It was only inevitable; indeed, they would say we asked for it. The Secret, the latest in a long line of mega-selling self-help phenomena, is on its way to Toronto. Several “teachers” featured in the original film and the subsequent book will be holding forth on April 14th and 15th at the Westin Harbour Castle. The promotional literature is distinguished by its modest proposal: “The Secret to everything—the secret to life filled with joy, good health, financial freedom, loving relationships, abundant energy, youth: everything you ever wanted.” Profundity and provocation are sure to be the order of the day.
It’s really all very simple; the consumer wouldn’t have it any other way. The Secret’s million-dollar answer to the age-old question of how to get what we want: “Ask. Believe. Receive.” And what makes this mind-over-matter jujitsu possible—”the law of attraction.” Of course, this isn’t the same thing as gravity, or the strong nuclear force, nor does it feature in the laws of thermodynamics, but if you think it … doesn’t it make it so? So argue the all star cast of self-help gurus that Rhonda Byrne, the film’s producer and the book’s editor, has gathered together in what is ultimately a hodgepodge of new age mumbo-jumbo.
Positive thinking and visualizaion, such are the rigorous requirements of future prosperity. If you put out the right thoughts and the right energy, the law of the universe dictates that whatever you so desire shall be yours. That this is the quintessence of cliché, almost goes without saying. Not to be outdone, The Secret “teachers” insist that this message, this “law of attraction”, is timeless. Indeed, they maintain that, among others, Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, Beethoven, Einstein, Martin Luther King and Andrew Carnegie were privy to the law – hence their success, or something.
All this shouldn’t trouble us so much, after all The Da Vinci Code was simply too inane to rock the boats of Christianity or art history. At the same time, the massive phenomenon that is The Secret, receiving glowing acclaim from Oprah Winfrey, does point toward a more pernicious trend. In fact, The Secret’s proposed modus operandi calls to mind a now infamous New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskind, in which he relates a conversation he had with an aide to George W. Bush. The most telling passage reads: “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'” Ergo Iraq.
Poverty, political strife, ecological collapse, rebellious teens, cheating spouse? Create your own reality. Just do it. By now such postmodern pieties are formulaic: equal parts obscurantism and banality. In their stead, how about this secret for self-improvement. Charles Taylor, Canada’s preeminent philosopher and emeritus professor at McGill, was recently awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, itself not without its detractors. In any case, Taylor has authored a number of essential texts, including Hegel and Sources of the Self, not to mention his remarkable collection of Massey Lectures, The Malaise of Modernity. The gulf between the respective wisdom of Taylor’s work and that of The Secret and their respective sales is as good an index you need of a society in thrall to all things lite.
“Ask. Believe. Receive.” Oh yeah, and buy our book.