Monday, May 26, 2008

Thirty Years Later: What was all that about? (Part 6 of a series)

(To read this series from the beginning, start here.)

“The TM Book” is a snapshot of the TM movement of 1975. Between the beginning and end of the book I described earlier is a compendium of the movement’s featured claims during that time. The charts and graphs, referring to scientific research often conducted by people involved with the organization or republished by it, are those that were common in the pamphlets and other materials distributed by the movement at the time.

The one common thread throughout the book is that almost all the benefits described involve exerting control of aspects of living that are generally not under conscious control. Some of the claims are clear and illustrated with charts; others are obscure or otherwise hard to understand, particularly when movement jargon is introduced to the description.

As was often the case in pamphlets of the time, the book’s first chart, titled “Change in Metabolic Rate,” purports to show that TM provides a state of rest deeper than sleep. That's immediately followed by a claim that certainly involves an item not generally thought to be under conscious control: that TM causes a growth in intelligence.

From there, other less straightforward but similar claims are made, but the claims almost always center on abilities that are often difficult if not impossible to improve through conscious effort: increases in learning ability, speed in accurate problem solving, academic and job performance and productivity are on the list. The implication is that these things can be changed without effort, that control is exerted through the simplistic purchase of a program, through a particular expenditure of little more than money and time, sold as almost trivial in ease, not requiring particular skills, and most notably, not requiring any effort at all.

Vague claims that are not in any way supported by the scientific research are also made in five sections of the book. Increases in “adaptability,” “stability,” “purification,” “growth” and “integration” are alleged to occur through the program, with long lists of benefits culminating in a statement that’s become one of the high-profile, contentious (if not outrageous and crackpot) claims commonly associated with TM in recent years: that world peace can be brought about by simply meditating.

In hindsight, it’s clearer to me that the book targets a particular audience: people who value control, those who seek to control aspects of their lives that are often, if not by definition, beyond their control. It is a sales pitch that selects for a particular type of personality. Unlike the appeal of many religions and ‘cults,’ this pitch is something a bit different from the usual: it's an appeal to people who are used to exerting power and control. Not surprisingly, this group often controls a substantial amount of wealth.

(Continue to Part 7)

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