Friday, November 02, 2007

Mr. Fire. Indeed.

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.

"Same with the home and office of James Ray.

"Same with the manager of Lisa Nichols."
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).

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....


Cosmic Connie said...

Excellent post, Steve. You realize, of course, that, as JV put it in the PS to his post about his recent swimming pool tragedy: "The meaning you give this blog post reflects your beliefs, too."

In any case, the fans are filing back into the building over at Mr. Fire's blog, with some nodding their heads at the "wisdom" he imparts, and at least one saying that he's going to use the swimming-pool example on his own blog.

A few have posed questions and challenges, but are being summarily dismissed because, after all, Mr. Fire already 'splained it all in his previous books and blog posts.

RevRon's Rants said...

I've never had a teacher who refused to answer a new student's question because he's answered it countless times before, in books, articles, etc. (which, quite conveniently, are for sale).

Neither have I ever had a teacher who would dismiss questions and challenges; certainly not by removing the questioners from the "classroom."

On the one hand, Steve, I know Joe well enough to know that he's not stupid, but rather is counting upon the stupidity of others to allow his non-answers and ludicrous statements to achieve the status of gospel. However, if he honestly thinks that merely hiding from valid questions (that apply directly to his own credibility) will make those questions go away, perhaps your assessment is accurate.

In the final analysis, however, I have long since released any attachment to Joe's intelligence level, or even his self-proclaimed spiritual evolvement. My only lingering concern is for the honest but naive "seekers" who don't know him as well as I do, and who cannot see through the sham (pun intended).

gregory said...

ha, sliding over to mr vitale's blog courtesy of your link, and i encounter byron katie and "the work".... what is your take on her??

mr. vitale is merely a guy who has taken descarte's "i think, therefore i am" and tweaked it to "i think positively, therefore i am", just as others do the "i emote, therefore i am", or "i have problems, therefore i am"... an ego validation thing, is all...

(my opinion on byron katie is that she is offering a way to be free from emotional reaction, and doing a great service.... you might not agree)

Anonymous said...

Why say something new when what has already been said says it all ...

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

It's so simple to be wise. Just think of something stupid to say and then don't say it.

One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.

Blair Warren said...


I don't have much to add to what Connie has said, but I did want to stop by and say thanks for another great post.

As you know, I was once very close to Joe - as was Connie - and it hurts for me to see him going in the direction he's going. Of course, he'd simply say I "attracted" that hurt, so maybe I shouldn't feel too bad, huh? :-)

After all...

Did you know that Joe just "attracted" a car once owned by rock star Steven Tyler?

Oh, and he also just spent 3 hours riding around in a S-T-R-E-T-C-H limo with some of the other "stars" from The Secret.

Oh, and I almost forgot, soon he'll be speaking on the same stage as Donald Trump.

But wait, there's more!

He also just had a picture of Francine, his *other* luxury sports car - yes, he has two now, in case you missed the news - painted on his watch.

It seems he's also going to get a new car port or maybe a swimming pool - probably an IN GROUND pool this time - for "The Vitale Estate."

I could go on - and on - and on - and on - as Joe does on his blog, but I'm sick enough already.

I know, I know. I "attracted" that as well. My bad.

Lana said...

Great analysis and conclusion! And so so well written. Dang.

Skeptico said...

Vitale deleted a comment of mine too, some while back. Funny, you’d think all his positive thoughts would keep the negative commenters away without him having to stoop to the rather pedestrian and non-Secret technique of clicking the “delete comment” key.

Cosmic Connie said...

Mr. Fire may have "cleaned" the controversy from his blog, but he didn't kill it. Seems there are some lively discussions going on about the same issues on a couple of other blogs...