Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Thirty Years Later: What was all that about? (Part 10 of a series)

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

The structure of the TM “movement” and the names by which it was called evolved over the decades in the same way in which it moved from an image of a pop-culture curiosity to all-out weirdness. Initially it used rather normal sounding names like “International Meditation Society” and “World Plan Executive Council.”

But if the underlying message of the movement is that it offers some means of control, not just on a personal level but on some perhaps megalomaniacal scale, of things like national and world events to allegedly bring about world peace, the movement’s name and structure eventually came to reflect that. It took on the terminology and titles of government - a government with conventions and titles and rituals and finally its own currency, but in reality it is a bunch of people with no significant power or influence playing at government. While in some sense this looks like some kind of parallel government, I call it a toy government. Its apparent primary purpose is to preside over the contrived task of getting a bunch of people to practice a certain set of mental techniques, rituals and bouncing on foam rubber (a practice delusionally dubbed “Yogic Flying”) at the same time and the same place at various points around the world, some of them in India, one of them, of course, at the organization’s facilities in Fairfield, Iowa. Real estate ownership, occasional property development (sometimes with the participation of wealthy donors), and above all, getting people to part with their money are other significant activities.

In 1976 during a year retroactively if not at the time dubbed “Maharishi’s Year of Government” the TM organization began to call itself the “World Government of the Age of Enlightenment.” Individuals who spent sufficient time and money on the organization were given the title of “Governor,” while movement higher-ups were called “Minister.” But even the nod toward a parliamentary form of government would not last, for the ultimate model it would adopt was that of monarchy - but a monarchy one could buy a role in, if one simply were willing to hand over a substantial amount of cash.

By 2000 the movement was calling itself the “Global Country of World Peace” and had crowned a king, “King Nader Raam,” the new title for former researcher and TM promoter Tony Nader. The image of a king, complete with golden crown and golden robes and the spectacle of having his weight measured out in gold, still wasn’t quite weird enough.

In 2003 the “Global Country” announced the million-dollar residence course. Here is the ultimate continuation of the movement’s toy government framework. For those who want to, as if by magic, control the world - but who have no real power, but plenty of money - they can buy into the “Global Government” and be named a “Raja” for simply coughing up one million dollars and spending some months in Holland. The alleged training course is “for those who wish to be the permanent administrators of the Global Country of World Peace in their regions.” Of course, as usual, there is nothing of substance about the position except for the raw exchange of money and time for title and status among a relatively small group of people.

It appears that in practice these “Rajas” got to sit in a room in Holland in the same building with the movement’s dying leader and watch him on closed-circuit television (and near his end, only hear him) blather more of the same things he’s said for the past fifty years. No doubt a lot of that talk was about his and his movement’s inflated sense of worth and importance.

What kind of person throws that kind of money at the “Global Government,” a toy simulation of real government? Perhaps the highest-profile example of a donor who supports this organization’s activities, such as they are, to the tune of millions of dollars a year is Howard Settle. A wealthy Texas oilman, Settle and his wife have been recently credited with making possible a stipend of seven hundred dollars a month to so-called “yogic flyers” by donating a million dollars a month over the past few years.

Settle hasn’t been named a “Raja” as far as I can tell from what’s been written about him online, so apparently he hasn’t the time or inclination to go to Holland for a while and spend a million dollars on that particular cash-absorbing program. But if you read the transcript of what he’s told those so-called “yogic flyers,” he is clearly a true believer, that the money he’s throwing at people bouncing on foam is actually buying the world something. As I’ve been pointing out, that to my eye the central feature of the TM program is a series of transactions involving money, likewise to Settle this is just another business proposition, another investment. Clearly, in Settle’s own words, he thinks that spending his money to enable people to bounce on foam rubber, after a few decades of that practice being surrounded by ridiculous claims, grandiose language and delusional expectations, is a business transaction that he can calculate a rate of return on.

I’ve quoted this piece of Settle’s statement at length, since I think it clearly shows how the throwing away of enormous sums of money by wealthy people on this toy government is somehow justified in their own minds through the use of the same cut-and-paste language the TM organization has repeated over the past few decades.

For any business transaction, you want to invest as little as possible, but in return you want to receive as much as possible.

‘We have the tools to calculate how efficient we are at this principle of ”Do less and accomplish more”: we calculate the return on investment and the rate of return.

‘In business, if you can achieve a two to one return on your investment over a period of a year, your calculated rate of return is 100%, and this is pretty good. In fact, if I offered each of you a 100% rate of return, it would be insane not to take advantage of an investment as favorable as that.

‘By contrast, Raja Hagelin has informed us that the influence we create in the Super Radiance groups is equal to the square root of 1%. The easiest way to calculate this effect is to multiply the number of Yogic Flyers by 100. So yesterday, with 1750 Yogic Flyers in the Invincible America Assembly, each of you had the effect of providing a positive influence of coherence to 175,000 of your fellow citizens. In other words, the return on investment of a single Yogic Flyer in the Assembly yesterday was 175,000 to 1; and this return did not take a year, but occurred within three hours. I haven’t calculated the rate of return on this investment of your time, but it approaches infinity.

‘This return to each of you on the Assembly is on an investment far more precious than money. It is a return on your action - your karma. And the result will be a continuous stream of positive influence in your life that will grow each day as you participate in the Assembly.

What’s really fascinating, when trying to get a handle on this man’s state of mind, is that this contrived-though-disconnected sense of pseudo-rationality supporting his spending decisions was preceded by the published admission that there is no proof at all for the claims made for these programs. In 2003, Settle financed the construction of one of the “Global Government’s” first “Peace Palace” in Lexington, Kentucky, a building into which Settle located one of his company’s offices. In an article in the local paper, which was ironically republished on one of the TM organization’s own websites, Settle made this remarkable admission:

“You can’t prove what it does for you,” Settle said of meditation, “but over time, the effects become more and more noticeable.”

So the personal effects can’t be proven, and thus, we may assume, the global effects of “world peace” and eventual creation of an “Invincible America” are likewise unproven. But he’ll throw tens of millions at the process anyway.

Many may assume that people with the kind of wealth Settle has already run the world. But perhaps the truth is that money doesn’t always buy power. The TM organizations, through endless repetition of mere rhetoric and bogus claims, have created a completely fictional web of power and influence - that all these rituals and practices will magically change national and world events, if someone will only spend the money such that enough people are doing them.

For some who started over thirty years ago inexpensively with just the twice-daily practice of Transcendental Meditation, after a few decades of conditioning that ridiculous premise is somehow reasonable. Howard Settle seems quite proud of the mental gyrations with which he justified what he sees as just another business decision. Perhaps to him these enormous sums of money are something similar to what “therapeutic shopping” is to some of us of more modest means - but we at least come home with a little something to show for it. Spending might make him feel better - but he’ll never see anything substantial for it, and he couldn’t care less.

(Continue to Part 11)

No comments:

Post a Comment