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The Secret Key to Everything

Sometime in 2006, on the old (and now defunct) "Autonomist Forum," the following enthusiastic remarks were posted:

"Congratulations for your site, I'm so glad to find this forum. People have the possibility of success, fulfillment, and greatness. The Landmark Education Forums and other programs by Landmark Education are specifically designed to bring about positive and permanent shifts in the quality of your life. Let's make the most out of our potentials."

The post is spam, including the phony implication the poster is, "just so happy," to have found the forum, which is nothing but a cover for the promotion of the dubious enterprise called "Landmark Education." It is an example of what is, perhaps, the most successful family of scams in history, the motivational-training and personal-development industry, which includes endless books, counselors, seminars, and even MLM (Multi-Level Marketing, i.e. pyramid) schemes.

"Keys" to Total Success

What's wrong with personal development and motivational training? There is nothing wrong with the concepts of development and motivation, of course. But note what all these books have in common: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life, and, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and, The 3 Secrets of Success, and, Four Keys to Happiness, and, 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength, and, The Six Pillars Of Self-esteem.

In essence, they are all gimmicks—collections of "easy to learn" and "easy to implement" methods or tricks that guarantee success, happiness, or wealth, or anything else one might want. The most extreme are the "sure-road-to-wealth" schemes, including MLMs, real estate "tricks", and, investment formulas. The more common and subtle ones are "secrets for success" and "life-changing strategies", often presented at highly structured meetings designed to produce "excitement" and "enthusiasm." All are attempts to sell a "secret shortcut" to "everything you want"—but there are no short-cuts.

The personal-development and motivational seminars, books, and other material, often contain principles that are true enough, but they are always presented as generalities, couched in fine rhetoric and made to sound like something new and unique. There is almost never anything truly new, and the principles that are true, are so broad and vague, in a general way apply to everyone (we all have difficulties and desires), but they never apply to the specifics of any individual's particular difficulties and desires. "If what you are doing now is not providing you with what you want, you must change what you are doing," the motivational trainer explains. True enough. What is needed by the individual is a way to determine what change to make. Just any change in what one is doing is likely to be even greater disaster.

How to determine what change to make is just what personal-development gurus and motivational trainers cannot provide. Every individual is different, with unique difficulties and desires, and no "generalized" principles can provide the specific answers to individual questions, primarily because no one can know what is best for any individual other than the individual himself.

Most "magically change your life" schemes are a mixtures of the true and the false. Some are totally false, presenting schemes which amount to little more than "wishing" oneself into success, such as the Million Dollar Experiment, [if that does not work for you, his wife's "Indian guide" might be another approach] and some are very dangerous scams. Most, like the Landmark Education organization that spammed, "The Autonomist Forum," actually promote ideas that are both socially and individually evil and self-destructive.

LandMarx? Education

The origin of "Landmark Education" is revealing. It began as the very controversial Erhard Seminars Training or est, part of the larger Human Potential Movement. "The movement views Abraham Maslow's idea of self actualization as the supreme expression of a human's life." Maslow was influenced by Erich Fromm and others associated with what became known as the Frankfurt School of critical theory, the roots of cultural Marxism, post-modernism, and multiculturalism.

What's The Product?

In the old days it was called, "snake oil." Modern merchants of the fake and valueless have much more sophisticated names for their products. Some of Landmark Education's "courses," have names like the following:

Landmark Forum
Communication: Access to Power
Communication: Power to Create
Self-Expression and Leadership Program
Seminar: Being Extraordinary
Seminar: Beyond Fitness - A Breakthrough in Well-Being
Seminar: Breakthroughs -Living Outside the Box
Seminar: Causing the Miraculous - A New Realm of Possibility
Seminar: Commitment - The Pathway to Adventure
Seminar: Creativity - Life by Design
Seminar: Living Passionately - The Art & Mastery of Playing the Game of Life
Wisdom: Conference for Global Transformation, and many more.

An examination of the most "popular" of these courses, the "Landmark Forum," reveals both the lack of substance and subtle deceit these programs contain.

"The Landmark Forum takes place over three consecutive days and an evening session (generally Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday evening.) Each full day begins at 9:00 a.m. and typically ends at approximately 10:00 p.m. Breaks are approximately every 2-3 hours, with a 90-minute dinner break. The evening session generally runs from 7:00 p.m. to 10:15 p.m."

The Course Syllabus is instructive.

The day two, second session is entitled, "The Myth of Is, Because, and I," and has the following description:

"In this section, we explore the nature of what we think of as reality, which includes an objective world that exists independent of us, where cause and effect are key operative factors; where I, as an identity, is a collection of characteristics, attributes, and experiences from the past. In exploring the nature of reality and taking apart these myths, something else becomes possible.

"Here, we observe not so much the particulars of the realities we construct, but that it is human to construct such realities, and then forget that we are the ones who constructed them. As a result, we see that we no longer need to be confined to living within this limited range, and we gain the freedom to express ourselves fully."

One can hardly imagine a clearer statement of postmodernist relativism—reality is not an objective fact, it is merely a "human construct." An individual's identity is not what he thinks, values, chooses, and has achieved. These are "myths" to be taken apart. Reality is whatever we wish it to be. Once one has freed himself of the limits of reality, he is free to express himself in any way he chooses—there are no objective principles, values, or standards. Ask yourself how long any company run by people with those kinds of non-objective relativistic principles could last.

The day three, second session is entitled, "Change vs. Transformation," and has the following description:

"We take for granted that things 'are' a particular way. To effect change, we go to work on altering circumstances, the people around us, even ourselves. In this session, we explore the difference between change and transformation. Change is essentially a comparison to something that previously existed. By its very nature, change is past-based. Essentially, change yields more, better, or different from what came before. Transformation, on the other hand, is an act of bringing forth or inventing. It is something created, and is inherently expansive and infinite.

"It is here in this section of The Landmark Forum that the shift, or transformation, occurs for people. This dramatic shift enables us to think and act outside existing views and limits, and to redefine ourselves and the reality we have known."

So much for A is A. It does not matter if you are a thief, a parasite, or something worse, you don't have to be any of those things. There is no necessity to "change" however, simply "transform" what you are my redefining yourself. Are you concerned that reality is demanding, that you do not have a right to what you have not earned or produced, that you cannot indulge every whim and passion without paying the consequences? Simply redefine reality and you can do anything you like and get away with it.

The fifth session of the third day is entitled, "Access to Being Extraordinary," and is described as follows:

"In this session, we come to grips with what allows for real power, integrity, and courage in all the areas that are important to us. We explore the opportunity we have to express ourselves individually and fully, to set aside current standards, to question firmly held assumptions, to be at ease no matter what the circumstance, and to break and reinvent the mold."

This is the subtlest of the assaults on principles and values of the whole course, and is encapsulated in this phrase, "to set aside current standards, to question firmly held assumptions." Notice is not questioning assumptions for which one is not certain of the foundation or setting aside standards one has just "accepted," but setting aside current standards, just because they are the current ones, and questioning firmly held assumptions just because they are firmly held. The intended result of this piece of relativistic nihilism is to insure that no one has any standards or firmly held principles. (As part of a contract with a company I once worked for, I was required to take this, "course," and assure you by "firmly held assumptions," is meant "firmly held principles," which it is impossible for the facilitators to understand are not assumptions, but rationally determined and comprehended facts about the nature of reality.)

Expensive Snake Oil / Lucrative Business

These courses are worse than valueless, and if taken seriously at all, have a terribly negative affect. The company that required me to take that course bought into the whole motivational-training concept. Once one of the worlds largest corporations, Northern Telecom (currently Nortel), is today, on the verge of bankruptcy, largely due to the type of policies that required employees to be subjected to these kinds of "courses." [Note: Nortel has subsequently gone bankrupt.]

The courses are also very expensive. For example, the "Landmark Forum" scheduled for Boston, Massachusetts, in 2007, will cost $440 per participant. That means, for every hundred employees who take this course, corporations will shell out $44,000. [All these prices are higher today.]

Providing motivational training is obviously a very "profitable" business. Some examples of Landmark Education US course prices are illuminating: The Landmark Forum for Teens/Young People $475, Advanced Course $795, Self Expression and Leadership Program $200, Communication Curriculum $425, The Wisdom Courses $2,700. [These are 2007 prices. The links will take you to current prices, which are all higher today.]

It is obvious why the motivational-training and personal development industry is growing—very big, very easy money. What is troubling is why there should also be a growing market for this huge fraudulent industry.

Bunco Education—A Growth Industry

When education was the process by which children and young adults were provided with the knowledge they needed to live successfully, it was both difficult and demanding. Even when that kind of education was made available, not everyone was able to benefit fully from it, just because it was too demanding, both of one's effort and one's ability; those unwilling to make the effort or without the ability required, failed.

Since knowledge cannot be forced into anyone's head, true education can only provide the resources of knowledge and instructions for acquiring it, but the knowledge itself can only be acquired by the applied effort of the student—a great deal of effort over an extended period of time. Those who received that kind of education not only acquired the practical knowledge they needed to live successfully, but also learned a very important object lesson—the demands of reality cannot be evaded, nothing of real value in this life is acquired or achieved without time and effort, because there are no short-cuts to real values or achievement.

With the exception of those home-schooled or in private institutions of learning, there is less and less real education being provided every year. Schools are no longer demanding either effort or ability and those who "graduate" from most state schools today lack even the most fundamental of intellectual abilities required for a successful life. After years of being insulated from the demands of the real world, they find themselves totally unprepared for any kind of real productive work or achievement.

To the rescue comes the motivational-training and personal-development industry, selling the promise of providing all one needs to "flourish" and be happy. Their market is all those empty headed public school graduates who are convinced they can achieve, in a three and a half day program, all they need to succeed; that, somehow, they can learn without effort the "secret key" to all they desire, which will enable them to evade the necessity of developing character, self-discipline, and acquiring the knowledge and skills that only hard work and time can achieve.

Motivational training and personal development is a growth industry, with an ever expanding market fed by today's government education system. Next to religion, and almost as a religion (think Scientology) it may be the biggest most successful fraud in history. Based on nothing but pseudo-scientific (mostly junk psychology), rhetoric, and clever marketing techniques and promotions, the industry not only bilks the public, businesses, and educational institutions, but, because so many government agencies make attendance by its members to these scams mandatory, that huge expense is passed on to the tax paying public as well.

If there is a "secret key" to financial success it is the motivational-training and personal-development industry—second only to the porn industry in pandering to people, appealing not to their lowest desires but their grossest ignorance.

—(06/13/07)