Monday, July 27, 2009

New Age, Pronounced "New Wage"

My regular readers have no doubt noticed I'm fairly consistent at typing "newage (rhymes with sewage)" when I type about the trendy, fluffy woo. Not long ago, I saw a comment talking about the marketability of woo, and one of the other memes about the name: Calling it "New Wage" for the commercialization of it all. What struck me to eventually write this post was a comment about Native American shamans and their view of the New Wage phenomena: Apparently many of them like to describe the popular gurus who allegedly derive from them as "plastic shamans."

That just struck me as a very compact way of putting it. The last time I heard the use of "plastic" in that manner was to describe the "phony" people of Hollywood: Detached from the outside world by the fame and luxury, usually involved in some way or another in the act of selling pretentious, shallow fantasy while claiming to be innovative.

That's what much of the New Wage is: It's the theme park version of ancient quackery and mysticism, sanitized for the average American consumer. All the icky, unappealing parts are removed, supernatural entities are transformed into exotic guardian spirits, and just about any form of extensive footwork is removed so that it can be toned down into a hobby. After all, they want you to keep buying more books, overpriced bundles of material components, and herbal concoctions shredded up and compacted into mass produced pill format.

The quackery end is probably responsible for a large number of diet fads: Take these herbal pills full of ancient wisdom, and you won't need to cut down on sweets, like your "allopathic" doctor tells you to with increasing urgency. You shouldn't trust a doctor who tells you to eat more fruits, vegetables, and sources of fiber because you know mainstream doctors don't know anything about nutrition. Here, buy some herbal vitamin supplements balanced specifically for your blood type and aura color.


Dark Jaguar said...

It still boggles my mind how someone can look at one big ol' container of pills and say "this is all natural", and look at another and say "this is synthetic". What exactly is the difference, aside from the one they label "synthetic" more than likely being affective vs the "natural" one.

Don said...

What bugs me is that the "synthetic" pills were designed by learned people for a specific purpose; we know their molecular makeup, we know how they are supposed to interact with the body, we know what dosages have what effects, and the product was designed and overseen from a top-down perspective to ensure this. We know what it does to a high degree of accuracy because we made it for that purpose.

How is this worse than random crap from the forest that we may or may not fully understand? It's like saying that you're more likely to get where you want to go if you drift about on a fallen log than if you build a boat with sails and oars and a map and a compass.

Dark Jaguar said...

I'm taking that analogy! Awesome!

Good point and one I've thought of myself. What gets me most is just that, well, they have this weird idea that these pills were just invented from whole cloth in a lab. They go on about how we should just use "herbs" without even realizing that, heck, LOTS of legitimate medicine labelled "unnatural" is in fact harvested from various plants. The difference you've already stated.

Oh yes, on a side note, this is one of the reasons I get annoyed with the pot crowd. Now while I may support allowing people the right to do it, I certainly don't agree with the new age nonsense associated with it. I've actually heard someone argue that pot is "Natural so it's better for you than cigarrettes". It's like they don't even realize tobacco is a frickin' PLANT. Also I tend to get annoyed when someone goes on about how a science head like me "should" be "experimenting". It makes me wonder if they ever bothered setting up controls, logging their results, or, and this is key, doing any measuring at all of what they are taking. Who knows what random mixes they are shoving in their brain? The pot heads that go on about how someone is somehow doing themselves a spiritual disservice if they don't toke up annoy the hell out of me, especially when they talk about "unlocking the real you".

Rhoadan said...

Ah, but tobacco is heavily processed so that by the time it goes into the cigarette it's impossible to tell what effects are from the additives and what's from the tobacco doncha' know? Whereas pot is just the resinous bits and the paper to wrap it in. [/sarcasm]

Dunc said...

Well, personally I think that there's something to be said for exploring the range of cognitive states available, but I'd never heavy up on anyone about it. It was drug use that really drove home to me how unreliable and easily-fooled my own brain is. Plus I've had a hell of a lot of fun... :)

Anonymous said...

I smoke pot, but I don't buy into any of the newage sewage (thanks for that lovely and oh so apropos rhyme) that swirls around it.

It is what it is, a plant with physiological and psychotropic effects as is tobacco.

But that is where the similarity ends as the effects for both are quite different and can differ between people.

Tobacco is very addictive and this is likely enhanced during manufacture. Chocolate anyone?

Marihuana is not addictive but some people do lace it with other things like opium or (shudder) embalming fluid rather than just curing it properly. No thanks.

Apparently boo will make you hallucinate. I'm still waiting for that one and have never seen anyone do so.

Spiritual disservice? I've heard that one too. A variation on the "appeal to antiquity" - shaman took it therefore I become one when I take it.

"Hashish never reveals to the individual more than what he himself is" - Charles Baudelaire

How aboot this one? As people cross into middle-age they turn to religion not because Mr. Mort is approaching but because the brain starts releasing cannabinoids.

If this were so, I'd be a Jehova's Witness by now.

One thing green has over tobacco is medicinal uses - relief of pain, nausea, anorexia - but it will NOT cure cancer as some claim.

Alcohol is a far more pernicious drug.

Best comment ever -

"there are no chemicals in nature..."

Dunc said...

"Marihuana is not addictive"

Sorry, but I can tell you from both extensive personal experience and the scientific literature that that's total bull. It is addictive. Not as addictive as tobacco, but it certainly is addictive under certain usage patterns and in certain individuals. I'm one of them. It sneaks up on you.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm one of the lucky ones

Never had withdrawal from stopping cold turkey at any time

Always thought there could very well be a psychological addiction but not a physical one a la alcohol or de 'ard drugs

I also enjoy beer and used to brew my own

I had to quit for other reasons and worried that I'd go through withdrawal since alcohol is so socially prevalent/acceptable

Nada - one day beer the next none no problemo

personal anecdotes eh? ;)

Dark Jaguar said...

Again I support one's right to experiment (in the safety of their own home, there's that other sect that is convinced people that are high actually drive safer which I just don't buy at all).

Oh, the comment that getting high teaches you the ways your brain can be tricked? Now THAT I can believe :D. Still, I prefer learning via other's experiences than my own if I can avoid doing something like shutting down portions of my own brain or hyperactivating others. To me it just seems like fidding around with over/under clocking and/or disabling large sections of an OS, only without having any real knowledge of what I'm doing, and I'm just not interested in that.

I don't think addiction is just the symptoms of withdrawl but also simply getting cravings here and there. Someone who's never had any would never get any cravings of course, so I'd say that's a pretty clear sign of addiction.

Oh, and I certainly agree that alchohol is plenty more dangerous when abused, though I don't really bother with that either.

Dunc said...

"Always thought there could very well be a psychological addiction but not a physical one a la alcohol or de 'ard drugs"

I'm no longer convinced about the distinction between "physical" and "psychological" addiction, because I'm not a dualist. Psychology is physical. I would phrase the distinction you're drawing as between "overt chemical dependence" and "addiction". I can quit smoking dope or drinking (and brewing) beer without any obvious physical symptoms, but that doesn't mean I'm not addicted. I'll go a long way out of my way to score if need be, and I plan quite a bit of my life around my brewing schedule.

I've found DuWayne Brayton's writing on the subject particularly interesting and useful. You might be interested in Addiction - A New Paradigm.

"Oh, the comment that getting high teaches you the ways your brain can be tricked? Now THAT I can believe :D"

It's not just that... It's that everything about how you perceive the world is contingent on your cognitive state. It's impossible to describe really, but the way your brain works is not the only way it can work. The best analogy I can think of of the top of my head is with language - if you've spent your entire life speaking and hearing one language, it might not even occur to you that there could be others. Taking drugs is kinda like suddenly finding your brain speaking a different language, with fundamentally different grammar and containing different expressive concepts. It's like visiting a foreign country.

"Still, I prefer learning via other's experiences than my own if I can avoid doing something like shutting down portions of my own brain or hyperactivating others. To me it just seems like fidding around with over/under clocking and/or disabling large sections of an OS, only without having any real knowledge of what I'm doing"

Well, unless you're someone like Albert Hoffman, you always should learn first about the effects of drugs from others. Never take anything for the first time without having someone who's done it before around.

Yakaru said...

Just for the record, "New Wage" was coined by Cosmic Connie.

Generally if you think up a nice play on words about anything spiritual, check her site before using it - she's usually beaten you to it.

Yakaru said...

Sorry, I'll post the link tolink to Connie's site more properer.

Anonymous said...

excellent points all.

I'm no dualist either and that is the point I was after - no physical chemical dependence resulting in nasty physical symptoms upon cessation of input a la delerium tremens.

There is a lot of hysteria/propaganda around this subject and the shadow of Harry Anslinger still looms large.

Anyhoo, some newage woovian types suggested I was closed minded and that I'd open it by experiencing mj, peyote, shrooms, LSD and the like.

They related their experiences as young teens dallying with these things.

When I questioned the wisdom of still developing brains being into drugs, they vehemently denied being into drugs and ASSumed, of course, that my requests for clarification and evidence of their claims was indicative of my naivete in these matters.

Driving? Bad drivers are bad drivers (flying cars are a bad, bad idea). I wish there were a drug to improve the driving ability of most people, but marijuana ain't it.

Having recently had prescription painkillers, I'm more concerned about the numbers of drivers taking those things.

I live three houses from the intersection and wouldn't remember how I got to the stop sign...

Thanks for the link on addiction I'll read it when I have a chance.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article (and the comments following it) Dunc, but I'm not sure it supports your contention.

I realize that people can become addicted to almost anything - even the musical styling of Celine Dion.

Perhaps it is much easier to become addicted to something which has physiological repercussions beyond craving when it is removed.

Like caffeine. I quit that cold turkey and for about a week or so I really wanted one to make me feel better and the head aches go away. But I endeavoured to persevere and got through it.

Recently been smoking more pot than usual to counter the side effects of drugs prescribed to fight a disease. I'm no longer on the prescriptions and the "green market" has dried up.

Oh well.


Dark Jaguar said...

As someone who has never done drugs, I can say this: if you ask me at any point during a drive how we got there, I probably wouldn't remember either unless something interesting happened. You could ask what color the last light was or what road I took, but I'd probably tell you based on logical deduction rather than direct memory (for example, all of them were green, on account of the fact I'm not currently explaining why I ran a red light to an officer).

Oh, and I'm aware that it fundamentally alters the way the brain functions. I've seen wacky audio file visualization plugins (which is what they always filter things with on those science shows attempting to describe what disabling this or that part of the brain does to a subject, I'm sure that's not entirely accurate). But, my brain is fine tuned over the course of millions of years of evolution to function one way, and I personally am not too interested in jacking around with that on a whim. That said, I would certainly be very interested in some major revisions should the technology come down the line, something heavily tested that adds pure improvement. Of course, some of them I'd like an on/off switch for. Super-fast perception of the world around me, like a fly sees for example, would be great in a lot of situations, but not during a conversation, or watching a movie.

I'm not averse to altering my perceptions per se, just not in the blanket ways most street drugs do. I find the ability to differentiate where one thing ends and another begins very useful and disabling that ability is not something that interests me, even if it means feeling like I'm "one with existance". Also, these ears are like dog ears! Oh, and this couch! This couch is great!

Dunc said...

I'm the kind of guy who voids warranties. To me, the words "No user-serviceable parts inside," actually read, "Go on, get a screwdriver, I dare you!" The idea of knowing that I can screw around with my brain and deciding not to is just weird. YMMV. :)

Admittedly, a "restore factory settings" option would be nice... ;)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I was a little vague with "not remembering"

I'm only talking about leaving the house, starting the car, backing out of the driveway, moving 150ft to a stop sign at which I apparently stopped.

No idea at all how I got there or if anything interesting happened, like backing over the neighbour's cat or kid or into a parked car.

Looking for traffic left and then right and then starting all over again.

How did I get to the stop sign?

I concentrate on my driving because I'm well aware there are many that don't.

That's why flying cars are a dangerous idea. The vast majority of drivers canna cope in two dimensions. To add a third is courting chaos.


King of Ferrets said...

Then again, adding a third dimension would mean that people are less likely to encounter each other... Might actually be better than land-cars.

Bronze Dog said...

If they do manage to make them practical, they might have some autopilot assists that are easier to handle when there aren't potholes and construction to throw them off.

Of course, I'd rather have a push for quality mass transit systems. I hate driving, and being at altitude probably won't help.

Dark Jaguar said...

Your analogy is pretty cool there, but I gotta say that while I do muck around with a lot of my own electronics, there's a limit to what I'll do. Generally I only even start if I feel there's something I can do to improve it and I look around online for any already-existing diagrams to get a good idea and plot out a plan of action. I had to check and check and check some more to find out EXACTLY what I was doing before I hacked my PSP for example, and again when I disabled the territory chip in my NES (very simple, just clipped a single connector "leg" to switch it to "key" mode). I'd almost certainly jailbreak an iPhone if I ever got one, and I personally am waiting for a software based DSi hack before I pick one of those up. That said, I have never bothered with getting any mod chips for my PS1 and onward, or any of the others. The reason being, I know that adding an extra chip is a far riskier proposition. Cutting that one connector in my NES is something I only did after confirming that EVERY SINGLE NES game (including the unofficial ones, well the ones with the switch in them had to be switched to mode 2) would still be fully playable and Nintendo never developed any detection techniques to counter that mod. That's also why I have NOT done the same with my SNES, which uses a similar easily-defeated chip, because there ARE in fact SNES games later in it's lifetime that could detect such a modification and won't run if I do that. Fortunatly, my main reason for doing that mod wasn't to play imports but because it massively improves the reliability of loading NES games (the timing with that chip and the same chip in the NES games themselves is very specific and it'll go into that infamous repeated reset mode the moment it's interrupted in any way, many of which would otherwise not cause any issue with the gameplay).

So as you can imagine, I'm far more cautious with my own brain, since the lifetime warrentee my parents bought when they had me (those Best Buy guys are VERY aggressive) expires under the same conditions where I might actually want to send it in. That's how they get ya...

Again though, I'm not at all averse to alteration in theory, just need more specific knowledge of what it'll do. "Factory default settings" are probably the very first alteration they should add to a brain. Oh, I know Dawkins and the like say eternal life would get boring fast, but I'm the first to say that I'd really like to test that for myself. I would certainly not want eternal life in one of those "evil monkey paw" ways everyone assumes where you can't EVER die. I'm thinking eternal life but with a kill switch. That is, die on your own terms instead of whenever nature "feels" like it. I can't see a flaw with that, except for the whole population and usage of resources thing.

Dark Jaguar said...

Flying cars... yeah I'd say that if they ever invent those, people shouldn't be legally ALLOWED to fly them except in an emergency situation, and the entire sky-traffic network should be computer controlled. Aside from the occasional bird, it'd be far safer than the ground, where pedestrians are. Overall the sky is static enough relative to the ground that AI would be able to make assumptions it can't make there, like that things won't be popping up unpredictably.

That said, yes a much better public transportation grid could also resolve the issues, and for far fewer resources. I'd be all for that, except that so many people are sprawled out so far in many places, such as where I live, that public transportation itself becomes very awkward. In fact there's ZERO public transportation around here. I don't really count cabs as public transport here. They don't drive around at random waiting to be flagged down like in New York for example. You need to call them. There's a bus, but all the stops are much farther downtown, nowhere near the massive outskirts of Tulsa.

Anyway, along those lines I get excited when I hear about "city towers", those massive constructs where everyone basically lives in a massive "circle" of housing along the outer wall, and the inside on "meta levels" are massive parks, and the structure as a whole is open-air and open-sunlight. Something like that could be easily built for public transport from the ground up, and aside from outliers, I can see many people living in those. As I see it, if it became popular enough, human civilization would basically become a collection of scattered "termite mounds" and nature would reclaim the vast majority of the old "sprawly" style of construct. The rest of it would be just the connecting infrastructure between each city-tower. Exceptions would be those factories that had to be constructed outside the tower limits.

That said, while I do love thinking about such futurist scenarios, they are basically speculation until a functional one of these towers is actually built.