The weird Marianne Williamson boomlet

When I was scanning the news headlines after the first night of the Democratic debate, I was surprised to see several mention Marianne Williamson as having done something noteworthy, apparently by saying that Donald Trump could not be defeated by wonky policy proposals because he can harness dark psychic forces or something. She had a similar moment after the first round of debates last month. Of course, since she eschews policy wonkiness in general and is apparently some kind of spiritual guru, this psychic forces terrain is something that she would relish campaigning on.

But what intrigues me is why she was garnering so much attention when she is so out there. I think it is partly because the media loves these flaky candidates who come out of nowhere because it enables them to write pieces without discussing anything concrete that requires, you know, researching a candidate’s positions and comparing them with others. She reminds me of Herman Cain in 2012.

In a post where he describes Williamson as dishonest and delusional, PZ Myers links to an a detailed examination of Williamson by Lindsey Beyerstein who says that she is just the latest in a long line of self-help gurus in the US who try to make the claim that the problems that people have are largely due to their poor state of mind. An of course, they can solve those problems since they are experts on the mind. Just buy their books!

Here are some choice quotes from Beyerstein.

According to Williamson, not only is the real world an illusion, everything is an illusion, except love. God is love. We only think that we are separate from each other and separate from God – in reality, we are all one. All of our problems, including sickness, are illusory. If we could just get beyond the illusion of sickness, we wouldn’t be sick.

“The definition of New Thought is the belief that the mind has power over matter, that ideas have actual material force,” said Dr. Beryl Satter, a professor of American history at Rutgers who studied New Thought as part of an inquiry into religions founded by women.

The idea that our thoughts determine our fortunes sounds empowering, but this kind of magical thinking also has very dark implications. “The delusional aspect of it is, if you could create your own reality, then if anything goes wrong, it’s of course your fault,” Satter observed.

Marianne Williamson has made her fortune selling snake oil. In that, she has something in common with another candidate whose fortune started in New York City: President Donald Trump. And, like many of Trump’s assertions, her core ideas collapse under the slightest scrutiny. We’ve already seen in Trump the damage that a president can do through superstition and willful ignorance of science. “The collective, soulful ache of the nation” may be real, but Williamson’s cure isn’t.

Williamson is also an anti-vaxxer and Stephen Colbert went after Williamson for that.

Like most anti-vaxxers who are in the upper socio-economic brackets, she hates to be called by that term and tries to fight the implication that they are anti-science. But their ‘defense’, such as it is, reveals their anti-vax, anti-science thinking. In fact there is an entire line of argumentation by such people trying to defend their pro-science credentials. Ari Berman asked her about her previous statements that vaccination mandates were draconian and Orwellian. Watch her dance around the issue in a way that all these well-educated anti-vaxxers do. She pivots to discussing Big Pharma. I am as aware as anyone of how evil Big Pharma is but the vaccine mandates are based on sound science and a far cry from the sins of Big Pharma such as price gouging and flooding regions of the county with opioids. (The relevant section begins at the 7:30 mark.)

I can’t wait for her to disappear from the primaries.


  1. starskeptic says

    She’s also been at this a long time -- she’s was doing the Deepak Chopra thing way before Deepak Chopra was a thing….

  2. invivoMark says

    I’ve been saying for a long time that I want to see something like a “left-wing Tea Party movement” happen: essentially, a big flood of hard-left people, some of them with ideas so far out it makes even “normal” leftists struggle to support them, taking to the streets and to the polls and managing to win a disturbing number of offices.

    There are several reasons to wish for this but the biggest one is that it was a very fortuitous swing for Republicans. Not only did they dominate in the 2010 midterm elections, they got to control the national dialogue for years. Instead of discussing what policies Obama should support, people were talking about how nutty the Tea Party people were, and how their ideas compared with “normal” neoconservative ideas. Sure, now their party is full of zealots (well, more than it was before), but they’re genuine zealots, with goals and ideas and plans (or they’re Donald Trump, who is more than willing to pander).

    Think about what that would look like on the left: pushing the neoconservative dialogue to the fringe as we discuss whether we should address healthcare with a comprehensive and fair single-payer system or if we should arrange crystals in public buildings to align people’s chakras.

    Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I for one support the Marianne Williamsons of the Democratic Party and I hope we let them have a spot at the table -- as long as we don’t take them too seriously and end up abolishing mandatory vaccinations.

  3. says

    Williamson may say some nutty things and I wouldn’t trust her as far as I can throw my car, but the vast majority of what she said at the second debate made perfect sense.

  4. KG says

    All of our problems, including sickness, are illusory. If we could just get beyond the illusion of sickness, we wouldn’t be sick.

    This clearly derives from Mary Baker Eddy, founder and lifelong chief charlatan of “Christian Science”. Here is an introduction to the suffering and premature death that ludicrous cult has engendered.

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