel good! If they feel good about doing what I want them to do, well, it’s a win-win now isn’t it.

It also follows that if I hurt someone or make them feel bad, well, those emotions are so easily changeable that they aren’t really real…or at least, the more I consciously manipulate my own emotions, the less solid and real emotions feel to me. A particular individual might not know how to change his or her state rapidly like I can, going from depressed to ecstatic in a matter of seconds or minutes, but that’s not really my responsibility to teach them, now is it. Each person must take responsibility for their own emotions. If someone feels hurt from something I’ve done, that’s just because they aren’t managing their emotions to feel something more pleasurable.

Therefore it’s not really a bad thing if I upset or hurt others, even if I were to emotionally traumatize someone. I know many techniques for resolving emotional traumas in as little as 5 minutes or even less. Emotional trauma therefore isn’t anything like physical trauma, which actually takes time to heal. It isn’t really real.

From this it follows that it’s ok for me to consciously and deliberately seduce married or otherwise committed women [link NSFW and a trigger warning], push people into buying from me using any means necessary, elicit someone’s “falling in love” strategy even if I never plan on seeing them again, etc. If they aren’t happy in their relationships, then I’ll make them happy, because I know how to make people feel good (or whatever emotion I want).

Happiness is a feeling, a state—so is love, pleasure, excitement, enthusiasm, etc.—and it’s a good thing that people feel these feelings. So when I help someone feel these things with me, obviously it’s a good thing for everyone involved. Sure, if I were to break up a monogamous committed relationship using such techniques, the guy might be pissed, but you can’t blame me for making his woman feel good! [NOTE: “pick-up artists” like “Tyler Durden” often use this exact argument in justifying their bad behavior.] And furthermore, his emotions aren’t really real in the way that if I punched him in the face that pain would be real. (Of course, even pain can be manipulated and changed with hypnosis/NLP, even numbed out completely with hypnotic pain control).

So really, I see nothing wrong with making other people feel good—or even, sometimes, with making people feel bad. I make people do what I want and feel good about it, which of course makes me feel good! What could be wrong with that? Similarly, yea I might use high-pressure sales tactics when launching an information product or selling my personal development workshop, but otherwise would people really commit to making that change in their lives? Probably not. People are often motivated more by pain than pleasure anyhow. And if these people benefit from my courses and I just so happen to get rich from it, where’s the harm?

Of course not just emotions, but also beliefs and values are changeable—and often quite quickly if you know what you’re doing. So it similarly follows that they aren’t quite real. There’s no harm in changing a belief or value to be more useful. And useful for what? For what I want of course! I will of course make people feel good about the changes I make in them—that is, unless they don’t comply with what I want, in which case a little emotional pain never really hurt anyone, right?

Where did this logic go wrong? How should one argue against the logic of evil as I have outlined it above? Or do you subscribe to this view and have no major qualms about this argument? I ask not to figure out how to convince someone who is already fully committed to this view, but to help those who are undecided and may be wrestling with such questions now.

I should stress that this is not an intellectual exercise. There are many people living these questions right now—you may be one of them. The answers to these questions determine things like whether one is likely to become a psychopath or a saint.

I of course have my thoughts but would prefer to get discussion going first. Please add your thoughtful comments below, and I will (likely) follow up with another article later.

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64 responses to “The Logic of Evil in Personal Development”

  1. anon says:

    Isn't there a lack of recognition of an other free-willed subject, an unknowingness of the categorical imperative?

    • I think that's true, yes. In terms of the categorical imperative though, strangely many who hold a view like the above would have others hold it as well (i.e. have it universalized as a maxim for behavior). For instance, many gurus teach other to adopt a version of this view—even as one of the first things they teach.

  2. viv66 says:

    I'm going through an interesting(=frustrating but oddly compulsive) process of shadow boxing with people I don't really know at all via such media as Twitter, Facebook and the blogging world, to try and draw attention to similar points and at least persuade some less bogged down bods to analyse things a little more. I am not sure it's getting anywhere or achieveing anything other than making me scream at the pc. I have however pissed off various people for raining on their parade.

    My recent post Monday Meditation- Narcissus

  3. viv66 says:

    I also misread your suggestion to "pass on this article" first understanding it as asking us to forward it to others before I realised the use of the word pass was "leave out"
    The hardest thing in the world is to be the kid who points out that the Emperor is wearing no clothes, because in real life, that kid would have been torn to bloody shreds.
    I find the whole thing a maze and a scary one at that because so many are exhorted to ignore Mind and focus only on Heart.
    I can't contribute much except a sense of support and a wish to encourage you in your endeavours.
    Saint or psychopath? Well, I'm neither. I'm just trying to get through.

    My recent post Monday Meditation- Narcissus

    • Chris says:

      "The hardest thing in the world is to be the kid who points out that the Emperor is wearing no clothes, because in real life, that kid would have been torn to bloody shreds."

      If you want to speak the truth, you must first become an expert in self-defense.
      My recent post SlowFlo- The Christian Alternative to Tai Chi

    • I find the whole thing a maze and a scary one at that because so many are exhorted to ignore Mind and focus only on Heart.

      Yea, this is a feature of cult dynamics in general.

      I can't contribute much except a sense of support and a wish to encourage you in your endeavours.

      I appreciate the sense of support and encouragement! 🙂

      Saint or psychopath? Well, I'm neither. I'm just trying to get through.

      Good enough! I think saint and psychopath are more vectors than destinations—it's about what direction one is pointing in and what the logical consequences are of heading in that direction.

  4. NellaLou says:

    This reminds me of some of the rationalizations that are used which originate in the Integral camp.

    On http://www.kenwilber.com/blog/show/496 the writer states:

    "As Ken points out, for one group of people to be truly oppressed, chances are that at least one of three possibilities is true: they are either dumber, weaker, or fewer in numbers than their oppressors. "

    This is within a context that does recognize oppression however the quote itself is so oft repeated and disembodied that it comes to stand on its own without the caveats. And it has been stated or implied by many others as well.

    The selectivity with which such justifications and appeals to ego ("You aren't one of the dumb, weak or few are you?! ") are used helps to bolster the kind of thinking discussed here. Hence a certain kind of sociopathic groupthink is enforced.

    And to be seen to go against that stream automatically engenders labels about being at "lower stages" or not getting the big picture or in other words too dumb to understand this great revelation.

    I gave up discussion with many folks who hold this kind of self-justifying position of circular logic because it becomes such a closed system. Continuously using one hypothesis to justify itself isn't logic but dogma.

    Ramping up to that mentally claustrophobic situation is articulated really well in your post. Arguing against evil, as you put it, seems to be the puzzle people are facing not only on a personal level but on a socio-political level as well. How do you argue with a bigot for example?

    Somehow it does have to get personal. For someone to realize that deeply held beliefs are detrimental not only to others but to themselves generally takes quite a shake up. And if they are involved in a group that would put such views forward, as you mention in the comment above then the whole group might have to be similarly shaken.

    But even that may not be enough. There is a group I know of right now with this kind of philosophy and the leader has clearly demonstrated such behavior, it is definitively documented yet still many cling to that group and it's world view and continue to enable it. Those who have questioned are cast out, ignored or labeled as having some kind of mental instability. It's quite appalling as I see it unfold.

    Much of it has to do with the level of investment in the group, not only monitarily but temporally, emotionally, intellectually and socially. When some ideology, and particularly some ideological guru becomes one's whole life who will one be without that?

    That's the fear I think. If it could be made known that existence beyond specific beliefs is not only possible but quite comfortable perhaps that fear could be quelled long enough for reason to take hold. But I may be overly optimistic with that idea.

    • Regarding your Wilber quote, as some folks know I have been critiquing this point from a gender point of view for a while now, but I see recently race is now the theme of choice "having given it all due respect and honor": http://integrallife.com/node/84642
      LOL: I'd love to see someone who seriously works around issues of race unpack that one.

      • All due respect and honor. Riiiight.

      • NellaLou says:

        I've been keeping up with your work Dr. Gelfer and recommending it to others.

        Much of the Integral trip these days seems to be in providing complex self-justifying rationalizations for a classist, dysfunctional and exploitative status quo. At one time there may have been some real promise to it-the quadrants idea or the associated spiral dynamics, even though they originate in older sources and integral is just updating and amalgamating them, could have been quite useful theory if handled well. But with the nonsense about psychic powers, lifestyle management, making money, holding sway over the masses, supernatural gurus, embracing of sexual predators and so forth it's just become such a misguided New Agey stew that it's almost impossible to sift out anything useful. The reason I critique Integral is because of the inclusion of Buddhist theory in that mix as well as the endorsement of Genpo and his Big Mind circus.

        On the issue of gender I have critiqued one article specifically which for many serves as a rationalization for the sexual exploitation by gurus of their followers. My critique was done in the context of a current situation going on in the Zen community, however the ramifications extend far beyond that since it is a clear articulation of what many assume to be common knowledge, and which Duff has pointed to indirectly "If you are there you are asking for whatever happens to you". The assumptions in that are staggering and include assuming that someone has the ability to foretell the future, mind read and all kinds of things. It's essentially blaming the victim.

        [Sorry Duff, I don't usually go around plugging what I write on other people's blogs but this is directly related] http://enlightenmentward.wordpress.com/2010/06/02

        I mention that mainly so people are aware that there are many people involved from various backgrounds-personal development and personal growth, Buddhism, psychology, academia and Integral itself who have serious concerns about what goes on there and the influence it has far beyond that circle.

        If the race issues are treated in a fashion similar to the gender issues it won't be long before someone gets out a crowbar and starts wrenching it apart.

        What I have found in a lot of those rationalizations is the use of a lot of inductive reasoning and assumptions. Having a couple of women write an article decrying female victimology [which is far too complex to be given this kind of woo-woo treatment] apparently demonstrates that the victim concept itself is invalid and any woman, no matter what the circumstances who feels victimized and speaks out about that is behaving from a shadow side or has some ulterior motive other than to express their experience, is incredibly insensitive, dismissive and attempts to invalidate very valid emotional responses. And woe to any man who would dare express similar feelings as well.

        It is as always about power.

        • Much of the Integral trip these days seems to be in providing complex self-justifying rationalizations for a classist, dysfunctional and exploitative status quo. At one time there may have been some real promise to it-the quadrants idea or the associated spiral dynamics, even though they originate in older sources and integral is just updating and amalgamating them, could have been quite useful theory if handled well.

          This is well put.

          What's "the nonsense about psychic powers" from the Integral community?

          I'm ok with you plugging away, especially that particular article.

          • NellaLou says:

            I was thinking about the article on Wilber's blog which appeared a couple of months ago promoting yet another mystical guru. He allegedly had some kind of super-sensitivity and such things.
            http://www.kenwilber.com/blog/show/637

            I contains such gems as:

            "To put it briefly, Mr. Trivedi has an empirically demonstrated capacity to alter the atomic and molecular structure of phenomena simply through his conscious intentionality. " (psychokinesis in other words)

            "According to Integral Theory, every state or type of consciousness is accompanied by a specific type of energy (gross physical energy, subtle bioenergy, causal spiritual energy), and so the emergence of this new consciousness should be accompanied by a new degree of energy along that spectrum." (Is this much different than the "ectoplasm" of the 19th century spiritualists?)

            But of course we need to remember:

            "This doesn't mean that this new Energy is for everyone."

            So I guess those that can afford the seminars can afford the new improved energy.

          • Oh right, I remember that press release for the miracle grow guru.

    • Oliver says:

      It's really easy to feel weak, and to hate feeling weak, and feel weaker for hating your own weakness. Oh damn is it easy. I guess that's when evil creeps in, right?

      After ridiculing you a bit, it lays a gentle hand on you shoulder and says, "Hey, I've been there. I used to be weak just like you." Maybe you notice the Sith eyes but, you know what, this sounds like a friend, a friend who understands your deep pain.

      Or maybe you object. But do you have a demonstratabily better way to achieve those ends? Here we're not dealing with a vanilla charletan with infinite excuses. No, here we have a ripped Level 8 Cultist with Results<sup>(TM)</sup>.

      How do we show the dejected and desperate that there is a better way? Like I said many of these sick relativists have their Sith shit down, and that they can get what they want is their strongest argument.

      To use the Evil PUA example: We can point out how it's awful and unethical, how these Sith types have these awful yellow eyes and kill children and eat human flesh and such, but that's a hard message to get across when the villains have arms around hot chicks, sitting at VIP tables on which more hot chicks are dancing.

      We may be able to coax our dejected friend away and give him a pat on the shoulder and the words, "You did the right thing, son." But if I imagine I were him, I might not necessarily feel that much better. Probably if I felt weak before, I would still feel weak and frustrated coming away from that. Kicks from being an ethical person? Honestly, man: not usually the best consolation prize. Talk and talk it up, and it still feels like a piece of shit hanging on your wall, in your room, where you sit alone, while it seems like the rest of world has their fun and profit.

      I find something really very dissatisfying about this picture. There are plenty of other ways to tell the story, and other ways I'd prefer to tell this story, but the problem is how easy it is to tell it this way. I know the problem is an ancient one, and I can definitely see why it might be easier to just sink your life into the idea, "Just be a good person, so no matter how much shit happens, when you die you will go to the Happy Place."

      This was kinda a huge ramble just now, but worth it because the scope of the problem is relevant in pointing out that I don't think ordinary words a good enough by themselves. They can be a start, but how can we go further. How can we show others (and ourselves) that there is another way? I know that's probably one of the fundamental questions of this blog. I'm not talking society or anything–even figuring out how to be there for you, me and that other guy or lady who's just hanging in there, that's a big deal.

      • To use the Evil PUA example: We can point out how it's awful and unethical, how these Sith types have these awful yellow eyes and kill children and eat human flesh and such, but that's a hard message to get across when the villains have arms around hot chicks, sitting at VIP tables on which more hot chicks are dancing.

        LOL—greatest example ever. But yea, that's exactly the problem in a nutshell. I think many of us have to experience the problem firsthand, the dissatisfaction with getting what we (think we) want, and then project that dissatisfaction into the future to change course before it's too late.

        How can we show others (and ourselves) that there is another way? I know that's probably one of the fundamental questions of this blog. I'm not talking society or anything–even figuring out how to be there for you, me and that other guy or lady who's just hanging in there, that's a big deal.

        That is indeed one of the fundamental questions of this blog, and I'm not sure I have any simple 5-step answers, but hopefully we can grope in the dark together towards some possibilities. (Not grope each other though – man that didn't quite come out right. 🙂

    • This reminds me of some of the rationalizations that are used which originate in the Integral camp.

      That's no accident! Having worked for Wilber's Integral Institute, I saw a lot of these kind of rationalizations.

      "As Ken points out, for one group of people to be truly oppressed, chances are that at least one of three possibilities is true: they are either dumber, weaker, or fewer in numbers than their oppressors. "

      That statement is absurd, right up there with when Ken said "the best thing you can do for the world [having just mentioned starving people in Africa] is to meditate."

      Somehow it does have to get personal. For someone to realize that deeply held beliefs are detrimental not only to others but to themselves generally takes quite a shake up. And if they are involved in a group that would put such views forward, as you mention in the comment above then the whole group might have to be similarly shaken.

      I agree, hence why many of my articles here have been strong and to the point (as yours often are on your blog). There's still no guarantee of shaking up the beliefs of a psychopath or bigot, but for people on the margins who are unsure about some aspects of the belief system or group, this kind of shake-up can be just what is needed. I certainly was helped by critics of Wilber and Integral when I was working for I-I, even though they appeared to me at the time to be overly angry and harsh (as I often appear now to fans of Tony Robbins or other self-help gurus).

    • When some ideology, and particularly some ideological guru becomes one's whole life who will one be without that?

      That is a critical and difficult question and a good one to ask! Yes, life does go on beyond holding specific beliefs or membership in a particular group.

  5. MrTeacup says:

    Thanks for the tip. In my life, I hold up convenience stores at gun point, and some feel hurt by my actions. But it's not my responsibility to ensure that they can defend their property – if they had a gun of their own, I wouldn't try to steal from them! So who is really responsible? I would point out that like emotions, money is not real.

  6. It’s a bit of a tangent to your argument, but it seems to me there is often something inherent in the personalities of people who perform in the public domain that tends toward psychopathic behavior. The switch from sincere seeker to psychopathic guru is then one of operating in the private vs public domain?

    • This is definitely an interesting tangent. If operating in the public domain lends one more towards psychopathology, why would that be? Is it because of having to deal with large numbers of people, therefore treating them more like anonymous masses than individuals? Or is it because of having to project a coherent public persona? Or does "power corrupt" in some fashion that is unavoidable?

      • I don't think being in the public domain *makes* one psychopathic, rather those who already have psychopathic tendencies are attracted to being in the public domain: the need for public recognition speaks to a variety of pathologies (I work on mine all the time!). The sorted, sincere seeker may have less desire for public recognition, and therefore never sets out on the path to guru (psychopathic or otherwise).

        But yes, power corrupts as well.

  7. Jacq says:

    Duff, I found this post a bit confusing – maybe because I don't know why anybody would want to untowardly influence someone else (for personal gain). Don't most of the personal development-type gurus get into this at a pretty young age? Tony Robbins at 19 I think? This makes me believe they are born that way, not made. Aren't a lot of the internet-fueled new gurus quite young as well?

    IIRC – Hare, Stout etc. in their research on psycho / sociopaths have both said that glibness is a common trait of these psychos. So if on average, there's a 4% chance of running across one of them in the average world – in the personal development world, maybe the rate is as high as 50%? Or maybe it would be best to just assume 100% and go down from there.

    • viv66 says:

      Jacq, I believe that there is a theory that psycopathy is an inborn trait. Psychpaths do well in certain environments(the money world for one) and harm few. But in personal development environments they are like anthrax.
      I went out with a (borderline undiagnosed) psychopath when I was very young; he was unaware of it but the harm he did to me and to many was immense but at least it was purely one-on-one and not in the role of a preacher or teacher or guru. There is something about these roles that attracts them.
      My recent post Monday Meditation- Narcissus

      • Jacq @ SMRM says:

        Pia, I have an ex like that as well. It was enough to make me stop trusting my judgment for a very long time. It also made me distrust any situation or person where I could physically feel myself being run by my emotions and not logic (ie. self help environments/people). I don't want to have to have my B.S. protection on with anyone – far prefer WYSIWYG.
        My recent post Help this maximizer spend money please…

        • viv66 says:

          My head was in a mess for a long while afterwards, Jacq. It probably still is.
          The thing about that sort of person, they know how to open people, instinctively, like knowing exactly where to push the knife into an oyster and watch it flip open to be consumed.
          You have a choice to shut up tighter than even the tightest oyster and risk suffocating your soul, or learning to trust incrementally. The longer your involvement, the longer the process of recovering your ability to trust. The nice thing about the internet is you can do that, slowly and can always recourse to delete/remove/block if you find you fish out another bad'un.
          I have a BS detector; works a bit like a smoke alarm but for BS…
          xx
          My recent post Monday Meditation- Narcissus

          • Knowing "how to open people" is a trait of many personal development gurus too, often in front of a large audience. These demonstrations though often look violent to me, reducing someone to tears within minutes by bringing up their deepest fears and traumas. Legit psychotherapists don't dig into their clients, looking for buttons to push in order to get a dramatic display of emotion.

          • viv66 says:

            Those sort of displays are a very definite form of abuse and the victim is encouraged to collude having been brainwashed into believing the abuser means them well. It's quite common in some sorts of church too, often playing on people's fears regarding such horrors as demon possession and so on. The resulting "freak outs" give the abuser a real and tangible feeling of almost godlike power.
            In the end , all of this is about power, whether it's a special power over people for the purposes of feeding a strange addiction to control, or whether it's about power in the form of wealth.
            I think I shall stand with the powerless.
            My recent post Monday Meditation- Narcissus

      • What attracts a psychopath to a role like this is an interesting question.

    • This makes me believe they are born that way, not made. Aren't a lot of the internet-fueled new gurus quite young as well?

      That's a good point. I do think that genetics and early childhood experiences influence a tendency towards psychopathology, but it's not necessarily determined by those factors IMHO. There may very well be a kind of emotional immaturity that gets frozen in the person who becomes famous at a young age for their philosophy on life.

    • maybe because I don't know why anybody would want to untowardly influence someone else (for personal gain)

      While most people aren't outright psychopaths, I think all human beings have from time to time influenced someone else for purely personal gain, or at the very least considered doing so. I'm talking in small ways here–the example in this article was more of an extreme and explicit view. I'm not sure that all people who hold this view could even articulate it.

  8. Evan says:

    Why are these things evil? This seems to be important.

    For me health is good and violence is bad. Health means respecting the structure or experience.

    I think there are interesting social dimensions too. An Australian politician's memoirs were called Whatever It Takes. This passed without outrage or even comment.

    Behaviour makes sense in an environment. Part of the environment is the person's internal construction of meaning, it is also their social world. There is much in our culture that encourages psychopathology.

    The idea, which seems to be about a bit, that pro-social = good/virtue doesn't cut it for me. Which society? A slave owning one? One that encourages cruelty?

  9. Hi Duff,

    As I read through your post, I can't help but ask, what is important to me here?

    Personally, I feel I am accountable for everything I do, think, and feel.

    I might notice that I react negatively to something another says, does, or writes. This is most likely because of a belief I adopted before the incident, that now generates the thoughts that generate my emotional response. I am accountable for buying into the belief in the first place, while the person who spoke, acted or wrote is accountable for what he or she did, and their response to my emotional reaction.

    I might inadvertently "insult" someone. I am then accountable for my slip-up, and how I react (am I empathetic? am I callous? am I apologetic?), but regardless of MY accountability, the person I insulted is still accountable for THEIR emotions.

    So, congruency is one thing important to me. In the case of someone shirking their self-accountability (as in your Durden example), I can't support that. I find it uncomfortable to even think about consciously participating in another person's conscious or unconscious difficulty, regardless of their level of awareness of what is happening.

    On the other hand, I can support a positive, heartfelt examination of accountability on all sides of any "win" or "fail" or 'in-between."

    So, while I am not sure of what leads one into an "abuse of power" (I suspect a disconnection from Self, and an addiction to others giving up their authority would come high on the list), I also know that anyone who is duped by one so disconnected, is himself, or herself, also disconnected.

    It is why I challenge all my clients to use my own woo woo test questions on me. I don't WANT anyone giving away their authority to me! Much of my work is about folks taking BACK their authority.

    You and I have talked about this sort of thing before. If I were one who enjoyed declaratives and absolutes I would sum it up this way: every spiritual/metaphysical/coach/speaker ought to remind themselves every day that their goal in life is to put themselves out of business. To help others uplift and grow until folks like us aren't needed. Let's keep it honest. 😉

    • I might inadvertently "insult" someone. I am then accountable for my slip-up, and how I react (am I empathetic? am I callous? am I apologetic?), but regardless of MY accountability, the person I insulted is still accountable for THEIR emotions.

      Agreed, with one caveat. I've often observed narcissist personal development gurus angrily blaming others for "projecting" or not taking responsibility for their response to the narcissist's bad behavior. Clearly this is not what you mean by taking responsibility, but it is an effective trap many followers fall into ("yea, I should check myself" instead of "no, my guru is being an asshole, and yes, I accept that I'm angry about it and take responsibility for my emotions").

      • Duff,

        Thanks for the additional clarification, and you are correct that I was not suggesting that folks take abuses from authority figures based on the suggestion that the abuse is justified in any way.

        However, explanation of my experience is separate from justification or rationalization of the teacher's choices. In other words, my reality is my reality, the teacher's reality is his or her reality, and I want to understand why *I* invite something into my reality, regardless of the negative or positive behaviors of the guru.

        Therefore, I may get angry at a teacher for wronging me, and even take some appropriate and corrective action (from my perspective), but after checking in with myself, I will want to understand how I participated in the interaction that made me angry.

        What was important to me? What were my expectations? How much authority did I invest? What were the habitual thoughts or beliefs that drove my choices that brought me in front of this fake who now disappoints me?

        These are much more important questions in my reality, than if the teacher's behavior was "wrong" or "right"; "good" or "evil" and I would submit that if more folks asked questions like these about their experiences, there would be fewer teachers of dubious worth and action enjoying success.

        Best to you…

      • jackchristopher says:

        I'm tired of this too. You de facto block criticism when you say, "You're projecting onto others." It supposedly invalidate it. Though of course sometimes there is truth to it.

  10. Angela says:

    Duff, I just want to say how much I am enjoying your blog. I, too, fell under the spell of all the Tony Robbins, The Secret, etc. (anything I could get my hands on) because they made me feel hopeful when it seemed like everything around me was falling apart. I used them like a drug, I guess, which is ironic because I was against drug use. A couple years ago I had an 'awakening' where I became aware of just how selfish and manipulative I had become (it wasn't pleasant). I was in deep, deep denial of my feelings and needs after rejecting them for so long believing that I needed to be positive and happy all the time or something was deeply wrong with me. The emotion came flooding out of me uncontrollably, which was terrifying because I built my life on controlling my emotions. All I could do was dissociate from myself and experience the emotion that I worked so hard to keep hidden. I guess it wasn't really a choice to dissociate, it was more a reaction to the fear. I'm still recovering, and learning to accept life as it is rather than trying to deny the parts that don't fit in with what I think my life should look like.

    Anyways…I didn't mean for that to get so long, I just wanted to express that I really relate to your posts and to thank you for doing what you do. I think it's really important work.

    • Thanks for the comment, Angela. I was and am against drug use too, but got hooked on the drugs of personal development information, as well as managing my state to be intensely positive (how's that for getting high?).

      Congrats on your awakening—sorry it has been painful.

      The emotion came flooding out of me uncontrollably, which was terrifying because I built my life on controlling my emotions.

      I can definitely relate to that! I thought I had gotten things under control and only in the past 2 years uncovered deep reservoirs of pent-up anger, despair, and anxiety. But I do feel much more integrated now, so there is hope.

  11. Pia says:

    The source of evil can be raced back to the motive for the action of changing an emotion/value/state. To make ME feel better, to make ME rich, in combination with no responsibility in the feelings/values created in others.

    And also the Golden Rule is never to lead, but to be an example and let people find their own way. And there all gurus who tell you what to do fail, and the gurus who ask you questions about where you want to be succeeds. A fine line which is impossible to find when you yourself starts the journey towards self enlightenment. The real answer to all questions are inside YOU, you just have to ask the right questions and a guru can help you with those.

    Don't get me wrong, leaders are great. We need them, we need to be them to be able to work together and produce results as a team, but self development is not a team effort. Building hosues, winning wars, planting forests, raising families… those are team efforts.

    And as always, God doesn't need money. Ever.

    • Well put, Pia. The selfish motive is obvious in the language of gurus like this. "Get anything you want! I can show you how…" I'm not necessarily opposed to occasional or even frequent self-focus as part of a balanced life however.

      I think teams can sometimes be useful for self-development, like having a workout buddy or a study group, but I agree that ultimate authority in self-development must come from yourself. And in a way, my personal accomplishments are somewhat irrelevant to others. There are things one must do for themselves, and nobody else can do for you.

  12. Good thoughts, Jack.

    I do think the Golden Rule is an excellent guideline for doing good, hence it's resilient appearance in philosophies and religions for thousands of years. The edges of the Golden Rule gets somewhat muddled when we consider that others aren't quite like us, and therefore might want things that can be different, even opposite to what we'd want. But on the whole, it still seems reasonable to at least some percentage of the population, and is a good guide for seekers who want to keep a moral compass. The "inverse Golden Rule" can also be useful: don't do to others what you wouldn't have done to you (which is what you actually wrote).

    <individual use of these tools can be a great thing and can relieve much unnecessary human suffering</em>

    I very much agree. Sometimes even the psychopath gurus can relieve suffering using these tools, even as they inflict suffering later using the same tools.

  13. I think where the line gets crossed is when the hypothetical writer decides s/he can use these techniques on others without their knowledge or consent.

    Consent is a very interesting question, since these techniques are what some authors call "naturalistic"–in other words, things like NLP and hypnosis, reframing, belief change, anchoring are all things that are already happening in communication. Two friends can get together and talk, and in the course of a conversation one person's beliefs or feelings change—in fact it happens all the time! It often happens without awareness of any techniques at all. Is this "consensual use of a behavior modification technique"? That's an odd way to put it if neither the individuals in question are aware of any such techniques and therefore can't even ask if the other consents.

    Advertising also changes feelings and beliefs regularly, but it is often difficult to say which forms of advertising and marketing are manipulative and which are acceptable. The situation becomes much more muddy when we consider that even consent can be manufactured through persuasion techniques—again, whether consciously employed or not!

    with great power comes great responsibility

    I wholeheartedly agree. Personal/spiritual growth increases one's personal power, for better or worse!

    • Eric Normand says:

      We're getting into murky moral waters.

      A technique's a technique. It's just a tool. It can be used for good or for ill.

      The problem is when people do ill with it. The idea that you could justify doing anything just because you might be making one person feel good is childish. Moral decisions must be more holistic.

      I don't think consent is important. If I give flowers to a random girl and it makes her happy, do I need her consent? It's a pretty powerful technique to change someone's emotions.

      What's important is the context. We must be more conscious of the context. These gurus seem to think that they just need to be aware of their own desires.
      My recent post Studying Your Senses- A Review of the Goenka Vipassana Course

    • @32000days says:

      Right, I glossed over a lot of issues under the umbrella of this one word consent.

      Some extreme cases definitely do exist where people can legally be "persuaded" or "changed" without their consent, usually because their behavior presents an obvious threat to themselves or others. For example, drug abuse or cult interventions, or involuntary psychiatric holds.

      So while consent is a pretty good gold standard for whether these technologies should be applied, there are a few edge cases where it's not considered necessary. Obviously, I don't consider the example in the original post to be one of those cases – the hypothetical writer doesn't appear to have the best interests of others in mind.

      The question of "natural" usage of language patterns and other NLP or similar techniques is interesting, especially in the process of normal (as opposed to therapeutic / clinical) conversations. The Golden Rule case could apply here as well – if you're persuading someone for a win-win purpose, good; if you have an obnoxious agenda in mind, then not good.

      The question of induced or manufactured consent is an interesting one as well. From inside a cult, a person might argue strenuously that they consented to join, and that they would have joined anyway, because life is so good. (That is, even without the six-day intro session with no bathroom or coffee breaks, tearful confessions in large groups, and "facilitators" shouting at them…)

  14. Bryan Neuman says:

    Amazing article Duff, nice work. It certainly seems to explain a lot about you know who IMO.

    • I think JAR's descent into hell might be slightly different but related, yes. Having worked telemarketing for a brief 2 week stint (totally desperate at the time for work), I can say that anyone who succeeds as a telemarketer is probably a psychopath.

  15. catdaddy says:

    This is the point where I see the arguement taking a path for the worse
    "Since all emotions are created in this way, they aren’t “real” in the sense of permanent and unchangeable. There’s a kind of arbitrariness to how we feel, but we can take control of this process as soon as we understand how it works. Since emotions aren’t quite real you could say that they are imaginary, so there’s no harm in doing whatever I want with them."

    It then goes on to say that since emotions aren't real it's ok to change them in other people too if you want them to do something that you want.

    It's all a slick way of justifying the attempt to override someone else's free will.

  16. Ceresmary says:

    I lost two of my best friends in one of these well meaning guru camps that died there. One at 36 years old with a $500,000.00 life insurance policy, the other who was a brillant computer programmer.
    Being intellegent doesn't mean you won't fall into the trap of a very cunning spritual/life coach. They espect you to be intellegent or you wouldn't be looking outside the box. The problem: how far can you be conned? financially, emotionally, spiritually and physically.
    You alone hold the keys to when you say "hey this makes no sense", and if they believe they live outside of "man's rules" (Think Heaven's Gate or Jonestown), you can die looking innocently for truth. Do research before jumping in, find out their track record by those who have left and why. Have family members know what you are into, in case you need to get help getting out. Lastly, if it sounds too good to be true, run.

  17. […] my last post, I gave an argument for evil as if from the perspective of a sincere seeker turned psychopathic […]

  18. […] last two posts have been about what I’m calling “the logic of evil”—the […]

  19. Pavel says:

    There will be the dark and the light side always. People who really feel stuck they go look for answers and the will find them. I did. Thanks for your posts.

  20. Im a huge fan already, man. Youve performed a brilliant job producing certain that individuals recognize where youre coming from. And let me tell you, I get it. Great stuff and I cant wait to read more of your blogs. What youve got to say is crucial and requirements to be read.

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