Sunday, October 16, 2011

'Science shows: You can do anything you're capable of!'

They're at it again.

Like most alumni of The Secret,
John Assaraf was laying low for a while after his pal and co-conspirator James Ray parboiled a trio of New Age acolytes in Sedona. Then, and also like the rest of the clan, Assaraf sought to reinvent himself with post-Secret insights. Lately he's been tweeting about this stuff.

I'm not going to get too deep into the particulars of that site, which is premised on the supposedly magical powers of the precuneus and your ability to harness same (with a little ongoing help, that is, from your friends in the New Wage community, as our friend Connie likes to call it). You're fully capable of reading the advertorial for yourself and drawing your own conclusions. But as a general matter, this is what self-help hucksters do: They take a snippet of science (usually so-called "emerging" science), combine it with a pinch of philosophy, a useful aphorism or two from someone with high name recognition, some ever-ready boilerplate about Empowerment and Positivity and blah-blah-blah, and presto...a hot new product line*. It's like the old wedding prescriptive: "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" (to which I would append, "helps them separate your cash from you").

I've said this before, but it's important to expend a few more words from time to time so that some readers who are inclined to dismiss me as a curmudgeonor worsefully understand the argument I'm making. I do not dispute that you can make yourself obsess about things that you want, or want to happen. We all know people who do that even without trying. What I dispute is the existence of a push-button link between that level of obsession and the attainment of whatever it is you want, or want to happen.

I do not think that positive mental attitude is irrelevant in life. Such a stance would be ridiculous. When people get down and hopeless, they no longer even try, and it seems logical that more often than not, you must try in order to succeed. (There are, of course, powerful examples of accidental success. See under "Fleming" and "penicillin.") Positivity is all the more important (if not downright essential) in any enterprise that plays out largely in the human heart or mind: like love. If you and your partner are not positive about your love, you will likely not be happy in that love, and the love strikes me as far less likely to last, ipso facto.

But the more important point is that in other real-world enterprises
that is, where we must interact with our environment and, to some degree, conquer itthere's plenty of pointless, useless trying and hoping. Since talk of personal reinvention is all the rage these days, let me stipulate for the record that I would love to reinvent myself as a pitcher/outfielder for the New York Yankees. I really would. And if I thought I had half a chance, I'd be sitting here obsessing and attracting and dispatching positive energy into the ever-obliging universe 24/7. But it ain't gonna happen for me. Not at 61 with two bad knees. In factand this is the more pertinent factit isn't even gonna happen for the vast majority of 20-somethings who are signed and drafted out of high school or college. These are kids who have obsessed about baseball; they have organized their entire lives around success in the realm. They've hit until their hands bled, worked with the best coaches, attended all the most renowned camps and clinics. It's just that statistically, there isn't room for all of them in major league baseball. End of story, end of dream.

Sorry, folks. PMA is not a bush-putton panacea for what ails you.

The bottom-line problem with the self-help movement is its lack of nuance, its near-total disinclination to parse language in the way that it must be parsed in order to have any real-world relevance. Marketing dictates call for communicating a clear and unambiguous message, thus SHAMland finds it necessary to take highly complex (and individualized) topics like "What are the ingredients of success?" and distill them down to absurdly simplistic bullet points that offer about as much true instruction as my telling you to "go out and enjoy life." (OK, glad we've got that settled.) You cannot get a deal for a realistic book, a book with a title/premise like "Maybe you ought to try harder because it probably increases your odds of success a bit more, though in truth you can't really count on that..."

At least that's what my precuneus is making me conscious of, this morning.

* Translation: scam.

16 comments:

Dimension Skipper said...

Well, when I read this pseudoscientific item a short while ago, I wondered how long it would be before the New Wage crowd would start spouting things like "You too can suffer from mental illness just like me" or "Let's all suffer brain malfunction together"...

Do eternally optimistic people just have malfunctioning frontal lobes?
By Alasdair Wilkins at io9 (Oct 11, 2011)

I suspect I'll be waiting quite a while.

;-)

Anonymous said...

Anybody can stand up and throw barbs from the sidelines, but what are you personally doing to stop it from ruining any more lives (or are you just an agent provocateur meant to continue perpetuating 'known and unknown' with no real world solution)? This new age movement is more than just money driven, it's DECEPTIVE SOCIAL ENGINEERING AT IT'S MOST DANGEROUS, especially when this crap is prominently displayed at your local library for any unsuspecting citizen to check out, free of charge and be subliminally hypnotized to perform practices that will having them setting up residence in the Hotel California...It's the same old song, with a different meaning, once you're too far gone...We just don't get it, keep it copacetic, and we learn to accept it, because we're so pathetic. The sky isn't falling, it already did, but we're too damned distracted by trivial pursuits to notice...We NEED to call a time out and fix this subversive attack on humanity, period! Got news for you, heroin and crack were also forms of 'self-help' that were introduced into the population to serve the same purpose as these new age practices, to destabilize portions of the population to take themselves out of the game by detaching them from reality, by experiencing the world in the most ugly/evil ways and to have no desire to try anymore- ego/will depleted- mission accomplished. How long will we continue to ignore these obvious infringements on human rights going on with impunity right under our noses? When those purveying the wrong regain a conscience and admit it? Don't hold your breath. Their methods have changed but the results are the same, a few self-appointed privileged ones using the rest of us to perpetuate their visions/versions of reality while we fight for scraps. Man has been using science (pseudo and psych included) to play 'God' for years and we just sit back and enjoy the real life show of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the metaphorical analogy to this new age scourge piggybacking on the works that Cults In Action already have laid the groundwork and research for centuries). You need only ask yourself one question to know the truth; is the way that the world works benefitting all inhabitants to prolong our survival on this planet we're all marooned on, or are the resources controlled by a greedy cabal and doled out to the masses for a price? Forced to pay to play, thanks mom and dad for 'buying' into the economic disempowerment Chuck E. Cheese societal model...Any new kitsch or tchotchkes coming out this week that I need to waste money on? Help stop the lab rat races, the pyramid scheming, and history metaphorically repeating itself...

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: As I read your comment I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for you to reverse field (as if to reveal the entire first half of your diatribe as sarcasm/irony). Obviously that did not happen, so I will interpret you as sincere.

All movements like this are outgrowths of the cultures in which they germinate--and I mean "cultures" in the petri-dish sense as well as the societal sense. If you simply re-read your own comment you'll see the breadth of the phenomenon with which we're dealing (though I do think at times you go a bit far afield). Increasingly we devalue everything concrete in favor of the slippery and insubstantial. That even goes for my current working realm, the financial industry. Once upon a time we launched great companies, then we began investing in great companies, then we began investing in companies that were not so great (but had a good "story"), then we began investing in entire industries that had a good "story" (hence the dot-com bubble), then we began evolving secondary layers of investment ("derivatives") whose connection to the worth of the underlying companies is tenuous at best...and who knows where we go from here. That's one main reason why our economy is so vulnerable. We don't actually make very much anymore. We simply bet on the salability of things other people make.

Regardless of idiom, we want it easy, fast and whimsical. We don't want anything that requires significant (serious) introspection, critical thinking, preparation and/or hard work. Self-help caters to that, plain and simple.

Jenny said...

Funny how often your thoughts sort of mirror mine, Steve, even if in a funhouse kind of way! I also can appreciate the article DipSkip shares, which ends by saying "those of us blessed with an eternally sunny disposition also have a brain that doesn't process unwanted information correctly. I would go ahead and warn all my optimistic friends about this, but I have the sinking suspicion that they'd just find the bright side of a malfunctioning frontal lobe."

The sunny side of abject cynicism might be the ability to find the humor imbedded therein.

a/good/lysstener said...

This is as good an all around column as I think I've read from you. You should think about posting this as an explanation of what SHAMblog is about.

Can't end without saying, very nice photo. :-)

Cal said...

Is barpoil a word? Or did you mean parboil? I'm always trying to increase my vocabulary, so I had to look up the word since I had never heard it before.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal: Did I actually write that?? I never say "LOL," but LOL! I'll change it now.

Anonymous said...

To quote the ending of one your previous blogs, 'walk a mile, people.' I'm coming to you as a Joe Friday from the fringes, with just the facts...PKD, JFK, MLK, the '2 helicopters and boat' of our time, yet we still continue to be clueless. Even when someone comes to you with genuine insight into the human condition and how things really are, noses get turned up in offense (and in arrogance). For someone that writes a blog about shams working in an industry of legalized shams, you certainly seem to show you know which side your bread is buttered on. There was a guy who tried to tell everyone about Bernie Madoff and nobody listened to him, either? Why, because of plausible deniability, being above reproach or flying below everyone's radar? We are basically in the same boat as him regarding this self-help sham, except the insights I'm providing reflect a real world analysis of the effects of being infected by the self-help plague that go deeper than your stated insights as you appropriately summed up as 'plain and simple.' At that point, you are ignoring the fallout from the induced mental degradation and the cover-up by those to not link the collateral mental illness to TBI by being hypnotically induced to intently focus your mind to 'reprogram' over previously learned and conditioned behavior, which at first feels like a natural high then leads to overloads and short circuits in the brain which pave the one way trip to the Hotel California (no reservations needed, just come as you are!). We are up against an industry that is scamming the human spirit and soul, one mind at a time. When do we stand up and say, 'ALL BETS ARE OFF!"??? Or if that happens, will everyone just think its a big joke?
Either you can be a part of purveying the pernicious problem or partake in the seemingly imminent illusive solution...

Anonymous said...

Can't say I'm a sports man, myself, but there's some cool clothes come out of baseball, neat, minimalist practical stuff like boots and caps. Even the bat has a kind of stark simplicity as an object of self defence.
It's quite aesthetically pleasing, I think, baseball.

Steve Salerno said...

It's quite pleasing in other ways as well, visceral ways that defy one's attempts to explain them in satisfying fashion. I'm reminded of Ted Williams' haunting phrase for the perfect union of bat and ball: "the feel of nothing." You have to have experienced it to know what Ted's speaking of, but once you have, you "get it." No further words are necessary.

Cosmic Connie said...

Good post, Steve, and I'm glad you're back (or still here) in fine form. Of note, John Asshataraf (oops, spelling glitch) was one of those Secret "stars" who touted the use of the vision board. I’ve probably mentioned this here before, but what the heck. Assaraf often boasted about how he’d put a pic of a big waterfront mansion on his vision board and then "forgot" about it... but a few years later he ended up being so successful that he bought a mansion that was...hold on to your tinfoil hat... ALMOST EXACTLY like the home in the picture!!!

Who sez vision boards and other Secret wisdom don't work?

Too bad his "coaching" business, OneCoach, went bankrupt (Chapter 7). Oops. I guess he doesn't talk about that much in the promotions for his new frauducts and flopportunities. And it’s hard to find much information about it on the Internet. I mentioned it on a blog post last April (http://cosmicconnie.blogspot.com/2011/04/pardon-schadenfruede-it-comes-with.html – scroll down to “Moral bankruptcy isn’t the only problem”), but one of the links I provided went 404. Google a bit, and you can at least find information about the regretful email Assaraf sent out to his affiliates when it became apparent that OneCoach was moribund. (And all of this happened AFTER The Secret.)

I guess it doesn’t matter much, anyway. Assaraf will continue, like most selfish-help/New-Wage hucksters, to reinvent himself until and unless he gets indicted for something, and even that might not stop him. (It didn’t stop Kevin True-dough.) I noticed that an infomercial for a frauduct called “Cracking The Rich Code” is still playing on TV, on the same channels whose news divisions pride themselves on their investigative reporting about consumer fraud. And Assaraf is one of the featured “self-made billionaires” on the advertised DVD, telling the gullible and the desperate how they too can become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.

The more things change…

Anonymous said...

Well, I agree with you there Steve. I think sport is by and large an unhealthy obsession, but there is a definite pleasure in giving a ball a satisfying whack in whatever sport.
I'm sure there are good evolutionary reasons for the pleasure in exercising and developing physical skills like that.

Anonymous said...

Or do you mean something more Zen-ish?

Gary said...

You know what we need? A huckster watch list, especially for the "New Age" sham artists. Some may say that it's just human nature, that there will be scheming clever people always preying upon the clueless and naive. Part of the Darwinian equation, where the smart will avoid them and live on, while others will be duped and pay the price. The trouble is, that kind of genetic weeding really doesn't reduce the number of victims. And then we have these hucksters continuing to prosper from their exploitation of others, some victims falling for them over and over.

A really big one was "The Secret". I couldn't get over how a very simple premise, the "law of attraction" was gussied up to such a degree that enough material was authored for a book and a movie. I was given both as a gift. I found the book meaningful for only a few pages, then became disenchanted with the same message being regurgitated over and over in slightly different forms by different people. There was obviously no deliberate "secret". It was simply life philosophies that people just happened to live and prosper from. The idea being that positive belief is more powerful than anything, by simply keeping yourself in the game, in touch with possibilities. If you're out of the game, far less possibilities will be open to you. It's a simple equation. Most people would already know this, if they grew up in a healthy family with attentive caring parents.

The real problem is that society is far too consumed with materialism. People believe that owning things will make them happy. And, things do make them happy for a moment... but then the moment passes and the items are taken for granted, with the desire for more still beckoning. The media constantly conditions the populace to consume, because that is what fuels our economy the most. And yet, when is enough enough? Until we've exploited all of Earth's natural resources, leaving ourselves in an environment too toxic for healthy living? The social perspective is so out of touch with reality... so few seem to know the real deal. And most of us won't, if we're constantly distracted by the scammers looking to profit from their illusions.

Steve Salerno said...

Gary, thank you for that. Very savyy and on-point. Thanks for dropping by.

harrison freed said...

I'm a firm believer if you visualize what you want it will happen, but the problem is people forget to take action. My motto is ask, believe, take action and receive the benefit. It's not about working hard, but working smart. I learned this through the BS that's out there. The secret is full of BS because you have to take action to make things happen. I have watched it and the one thing that they don't tell you is to take action to receive the benefit.