Monday, March 19, 2007

Next: David Beckham on why getting chicks is a snap!*

Renee James, a local essayist whose work I much admire, wrote another marvelous column yesterday that further illuminates this silly bit of business known as The Secret. Actually, Renee's column, per se, has nothing to do with The Secret; she doesn't even mention it. But she does talk about the absurdity of this latter-day trend where well-known Boomers who have money, privilege, power, and every other advantage in life write books that give the rest of us their unctuous advice on navigating the rocky rapids of midlife. I can't capture the full flavor of it in a line or two—read the column—but as Renee puts it, discussing singer Carly Simon's travails, "Anytime you can retreat to Martha's Vineyard to spend your days in a home recording studio, then put up the money to produce a CD, all while you're not looking for a waitressing job to pay the bills, you're not really suffering from adversity."

The point, of course, is that it's easier to cope with the ebb and flow of games that you know you've already won. That's what brings us back to The Secret. What The Secret is, is a bunch of giddy rich folks (who mostly got giddy and rich, remember, by promising to make you giddy and rich) telling you again how good they feel about life. Even leaving aside the circular nature of the business model*, and assuming they're sincere, they overlook the likelihood that their world-view is a byproduct of their being rich. It's sort of natural to be positive, or at least less negative, when you're rich. Just as it's a lot easier to be "a humanitarian" when you're a major celebrity who can afford to invest $40 million in planning and building a school for girls in a poor African nation.... Gee, why didn't I think of that! (In fact, a side note to America's wealthy philanthropists: I don't want to hear any more lectures about my social responsibility delivered from the deck of your yacht. Do good works; that's fine, and necessary. But just shut up about it. You're Oprah or Bill Gates, not Jesus. 'K?)

I do recognize the chicken-or-the-egg dilemma here. Secretrons would say that the positive thinking preceded the wealth, that the thinking created the wealth; ergo, if you learn to expect success, then success will happen for you, too. It's a lovely thought for which there is no proof. Nada. I admit that it's tempting to corner successful people, ask them how they feel about life, then posit their answers as The Key to it all. It's tempting...and totally illogical. As we've observed on this blog before, that's as silly as using Ted Turner as evidence of why it's a swell idea to ditch college. Here's a better experiment, or at least a somewhat more scientifically valid one: Go into the depressed Mississippi neighborhood where Oprah grew up. Find 1000 relatively young people who are now poor, living on the streets, in and out of jail or rehab, doing drugs, whatever, but who nonetheless seem to have pretty good attitudes. People like the real-life guy Will Smith played in Pursuit of Happyness. Then track them through the years. See who ends up where. I have my own suspicions about how that would shake out; I don't think you'll end up with too many Oprahs. But in any case, you can't do this backwards, starting with the successful people and trying to figure out what supposedly made them that way.

Another newsflash: When you're already rich—guess what!—you tend to have more financial options, which, in turn, tend to bear more fruit. (I'm reminded of the wry line: "If I'd just invested another $10 million in that deal, I'd be a rich man today.") I don't know the exact allocation of proceeds from The Secret, but let's assume creator/producer Rhonda Byrne walks away with just 20 percent overall. (And I'm willing to bet that's low.) So far the project has generated around $120 million in revenues, by my rough calculations. If Byrne just tosses her current, approximate $24 million personal windfall in a money-market account, that yields around a-million-two per year in interest. And that's without taking a single active step to create more wealth. So when Byrne says things like, "I know that my outlook and prosperity will only continue to flower through the years," she ain't kiddin', folks! She's got a very good, very sound basis for believing that.

And you know what's the basis of that basis? The money that far less successful people pay for her insipid books and DVDs.

* Provided that you're David Beckham.
** In fact, it's not that much of a stretch to dismiss this whole thing as a sort of philosophical pyramid scheme.


Anonymous said...

Sir, if offered multiple millions for your own sage advice, would you turn it down?

Steve Salerno said...

It would honestly depend on the genre. I don't feel that I have much "sage advice" to offer in most areas. And I can tell you this, I certainly wouldn't accept a million dollars in exchange for an undertaking that was bound to end in embarrassment and invective for all concerned. If I thought I legitimately (emphasis on the root word there) had valuable advice to share, yes, I would take the deal. But if you've been reading my blog for a while, you'd know that I question the sincerity of the people delivering most of this advice. They KNOW it's b.s. They KNOW they're hurting people, profiting parasitically on the backs of the poor and desperate. And they go right ahead and do it anyway.

Mr. Spin said...

Yes, education is important to finding some sort of success, but the very word "success" must be operationalized before it can be measured. What success is to one person, may be something different for another.

I have a professional mentor who's been instrumental in helping me navigate life after college. And I've seen some success in my endeavors. All that, and at no charge to me unless you count a few lunch dates.

But the one thing he's always stressed is contentment. Be content with what you have, and you find you have more than you'll ever need is his usual preachment.

The Vitale soothesayers and The Secret elite (Secrtons--I like that) are preaching a doctine of excess of self-indulgence. Where will this lead?

Cal said...

Here is a link to an article in the March 2007 Scientific American (free) on an academic who is studying happiness with rigor. She is also skeptical of the self-help movement.

Steve Salerno said...

Much as I would like to bask in your appreciation of "Secretrons," I'm afraid I must give credit where it's due: To the best of my knowledge, the word is Cosmic Connie's neologism.

Cal said...


I guess this link day for me. Here is a link to the Amazing Randi (well-known skeptic) in which a reader of his web Site indicates that a lady who had the audacity to doubt The Secret on one of her shows was sandbagged.

Steve Salerno said...

I interviewed Randi for SHAM, and he appears in several places in the book.

Yes, the Secretrons, for all their positive vibes, can be downright hostile when challenged--especially when one has the temerity to bring logic and common sense into the discussion.

a/good/lysstener said...

How did you get so cynical, Steve? But we love you that way. I think you're even growing on my Mom, who's complaining now that she hasn't gotten Trudeau's book and is reading comments online from other people who never got their books, either!

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve, you're so right about the chicken-or-egg dilemma and the "Secret" stars. While all are getting much richer as a result of their association with "The Secret," they were rich before -- and in almost every case it was because of ceaseless, aggressive self-promotion. That's not some magical mystical Law Of Attraction at work. It's the Law Of Ego (on their part) and the Law Of Gullibility (on the part of their customers).

kath said...

I remember a few years ago oprah was interviewing Tiger Woods. She said to him something along the lines of 'you and I both know you don't get wealth without thinking spiritual thoughts of abundance'.

Maybe his attitudes' changed since then and he's been absorbed into the Borg. But in that interview it seemed to me he looked at her extremely blankly, as if he was too polite and too surprised by her pronouncements to say he just got there by playing golf.