By now if you’ve been following the case as I have you must know that James Arthur Ray, a popular proponent of the Law of Attraction, has been found guilty of three counts of negligent homicide and sentenced presumably to six years of prison, though the actual sentence is still pending.
For those of you not in the know, James Arthur Ray is a bestselling author, and was a guest speaker in the DVD production of The Secret. He has for a very long time advocated the idea that every event that happens in your life, you manifest through your thoughts via ‘intention’, and that it is possible to turn your life around simply by (as with The Secret) changing your mental habits. Now, there are a number of psychological traps that people can get caught into, where one self-sabotages every effort, and there are a number of self-help books that attempt to provide you with methods of overturning those traps, each with varying levels of scientific backing. But this isn’t one of those — what Ray, The Secret, and the Law of Attraction propose is far, far deeper than any of that.
In these philosophical frameworks, it works like this. If you win the lottery, you’ve been thinking good things — you’ve been ‘intending’ correctly. If you get cancer, you’ve been thinking bad things. The vicissitudes of your fortunes become self-directed, so bad fortune is resultant of your own sin. Rather than accepting that some bad things happen through no fault of your own, and that most good things actually take work to achieve, you cast yourself adrift to be carried on life’s waves and wherever it ends up taking you, you are wholly responsible by virtue of your mental discipline. If the exercise doesn’t work, and you don’t succeed, why, it’s not the fault of the guy that sold you the book or DVD that explained how to do it! It’s obvious that if you fail, you simply Weren’t Doing It Right(tm).
Oh, and something-something-quantum-physics. Because you just can’t have a modern new-age bullshit sundae without a quantum cherry on top! Since particles do weird things at the quantum level, you can throw the word “quantum” into any nonsense and suddenly people think it’s a proven scientific fact because basically nobody actually understands quantum physics. It makes a lovely gap to shoehorn any old bullshit into.
It’s karma writ large, and a lot of people are making a lot of money by peddling this nonsense as though it’s some kind of deeply held secret that only the successful people of this world knew about. Granted, the people on top of this particular grift have made a good amount of money simply by selling this hogwash, and people from all walks of life were buying it, from down-on-their-luck middle-aged mothers to ambitious salesmen who just can’t seem to overcome intense intra-office competition. James Arthur Ray ran a retreat to cater to these customers looking to quantum-manipulate their fortunes, though in reality he was offering nothing more than a day in a sweat lodge, out of which people would emerge (at least in theory) psychologically pumped up for having overcome such a trial of endurance. 56 people paid $9695 apiece to attend his October 8, 2009 “Spiritual Warriors” ceremony, which was designed to mimic (albeit poorly) the Native American sweat lodge tradition.
Through the ceremony, Ray encouraged participants to stay to symbolically overcome the struggles in their real lives. He said, “You will have to get to a point to where you surrender and it’s O.K. to die.” When the participants started vomiting, shaking, or experiencing delusions, Ray ignored them. When a number of them collapsed, Ray fled. Eighteen were hospitalized for burns, respiration problems, kidney failure and other issues associated with heat. Three died.
Without question, Ray was guilty of negligent homicide. I’d contend that with the complete nonsense he was peddling, the celebrity he had attained by peddling that nonsense, and lack of controls that he could easily have put into place to prevent injury or death but failed to implement, he is guilty of a whole lot more than simple negligent homicide, though the jury found him not guilty of manslaughter.
Throughout the trial, the denizens of his Law of Attraction forums had been “intending” that he be found not guilty. Not because he wasn’t actually guilty, mind you, but because of his celebrity status and his appealing message — that one can shape reality as easily as one can in the dreamscape of the movie Inception. If the jury had found him not guilty, we’d have a new and powerful group of nonsense-peddlers to contend with; as far as I’m concerned, we have too many of them as it stands without the meteoric rise of one of the benchwarmer factions, so I’m glad for a number of reasons that justice was served with regard to Ray. I hope they throw the book at him, though I suspect he’ll probably get the minimum sentence and the forum goobers (and Ray himself once he goes on his post-jail tour) will probably talk about how big a win the whole episode has been for them.
Meanwhile, however, a few days before the verdict came down, Twitter user @swskeptic (Rose Garcia) posted a Twitwall entry that would prove prophetic in hindsight. The full details of the ‘intention’ have not yet come to pass, but she’s at least successfully overturned the ‘intentions’ of Ray’s followers:
Until the verdict comes in, I’m going to be focusing on manifesting for James Arthur Ray the opportunity to learn from another very charismatic leader who also has strong opinions about how people should live their lives. If there’s any justice in this country then by next week, James Arthur Ray should be playing full on with Arizona’s own sheriff Joe Arpaio. I think it’s fitting that a man who prescribed extreme experiences for other people should have an extreme incarceration experience himself. Therefore, I’m sending my intention out to the universe that James Ray will be given the opportunity to experience a transformation in the Arizona desert this summer with the harmonic justice of sheriff Joe. After listening to James Ray’s ‘teachings’ for 3 ½ months, I know he wouldn’t want me to send out some weanie intention to some wussy white collar prison. No. I think James Ray has attracted an incarceration as extreme as his workshops, and Sheriff Joe is the just the extreme kind of man for the job. Sherrif Joe’s ideas on justice are about as skewed and James Ray’s ideas on spirituality, so these two should attract each other. Instead of dealing out justice to the poor and the marginalized people of Arizona, my intention is that sheriff Joe use his sadistic skills to provide James Ray with a truly intense incarceration experience. And that’s at the bargain basement price of $2.00 / day.
The forecast for today in Maricopa County is 114 degrees, so this is the perfect time for a man who believed that intense heat was a path to a spiritual break-through can break through Sherriff Joe’s chain gang.
If Ray’s incarceration includes working on the chain gang, then a single skeptic will have out-intended the whole crew of Ray’s followers who actually believe this shit is real. I had joked about this privately a few days ago, wondering when the first skeptic would claim responsibility for having wished Ray into prison, but had no idea someone would actually do it. Nor that they’d have done it in advance of the verdict.
Can we call this a win for skepticism, or not, though? Because I’m sure many of Ray’s well-‘intentioned’ followers, each of whom believing in the concept truly and without reservation, would simply wave this failure away as either themselves not doing it right, or of the skeptic being some kind of closet agent for a rival self-help guru and simply being better at manifesting her reality than they are. Or worse, that this skeptic is somehow endowed with awesome reality-shaping powers, and if only she would just drop her skepticism and harness these powers for the betterment of mankind…!
Fighting with people who believe so whole-heartedly in nonsense is a full-time occupation. Seriously, could you imagine a whole room full of people who think they’re the guy from Dark City? There’d be nary a flying dagger to be seen, at the very least.