Sunday, March 07, 2010

Wounded Warrior, Madman, or Psychopath...
or perhaps all three?

In the months since the tragic events at the "Spiritual Warrior" retreat in Sedona, you can't swing a dead e-cat without reading something about James Arthur Ray. Many have condemned him as a dangerous psychopath, willing to spend followers' lives in pursuit of profits. Some describe him as merely inept, having given little or no forethought to the possible negative effects of his programs. And somehow, there remain those who look upon him as a highly-evolved sage, unencumbered by the "negativity" with which others ascribe to recent events. As we've observed on the political scene of late, there seems to be little room for compromise in our judgments, and I think we're serving ourselves poorly by adopting such myopic attitudes.

I'll be the first to admit that my own judgments have leaned toward the "psychopath" definition. Like many others, I wanted not only justice; I wanted blood. After all, how could anyone but a narcissistic psychopath proceed merrily upon his way while people are dying as a direct result of his programs? Late last night, however, in one of those just-awakened moments of clarity that can only occur when we're not coherent enough to construct our agenda around our feelings, another thought occurred to me: perhaps the man is a melding of all the above descriptions, with deeper dimension than can be packaged within one descriptor. What if...

In recent days, Ray has been a frequent contributor to his Twitter page, offering mostly obscure ramblings that have, at best, been insensitive toward those who have suffered profound loss. Who but someone categorized as having an antisocial personality would be so brazenly callous as to rub salt into the fresh wounds of his victims and their families? I - along with many others - have derided him for his callousness, for offering obscure platitudes in an obvious effort to distract observers from the seriousness of the situation. If I wanted blood before, I really wanted it after reading some of the swill he was bandying about.

My ah-ha moment arose from remembering that a psychopath will first and foremost act in his own interests, oblivious or unconcerned as to how his actions will affect others. A true psychopath, therefore, would act in such a manner as to foster sympathy for himself. A textbook scenario would have him portraying himself as someone who struggled to rectify the situation in Sedona and ease the suffering of those who were injured, those who died, and those who were left to grieve. Someone who was suffering as deeply as anyone, and more than most. Surely, such a person would avoid doing anything that might make him appear unfeeling and unsympathetic. So what the heck is Ray doing, issuing his platitudes, while ignoring the cries for penance, regret, and even punishment? Is he an unfeeling monster, or is he just crazy as a peach orchard boar?

I think that there may be a number of factors guiding his behavior. I'm certain that his attorneys have advised him to avoid saying or doing anything that might be considered an admission of personal responsibility for the tragedy. They might even be advising him to act in such a way as to support an assertion that he lacks the mental competence to act in his own defense. His recent public postings have certainly given evidence that he has dissociated himself from the pain that so many have suffered. The real question, as I see it, is whether that dissociative behavior is genuine, evidence that he has suffered a psychotic episode as a means of dealing with his own sense of guilt, or perhaps a calculated ploy to insulate him from civil and criminal repercussions.

My own compassionate side would reach out and comfort a man who has broken under the weight of his own self-incrimination and feelings of guilt. Yet there remains a more cynical part of me that, having studied his actions over the past few years, thinks this is just another in a long pattern of manipulative games being played at immense cost - to others. Truth is, neither I nor anyone else outside a small circle of therapists can really be certain. And even within that small circle, there remains the realization that even the most astute professional can often be played by an intelligent psychopath. I think that only time will tell us who is the real James Arthur Ray.

I also find it interesting to observe how the rest of the New Wage hustlers are reacting to Ray's situation. Some who once claimed him as friend and mentor have quietly removed any mention of him from their public offerings, counting upon their followers' short attention spans and memories. Still others have come forward and publicly disassociated themselves from their one-time colleague, attempting to show that they knew all along that he had "strayed from the path to enlightenment." In short, throwing him under the metaphysical bus, and defining their own integrity in the process.

And what about those fellow hustledorks who have praised Ray in the past, and who brush aside as irrelevant the whole sequence of events, claiming that even discussing them is "negative thinking" to be avoided at any cost. These are the individuals who refuse to even acknowledge that something went horribly wrong, preferring to "wait until the facts are in" before admitting that there was any kind of a problem. I'll leave it to others to decide for themselves whether this kind of person is worthy of being listened to or followed.

As I said before, I think that only time - if even that - will tell us who is the real James Arthur Ray. What I think is more important than our judgment of him (or the eventual ramifications he faces) is our willingness to look with open eyes and common sense at the practices that some would claim to be essential to our spiritual evolvement. No matter what happens to Ray, even if he is allowed to continue pursuing a livelihood that endangers others, a populace that is more informed and objecitve will be infinitely safer than one which ignores or rationalizes destructive behavior. If people began using good common sense, and looked beyond wishful thinking on their journey to greater awareness, even the most skillful sociopath would be unable to harm anyone.

I don't propose establishing a system of strict regulation to oversee the self-help industry, mostly because it wouldn't work. Remember: You can't idiot-proof the system; they'll just come up with better idiots! The scammers would simply find ways to work around the rules, and their marks would just rationalize that some malevolent "they" are trying to deny humanity of its birthright. If you doubt the second statement, just go to your favoirite "guru's" website and compare the bold-headline promises with the fine-print (and frequently difficult to find) disclaimer statement. What you'll find is a deft volley, in response to the FTC's latest serve. And if you're willing to lend as much credence to the former as you are willing to put "faith" in the latter, there's little chance you'll be hoodwinked, wounded, or even killed.
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