You’ve seen the tropes played out on several sitcoms by now: Millennials wearing hemp products or, better yet, burlap sacks, surrounded by towering pink Himalayan salt lamps, incense, a menagerie of crystals, and perhaps some sort of book on witches, likely while probably smoking weed (but not drinking, because alcohol is, of course, poison to the body). In general, these comedic riffs seem an apt commentary on Millennials’ hippie-like penchant for alternative healing and philosophies – something we didn’t invent, as I’m sure many of our Baby Boomer parents would remind us.
Long Beach has quite a few New Age stores that cater to those who delve into metaphysical and alterative practices, and curiosity has brought me to quite a few of them. I’d hazard to guess that the addition of such a shop in Belmont Shore, appropriately called “House of Intuition,” has something to do with the fact that Millennials are reviving an interest in these philosophies.
Make fun of them all you want, but such practices are frankly akin to beliefs not any less mystical than those of widely accepted religions. So what if you want to buy some crystals because you think they have healing properties? And so what if, by placebo or actual crystal magic, it helps? Unless you’re throwing the rocks at people, it’s not harming anyone.
My question isn’t whether or not alternative belief systems, and my age group’s openness to them, is problematic. My question is – what happens when we become so open-minded that we cease to question at all?
Gwyneth Paltrow has made a fortune with her lifestyle line, Goop, a health-oriented company that advocates for a number of alternative practices, one of which includes sticking a jade egg somewhere. . . inadvisable. That is according to most gynecologists interviewed on the topic, who have noted that such an act can result in infections or (grimace) it getting stuck. A task force made up of 10 California county governments investigated Goop’s claims that the eggs would help regulate hormone levels and strengthen bladder control. Ultimately, government attorneys fined the company $145,000 for unsubstantiated marketing.
But guess what? Goop still sells the eggs. Because people are still buying them. Not only that, but Paltrow’s ideas are so popular that she is getting a show on Netflix to hock her other goopy lifestyle advice. And, as I wrote in my last column, “The Subliminal Power of Netflix,” if the success of “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” is any indication, we should all be worried about Paltrow’s potential power over Millennial binge-watchers.
On the flipside, OBGYNs might see their profits go up, so there’s that.
More alarming to me even than potential health risks of some pseudo-scientific treatments is that, for some people, a willingness to believe in unproven theories and mysticism too easily morphs into an openness to believing fake news and conspiracy theories that are ultimately detrimental to society. It might seem like a bit of a leap, but consider, if you will, the Cult of Robert.
Recently I met a Millennial in his mid-thirties who turned out to be an unfortunate example of what happens when open-mindedness does a full circle loop around the horseshoe of mindfulness to its several times removed cousin: ignorance.
Over a drink at a local watering hole, this Mindful Millennial chatted me up about charts. “Not astrological charts or natal charts,” he assured me, but some kind of new chart that had been devised by someone MM kept referring to only as “him.” (Lord Voldemort called – he wants his shtick back). He talked circuitously about how they would reveal my true nutritional needs, my inner desires, and basically all truths about my life.
Apparently, these charts came to “him” when “he” heard a voice, MM said. I took a sizable sip of my drink. “What’s this guy’s name? Is he famous?” I asked.
Matter-of-factly, as though revealing a universally accepted truth, MM said, “It’s Robert.” I looked nervously toward the exit and asked if I was about to be recruited to Scientology, a joke he did not appreciate.
Because I am a glutton for punishment/wanted to see if I could find out more about Robert-Who-Has-No-Last-Name, I did not end the conversation. That turned out to be a mistake, because when he changed topics to a recent DNA test that led him to dig into his family history, what had up until that point been nothing more than an Seinfeldian exchange took a turn. He told me he’d discovered his German ancestors were Jewish. So, he did some research on Jews and found out that the “race” was very prominent in Hollywood, and government, and music, and –
I interrupted him, wondering if he had read my recent column on anti-Semitism and was trolling me. I urged him to be careful what he read, noting that narratives like that are often used to perpetuate a conspiracy theory that Jews control the world through power in government and industry. MM nodded seriously. Thank goodness, I thought, thinking he’d change the subject out of embarrassment.
But then, he said, “It was just so crazy to me that my German relatives were Jewish. I didn’t even know there were German Jews.” I felt as though I had wandered into another plane of existence. After a long, nauseous pause, I told him Hitler had had quite a lot to say on that subject, but that I couldn’t blame his confusion, seeing as he had made sure there weren’t many German Jews left, hadn’t he?
Later that night I wondered what had happened to MM to make him so susceptible to conspiracy theories and revisionist history.
If you retrace it back to the start, this Twilight Zone of a chat plots out what happens when open-mindedness bends toward ignorance. Those who are open to considering alternative lifestyles – like trying a New Age method of personalized nutrition that has no scientific backing invented by some self-proclaimed guru – might also be more open to considering philosophies that are divergent from the mainstream. Considering is fine. Accepting alternative versions of history, or of the news, without questioning them, is not. Much like you shouldn’t subject your intestinal tract to what you think is a “detox tea” because a Kardashian is selling it (when actually, it’s a laxative) – you shouldn’t subject your brain to “alternative facts.” It’ll turn it to mush.
While anyone is open to such influence, it’s Millennials who were raised to primarily get their information not from journalistic sources, but from the vast and gloriously unruly Internet. Maybe that’s why we’re often open to divergent ideologies.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not an anti-hippie diatribe. What it is, is a call to question. Did you read that study linking autism to vaccines? Instead of knee-jerk deciding not to vaccinate your kids, here’s what you should do: research. Not the kind sourced from the hivemind of the Internet. The kind sourced from scientific journals that have, again and again, debunked that study. The kind sourced from major trusted news outlets that reported its author had his medical license revoked for misconduct.
We cannot be the generation that popularizes the acceptance of alternative facts – including mistruths about an entire culture’s history – at face value. This amounts to willful, self-aggrandizing ignorance masked as open-mindedness. So, fill your living room with salt lamps. Buy a stack of tarot cards. Investigate and question traditional philosophies. But do your research. Don’t buy into outright lies.
And let me know if you ever meet Robert.