NYT: The Wheal Keeps Turning

Back in 1979, Christopher Lasch wrote a penetrating and still prescient book on American culture called The Culture of Narcissism. It is still a must-read for anyone wanting to understand where we are now.

Flash forward to the NYT’s click-baity title of “How to Hack Your Brain (for $5,000)” about yet another charlatan selling narcissism presented as self-actualization. Jamie Wheal charges $5,000 for a 5-day retreat and is “receiving six-figure fees for some of his consultations.” I myself could enter an instant state of ‘flow’ if I were making that much money dispensing stoner wisdom to Beautiful People with lots of expendable income:

EDEN, Utah — One morning last month a group of roughly 60 people, including doctors, C.E.O.s and internet entrepreneurs, gathered under a big white dome to hear the mission statement of their host, a 45-year-old man named Jamie Wheal…

Sinewy and tanned from a life of outdoor pursuits, Mr. Wheal was offering attendees the chance to “upgrade” their nervous systems to meet this incontrovertible information overload. How? With “flow.”

Wheal culturally appropriates the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s well known work on ‘flow’, the transcendent state-of-being that athletes, musicians, writers, and others get when ‘in the zone’, that is, when in the ecstatic throes that comes with the work they do. But whereas Csikszentmihalyi and others in the Positive Psychology movement orient their writing on flow from a science-based perspective, and do so from an academic point of view, Whealy is charging wealthy Silicone Valley hipsters $5k for what they could otherwise get from a $5 used book. From the tanned-man Whealer’s sycophant waifs, we get dynamite quotes like this:

“The genius of what we’re doing here is we’re combining ideas about how to get into flow with actually doing physical things to experience it,” said Kora Kinard, 29, an orgasmic meditation practitioner from San Francisco who attended. “The flow state and the orgasm state are very connected.”

Indeed, Mr. Wheal, having wearied somewhat of the term “flow,” prefers “ecstasis,” an ancient Greek term for “stepping beyond oneself.”

And of course no NYT article would be complete without a reference to the dastardly Trumpenfuhrer, how his evil knows no bounds, and how he is upsetting the cosmic balance:

The neuro-chemicals that define flow or ecstasis are powerfully alluring, and Mr. Wheal warned they are not always used for good. He argues, for instance, that Donald J. Trump instinctively knew how to manipulate them in gathering support for his presidency.

“Trump hacked ecstasis,” Mr. Wheal said. “Light, sound, movement, repetition, scapegoating the other. People said if you haven’t been to his rallies, you’re missing what’s actually happening in this movement. And what does Hillary say? ‘I’ve got a policy binder.’ While Trump pulled all the strings.”

I loved the profound irony of this passage:

But the last thing Mr. Wheal wants to produce, he said, are more “bliss junkies and epiphany whores,” for whom he reserves a particular antipathy. It’s not enough, in other words, to eat magic mushrooms, experience oneness with nature and humanity, cuddle a Buddha statue and then go right back to how things were.

Or, for that matter, to parachute into Burning Man — where many of the flow campers were heading next — melt down your ego on the playa, and then fail to integrate the experience into the rest of your life.

“Everyone lines up for the peak experience,” Mr. Wheal said. “But no one does their push-ups on Monday morning.”

Good luck with all of that.

This sort of schtick has been going on since ‘self improvement’ hucksters starting getting into their stride in the 1950s.

And it ain’t gonna stop with Mr. Wheal.

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