ENLIGHTENMENT CAN BE YOURS FOR JUST $10
January 7, 2019 4:21 AM   Subscribe

The School of Practical Philosophy promises sustainable happiness at an affordable price, but what is it really selling?

The New York City subway system, which every day suspends millions of irritated commuters in a purgatory without consistent smartphone service, is a great place to advertise. There are spots for delivery groceries, delivery dinners, delivery mattresses — the colors bright, the copy flip and shameless. We don’t feel great, the ads suggest, but we might feel better if someone else did our chores and another person brought us dinner.

posted by poffin boffin (68 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
I always wondered about those ads....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:33 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Bargain hunting is nothing new
posted by thelonius at 4:39 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


They just have incredibly low overhead. Amy and the other teachers are unpaid, students perform custodial work, and the SPP owns its own building.

Ten bucks seems inexpensive even just for the entertainment value. Or if some other organization is having trouble finding a meeting space they could all just sign up and then simultaneously have their meeting or event during the class. It seems like what a wise organization would do.
posted by XMLicious at 5:02 AM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


Toronto's got the same subway ads, and an only-slightly-less-flash location in a pleasant red sandstone house on Madison in the Annex. I'd always figured that they were a kind of cult.
posted by scruss at 5:02 AM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


A childhood friend's father was an instructor for this school and was the director of their upstate NY school in an old estate that had once belonged to a scion of the Borden Dairy fortune. He was an emotionally manipulative narcissist who abandoned his wife & kids to crippling poverty so he could take up with a sweet but dumb minor heiress to fund his idleness. From my limited dealings with his father (I had attended a couple of his mid-winter parties at the Borden estate as a guest of my friend during a brief attempt at rapprochement with his father when we were just out of college ), he definitely gave off the cult leader "Guru" vibe and most of the students were of the same intellectual mold as his second wife. He seemed more interested in the adulation from the students than anything else. The whole thing felt like a minor but relatively harmless grift to me then and this article just confirms my experiences.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:26 AM on January 7, 2019 [28 favorites]


"Even babies know they shouldn't touch a hot stove." Um...no, they don't.
posted by Bob Regular at 5:52 AM on January 7, 2019 [36 favorites]


So the real enlightenment was the friends we made along the way.
posted by Segundus at 6:05 AM on January 7, 2019 [7 favorites]


Um...no, they don't.

Which is I'm pretty sure the point being implied by the immediately following line, "Some hands went up, but she continued." Made me LOL anyway.

Also, cult or no cult, the next time I catch someone explaining something incorrectly I am definitely definitely going with "Well, that's a nice little ditty, but no."
posted by solotoro at 6:39 AM on January 7, 2019 [16 favorites]


Noticed flyers for years and had begun wondering how I'd missed the indictments or at least a scandalous article.
posted by sammyo at 7:30 AM on January 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


I am honestly tempted to drop five bucks on a sockpuppet Two-Watch Guy account.

But I've asked myself what would a wise person do, and will not do that!
posted by Drastic at 7:31 AM on January 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


My hand, burned on a stove when I was a small child who was fascinated by the bright orange color, would have been raised, too.
posted by greermahoney at 7:36 AM on January 7, 2019 [7 favorites]


So glad she took the apartment.
posted by AugustWest at 7:41 AM on January 7, 2019


These people now own my old music college building. (The music college moved to the suburbs shortly after I graduated.) I loved that building-- it had the look of an aristocrat fallen on hard times, its handsome bone structure getting a little shabby, but comfortably so. There was dark wood panelling in the corridors and bright painted moulding in the rooms, and over the door was a little wooden statue of Pan. Looking back, Pan was definitely the tutelary deity of that place, as inspirer both of music and of raw, primal panic.

A friend of mine did part of their introductory course. He said it was clear that they were filtering the students for the most suggestible. He had actually wanted to learn philosophy, and what he found was... not that, so he walked out before the end of the course. He told me they've painted it all white now.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:44 AM on January 7, 2019 [14 favorites]


Ugh I hate that website's moving little divider lines so much I always nope right back off their pages.
posted by glonous keming at 7:53 AM on January 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


Well, Hume claimed that a baby won't stick its hand in a fire twice. Being Hume of course this wasn't about wisdom. It led him to conclude that babies, like adults, are illogical creatures.
posted by mark k at 8:03 AM on January 7, 2019


The value of a good liberal education is that references to this institution and it’s anrcedences pop up in literature by and about the English and American upper class around the start of the 20th century
posted by The Whelk at 8:04 AM on January 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


friend of mine did part of their introductory course. He said it was clear that they were filtering the students for the most suggestible.

This reminds me of the argument that the Nigerian prince e-mails are so bad because you only want the gullible and greedy. An incompetent opening pitch means you don't waste time on skeptics later. So now I wonder if the author is really correct that these guys are harmless.
posted by mark k at 8:08 AM on January 7, 2019 [22 favorites]


I've already paid $30 to the Church of the SubGenius for eternal salvation, and they have a triple-your-money-back guarantee.
posted by SansPoint at 8:42 AM on January 7, 2019 [22 favorites]


What would Plato do?
posted by Naberius at 8:53 AM on January 7, 2019


There's an organization like this in greater Boston called the New Acropolis, except they don't oversell. All their ad materials make it pretty clear they're into Greek and Buddhist philosophy, and they make no claim to having anything more profound than the texts themselves to offer.

I still have been too wary (and busy) to take a look, though. Has anyone here tried them?
posted by ocschwar at 8:57 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


People seem so easy to take advantage of, we all have needs and desires that are unmet and that's just an opportunity to the capitalist. This is one of those things where for every nice human moment of community forged in these classes, there's a more nefarious scheme going on intended to create such a moments and capitalize on what ails these people.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:12 AM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


Nueva Acrópolis is (or at least was, I haven't seen their notices in a while) also in several cities in Spain and they regularly used to cycle between occultism stuff (chakras, the wisdom of the ancient Egyptians, and so on) and "philosophy" "courses". It is a fascist cult.
posted by sukeban at 9:13 AM on January 7, 2019 [9 favorites]


What would Plato do?

Who died and left Plato in charge of ethics?

So now I wonder if the author is really correct that these guys are harmless.

"Harmless" is definitely relative. Like, cool, SPP probably aren't Scientology or NXIVM, but they're still taking money from gullible suckers for a shitty fake philosophy education. And I assume they're doing that thing with their pricing structure where things get exponentially more expensive as you progress. If the "teachers" are unpaid, then they're probably all people who've paid in to the scam and got told they need to do this unpaid recruiting work in order to progress.

So, at a baseline, these guys are at least as bad as those unaccredited for-profit universities. They may or may not be worse as you go deeper.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:14 AM on January 7, 2019 [7 favorites]




I mean the SPP/SEP is or at least was founded as a orthodox Hindu ....sect that gained popularity within the British and American upper class in the early 20th century
posted by The Whelk at 9:22 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Who died and left Plato in charge of ethics?

Socrates?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:41 AM on January 7, 2019 [34 favorites]




I appreciate the $5 I paid to join Metafilter. I appreciate the effect on my connection to humanity, almost daily. There's so much various pbilosophy piled up here I once twisted my ankle trying to get to some of the really good stuff. I had to retreat to a simple mindfulness lesson to negotiate the terrain.
posted by Oyéah at 10:11 AM on January 7, 2019 [7 favorites]


Interesting bit at the end about community. I've been wondering for a while why it seems like having a set of questionable-but-unchallengeable ideas is such a common and successful way to form the nucleus of a long-standing community. "We have a Truth that the world doesn't recognize" seems to draw out the money needed to sustain a community - the money needed for a building, for dependable organizers.
posted by clawsoon at 10:24 AM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


I appreciate the $5 I paid to join Metafilter. I appreciate the effect on my connection to humanity, almost daily. There's so much various philosophy piled up here I once twisted my ankle trying to get to some of the really good stuff. I had to retreat to a simple mindfulness lesson to negotiate the terrain.

That's what you get for trying to refute Berkeley.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:25 AM on January 7, 2019 [8 favorites]


When I saw the posters, I remember thinking, "If this is philosophy which offers answers instead of questions, it's probably not very good philosophy."
posted by clawsoon at 10:25 AM on January 7, 2019 [11 favorites]


leotrotsky: That's what you get for trying to refute Berkeley.

That Wikipedia page is a bit too dismissive of the appeal to the stone, methinks.
posted by clawsoon at 11:08 AM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


[The School of Practical Philosophy] like a lot of Americanized British things, wasn’t quite as compelling as the original.

Well, she got that insight, at least.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:27 AM on January 7, 2019


Berkeley, the something-or-other-al-lapidus; kinda like the philosophical, "Talk to the hand!" refutation and other theoretical ether blatherations, of the perpetual, nearly full, trough, society.
posted by Oyéah at 11:44 AM on January 7, 2019


The School’s philosophical teaching is underscored by the non-denominational, universal principle of Unity (Oneness) and an appreciation of stillness. The School’s course material is inspired by the wisdom of the ages, and draws upon the words of eminent philosophers — from Plato, Socrates and the Buddha, to Shakespeare, Emerson and Shantananada Saraswati.

♪ ♫
One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong...
posted by leotrotsky at 11:46 AM on January 7, 2019 [9 favorites]


When I saw the posters, I remember thinking, "If this is philosophy which offers answers instead of questions, it's probably not very good philosophy."

Teaching Platonic Dialogues would seem to be particularly challenging here.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:49 AM on January 7, 2019


Philosophy 4: Presence of Mind
Mind and its proper use.
Man's essential nature and the one he acquires.
Working with attention and love.
What Am I?


So that explains the absence of Sartre in their curriculum.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:53 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


"If this is philosophy which offers answers instead of questions, it's probably not very good philosophy."

I don't know about that. The canonical works of philosophy don't just say, here are some questions, what's their answer, I dunno, it's up to you. They take a definite point of view. Everything is one Substance, so God is the entire Universe. All knowledge has to derive from experience. That kind of thing is out of fashion now, to be sure; but turn in an undergrad philosophy paper that says "here are a bunch of positions, they are all as good as each other" and see how far you get. They are going to want you to make an argument for one of them.
posted by thelonius at 11:59 AM on January 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


The sounds a lot like the School of Life ...
posted by mfoight at 12:17 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


I like to think of the Appeal to the Stone as, in essence, the scientific, inductive response to the deductive idealism of "but can you *prove* it exists?" philosophy. Every scientist is kicking stones to see what happens when they do, and they're making the rough assumption that they're interacting with reality when their toe meets the stone.

After kicking enough stones, scientists have discovered quantum and relativistic weirdness underlying reality that the most imaginative of Berkeleyan philosophers couldn't have imagined. They haven't refuted Berkeley, but they've rendered him a curiosity.
posted by clawsoon at 12:59 PM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


> and they're making the rough assumption that they're interacting with reality when their toe meets the stone.

If you think of yourself as interacting with reality, that puts you outside of it, which is weird.
posted by stonepharisee at 1:05 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you think of yourself as interacting with reality, that puts you outside of it, which is weird.

Not necessarily. Can't parts of reality interact with each other? And can't I be part of reality while I interact with it?
posted by clawsoon at 1:08 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


If I make an affogato the ice cream is interacting with the coffee but they're both affogato.
posted by solarion at 1:18 PM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


thelonius: I don't know about that. The canonical works of philosophy don't just say, here are some questions, what's their answer, I dunno, it's up to you. They take a definite point of view. Everything is one Substance, so God is the entire Universe. All knowledge has to derive from experience.

I was thinking just the other day about how philosophers which take some idea or another to its extreme - and are undoubtedly wrong as a result - are the ones who are best remembered. Then philosophy profs can say, "This philosopher said this extreme thing, and this other philosopher said this other extreme thing, and these are both important parts of truth even though they're opposite."

Subtle, complex thinking from a single mind tends not to filter down. If you want to be a famous philosopher, you've got to have something that can be turned into a pop-song hook. It has to feel complex so that it doesn't get dismissed out-of-hand in the academy, but it has to have a hard, simple core in there somewhere.
posted by clawsoon at 1:18 PM on January 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


The person refuting me with a kick got modded? Ah, too bad. Best response I've seen today.
posted by clawsoon at 1:21 PM on January 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


After watching their history video, they appear to be a fairly harmless group that moved through various “esoteric” movements from Gurdjieff/Ouspensky to the Maharishi and settled into one school of Advaita Vedanta keeping bits and pieces from the prior groups. But their teachings seem to be very watered down and actually pretty banal. But their facilities as pictured look like pretty expensive properties.

Having degrees in religious studies and philosophy I guessed I blew it not having cashed in on them.

I offer to you all, now, for free: To be yourself, BE yourself.

Further Pearls of Wiseness (tm) will be available shortly, at an introductory price of $5.95.
posted by njohnson23 at 1:39 PM on January 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


With my username I should probably have an opinion on this, but let's just say Gurdjieff has always been in the "problematic fave" column and groups like this are a big reason why.

(Meetings With Remarkable Men is still boss as fuck though)
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:59 PM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


The idea of "Johnsonian refutation" being funny is simply that he missed the point entirely. Berkeley is never denying that we have ideas of solidity and pain and ....stoneness.....; he's arguing that the position that these ideas have an existence independently of minds is incoherent, and that holding that they refer to a purported mind-independent reality is, at best, unclear (although I don't know if he'd even go that far). You can certainly reject his idealism, but doing so by pointing to ideas and thumping the table won't do.

Someone once said that his arguments are irrefutable, but also entirely unpersuasive. Why that is is a little over my pay grade, metaphysically.
posted by thelonius at 2:08 PM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


thelonius: The idea of "Johnsonian refutation" being funny is simply that he missed the point entirely.

Huh. And here I always thought that he got the point and refuted it as cleverly and succinctly as it's possible to do.
posted by clawsoon at 2:12 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


(Probably why I never ended up as a philosopher.)
posted by clawsoon at 2:16 PM on January 7, 2019


Someone once said that his arguments are irrefutable, but also entirely unpersuasive.

I always read the rock-kicking thing not as a refutation per se but as a declaration that, even if Berkeley is right, it doesn't actually matter. The distinction between a material rock and an immaterial idea-of-a-rock is moot if kicking either kind of rock still results in a stubbed toe.

I see a parallel with the free will debate. I find the "free will does not exist" side of things fairly convincing, but does the non-existence of free will actually change anything? I'm going to behave the way I behave, whether that behaviour is deterministic, probabilistic, or freely-chosen.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:45 PM on January 7, 2019 [8 favorites]


....even if Berkeley is right, it doesn't actually matter.

I believe that Berkeley thought that materialism undermined belief in God; so, for him, that is how it mattered.
posted by thelonius at 3:50 PM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm reading the Stanford entry on Berkeley so that my BS about him is based on at least a thin film of fact. It seems like he had some perceptive things to say about perception, but, yeah, it all went into the service of building a philosophical edifice which had God as a requirement.

It strikes me as a philosophy doomed to unpopularity. I assume he developed it in order to uphold the church, but I can't imagine any preacher, teacher or theologian uncanning Berkeley's philosophical worms on their congregations.
posted by clawsoon at 4:06 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


The person refuting me with a kick got modded? Ah, too bad. Best response I've seen today.

Guess the mod on duty missed the joke. :/
posted by Barack Spinoza at 5:07 PM on January 7, 2019


At least we proved the existence of Mod in here.
posted by Barack Spinoza at 5:09 PM on January 7, 2019 [19 favorites]


Well I can say, "If this world is all in my mind, and given my tastes; I would have never made such a variety of cars," I'm just sayin'. The stones are part of the good stuff, a pbilosopher could ignore falling over pillows, or into the waiting harms of a poor main course choice. People do fall to their deaths in mind, often with the help of frumious substances, failing to respect the energy's vehicle significantly shortens the Universe's inquisition. There is no house light so bright it does not ultimately join the darkness between stars. I do love Gurdieff! I own this little, almost square copy of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, wherein he describes space travel as following the law of falling and of catching up.
posted by Oyéah at 5:56 PM on January 7, 2019


We don’t feel great, the ads suggest, but we might feel better if someone else did our chores and another person brought us dinner.

Welp, I can’t find anything wrong with that notion...
posted by darkstar at 5:57 PM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


And here I was hoping for a Žižek vs. Derrida cage fight.
posted by sammyo at 5:59 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Oh weird, I attended one of their courses in Wellington (NZ) for a while! This was about 18 years ago and I was living across the road from their school. I thought at the time that there was something fishy about them (finding out if they were a cult was part of the appeal of taking the course), but in the end I stopped going because the philosophy just seemed vacuous. I had enjoyed the philosophy classes I took at university and was hoping to get into some meaty discussions but that was discouraged. It didn't occur to me at the time that they were probably whittling the class down into the most engaged/gullible suckers before trying to get more money out of them.
posted by wilberforce at 6:51 PM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


(missed the edit window) Actually I think I mean winnowing there - nobody got whittled.
posted by wilberforce at 6:59 PM on January 7, 2019


At least we proved the existence of Mod

It’s just unfortunate that in doing so we raised the question of Mod benevolence. Now we have the whole can of Mod Theodicy open...
posted by Segundus at 3:39 AM on January 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


Ugh I hate that website's moving little divider lines so much I always nope right back off their pages.

I had an amusing screed about their Web 2.0 bullshit site all teed up and then tried the “reader view” or whatever it’s called. On the iPad it is a little buttons that looks like four lines of text to the left of the URL box. Huzzah—I can actually read the article with no GUIX turds floating in my visual bowl!
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:41 AM on January 8, 2019


Monads have no edit window
posted by thelonius at 7:45 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


“Is Mod willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then they are not omnipotent.
Are they able, but not willing? Then they are malevolent.
Are they both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Are they neither able nor willing? Then why call them Mod?”
posted by SansPoint at 7:50 AM on January 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


Now we have the whole can of Mod Theodicy open...

Isn't that just MetaTalk?
posted by tobascodagama at 7:55 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


sammyo: And here I was hoping for a Žižek vs. Derrida cage fight.

I dare you to go to a School of Philosophy meeting and bring up Derrida. I double Derrida dare you.
posted by clawsoon at 10:38 AM on January 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


what would Plato do?

Go to a dinner party, recline on couches, get drunk and talk shit iirc
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:12 PM on January 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


This has been great value as an FPP - I wondered about the posters in New York but have also had a deep suspicion of the New Acropolis branch down the road from me (Dublin, Ireland). If anyone has more links on the latter, I'd love to know more.

(Poor old philosophy.)
posted by carbide at 7:59 AM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


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