Friday, October 12, 2018

The world has dorkified itself

Searching for 'Facebook' on the website of the Cult Education Institute, a nonprofit organisation devoted to public education and research, returns 1520 results. Which on the face of it is not surprising given the global embrace of the social network. But an ability to change behaviour is the principal characteristic of a cult, and David Eggers' acclaimed 2013 novel The Circle portrays a dystopian vision of social media that is even more painfully relevant five years after its publication. As this brief extract shows:
'Listen, twenty years ago, it wasn't so cool to have a calculator watch, right? And spending all day inside playing with your calculator watch sent a clear message that you weren't doing so well socially. And judgments like 'like' and 'dislike' and 'smiles' and 'frowns' were limited to junior high. Someone would write a note and it would say 'Do you like unicorns and stickers?' and you'd say 'Yeah, I like unicorns and stickers! Smile!' That kind of thing. But now it's not just junior high kids who do it, it's everyone, and it seems to me sometimes I've entered some inverted zone, some mirror world where the dorkiest shit in the world is completely dominant. The world has dorkified itself!
Soundtrack for this post is John Mclaughlin and Carlos Santana's 1973 album Love, Devotion, Surrender. Both musicians were devotees of the Indian spiritual teacher Sri Chimnoy, and the album is an exposition of Chimnoy's philosophy of Love, Devotion, Surrender inspired by John Coltrane's Love Supreme. Mclaughlin had introduced Santana to Sri Chimnoy's teachings and on the album cover below Mclaughlin is wearing a Chimnoy button.


Sadly this post does not have a happy ending. Carlos Santana broke from Sri Chimnoy in the early '80s because of the cult-like behaviour surrounding the guru. This break resulted in Chimnoy becoming, to quote Santana, "pretty vindictive for a while". John Mclaughlin's unfriending of the guru was more subtle. Following the 2009 publication of Jayanti Tamm's best selling book of life as a Chinmoy disciple Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult in which she documents his "masterful tactics of manipulation", images of Chimnoy were removed from the CD re-issue of Love, Devotion, Surrender and from My Goals Beyond, another Mclaughlin album dedicated to Chimnoy, .

The relevance of Love, Devotion, Surrender to our obsession with the parallel universe of dorky social media extends beyond the album's title. Speaking of surrender in the context of the album, Chimnoy explained that "When a tiny drop enters into the ocean, we cannot trace the drop. It becomes the mighty ocean", a process that also applies when we surrender our identities to Facebook and other social networks. Likening social media to cults may be more than conspiracy theory: as was revealed here recently Mark Zuckerberg has spent time at the Pune ashram founded by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho; a guru who, like Sri Chimnoy, features on the Cult Education Institute website. More on Sri Chimnoy in my profile of Olivier Greif A composer and his guru.

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