Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Here we go again

Today's post is something I wrote earlier this morning as a comment over at Daily Kos, on a diary entry that was, frankly, yet another one of those promotional press release sorts of things that the movement sometimes gets placed on blogs or other places where almost anything can be posted without going through a flesh-and-blood editor. There's nothing here I haven't written before, but it's specifically intended as a response to this kind of credulous, superficial, uncritical reporting of a media event staged by the David Lynch Foundation.

Photo: David Lynch Foundation
It's hard to watch a group of relatively powerful, influential women who really should know better, endorsing one of the more blatantly patriarchal, sexist organizations on the planet. Perhaps it's because Transcendental Meditation still has this lingering pop-cultural aura of being something oh-so-liberal if not countercultural. The fact that the global organization that sells TM is run exclusively by (royal robe and gold crown wearing) men, structurally excluding women from any actual power within the hierarchy, is perhaps hard for many to comprehend, if they've even bothered to do a few minutes of research online into what they're endorsing. But it's true, and it's plainly obvious from the movement's own publicly available documents and websites.

It's also hard to watch what's essentially yet another faith-based program getting sold in an allegedly liberal forum. That's right, despite its promoters insistence that no particular belief is required, the TM organization is inherently religious in nature. Its core doctrine is that of traditional religious scripture, the Veda, its proselytization strategy is that "Everything should be Vedic," and the practices they promote (which includes complete bogosities like singing to plants and east-facing houses) should be adopted by everyone, whether they believe them to be effective or not, with the backing of government and social institutions. The core doctrine of the TM hierarchy holds that the thinking or chanting of various sounds of Vedic origin have positive effects on the individual, society and the planet, an assertion that is completely without scientific backing. In fact, all of biology and physics would have to be discarded for their doctrine to be considered the least bit true.

It's in this context that any claim of scientific validation of TM should be examined, since the organization, being inherently faith-based, already believes its practices, including TM, to be perfect; they only need the rubber stamp of science to make their case to the West. What you end up with is an endless series of marketing surveys, preliminary studies, and cherry-picked research - much of it financed by the movement itself or its financial backers - put forward as if it were an overwhelming endorsement by some large portion of the scientific community, which it is not. As usual, the deck is stacked with longtime devotees, such as Sarina Grosswald, who's sitting in the middle of that panel as if she were some kind of independent scientific expert. She's been doing TM for forty years, and she's a member and director of what's known as "Global Mother Divine," an organization of celibate women analogous to that of an order of nuns which serves as a sort of women's auxiliary to the male-run global TM hierarchy.

Given the TM movement's inherent inability to come clean about what its core doctrine is all about - and the basically anti-scientific view of the world that it holds to be true - there is no reason for anyone to immediately assume, as the writer of this diary is evidently doing, that any claim made by the TM movement, or its promotional arm, the David Lynch Foundation, is in any way true.

Perhaps I should be happy that after being up for almost a full day, there's only one comment made on this diary, and it's by professional recertified TM teacher, Tom McKinley Ball. Ball has been known to me for a while as the author of a wonderful little document, "30 Tips for Bloggers," that was intended to encourage and guide a semi-organized posse of TM devotees to astroturf an apparent groundswell of support for TM in online comments like these. Perhaps they've given up that effort, since no one else has shown up here. (Yet?)

But perhaps one of the more interesting public demonstrations of the TM movement's inherently shady and misleading sales tactics is Ball's own website, "Skeptics on TM." Yes, you read that right: a professional who promotes TM full-time puts himself forward as a "skeptic" when it comes to TM, and he's created a whole website full of repackaged, recycled promotional material - much of the same material the movement has spouted for decades, gussied up with professional logos they have no business being associated with. It's actually pretty funny, in a morbid sort of way, to watch one of the movement's primary online promoters attempt something so fundamentally and obviously dishonest - and evidently, he's rather proud of his work.

That's one of the fundamental problems with TM: the movement's core doctrine really does have a detrimental effect on any sort of sane, ethical decision making when it comes to promoting TM. That's because TM, ultimately being a faith-based product, is always held to be absolutely perfect, and if it's not that way for you, you must not be doing it right. That's religion - not science. It's quackery, too, and when it's entangled with public schools and government, as the Lynch Foundation is attempting to do here, it's an unconstitutional entanglement of the state with religion.

Again, its disconcerting to find this kind of pitch on the Daily Kos website, as it's being made on behalf of an authoritarian, faith-based, sexist, and basically anti-scientific, irrational organization.

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