The Secret of ‘The Secret’ is Stupidity after all.
Hypnotists are very fond of reminding us that hypnotisability has nothing whatsoever to do with gullibility, and this is, in the main true. But hypnotisability has everything to do with suggestibility and whichever way you cut it, the simple truth is that some of us are simply more suggestible than others, although there are well understood psychological techniques that can quite easily make everyone equally suggestible. Here’s one of them.
Suggestibility and gullibility have an awful lot in common. For instance, suggestibility relies on the suspension of critical faculties, mainly located in the frontal cortex, the area of the brain most responsible for planning, organisation, anticipation and overall common-sense. Gullibility relies on the brain having no critical faculties in the first place. Whether it is suggestibility or gullibility that persuades normally sensible people to hand over large wads of money to wealthy Nigerian businessmen who promise ridiculously large commissions in return for helping them get their $11 million fortune out of Nigeria and into Britain via your bank account, I leave it up to you to decide. The point is, where the opportunity to make easy money presents itself, greed is the most effective way of suspending those critical faculties we all believe we have.
In these cases, where avarice excites the brain’s pleasure centres to such a degree as to actually get people to part with their money, gullibility is so closely linked to suggestibility that the two become inseparable companions. Recent history is littered with innumerable Get-Rich-Quick schemes, ranging from books punting the secrets of the super-rich to the more iniquitous pyramid schemes that surface every few years. Those in at the very beginning make a few thousand, but eventually the system collapses in on itself and most lose their money. Then everyone realises how unutterably stupid they have been, learn a hard lesson, and then fall for the next one when it comes around.
The sad truth is that there is a never-ending supply of people who will always be suggestible and gullible enough to keep spending their hard earned money on any proposal that promises wealth, especially any method that promises wealth without the hard work. Amongst the literally hundreds of publications promising instant wealth is a more recent tome with the no-nonsense title ‘I Can Make You Rich’ by the well-known hypnotist Paul McKenna. The manual (you can read it in about an hour) plumbs the depths of good taste with its cheesy gold lettering and (in the hardback edition) its gold-edged pages. ‘You Can Make Me Rich’ even comes with a hypnotic CD which no doubt will make becoming rich an even more easily attainable goal. The equally cheesy (yet earnest) McKenna peers at us with the faux-sincerity which has made him famous from the front cover. Nice.
All these books belong on the same shelf as Professor Frotteur’s Guaranteed System for Winning at Roulette and other such farcical titles.
It is the latest literary offering in the genre though to which I wish to turn my attention – a best-selling piece of chicanery, also recently made into a DVD, called ‘The Secret’ and represents gullibility and greed-driven suggestibility on an even larger scale than has hitherto ever been imagined. It has sold nearly two million copies worldwide (I should be so lucky!) and its author is Rhonda Byrne, an Australian reality TV producer. I suspect that given Ms. Byrne’s professional background, not to mention her numerous contacts within the industry, it was a relatively simple task to raise her work of stupendous fiction from simple manuscript to work of genius in a few relatively easy steps.
The underlying philosophy of this mind-boggling fabrication of deceit is to persuade the reader that ‘we can have anything we want – we just have to think about it in a positive way!’ It’s become the fastest selling self-help book ever and a disturbing monument to mankind’s credulity at the same time.
The gist of The Secret is that there is no problem, no goal, no wish, that cannot be fulfilled just by thinking… new car, new life, fabulous riches. Yes, it can all be yours if you read this book and follow the exceptionally simple instructions. “Prosperity” it claims, “is your birthright.” And millions are now buying into this fantasy! Surely, like me, you must be thinking, why aren’t the world’s leaders and finance ministers reading this? Why not distribute copies to the poor, the starving? Could it be because it’s a load of ridiculous bollocks?
Byrne claims that in a moment of enlightenment she suddenly understood the biggest secret in the entire universe, a secret that Newton (that’s Sir Isaac, not me) Shakespeare, Beethoven, Hugo, Einstein, Edison, Plato, had long understood, yet had somehow managed to keep to themselves, the selfish buggers.
Byrne is now embarked on a mission to bring the joy of this knowledge to millions of others and no doubt bring millions to her own bank account. But this is more than the age-old exhortation to ‘follow your dream.’ Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, ‘till you find your… aaarrrggghhh!!!!
Getting your hands on a big house, big car, great job, great husband, hour-glass figure (I think we can see the market that ‘The Secret’ is aimed at!) is all easily achievable if you visualise it, focus on it and place an order for it exactly as you would in a catalogue. All you have to do is phrase your request in the right way and that means including lots of detail. If you want a bigger car, then the first thing to do is to get a bigger garage. If you want something that you know you can’t afford, then you must start saying to yourself “I can afford that.” There is no room whatsoever for any negative stuff in Byrne’s world of delusion. According to Byrne, thinking long and hard enough about something will make it happen. No need to get out of bed earlier or put in those extra few hours a week then. According to the Gospel of St. Rhonda, a person who thinks thin thoughts cannot possibly be fat! Coincidentally, this is the same line of thought that forms the core of McKenna’s over-simplistic weight loss philosophy. What is more incredible about ‘The Secret’ is that on the surface at least, Byrne appears to believe all this herself. She is certainly an enthusiastic interviewee (but then she would be, wouldn’t she?) and she has certainly attained great wealth.
Thinking about wealth creates wealth, is her philosophy, and who are we to argue? It’s obviously worked for her. Putting yourself before others (a novel twist on an old idea if ever there was one) is her creed and if I’m honest, something I have been advocating all my life anyway. Byrne falls back on the Bible (Oh Christ!) claiming that Abraham, Isaac (that’s the son of Abraham, not Newton) Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Jesus were all millionaires “with more affluent lifestyles than many present-day millionaires could conceive of.” What? Without electricity or a private jet? The woman’s gone raving stark staring bonkers!
Then Byrne pulls one of the oldest tricks in the book, one that I find particularly annoying – she falls back on science to add gravitas to her twaddle. Not even the brainiest quantum physicist really fully understands quantum physics, so how on earth can this woman possibly claim quantum physics as the basis for this bunch of puerile blather?
She claims that human beings are “transmission towers” which emit thoughts on a particular frequency and in turn attract “all like-things which are on the same frequency.” Not even L. Ron Hubbard would have had the audacity to pull that one! Nonetheless, the conclusion of this train of thought is that negative thoughts attract negative things and positive thoughts attract positive things. Yippee! Byrne has very cleverly recognised the true secret, a secret genuinely shared by relatively few – a lot of people are actually stupid and lazy, and will buy into anything that promises them everything in return for nothing, or at least minimum effort.
According to St. Rhonda of Byrne, people attract misfortune because they are on the same wavelength as misfortune itself and this goes for people who get cancer, are killed in motor car accidents or terrorist attacks, or who die of hunger. “Illness cannot exist in a body that has harmonious thoughts” she claims. People “create” their own misfortunes because they are simply not thinking positively enough. Next time St. Bob of Geldoff invites you to send money to starving children in Africa, don’t sent them food, send them one of these remarkable books instead. You know it makes sense!
Er… no, because in this instance at least, Byrne has been caught out. In physics (and that includes the quantum variety) there is always the electromagnetic force in which positives actually attract negatives and vice – versa. Byrne’s use of flawed science makes the whole thing even more ridiculous, and yet still the copies fly off the shelves.
It would be easy to say that the success of Byrne’s book owes more to global marketing strategies than to substance, and that would be true, but that’s not the point. The real point is that there is such a thirst for this kind of drivel that one must inevitably come to the conclusion that it has to be, albeit perversely, part of the survival strategy – the part where the weak get distracted from reality and give the strong a head start. Jacob Bronowski said in The Ascent of Man, science and progress is a straight line. True science stands up to the most rigorous of test. Those that deviate from that straight line will be lost.
The people of Easter Island at some stage in their history became distracted from the straight line and devoted all their energies to a false belief. As a result, they were lost forever, made extinct by their own hand. In the same way, members of religious cults who commit mass suicide merely ensure that their genes will not be passed on. Of course these are extreme examples, but good examples nonetheless. The strong, and in this case that means the smart, are more likely to see their progeny survive and flourish in this modern world of ours than those who are tricked into merely daydreaming. The daydreamers are unwittingly doing their bit to ensure what nature intended all along – the extinction of the stupid gene.
For more information about charlatanism masquerading as modern mind therapy, read All in the Mind – Hypnosis, Suggestion and the New Mesmerists. Available as an Instant PDF Download.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2013. All rights reserved.