A Critique of Byron Katie
The following is updates and commentaries to the main article A Critique of Byron Katie and her Therapeutic Technique The Work. In order to get the full picture, it is best to read this article first.
The Work is is a “single cause-single cure” mix between Cathartic psychotherapy and positive thinking. There is used confrontational theories and attack therapy in order to provoke negative feelings and memories (Cathartic psychotherapy). Positive thinking is then introduced via four questions and a turnaround technique. The question of the truth of the evoked negativity is hereby ignored. Subjectivism and relativism justify this ignorance.
The Cathartic psychotherapy is used in workshops and her nine-day “School for The Work.” (see my articles Cathartic Psychotherapies and The Vampirised Spirit of John Rosen). Here there also is used other techniques such as fasting etc. But The Work – Byron Katie´s philosophy and method – is the four questions and a turnaround technique. So Byron Katie´s method is based on the idea that you can reach peace through the use of thinking alone. You can think yourself to peace. This is in all its simplicity (simple mindedness) also the central message of New Thought, the inspiration for the positive thinking movement (see my article The New Thought Movement and the Law of Attraction).
The four questions are:
1. Is it true?
2. Are you absolutely sure it is true?
3. How do you react when you think this thought?
4. Who would you be without this thought?
The problem with The Work is that it has a conclusion in advance, namely that the thought is false, and therewith it is in progress, as with other New Age directions, of eliminating peoples´ ability of critical thinking. Problematic, because the training of critical thinking is the first step in a true spiritual proces, and on the whole a primary condition for a healthy mind.
(Note that promoters of positive thinking don´t like the use of words such as false, instead they use the word negative. But this doesn´t hide the fact that what is negative is viewed as false, or an illusion).
When the conclusion is given in advance then The Work´s four questions becomes so-called rhetorical questions; that is: questions which are asked purely for effect rather than as requests for answers. In that case the four questions function in precisely the same way as persuader words.
After that you, as expected, have “realized”, that your thought is negative [=not true], then you have to turn it upside down; you so to speak have to think the opposite thought.
This is, in all its simple mindedness, the core in Katie´s teaching. It is a position of thinking. There is no meditation involved. Meditation might be a part of some of her workshops (I haven´t seen it), but The Work is without meditation. Meditation is what you could call the negation of thinking; that is: the opposite. Meditation is also the core in all traditional wisdom traditions. Therefore it is a fatal error to compare The Work with these traditions as it so often is done.
New Thought inspired positive thinkers like Byron Katie often compare positive thinking with the original wisdom traditions as for example Buddhism or the Stoics (in Loving What Is her husband Stephen Mitchell compares her both with Zen and Socrates). Besides that she can´t be both (it is two different philosophies), then it is, as shown above, utterly wrong. The best place to learn about this paradox is in my view the book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman. The Antidote is a series of journeys among people who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. What they have in common is a hunch about human psychology: that it’s our constant effort to eliminate the negative that causes us to feel so anxious, insecure, and unhappy. And that there is an alternative “negative path” to happiness and success that involves embracing the things we spend our lives trying to avoid. It is a subversive, galvanizing message, which turns out to have a long and distinguished philosophical lineage ranging from ancient Roman Stoic philosophers to Buddhists.
Katie states that The Work is true for every human being, and can be used on all problems of Man. Moreover it is emphasized that you must not remix, transform, or build upon it. This is a problem for people who want to defend Katie against critics like me. Because here the problem of add hoc clauses pops up. Add hoc clauses are clauses added to a hypothesis to make the hypothesis consistent with some new observation or discovered fact. If your hypothesis is threatened by some inconvenient fact, which it is incapable of explaining, you have two options: you can either abandon your hypothesis and seek a new one which is capable of explaining this new fact; or else you can add a special clause to your general hypothesis, an ad hoc clause. Patching up a hypothesis is a move, which can be acceptable, but often it is not. Most often it is just a way of explaining away the inconvenient fact. Related to Rationalization.
Be reading the above it should be easy to see what Katie´s method can be used for if applied to any human problem. If you read her book Losing the Moon, you get a grip about it. This is her most controversial book, and it has been removed. But it still exists on the internet (download it here). Here the Indian and Buddhist concepts of non-duality (Advaita Vedanta), emptiness (Sûnyatâ), and illusion (Maya) are used in connection with The Work. It goes completely wrong. Though the book has been removed it is not a mistake what Katie claims in it. Byron Katie hasn´t stated that she was wrong in it. So I really don´t know if the book has been removed by Katie herself, or her associates, or if it is the publisher.
If I should make a very short indication of what goes wrong, then it is the confusion of objectivism and subjectivism. Direct opposites. That´s why I refer to the 666 Conspiracy aspect of The Matrix Conspiracy (see my article The Matrix Conspiracy). Spirituality is turned upside down. We already have looked at this: Katie defends the position of thinking, the wisdom traditions defend the negation of thinking. The confusion is due to the New Age reduction of religion and philosophy to psychology and psychotherapy, something which now are deeply rooted in the Western mind, at least since the counterculture of the Hippies.
The reason for why the concept of non-duality is mistaken is rather simple. Katie is focusing on position and are denying the opposite, namely negation. When having done the turnaround technique you have ended up in the one pole of a pair of opposites; that is: in a radical duality. There is no attempt of balancing the two.
Just to explain the concept of non-duality and emptiness as they traditional are preached by Buddhism: the most famous of Buddha´s teachings are the Deer Park Sermon which was revealed to five former Sramana companions of him in a park near modern Benares, India. Here he talked on the existential conditions, growing conditions and growth levels of Man, and, like a doctor, he made the diagnosis: ”The nature of the illness and its cause”, after which he gave guidance in how it can be healed and the medicine hereto. Shortly said ”the illness” is suffering, and the suffering´s cause is, that Man clings to impermanent and temporal things. The many desires, that can't be fulfilled, give suffering and sorrow. The medicine consists in teaching Man how to rise over the changeable world with all its desires and transient joys. In Buddha´s teaching there is in that way spoken about The Four Holy Truths: 1) Suffering. 2) The suffering´s cause. 3) Suffering can be brought to an end, and this happens through 4) The Path, namely The Eightfold Path, where correct meditation, or correct self-communing, is the last step on the path to full enlightenment, which you also could term: full objectivism. The subject, or the ego, has stepped aside, or opened itself like a flower to the sun. This is the source of reason. Note that Buddhism claims that all life is suffering (negativity). Katie claims the opposite (positivity).
The Buddhist philosophy of impermanence could sound a bit like Nietzsche´s subjectivism and nihilism, and a part of it does, but the fact that the consciousness can raise above it shows an absolutism and objectivism, which by the way is the core in all spiritual traditions. Spirituality has therefore not anything to do with the subjectivism and relativism which New Age and the self-industry, deeply inspired by Nietzsche, teach. On the contrary.
Because of this confusion Byron Katie not only comes to preach relativism and subjectivism, she even preaches solipsism and eventually nihilism. Solipsism (of lat. Solus ipse, I alone) is the opinion, that I alone, and my states of consciousness, exist, or that I, and my states of consciousness, are the only things which really can be realized. Everything else, for example other people´s consciousnesses, as well as material things, which are claimed to be outside my consciousness, are problematic things.
Solipsism can for example only be stated in first person. There are not two persons who can agree about it because all other persons than the person who put forward the statement of solipsism, ex hypothesi only are phenomena in hers consciousness. When I – in first person – analyse the eventual arguments against solipsism, I realize that I don´t need to take them seriously, because they ex hypothesi only are phenomena in my consciousness, which can´t be compelling. But at the same time I realize that all my arguments for solipsism for the same reason nor can be considered compelling. I have ended up in a self-contradiction.
Solipsism ends in the problem of The Endless Split of the Thought. Read more in my article The Dream Hypothesis and the Brain-in-jar Hypothesis. Note that Janaki in her Byron Katie book tells about how Byron Katie had read A Course in Miracles and all kind of other New Thought stuff. In my Matrix Dictionary entry on A Course in Miracles (ACIM) I make some deeper arguments for how the New Thought movement tragically confuses Western subjective idealism with the Eastern notion of Maya (the world as illusion). Byron Katie makes precisely the same mistakes, not surprisingly, since A Course in Miracles is a central inspiration.
And when Katie has deconstructed everything else than yourself, then it´s yourself you have to deconstruct. Instead of enlightenment it therefore ends in complete nihilism. Nihilism is a philosophical doctrine that suggests the lack of belief in one or more reputedly meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that there is no inherent morality, and that accepted moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism may also take epistemological, ontological, or metaphysical forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or reality does not actually exist. Byron Katie does it all.
I know that Katie followers already now protests. And it might sound like I´m wrong since Katie is all about positivity. But try to read the book and see how it more and more develops into subjectivism (blaming the victim put in system), instead of out towards objectivism.
The term nihilism is sometimes used in association with anomie to explain the general mood of despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence that one may develop upon realizing there are no necessary norms, rules, or laws.
Nihilism has also been described as conspicuous in or constitutive of certain historical periods: for example, Jean Baudrillard and others have called postmodernity a nihilistic epoch; and some religious theologians and figures of religious authority have asserted that postmodernity and many aspects of modernity represent a rejection of theism, and that such rejection of theistic doctrine entails nihilism. The Tibetan meditation master Sogyal Rinpoche also warns against the nihilism of the New Age postmodernistic inspired “spirituality.” (see my article Constructivism – the Postmodern Intellectualism Behind New Age and the Self-help Industry).
I think the reason for why Byron Katie can carry out the horrendous claims she is coming with in Losing the Moon (as for example that Hitler is our loving guru, supported by God´s most loving angel and that the Nazi mass murder were the victim´s own fault, page 35) is because of ego-inflation (see my article The Ego-inflation in the New Age and Self-help Environment).
The Cult Education forum now tells how it formerly was trolls from Large Group Awareness Training cults (LGAT), that were swarming their site, but that Byron Katie trolls now have taken over. I have had my own experiences with Byron Katie trolls. Some of them were directly hateful. Read my main article on internet trolling: The Curse of the Internet Troll.
That there directly has shown up trolling in the name of Byron Katie is witnessing about how large a phenomenon she has become.
Below I´m copying and pasting some of the more peaceful “dialogues” I´ve had with Byron Katie disciples. I have stopped with it now though. When I say peaceful then I´m referring to the special Katie jargon they talk. As the American Clinical Psychologist and Cult researcher Margaret Thaler Singer says, then a typical trait of a cult is that the newcomers have to learn a kind of groupthink and a language, a jargon, and that outsiders are lesser beings. There is no doubt that Byron Katie is the leader of a cult with all the traits of a cult.
I will show two conversations. In the first I will show the Katie jargon, in the other I will show the lecturing attitude. Both are condescending.
The Katie jargon is the cooing, cunning and loving language in style with: I love that you say that, I love that, I love that you have your opinion, but [but!]…This is annoyingly condescending. It is like being talked to as if one was a small child (I guess this especially is appealing to women). At least, when they are directly hateful you know what they are talking about.
Here is a copy of a conversation when I out of sheer curiosity published the below comment to a Byron Katie worshipping video. It is, if you are a bit distanced from Byron Katie, quite easily to see how shocking it actually is. The question I ask is completely turned around, just like Katie teaches. Subjectivism and relativism justify this ignorance through the many equal ways argumentation, where no path is more true than the other.
And I admit that I was quite angry, and really had to control myself. I´m not too proud of it [the answers are unedited].
“Why is this woman only able to speak about 4 questions, and a turnaround technique - and claiming it can create a world without depression, when she in her book "Losing The Moon" is telling Jewish women, that when the Nazis were throwing their babies into the flames, it was their own guilt, and that Hitler is our guru, and that you cant discriminate between the wisdom of Hitler and Jesus. This is in all simplicity one of the worst examples of horrific New Age stupidity. And she does it like an Hollywood actor, speaking with a cooing, cunning, loving voice. This has nothing whatever to do with meditation, but with the opposite!”
“Hi Morten, I am wondering what your goal for meditation is, what's your intention, what is your idea about meditation? It sounds like you have a beautiful system that works for you. I also think Byron has found her own. She doesn't claim it is the only way, but for her it is what she does. Like a surgeon is not talking about how to bake a cake or slaughter a pig ;-) She believes in her work, that's wonderful. Maybe you should ask Katie these questions through her website. My own goal is reaching peace and the way I would love to see the world from the soul point of view, not the ego. The ego is the one that is fear based and wants to hold on to the old. I am freeing myself from this, my past was very hurtful. Now that I see it is all an illusion of the ego mind, thinks have shifted. The work is interesting as a tool sometimes, as are many other beautiful ways. It helps bringing peace. I don't know anything, that is my mantra :) And I don't like to judge anyone. I only judge myself if I do, others are my mirror, so better be Loving. Have a beautiful day.”
“Dear Anna Dear Morton I love seeing and hearing this big mind in aktion under the surfice,it seems, it is always about carrying.Its interesting how we all see and hear differently,what we precive to be outside.I heard that the women made a desicion by her self, to walk instead of dying, and that was very kind and loving desicion towards her self, i heard nothing about gulit, i also heard that when we would belive what for example hiltler belived, we possibly had done the same, and i think that hitler was not able to do this alone, there where a lot of belivers with him to live this out.I .love the meditation from´Katie about the angels in heaven and that the most loving one played the role of hitler because he was asked to do this so the others are able to find freedom from suffering under all circumstances (and his role was so painfull)and that he did it because he loved us so much,i love this meditation because compassion and love is really unlimmited no matter how thecirumstances are.It does, for me, not mean to do anything i can(without inner and outer violence) that that will never happen again.I am from germany by the way.Also doing the work takes out guilt every guilt,(are we guilty for beliving our thoughts and living them out? without knowing to question them or to quiet the mind) and real love and compasion and freedom and connecting to our source is for me not possible, when i belive in guilt.(i still work on that,guilt has such a deep root in me)anyway i didnt hear his aktions are the guru, but to show us love and compation in such circumstances(AnneFrank did this so amazing brave and wonderfull and many more)and helping me to wake me up to reality, hitler he was a kind of guru for me to(and that doesnt mean i liked his aktions in any way),when we want to stop suffering for me it makes it unpossible when i belive in guilt(knowing so little of the whole universe) and judge it always take me out of the awareness who we really are,in my exspirience pure goodnes,and connecting with source.So thats what i learned from the women while she was doing the work about hitler and her childhood in nazi germany.i m very greatfull for that.Im also greatfull for youre presures writings.And ilove katie and the work,icant tell how much.it tooked me from hell back(: but at the beginnen sometimes our ego is hofforfied and angry,sometimes is nice totake a gentle look again or another practis.Lots of love from germany.”
“To Anja: Katie is actually claiming her way is the only way. She says the Work is true for all human beings, and she is very anti to anybody who doesn´t share her point of view, so you are wrong. You are putting up an ad hoc clause you have created yourself, not Katie. Speaking about what I actually inquired into: namely Hitler and the Jewish children - I must conclude that you actually agree with Katie, and therefore must praise what the Nazis did in the same way as Katie. Point taken! And you are even attacking me for having another opinion (when I say attack I mean that I can´t take your answer as anything else than disagreement), while claiming you don´t judge, and that my system is wonderful. Weird, because you are not only judging, you are prejudiced. By the way, you are saying your past is an illusion. I would correct it to say that you are living in an illusion which Byron Katie has induced in you. You are not living in the real world, where your past was hurtful. I say that you should be aware of your shadow, which you in this way has completely repressed. When repressed it becomes darker and more and more perverted. It speaks through you in every word. And so it does, actually must worse, in Vivien´s answer.”
“To Vivien: Incredible scaring, what you are saying, justifying the Nazists. And you not only claim Hitler was your guru, you also love the meditation from Katie about the angels in heaven and that the most loving one played the role of Hitler because he was asked to do this, so the others are able to find freedom from suffering under all circumstances (and his role was so painfull) and that he did it because he loved us so much. So, you even feel sorry for Hitler, but you don´t, in one word, feel sorry for the victims. This is such an incredible evil statement, that I have to pinch myself in the arm, and ask what planet you are from? Certainly not Earth. Excuse me, but claiming how loving you are, don´t make you loving. You are the direct opposite! I wish all you Byron Katie devotees could have a sober discussion without repeating the word love and loving to a degree that makes me puke! To anybody else reading this - doesn´t Vivien´s and Anja´s answers just show my point? It´s strange that especially women fall for this Byron Katie horror, remembering Freud´s bullying his female sexual abuse victims for living in a fantasy. Katie has done the same many times. A good subject of criticism for a true feminist!”
Actally we still have all lot of Nazis here and we do everything to stop their Aktions but we do not hate them.Sometimes they beat us or even children.Katies work helped me not to hate because hating hurts somuch i belive now that hate against hate never works. And some of them stop their thinking and behavior and when they do this and tell theire stories what happend to them to get this horroble rassicm thinking they have allmost all a sad past with a lot of abusive and horroble stories about their pasts as a child. Thats what i know for me. When i was young i used to hate them and fight against there brutality, it never worked.
Hi Morten, thank you for sharing your opinion. I am sure it is true for you and I hope it is working for you and makes you a happy person. As does my view on life work for me and makes me happy. Peace!
I hope the reader can see how weird Byron Katie´s turnaround technique becomes. And it´s more the rule than the exception. It´s in reality a way of explaining away reality itself. And it comes from a practice where the main postulate is that it is the art of self-inquiry. Anyhow, I didn´t bother to go deeper into the conversation. At least they were not the hate-answers I have heard from other Katie fans, but these are in my opinion not as weird as shown above.
The other conversation is the lecturing one. It was written in a “add review” section after my article. In fact it´s not a review but a lecture directed towards me, partly about philosophy, partly about how I ought to have written the article. If I should follow those instructions the article wouldn´t any longer have been a critique. Fine trick in order to silence critique, right? (or turn it around to the opposite).
Reviewer: wquesnel - May 12, 2015
Subject: No mention of Stoicism
I note that you have mentioned Cognitive Behavioural Therapy when considering Byron Katie's system called "The Work". Personally, I have found the work to be helpful, though I am by no means a "pro" - I've never attended a school or a weekend lecture or anything like that. I have been to counselling in the past, so perhaps I have found it beneficial when I integrated into that framework. Also, prior to meeting Byron Katie, I already had an understanding of Stoic philosophy.
I was just curious as you have given an exhaustive account as to Katie's history, dishonesty and fallibility and done a thorough comparison to other similar systems, why you didn't mention Stoicism because, in my mind, it seems that "The Work" is a kind of modern Stoicism.
Stoicism, of course, being an ancient and venerable philosophical tradition (much of which was absorbed into Christianity), purports essentially similar concepts. Epictetus states "We are not disturbed by what is happening to us but our opinions of what is happening to us." They do not purport that the body cannot be damaged but rather the emphasis is on defining what is good as to that which is within our control. And that is only our own volition.
Like Byron Katie, Stoics would not define the abusive partner as 'bad'. They may view that person as ignorant but they do not consider him to be actually bad. Stoics, however, were very proactive and wouldn't advocate staying with the person. Having said that, from what I've read and heard (on videos) from Byron Katie, she does not appear advocate staying with an abusive partner either. My impression was it was more like leaving your abusive partner without demonising him or her in your mind. Why? Because harbouring bad or negative thoughts against your abuser, does nothing to help you in your situation. You can see someone as ignorant and, perhaps, lost and still have compassion for them, and also still leave them.
I always find it confusing when people suggest that focusing on positivity is a bad (ironically negative) thing. Essentially, what is being said is that it is okay to be negative, which is fine - I personally think people should be free to adopt whatever life strategy best assists them. However, once we stray into the territory of embracing or accepting the negative then we have to draw careful boundaries. So, it's okay to be angry - but how angry. It's okay to be negative - but how negative. Then we stray into the territory of having to determine whose opinion of those boundaries are correct.
I don't know Byron Katie's history but what I do know is that I don't judge systems based upon their founders. It is logically fallible to say that someone who is deluded cannot speak a truth. Perhaps we could say that it is rare, but we cannot with absolute certainty say that someone who is deluded cannot utter truth. (Anyway, truth is a difficult subject because philosophers have never really been in agreement about it.)
I would have found your critique more helpful if it had considered Stoicism and also if it had looked at the positive and negative aspects of BK's system, and let me draw my own conclusions. A critique is a "a detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory" but I'm afraid what you wrote has come across as an all out tirade against BK. Most critiques I have read consider the good and the bad and let the reader draw their own conclusions.
My answer (which also is written as a review, since the area doesn´t allow comments):
Reviewer: MortenTolboll - August 26, 2015
Subject: An answer to wquesnel´s (?) review: No mention of Stoicism (see below)
I have spend some time thinking about whether I should answer reviews on my books or articles. I have decided to do so when the review is directly misleading.
wquesnel, you say that you have read a great deal of Stoicism, and find that Byron Katie (BK) is a modern kind of Stoicism.
First of all: I think you are aware that Stoicism is philosophy, and not psychotherapy? What I in the following I say about philosophy therefore also covers the Stoicist school of philosophy.
Byron Katie´s school of the Work is a mix of cognitive therapy, cathartic therapy, and New Thought (today called positive thinking or The Law of Attraction), and has nothing whatever to do with Stoicism. But not only has she not not read about cognitive therapy, she has it all from Ken Keyes´ distortive biases and simplifications of cognitive therapy (shown in the Janaki article).
You say that a Stoic philosopher would leave an abusive partner with "love" (where on Earth have you got that from???). Besides that I´m tired of the using of love all the time, a Stoic would not leave a partner with "love", but with, precisely" philosophy - that is; critical thinking and Apatheia, Stoic calmness.
In my article I in depth investigate what the difference is between BK and philosophy (and therefore also Stoicism). BK is destroying any faculty of the mind of free thinking (critical thinking, thinking for yourself, or philosophy, and not according to BK´s system).
Next: where on Earth have you got the idea that a true philosophical text should be written in a way that show both good and bad, and leave the reader to make own conclusions??? That is what I would call an insult to philosophy and the art of being a free thinker. A school teacher may say to the children that they should find both good and bad things about something - but that philosophy should follow that - that´a humoristic joke.
Philosophy is about finding logical fallacies (thought distortions - read my book A Dictionary of Thought Distortions). And BK´s industry are even using lies - see the Janaki book.
So, where have you got your idea about that BK is a modern Stoic philosopher? Probably by reading her books. In the introduction to one of her books her husband come with this claim about being a modern Stoic philosopher. And he is as great a liar and manipulator as herself. New Age books are well-known from plastering their books books with copy and paste from wisdomtraditions taking out of their correct context, so that it sounds like it fits into the New Ager. Why not not read read these wisdomtraditions as they were original written?
Then you talk about truth: "all philosophers disagree about the truth" Let me make something clear to you about how truth is used in philosophy, firstly about comparing it with ideological education:
Philosophical education has its basic objectives, first, the disposition to seek truth, and, second, the capacity to conduct rational inquiry. Training scientists, for example, requires the inculcation both of an ethic of inquiry – do not fabricate or distort results, take care to prevent your hypotheses (or desires) from affecting your observations – and the techniques of inquiry appropriate to the discipline (my book A dictionary of thought distortions is a manual in rational inquiry, or critical thinking).
There are of course many different forms of philosophical education, corresponding to the numerous ways in which truth may be pursued (my own method is philosophy seen as an art of life – see my articles What is philosophy? and Philosophical counseling as an alternative to psychotherapy). Nevertheless, these forms of education share two key features. First, they are not decisively shaped by the specific social or political/religious circumstances in which they are conducted, or, to put it the other way around, they are perverted when such circumstances come to have a substantive effect. There is no valid distinction between “Jewish” and “Aryan” physics, or between “bourgois” and “socialist” biology; truth is one and universal.
Secondly, and relatedly, philosophical education can have corrosive consequences for political (and/or religious) communities in which it is allowed to take place. The pursuit of truth – scientific, historical, moral, or whatever – can undermine structures of unexamined but socially central belief.
Ideological education - (today through what I call The Matrix Conspiracy) - differs from philosophical education in all these respects. Its purpose is not the pursuit and acquisition of truth, but rather the formation of individuals, who can effectively conduct their lives within, and support, their political (and/or religious) community. It is unlikely, to say the least, that the truth will be fully consistent with this purpose. Nor is ideological education homogeneous and universal. It is by definition education within, and on behalf of, a particular political (and/or religious) order. Nor, finally, does ideological education stand in opposition to its political (and/or religious) community. On the contrary, it fails – fundamentally – if it does not support and strengthen that community.
Ideology altogether is a psychic disease. You are not in doubt about, that ideology is a psychic disease if you look at its collective manifestations. It appears for example in the form of ideologies such as Communism, Liberalism, Conservatism, National Socialism and any other nationalism, or in the form of rigid religious systems of faith, which function with the implied assumption, that the supreme good lay out in the future, and that the end therefore justifies the means. The goal is an idea, a point out in a future, projected by the mind, where salvation is coming in some kind – happiness, satisfaction, equality, liberation, etc. It is not unusual, that the means to come to this is to make people into slaves, torture them and murder them here and now.
That a thought-system has developed into an ideology shows in, that it is a closed system, which is shared by a large group of people. Such a closed system has especially two distinctive characters: 1) It allows no imaginable circumstance to talk against the ideology. 2) It refuses all critique by analysing the motives in the critique in concepts, which is collected from the ideology itself (an ideology always thinks black and white, and therefore always has an anti-ideology, an enemy image, which it attribute on to everyone, who don´t agree).
An ideology is therefore characterized by, that it is not able to contain, or direct refuses, rationality and critical thinking. We all know how dissidents have been killed, jailed and tortured under totalitarian ideologies.
Ideologies are using propaganda in order to get their “truths” forced through. In that connection they use thought distortions. Thought distortions are “techniques”, that, unconsciuos or conscious, are used from an interest in finding ways of getting on in the world, rather than an interest in finding ways of discovering the truth. Thought distortions are the background for poor reasoning, diversionary ploys, seductive reasoning errors, techniques of persuasion and avoidance, psychological factors, which can be obstacles to clear thought (again: see my book A Dictionary of thought distortions). BK´s method is a typical cult phenomenon, and therefore an ideology.
Read my article The devastating New Age turn within psychotherapy: http://mortentolboll.weebly.com/the-devastating-new-age-turn-within-psychotherapy.html
Critical thinking, or philosophy, is in opposition to thought distortions. Critical thinking is about spotting thought distortions, and examining them by presenting reasons and evidence in support of conclusions.
In philosophy you focus on, what cooperation and conversation require of you in order to that you at all can exist: that you speak true (don´t lie), that you are prepared to reach mutual understanding and agreement (don´t manipulate), don´t make an exception of yourself (but treat others as equals). From this rises the eternal moral values (as for example that it is wrong to lie), and generally our ideas of right and justice: the so-called human rights, the idea about the individual person´s autonomy and dignity: you shall treat the other not as a mean, but as a goal.
Another way of explaining what truth means in philosophical sense:
The truth, which philosophy seeks to achieve, is a truth that raises over human views, yes over the whole of the human existence. That something is true means in philosophical sense, that it is true independently of, who claims it, and when it is claimed. And independently of, whether anybody at all have claimed it, thought it, believed it or knows it. Truths are therefore, in philosophical context, both time-independent and idea- and consciousness-independent.
Since all philosophical views qua views claim to be true in precisely this sense, then it should be clear, that views, which try to reduce or cause explain all views, are self-refutating views. (BK´s system is such a view).
Then there are the testimonials. People are experiencing miracles during BK shows. I have attended one of these shows. Not paid by myself, but by my cousine. I wouldn´t spend a dollar on it. The whole thing is precisely a "show" meant as it is. People who have spend thousands of dollars on a BK show have already accepted the show. So they are in reality actors in the show (about Testimonials, see my book A dictionary of Thought Distortions under T). [The same is going on in hypnosis shows. Derren Brown says that hypnosis is all about role playing, nothing more. Some people are just more willing to go into the role than others – see my article Hypnosis, Hypnotherapy and the Art of Self-deceit]
A person invited up to the scene will perform exactly the conclusions BK has in advance, and they will go down from the scene in tears and laughter. But if a real critique is coming up on the stage, the person will be removed by her bodyguards within seconds, and boooood out of the room.
[if you read Byron Katie´s book Loving What Is with a distanced attitude, you will find it an incredible boring series of “dialogues” since you know the conclusion in advance. They could have been ended in two sentences: The central thought (for example: My father was abusive) Turn it around – that is: think the opposite thought (my father was loving me)Wupti! You are now enlightened].
wquesnel, you say that Byron Katie never would ask a partner not to leave her abusive partner. That´s one of your many ad hoc clauses (your own fantasies applied to something problematic about a theory). Where has she said that?
And what about the Nazi claims? Replace the word Nazi with any other negative word. BK´s conclusions is given in advance. Other critics have explained her completely lack of compassion and empathy when giving these statements to people. Take words as "I have negative feelings with..." for example the child molester who have raped my daughter, terrorists, psychopaths, mass murderers, etc., etc. - the answer is given in advance: The whole thing is God´s loving work, and your negativity is your own fault. 100% - or else you don´t follow BK´s The Work.
And how irrritating it is to see her smile and saying the word darling, love and loving in every second word.
There has never been any miracle in connection with BK, but thousands of people who has lost their ability of thinking from themselves, are without ability of taking decisions in life, and a lot who actually have been in counseling after having tried out BK´s method.
About Stoic philosophy read my article:
Philosophical Counseling as an alternative to psychotherapy:
The reviewer says she (he?) isn´t a pro Katie. Well, the “review” shows the opposite. Why else should she have spend so musch energy on it?
But the fundamental problem with Byron Katie is, like in New Age and Self-help as such, that she reduces religion, philosophy, and spiritual practice to psychology and psychotherapy. You can for example see how followers confuse critique with negative feelings, or even hate (I have also been accused for being a hateful person). Philosophy is per definition the art of critical thinking.
Just a last comment to how to write a philosophical article, since I have heard this from many other “lecturing” New Agers. Philosophers are giving their own arguments. Philosophers are free thinkers, though they of course follow the basic principles of philosophy. Just imagine if you told Plato, Kant, Kierkegaard, or Nietzsche, that their works not are satisfying because they haven´t considered both the good and the bad, and having allowed the readers to draw their own conclusions.
And if I sincerely thought there was anything good about Byron Katie´s teaching I would without hesitation have mentioned it. I can´t find anything though. I have for example also criticized Stanislav Grof, but have in no way tried to hide the enormous importance of his mapping of spiritual crises.
I just wish that New Agers, which I assume consider themselves as truth-seekers, would try to learn something, instead of being hard-bitten ideologists.
Byron Katie´s therapeutic method The work is a so-called Questioning Trap (see the Matrix Dictionary entry Questioning Trap). A Questioning Trap involves an implied accusation of some kind of wrongdoing.
The most disturbing about the users of Questioning Traps is that this technique often is being associated with philosophy, since philosophy is known for asking questions. Byron Katie is famous for being called a “modern kind of Stoic philosopher,” and the questions asked in cognitive therapy is known as a “Socratic Inquiry Technique.” Though I believe cognitive therapy to be the best scientific validated form of psychotherapy we have (I have myself used a cognitive therapy-inspired form of Socratic inquiry technique in my supporting exercise The Philosophical Diary), then the only thing this technique has in common with Socrates is that it asks questions. Socrates also asked questions, as all philosophers do. But just that to ask questions doesn´t turn it into philosophy.
It is clear that since philosophy tries to discover thought distortions, philosophy doesn´t itself involve questioning traps. Let´s finish then, with a few thoughts about how philosophy ask questions.
Firstly: Critical thinking, or philosophy, is in opposition to thought distortions. Critical thinking is about spotting thought distortions, and examining them by presenting reasons and evidence in support of conclusions. Precisely as we have done in this article.
Critical thinking is the only tool you can use in order to explore, change and restructure thought distortions. It is, as described, not something psychotherapy should take care of, as New Age believes, since psychotherapy per definition is corrupted by thought distortions.
Secondly: I have explained the way philosophy asks questions many places, see for example the introduction to my first book: Meditation as an Art of Life – a basic reader. Also see my articles What is Philosophy?, Philosophical Counseling as an Alternative to Psychotherapy, and The Peter Pan Project.
In my book A Portrait of a Lifeartist you can read several texts on philosophical practice, for example in chapter III; The Lifeartist as a Desirous being (2.A: The Difference Between Psychological Counseling and Philosophical Counseling; and 3.E: The Need of Philosophical Counseling; and chapter V: The Lifeartist as a Communicative Being (2: The Dialogue in Philosophical Counseling). Also see Chapter I; Philosophy as an Art of Life (2.C: To ask Questions).
When philosophy asks questions it directs itself towards the form, not the content. The form is the universal, that which we all have in common. The content is the particular, that which we don´t have in common. If you look philosophical at it, there is a difference between the individual person and Man himself. The individual person is a located being, who lives in a particular country, belongs to a particular culture, a particular religion, and who has a particular content of mind. Man on the other hand, is not a located being. Man is everywhere: the form of consciousness is the same for all human beings. If the individual person only acts in a special corner of the extensive area of life, then he acts without any connection with the wholeness: the form. You must therefore remember, that philosophy always talks about the wholeness, the form, not a part of it, not the content. The smaller is in the larger, but the larger is not in the smaller. The individual person is the tiny image-limited, stagnated and despairing being, who is satisfied with his tiny gods and his tiny traditions, whereas the welfare and weal of all, the sum of the world´s necessity, misery and confusion, are lying Man on mind.
The division of human beings, in for instance Westerners and Orientals, is only geographical determined and entirely random. It has no essential importance. Whether we live east or west for a certain border, whether we are brown, dark, white or yellow, then we all still are human beings who are suffering and hoping, fearing and believing: there is unhappiness and happiness here as well as there. There is not a special Western or Eastern way of thinking when it comes to Man, but the individual person creates these divisions on the basis of his background, which is limited by the images of time: the content.
Love is not geographical determined, it is not hold in honour on one continent, while it is denied on the other. When individual persons in this way divide mankind, it is often because of economical reasons or ideological beliefs, and it happens with the purpose of exploitation.
This does not mean, that human beings not are different in temperament etc. There are similarities, and nevertheless there are differences. It means that the understanding of the individual person not is philosophy. The understanding of the individual person belongs to science. In philosophical respect we are the same.
Philosophy asks after that, which makes a human being into a human being, the common or universal, which all of us are part of, in spite of the fact, that we can behave so differently and be studied in so many different ways. Here it is about what we can term the human nature, and the question is not solved by seeking concluded answers in religion, ideology or New Age spirituality, and nor is it solved scientific by experimenting, collecting systematic observations, and from them create theories. It is solved by thinking and meditating over everything, we already know about Man, and by seeking unity and coherency in it. The wholeness is the reason for that philosophy are seeking unity and coherence, and therefore are using logic as a tool.
The truth in philosophy is something a philosopher strive after experiencing, whereafter this experience can be written down. But the answers philosophers write down in books are not the truth. They aren´t conclusion to anything. They are open for discussion. Philosophy throws out answers to the questions, argues for the answers in a rational and logical way, and investigates their consequences. Written down answers are in constant change. That´s how the history of philosophy moves. The answers are fingers pointing at the moon. The fingers shouldn´t be confused with the moon. But it is clear that some answers are better rational reasoned than others; they are longer lasting, they are more whole.
So, in philosophy Man isn´t only a result of a single influence. Man is much more complex, and to emphasize one influence, and at the same time understating others, is to cause a lack of balance, which will lead to even bigger lack of meaning and coherency, and therefore to even bigger chaos, much more confusion. Man is a complete process. There must be an understanding of the wholeness, and not only a part of it, regardless how important this sometimes may be.
Only the specialized is fixated in a determined cause, and in this way also in a determined effect. Where there is specialization there is stagnation. Man is not a specialized being. He can break through his limitation, which is created by the images of time – and this he will have to do if he wants to experience reality.
Human nature is the whole of mankind, and do not belong to a certain category. But with the individual person´s mind follows the complicated problems of split, contradiction and war.
So in order to understand yourself you must understand that Man is an inviolable whole, not only a determined being, as for instance a society being with his particular assigned job: a worker, a citizen, a consumer, or a political being, right wing or leftist, or a religious being, Christian, Moslem, Jew, - but a complete whole in which an interaction and a reciprocity takes place.
You must realize, that suffering and split origin from ignorance about your own human nature. As long as you don´t understand yourself, your perspective on yourself and on the world, your personal history, you must, whatever you do, and in whatever area, unavoidably create separation, despair and suffering.
In order to understand yourself you must go out on a voyage of discovery. A voyage of discovery, that goes into your ego and your personal history, and therefore into time as a whole. You must travel up The River of Heraclitus, you must travel up the river of time, which not only is your own personal history, but also the collective and universal history. You must become a life artist.
Therefore, as I point out in my first book Meditation as an Art of Life, asking philosophical questions is a meditative state of mind. I used the expression:
“Asking philosophical questions in a meditative-existential way is the wordless silence within a strong existential wonder.”
In that way philosophical questions function as a kind of Koans. A Koan is a story, dialogue, question, or statement, which is used in Zen practice to provoke the "great doubt" and test a student's progress in Zen practice.
The ability to wonder (or to be skeptical, critical) is the philosopher´s basic virtue. If you as a life artist want to start philosophizing, you must therefore become like a child again. Children seems to come from eternity, or the wholeness. It seems like you automatically begin to philosophize when you somehow get a sense of looking at things from the perspective of the wholeness. Therefore enlightened masters also always are philosophers, no matter whether they have any formal education in philosophy or not. Krishnamurti was an exceptional example of a philosopher thinking for himself all the time, but he hadn´t got any education in philosophy.
Sub specie aeternitatis (Latin for "under the aspect of eternity") is, from Baruch Spinoza onwards, an honorific expression describing what is universally and eternally true, without any reference to or dependence upon the temporal portions of reality. In clearer English, sub specie aeternitatis roughly means "from the perspective of the eternal". Even more loosely, the phrase is used to describe an alternative or objective point of view.
In the longing after returning to the source of wisdom, from where all the philosophical questions stream, philosophy becomes an art of life, an exercise, namely meditation. In this movement in towards the source (the form, the universal, the wholeness) you begin to ask philosophical questions in a meditative-existential way: Who am I? Where do the thoughts come from? What is consciousness and where does it come from? Is there a meaning of life? How does man preserve peace of mind and balance in all the relationships of life? How do we learn to appreciate the true goods and flout all transient and vain goals? Is the destiny of Man part of a larger plan?
Finally, in philosophical pedagogic, there isn´t given answers. Philosophical pedagogic is an invitation to wonder, to think for yourself, to become a light for yourself, to develop your own teaching. Krishnamurti said: “I invite you to become aware of your unawareness.” Kierkegaard said basically seen the same: “The only thing I do is to invite to awareness of your paradoxical nature.” Philosophy is about awakening our innate awareness.
Now, if we finally return to Byron Katie as a “modern Stoic philosopher,” then it should be easy to see that her therapeutic method The Work is something completely different. Byron Katie´s four questions are questions taken out of the “Socratic Inquire Technique” used in cognitive therapy and supplied with positive thinking via the so-called turnaround technique.
Where is the philosophical questions? Where is the invitation to wonder and to be skeptical and critical? Where is the invitation to think for yourself? Where is the wholeness? Where is the questions about society, nature, the universe? Where is the questions about how Man is connected with society, nature and the universe?
Byron Katie´s only answers to such questions is her own conclusion, not the clients: your thought is negative [=false] and you must turn it around to the opposite. Answers completely relative to what the content of the client´s mind might be. Pure subjectivity. Relativism and subjectivism in a nutshell.
To follow such a written, idiosyncratic preconceived worksheet of what you ought to think is just about the opposite of everything philosophy stands for. It is sophism in action.
Related blog post:
On Asking Philosophical Questions
A Dictionary of Thought Distortions
The Self-help Industry and The Mythology of Authenticity
A Critique of Byron Katie and Her Therapeutic Method The Work
Related in the Matrix Dictionary:
Feminism as Fascism
The Matrix Dictionary
PDF versions of the Byron Katie books:
In my Ebook The Tragic New Age Confusion of Eastern Enlightenment and Western Idealism, I mention Byron Katie in relation with the Neo-Advaita movement, and how she is a part of the tragic confusion. This confusion also demostrates that Katie isn´t experience the enligtenment which her followers claims she has.