Exposing "The Secret"

David Pescovitz: Jody Radzik of the always-illuminating Guruphiliac blog says, “Here’s an excellent explanation, deconstruction and debunking of that claptrap “The Secret.” From “The Wrath of the Secretrons” by Connie L. Schmidt:

f you’re at all familiar with The Secret, you know that the big secret revealed therein is a centuries-old principle called the law of attraction, or LOA. In The Secret LOA is presented as a scientific law akin to the law of gravity. LOA believers maintain that whether we realize it or not, we “attract” everything that happens to us – the good and the bad, the sublime and the silly, the comical and the tragic. Financial success or failure, health or illness, a life of peace or one beset by violent crime or natural disasters, all occur because we somehow attracted them. Proponents of LOA explain that this happens because our vibrations are in sync with the events in question. If we learn to focus on the good and ignore the bad, we will “raise our vibrations” and attract more good things into our lives – including, and some would say especially, material goodies.

There does seem to be a great deal of emphasis on material wealth in The Secret, and this is by design, according to the producers, since so many people these days are interested in getting rich. The story goes that Rhonda Byrne, the main creator and producer of The Secret, was originally inspired by a 1910 book called The Science of Getting Rich, one of many books by success/motivational writer Wallace D. Wattles (1860-1911). Wattles, who believed a fulfilling life was not possible without wealth, wrote that a “normal” person cannot help wanting to be rich, and that if you don’t become rich, “you are derelict in your duty to God, yourself and humanity.” Although he did not mention the law of attraction by name in the book, he alluded to it: “It is a natural law that like causes produce like effects.” He added, “Once you learn and obey these laws, you will get rich with mathematical certainty.”

I think it worthy of note that Wattles, who died at a relatively young age, did not die rich. Perhaps he failed to do the math…

The reason for featuring (Joe) Vitale, (John) Gray, (John) Demartini and other successful self-help gurus in The Secret is, obviously, to convince watchers that these people became successful because they learned how to use the law of attraction in their favor. Never mind the years of trial and error, hard work and dumb luck, that got them to where they are now. Steve Salerno, author of the book SHAM: How The Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless, wrote in his review of The Secret on Amazon: “One seldom encounters a better/worse example of the logical fallacy known as a posteriori reasoning. To take a successful person, look backwards at the attitudes they held on the way to becoming successful, then use those as proof-positive of WHY they’re successful, is as fundamentally silly as using the fact that Bill Gates and Ted Turner were college dropouts as justification for why you or your kids should drop out of college, too. (‘See? You’ll become a millionaire, just like they did!’).”

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UPDATE: My friend Adam Parfrey and Maja D’Aoust co-wrote a new Secret-busting book, The Secret Source, that’s currently at the printer. Here’s an excerpt:

Says teacher David Schirmer within The Secret:

“When I first understood The Secret, every day I would get a bunch of bills in the mail. I thought, “How do I turn this around?” The law of attraction states that what you focus on you will get, so I got a bank statement. I whited out the total, and I put a new total in there. I put exactly how much I wanted to see in the bank. So I thought, “What if I just visualized checks coming in the mail?” So I just visualized a bunch of checks coming in the mail. Within just one month, things started to change. It is amazing: today I just get checks in the mail. I get a few bills, but I get more checks than bills.”

Another thing Mr. Schirmer received in the mail was notification from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in July, 2007, that he would be investigated for false promises made to investors who lost tens of thousands of dollars entrusted to a revered teacher from The Secret.”

Adam adds “What’s different about Maja’s and my book from (Schmidt’s critique that you link to above) is that we explore the original gnostic and hermetic writings that spun out the alchemical, Rosicrucian, New Thought movement and Prosperity Consciousness ideas that “The Secret” grabs from in a selective and reductionist way.” Here’s more from our book:

Here, too, we must keep in perspective that fact that the acquisition of wealth is not necessarily a “benefit,” and wouldn’t solve one’s deepest problems. In the ancient alchemical and Hermetic teachings, we are taught the opposite, not to go about getting everything we want, but rather, to frustrate our desires by not giving in to them. Carl Jung extrapolates on this Hermetic concept in his works on psychology and alchemy. It is precisely the frustration of desires that creates enough tension and heat to power the calcinatio stage of the alchemical operation itself:

The necessary frustration of desirousness or concupiscence is the chief feature of the calcinatio stage. First the substance must be located; that is, the unconscious unacknowledged desire, demand, expectation must be recognized and affirmed. The instinctual urge that says “I want” and “I am entitled to do this” must be fully accepted by the ego … As a rule, life reality, if faced, provides plenty of occasions for the calcinatio of frustrated desirousness … when denied, it becomes enraged. This is the psychological homologue of the “Divine Wrath” that roasted Christ. Reality often generates fire by challenging or denying the demanding expectations of such desires. Denied justification, the frustrated desire becomes the fire of calcinatio … the fire of calcinatio purges these identifications and drives off the root.

On a personal level, the expectation of easy riches combined with a sense of absolute entitlement indicates stunted psychological growth and a sense of failure if desires remain unfulfilled. And it should go without saying that the Prosperity Consciousness message, that everyone is entitled to fulfill all their consumerist desires without restriction gnores the fact that our small planet has its physical limitations and is currently in the throes of potentially cataclysmic reactions against its six billion six hundred million human occupants, whether prosperous or not.

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