In a way, it seems almost unfair to go after Joe "Mr. Fire*" Vitale. He's such an easy target. The guy just keeps saying some of the stupidest things you're ever apt to hear—and what's more, he says them as if he were Moses, sharing wisdom on the Mount. But in recent times, Joe may have out-stupided himself. And before we proceed, I should note that it looks like I'm pretty much the last one in on this controversy; journalistic integrity requires that I credit the fine work already done here by Cosmic Connie, Blair Warren, Rev Ron and others.
It all started in Vitale's blog of October 26. Therein, Joe wondered why, amid the inferno that was Southern California**, the homes of several of his positive-thinking collaborators in The Secret were among those that had been spared. He mused,
"It's interesting to me that 45 homes burned near the home of John Assaraf but his is safe.Vitale stopped short of declaring forthrightly that the positive thinkers had kept the fire at bay through the mystical energy of their happy thoughts...but what other implication is there? (In fairness to Joe, once again I'll quote his exact words, confusing though they may be: "Instead of wondering why they attracted a fire, it might be wiser to wonder how they didn’t attract a fire.") There was no mistaking the inverse implication, either: that the homes that were destroyed belonged to people who weren't as positive about life, and who, presumably, had "attracted" the fire to their residences (or at least, unlike Assaraf and company, had failed to deflect it).
"Same with the home and office of James Ray.
"Same with the manager of Lisa Nichols."
Joe's remarks ignited a firestorm in their own right, with readers, yours truly included, condemning him for his blame-the-victim mentality. Just as offensive to me personally was Vitale's cavalier way of making the point: its seeming smugness and lack of anything resembling empathy. I told him so in a comment, which he promptly deleted, along with all other critical comments. Today, just one comment remains on that post of October 26. It's from "Tammy," and it reads like so: "There [sic] attitude is truly fantastic," she gushes, referring to Assaraf and company. "I'm on a few of their mailing lists and was in awe of the attitudes presented. I believe they have Zero Limits!"***
In a follow-up the next day, Joe unsurprisingly pointed fingers at those of us who can read and understand English. He titled his rebuttal, "The Rorschach Blog Post," contending that we who'd attacked him for attacking the fire victims were the ones with the real problem. See, we had interpreted his post through the chronic veil of negativity that plagues our pitiful existences. In his mealy-mouthed defense of the previous day's post, Vitale denied that he'd made any "direct comments [about his] Secret co-stars and why they escaped the San Diego fires," adding, "What I did say was I found it 'interesting' and I invited readers to consider asking a different question about the experience."
We get it, Joe. You were just sorta thinkin' aloud, huh? Having a little metaphysical moment with yourself. Just like the Reverend Al has no particular agenda or implication in mind when he says it's "interesting" that there are so many blacks on death row. It's just an idle musing.
Well, comes now a new post in which Vitale muses about the experience of returning home from a trip to discover that his swimming pool was ruined. (Though Joe avoids mentioning the San Diego fires this time, presumably we are to make the association between Joe's damaged swimming pool and the incinerated homes, with both events being equally tragic in Joe's world.) He assures us that, confronted with this great loss, he "didn’t fall into a victim mentality" and "didn’t see the event as negative." Events, you see, are just events; it's how we respond to them that makes all the difference. Notice that in saying this, Joe V. is judiciously backpedaling away from the implications of his post of October 26; in fact, he's retreating into the realm of standard-issue Norman Vincent Peale resiliency: "It's not what happens to you in life, but how you react to it." So, even leaving aside the tackiness of Vitale's endeavor to draw some analogy between the cracks in his pool and the devastation in Southern California, we have a philosophical problem.
What Joe now seems to be saying is a variant of that old cliche, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade." That is a far, far cry from the gospel of The Secret, which argues that if you put the right vibes out into the cosmos, life won't give you lemons in the first place.
You know, I'd always assumed that The Secret was so absurd on its face that it required little formal refutation, so I never took its logic to task. The fire in San Diego—regrettably—presents us with an opportunity to do just that. San Diego in general is a pretty nice place to live, and some of the neighborhoods blighted by fire—though well removed from the ocean breezes for which the city is best known—are very, very nice places to live. For over a decade I lived in the town immediately west of Rancho Bernardo, the site of arguably the worst devastation. If you live in a private home in a place like "RB," and you've been there for more than a few years—long enough to see the value of your house soar from, say, $300,000 in the late 90s to seven figures today—you enjoy a fairly privileged everyday lifestyle, at a level that most Americans in most other areas of this great nation cannot imagine. It is like being on perpetual vacation. That's the "feel" of it, the causally opulent way life is lived there. So. Are we to assume that the families who lost their homes in the fires of late October had "attracted" this idyllic lifestyle through the power of their positive energies...but then suddenly, for no reason anyone can theorize, they emitted some demon vibe that drew this horror to them? Does that make sense? But we needn't fall back on mere common sense to make the point. Statistically speaking, too, Vitale's original premise was way off the mark. There are tens of thousands of private homes in the areas of San Diego ravaged by the fires. Out of all that, about "365 properties" were lost. Even in the hardest-hit areas, most residents avoided disaster. Some 48,000 people live in Rancho Bernardo alone, occupying some 20,000 homes. If Assaraf and Nichols defeated the fire through positive vibes, they had plenty of company. Thankfully.
When I ponder all this, the word that comes to mind is insincerity. And the word applies on (at least) two levels. First, there is the basic insincerity of what Joe wrote on October 26. Here you have a man who claims to be part of a movement that upholds the sanctity of the human spirit, and yet at a time of profound human tragedy he writes a post that shows not "zero limits" but rather zero compassion; he writes a post that turns human suffering into a talking point for his pet projects. But there's a second level of insincerity here, and that is Joe's cowardly reaction to the ensuing fray. In reacting as Joe did—in tap-dancing away from the core article of faith in the Secretron liturgy (even absurd as it is)—Vitale underscored the insincerity of the whole movement. Worst of all, he tried to make it sound as if we misunderstood what he was trying to say to us in the first place. We're the crazy ones, you see?
No, Joe, we're not the crazy ones, and we didn't misunderstand. We heard you loud and clear, fella. And that's the saddest and sickest part of all.
* It's a nickname that someone supposedly hung on Joe years ago, and Joe embraced it; he likes to think it captures the sweep and intensity of his promotional copy.
** It bears noting that, though the worst of it was over, the fires still raged in some areas as Vitale typed out his post for that day.
*** a reference to Vitale's latest book, which presents his secret Hawaiian system for achieving untold wealth and fulfillment. You may recall our earlier discussions of h'onoponomonobonodono....