The recent arrests of the Hutaree cult here in Michigan are part of a tradition of militant separatism in this part of the country, beginning with the militia movements in the late 20th century and climaxing (hopefully) in the terrorist acts of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. This latest incident is interesting in that it appears to share some qualities of the militia movement, the Christian Identity movement, and the Tea Party movement (although what sorts of ideologic connections there really are will take some time to figure out.)
Cults in general scare me. They scare me not just because of their acts and their ideas, but their attractiveness. They have the ability not just to attract those of similar ideas, but they also seduce those who may simply be vulnerable to their philosophies. The flames of hatred are being fanned by those on the right, including teabaggers and so-called mainstream right wing commentators. The economic times, an “ethnic” president who represents the future of the US population, and an utter failure of others on the right to speak out against the hate feed these right-wing violence cults.
But cults don’t just feed on hatred. Cults, like street gangs, also seduce with love, with pleasant-sounding ideas that are congruent with and confirm one’s own beliefs. The antivaccine movement (as opposed to individuals with their individual beliefs) are a cult. They have charismatic leaders (such as Barbara Loe Fisher, JB Handley, and Jenny McCarthy), they have their own beliefs that are impervious to the assault of actual facts, and they accrue followers, spreading their lies. Their lies have helped to lower vaccination rates and increase the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases. And their success depends upon a general cheapening of the meaning of “experts”, and a vilification of earned scientific authority when it disagrees with their beliefs.
So let’s talk about Deepak Chopra. He is probably not an evil guy. In fact, he seems rather compassionate and well-meaning. But the credulous bullshit he continually spews helps fortify the foundation of anti-scientific beliefs such as those of the antivaccine movement. One of his “big ideas” is that consciousness is/can be independent of brain. This idea is of course completely unoriginal, being the default belief of most of humankind until the scientific era. It is probably still the default belief, but the majority of the reality-based community have come to the obvious conclusion that belief in an immaterial soul would require the invalidation of most of modern science.
But Chopra feels that soul. He just knows it’s there, but he’s smart enough to know that most ideas of “soul” are incompatible with science. So he is trying to bend the ideas of soul and of physics around each other to try to preserve his desire to retain his beliefs. His current favorite strategy is the abuse of the language of physics. This strategy has twisted the ideas of soul and of physics so acutely that he has broken them both. At a recent conference he was confronted by an actual physicist. I’ll let them speak for themselves:
It’s instructive that Chopra is so attached to his beliefs that he cannot speak the same language as the physicist (“I know what each of those words means, but…”). It’s also spectacularly arrogant of him to think that this video somehow supports his beliefs.