haggholm: (Default)
[personal profile] haggholm

Someone on a forum did me the distinct disfavour of posting the first 20 minutes of the trainwreck film, The Secret, where the “secret” refers to the “Law of Attraction”. Briefly, the idea is that thinking about things will cause them to come about—think about the bad things in life and bad things will happen to you; think about good things and they will happen instead. I’m not going to waste time and space talking about why this is preposterous. What motivates me to write this is rather my anger at this, and what I consider to be the harmful consequences.

Lots of people actually seem to believe in this crap. To some extent, that isn’t too surprising. The facile reasons are, first, that it certainly fits in with a lot of New Age magic; second, that the testimonials look good (the happy supporters they choose to speak out really are happy—of course they are, living in $4.5 million mansions…); and third, it is endorsed by highly visible and respected idiots, like Oprah.

More importantly, however, it ties in very neatly with things that are actually true.¹ Of course positive thinking tends to improve your life in many ways—it’s a well established psychological fact that acting happy tends to make you happier; happiness and confidence improve your interpersonal skills and relations; avoiding focusing on negative things frees you from brooding over misfortunes. None of this validates the “secret”. The fact that your mental attitude is connected to your mental state is painfully obvious, and a positive demeanour improving interpersonal relations (and through that avenue, your life) is only evidence that people respond better to happy, confident people than to sad or aggressive ones, and does not require the existence of some mysterious universal energy found by viciously abusing quantum physics.

All right, then, some hypothetical person might ask, what is the harm? It may be silly, but if it motivates people to engage in positive thinking, which you freely acknowledge is a good thing, then why should we discourage this stuff?

Apart from the fact that I am as dedicated as I am able to pursue truth, and consider it morally valuable in its own right, I do think that this silliness has a very sinister side.

The first and most obvious problem is that when people put their trust in anything that doesn’t actually work, there is a risk that they will eschew real, working solutions because they think they already have one. For instance, the 20-minute clip from The Secret has someone claiming: I’ve seen cancer dissolved.

Let me reiterate that. The Secret strongly implies that positive thinking can cure cancer.

That is when it ceases to be funny. People who swallow this whole are lead to believe that positive thinking suffices to cure cancer. This misinformation can kill. Nothing cures cancer like surgical steel (preferably with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy as adjuvant therapies to prevent recurrence). Failing to seek proper help can kill you, painfully and horribly.

And, of course, we can extrapolate this to any other medical condition, or for that matter, any other problem.

The second repugnant consequence of this belief in the “Law of Attraction” is that while the film-makers focus strongly on the empowering effect, when positive thinking is believed to change your life, the explicit corollary is that negative thoughts lead to bad things happening. They make this very clear: These people assert not only that negative things will make bad things happen, but that whenever bad things keep happening to you, it is because you are thinking negative thoughts. It’s under your control, they say, and you have the power to change it—but if events are bad, you caused them to happen.

We know, of course, that this is bunk. However, those who believe it are also made to believe that all their misfortunes are their fault. If your house burned down, if you developed cancer, if you were raped—according to the makers of The Secret, this is your fault: You made it happen. This is not only nonsensical, it is also an extremely cruel thing to allege.

¹ There is a parallel here to the view of some bloggers, such as “Orac”, of “complementary and alternative medicine”, which are perceived to usurp some actually valid ideas, like nutrition and exercise: CAM practitioners prescribe good nutrition, exercise, and homeopathic remedies; good nutrition and exercise are clearly good for your health; therefore homeopathy must be good—stated so baldly, the intellectual bankrupcy of the notion is obvious.

Date: 2009-04-13 08:51 pm (UTC)
kokopellinelli: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kokopellinelli
I'm not going to watch that clip...I find that your review more than suffices. I thought "The Secret" was only a book, anyway; I had no idea it was made into a film as well.

Having typed that, I find myself clicking on the link anyway, out of sheer morbid curiosity.

I had a woman back home (whom I knew in school) gush to me about "The Secret" and how it's changed her life. I hadn't heard of it at that time but, from what she described, decided that my attitude was just fine anyway and I didn't need to attend her "Secret" party where women would sit around, discuss the benefits of following "The Secret," and buy Mary Kay products from one another.

Date: 2009-04-13 08:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] joyousandjuicy.livejournal.com
"her "Secret" party where women would sit around, discuss the benefits of following "The Secret," and buy Mary Kay products from one another" -- HA!hahahahaha.



You.. weren't joking.


Date: 2009-04-13 09:41 pm (UTC)
kokopellinelli: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kokopellinelli
Unfortunately, no.

Fortunately, she forgot all about how she was going to call me to set up a time when we could talk about how she thought I would be a GREAT Mary Kay saleswoman.

Wait a second...the entire week after our chat, I was hoping she wouldn't call me, and she DIDN'T! HOLY CRAP, THE SECRET WORKS!


Also, I did wind up going to watch the video clip (well, part of it, anyway). I especially liked how they threw in the bit about "frequencies" to make it sound like science. Well played, Secret People, well played. Though I admit to being confused by the opening sequence. Did they make an actual movie with a plot and everything, or just a random, elaborate trailer for a bunch of people talking about positive thinking?

Date: 2009-04-13 10:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] metaspective.livejournal.com
It was a "documentary". And it was possibly worse than What the Bleep Do We Know.

Date: 2009-04-13 11:05 pm (UTC)
kokopellinelli: (Confused)
From: [personal profile] kokopellinelli
Another one that I missed.

I know nothing about quantum anything, but after reading the review for What the Bleep Do We Know, I've concluded that maybe the word "Documentary" is being tossed about a little too liberally nowadays.

Date: 2009-04-15 09:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ziztur.com (from livejournal.com)
I think another problem with this The Secret/Positive Thinking movement is that it gives people another way to blame the victim.

For example: if a Secreteer (I made that word up) sees a homeless person, and they sincerely believe that the negative situation that has befallen that person are due to their own negative thinking, then that paves the way for blaming the homeless person for being homeless, when in truth it might be that they are homeless due to mental illness and circumstances beyond their control.

The same goes for cancer. If cancer can dissolve away due to positive thinking, then clearly someone with cancer is causing their illness due to incorrect thinking.

So not only can people blame themselves for circumstances beyond their control, they can also blame others for circumstances beyond other's control.

In this way, people could look at the burning house of their neighbor and blame their neighbor for having too many negative thoughts and bringing it on themselves. If fully applied, this type of post hoc reasoning can lead to bigotry.


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Petter Häggholm

April 2016

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