Written by The Masked Commenter
The ideas in “The Secret” aren’t new, and they show up in a lot of MLMs and cults — Mary Kay being no exception.
The “Law of Attraction” is based on the idea of “positive thinking,” which is a Western simplification of certain Eastern ideas that became popular in the 19th century. Essentially, while Buddhist and Hindu philosophies involve many subtle considerations about how one’s outlook can change how one experiences life, with the end goal being to experience both positive and negative events with equanimity and lack of attachment, theosophists and other predecessors of the New Age/New Thought movement simplified these ideas to “your thoughts determine your experience” — i.e., rather than altering your perception of events, your attitude creates those events.
One of the most famous proponents of these ideas was Norman Vincent Peale, whose 1952 book The Power of Positive Thinking advocated self-hypnosis in the form of repeated affirmations as a way of accessing “God’s power” for your own use. Negative thoughts of any kind, including any questioning of Peale or his methods, were anathema, as they could draw negative influences and events into your life. Peale has been criticized for an unrealistic method that requires adherents to deny reality, which leads to cognitive dissonance and could trigger a mental breakdown.
Due to these criticisms, and, in my honest opinion, to the sudden wide availability of psychotropic drugs, the New Age movement drifted away from this “positive thinking” business and toward more interesting things — crystals, bits and pieces stolen from “exotic” religions, est, inner children, and so forth.
Fast-forward to 2006, when a woman named Rhonda Byrne pieces together a bunch of fragmentary, out-of-context materials from about a dozen different sources, wraps the Law of Attraction up in a DaVinci Code-esque package, and releases The Secret, in book and video form.
The Law of Attraction has always been problematic. For one thing, most proponents place little to no emphasis on the real-world effort required to achieve your goals; affirmations and positive thinking are meant to do all the work. For another, the insistence on eliminating all negative thoughts is unrealistic, and can lead to people ignoring real difficulties until they’ve become too serious to ignore (which usually means too serious to deal with).
The Secret commits these errors and more. Its focus is almost entirely on material gain — suggested affirmations involve visualizing checks coming into the mailbox, cutting out pictures of mansions and expensive cars as focal points for meditation, making “money trees,” and other such business. Spiritual gain and improvement isn’t really addressed, probably because “me being a better person” is way too complicated and “me with a wallet full of money” is nice and easy.
The worst thing, though, is something that might have occurred to you already. “If positive thinking gets positive things,” you might think, “then negative thinking gets you negative things. Does that mean that people who have bad things happen to them actually caused them?”
When you think about the sheer range of disasters and crimes that can befall people, especially children, it just seems like a bad idea to go with a philosophy that preaches “you create your universe.” Other incarnations of the Law of Attraction have been smart enough to gloss over this part, since victim-blaming isn’t the world’s most popular pastime. The Secret revels in it.
Yes, says Rhonda Byrne and all her friends, you CAN blame people for the bad things that happen to them! After all, if you want to believe that your positive thoughts actually have an effect on the workings of the universe, then you have to admit that negative thoughts can do that as well — and if that means believing that homeless people are on the street because they want to be, or that the chronically ill secretly enjoy being sick, or even that victims of violent crimes somehow brought it upon themselves by being “downers,” well, that’s the price of your invaluable knowledge.
Even victims of genocide, famine, and war are not exempt; maybe they weren’t thinking specifically about a horrific death in the gas chamber, says Byrne, “but the frequency of their thoughts matched the frequency of the event.” On “Saturday Night Live,” actors staged a fake episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in which Secret adherents blamed a man in Darfur for his negative attitude; a few days later, one of Byrne’s favorite gurus went on “Nightline” and told an interviewer that he was pretty sure the starving Sudanese children had “manifested” their own problems. It’s been a long time since SNL was funny, but that sketch was — at least until it was superseded by real life.
It gets worse. If you have friends who consistently manifest negative thinking, you had better ditch them double-quick, because they’re just going to bring you down with them. Sure, we’ve all had friends who do nothing but whine and complain and blame other people for their problems, and nobody wants to deal with that, but there’s a more insidious threat to consider.
Think about it: if negative thinking causes negative events, what do you suppose is going on with that friend of yours who’s had the run of bad luck, or the one who’s on disability, or who’s having trouble with her husband, or — here’s one for you — who isn’t “working her business”? You think that stuff just happens out of the blue? Heck no, those friends of yours are dreamkillers in disguise! They’re negative! They must be, otherwise none of that stuff would be happening, now would it? And if you don’t cut them out of your lives, it’s only a matter of time before their bad luck spreads to you!
See how insidious this stuff is?
The actual power that makes these things happen, by the way, is never really specified. It’s hard to conceive of some mystical, disembodied universal force that’s got nothing better to do than to make sure you get a Cadillac and your neighbor gets cancer, but that appears to be what they’re arguing. I suppose that’s what makes The Secret so infinitely adaptable — you can plug it into whatever preexisting spiritual framework you’ve got, so long as you ignore those nagging little technicalities about compassion and whatever, and it’ll work just fine.
The utility of this idea to an organization like Mary Kay is, of course, obvious. Not only does it provide a simplistic, feather-brained formula for success, it also comes with an ironclad “not my fault” guarantee — “I guess you just didn’t think about it hard enough, sweetie.” Not only does it come with a bunch of stupid, greed-driven mantras to whip your followers into a frenzy, it also warns them that their lives will go into the toilet and they’ll never amount to anything if they start criticizing you. It’s all of the creepiest self-help chants you ever saw at meetings or Seminar, now with a fake-o “historical” background and twice as much justification for feeling superior to everybody else.
I’ve seen a lot of questionable crap come out of the new-age community, but The Secret has got to be one of the most intellectually and morally bankrupt philosophies ever to find a popular audience. If you run into an MKer who’s bought into this business, don’t even bother trying to argue. She’ll probably take off running the minute a negative word comes out of your mouth — which, honestly, is just as well. After all, haven’t you been thinking positive thoughts about not having to endure MK propaganda anymore? See, there you go. The Secret works.