A friend recently asked me what I knew about The Secret, and I had to confess, absolutely nothing. A couple of days later, another friend asked the same question, so I decided I’d better investigate this supposedly revolutionary new book and DVD that have taken the country by storm. As I did so, I discovered that nothing about The Secret is revolutionary or new, but that it's rather a glitzy, twenty-first century redux of what has come to be called in metaphysical circles “New Thought.”
While aspects of New Thought have their roots in ancient teachings, it is for the most part, uniquely American -- its roots in this country stemming from the transcendentalist movement of the late-nineteenth century. Among those giving birth to New Thought in America were Mary Baker Eddy, founding mother of Christian Science, Emma Curtis Hopkins, Ernest Holmes, and Charles Fillmore. What was “new” about New Thought at the time of its inception was its departure from Calvinistic, shame-based Christianity which taught about the inherent sinfulness of man, proclaiming instead man’s innate goodness and perfectibility through the use of the Divine Mind which the transcendentalists believed resided at his core.
The New Thought movement emphasizes the supremacy of the mind over the body and material existence. While most adherents of New Thought do not deny the reality of corporeal existence as did Mary Baker Eddy, who insisted that “there is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter,” they overwhelmingly revere the spiritual over the material and believe that physical, corporeal reality is a manifestation of mind. In other words, that our thoughts and attitudes create our external reality.
Ancient and indigenous teachings also incorporate the latter but acknowledge that alongside the light, the good, the true, and the beautiful exists the dark side of existence, which is as authentically real as the light and not merely created by the mind. Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, and most native religious teachings worldwide not only acknowledge the dark side, but insist that it is an inherent part of human existence that must be faced and worked with in order to fully experience the blessings of the light.
In a nation so thoroughly marinated historically in exceptionalism and superiority from the moment Europeans set foot on North American soil, for example, the Puritan attributions to the New World such as “a new Jerusalem,” “a city set on a hill” and “a light unto the world,” we would expect to ultimately witness the proliferation of belief systems that exempt Americans from the same kind of suffering endured by fellow humans in other parts of the world.
It’s All About Me
In Sibling Society (1996) Robert Bly astutely describes American culture as one of children who have never matured into adulthood and where “adults cling to self-absorbed adolescent values, television talk shows have more clout than elders, children are spiritually abandoned to fend for themselves, and in the place of community we have built shopping malls.”
I can think of no more apt description of The Secret than this, for it is first and foremost all about me and what I want.
Only children and adolescents believe that they can, as The Secret insists, have anything they want. Rhonda Byrne of Prime Time Productions, one of the principal filmmakers and author of the book The Secret, says she was inspired by reading The Science Of Getting Rich, a 1910 book by Wallace D. Wattles, a New Thought transcendentalist, which proclaims that one’s wealth or lack thereof is a product of one’s thought and attitudes. Positive thinking attracts good things; negative thinking attracts a lack of such.
When I hear these concepts, I can only return to: How uniquely American! Can you imagine telling twelve-year-old girls in Chinese sweatshops -- the ones who work sixteen hours a day for pennies, live in squalor, may get raped at any moment, and sometimes are found dead at the ripe old age of twenty at their sewing machines from working themselves to death -- can you imagine telling them that their situation is the product of their thoughts? Examples of such ghastly human suffering are countless in a world where millions of human beings live on less than two dollars a day.
Although the documentary is highly endorsed and supported by Oprah, for whom I personally hold great respect, let’s not forget who Oprah is: none other than one of the wealthiest people on the planet. Clearly, she was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth, and she arrived where she is today through hard work, but no one disputes that she had an abundance of good fortune that poor black women rarely experience.
But how would Rhonda know about the teeming masses of earthlings living on two dollars a day? It appears that she isn’t looking. Perhaps she’s too busy attracting the next mansion, world cruise, fifty karat diamond, or documentary project. For Rhonda, like so many Americans and citizens of the developed world, and yes, like a typical two-year-old, seems to have no sense of limits. It’s no “secret” (pun intended) that millions if not billions of human beings on earth hate America -- for innumerable reasons, but for one in particular: We seem to have no sense of enough-ness. Enough is never enough, and since Christopher Columbus stepped off his ship onto Caribbean shores, European settlers and their descendents have almost never had a sense of limitation -- from sea to shining sea and the philosophy of Manifest Destiny that justified genociding millions of Native Americans, which this nation’s politicians and financiers took to the rest of the world. Nor do they reveal any signs of tempering their voracious appetite for the world’s resources beyond our shores. In fact, it has never been as out-of-control as in the present moment.
Acknowledging The Pain
Individuals in America’s sibling society are not bad human beings, nor are they inherently greedy, but they have been acculturated to grow up to be good consumers, which has now become synonymous with good citizenship. Sadly, The Secret only offers more of the same: buy this DVD, this book, so you can become wealthy enough to buy whatever you want in the future. Ignore what consumption is doing to yourself and the planet, just consume more!
During the Great Depression there were Ponzi schemes and dance marathons. In every era of economic hardship, some quick fix or magic bullet appears and proliferates. The Secret is classic pie in the sky -- so very 1980s a la Louise Hay and Terry Cole Whittaker, wrapped in twenty-first century panache and special effects, guaranteed to lighten the heart of any middle or working class individual steamrollered by sub-prime meltdown, maxed out credit cards, overwhelming medical bills and child care expenses, ever-increasing gas prices, perhaps still paying off student loans, unable to save a dime, and finding any talk of pensions or retirement savings nothing less than laughable.
In my recent article, “In Debt We Trust,” I referred to Danny Schecter’s DVD of the same title which opens with a congregation in an African American church who have created a program to rid themselves of all debt. They “created their own reality” not only by thinking positively, but by looking squarely in the face the evil of debt in their world and constructing a program of “Coming Clean” in order to liberate themselves from it. Unfortunately, this is precisely what “The Secret” is unwilling to do, choosing instead to ignore human suffering and injustice locally and globally, with total disinterest in the economic warfare being perpetrated on individuals and communities worldwide.
Don’t Bother Me With Causes, I Want The Solution
Another characteristic of a sibling society is its unwillingness to explore causation. After all, a sick child doesn’t want to hear how they caught a cold because they didn’t put on their jacket; they just want mommy or daddy or the doctor to take the cold away. The Secret is perfect for siblings because they need not trouble themselves with anyone else’s suffering or how their own suffering was caused by forces outside their own minds. They don’t want to hear about how the United States government has been waging economic warfare on them for decades, how the military industrial complex is bankrupting their nation and will abjectly impoverish their children and grandchildren, how rather than spending more and acquiring more debt, they need to trim down, conserve and -- oh that horrible adult word that siblings hate so much -- sacrifice. They want a solution, and they want it now. Never mind the trillion-dollar deficit and the trillions missing from the coffers of the United States government that was stolen from them.
Understandably, no one prefers to explore the causes of middle and working class debt and economic drain. It’s an enormous can of ugly, smelly, and sometimes lethal worms that, once examined, confirm that no matter how bad we think things are now, they are really much worse than we had imagined. The awareness that one is living in a decaying, rotting, collapsing empire, and that all the strategies for making it better that one has been taught such as voting, working harder, and marching in the streets aren’t working because they have essentially become meaningless, is enough to compel almost anyone to run right out and buy The Secret and meticulously follow its instructions.
This week Truth To Power published historian Chalmers Johnson’s article “Is The Empire About To Collapse?,” in which he speaks of his latest book Nemesis, the name of the Greek goddess of hubris and retribution. Johnson believes as I do that 231 years of American hubris is coming to a tragic end. The tragedy, in my opinion, is not that the empire is collapsing, but that so many innocent, well-intentioned, hard working people will pay such a ghastly price for it, and not because they weren’t thinking pleasant thoughts. I’m reminded of the scene from Titanic in which a group of women, including Molly Brown, sat in a lifeboat and watched the ship split apart and crumble into the sea. One woman remarked that absolution was needed for what had happened, to which Molly replied, “There is no absolution for this.”
Another movie scene comes to mind, an all-time favorite of mine from the seventies, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? The scene is a dance marathon during the Great Depression where dozens of working class men and women have come to dance for several days in order to earn a pittance for their grueling efforts. As the couples dance without sleep or, rather, just keep moving endlessly around the clock on the dance floor, wealthy spectators sit comfortably in the grandstands taking bets on who will endure, occasionally tossing coins in the direction of the dancers. A bitter, cynical young woman (Gloria) played by Jane Fonda, partners with a guileless young man (Robert) played by Michael Sarrazin whereupon dialog between them ensues, becoming increasingly philosophical and continuing throughout the marathon. Gloria, has lost all hope, perhaps because she has refused to deny the darkness of a society engulfed in economic catastrophe. She also sees through and resents the master of ceremonies of the marathon who manipulates the dancers to increase their physical and emotional exhaustion in order to entertain the wealthy spectators. What is worse, at the end of the marathon, numerous expenses are deducted from the final prize, leaving the winners with nothing -- a set-up from start to finish. Gloria’s anger has clearly energized her and allowed her to survive a difficult life. Unfortunately, she allows it to destroy her, and after she and Robert depart, she attempts to shoot herself but cannot do it. She then asks him to shoot her, and he does.
Although Gloria was filled with toxic bitterness, she saw through a system that was stacked against the working class by a ruling elite aloof from but entertained by the struggles of the lower classes. In that sense she never lost her humanity or her dignity. Tragically, she was a loner who had no support or validation for the truth she saw and therefore became overwhelmed by the darkness she refused to deny.
They Shoot Horses Don’t They? depicts not only the economic suffering of the Great Depression but also that of the economic tsunami that appears to be engulfing the United States. Those who have refused to face the truth of that deluge because they prefer to remain distracted by American Idol and the death of Anna Nicole Smith, are likely to face the same consequences as the gullible dance marathon participants who had no clue regarding the causes of the Great Depression and the set-up in which they were ensnared. Others, wallowing in narcissism and pretty thoughts, may opt to join the ruling elite in the grandstands, ignoring the human anguish of the ones beneath them dancing on the treadmill of the American debt industry. The third option is that the Glorias among us refuse to be destroyed by our own and others’ suffering and resist. The first step of resistance is thoroughly understanding what we are resisting, then gathering the necessary support to resist, and finally, building economic, emotional, and spiritual lifeboats to navigate the approaching storm.
Let me clarify: I have no problem with people becoming and remaining prosperous. I do not champion the “poor and proud” mentality. What I find offensive and inexcusable is the unwillingness of purveyors and devotees of The Secret to look at the other half of reality -- the dark side -- theirs and that of their government, move beyond their terminal narcissism, and resist the economic holocaust being perpetrated on them and the rest of the world by a fascist empire. Not to do so is to remain a sibling for one’s entire life, and if America’s middle and working classes need to do any one thing in this moment, it is to grow up and face adult reality. I know of no more shining example of this than Catherine Austin Fitts who is dedicating her time and energy to teaching people how to become prosperous, not by distracting themselves from injustice and economic warfare, but by teaching them to become intimately acquainted with it in order to wisely create options of prosperity for themselves and their loved ones.
Similarly, Michael Hudson, historian, professor, former Wall St. financial analyst, and author of Super-Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire offers critical insights into the empire’s downward spiral toward economic meltdown and may be heard on KPFA’s “Guns And Butter” program speaking on the topic of “America: Host Or Parasite?”.
As for documentaries that address reality, a wiser and more mature approach, from my perspective, is that of Tim Bennett’s and Sally Erickson’s DVD What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire about which I wrote an extensive article earlier this month. Rather than offer a sibling soporific, this documentary addresses head-on the nightmare that humans have created on so many levels, especially on the level of making the planet uninhabitable, but rather than inviting the viewer to escape into isolated, self-absorbed consumerism on steroids, it presents the opportunity to join with others of like mind and heart to reverse the lethal trajectory on which the human race is spinning out of control. Just as the last thing we need at this moment in history in the face of fossil fuel depletion is a “solution” that involves consuming more oil, the last thing the human race needs in the face of the perfect economic storm is an indulgent “I can have anything I want” perspective that ignores the empire’s evils and perpetuates the very mega-consumerism that is annihilating the planet.
Carolyn Baker, Ph.D. is author of a forthcoming book, Coming Out from Christian Fundamentalism: Affirming Life, Love and The Sacred. Her recent book, U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED: What Your High School Textbook! Didn’t Tell You, is available at her website: www.carolynbaker.org.
Other Articles by Carolyn Baker
In Debt We Trust
as the Economy Goes Bust: A Return to Serfdom?