Secret; The Power
Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret: The Power (2010) is truly an incredibly bad book, simplistic, repetitive and divorced from real history, politics or economics, yet it has sold 19 million copies. A cynic might say that the real secret to wealth is writing a bestselling book that millions will buy. Her 2006 book The Secret sold more over 19 million copies and was translated into 46 languages, and she was also a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show and many others on the daytime TV chat circuit. Like all self-help writers, she has a talent for publishing the same advice repeatedly in new books that claim to offer even greater insights than past philosophers and religious teachers and in 2007 Byrne wrote The Secret Gratitude Book, followed a year later by The Secret: Daily Teachings. Her latest offering is about 250 pages long and quickly appeared on the bestseller lists, which indicates the type of strong cult following that all publishers desire. Byrne’s central thesis is that human beings can change their entire lives and have everything they want simply by wishing for it, including money, wealth, happiness, careers, and romantic relationships. This magical Power is based in love or the law of attraction, by which every individual can engage in wishful thinking that will guarantee a life full of love, happiness, and all the money they ever want.
Byrne believed that everyone had this unlimited Power over their life circumstances, and that all wealthy and successful people in history have used it no matter whether they knew it or not to obtain all their desires. No special religious or ideological belief is necessary to use the Power, which can be manifested in the form of lucky charms, miraculous cures from illness and good luck. This secret Power of love already exists within everyone, but they are usually unaware of it even though love really is the greatest Power in the universe. Love is a great force or law of nature like gravity, nuclear power and electricity, and in fact is stronger than any of these. It is more than just an emotion or feeling but one governed by laws of attraction that can be harnessed to give every person total control over their lives, and it can be activated by the power of positive thinking. As Byrne repeats over and over again, the Power is a scientific law, not magic and religion, and anyone who generates good or bad thoughts and feelings will get back the same. Emotions are literally magnetic frequencies that attract similar emotions, and good feelings are on a positive frequency that brings love. People all have the Power to create their own reality, and everything they hate or fear will also be drawn to them, including poverty, hunger, illness and failed relationships. Using the Powers requires the person to eliminate hate, greed, envy, malice, irritability, despair and insecurities and replace them with love. Once all the negative feelings are gone, then people will always attract money to themselves, while worrying about finances will only drive it away. Byrne insists that ‘you are what you feel’ and what you feel is what you get, so reacting to the negative with bad feelings attracts more negativity. She then takes it further — one can have anything just by visualizing it.
Her advice for improving the careers, love lives and health of her mostly white, female middle class audience is to let love become the basis of life over any other ideas or emotions. She claimed the she was the first to discover this central truth, rather than Jesus Christ or other great scholars, prophets, scientists and philosophers in history, and that once people join her, they will all be kind to each other all the time. Once they stop worrying and complaining, and learn to express love, gratitude and appreciation for everything, they will then obtain the houses, cars, jobs, money and security that they desire They will no longer get old and sick, be free from pain and disease, and even jet lag, and would spend their time only doing acts of kindles and generosity. Indeed, they would save themselves and the entire world, inasmuch as there is a world or universe outside the self at all. In short, the Power to create everything, change everything, have anything the heart desires already lies within, if only humanity could learn to use it. People can get anything they want from parking spots to cures for diseases just by wishing for them and pretending that they already have these things. Even water responds to love and positive, warm feelings by becoming energized and perfectly harmonized, but it becomes chaotic and de-energized when confronted with negative vibes. This is important because the body and the brain are also about 80% water, and negative thoughts and emotions will results in damaging physical and psychological effects. Byrne feels love, gratitude and bliss for every moment in life and for the entire universe, not least because she has become a millionaire from books sales and TV appearances. She seems to regard the Universe as some kind of giant slot machine that pays every positive thought and emotion back in fulfilled wishes.
It would be asking too much for a popular advice book writer like Byrne to define happiness beyond a very shallow level of money, pleasure, fame and material success, or even to be aware that philosophers and religious teachers in history might have understood these matters very differently. For example, Aristotle offers several definitions of happiness (eudaimonia) which can exist at the level of physical pleasure, a life of civil involvement and practicing virtue, or the ultimate form of happiness which is the contemplation of God and spiritual and eternal matters. Just as there are degrees of pleasure and pain, so there are degrees or happiness and virtue. Happiness is the supreme good and the ultimate goal of life, but not all individuals define it in the same way and it appears that only a few truly reach the highest levels. Most people confuse happiness with physical pleasure and carnal gratification, including food, alcohol, sex, and accumulating money and material things, but Aristotle does not regard this as the supreme good. Far from it, although it probably seems satisfying enough for the great majority of humanity that happiness should be identified with a life of abundance of physical pleasure and the absence of pain. Many people are slaves to passions and pleasures, so the glutton who finds happiness with consumption of food will have no higher goal than good food, and the alcoholic will be happy with an abundance of intoxicants. Even animals exist this way, but for Aristotle humans are rational beings with immortal souls and were therefore created for a much higher and transcendent form of happiness. Aristotle privileges the higher or rational part of the soul (nous), which able to have communion with the divine, rather than the lower, animalistic lusts and instincts.
Jesus Christ, Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi would also have defined love differently, such as service to others, loving God and one’s neighbor as one’s self or sacrificing for the common good rather than simply concentrating on the self and personal desires or accumulating money and material possessions. She does cite Gandhi completely out of context, ignoring his lifetime of work against racism, poverty and colonialism by using his statement that “whether humanity will consciously follow the law of love, I do not know. But that need not disturb me. The law will work just as the law of gravitation works whether we accept it or not” (Byrne 2010). In her shallow and vacuous worldview, Gandhi was not referring to the social and economic condition of the poor in India and around the world, but only to the need for middle and upper class Westerners to develop positive feelings towards money, which Gandhi never had in his life. After all, he lived in a village with the poorest peasants in India, wore a loincloth and in the end sacrificed his life in the cause of peace and social justice, as great religious leaders have often done throughout history. None of this courage or self-sacrifice appears in The Secret: The Power, though, which advocates only hedonistic consumption, egoism and self-interest.
For Byrne, in fact, nothing exists outside the self and its desires, which are in fact some kind of wish-fulfilling machine that can generate anything the imagination can devise. Of course she is not aware of more advanced philosophical terminology like existentialism, solipsism or phenomenology, but on a very crude and basic level she reflects some of these ideas. She has anecdotes about how her wishes were simply fulfilled like magic, such as a dress that she saw in Paris appearing in a store window near her home, or how people used the Power to win the lottery, obtain luxury items that they desired, or even the right parking spot at the supermarket. Byrne describes herself as continually generating love, appreciation and happy thought for everyone and everything that she sees, although in reality she also states that she is the only person in the universe because the law of attraction is only an echo or reflection of her own feelings. Even Gandhi and Christ must have brought death on themselves with their own negative feelings rather than by challenging the injustice of their societies, because nothing exists outside of individual thoughts and emotions. People could actually live forever, as they supposedly did in ancient times, if they would only change their attitudes. Death, disease, old age not part of physical reality or the laws of nature and biology, but only bad attitudes and negative beliefs. Even the conversations of strangers are really about her, as are signs and advertisements that she sees while traveling, and are really messages about her and her life. In fact, they would not exist at all or manifest themselves unless they had some secret meaning for her.
Byrne is blissfully unaware of the deeper causes of the current recession, such as massive corruption and fraud on Wall Street, aided and abetted by politicians and negligent regulators. This type of speculative boom followed by a crash has happened many times before in history, and in fact seems to follow some type of generational pattern. Bailing out American capitalism in the present depression was far more expensive than most of the public will ever realize, especially since many of the costs were deliberately hidden. This Great Bailout was much larger than the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), which went to the large banks, insurance and automobile companies. All but $50 billion of this has been paid back, but that was only one small part of the bailout. Governments concentrated on bailing out the banks and corporate elites rather than creating public works and jobs programs as Keynes would have recommended, and the costs in low wages and high unemployment for the working class and middle class was at least $5 trillion. Wall Street is profitable and the bankers are getting their bonuses, but ordinary workers and consumers at the lower and middle levels of the economy are suffering the worst conditions since the Great Depression of the 1930s. They also had to absorb most of the costs of the rampant speculation of the housing bubble and its collapse in 2008-09, which is conservatively estimated to be $10 trillion. These housing values will not return to the pre-bubble levels in a generation — if ever — but there has been no effective federal program for home mortgage relief as there was in the 1930s. So far the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has spent about $500 on collapse banks, which have not failed at this rate since the 1930s, and the Federal Reserve has also spent about $2 trillion to but bad mortgages and assets from the banks. In addition, the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which also participated in the housing bubble, is likely to cost one trillion dollars. Following monetarist policies of keeping interest rates at zero for three years has costs retirees and small savers about $2 trillion in lost interest. Finally, about $300 billion of the almost one trillion in government stimulus spending is basically missing and unaccounted for. In short, the bailout of Wall Street and corporate America has turned out to be larger than the Gross National Project of the United States, although ordinary workers and consumers are quite correct in their belief that very little of it has benefitted them. Almost all of it has gone to save the elites at the top of the social pyramid, and the nation’s wealth is more concentrated in their hands today than at any time since the 1920s.
Byrne believes only that our own negative feelings cause poverty and unemployment. Love is a magnet or force of attraction that will draw money to anyone who gives out positive vibes. No one need ever be concerned with debts and foreclosure as long as they practice giving out loving feelings, and as Byrne puts it “you can tell how you feel about money, because if you don’t have all you need, then you don’t feel good about money” (Byrne 2010). Byrne may not simply be yet another con artist but actually believe what she is writing, and claims that she was a poor, single mother until she read Wallace Wattles’ The Science of Getting Rich (1910) and learned how to become very wealthy and famous, selling her own books and DVDs. She does not seem aware that the majority of people in the world live on less than two dollars a day while 1% of the population controls over half of the wealth. Social programs, taxation or redistribution of wealth will not chance this analysis is that majority of the worlds’ wealth is in the hands of a few reality since money always returns to the people who attract it through love and positive thinking. People who are positive, happy, open-minded and appreciative will always attract wealth, while those who are negative drive it away.
Byrne also seems unaware of poverty, racism and structural discrimination in society, such as that faced by blacks in the United States over the centuries. No amount of good feelings and wish fulfillment ever corrected this, but only mass protests led by Martin Luther King and many others. By historical standards, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act have been enormously successful, and indeed one of the few federal interventions in this area that has made a real difference in the lives of minorities. They did not end poverty, discrimination, police brutality or racism in general, but certainly made it impossible to allow these to continue as a matter of law and public policy in the United States — which they always had been prior to 1964. Were Martin Luther King still alive today, he would note the progress that has been made, while still pointing out that a lot more needs to be done, particularly in inner-city slums and ghettos, or with the majority of young black males being in prison or on probation. Thanks to the conservative backlash after 1968, of course, progress on most of these areas has been stalled, although the election of a black president in 2008 was definitely something that could never have happened in America before the civil rights movement. In fact, it would have literally been impossible and unthinkable in 1964. Nevertheless, as King was well aware of, a change of laws did not alter the severe social and economic injustices faced by blacks and members of other minority groups. Byrne hardly seems aware of any history like this in her book, or indeed of current events of any kind, except in the most shallow and narcissistic way imaginable.
On the whole, then, The Secret: The Power has no real explanation for the problem of evil in the world, either on the individual or the collective and structural level, or the fact that evil is often very powerful and successful. For instance, no history of the Nazi state would ever make sense without the ideology and personality of Hitler, who was the leading force in guiding and shaping the Third Reich. Beyond question, the wars of aggression, the extermination of the Jews and the plunder of occupied Europe all occurred on his direct orders, even though he often left the details to be worked out by competing groups of subordinates. He was quite effective in his policies of divide and rule, as well as keeping the German masses bribed and contented with the loot from the rest of Europe. He also promised them better days to come if they proved themselves worthy in the Social Darwinist struggle about became the lords and masters of Europe. In carrying out all these crimes and atrocities, however, he had considerable assistance from the old conservative elites, industrialists and bureaucrats, who were not simply mindless robots following orders but frequently took the initiative to better fulfill the wishes of the Fuehrer — and not coincidentally to line their own pockets along the way. So did the ordinary soldiers and civilians whenever the opportunities presented themselves, although in the aftermath of defeat and occupation they naturally found it more comfortable to regard themselves as victims of the Nazis rather than complicit in their crimes. Apart from a minority of genuinely heroic resisters, most were not victims at all except in losing a war of their own making.
Self-help has been a very popular subject in middle-class America since the days of Benjamin Franklin and Poor Richard’s Almanac, one of the first true bourgeois advice books in Western history. As always, the emphasis in these books is centered on the individual, personal choice and free will, in a Lockean world that assumes some minimal respect for the rights of life, liberty and property. Of course, this was hardly the norm in Franklin’s day, when most governments were despotisms, empires, oligarchies and aristocracies, and even in North America few white persons were particularly interested in the feelings, hopes or happiness of the Indians and black slaves. Nor were men terribly concerned about the rights of women, which hardly existed at all. Byrne would not have been able to become a successful peddler of advice today had not generations of people in the past not made sacrifices to ensure that the definition of a human being was expanded greatly beyond what was the norm in the 18th Century. This would also be true if another generation had not made heroic sacrifices to bring about the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1939-45. None of this appears in her book, much less any deep discussion of the philosophical and theological meanings of terms like love and happiness. Byrne is not even like Suze Orman or many other professional advice peddlers in that she gives no specific details about how to balance a checkbook or invest their money. All of her references to philosophy and religion, from Gandhi to Mother Teresa and St. Augustine are merely to reinforce her message that the main goal of life is to acquire money and material success in a purely self-centered and individualistic way.
Byrne, R. (2010). The Secret: The Power. NY: Simon & Schuster.
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