Know Thy Enemy
Fascism, authoritarianism and totalitarian structures, the reality of the cult of Art of Living.
Fascism and authoritarianism and totalitarian structures are the enemy of the individual. Anyone who has experienced being part of groups, communities or societies that is based on these will experience that creativity, spontaneity and individuality gets crushed. Instead, you see a massproduction of people created to feed the machine, people who have lost access to themselves.
Fascist, authoritarian and totalitarian groups all share a lot of traits. It is funny that when people are in a totalitarian group they think they are very unique. They will all describe their group as a unique happening created to save the world, humanity, working class or something. The philosophy on which the group is based upon will have a suprahuman origin, and will be unique in that it is complete, final and perfect. But really all these groups, movements and societies are so boringly the same. It is the same trite routines that are being re-used and re-run. And the spiritual, political or market enlightenment are always the same recycled clichés. If you have known one, you have known them all.
In the following I will give an analysis of such a group. My example is the authoritarian group the Art of Living. I spent eight years associated with it, thinking that I was learning a superior philosophy. I thought I was on a spiritual journey getting ancient knowledge from the sages of the Himalayas. It was a childhood dream, and this naive passion of mine was used to feed the machine and fill the coffers of the elite. In that way it was the same as all the other movements, the naiveté of the many is used to make the few wealthy and powerful.
The meeting with the Art of Living
Being love bombed at my entrance I was told that I finally had found my spiritual family and my spiritual purpose. I remember that first time I visited the groups headquarters in Germany: there were big signs with “Welcome Home”. I felt complied to act nicely to these people because they were acting so nice to me. Going along with the steps that I at first found a bit weird, I succeeded having a few “spiritual” experiences. After having these I was told that the movement had a unique and complete knowledge. I should of course have known better, but being caught in a weak moment, and catering to my childhood dream of spiritual enlightenment from the Himalayan masters I went along. I slowly got convinced that this was the real thing and that I could achieve spiritual insight through the Art of Living. Without being aware, I was turned and conformed to the fascist social and cultural ways of the cult. What I thought was a spiritual journey was a totalitarian trap, set up by the fascist religious con-man Ravi Shankar. Constantly through my time there it was imprinted that any “errors” experienced were in ourselves, never in the totalitarian organization or the totalitarian leader, who demanded of us the acceptance that he knew the complete truth.
True Believers was the goal and the ideal. The more True Believer a follower was, the higher the pedestal he was put upon. The more outrageous claims a person would profess, the higher the prestige. To be irrational and going against the practical experience of the world, was proof of progress on the path of faith. Individuals in the organization were suffering massive health issues, fever, nausea, throwing up, migraine, psychologically extreme states like fear, depression and helplessness. And somehow it was all transformed to be a sign of how truly one believed. How much they had evolved and how committed they where. People where being treated as trash,yelled at, deprived sleep, taken away the right to showers and clean clothes, publicly humiliated, and it was all presented as the fire of purity, that which would set one free. This was portrayed as the virtues of renunciation and selflessness. Actually behind the sugary prose is the stark reality of self denial. Self denial for the enhancement of power and wealth for the few, in this case Art of Living and primarly Ravi Shankar and his family.
A slippery slope.
In the start the outside world was just labeled as a disturbance, that it was best to shun during the courses that was the backbone of the Art of Living cult practices. This shunning was not to be always, we were told, but just in order to go deep in our meditations, deep in our processes. But in time this was elaborated, if we were to be serious on our spiritual path we had to give up more and more of these distractions, and slowly without knowing the view of the outside world was changed. From being distractions that one had to avoid in order to get the most benefit from the courses, the outside world become low energy, the unenlightened heap of garbage. It became the enemy, that which had to be avoided. Finally at the point when I left the organization it was even referred to as that which was going to end in worldwide disaster if not saved by Ravi Shankar. Thus the cult of Art of Living created the walls between the members of its organization and the outside world.
This is the classic nature of the authoritarian group: the ones inside are the chosen ones, and the outsiders are inhuman and can be treated as such. It is in the very numbing of our sensations of connectedness to our fellow human beings that the fascist mindset starts. And the reality is very different. In fact those inside are prisoners, and they are made avert to the outside in order to keep them in place.
The attack on the inner life
But that was not all because as with all totalitarian system the cult also attacked the individuals’ inner life. It was the original market pitch gone all bad and evil. When one met the Art of Living there was no end to what it could help; illness, lack of success, attention span, depression, sorrow, fatigue and stress (not to mention world hunger, world peace, and world suffering). But it was especially the concept of stress that was getting pushed. The reason for this is that the concept of stress was fuzzy enough to be used for whatever need the cult had. And the core meaning was right for its purpose. It meant that something was wrong with you. And this something had a foreign nature that could be eradicated only with the help of Art of Living. This being profered with the sales pitch, “ we have learned so much in school but never how to deal with our emotions”, meaning that the outside world was miserable, and the Art of Living had the sacred science to remove “negative” emotions.
The idea of complete and perfect happiness.
The cult of the Art of Living operates by setting up an idea of complete and perfect happiness. The ideal is always to smile and be full of energy, which in non-cult speak is to run around manically with a pained smile plastered on ones face. The deep spiritual knowledge of Ravi Shankar is to “fake it until you make it” and to “just smile and be happy”, “be grateful”. This is portrayed as the highest spiritual state of existence and possible for all if we do not have stress “in our system” wtf that means. So the more one got involved with the Art of Living the more one tried to portray a success. This trying to portray a succes was also constantly coached, especially to the teachers in the organisation. But the discrepancy got bigger and bigger. Not only does the denial of negative emotions fuel ever stronger negative emotions. At the same time the extreme life conditions on the “spiritual” path of the Art of Living is not making peoples’ life any better or happier. The extreme discrepancies between on one side the persona one had to simulate to the outside world and the experienced inner life is the neurotic fuel of cults like the Art of Living. That which propels people to constantly act and serve the machine and the man.
Keeping the Lid on.
But the lid on the whole thing was kept in place by the ideas about low Prana or Low energy. Low energy was another concept of the Art of Living like stress. It is to symbolize the unwanted state and it is explained as ones energy has gone down. And here the important twist Art of Living give this is, that the Art of Living has the sole monopoly of being able to raise the energy. It was subtly implied that having high energy was equal to enlightenment, and that Ravi Shankar being all enlightened had constant high energy. Enlightenment was another concept of the Art of Living defined as a state where one was always happy and never tired. That is why members of the Art of Living will use the bizarre argument that because Ravi Shankar can travel so much in the line of his business he is enlightened. And the amount of traveling will be greatly exaggerated. Therefore members of the Art of Living where supposed to prove their level of enlightenment by having high energy despite extreme conditions like not sleeping, not eating properly, being in extreme stressful conditions and not listening to ones’ personal needs. By this of course the Art of Living sets up the perfect mental structure for the use and abuse of people. This was enforced by defining everything that could lead people to act independently and listening to themselves as low energy . It was constantly preached that doubt (questioning and critical thinking) and negative emotions, stress (another word for being unhappy and dissatisfied) were all signs of low energy and the solution was to do more Art of Living activities to thereby raise the energy level.
High energy was spiritual perfection equalling happiness and surplus, low energy was equal to spiritual doom. In this way without knowing it one slowly got in the business of monitoring ones own emotions and trying to suppress those that were not wanted.
Smothering the pieces
So having been pulled through this mental nightmare, you were allowed to recognize that you still felt there was a problem, but now defined as spiritual failure on your own part. The answer for this was always another Art of Living concept called seva. Seva is really another word for recruiting, fundraising and organizational work, that is with the very important factor that one is not getting paid for it. It is the fact that one does it with out getting anything out of it oneself that in the Art of Living understanding elevates it to a spiritual dimension. It is of course portrayed as holy work, but in truth it is the lowest and most basic functions of a cult. And it is constantly peddled. At the end of every course it is emphasized that if one wants to feel as great as one does at the end of the course one has to do seva, the cult work. The funny thing is that the reason one feels so great at the end course is a simple group high at the end of an absolute horrible experience. This point is repeated again and again. Never characterized as the failure of the organization, always as the individual spiritual failure.
The truth is that one does not have to profess not feeling ok to get seva stuck down ones throat, it is done constantly from the top down, that is how the machine works. The man gets his fame, money and power through this mechanism, so it is pushed shamelessly. But at the same time it is serving the function as a valve for the neurotic pressure that is created in the gap between the outside persona one is to show at all times and the reality that one experiences and feels inside.
The mental prison
This machine of Art of Living is running because people involved get mentally trapped. Trapping people by taking away their mental ability to diagnose what is wrong and why, the members become unable to set themselves free, and left with the limited models for understanding their situation, they are trapped like the monkey that holds on to the candy inside the box unable to get his hand out because the hole has become to small for the clenched fist. This mental trap is often characterized as thought reform in scholarly theories. It changes peoples’ mind in a way so that they think and act as the machine wants. One of the theories most often used to understand this process is by Robert J. Lifton, and is called Liftons eight criteria for thought reform.
The eight criteria are:
- Milieu Control. This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.
- Mystical Manipulation. The manipulation of experiences that appears spontaneous but is, in fact, planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority, spiritual advancement, or some exceptional talent or insight that sets the leader and/or group apart from humanity, and that allows reinterpretation of historical events, scripture, and other experiences.
- Demand for Purity. The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here.
- Confession. Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group. There is no confidentiality; members’ “sins,” “attitudes,” and “faults” are discussed and exploited by the leaders.
- Sacred Science. The group’s doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the group. The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism.
- Loading the Language. The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought terminating Clichés, which serve to alter members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking.
- Doctrine over person. Member’s personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group.
- Dispensing of existence. The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group’s ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. Thus, the outside world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also.
Lets look at the Art of Living cult out from these eight criteria.
1. Milieu Control. This is the growing walls that are erected between the Art of Living participants and the surrounding society. It is done slowly with suggesting that retreating a bit from the surroundings will be helpful for the meditation to the point where the surrounding world is characterized as evil and doomed.
2. Mystical manipulation. The mystical manipulation in The Art of Living is subtle. It is not magic happening (though they are “happening” too). It is more the professing of perfect happiness and love. This mystical manipulation is achieved by everybody constantly pretending how happy they are and how much love they feel, especially for the group leader. This idea is constantly enforced by the experience of everybody else’s constant projection of happiness and love.
3. Demand for purity. The demand for purity in the Art of Living is strong. It starts with suggesting that when one participates on the art of living course one should refrain from drinking coffee, tea, alcohol, avoiding meat and frozen dishes. Until in the end it encompasses avoiding public social places, wearing white or light colored clothes, avoiding television, cinema and news, avoiding mushrooms, egg-plants, onions, garlic until ultimately avoiding people outside the group unless in the course of recruiting.
4. Confessions. The cult of confession in Art of Living is subtle. It is a constant confession of attitude. One is supposed constantly to confess that one is happy, and if one is not happy justify why. There are lots of sharings and life story tellings and they all are manipulated by the introduction so that they become a showcase of a life with tribulations and how they end with joining Art of Living and being happy.
5. Sacred Science. The Art of Living is full of sacred science. Its doctrines and teaching is lifted above verification, it is the absolute truth. To underscore this Ravi Shankar says that his teachings are not verifiable by logic in fact they are beyond logic. This is not a weakness but in the Art of Living way of looking at the world shows how divine it is. Its beyond right, wrong and logic proof. Thereby you can not discuss it or criticize it.
6. Loading the language. There are many instances of loaded language in the art of living. I have presented the most significant, Stress, Prana (low or high), enlightenment, Seva.
7. Doctrine over person. The doctrines in Art of Living is in an extreme way over person. The way you are told that the world is, has primacy over how you actually experience it. And the truth of this is above any individual critical ability. Moreover the individual needs is overridden by the demands of the doctrine to be happy and to work for the organization without any personal benefit.
8. Dispensing of existence. As described in the text there happens a slow dispensing of existence in the Art of Living. The outside world has no value. But also the members’ individual world has no value.
So this is the analysis of the cult of Art of Living but the same traits can be found every where in authoritarian structures. The answer is whenever anybody try to suppress your experience of the world, your souls’ truth or you personal integrity, revolt! Whenever somebody starts to dehumanize groups of people, revolt! Whenever somebody profess to know the truth and degrade all other opinions as second rate or outright evil, revolt! It’s good to know that the authoritarians probably will come and use all the “right” language but this does not change their nature. So when they come, fuck ´em and let your soul revolt!