The palpable idiocy of the new best-selling book: “The Secret”

March 26, 2007 | By | 11 Replies More

Here’s a good way to save yourself $23.95: Don’t buy The Secret.  It’s not that I’m against secrets in general, it’s just that I want to spare you from wasting your money on a hot new book called “The Secret,” a book that has hit a new low in shallow, self-absorbed and insipid hype.  There is almost nothing in this book worth reading, which is a pretty amazing thing to say about a a book that is featured prominently at Borders and other large bookstores.  It’s has even become the number one best selling hardcover advice book according to the NYT.  And why wait to make it into a movie?  Truly, why wait?

I don’t know much about Rhonda Byrne, the author, or her gaggle of “great writers, leaders, philosophers, doctors, and scientists.”  Byrne presents an unlikely image of a sage.  She attempts to strike a pensive blonde pose on that the inside flap, yet obliviously presents herself as strained, contorted and out of her element. Much like her book.  Or am I too contaminated by the shallow, self-absorbed and insipid hype that one finds wrapped in that beautifully designed book jacket? Truly, the book jacket is gorgeous, though you would get equally helpful advice (perhaps more) by trying to “read” a Persian rug.

You’re impatient, though.  You want the goods.  Here they are: What can you say about a book based on the following premise: “Everything that’s coming into your life you are attracting into your life.  And it’s attracted to you by virtue of the images you’re holding in your mind.”  You’ll find this gem in a chapter decorated with quote by a fellow named W. Clement Stone: “Whatever the mind can conceive it can achieve.”

What?! Then, by golly, go conceive of the end of world hunger or the end of war, or even for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  Is this nonsensical or is it elitist?  Why choose, when you are told that superior minds create physical worlds.  The poor?  Well, their poorness is proof of their inferior thoughts. 

Am I giving this best seller an unfair reading?  You be the judge. Just go read this book for a few minutes (but don’t buy it) and you’ll see that I’m holding myself back.  If I had this book in my hands right now, I would be tempted to flail it somewhere!  I read several chunks of The Secret while lingering at a chain bookstore.  In the end, my positive thoughts steered me away from buying The Secret (uh-oh . . . is that proof that the book works?). 

The book is divided into chapters concerning such things as health, money and world affairs.  I will be brief in describing the ideas, because it will make you mad to hear that this sort of book can be a best seller.

Let’s start with the chapter on money.  The Secret assumes that the acquisition of money should be a major focus in one’s life. “To attract money you must focus on wealth… you must focus on the abundance of money to bring that to you.”   With that assumpion squarely on the table, the focus turns to getting lots of money. We learn that the only reason any person does not have enough money “is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.”  Tell that to all of the people who are clamoring for justice at those newly designed less-kind and less-gentle bankruptcy courts, especially the many people who were driven to such desperate measures because of personal tragedies and major illness.  Is the remedy really to tell those poor souls that they need to “focus on prosperity”?

Speaking of major illnesses, readers of The Secret learn that “our body is really the product of our thoughts.”  In fact, “all stress begins with one negative thought.”  (Page 125).  The Secret presents the case study of a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer.  No problem.   She cured herself by watching “very funny movies.”  She learned “the secret” that laughing “releases the disease.”  What else can such a secret heal?  One fellow purportedly threw away his reading glasses simply by repeating the phrase “I can see clearly.  I can see clearly!”  As I read this passage, I was also thinking, “I can see clearly . . .”

I’m really not against positive thinking.  Thinking positive thoughts is generally a good thing, but it can only take you so far.  Eventually you run up against real things, like viruses, bullets and tanking economies.  In my experience, there are real limitations to the power afforded by happy thoughts. 

The Secret is the revenge of the New Agers.  The Secret appears to be the newest manifesto of those eternally-self-centered New Agers.  Perhaps this book is their attempt to knock those fundamentalists and their vicious Old Testament God off the stage, at least for awhile. Armed only with positive thoughts, The Secret informs us that we can defeat an external God because we can learn that we are Gods (at least those of us who read the book).  Exploring our new-found omnipotence is all for a good cause, of course, because those fundamentalists are also very self-centered people who have it coming.

Here’s “the secret” about relationships: Focus on yourself.  “Unless you fill yourself up first, you have nothing to give anybody… people are responsible for their own joy.”  (Page 119).   So how’s this for an opening line for a suitor who is wooing a lady: “I will love you forever by filling myself up first, because I am responsible for my own joy.  Let us be self absorbed together forever, darling.”

The Secret also offers some wisdom about the oftentimes nasty and brutish world.  We learn that one should not resist, because it is futile.  In fact, it is worse than futile.  “The antiwar movement creates more war.”  And don’t ever forget the virtue of remaining ignorant: Don’t watch the news because it will make you feel bad.  In fact, “the media is the effect of bad things and we are the cause. It’s just the law of attraction in action!”

For those times when things get really bad, we are reminded that quantum mechanics allows us to “create anything.”  Consequently, “we are the source of the universe.”  Let’s assume, for a moment, that there is a heaven, that you get there, and that there is a God waiting to chat with you.  Remember to tell God, “Ultimately, I am the source of the universe.”  An experiment could be run to settle this dueling Gods dispute.  Each of you get ten days to see how many universes you can create.  Ready?  Set?  . . .

How might I sum up this book?  It a rambling, ambiguous, self-contradictory book advising me to be self-absorbed, ignorant, megalomaniacal, carefree and delusional. It’s actually the perfect manual for understanding the mind of our current Commander-in-Chief. 

I was relieved to see that I am not the only person who has noticed this elephant in the room.  Even more amazing, the publisher touts that “The Secret is truly the most outstanding book to date that we have published.”  I wouldn’t go around bragging about things like this.  Not with The Secret as Exhibit A.

Sometimes there’s a silver lining to bad books. The Secret is an opportunity for me to demonstrate that I am an equal-opportunity skeptic.  When I see BS, I rapidly grow impatient, no matter who is doing the BS-ing.  Christian, Atheist or whatever-the-hell The Secret’s “experts” actually are.  It simply doesn’t matter.  Whenever incoherent advice is being offered at $24 per pop, I’m ready to jump into action.  I’m ready to fight the fight whenever I sense a rising tide of advice that disparages hard work, critical thinking or sensitivity to the legitimate needs of others.

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Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Meaning of Life, Psychology Cognition, Reading - Books and Magazines, War, Writing

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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Sites That Link to this Post

  1. | The (f)Law of Attraction | July 7, 2010
  2. The seduction of positive thinking : Dangerous Intersection | July 7, 2013
  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    This idea recurs periodically, each time being introduced as something revolutionary. Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Illusions, etc) unsubtly pushes the idea that all beings are Godlike if they allow themselves to be. If you believe strongly enough, the physical universe adjusts itself to suit you.

    Vonnegut created a science-fiction version of this ultimate energy called the "Universal Will to Become" (in the same book where he introduced the church of God the Utterly Indifferent).

    This latest self-help version of the idea is easy to poke fun at, because it makes no effort to call it fiction, much like the affirmations fad of the last decade that hooked Dilbert's Scott Adams.

    But it's an idea that sells well, like any snake oil palliative. It's the selling, not the product that people buy. Even when it is openly and cynically expressed: "the Hook brings you back".

  2. Ben says:

    The Secret is exactly the stuff (most) people like to hear. For example, We are in control, we have within ourselves the power to do good, if you buy this book you are part of the solution. I am sure there are some interesting ideas in the book, although I have not had the pleasure nor want of seeing it. Books like this come out about once a month… somebody has "discovered" a new way of thinking about the human condition. In this case, Oprah got behind it, and it just sort of snowballed. It's not that these are such bad messages being sold for $24, but it does sort of seem like the book equivalent of a tabloid newspaper (like the Enquirer). Not based on any real facts, just a pile of semi-interesting banter.

    I don't think many people get exposed to "inspirational" thinking like this in their small towns, so when daytime television makes it part of their book clubs, it gets special consideration. If this was the first book you had ever seen of it's type, of course you would be enthralled. I imagine that most people who are buying this book are actually getting their money's worth, simply for the fact that they now posess something which they believe to be the Secret to a better life. For example, (millions of) people are able to make the King James Bible lead them to salvation, whereas this book (The Secret) surely must have a clearer message than the Bible. I think this is just harmless philosophy, wrapped in gold-leaf, and marketed/targeted so as to make a big splash and reap profit. Seems like this kind of thing is situation normal here in America.

    Soon the daytime television world will be ready for another book which tugs at our hopes and dreams and utilizes peer pressure and fear. (Give it a whirl Erich, I'm sure it will make Oprah's list as long as you remember not to mention you are in kahootz with atheists.)

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    I've just been advised that Oprah LOVES The Secret. Unbelievable . . . http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2007/03/05/the_s

  4. spyder says:

    A few months ago, i was moderating a forum on globalization and local sustainability with a group of professors from the regional universities. During the Q&A a small cadre (and that is the best word to describe them) of Dr. Wayne Dyer apostles tried to continue to make the point that all we needed to do (perhaps the only thing we needed to do) was just think about peace and global prosperity. Such "positive spiritual thinking " would somehow engender collective consensual thoughts among the communities and voila, whirled peas and bountiful profits.

    They further argued that we academics couldn't/shouldn't use such terms as "anger, war, death, corruption, toxicity," etc., because to continue to do so inculcates these events into reality. Goodness me. I suspect the secret of The Secret is that it is a Dyer ripoff, hoping to make profit from those who confuse the Norman Vincent Peale with Pritikin/Atkins–it is about diets or peace of mind or both.

  5. joven says:

    I have seen the movie and i am not in the position to tell whether it is good or bad. What i am thinking is that it really depends on the person watching or reading it on how s/he understand things. There are also many people who agree with what the book had presented. For me, this secret thing is not a secret because many people have known these principles for years. The only thing is that the book compile all these principles into one package.

    There is a good marketing backup on the success of the secret. In fact, there is a seminar called the secret seminar that is based on the law of attraction. The speakers of the said seminar are also the some of the speakers in the movie.

  6. Boelf says:

    Agreed. But one quibble.

    Focus on yourself. “Unless you fill yourself up first, you have nothing to give anybody… people are responsible for their own joy.” (Page 119).

    Let us be self absorbed together forever, darling

    The phrase I think is "you must be enough by yourself". Imagine a relationship with someone whose entire world revolved around you, who is devastated if you are away for a few days.

    I don't see how this relates to the thesis that what you want causes what happens. But in simplistic terms it seems to be essentially right.

  7. jane doe says:

    I have a roommate who is now a "The Secret" Zombie. He is so concerned with eliminating the negatives from his life, that he feels nothing anymore. His extensive "lists" include nothing about what he should be doing, but only what he is (isn't) already. He is delusional, self-absorbed, and his eyes are glazed over. He believes he is constantly accomplishing, by telling himself he is, but he spends his days accomplishing nothing but thoughts of accomplishment. I agree with Erich Vieth's The palpable idiocy of the new best-selling book: “The Secret”, but I needed to add that this is also a dangerous fad.

  8. Timothy says:

    The Secret is retarded yes. But the ideas contained are true to an extent. Reality is subjective, in my opinion, and the mechanism that brings about the synchronizations that allow you to accomplish thing starts with the intention to do it. I.E. If I don't think I could do something, how is it that I ever would do it? There then comes the point in which I have to expend energy to achieve that, either physically or mentally. Learning a language vs starting a business.

    I also think it's true that the energy you put out is what you get back in. An example of that is that really relaxed people get relaxed responses. Angry attitudes will beget an angry response. You could call me New-Age-y and fucking nuts but, it's not like I sit on my ass all day expecting things to come to me.

  9. Ben says:

    Oprah tactfully explains away Atheism:

    “I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery, that that is what God is. That is what God is. It’s not a bearded guy in the sky.”

    http://www.salon.com/2013/10/15/dont_tell_an_atheist_shes_not_an_atheist/

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