Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The price of positivity?

It's not often that I build an entire new post around a reader comment—and Tari, if you're still with us, as I hope you are, I also hope you won't think I'm being unfair to you, or going out of my way to make you look bad. That's why I'll start by reproducing your comment* in full. I'll even be nice enough to omit the [sic]s in the places where they properly belong:

"you guys are all bashing the secret, when in actuality you should be grateful and thankful for something like this to come along and help people in a positive and happy way rather then a demeaning, analytical and assanine way which you are all doing! I highly suggest that you do, do background research on these teachers and information presented and then bring your case back to the forum."
I don't doubt that Tari meant well. Fact is, I'm positive** that the vast majority of the people who buy The Secret—as opposed to the people who created it—mean well. But it's the sheer earnestness of Tari's words that gets me thinking again about how this whole flap over The Secret is being spun. Tari and the rest of Secretron Nation like to portray this as an apocalyptic battle between optimism and pessimism, light vs. dark, Good vs. Evil. To hear them tell it, they're taking a stand on behalf of your happy, fully actualized soul. That's their hole card...and I resist and resent it. To say the least, it's annoying to be labeled a "pessimist" simply because some of us refuse to endorse—as an actual program for daily living—a brand of so-called optimism that's totally disconnected from everything we already know (or think we know) about life. We'll return to the parenthetical phrase shortly.

As I said in my response to Tari, if you insist on approaching your grown-up life as if you basically still believe in the Tooth Fairy***, fine; go with God, and may the wind be ever at your back. But why get mad at me for pointing out that no one has ever, like, actually seen the Tooth Fairy? As the wonderful essayist and author Barbara Ehrenreich observed in her Harper's article a few months back, we've reached a curious juncture in American history where the people who reject magical thinking are the outcasts. (I didn't want to quote Tari out of context or pervert her language to my ends, which is why I resisted the urge to italicize the word analytical in her comment, calling attention to her pejorative use of it. Apparently being analytical is a flaw nowadays.) The inmates are indeed running the asylum—thanks to Oprah and Larry and Tony and Rhonda and "Mr. Fire" and countless others. And if you think it's bad now, just wait: You think authors and publishers haven't been paying attention to what's going on with The Secret? How many similar projects do you suppose are being rushed into the breech at this very moment?

Now, to get back to the phrase in parens, above: If those of us who've taken a stand on proven science and accepted facts and logical thinking are hopelessly misguided, then it's the Secretrons' burden to tell us how. Or, more precisely, show us how. Notice Tari's suggestion that if we're dubious about The Secret and its mentors, we should do our homework and bring our case to the forum. See the ack-basswards thinking? Suddenly, even though we've got the full weight of science, history, and common sense on our side, we're on the defensive! Even though they're the ones who went public with this outlandish idea that you can simply will life to be the way you want it to be....

NOTE TO Tari and any other Secretron who may read this: If I represent conventional thinking (i.e. a set of assumptions supported by the collected knowledge base to this point in the human experience), then it's not my job to prove to you why my thinking remains valid. It's your job to prove to me why I should discard my way of looking at life and embrace yours. And yes, I'm sorry, but I want that proof in scientific and/or logical and/or empirical format. As I've said repeatedly, the burden of proof always rests with the person making the unorthodox claim: in this case, the "teachers" behind The Secret.

They'll dismiss that notion out of hand, of course. They'll tell you that "demanding proof" is an inherently negative act, and thus foreign to their way of magical thinking. After all, if you really believe in something...who needs proof? Belief, they argue, is its own proof.

Is that not priceless? How terribly convenient, to have a (commercial) "belief system" that rejects the very idea of making sense.

On second thought, it's not priceless. The price is $34 for the DVD, $23 for the book.

* which appeared originally on this post.
** See? I can be positive.
*** and if you think about it, that's not really an exaggeration in the case of The Secret, even as silly as it sounds.


Skeptico said...

Steve, I’ve noticed exactly the same kind of responses to my four posts to date on The Secret related topics. Of course, I get this to a lesser extent on most of my posts, but The Secret really brings them out more than anything I’ve written about. (Although What The Bleep came close.) And they’re the most sarcastic, angry and personally insulting group of any commenters I’ve had in over two years. And a huge number too: over 500 comments so far in only five weeks. (Admittedly some from skeptics responding to the believers’ posts.)

I wonder if the reason for this is that they know deep down that The Secret is a load of oversold baloney? I’m reluctant to go too psychobabble on them, but I can’t help thinking that if they really believed what they were saying they would just ignore any contrary views and get on with it.

Steve Salerno said...

Exactly, Skeptico. Being rather, well, skeptical myself, I tend to think that "the thing" in self-help--the key to success--is being able to keep the wolves away from the door until you've gotten the message out to your core audience. Then it almost doesn't matter what happens, or what anyone says about you; it's like the old dictum in PR: "...just spell my name right..." Once Larry King and especially Oprah got involved, the point was moot. Done deal.

And here's something else that tickles me: You mean to tell me that by applying Secret-type LOA thinking, I can keep a hurricane away, I can miraculously lose those 50 pounds that crept on after menopause, I can suddenly have my own branded hotel chain, like Trump...but the lords of The Secret can't keep annoying pests from writing the types of things that you and I write?

Anonymous said...

Just FYI I couldn't agree more. It aggravates me and puzzles me and as a thinking person INFURIATES me that they can peddle this b.s. and get away with it!

Mr. Spin said...

Proof that's empirical, logical, scientific -- replicable.

What a novel concept?

Les Stewart said...

Steve & skeptico,

It is my experience that there is something much, much more fundamental (and I use that term advisedly) going on here. I engender the similar reaction from some very sincere, well-meaning self-appointed franchise industry "defenders" on http://bluemaumau.org.

You are either with us OR against us and the cardinal sin is not Being on the TEAM. If you backslide redemption is not an option: you can only regain honor by taking someone else's away. Check out Margaret Visser's book, Beyond Fate.

Subjective Truth
Michael P. Lynch [True to Life: Why Truth Matters] defines this as: truth that is defined by the winners, in opposition to objective truth that is the old fashioned measurable, empirical, etc. type you write about.

You want proof based on some stupid Greek model. They want to dance around a pagan fire.

Heads up, fellow heretics.

McLuhan warned about this re-tribalization and its link between identity and violence.

Deep waters ahead, I'm afraid.

Les Stewart, MBA

a/good/lysstener said...

Off to school, but just wanted you to know that I got and read KEvin Trudeau's book, or as much as I could stand, and I see so many parallels between what you're saying here and the tactic he uses in his book! Beginning with the title, about how he's giving the reader all this vital information that "they" don't want you to know. So once again he's setting up this paradigm in the manner you describe, between us and them, the forces of good (him) and the forces of evil (everybody else who believes in actual science or in his case, actual medicine). And he makes it sound as if, if you side with those in conventional medicine, you're part of this great conspiracy to suppress true wisdom (again, his) and salvation.

Anonymous said...

I've read your blog a long time now, and it's very good, and entertaining. I bought your book way back in the beginning. But enough with the SEcret now. You're getting as bad as with Marilyn Berry last year! :)

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, you sure you're not Rodg in disguise? And it's Marilyn BARRY, not Berry. But...point taken. All I can say in my defense is that The Secret may be the single most pervasive social phenomenon ever to emerge from SHAMdom.

Cosmic Connie said...

Like Skeptico and Steve, I've definitely had my share of flack from the Secretrons. In fact I've received more negative, sarcastic and downright obscene responses from defenders of The Secret/LOA than from anyone else in the eight months my blog has been up and running. (Actually, apart from my digs at The Secret, my posts about the Sri Lankan guru Tilak are the only others that have generated such vitriolic responses. Am I doing something wrong?!? :-))

I've often suggested to the Secretrons that since I am so ignorant, boring, hate-filled, etc., they are certainly free to ignore me, to focus on positive, Secret-friendly sites and people so that for their purposes I no longer exist. But I kept "attracting" them again and again.

And Steve, when you wrote, "The inmates are indeed running the asylum—thanks to Oprah and Larry and Tony and Rhonda and 'Mr. Fire' and countless others," I had to laugh. Yeah, I'm thinking about Ho'oponoponoponoponoponopono (with its now-famous story of the criminally insane inmates who were "cured" by that ancient Hawaiian magic). Ho'opo, of course, is the topic of Mr. Fire's upcoming book, as well as being an element in the "Miracles Coaching" program he's aggressively pushing now.

And you're right about The Secret spin-offs and knock-offs. For the past few months my email "in" box has been filled with exciting new offers from minor players in the New-Wage comedy of airheads who are eager to sell me the secret behind "The Secret." And ever since Oprah came out as a Secret fan the emails have greatly increased. It's gonna get worse before it gets better (or before the next big discovery of the ages emerges from the ethers).

Cosmic Connie said...

Anon, as one who also has a Secret obsession and has been called on about it, I second Steve's opinion that The Secret is easily one of the most pervasive (and insidious) trends to emerge from SHAMdom and the New Wage.

But y'know, his obsession with Amazon irregularities might not have been so far off base either. I've been getting some comments from people who are raising the same questions about Amazon that Steve raised last year -- not about Marilyn Barry per se, or about Dr. Phil, but about other SHAM players. In fact I'm working on a blog post about that very topic.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, as you know, my objection to the Secret/LOA hustledorks is based not so much on their ludicrous claims to be "scientific" as the fact that their ideology runs counter to the very spiritual teachers to whom they attribute their philosophy, and is based upon the suspension of our greatest intellectual gift: common sense.

I have challenged the spiritual validity of their tenets several times on Joe Vitale's blog, inviting Joe and others (in a perfectly civil manner, I might add) to explain and justify the obvious discrepancies. Of course, I got nothing but a wave of the hand - along with the requisite dismissal & negativity - in response. When actually cornered, the defenders simply go silent. Joe even dismissed one challenge with a perfunctory "well said," but with no actual response to the challenges.

It is obvious that the Secretions are more interested in sustaining their cash cow (and paving the way for the unending herd) than in actually elucidating and sharing their "philosophy," and that is both saddening and irritating.

Following an ill-advised scientific path is bad enough, but at least corrections to that path are inevitable, and the folly represents a waste of time. IMHO, leading individuals down a spiritual path one knows to be flawed, however, represents a cynical mindset that has the effect of wasting human potential. Those who knowingly engage in such endeavors for their own profit are (again, in my opinion) committing actual crimes against their followers, and fully deserve to have their exploits exposed. It's bad enough that the emperor is naked, but for him to similarly strip his subjects, then shove them naked into the cold, is downright evil.

Steve Salerno said...

Well said, RevRon. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) In fact, I think the comments appended to this post have far more of substance to say about the problems with The Secret (and other works of that ilk) than the post itself, which was basically just a rant (again, apologies to the Rev, who "owns" the rant franchise). I also share the Rev's frustration at Vitale's head-in-the-clouds comportment on, and conduct of, his own blog. I'll say this much: At least the guy (usually) allows people to say what they want to say, whatever that may be. But his replies are so dismissive and cavalier, and his "failure to engage" so blatant, that it's almost worse than not posting the stuff in the first place. IN essence every one of Mr. Fire's "answers" reduces to, "You just don't understand the LOA. I shall pray for your deliverance from your benighted state..."

RevRon's Rants said...

In all fairness, Steve, what else could Joe do without refuting his own ideology? He has claimed to be a student of Buddhism, yet glazes over the fact that according to legend, Siddhartha's enlightenment was only possible once he emerged from the protective cocoon that kept him shielded from the negativity and suffering of the world. Yet the Secret advises followers to turn away from anything perceived as negative - the very elements of the human experience by which Siddhartha gained enlightenment.

Christian teaching similarly guides followers to embrace those whose lives run counter to Christ's teachings, rather than turning away from them. Yet the Secretions claim that their teaching is consistent with Christianity, and blatantly avoid any mention of the inconsistency.

I must admit that I have been the target of significant vitriol from the skeptics' side, as well, but they have at least infused their name-calling and vitriol with some content that is somewhat logic-based in its dismissals. In truth, I would expect as much, since my point of reference is personal, experiential, and spiritually-based which they summarily reject - rather than research-centric.

I frequently wonder which serves one's perspective worse - failure to acknowledge or address a challenge, or attempts to denigrate the challenger. IMHO, both are counterproductive, and do more to diminish the responder than to further their point of view. The only "victory" possible in any dialog is the establishment of some point of common reference, where both parties emerge enriched.

Steve Salerno said...

Bottom line, I guess Mr. Fire just didn't read enough Hesse, growing up.

Mr. Spin said...

No, Steve, Anon and I are two different people.

Thanks for keeping the topic on The Secret going. M. Barry -- not so much.

Here's something interesting, I refuse to purchase The Secret, so I thought about checking my local library for a copy.

I've checked three libraries around me, and all of them have The Secret checked out. Two have a waiting list.

The marketing behind this, I think would be a fascinating study. I wonder if it's SHAM too?

Cosmic Connie said...

Rodg, the marketing was really what made The Secret what it is. Flush with her discovery of Wallace Wattles' classic, "The Science of Getting Rich," Aussie TV producer Rhonda Byrne had this big idea. She wanted to make a DVD that would spread the message about wealth (a la Wattles) and the Law of Attraction (a la Esther and Jerry Hicks). She got some of today's most successful New-Wage hustlers to join in.

The original plan was for "The Secret" to be a TV show in Australia, but she also had visions of worldwide distribution. The TV deal fell through and Rhonda was out a bunch of money. She still wanted to market and distribute the DVD but, alas, had no money. So she prevailed upon the Secret stars to promote the thing via their huge mailing lists, their web sites, and, eventually, through selected affiliate/MLM programs.

Basically it was viral marketing that made the world go wild for The Secret before it was released. Or at least it made the target market for the New-Wage hustlers go wild.

The producers put up that mystical web site with its mystical trailer, and that increased the interest.

After the release of the DVD, relentless promotion continued till Larry King and Oprah were infected.

The rest is...well, you know.

Jonathan Colburn said...

Well said Steve. I visit your blog often and like your work. I wrote a brief piece on 'The Secret' over on my Blog some time ago and I've been following your writings on it. I've just seen the DVD, so what the hell do I know?

Keep up the good work and feel free to stop by my blog sometime.


Anonymous said...

Not everythig is meant to be analyzed Steve. You can analyze things to death, literally. And in the process you take away all hope. iF it's going to be hope vs. reason, give me the hope. That is the only way most people I know can get through life. Life has enough disappointment built in without forcing people continually to face that disappointemnet in a direct and painful way. You have to leave people with the possibility of something better, and that is why The Secret is a best seller and your book is not. It isn't about literary merits. It is about helping people. It may surprise you but I read your book too and I respect what you said and the work you put in, but Steve, by the end you make a person almost want to kill themselves. It is that painful to read, page after page of being so negative about everything that makes the rest of us feel good.

Steve Salerno said...

Speaking of shocking comments, it probably will shock you to know that I was authentically touched by what you wrote, anon. I know this isn't an easy topic, and I do agree that--particularly in some realms, like romance--you can quite literally analyze things to death, as you put it. Some things are meant to be lived, not constantly evaluated (which, btw, if you did read SHAM, as you say, you will recognize as one of MY chief complaints against the self-help movement--that it "constantly encourages people to take the pulse of their happiness in real time," as I think I put it. But this is a little different, and in the end, I stand by what I've said about The Secret and "works" of its type. I could go on to explain why, theoretically, but I'd rather illustrate with another one of my (in)famous analogies/anecdotes.

When my father was in the late stages of bladder cancer, the oncologist took my mother and me aside one day and told us that Dad had about a month to live; maybe less. Immediately my mother said, "Don't tell him. You have to leave him some hope." Now, I went along because she was, after all, his wife of almost four decades. (I was 28 at the time.) But I knew my father--he was an intensely, passionately cerebral, analytical man--and I know he would've wanted to know. I don't know what he would've done with that knowledge; I don't know whether he might've chosen to come home to die, rather than linger in that cancer ward. Maybe he would've done nothing differently from what he ended up doing, which was to remain in that tiny hospital bed for about three more weeks, being poked and probed by medical technicians (as if it still mattered?) until his heart finally gave out. Maybe he would've wanted to have one more catch with his only son, out in the crisp air and the natural light, while he could still stand upright. In any case, I felt that he deserved to know. Why? Simple: BECAUSE IT WAS TRUE. My father had dedicated his life to the pursuit of truth, of facts--not dreams, not miracles, not false hope. That is the difference here as well.

RevRon's Rants said...

If one is required to turn away from reality in order to experience hope, then that hope is false. To encourage others to turn away from truth, so that they might feel that false hope is to rob them of any chance of evolving emotionally, spiritually, or intellectually. And to do so in an effort to acquire material wealth is as cynical an endeavor in which one can engage. That is why I feel so strongly about those who are so aggressively marketing The Secret / LOA.

The universe is filled with truths more wonderful than any fantasy a marketing group could conjure. Better to seek out those wonders than to build illusions and distract people from true joy.

Steve Salerno said...

Rev, one hates to respond in language that sounds more appropriate to The Secret itself, but that is a wonderful evocation of the true nature of earthly hope.

Cosmic Connie said...

I found this latest Anon's post poignant too, but I respectfully disagree with him/her. The Secret is not, primarily, "about helping people," except, perhaps, its producers and stars. As for the rest of the people, The Secret is primarily about motivating them to give more of their hard-earned money to the producers and stars of The Secret.

Anon is right about one thing: the success of a book in today's market really has little to do with literary merit. It's all about feeling good, and The Secret definitely has the right stuff to make a lot of people feel good -- at least in the short term. But as the old song said, "There's got to be a morning after." Unless, of course, you can just keep getting high on more SHAM stuff, which many folks are trying desperately to do. (I can see the desperation now in the Law of Attraction discussion forums.)

Sooner or later, though, you're going to have to come down.

But it's not all gloom and doom outside of SHAM land. I don't think you have to choose between hope and reason; the two can peacefully coexist. *False* hope and reason don't get along so well together, though.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, that "earthly" hope is, in my belief system, the key to our spiritual evolvement. No matter what one believes (or doesn't), I think we can agree that we're here in this life for some reason. The differences in what we perceive that reason to be are irrelevant. So that "earthly hope" is the path we follow, whether we perceive the goal as heaven, nirvana, satori, or simply living well. And we cannot follow that path unless we are willing to follow truth, and as Roethke said, to "gaze, with hunter's eye..."

"Toward eternity" is optional. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

I almost feel like I'm supposed to shout, "...and beyond!"

Nice work on this one, folks. All-around. Even the dissent, for the most part, was engaging.

Linda McEvoy said...

This "Secret" really is a strange one. I adhere to logic and reason, but I have seen time and again the LOA work in my life, using meditation and prayer. Having said that, it's debatable whether or not what I was going for was actually what I really needed, deep down. The real con IMHO is the idea peddled by both rationalists and mystics alike, though they would throw their hands up in horror at my suggestion - that humans should essentially like the world and "be happy" in it once they reach an accommodation within it. The scientific/rationalist approach never outwardly rejects the world or concedes that its fundamental structure is flawed; likewise the snake oil peddlers try to paste over this by saying that it can work and you can achieve happiness if you only use the LOA. We need to go back to basics here, folks. If there's one thing I'll do until the day I die, it's internally rebel against the madness of this existence. No one from any persuasion will get me thinking that everything is "ok", whether that be a physicist, psychologist or mystical quack.