Call me a buzzkill so soon in a new year, but I found this news item from my town of Albany NY ridiculous if not contemptible. The Times Union reports that hundreds of people will participate this year in a project coordinated by a local university professor to reduce violent crime in the New York state capital by meditating.
The professor, of course, is careful to couch this whimsy in the terminology of the scientific method. Please understand that the Albany Peace Project is simply testing a hypothesis. Here's the hypothesis, in the reporter's words: "The idea is that the mere thought of focused, non-violent intentions
toward Albany create enough positive energy to pacify parts of the city." In the professor's: "Everything is made of energy, of physical thoughts and events. Any interacting systems become phase-locked." He hopes to repeat a reported success several years ago in Washington D.C., but the only source the reporter cites for the success of that experiment is the group that conducted it, the Transcendental Meditation Research Organization. The same experiment is described by a skeptic on the comments thread as the "Maharishi Effect." By that name or others, judge its success for yourselves.
I'm actually less annoyed by the proposed technique for pacifying Albany than by the implicit laziness and cowardice involved. These people propose to reduce violence in the inner city without addressing, from what I can tell from the article, the actual urban conditions that may contribute to violence, and without even engaging the people and neighborhoods presumed potentially violent.The idea isn't even to get people in Arbor Hill or other crime-troubled neighborhoods to think happy thoughts, except insofar as the happy thoughts thought from a distance induce happy thoughts elsewhere. It looks like waging peace the way the U.S. wages war: preferably from a safe distance, by remote control. To be fair, for all I know the Peace Project is not indifferent to sociological factors that may influence crime. But the Project itself, concerned primarily with reducing violence, seems like nothing more than an anaesthetic, presuming it works, and nothing like a lasting cure. A cure would most likely require more hands-on or face-to-face attention to the problem than these well-meaning idealists are able, or willing to give.