It's taken me a long while to pin down my off-putness at the popularity of The Secret. On the face of it, the mere fact that it's facile, bland pop-metaphysics pushed at frustrated middle class strivers by Oprah should be enough for me to want nothing to do with it, but I still couldn't quite decide what made it so objectionable.

Now, before you write me off as a curmudgeonly empiricist who enjoys telling small children that Santa Claus is merely a symbol, I will declare that I have hoodooish leanings of my own. I do believe that human consciousness is intertwined with the greater universe beyond our bodies in ways that we're only beginning to understand, for example. I find a lot of resonance and verisimilitude in many of the ideas of Taoism and Zen practice (I only wish I had the discipline for that practice). So, in sum, I am loathe to simply write off the idea that one's mental state affects the greater world around them.

However, in my estimation the ultimate point of any spiritual practice is to further empathy and identification with one's fellow human beings. The impression I get from The Secret, however, is more of an "every man for himself" sort of vibe. If your situation is less than optimal, it seems to be suggesting, well it's all your fault. Dare I say this smacks of (shudder) "conservatism"?

Author Daniel Pinchbeck seems to have cut to the heart of the matter in a way that was heretofore unclear to me, and therefore I will quote him. (the entire article can be found here)

From this perspective, the individual's psychic state determines his or her physical reality, and the occult laws of attraction can be utilized to increase one's bank account or sexual magnetism. If you haven't cashed out, it is because you are not using your psychic powers at their maximum rate. If other people aren't getting their's yet, it's not your problem, but their bad karma. This is a metaphysics suited to the narcissism of the baby boomers and the "Me Generation," whose lifestyles have denuded the planet's rainforests and ripped big holes in the ozone layer. bold added by me for emphasis

So yes, people of my parents' generation, this taps into my low-level ire at you: those who utterly failed to prevent the various potential environmental and political catastrophes everybody with a brain has seen coming for decades. Could we expect anything other than The Secret and its pseudophilosophy-for-profit ilk?

My friend Rebecca was kind enough to point out that my germ of a thought here has been better elucidated by finer writers than I. There's an excellent Salon.com article about the insidiousness of The Secret here.

Here at the end, though, I suppose I must turn toward positivity. Perhaps exposure to The Secret will inspire Joe and Jane Suburb to explore their own minds and know themselves better than they would have otherwise. Perhaps an orgy of "enlightened" self interest will bring peace and prosperity to the globe. Perhaps David Byrne said it best:

He would see faces in movies, on t.v., in magazines, and in books. He thought that some of these faces might be right for him. And through the years, by keeing an ideal facial structure fixed in his mind... or somewhere in the back of his mind... that he might, by force of will, cause his face to approach those of his ideal.

No comments: