There’s no limit to the number of ‘self-help’ gurus out there, who lay claim to all sorts of nonsense. At best, these people are deeply misguided about what it is they are doing. At worst, they are intentionally running scams and swindling people out of money.
I want to focus on a particular example: Psychology of Vision, aka Chuck and Lency Spezzano. And I’d like to make it clear that there’s no way for me to tell, with confidence, which end of the above spectrum they lie on.
I was reminded of their existence when I was sent the following video:
If you can, sit through it all. It’s a pretty good example of how these ‘spiritual healers’ work: there’s a lot of important sounding words and jargon, and no real substance to what they are saying. Lots of big pauses, implied searching for the ‘right words’ to put their thoughts into, but this belies an otherwise well-practiced routine. Don’t believe me? Watch more of their videos, and you’ll see the same shtick employed over and over again.
What’s being sold here? Wish-fulfillment. The idea that you can have “whatever you want“, that “the universe” will “give” that to you, as if the universe is some kind of giant Santa Clause that hands out gifts to people who are special enough to simply exist.
It’s important to note the techniques in play here. Notice how Lency leads, and adopts the physical posture first. She begins the shaking, holding her face in a kind of rictus. As someone who is the centre of control, the power dynamics here matter: she is the leader of this group of about 30 people (I’m estimating from the video). For the seminars that these folk put on, the participants have likely paid a pretty penny just to be there. How much? Well, for their upcoming appearance in Vancouver, Canada, if you’re quick with the early registration, it’ll only set you back $395. Plus tax, of course. So it’s important to note the financial commitment that the participants have made here: they are predisposed to accept most anything that Lency does as ‘correct’ and/or ‘appropriate’. A rejection of what she does would lead to buyers remorse, a state we all try to avoid wherever possible.
Soon thereafter Babs (thanks to Chris, below, for pointing this out to me) starts mimicking Lency’s behaviour. This is to be expected: when someone is a mere foot from your face, staring into your eyes, making all sorts of strange motions, and you have seen this before: you know what you are expected to do. Lency’s movements act as a cue for Babs, and as soon as Babs starts mimicking Lency, Lency’s demeanour loosens up. Likewise with the laughing, the smiling, and the other facial expressions that Lency adopts, Babs has to either adopt them, or risk social exclusion. It’s important to note here that Babs knows that she’s on camera, and is the centre of focus of a room full of people. That kind of social expectation is difficult to ignore.*
This is, at best, an unintentional scam, where Chuck and Lency Spezzano are making large sums of money of something that just happens to have no connection to reality at all. I, however, don’t think that this is unintentional. The thing is, when you believe your own bullshit, you put your money where your mouth is. The Spezzano’s are, I think, quite happy to simply accept the money of others rather than actually substantiate their claims.
Why bother with folk like these? Because fraud (be it unintentional or otherwise) hurts people. People who would otherwise spend their money in their local communities, or on things that they actually benefit from are deprived of those options. Additionally, people who are scammed are then derided as ‘stupid’, ‘foolish’, ‘delusional’ or just plain old ‘greedy’, as if there is something wrong with wanting a better life, a life without painful memories, or a better future, or an improved love life. These are things that we all want, to a greater or lesser degree, and when we hit on a method that we believe will achieve that, we go for it.
These victims (and they are victims) have done nothing less than any else would do, if we were set up with false beliefs and led down this path. The person at fault here is certainly not the victim: it is the scam artist who takes the money, who sets people up to fail, and then says that any failure is on you, and not them. This is a combination of scapegoating (the scam-artist deflects the blame for the failure of their system onto someone else) and victim-blaming (the “someone else” is the person they scammed).
All in all, I think the world would be a better place if the Spezzano’s were involved in some kind of legitimate practice, but so long as people are prepared to believe that they’re getting a good deal if someone pulls faces at them for $400, they’re going to keep making money.
*Update: Thanks to the commenter Chris, below, for pointing out that Babs isn’t just a guest/victim, but actually a fully signed-up card-carrying member of the organisation. It would seem that (in this particular video) she is less a victim of social pressure, and more a willing accomplice.