“New age” though as often applied to business management presents a clear and present danger to individual freedom and free discussion and debate. Programs based on new age tenets can erode a respect for critical thought, substitute striving for approbation for objective evaluation, intrude into familial and personal relationships or offend religious sensibilities of program participants, create a yes-man mentality in the name of “consensus management,” and subordinate organizational goals to those of the training program. Examples of such harms are described. Recommendations on how business enterprises can avoid these dangers are also offered.
It has become imperative that the Constitutional structure operate to ensure individuals and groups and classes of individuals against both public and private exploitation.
–Buchanan, Constitutional Imperatives for the 1990s, cited in Thinking About America, Anderson and Bark, Hoover Institute Press, 1988, p. 255.
A genuinely democratic consensus cannot be established by manipulation but only by discussion, debate and rational persuasion.
–Hook, A Philosophical Perspective, cited in Thinking About America, Anderson and Bark, Hoover Institute Press, 1988, p. 455.
The new organization will be dysfunctional if those working in it don’t share a common purpose, mission, and values. Fortunately, we have found a way to help large groups of people reach consensus on a common purpose and desired future state. The technique is called the “Future Search Conference.”
Boyett, Beyond Workplace 2000, Penguin Books, 1994, p. 199.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has founded the Maharishi University of Management which Aoffers knowledge for >perfect, invincible management’…. Management today is exemplified by a muddy pond…. Master Management is like a beautiful lotus on that pond…. My University of Management will create managers who will float in happiness, success, and fulfillment.” Its curriculum …Aaims at improving managerial consciousness, which leads to increased intelligence and creativity, better sleep, reduced stress, and, when combined with Yogic Flying, to bubbling bliss.”
CInternational Herald Tribune, July 8, 1995, p. 6.
This article addresses aspects of the threat to individual freedom and economic well-being associated with applications of Anew age” thought. This virus has spread throughout American culture, and insofar as it relates to the economy’s public and private sectors, it presents a clear and present danger to individual freedom and free discussion and debate. Applications in our economy challenge our historic, capitalistic, and competitive environment by prioritizing emotional bonding and cooperative activity, while urging that restriction of competition will increase productivity, engender harmony, and create a new visionary bond in the workplace.
With philosophic roots in the phenomenological and gnostic traditions and practices derived from Eastern meditation techniques, theosophy, hypnosis, and spiritualism, this new wave of management philosophy often utilizes manipulative ideologies invoking sophisticated psychological techniques of persuasion to exert control over participants and intrude upon all aspects of their lives. Similar developments in religion, education, science, psychology, and philosophy have engendered responses from those concerned with the rejection of rational discipline and the uncritical acceptance of irrational alternative hypotheses, but have not stemmed the simplistic denigration of historical perspective, the erosion of respect for critical thought, and the consequent abridgement of individual liberty. While this article deals only with the intrusion of these vices into the private and public economic sectors of our society, their relationship to developments in other aspects of our culture will be apparent. Just as in other areas, doubts about the relevance of our historic values and disparagement of our system’s successes fostered views that uncritically accept structures embodying values inconsistent with those we have held. Doubts about American competitive economic viability led to entertainment of magical solutions with promises of vast increases in productivity and profit. This turning away from rationality in our commercial and governmental enterprises reverses an entire mode of thought and reprioritizes our values. Here the author analyses the roots of these movements, the risks they pose to the enterprises in which they are used, and methods of identifying programs that give rise to those risks.
Background and History
New Age training methods and philosophies in management proliferated as certain critics asserted that the American economy was losing ground to international competition. This attitude was supported by an increasingly uncritical acceptance of Eastern-oriented culture which created an environment more hospitable to enforced conformity and disciplined efficiency as a method to achieve increased employee productivity. Such negative criticism of the American entrepreneur paralleled pervasive criticism and erosion in our educational system, in the medical and other scientific disciplines, and in philosophical and religious systems as well. Once introduced into this milieu of selfdenigration, trumpeting the virtues of selfrealization and the primacy of emotional gratification over rational analysis, new theories of management spread like wildfire.
These theories were largely based on the pollution of language and communication. They employed a nominalist linguistic structure using private language that eliminated critical thinking and substituted false, external, or abstract group goals for objective measures of business success. They introduced elements of emotional satisfaction unrelated to the workplace as criteria for achievement and success. Philosophies of management and employee training manipulated meditation techniques, imposed new religious beliefs, and intruded into the familial and personal relationships of training participants. Widely adopted models embraced the norms of authoritarian gurus who did not permit dissent, developed a dedicated claque of true believers, and used an encounter- group style of large group training that featured selfdenigration, confessionals, suppression of critical thought, and elimination of selfrespect. Artificial trappings of apparent equality were inserted into the physical workplace so as to appear to eliminate hierarchy while actually promoting authoritarian control and obliterating individuality.
One senior company executive in evaluating such a program reported that conscientious employees, particularly those with somewhat dependent personalities, in attempting to do what they thought management wanted, or in order to make themselves more promotable, became “even more dependent upon the organization and submissive to the gurus within it…. Intense peer pressure is used to produce an uncritical yesman mentality usually implemented in the name of consensus management.” Implementation of these programs and philosophies often is undertaken without the enterprise’s critical analysis of the programs’ underpinnings or recognition of their essential inconsistency with the preservation of entrepreneurial initiative and respect for individual liberty or creativity.
Recognition of the Problem
As these programs and views spread, it became apparent that they had the potential to cause economic harm to the enterprise and personal harm to participants, rather than producing workplace harmony, improved productivity and profitability, or the “bliss” promised by their promotional material.
Enterprises using programs tied to psychological “selfhelp” groups found their workforce concentrating on recruiting new subscribers for the enrichment of the program sponsor rather than these workers devoting themselves to becoming more economically productive. Responding to group demands required increasing amounts of employees’ time and caused an emotional drain resulting from mandated enthusiasm and suppressed criticism; as a result, employees became less rather than more productive. Performance reviews by indoctrinated managerial personnel focused on the employees’ performance within and commitment to the selfhelp group, rather than the employees’ productivity. Reprioritized values hindered the enterprises, as zealot representatives of the groups directed employees’ performance toward fulfillment of group agendas rather than maximizing profitability of the enterprise. An attorney observing the results of such programs said:
The training program crippled the decision-making process. Eventually, decisions could be made without endorsement by the New Age trainer. The New Age training system and not the Company’s business…became the most important priority in life. All “good news” was attributed to the group’s program, but the bad news was never blamed on the program but was justified because the program protocol was not followed.
These imposed agendas are not consonant with our values, but focus on enhancement of the economic benefit or power, political and otherwise, of the leaders of the groups. Thus, the achievement of influence and visibility become more important than profit and performance. Some enterprises fail, others simply are supported regardless of their continuing nonprofitability because of noneconomic values to the group.
Further, since these programs and philosophies isolate participants from those who reject their ideology and language, communicating within the enterprise is inhibited, and factionalism flourishes between believers and nonbelievers. Inhibitions to communication are fostered by the growth of mandated private language, with words having special meaning so that communication in such language, while selfreinforcing, diverts the communicants from objective reality testing in a workplace populated by nonbelievers as well as believers. It also distorts their perceptions of a nonbelieving world outside. Such a narrow field of vision often leads to a false view of the enterprises’s status, prospects, and operations.
Within the enterprise, alienation increases among those who reject the authoritarian restrictions on their critical thought and denigration of their innovative creativity. Often, the workforce is split with some employees suppressing expression of their dissenting thoughts and ideas, and protecting their jobs by engaging in intellectually dishonest behavior while pretending support for an ideology they find abhorrent. Professional pride evaporates in the face of imposed Apolitically correct” theories and slanted performance evaluations. Overall, results are consistent with those observed in other polities where there has been suppression of dissenting ideas and free discussion. Substitution of stultified obedience in place of encouragement of innovative creativity disaffects the more innovative and valuable portions of the workforce and turns management away from the entrepreneurial task of maximizing potential profitability and fostering achievement of financial success.
Occasionally, in the short term, these programs may produce an apparent miasma of dull acceptance, mass cheerfulness, and submission; but in the longer term, as history records, rebellion and dysfunction come to the fore as organizations cannot perpetually suppress the independent free spirit of their participants.
The pervasive nature of the intrusion of these groups and philosophies into our economy, and private life, is difficult to document precisely. Often, when infiltration is exposed, there is a desire to eliminate it quickly and quietly and cover it up because of the embarrassment of disclosure and the negative impression it will give of management’s judgment.
It took hearings of a state regulatory agency to bring to light diversion of many millions of dollars into programs of this ilk by a regulated company in California which sought to pass these costs on to the public. Congressional hearings uncovered the irrational and coercive nature of programs being used in a federal agency which found their inspiration in a group with ties to a well-known New Age figure with totalitarian roots.
Economic failure of a candy-making enterprise was linked to utilization of business practices allegedly dictated by the dogmas of an alternative religion. But these are only very few examples of the pervasive use of these programs. A recent flyer urging use of the dogma of an alternative religion to achieve control of business and life in one fell swoop is distributed by a company which boasts of acceptance of its programs by a number of unidentified Fortune 100 companies. Indeed, this is corroborated by one such company’s recent disconnection with such a program after multiple litigations by employees complaining of intrusions upon their religious freedom. This group does not confine its solicitations to large enterprises, but reaches out to small businesses and professionals as well. While noting divergent results, professional associations and societies also point to the undisclosed affiliations of such enterprises. A recent article pointed out the corrosive effects of such a program and application of its philosophy upon a financial institution and how this ultimately contributed to its international failure.
Clearly, the prevalence of the problem requires a twofold response. First, an increasing awareness of the danger in promotion and use of these philosophies and programs; and second, a response seeking to achieve the economic benefits desired without the risks and detriments inherent in following these kinds of philosophies and programs.
The Indicia of Danger
Other than by observing destructive results after the fact, how can an enterprise be made aware of the negative aspects of such programs and philosophies? Every business desires to increase both productivity of its employees and its profitability; but where promises appear too good to be true, they probably are. Many programs hold out to the enterprise not only solutions of its immediate economic problems and the prospects of improved business results, but also a comprehensive illusion of bubbling bliss to be shared by all of the enterprise’s employees and their families and friends. The all-embracing scope of such promises should immediately raise doubts as to whether the program sponsor’s agenda is confined to improvement of profitability and productivity or is, in effect, proselytizing new alternative religious beliefs.
The second indication of concern should arise from a program premised on an authoritarian ideology rejecting existing values while evading critical analysis. Programs premised on alienation from nonparticipants, or addiction to an ill-defined “feel-good” result, or an exaltation of submission should raise serious questions about the programs’ appropriateness and their potential for dire consequences. Abandonment of rationality in analyzing performance and redefining organizational structure indicate an inappropriate diversion from entrepreneurial responsibility. Insistence on adoption of a new language with a new measurement scale of performance should likewise give rise to doubts. A program which purports to be the sole solution for a host of problems, but does not permit discussion or debate and requires humiliation and confession, should be rejected as inimical to maintenance of respect for individual dignity and freedom.
It is not that no changes are required in our entrepreneurial organization, or that all attempts to improve productivity or profitability are destructive, or even that measured utilization of volitional nonrational choices is always destructive. Rather, it is urged that the selling of philosophies and programs premised on imposed magical and irrational solutions through the utilization of manipulative techniques will not achieve desirable ends and carries the baggage of disruption, abridgement of individual rights, and potential economic failure.
The Responsive Solution
We are presently reexamining “solutions” that have been uncritically applied to many areas of our society. There is a reemphasis on the necessity for measuring programs and policies on a rational basis, using costbenefit objective analyses, and requiring the programs to respect individual freedom and embrace the need for open discussion and critical thought. Programs and policies cannot survive simply by an invocation of politically correct but vacuous generalizations born out of dissatisfaction with our competitive economy and with goals rooted in subjugation of self. These programs and philosophies must be seen for what they are, and the negative portions of them exposed and publicly rejected.
Fostering economic growth requires cultivation of creativity and increasing responsiveness of business enterprises to a changing world. Meeting that challenge requires the maximization of rational cognition and the creation of cadres of active, creative individuals who may each maximize their potential rather than the development of teams of blind, clonelike followers thoughtlessly following the footsteps of an egomaniacal leader. A great challenge inherent in leadership is the recognition that ideas different from those propounded by the leaders of the enterprise may have value, and that there is value in the check and balance that accepts human fallibility and the need for accommodation and modification in a rapidly changing world.
There is no necessary conflict between recognizing individual freedom and encouraging an entrepreneurial initiative to maximize productivity. There are, however, virtues which need to be preserved out of respect for individual differences in a free society and in recognition that the workplace is not coextensive with life. People may have different values, different languages, and different behavior outside the workplace without adversely affecting their productivity and the profitability of the enterprise. Respecting those differences will enhance and encourage creativity and increase the positive growth of our society. Surely that is preferable to substituting for diversity the imposed conformity derived from those who deem themselves to be the anointed and who feel that those who disagree with them are Aunworthy.”
Realizing the potential of freedom requires that we respect individual rights and a climate conducive to nurture liberty and creativity. Imposed irrationality and denigration of entrepreneurial initiative in the workplace is a cloud which should not be allowed to shadow the illumination we need to make our way through the new world.
1. Consideration here is limited to the impact of implementation of New Age philosophies and training programs on the economic enterprise and its implications for the economic macro culture. Adverse impacts on individuals upon whom these programs and policies are foisted is beyond the scope of this article (see, for example, Singer, Cults in Our Midst, JosseyBass, 1995, pp. 207B209). For purposes of this article, the term “New Age” is used to describe those business training and organization groups that (1) denigrate rational analysis and criticism, (2) impose the views of a guru or leader without debate or discussion, and (3) reach out to include familial, psychological, and religious areas in their imposition of control.
2. Although this approach to the conduct of business existed in the past (see, for example, Klaw, Without Sin, Penguin, 1993, a history of the Oneida Community in New York), its spread in the business community was fostered by the increased popularity of these programs in the 1960s and 1970s. The history of Theosophy and its relation to a number of current groups is set forth in Washington, Madam Blavatsky’s Baboon, Schocken Books, 1993, and recent development of some groups is described in the preface and introduction to Recovery from Cults, ed. Langone, Norton, 1993, pp. xv-xix, 1B23.
3. See Eckstein (Guest Ed.), AA Dialogue with Dr. Johannes Aagaard,” in Cultic Studies Journal, 10(2), 1993.
4. Hook, AA Philosophical Perspective,” in Thinking About America, Anderson & Bark, Hoover Institute Press, 1988; and Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, Simon & Schuster, 1987.
5. Bryan, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind, Knopf, 1995. “The critics are demanding hard physical evidence and scientific methods of experimentation. But there’s a whole group who’s been at it for thirty years. And they already have a certain kind of intuitive understanding of certain elements of this phenomenon that can’t be demonstrated or proven,” p. 123. Dr. John Mack, the former head of the Department of Psychiatry of Cambridge Hospital observed, “We can’t deal with something such as the abduction phenomenon that is so shattering to our literalist materialist worldview and then try to understand it from a literal materialist world view. We are at a point where, as a result of this phenomenon we have more cynics toward our own establishment than we do toward the phenomenon,” pp. 132B133. Another presenter at the MIT conference described in Bryan’s book UFO abduction reports, reports of satanic ritual abuse, and various New Age Movements and theologies cooked into a stew of irrationality. See Melton, pp. 141B142.
6. For a critical analysis of nonrational psychological theories and practices which have, in some instances, resulted in abusive infliction of emotional harm on patients by therapists who assume control of all aspects of the patient’s life, see Mithers, Therapy Gone Mad, Wiley, 1994.
7. See Bloom, supra.; Hardy, The Age of Paradox, Harvard Business School Press, 1994, pp. 245B248.
8. Numerous critiques of management organizations and theory stressed our falling behind Japan and the need to copy their modes or organization, discipline, and perspective, at least until the recent slowdown and recession in the Japanese economy. In Boyett, Beyond Workplace 2000, Penguin Books, 1994, for example, the author takes American entrepreneurs to task for being “less open to new ideas” than their Asian counterparts.
9. Language denigration results in lessened ability to reason critically. Participants in certain programs are unable to cope with grammatical constructs that deal with contrasting ideas; other groups are required to rely on their own dictionaries for definitions of words, preventing effective communication with those who are not privy to the private language. See The Dictionary of ScientologySnapping, rev. ed., Conway & Siegelman, Stillpoint Press, 1995. See Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations House of Representatives One Hundred Fourth Congress, First Session, Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations for 1996 in Part 6, Department of Transportation Training Programs, pp. 667 et al. [hereinafter ADOT Hearings”], Birnbaum statement at p. 710, Garvey statement at p. 818.
10. In a recent brochure circulated by Sterling Management, a business management company based on the use of Scientology principles, the subscriber is offered “the basic tools you need to take control of your practice and your life,” with a Business Owner’s Basic Library at $564, as well as a series of “Human Evaluation Lectures” that will show “how to handle people through use of the Tone Scale and the Hubbard Chart of Human Evaluation.” See also International Herald Tribune, quotation of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, July 8, 1995, p. 6. The director of another New Age seminar program noted “Merlin [seminar] participants have to be reminded frequently to push the parameters of their thinking beyond traditional limits to defer evaluation and look for themes that are more emotionally exciting than logical,” Garvey, communication with author, 1995.
11. As a result of complaints of the intrusion of such programs in the workplace, the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission adopted a regulation protecting the religious freedom of employees. The basis of this regulation was the imposed use of Eastern meditation practices on those who found them religiously objectionable. See also DOT Hearings, supra, note 9, Garvey statement at pp. 820B821, 831.
12. A description of a typical large group awareness program of this nature can be found in Singer, Cults in Our Midst, supra, note 1, pp. 191B196.
13. Leibel, head of CDI Transportation’s Human Resource Department, as reported to Garvey, 1995. See also DOT Hearings, Birnbaum statement, p. 707, “the get along/go along model.”
14. A participant in one group training program reported to the author having received numerous solicitations in the workplace seeking to have him recruit others for such programs. Other clients of the author reported great pressure to make calls and solicitations and to subscribe for expensive advanced courses and to enroll members of their families, friends, and acquaintances in such courses. Such solicitations occurred both in the workplace and at their homes.
15. For example, the Unification Church has supported enterprises which may be unprofitable because they contribute to their influence (The Washington Times) or because they gain media access (Atlantic Television) or provide access into the area of education (University of Bridgeport). The Church of Scientology supported enterprises to mobilize their doctrinal opposition to the use of certain drugs such as Prozac and Ritalin.
16. DOT Hearings, p. 882. See also DOT Hearings, Garvey statement at p. 882, Athe sequence of training and techniques, in combination with his principles, was really imposing an orientation that takes away from the individual person’s faith in their capacity to accurately assess what is external reality. Things become subjective to a degree that is almost solipsistic…what you formerly regarded as ethical choices, ethical decisions, and the tools, the personal tools for reaching such decisions, becomes so heavily and repeatedly denigrated the individual losses the capacity to use those memories and use those abilities. All these groups take away the capacity to form ideas and relate those ideas to external reality,” pp. 822B823.
17. Another instance of such conduct was the support by the Unification Church of New England and Gulf Coast fishing operations regardless of their profitability.
18. See Heelas, “God’s Company: New Age Ethics and the BCCI,” Cultic Studies Journal, 11(1), 1994, pp. 29B36.
19. In a hospital in Maine, employees held offworkplace meetings to air their disagreement with training programs and exchanged concealed copies of literature critical of the programs, evidencing widespread surreptitious dissent and disaffection (communications with author, 1995). See also DOT Hearings, Garvey statement, p. 823.
20. See section on Krone Training at Pacific Bell, Singer, Cults in Our Midst, supra, note 1, pp. 205B206.
21. DOT Hearings, Garvey statement, pp. 820B821. A not dissimilar situation reported to the author is the subject of current litigation in the State of Washington involving Context Associates and a number of county employees.
22. See section on Cocolat, Singer, Cults in Our Midst, p. 201. See also the discussion of Applied Materials at p. 200, where it is noted that the enterprise spent more than a half-million dollars in settlement of claims. At the DOT hearings, it was noted that IBM has been relying on New Age workshop training for a period of more than 15 years.
23. See Sterling Management brochure amendment; and Singer, Cults in Our Midst, pp. 200B207.
24. See “How Allstate Applied Scientology Methods to Train Its Managers,” Wall Street Journal, March 22, 1995, p. A-l.
25. These groups have been reported on by various associations of dentists, veterinarians, and chiropractors.
See Heelas, supra, note 18.
27. See Sterling Management brochure, supra; and the International Herald Tribune quote on Maharishi Management Institute at outset.
28. See Hardy, The Age of Paradox, Harvard Business School Press, 1994, “There is, however, a seductive power in certainty. If you have no doubts then you never see the need to compromise. Unprincipled people are not in fact unprincipled. They have instead one overriding principle, which may be selfinterest, or the good business or the action as they see it or even what they might call the will of God. There will be no way forward with them except on their chosen road and in their vehicle. Their certainty gives them power, but at a cost. There is no room for anyone else in their camp except for converts. Such people never see the need for a second curve, and, in time their curve turns down,” p. 92.
29. For example, the concept of an authoritarian Servant Master as leader (see Beyond Workplace 2000, supra, note 8) is an example of invocation of an Eastern image of a benevolent despot, ruling over grateful subjects as a solution to the need for a new image of management.
The Age of Paradox, supra, note 28, “The hope lies in the unknown if we can find it. The world is up for reinvention in so many ways. We cannot wait for great visions from great people, for they are in short supply at the end of history. It is up to us to light our own small fires in the darkness,” p. 286. See also Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed, Basic Books, 1995, for a view applying a similar perspective to aspects of the Great Society; and see Himmelfarb, The DeMoralization of Society, Knopf, 1995, pp. 259B263, for an analogy in her description of the state’s imposition of moralistic paternalism: “Today’s moralists [substitute New Age programs and philosophies] have that same faraway fanatical glint in their eye–telescopic morality, we might call it. Telescopic morality disdains the mundane virtues of everyday life. Instead it embodies a new moral code that is more intrusive and repressive than the old because it is based not on the familiar, accepted principles but of new and recondite ones, as if designed for another culture or tribe,” p. 261. “What the New Victorians have created is a species of moral correctness designed to complement the prevailing political correctness. Their real kinship is not to the Victorians but to George Orwell’s Big Brothers (or Big Sisters, it may be). One need look no further back than to to find their place in history,” p. 263.
31. See Sowell, supra, note 30.
The author expresses his thanks to Kevin Garvey for his aid and assistance and for furnishing invaluable information in the preparation of this article. Mr. Garvey has been retained by public companies, as well as governmental agencies, to investigate and advise with respect to problems created by New Age training programs and their intrusion on the rights of participants.
The author wishes to thank the Association of Private Enterprise Education, at whose 1996 annual meeting this paper was presented.
Herbert L. Rosedale, Esq., President of AFF, is a partner at the law firm Parker Chapin Flattau & Klimpl in New York, and was Executive-In-Residence at the Indiana School of Business in January 1992.