Dec. 1st, 2010

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The popularity of tripe like The Secret and similar books and sales pitches has always rankled.

Why is the book The Secret popular? I'm guessing it's because we as a species hate the idea of being at the mercy of random chance and forces beyond our control. We want to think we had something to do with our fortunes. In some cases we're right. But to apply that to ALL of one's life? Foolishness.

Oprah, one of the book's biggest boosters, is a prime candidate for this. She's someone who has amassed quite a fortune. Put yourself in her position, and isn't it more fun to think your drive and positive thinking had a lot more to do with that than random luck? Hell, thinking that way is self-preservation in a way. If blind chance had a good deal to do with success, then wouldn't failure be a blind chance away at any moment? Who wants that? As well, if we had something to do with these wonderful events then we can enjoy them as the fruits of our labors and our actions, not as something someone else may have deserved but we have because it just worked out that way.

The problem here is that if, as the book/movement would have us believe, our visualization and positive thinking are at the core of our success then the opposite principle is equally true: Bad things happen to you because you bring them on yourself via a bad attitude and negative visualization.

I suppose on some superficial level these things apply. If you go into a job interview with a good attitude you have a better shot than you would if you go in surly and pessimistic. If you meet the challenges in your life with a smile you may well do better in getting past them than you would have with a more timorous stance.

But that's not the idea here. These people would have us believe we have real control, over economic realities, over disease, over fate. Were this phenomenon based in even the tiniest shard of reality would Francis Ford Coppola have had to wrest a happy-ish ending from the dour tale of Preston Tucker? And how in the world would depressives like Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis, Elliott Smith, Phil Ochs, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Carrie Fisher manage to achieve any success? Really, this is a collection of people who had massive creative and (in some cases) commercial success, and I'd posit few of them were positive thinkers. And would a sunny child like Ryan White have died young? Because (in essence) cancer patients, people with MS, folks who lose their home in the current recession, these people all brought it on themselves by not thinking positive thoughts. That's the crux of it. Little kids with leukemia can blame themselves.

Yes, I know, that's taking things further than the authors/motivational speakers/snake-oil salesmen would have us go. That's not because it's not part of their belief. It's because it'd turn off too many people, so they rarely say it out loud in public. But the movement is a slap in the face of anyone who has already suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It is patently offensive, and is so on several levels.


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