The Unquestioned Gurus of the Religion of the Self

By Duff McDuffee on September 16th, 2009 1

Personal development superstar blogger Steve Pavlina just tweeted that he is now promoting Eben Pagan’s DVD set, “Man Transformation.” (Link goes to Pavlina’s sales page for a 20-DVD course costing $436.50.) Pavlina seems to have become interested in dating advice right around the time he announced that he and his wife decided to have an open marriage and explore polyamory.

In his sales letter, Pavlina attempts to distinguish Pagan’s pick-up advice from that of “pick-up artists,” but the truth is that Pagan put himself on the pick-up artist guru map with his interview series “Interviews with Dating Gurus” that interviewed all the other pick-up artists which Pagan speaks very highly of, including our confused friend “Tyler Durden.” (UPDATE 9/21/2009: The Interviews with Dating Gurus series is included as an opt-out addition at $19.95 per month, with a free first month when purchasing Man Transformation.) Pavlina writes…

Man Transformation has a very empowering attitude throughout. This program is about men teaching men how to be more successful with women, not by tricking or deceiving women but by learning how to become more authentic from the inside out. [emphasis mine]

There’s my favorite word again! 🙂 Of course to be authentic, you have to do it in the right, socially-prescribed, guru-approved way. You must be authentic like a “real man” is authentic, as in Pagan’s bonus DVD “The Real Man’s Guide to Money and Success.” Clearly you are not a “real” man unless you value—and have—lots of money and worldly success. To not be rich and powerful is to be emasculated, to be a woman.

Also a bonus is the original Double Your Dating eBook, where Pagan writes that powerful women are “secretly wanting a man that is in control of himself, his reality, and them” (pg 13 of the 2003 edition). It’s hard not to read “empowering” as clearly “power-over” in this context.

Pick-up artist Eben Pagan made his internet millions explicitly teaching men that women secretly want a man who is in control of them, and teaches tactics to secretly control women through sophisticated psychological manipulation. Why is this not regularly questioned by conscious people in our personal development community when we claim to investigate “limiting beliefs” and clarify our values on a regular basis? Do we all value patriarchy so highly that we’ve never examined the limitations of these beliefs and values?

Indeed, I think that there are many unquestioned gurus, many limiting beliefs that we do not seek to examine, and many values embedded within personal development teachings that we do not make explicit. In particular, we fail to examine those gurus, beliefs, and values that are held by those in positions of power: those of the wealthy, famous, and powerful. For what many of us are actually seeking through personal development is not maturity, nor wisdom, not true liberation nor even thinking for ourselves, but dominance over others, celebrity, and personal wealth—at any cost. Our personal development quests are far too often just quests to glorify our own egos, to bind ourselves further in the name of freedom, to worship our selves in our religion of one.

Think For Yourself DVD Course: Only $997 While Supplies Last!

Within our personal development community, Eben Pagan is always revered. Almost no one questions, “hey, do you think that his clearly anti-feminist view and the dating techniques that follow from it perpetuate violence, oppression, and objectification of women? And how might this view of women be related to Pagan’s extremely expensive and aggressive marketing systems that he uses to sell this ‘dating advice’? Does he believe customers secretly want to be controlled and dominated too, thus justifying overpricing and over-hyping one’s products to maximize his own selfish gain (because after all, that’s what customers really want)?” Perhaps this would be excusable if it were still 1950. But more and more, world-traveling college graduates are becoming personal development bloggers and selling internet marketing courses, yet nobody in our circles knows of sociology or feminism?

Eben Pagan has successfully created a (very slick) image for himself as a role model for how to be a man, and as a proponent of “conscious capitalism” (as Tony Robbins said in an interview with Pagan). A generation of men and women who are desperately seeking ways to navigate the ever-more-complex worlds of gender, relationship, and career are taking his advice on everything from dating, to how to structure their workdays for maximum productivity, and even how tall of a desk to purchase. (By the way, I used to co-host a podcast called Conscious Business. Mr. Pagan would not have made even the longest of potential guest lists.)

Pagan’s claim to fame is that his information product businesses—mostly patriarchal dating advice—make $20 million a year. With his 80 remote employees, this actually isn’t much money—it’s a medium-sized business. The self-image he projects is equivalent to that of Bill Gates, but even in the best possible light, Pagan is a small-time CEO of a medium-sized marketing company.

Eben Pagan and Tony Robbins are in the same Axis of Marketing Evil, hence their “friendship” (Robbins, like many charismatic famous people, uses the word “friend” as a namedropping device to associate himself with other famous people—who knows if they actually have any relationship beyond a single phone call). They both regularly use deception and confusion in the name of trust and authenticity in order to sell overpriced products. Pagan writes and speaks under the pseudonym “David DeAngelo,” chosen because the information product marketers believe alliteration sells more ebooks. Pagan has been teaching others this path to “success” with $3000+ marketing courses. Since Pagan sells such high priced courses exclusively through his own confusing websites, they get far less review and critique. You can’t find any of his books or DVDs on Amazon (except a handful of used copies), making it difficult for consumers to judge whether the products are worthwhile, and removing all public criticism. Also, charging a lot for a product with manipulative marketing creates cognitive dissonance, reducing critique and creating cultish ingroups and vicious but uninformed outsiders. (UPDATE 9/19/2009: The terms of service for “Man Transformation” prohibit reselling the product, or even watching it with a friend! This of course makes it nearly impossible to have any kind of critique or intelligent dialogue, thus minimizing consumer protection.)

Perhaps Pagan would say that we don’t question such gurus because we are castrated men who bow obediently to our masters? If only we had more expensive courses on how to be a “real man,” then we would have the balls (or ovaries) to question authority and think for ourselves! 🙂 P.S.: Click here to sign up for my Think For Yourself DVD Course!

Since Pagan’s courses are so expensive and not available through regular distribution channels, no critic can say for sure whether his products continue to explicitly promote patriarchal values. But I can say that Pagan still has his original ebook “Double Your Dating” on the market, so he certainly has not recanted any of his old values publicly, unlike some other reformed pick-up artist gurus.

Psychopaths as Teachers of Right Living

Other “conscious capitalists” include folks like T. Harv Ecker, who teaches the cultivation of greed and the celebration of hegemony in his “free” introductory workshop (which is structured as a highly manipulative pitch for his very expensive advanced workshops). Ecker encourages workshop participants to scream things like “I love rich people!” as part of developing an irrationally exuberant “money blueprint” that supposedly leads to personal wealth.

Ecker is celebrated as a leader for right living and a “conscious” attitude towards money in many personal development circles. Almost nobody asks, “hey, might this excessive focus on wealth-seeking be unnecessary for or even contrary to happiness, as numerous positive psychology studies have shown and all religious traditions have emphasized? And might encouraging the poor to celebrate the rich solidify oppressive socioeconomic structures, keeping the poor from effectively organizing? And might this intense competition for limitless personal wealth—which Pagan also encourages—be in part fueling ecological destruction?”

An astute friend of mine went to Ecker’s Millionaire Mind Intensive seminar and caught him lying about something. He confronted him about it, and Ecker was entirely interested in how my friend caught him, showing no remorse whatsoever. In our culture, the psychopath—with his superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, manipulative behavior, and lack of remorse—is celebrated as the charismatic and caring leader, who is just here to help (for a price). I know a woman who has gone through all of Ecker’s trainings, including his “trainer trainer” training, and sadly she is now clearly much more poor and confused about money now more than ever.

And of course, we have con men like Tony Robbins, John Reese, and Frank Kern teaching people how to “authentically” manipulate and deceive customers to gain their “trust,” and almost nobody asks “hey, is lying to people really the best way to cultivate trust and authenticity in business? Is trying harder and being more certain of your success the best way to deal with a product that didn’t work? And is modeling the manipulative marketing techniques of known scammers really such a good model for the future of business online, or will this destroy all trust in the marketplace?”

Don’t Question My Limiting Belief!

Why don’t we ask these obvious questions? One reason is that when one questions in this way, almost immediately some people respond with one of two criticisms: either “who appointed you as the ultimate judge of morality?” or some form of “it’s easy to be a critic/why not say something positive.” (Ironically, almost none of the respondents seem to realize that their criticism of criticism is contradictory.) These responses show the social rules of personal development culture—questions of ethics, sociology, and critical thinking are not allowed when they question the norms set by the power elites.

The wonderful focus on positive thinking within personal development gets corrupted into silencing dissenting views. For all the talk of finding your own way and thinking for yourself within personal development literature, there are very clear (if unstated) rules about what constitutes acceptable dialogue. We speak of questioning limiting beliefs and finding your own values and authentic style, but if you question the accepted beliefs or have differing values from the libertarian and patriarchal, your questioning and values will not be tolerated. Our “authenticity” and self-inquiry only skims the surface, never deeply questioning the values and power structures of society. Certainly criticism can easily devolve into cynicism. Ironically, this is more likely to happen within groups that do not allow for criticism, for when criticism is not heard and integrated, the individual often feels powerless and gives in to cynicism.

Of course, outside of our circles, there are numerous dismissive articles in the NY Times and elsewhere about our gurus and practices. Outsiders have no trouble at all seeing some of the more obvious problems of personal development and self-help.

Only when we open to questioning our gurus and collectively limiting beliefs can we find anything resembling the kind of freedom we claim to be seeking. If we are to truly live in integrity with our claims to radical self-inquiry, of finding our values and authentic selves, then we must also question the power elites within our own communities. We must find channels for much more wide-open dialogue where such questioning is not silenced with aggressive demands for positivity, or else resign ourselves to be slaves of the unquestioned gurus.

UPDATE 9/21/2009: Steve Pavlina emailed me upset about this article and a post I put in his forum. He banned me from his forum and deleted a post of mine that linked here that he considered “link baiting” (I thought my post was respectful and professional). My post was within the guidelines of his explicit forum rules, which I had read before posting (this was not my first post to the forums). If I could do it again, I would not have included any links in my forum post, now that I know that this is an unwritten rule of his forum.

I was surprised I was banned for life with no warning, but of course Mr. Pavlina is entitled to ban people from his forum for whatever reason he chooses. In my response to his email, I apologized for my link. The contents of this blog post seemed to have upset Mr. Pavlina, so I wanted to clarify a couple of things just in case anyone else interprets this post similarly.

I did not mean to insinuate that Pavlina engages in manipulative marketing like Pagan, Robbins, Kern, and Reese. Pavlina’s sales pages for affiliate products have always been very straightforward and honest, something I appreciate about how he does business.

I do not know Pavlina’s views of women, dating, or relationships as he hasn’t written much of anything about these things on his blog. I was not criticizing his views of women, since I don’t know what they are. Pavlina claims that Man Transformation has only a few speakers that one could consider patriarchal, and for the most part is about building up men and not tearing women down. (This could still be problematic in terms of promoting patriarchy if it is about cultivating dominance by becoming “alpha,” however. Benevolent and “authentic” patriarchy is still patriarchy.)

Again, I can’t speak to the specifics of this product at all, as it is far too expensive to me to justify purchasing a review copy. I am more concerned that Pagan continues to sell all of his old products, including the ones that clearly promote patriarchal and even misogynist values, and even includes one such product as a bonus to this DVD set, and another set of interviews as an opt-out subscription. This indicates to me that Pagan’s current views are in all likelihood still consistent with his old products that were explicitly about sexual dominance of women through the use of sophisticated psychological tactics. I am also very concerned with the manner in which these products are sold (manipulative marketing, confusing private websites, no-reselling policies, etc.) which are bad for consumer protection and public debate of the materials. I am most concerned about power and patriarchy, and what happens when we lack public debate about them within our personal development circles.

I should also explicitly state that I often use the 1st-person plural “we” etc. when criticizing a view because I am included in my critique to some extent. So when I stated things like “Our personal development quests are far too often just quests to glorify our own egos, to bind ourselves further in the name of freedom, to worship our selves in our religion of one” that includes my own personal development quests, my own binding myself in the name of freedom, etc. that I have been guilty of again and again! This is the all the more reason for having an open dialogue instead of a closed guru-worshiping community. I understand if Pavlina does not want to have such an open dialogue on his website.

Pavlina is of course entitled to his own opinion, which he posted today as the very long article Free Speech in Online Communities: The Delusion of Entitlement. I am concerned that this rant will increase cultish groupthink in the forums, for even fewer will risk pissing off Mr. Pavlina for threat of being permanently banned without warning.



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81 responses to “The Unquestioned Gurus of the Religion of the Self”

  1. eric says:

    Wow, great post. I used to be involved with a Psychopath Spiritual teacher, and have learned much from it. The lack of my ability in the past to discern a charismatic person's deeper underlying motives of power and manipulation got me in a lot of trouble and created a lot of suffering in my life.

  2. Gordon says:

    Hey Duff,

    Just out of curiosity, have you actually seen clips of Eben Pagan at live programs or are you just going off an ebook you read in 2003?



    PS Having worked for Integral Institute, I'm sure you're aware that Fred Kofman has a program by Sounds true called Conscious Business.

    PPS I'm interested to hear what you think of the full version of this interview.… Especially the stuff regarding Ayn Rand and Clare Graves.

    • Yes, I have seen clips of Pagan, as well as heard many of his interviews, etc.

      Yes, I am aware of Kofman's program and book. Kofman came and did a 1-day workshop when I worked at I-I. It seemed like good stuff, but we all complained that it was upper quadrant work, when at the the time we really needed LR systems. Kofman seems like a good human being, and his principles are solid for the most part. Kofman is not subject to my critique, for he does not emphasize become massively individually wealthy, for example.

      I'll read that interview and comment later.

      Thanks Gordon,

      • eric says:

        I've been to two of Eben's seminars, and am taking the Guru Home study course. I have found a lot of value in it. I take what fits, leave the rest.

        I liked Fred Koffman a lot from what I saw when I subscribed to Integral Naked.

        Didn't know you worked there… What was your experience of Wilber?

        I just have been reading Enlightenment blues, given to me by a friend. I had heard things about Andrew… but didn't know it was that bad… and still? When I see WIE or Enlightennext now I like some of it… but get this very clear feeling of patriarchy throughout… and guys patting each other on the back.

        There still is this thing about Light vs Love that hasn't been figured out by a lot of folks… getting enscounced by the Light in multitudes of ways. Then a huge gap is created in the pysche… and then the shadow plays out… in relationships, communities, disease, etc.

        • I have no doubt that some of Pagan's materials are useful to some people. What I'm more concerned about it the lack of critical discourse.

          Wilber is a larger-than-life character. He is without a doubt a genius, and definitely also has the charismatic edge of a potential cult leader. There were many cultish aspects to I-I, but it never became a full-on cult like Cohen's community, and Wilber was basically ethical in most ways (although we were getting paid illegally low wages for a while, and there was always an inner circle dynamic that I found very strange). It's hard to say how much of Wilber's unusual behavior is due to his unusual illness too—I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that any strangeness is probably mostly due to dealing with his illness that keeps him close to death.

          I find Wilber to be a bit of a sloppy thinker at times, but in person it was always hard to tell if he did actually have some deeper insight that he just couldn't convey in words, or if he was full of it. The whole "crazy or genius or both" dynamic definitely applies. Those were wild times…I learned a lot about a lot working there. I will say that perhaps Wilber's greatest gift is attracting amazing people to him—I'm glad I met all the folks I did. The community had an enormous shadow, but the people were wonderful and bright in many ways.

          Yea, I've only recently learned about how bad it is in Cohen's community. It seems that many of the teachers surrounding Wilber have some allegations of being on a power trip or a sex scandal, but Cohen is by far the worst from what I can tell in terms of the authoritarian aspects. I-I was an extremely hypermasculine environment, which I participated in but also often felt uncomfortable about.

          Pagan is deep into David Deida's work now, and perhaps due to their association Deida recently had a private weekend seminar for $3000, advertised by Pagan:… Charging an enormous about of money for spiritual teachings almost always accompanies abuses of power, which is my major concern given Cohen's history of drawing out donations from people under duress and just the larger history of teachers in the West abusing their power. My concern with Pagan is that from day one he has been interested in power and money primarily, not unlike Tony Robbins.

          I think there is a lot of talk of going beyond in the Integral scenes, of transcending and including, of 2nd and 3rd tier, etc., but when it comes down to it people are people and are doing all the same corrupt things as everyone else. This was one of my main lessons from being around Wilber—he may be a genius and be able to wax spiritual philosophy, but he's as mad and sick as the rest of us ordinary mortals.

        • I would also urge you to consider not just what value you received from Pagan's materials, but also what values.

    • Reviewing that interview…

      First off, Pagan claims he's "a self-made guy." That's the first major red flag for me. Nobody is self-made, especially not in business. Saying this hides all the context: being born male and white in the US, his employees, his mentors, the greater economic conditions, etc. and emphasizes how great he is personally. This self-made man myth justifies the worst kind of treatment of the poor and of developing nations, and reinforces oligarchy.

      Pagan was a poor marketing and sales consultant before he knew how to sell—this is a typical part of the personal development guru story.

      His two niches (pick-up and marketing) are all about persuasion, also a typical example of a personal development guru.

      "Modern reality is about wanting to learn different things because your basic Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are met." In other words, contemporary life for the privileged is about self-actualization, which does not focus on helping others or solving the impending global crises we are facing, but focuses on more and better consumption of goods.

      Similar to Tony Robbins, Pagan likes to model people who are "successful" in the ways he wants to be. He modeled alpha male assholes in order to develop dominance with women. His "cocky and funny" humor is the humor of the arrogant.

      Email newsletter marketing and a product funnel is fine.

      I do believe Pagan sincerely wants to make a difference, but I think many of the ways in which he is committed to going about it are making things worse.

      His model for changing the world is the philanthropy of Bill Gates. Personally, I'm skeptical of Gates' work, and find philanthropy a band-aid solution to a broken economy that allows individuals to amass enormous personal wealth. I find it highly inefficient for philanthropist heroes to somehow solve the world's problems.

      I think Rand was always a strange distortion of the orange vMeme, and unhealthy. Everyone I know who has been deeply into Objectivism and Rand has seriously lacked empathy for others and had some very odd views of ethical behavior, in my opinion. Pagan doesn't state his current views or what vMeme he most resonates with now, so I can't comment on what he now believes. His notion that we should "always seek the next" level is very characteristic of orange meme, however—very hierarchical and goal-oriented, something I've seen tons of in the Integral community. When I interviewed Don Beck for conscious business, he stated unequivocally that the integral community is very much in the orange "strive-drive," and that seeking to be at the top of the developmental hierarchy is an orange-meme characteristic! Beck does not see helping others to growing up the spiral as a value at all whatsoever, unless someone is already doing that. This is a major reason Beck no longer works with Wilber and I-I/IL, because Wilber interpreted SD in his own way.

      A commenter on the article said that some people "have a hard time keeping up with his intellectual prowess." I find that sad. Nothing Pagan says is particularly difficult or intellectual at all compared to the most basic freshman studies course at my university.

      • Gordon says:

        Thanks for your critique!

        I am not sure if you heard an interview between Wilber and Wyatt Woodsmall a couple of years back on Integral Naked. Woodsmall is one of Eben Pagan's mentors and he's one of the big guys in the NLP community (I think he even mentored Tony Robbins in the early days).

        Anyway, he is a big believer in the Graves system and in the interview he pointed out a lot of the flaws of the Spiral Dynamics model (which is why Integral Naked doesn't heavily promote it) such as how the took the concept of vMemes and put it into the model when the concept is more complicated than the SD model and how the research of the higher stages such as Yellow and Turquoise was speculation rather than hard data (although Susanne Cook-Greuter's work shows with strong data that they do exist). Also Beck claims the model is a change technology when all the model shows is the various stages rather than specific information on how to shift stages which Woodsmall claims he's able to do by integrating some of the higher level NLP stuff such as Time Line Therapy, Meta programs etc. He also noted that when you question Beck about this kind of stuff, he gets ultra defensive and into a mode that could be classified as Red. What was interesting about the whole interview is that Wilber was very much in agreement with him (hence why they don't advertise it because most people introduced to integral theory tend to be attracted to it because of SD).

        I would agree with you that there are a lot of people who are at Orange in Integral Institute, but on the other hand I would say that's a positive thing in a lot of ways because they are beginning to recognize that there is much more to life then just Orange values and as I am sure you know when you meet someone at a particular level, it's extremely difficult and takes a long time to help them understand a different perspective.

        Yes, the problem with Rand is that on the one hand it goes extreme right wing in order to fight the threat of communism (which is healthy for the most part), but once it becomes a cultural norm, if it stays extreme right it runs into all sorts of nasty problems and you get repression of emotions and logical positivism on an individual level and environmental destruction and unhealthy consumerism on the societal level.

        I think part of the problem is that most people in Western society are at what Spiral Dynamics would call Blue and are only trying to get up to Orange and have absolutely no awareness to what the higher levels look like at all and then Green comes in and says "no, this has all these problems because we've gone through that before and we have an obligation to save your time from the wrong stuff" (Kind of like what you're doing in some ways) and then of course these Blue people look at you and feel trapped in the system and the Orange people ignore you because you don't suit their interests and then you get this sort of fragmentation between the values (and as Wilber says, when Green attacks Orange, Blue wins).

        I'd be interested to hear what your opinion of someone like Robert Kegan who I've found is trying to show people how to go from the conventional stages to the post conventional stages (from socialized mind to self authoring). He seems to be the opposite of a lot of the self help gurus out there and I would be interested to hear your thoughts.



        • Gordon says:

          I should also point out that one of Woodsmall's major critiques about the NLP community is that it tries to model exterior behavior rather than understanding that there is something unique about the modelee's interior consciousness that allows them to be brilliant at what they do and his classic example is how the Chinese diving team tried to model Greg Louganis at the Olympics and although they could copy his technique, if they made a slight error it threw them off completely whereas Louganis could make an error, be aware of it and correct it in midair.

          Thought I should mention that to show Woodsmall's stance on NLP.

          • I think there are a lot of possible critiques about the NLP community. This is indeed one of them. I was raised to be a professional musician from age 5 with The Suzuki Method, a method of modeling prodigies in order to create child prodigies en mass. I found that there was always an "x" factor to a great musician that could not be taught no matter how many hours of perfectly disciplined practice. And thank God for that mystery!

        • I should add that an ability to help people shift stages does not answer whether this is good or useful to do. Questions of ethics are not at all a part of NLP, for better and worse.

          • Gordon says:

            Thanks Duff! Great analysis!

            Interesting that you mention Cook-Greuter's work being based mainly on intuition. All this time, I thought it was based on solid data but I guess when you use something like a sentence completion test, you're going on subjective experience and you need to rely on intuition.

            There is a rumor going around that Woodsmall was the ghost writer of the book Unlimited Power, which wouldn't surprise me. One of the things Woodsmall is big on regarding NLP is ethics and that when you only model exteriors, elements like morals, ethics etc get thrown out and when that happens NLP can be used as a manipulative tool rather than something to help people.

            I would strongly recommend you listen to your friends and take a look at "In Over Our Heads," It's not an easy book but the way he describes the differences between concrete and abstract thinking as well as the subject/object distinctions is highly informative and persuasive. He also gives a great artistic visual of the different stages of development people go through (and how it gets more complex each time there is a higher level of growth). I mention Kegan because I have heard nothing but praise of him and his approach to change is based on long term concrete ideas rather than short term quick fixes.

            Most people don't understand that the developmental scales are very loose and on some days people can be at a low level and on other days they can be at a higher level and the other major problem is that if the data is based on the measurement of responses to questions, it is only taking one line of development into account (cognitive) and what tends to happen is people measure lines such as emotional and social this way when what they are really measuring is cognitive which makes all the data useless. It's best to hold them very lightly.

          • I may be wrong about Cook-Greuter, or she might have been presenting a more casual style that evening, but it seemed like that's what she was saying—that her work wasn't hard science but more intuitive and speculative.

            Unlimited Power was ghostwritten, from what I've heard. I heard that Eric Robbie also played a part in writing the book, as well as doing the modeling work for the Army (pistol shooting) that Robbins claims he did alone. There is a lot of evidence suggesting that Robbins lies and embellishes the stories of his success.

            I'm glad Woodsmall focuses on ethics in NLP—it is a rare thing to focus on.

            I'll put it on my radar again to consider reading Kegan. I've heard good things about his latest book Immunity to Change.

            I totally agree that it is best to hold developmental scales lightly. In fact, I'd say it is best to hold all models lightly.

            Thanks for the dialogue, Gordon!

          • eric robbie says:

            Hi there, Google brought your site to my attention.

            My information is that five major nlp trainers of the 80s were each paid $5,000 to write a couple of chapters each of the book, Unlimited Power, and the result was then tidied up by the desk editors at Simon and Schuster. I was definitely not one of them.

            Eric Robbie.

          • Thanks, Eric. I appreciate the information.

          • Also, if you are willing to share, did you do the modeling for the US Army that Tony Robbins talks about? He tells the story that he got the contract and modeled the pistol shooters.

          • Eric Robbie says:

            No, I didn't. But I do know who did.

            The US Army modeling projects were instigated by LTC Robert Klaus and Dr Wyatt Woodsmall, and the actual modeling projects involved a number of people.

            The first of two projects covered pistol shooting, and was carried out from February to May, 1984, by a group of modellers: Wyatt Woodsmall, Richard Graves, Robert Klaus, Paul Tyler, and John Alexander. They were joined for some of the time by Dave Wilson, and by the then very young Tony Robbins.

            Robbins was invited in by Wyatt Woodsmall because he, Wyatt, was impressed as much as anything by Tony’s ‘self-confidence’. My own impression is that Tony made up for average skills with lots of chutzpah.

            The modeling of rifle shooting was done in 1987 and involved a much smaller group of modellers: Dr Wyatt Woodsmall, Robert Klaus, and Michael Mierau.

            Given the above, I think it's fair to say that Tony Robbins has over the years greatly exaggerated his involvement in these two projects.

            Eric Robbie.

          • Thanks for the specifics, Eric. If what you say is accurate, then Tony Robbins more than exaggerated his involvement in these projects when he told the story at the event of his that I attended.

        • I have not heard that interview between Wilber and Woodsmall. I wouldn't necessarily consider Woodsmall a big player in the NLP community, but then again I've only been involved for perhaps 7 years. Seems like Woodsmall is mostly known for work on metaprograms and timeline therapy, which is useful stuff no doubt, and something I'd like to learn a lot more about. A lot of people mentored Robbins, and yet he rarely mentions any of them except Jim Rohn.

          I can't begin to comment on what is different between Claire Graves' original system and Don Beck's Spiral Dynamics. I do think that techniques of NLP could help people shift stages, and probably metaprograms and timeline work would be those things, as well as just making lots of additional distinctions generally in one's inner world (submodalities, parts, etc.).

          From the second-hand knowledge I have of Kegan's work, it seems to me that differentiation of aspects of self tend to lead to higher integration. I wouldn't necessarily correlate this with SD or cognitive development any other developmental schema without rigorous data analysis. I consider all the developmental models as competing until data is brought forth to compellingly integrate them. Until then, there are metaphorical parallels only, and perhaps interesting hypotheses, but no solid conclusions.

          I recently saw Cook-Greuter in person here in Boulder, and she seemed to indicate that her work is mostly speculative and intuitive, with very little data or scientific status whatsoever. She compared it to a consulting tool rather than a scientific study. The scoring methods are similar to the Rorschach inkblot tests. I think that's probably how we should consider it too.

          I agree that being at Orange is just fine if not great, just a bit ironic because Wilber would constantly say that we were all 2nd or even 3rd tier, that if you were even interested in his work you were at least 2nd tier—and then would excommunicate people from the community later by labeling them green! Then some students at JFK took the sentence completion test and were all over the map.

          I agree that Rand was mostly reacting to her experiences of Communist Russia. That said, I don't think we need more Libertarianism in general, although many Libertarians I know have some clever ideas about how to structure things more efficiently so that we don't need as many regulations, and I am strongly in favor of clever social solutions!

          I think my writing could actually be categorized largely as orange, or even blue, in that I'm advocating for fairness and truth in advertising, with a smidgen of green. Honestly, the deeper I got into the vMemes, the less they constitute any clear categories for me anymore. I'm not anti-any vMeme.

          I haven't read enough Kegan to comment. I've found his works impenetrably dense, although several of my friends keep urging me to read In Over Our Heads.

  3. This is truly one hell of an interesting read, Duff. I came here from Twitter trying to find your Rick Roll but found myself engrossed.

  4. Andrew Jecklin says:

    Very nice.

    I don't know if you guys have explored it, however over the past year or two I've noticed an increase use of one's family, esp kids, for that real, authentic flavor.

  5. Ian says:

    As Krishnamurti said, "it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."

    And as far as women "wanting to be controlled", here's a good article from the New York Times that paints things a little more clearly (which, granted, makes things a lot more complex as well, but isn't that kind of the point?)

    • Yes, making things a lot more complex is indeed the point. People are complex, our society is complex, life is complex. There is an ever-present temptation to simplify the complexities of life and reject aspects of reality, whether from conservative Christian creationists or new-age patriarchial dating gurus.

      Thanks for the article!

  6. Toby says:

    This is excellent! Thanks Duff!

  7. […] posted here:  The Unquestioned Gurus of the Religion of the Self | Beyond Growth Categories : […]

  8. LionKimbro says:

    <sigh> I agree and I disagree with everything you're saying.

    Duff, do you even know what you're trying to do?

    In my mind, I'm going, "Duff, when you are going to get out of this exit node, and into an entry node, to some grand realization?"

    It's not my place to tell you "hurry" — realizations come when they come.

    But, … could you hurry it up a bit? {;)}= I want to see the next part of the movie! What is it?

    I guess to give some form to my question:

    "What types of great societies could really work?"

    I think they need to have room to make mistakes, to error, to "win your disapproval" by utter fail to reach their idealistic aims (ideals are still okay, are they?), but I mean — are you ultimately about capitulation to the main stream, and perpetual self-doubt and self-abnegation? Is holiness defined by how much we sacrifice ourselves and whip ourselves on the back?

    I just get so frustrated with everything that's so anti-inspirational. "Oh, there's a bit of enthusiasm — let's go stamp it out! Quick guys! Over here! Stomp stomp stomp!"

    Our gurus and leaders — guilty as charged. They may be just as flawed as the rest of us, but they shine brighter than us in ways that we recognize, and I do not mind perceiving their bright lights. I don't advocate worshiping any guru, but are they really asking to be worshiped? Was it ever really about their personality? Or was it about the dream inside the heart?

    Inspire me. You have a podium and my attention — so inspire me. I dare you to say something meaningful to me. Make it real. Make a cult around yourself, — you know everything that's wrong about cults and cult leaders, so apply those lessons to do it _right;_ Like when Walt Disney's wife said to him: "A theme park? What in the world are you making a theme park for?!? Everyone knows those are the dirtiest places."

    …to which Walt replied, "That's exactly the point — this one _wouldn't_ be!"

    And it worked!

    Perhaps I am confused about something but I just don't understand life without inspiration.

    • I am not interested in being a cult leader. I figured that would be clear. I am interested in "peer-to-peer spirituality." Perhaps you've missed some of my other posts that have been more inspirational?

      • Lion Kimbro says:

        What is peer-to-peer spirituality?

        Where will we go with it?

        • I got the idea from

          It's not necessarily up to me to decide what P2P spirituality "is," as that is an emergent property of individuals connecting spiritually, but in my view it shares values with the open-source movement in a metaphorical way.

          • LionKimbro says:

            I am skeptical of "P2P spirituality" as a concept, but cannot yet lay my finger on what the problem with the idea is. I will get back to you when I have a clear argument.

            My immediate feeling with the idea is a sense of shallowness, though. I do believe an emergence is coming, and in that sense, there is some truth to it, but I do not believe it will come out of thoughtlessness — that it will just happen "all by itself."

            Whatever great thing we prophecy may happen, if it is real, then at some point, it must touch our soul (rather than just grazing our economic surface,) and have answers to the questions we challenge it with, and those answers must make a genuine difference in how we live and think and act.

            But I don't think anything will "just happen" on its own.

            P2P spirituality sounds too much like uploading and downloading artwork to me; I can't understand what it would be like. Hard definition isn't necessary, even simple prototypes would do.

          • Yea, well I'm not even sure yet what P2P spirituality would actually really be. Just a concept and a name that appealed to me. If I have further intelligent thoughts on the matter, I'll write something for this blog.

          • eric says:

            The closest I found to a long-term experience (10-15 years) on that is in Waking Down in Mutuality – You probably know of it… with Terry being involved with I-I and Saniel and Linda having been on Integral.

          • I've heard of it, never participated in it. I am curious though!

        • And to give him some credit, I think Charles Eisenstein has a lot of clues to inspiration that is beyond all the gurus I'm critizing. I thought his article on "truth" at RS was crap, even if his recommendations are decent for individuals. I think a lot of the future comes down to deep ecological thinking/cybernetics/systems thinking/etc. By the time I have a well-worked out view on the matter, I probably won't care much about criticizing the old personal dev gurus, but this critique is helping me to see clearly what's wrong so that I don't fall into it again (and again and again and again…).

      • eric says:

        Great word. And what is the role/place of teacher in your version of peer-to-peer spirituality? Mentoring one another in life, from different contexts and values/perspectives? Life is the teacher?

        • That's not necessarily up to me to decide, as anything P2P is defined by how users create it together. But I see teachers as perhaps more well-connected nodes in a network. I do tend to think life (meaning every event of one's individual life, as well as larger events) are the most useful teacher. "Utilize everything," as they say in Ericksonian Hypnotherapy.

          • Khurram says:

            I think your post was brilliant and reflects the lines upon which I have been thinking for a long time now, having had considerable experience in the world of both the ego-denying gurus of the spiritual "otherwordly/nirvanic" variety and their cults and the ego-boosting gurus of the New Age… and I too have fell into the same trap again and again lol so I recognize the classic pattern.

            One of the few things I have found to date in the Self Help guru circuit that apparently respects the integrity of the seeker to find his or her own answers are the teachings of Abraham but I haven't delved deep enough to give a fair and balanced judgement based upon my own experience and observations. I have without a doubt seen the positive effects of the Law of Attraction in my own life.

            I came upon the idea of P2P spirituality as a paradigm for the future just this morning and my sincere belief about this matter is that the function of a Guru or Self Help Teacher could be to help one connect to one's own internal source of guidance for ALL one's questions and NO MORE than that!!!

            Once one has achieved that rather like learning to ride a bicycle you hopefully never forget and enjoy exploring and sharing your with others who are doing the same in a joyful lighthearted honest exchange while engaging all parts of oneself including the rational critical thinking faculty so coming to unique solutions for each individidual and collective that go beyon the established body of knowledge authority and consensus.

            Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority." – Thomas H. Huxley

            "We will discover the nature of our particular genius when we stop trying to conform to our own or to other peoples' models, learn to be ourselves, and allow our natural channel to open."

            Shakti Gawain, oft-ignored pioneer of the Selfgrowth movement

          • Thanks for your comment, Khurram. Interestingly, Pavlina just posted an article in which I think he conflates healthy psychological ego-strength with ego-centricity:

            I have to admit, I am a critic of the LoA which I think is based in some partial truth–which is that you increase your chances at achieving an outcome if you are congruent about it. But how we go about achieving congruence is important.

            Re: gurus, even in guru-yoga the highest teaching is that the guru is within.

  9. Shannon says:

    Sometimes, I think the idea of control of woman is misconstrued by these so-called Gurus. Maybe it's hubris that gets involved, steering men away from the reality of what women want that makes them pay this kind of money out for advice from men, who let's just say are not totally successful in their own lives, even if they have money in their pockets.

    Yes, there are women who seek a man with cash to allow them to be pampered. If this is what a man wants, then pay the almost 500.00 package for DVDs on how to procure this. Otherwise, listen up. Women don't want this. They want a secure man. This means that they want a man who is content with who he is as a person. They want someone who is true to himself and to her, all the time. They want a man who accepts that he doesn't know everything but is willing to try to figure out the things he doesn't know. Once a person, man or woman, figures out that material things are just THINGS, then they can open themselves up to what's really out there…which can mean that money/financial security may follow. But to pay someone that kind of cash to tell you how to "control" anyone is absurd. All this does is play into the idea of capitalism, allowing more and more of these types to infiltrate our society, praying on the weak–and yes, people who BUY into these DVDs or people are weak, since they have the power in themselves all along to understand the ways of the world/people/women/men.
    To understand the self, truly, is be alone for a period of time, getting to know who you, as a person, are. So many are afraid of this. Once a person is comfortable with themselves, truly, then everything else may follow. Too man of us out there are busy paying into ideas that are not tangible. To me, self help guides, life coaches, etc…are over priced, especially when we all have the ability to achieve what we want on our own, if we only open our eyes to it. If we seek advice, ask it…but never ever pay for it.

    • I totally agree that introspection is an incredibly important key to getting to know yourself and figuring out your own way in the world. And yes, women seem to want all those things you mentioned. To give Pagan some credit, I do think he would probably agree with most of what you said. He would just add the patriarchal bit as the *way* to learn how to be content with how you are as a person.

      I do think there is a place for paying for advice, whether in a book or from a therapist, or even a life coach, but I'm strongly against charging exorbitant rates for such advice and/or creating dependency relationships—especially when couched in promises of riches and power.

  10. eric says:

    I read a great newsletter on authentic community and toolkits for cult leaders by Robert Masters… it was well done…

    He speaks from the experience of being one, and stepping out of it… no longer doing it. he lives in Ashland. I think he was interviewed by Stuart on Integral naked…

    But really all this debate gives some great insight… but insights only go so far. So often people debating really are just trying to prove their own points – hear themselves speaking, with a few spaces where they take in something new. that tends to get really boring to me, and static.

    I appreciate you bringing forth attention to an area where there isn't a lot of open dialogue internet marketing and how it can be used unethically (and how the trails around it being done so get lost easliy on the internet)… and when does pointing out something that is off turn to creating something new and of value/beauty/transformative/satisfaction, etc.

    Back to the other questions where do you want to go with peer to peer spirituality? what does that look and feel like for you? How is it expressed? Is it an exploration for you? Have you already experienced it? Currently? What is the context and content of it?

    I can say for me, I am a mystic, musician, father, husband, friend, humanitarian, housekeeper, counselor, and innovator. I love experiencing love, being loved/loving, and experiencing the Divine directly in my life, and bringing that into my body and life in practical and loving ways. I am a part of a growing community where I can share that with others both in a spiritual context and within my hometown of Ashland.

    • Thanks for the link to the newsletter.

      I plan on writing more on P2P spirituality, other techniques and values, etc. here as I (and we) continue to explore such things. There is a timing for everything, and I felt that some things needed to be said about the personal development community while I still cared about them.

  11. eric says:

    oh one other thought… Eric Hoffer wrote some great works back in the 50's called The True Believer and the Ordeal of Change… he spoke to the underlying structure to mass movements politically, religious, and social… but it relates here too… where individuals are, which ones are most liable to be persuaded by the mass movements…. and so forth, you might dig it if you haven't already read it.

  12. Toby says:

    Great update Duff! Thanks for your thoughtful writing.

    It was amazing that Pavlina could write a 5,300 word diatribe today on "entitlement" and never once wrestle with or acknowledge the perfectly valid content of your post.

  13. LionKimbro says:

    Hm, … I differ.

    I think a group has the right to define its psychic space, both explicitely and implicitely, and to kick people out who are detracting from the group energy, even if it's in the name of dialog, even if you think it's very important.

    People today argue in terms of "individualism," "rights," and "free speech," with arguments that are intrinsically biased against groups — almost as if groups don't even exist.

    But I think this is only an artifact of a pre-Internet world. With time, people will play all sides of groups, and I think they'll see the hollowness of these arguments.

    If groups are obligated to listen to individuals and other groups, then are arguments are going to look more like cybernetics & theories of social evolution; NOT "free speech!" And they're going to be well thought out — and they're going to include the rights of groups to exist, to define their own psychic space, and so on.

    • I don't disagree at all with the right of a group to define its psychic space, both explicitly and implicitly, and kick people out. I do think that when a group is run by an individual, and the individual makes somewhat arbitrary decisions about whom to kick out without consulting anyone else, and then posts angrily about his right to do so, this very often creates fear within the group and prevents rational dialogue.

      I have never argued for "individualism," "rights," or "free speech" in the context of being banned from Pavlina's forum.

      • LionKimbro says:

        I basically don't see the problem with preventing unwanted rational dialogue in your psychic space. Each person, and each group, has things that it'll have rational dialogue about, and that it won't have rational dialogue about, and that seems fair to me.

        I wrote a page and made a diagram about this once:

        • I have no problem in general with preventing unwanted rational dialogue in your individual or community space either. I hope that is abundantly clear from what I've written.

          Should there be any limits to this prevention of unwanted discourse in your opinion? How should those limits be determined?

          • LionKimbro says:

            Interesting question. I have a complex answer, which will require space.

            Domain 1: Law.

            The court can summon you. A person can be arrested. (And so on, and so forth.) You can be required to answer questions, though you can keep silent if speaking could lead to self-incrimination (if you think people wouldn't understand your answer.)

            Domain 2: Market Forces in the Market of Attention

            If the budding movement you are part of becomes more and more popular, and starts to attract people away from Steve Pavlina's camp, then he will have to say something in order to get people's attention again.

            Essentially, he will be responding to unwanted discourse — but not in anything like real-time.

            This marketplace is what our society presently practices and believes in.

          • Again, I totally agree.

            Markets are conversations, and my writing is part of influencing the market of attention. I am attempting to persuade people to engage with critical discourse within the field of personal development.

          • LionKimbro says:

            Domain 3: The Person

            The person *can* be modeled as an aggregate of personalities. In the person, there is an invisible, difficult to discriminate intelligence at work mediating between personalities.

            Personalities can believe that they're in control, but we often find that they're not really. Getting yourself moving in a direction can be a bit like harnessing horses that all want to run their separate different ways.

            A lot of how I get by day by day is by preventing unwanted discourse internally.

            The limits seem to be inherent and natural: If I try to prevent myself from thinking about something that my mind thinks is urgent, I basically **break** at some point.

            I believe we can observe societies doing the same thing. We can see the civil rights movement as something like this, if we squint right: A conversation developed, people tried to control it, to take it out of their psychic space, but the people who brought it forward wouldn't back down, and it had to burst out. Just of because of what it is, on its own merits.

          • Indeed, the ordinary human experience is that of multiple competing subpersonalities, drives, thoughts, etc. I practice and advocate for techniques of personal change that attempt to integrate and align such aspects of self so that one need not have as much inner conflict and dominance.

            It is often expedient to prevent unwanted discourse internally, and we all do. But I think it's better when we integrate internal thoughts and emotions periodically in order to become more whole human beings.

          • LionKimbro says:

            Domain 4: "What if…?"

            Is it possible that Steve actually owes those who disagree an actual place in his online forum? Do corporate boards need to give protesters a seat at the table, and talk with them? Must we let the Mormons and the Jehova's Witnesses in at least once every 10 years? Must the Mormons let us in at least once every 10 years?

            What if social evolution can be sped up via something like Neal Stephenson's Anathem, where people seclude themselves for 1, 10, or 100, or 1000 years, in order to develop thought, and open up periodically in order to generate a mix of that?

            How would we structure that? What would it look like? What senses would justify the period? How would it be developed, and how would it be tested? What would undergird it?

            With the frameworks that we have today, we are not equipped to answer questions like this.

          • I should mention again that I am not at all arguing that Steve or anyone else "owes" anyone a place in their online forum. I'm surprised you keep using such language. My argument has always been that he can do whatever he pleases with his forum, but that when individual leaders of communities ban polite critics without warning this usually leads to cultish ingroups and power trips.

          • LionKimbro says:

            Eh; I don't share that sense, but okay ("usually leads to, …")

            As for "owes," I meant in the sense of propriety. ("You owe me an explanation," not financial or legal debt.) If you think you should have received a warning or something, — that that would have been proper — then the focus is on "should have received." One word version, "owe." (shrug) An unenlightening point, but there is my defense for my honor.

          • I do think receiving a warning is a better strategy generally for forum communities, but not necessarily due to owing someone such, but since failure to do so creates certain predicable negative results.

            The reason I harp on this point is because in response to banning me from his forum, Pavlina wrote a 5,300 word rant on "the delusion of entitlement" in which he viciously attacks a straw man of free speech.

      • LionKimbro says:

        I guess I see "defining psychic space" as including determing "what will we/I have rational dialogue about," and "what will we/I NOT have rational dialogue about?"

  14. Geoff says:

    Duff, wow! I thought Pavlina was interested in personal development for "smart people"? The fact that he responded so erratically at the slightest hint of disagreement or critical thinking is pretty good support for your argument about the defensive culture that exists in some personal development circles! Surely it would have been more persuasive to potential customers of this program he is promoting to respond to you in a more balanced way?

    Kudos for your post.

    • Thanks, Geoff. To his credit, Pavlina does accept some forms of disagreement and critical thinking in his forum, but I haven't seen any critical thinking that questions patriarchy or power.

      I do think his reaction is an example of that which I am pointing out. And yes, I think it surely would have been more persuasive had he responded in a more balanced way. (And he still has the opportunity to respond in balanced ways if he so chooses.)

  15. Koushik says:

    Quite amazed too at Pavlina's banning you from the forum. Incidentally I had read your comment before it was suddenly yanked off the forum–and that's what led me to your website. I thought that your post on the forum was very polite and had good points–hence my decision to visit your website.

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