It has now been nearly three weeks since James Arthur Ray reached the rank of level 60 cult leader after his “spiritual warrior” sweat lodge ceremony left three of his followers dead. McDuffee wrote two excellent posts following the incident, him and Theo have since gone on to face Ray personally at his event in Denver a few weeks ago, and was quoted in the New York Times in the process. Nevertheless these events have brought to the forefront the potential damaging consequences of the super-star personal development guru all over again. This incident has caused many people to think about the persuasive processes utilized and technologies of the self that James Arthur Ray and other guru’s have so consistently offered to the masses.
There are a wide variety of assumptions that come into play when individuals find themselves involved in personal development. They must trust that the guru knows what they are talking about, that they have their best intentions at heart, aren’t going to walk off the stage after five minutes of talking and so on. However, the most pivotal and important assumption is the belief that understanding how technologies of the self-function translates directly into the ability to effectively use them in the world. This is where I split from most of the personal development paradigm. I think that technologies of the self must be synthesized by the self in a subjective manner.
Printing Money and Other Exercises In Futility
Let us consider a revolutionary software company. This software company has produced Windows software that promises to legally and perfectly print money for an ordinary ink-jet printer. All it requires is a few parameters filled into the application, such as the amount of each bill, the total amount to be printed, and so on. From the outset, this sounds quite fantastical, yet the messages of the marketers of the software are steadfast and absolutely positive that their software works as advertised. The problem is that the software isn’t entirely compatible with everyone’s computer systems. The developers seem to have had issues adapting it to a variety of hardware, including the printers, motherboards, processors etc. required to making it work. As a result, when you purchase the software at the initially low price of $50, it doesn’t do such a great job of printing your money. It has pictures of dinosaurs printed instead of dead presidents, or it has all the wrong colors, texture, or monetary institutions printed on it.
The software company realizes this, and continually works hard to make their software compatible with all hardware platforms. Every so often they produce a new software patch, which promises to make the money printing software work for everyone. Finally, the money has the correct look about it, yet it doesn’t quite feel like money. It feels like regular office paper heavily saturated with ink, and doesn’t have the depth of real money. Each time a new patch comes out, they charge for it, and since they are promising to get you closer and closer to the ability to print money once and for all, they are quite justified in charging more and more for their software patches. First it is $500, then when that patch does not accurately and perfectly print money, they offer a second patch, which is a more “advanced” version that costs $5,000. All the while, each and every patch the company produces fails to print money as promised.
Much like the never-ending steam of books, seminars, and “spiritual warrior retreats” of James Arthur Ray, no software patch will ever make the money printing software get it “right.” This is because it is impossible to print believable currency with an ink-jet printer. Money is printed using highly proprietary processes which cannot be replicated with everyday consumer technology. Yet the software company told you that it would work! The problem here is that the software company was lying. This is the problem with the personal development industry. Gurus posit that you can achieve a great goal, and when their first product doesn’t work, they continually and consistently pedal products offering the same dream from new and interesting angles suggesting the first, second, and third products just weren’t quite enough for them to “get it.” Freedom, money, power, and sexual gratification are on offer, vices that in the context of the money software analogy are downright ridiculous.
Ray-actualizing, Meta-programming, and You
Personal development gurus then, are offering mind software. But in the realm of mind-software something is lost in translation, we are unable to run software written by another programmer properly and our hardware and operating systems just aren’t quite up to snuff to accomplish the feats that gurus promise. In a sense I’m looking for more subjectivity, and less objectivity. Personal development was once called “self-help” but has since largely shed this term because of negative cultural connotations. However, the core of personal development should still be about personal cultivation, not following the maps of others. I want to make a distinction between the software itself, and the programming language. I am advocating that as individuals we learn the programming language of the mind, instead of installing software of the self that do not account for our own personal, subjective experience of life. There is room then to interact with teachers of mental meta-programming. It is obvious that this territory is currently very vague and requires a great deal more work. What I’m suggesting is for an individual to self-actualize, not Ray-actualize, and that the source of your knowledge directly impacts your ability to synthesize end results.
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