...so I'm working on a new book tentatively titled Mystic Bourgeoisie: Numinous Lunacy & the Sanctimonious Narcissism of the NewAge++ (or) the unlikely story of how America slipped the surly bonds of earth & came to believe in signs & portents that would make the Middle Ages blush.
I like short, pithy titles.
The idea of the ++ in "NewAge++" is that this new breed (ilk, if you will) comprises far more than the usual tinfoil-pyramid-hat crystal aromatherapy angels-out-the-yin-yang crowd. Many concepts that have come to be uncritically accepted as capital-T Trooths would have been laughed at not so long ago. How did this stuff sneak up on the culture at large? How did its axioms and premises come to infiltrate the shelves of the typical bookstore beyond the New Age -- excuse me -- Metaphysics section? Today these hugely questionable ideas permeate books categorized as Self-Help, Relationships, Psychology, Health, Philosophy, even Science. How did Americans (especially but not exclusively) become so steeped in outright superstition?
And I guess I mustn't neglect to mention, however briefly, the sine qua non contribution of the Science as Mystical Obfuscation School of Unadulterated Blatherskite: What the Bleep Do We Know!?. I have an answer for that question, but it's not printable here -- except to say, not BLEEPing much!
Oversoul'd Baboons However, this stuff didn't start with the '60s. Not the 1960s anyway -- more like 1860s, and even earlier. Of course, the Great Granddad of American irrationalism was Ralph Waldo Emerson, of whom you've probably heard only good things. Reconsider. His reading of early (i.e., bad) translations of Eastern mystical texts sent him off on a second-childhood sleigh-ride to some unmanifest destination we can only guess at today. What was he really trying to say, for instance, in Nature and Other Writings? Chances are, we'll never know. Personally, I thought he reached the pinnacle of his philosophical powers with Brain Salad Surgery.
Though much of this material descends into the worst sort of conspiracy theory and idiot-fringe psychosis, the history is solid -- these are the sorts of results to which 19th century occultism and social Darwinism led. Though those two may seem strange bedfellows, they were often just that, and proceeded in tandem. For a scholarly overview, which is nonetheless quite enjoyably readable, have a look at James Webb's excellent The Occult Underground. His sequel, The Occult Establishment, is unfortunately out of print. It's available used, but quite expensive.
Kafka Returns to Amerika Far more expensive, however, is the widespread attitude that this kind of "mysticism" is a harmless, even socially beneficent "lifestyle option." As it was in the past, it's actually the "spiritual" underbelly of political fascism -- and it's bearing down on the present like a fast frieght. Heads up, Casey. This trainwreck is gonna be an American Beauty...