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It’s no ‘Secret’: This is America today

first_imgApply it, said Byrne, and your life “will totally change.” It’s tempting to play such Utopian hype for laughs, while also wondering how the resulting goulash of competing aspirations could possibly resolve into a society in which there must be management and labor, rich and less rich, winners and also-rans. But the fact is, no enterprise achieves Harry Potter-like cultural saturation by feeding solely on low-hanging fruit. Like it or not, this is today’s America – a culture wherein any and all expressions of PMA receive nonstop nourishment at the highest levels. Between them, Larry King and Oprah Winfrey have donated the equivalent of five hourlong infomercials to “The Secret. “The Secret” sells its cool, existential worldview throughout: You reap what you sow, period. Thus, if you already enjoy prosperity and acclaim, it’s because you believed in it, “attracted it,” and are cosmically deserving of it. Of course, if you suffer with failure and disrepute, the same applies: You earned it. In the black-or-white land of “The Secret,” sick people are sick because they embraced their illnesses in some karmic way, and 9-11 victims somehow invited those 757s into their lives. BY now, thousands of words have been expended on the most ironically titled self-help program in history: the positive-thinking juggernaut known as “The Secret.” The original film-length DVD went platinum late last year, some 1.7 million copies selling at around $30. A hastily written derivative grabbed (and held) the No. 1 slot on Amazon and The New York Times’ best-seller list for advice books. All this visibility and verbiage have not prevented journalists and other observers from missing the forest in the tease. In truth, “The Secret” is less important for what it says to us than for what it says about us. Just to recap: In concept, one might call “The Secret” self-fulfilling-prophecy-meets-PMA-on-steroids. It’s anchored in the so-called Law of Attraction, which basically poses that what we believe in our hearts and minds will come to us. As an LOA fan site puts it, we are “living magnets.” In one of her earliest interviews, Rhonda Byrne, “The Secret”‘s creator, termed her work “knowledge that has been known by the greatest leaders, discoverers and philosophers.” Armed with that knowledge, she added, “There is not anything any human cannot be, do or have … not a single thing … It doesn’t matter if they’re sleeping in a park, if they’re totally broke, it doesn’t matter if they’re not well, it doesn’t matter if their relationships are a mess.” This unapologetic philosophical hard line, despite having attracted the ire of some social critics, is really the quirky genius behind “The Secret,” underlying its beguiling effect on two polar but pivotal audiences: young adults weaned on self-esteem-based education and America’s 77 million baby boom midlifers, many of whom are desperate to unshackle themselves from everything they’ve been, heretofore. If “The Secret” is about anything, it’s about the abandonment of reason and the inconvenient truths of the known physical world. This is the perfect message for its time – and, really, the only message that Empowered America will accept. Science and logic have fallen out of fashion nowadays. For example, statistics on health care utilization and the stunning rise of alternative medicine leave little doubt that we’re a people who increasingly flee medical orthodoxy for mind-body regimens whose own advocates not only refuse to cite clinical proof, but dismiss the very idea of proof. We consult oracles before oncologists, shamans instead of shrinks. In this age of entitlement, the lure of what amounts to wishful thinking is not hard to fathom. What most self-help-minded Americans crave is not actionable advice, but a mechanism for putting off genuine action – a mechanism that gives them permission not to face the tough realities of how success really happens (i.e. hard work, careful planning, scary choices, sheer fortuity, etc.). What some of us seek even more than success is a way of postponing the admission of failure, with its consequent need for a Plan B. If that day of reckoning can be endlessly deferred by telling ourselves a pretty story about limitless possibility and the victories still to come, then we can see the glass as forever half full. Just don’t try to drink from it, because there’s nothing there. Steve Salerno is the author of SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless. Contact him through his Web site, www.shamblog.com. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more