While the commodification of religion and spirituality has helped bring a wide variety of good esoteric texts into wide availability, on the whole I feel that the vast majority of what’s out there is simply and plainly garbage.
I despise the term “New Age” because it’s such a broad and nebulous term, but not all of the more cynical connotations the term carries are entirely inaccurate when it comes to some of the crass consumerism that masquerades as sage advice these days. It is usually through these channels that the average person comes across mentions of past lives or of any metaphysical construct, and they usually provide the most fuel for skeptics bent on disproving things like reincarnation. It is worth noting, however, that there is no common belief system between garbage peddlers; some pose as Buddhists, some as Christians, and some take a muddled syncretic approach that is popularly termed “New Age,” hence the confusion.
It’s easy to spot the garbage peddlers, however. They always gives themselves away because their core values have no pedigree beyond a corporate boardroom, and no real purpose except mass marketability. Their ideas will always bear the hallmarks of capitalism because it is conceived in, by, and for a capitalist system.
First of all, garbage peddlers will never ask you to question your priorities when it comes to the things you want. In fact, they will always encourage you to be better capitalists. You want that promotion? They’ll offer you a way. Want that Ferrari and a trophy spouse to fill the extra seat? They’ll offer you a chance to do that too. You want money, fame, power, and all the things the talking box in your living room tells you that you should want? They’ll offer you secrets on how to have it all. But questioning why you want material wealth, status, and possessions? Questioning the value of being involved in a system that turns people against each other in constant conflict for scraps of illusory prestige? Hell no! If you did that, you might start questioning their motives too!
After all, one of the other defining characteristics of garbage peddlers is that they’re always out to sell you something. A garbage peddler will never give you the whole story. They’ll give you a teaser that lures you in with some morsels of common sense mixed with mystical-sounding jargon, then offer you their book or their DVD, usually for about $19.95. And to someone who is thoroughly brainwashed to believe that giving anything of value away for free is aberrant and only wants spiritual guidance to give meaning to their participation in a market economy, this would seem absolutely normal.
Another hallmark of the garbage peddler is their reliance on jargon, oversimplifications, motivational slogans, and thought-terminating cliches. The jargon and slogans they use are usually a mix of mystical or pseudo-mystical terminology and neologisms from the world of business. It should come as no surprise that garbage peddlers often gain a lot of prestige in corporate circles, because they have mastered the pseudo-intellectual cant of the American executive. The oversimplifications often lead to gross misappropriations of sacred traditions (such as Native American rituals). The thought-terminating cliches serve to rein you in and keep you from thinking critically about their message and its value.
A garbage peddler will often rely on slick presentation to get their message across. They’ll take out TV ads, possibly even infomercials, or they’ll have a lecture with a power point presentation, where they appear with their hair done perfect and with all the glibness of a used car salesman. Remember that their goal is not to help people, but to sell a product, and their demeanor will always reflect this.
Finally, a garbage peddler will (with some exceptions) always stress how everything that happens to you is completely and totally on you. Some will even go as far as to blame physical illnesses on a failure of the will. There is no room, in the garbage peddler’s worldview, for random chance or events that are beyond the control of the individual because helplessness and randomness doesn’t sell. What does sell is the message that strong, confident people will always triumph and that those who fail aren’t strong or confident enough. After all, that message doesn’t rock the boat; it’s a message that has been at the very heart of capitalism since its inception at the hands of glowering, anhedonic Calvinists four hundred years ago.
Beware those who don’t rock the boat. Beware those who talk like your boss and never ask you to question whether material gain is what you really want. Beware those who will only give their advice if you pay for it. You might achieve something you want by following their advice, but you won’t be any wiser; you’ll only learn to be better at playing the game you’ve always played and if your heart isn’t in that game, then you won’t find the answers you’re looking for in a book advertised on TV. This I promise you.