I just can't pile up enough superlatives about the new book The Secret! Have you read it yet? Have you seen the movie? Have you heard Oprah fawning about it? When I checked Amazon today, it held the #2 spot, just trailing the boy wizard. Millions of people are reading this book, so I just had to check it out.
Here are my superlatives.
The Secret: Most Egregious and Self-Centered Pap of the 21st Century Thus Far?
The Secret: Dumbest Pseudo-Science Since Phrenology?
or how about:
The Secret: Most Pernicious and Socially Dangerous Book Since Mein Kampf?
I mean that last one in all seriousness.
For those of you who have not succumbed to cultural buzz and read the book (and you might want to, if only because it's even more deliciously awful than the snarkiest of reviews would lead you to believe), the basic premise is this: your thoughts are a magnet. When you are thinking thoughts of health and wealth, you will find yourself rolling in money and enjoying a perfect body. You can use this "natural law" -- a law that Byrne says is as reliable and impersonal as the law of gravity -- to attract all good things to yourself: success, loving relationships, pools of money, and whatever else you desire. The book includes (in fact, is comprised mostly of) testimonials from bigwigs who say the strategy has worked for them. Jack Canfield, of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame, brags of having a $4.5 million house and a "wife to die for." And so on. The book promises the universe to those who will only be brave enough to put its "secret" into action.
If it only stopped there, my main criticism would merely be: what's so secret about that? In graduate school, studying the New Thought movement, I learned that this power-of-positive-thinking shtick is as old as the hills. (Excuse me, mountains. Now go move them with your thoughts.) Russell Conwell told thousands of audiences in the late 19th century that everything they desired, including "acres of diamonds," could be found within. They had only to start tapping into their own power. Many other teachers coalesced around similar ideas, often claiming that their teachings were based in science and were demonstrable and replicable, like any bona fide scientific experiment.
If The Secret stopped there, we could all just ignore it and put Rhonda Byrne's creation down to a reincarnation of Phineas Quimby, this time with stylish hair and an Australian accent. But she doesn't stop there, and neither should we.
The logical reverse of extreme positive thinking -- which asserts your responsibility for every good thing that happens in your life -- is that every nasty thing that ever happens to you is, correspondingly, entirely your fault. Byrne is explicitly clear that you brought misfortune on yourself with your negative thoughts. You summoned that colon cancer to yourself more surely than Molly Weasley's accio charm. You brought more debt on yourself by thinking only negative, anxious thoughts about the debt you already had. You conjured your loser boyfriend, your boring job, your obnoxious neighbor.
In a startling claim, she asserts that if you're fat, it has nothing to do with the food you eat and everything to do with the "fat" thoughts you think all the time. You must avoid those thoughts! To do so, be sure -- Oprah, are you listening to this? -- be sure never to even look at a fat person. "If you see people who are overweight," says the model-svelte Byrne, "do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it." In other words, if you look at a fat person, you will catch Fatkemia! It is highly contagious!
By this logic, I should have ignored the guy in a wheelchair I saw in the airport last night, instead of sharing a smile and some small talk. I should have made him feel invisible! What was I thinking? Now I will become paralyzed too. Damn. And I wasn't even in the war.
Speaking of wars, famines, natural disasters . . . if you are a victim of any of those things, that is also entirely your fault. You summoned the famine to yourself because you were afraid of starving, see? And 9/11 victims must have been so worried about terrorism that they became vulnerable to terrorist attack. Byrne says flat out that people who perish in large-scale tragedies had it coming because they were participating in negative thinking on a massive human scale. So Jews in the 1930s were targeted not because of other people's racism, but because of their own pessimism and oy-my-aching-pogrom mentality. Consider, for example, these quotes from Holocaust victim Anne Frank:
- "Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don't know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!"
- "I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."
Or this nail in the coffin:
- "I don't think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains."
You can see how Anne was sooooooo asking for it. Such powerfully negative thoughts will always lead one directly to the concentration camp; do not pass go.
So those are my "negative thoughts" on this offensive, pernicious, egregious book. Here's hoping that I am not therefore summoning other offensive, pernicious, egregious books to my doorstep by calling a spade a spade.
And I haven't even tackled the underlying premise that the book is all about me me me. I don't know that I've ever read such a selfish manifesto. Byrne elevates the reader to divinity:
"You are God in a physical body. You are Spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal Life expressing itself as You. You are a cosmic being. You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are perfection. You are magnificence. You are the creator, and you are creating the creation of You on this planet."
Well, I'm voting with all my cosmic wisdom, intelligence and power to say: THIS BOOK BLOWS. It would be laughable but for the millions lining up to pay good money for this subtly menacing pabulum.