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Tilting at Windmills

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April 8, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THIS IS WHAT PASSES FOR A SECRET THESE DAYS?....In the Washington Post today, Tim Watkin takes a look at the dark side of Oprah's book recommendations. Because I am embarassingly ignorant of popular culture, I had never heard of this book before. I wish I still hadn't.

Kevin Drum 2:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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It really is a terribly stupid book. Of course, the culturally-starved idiots who live in the suburbs eat it up, to add a little colour to their drab lives.

Posted by: Azura on April 8, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Dammit, Kevin. I was likewise blissfully ignorant, and now you've messed that up for me, too! Lordy, lordy, how I wish I too could write a book -- any book, I'm not fussy -- that Oprah would rave about. But I won't be reading this one.

Posted by: Wendy on April 8, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

It's going to make a great Oprah episode when she brings on a bunch of psychologists and book survivors.

Posted by: B on April 8, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Everything that's coming into your life you are attracting into your life," Byrne writes. "You are the most powerful magnet in the universe . . .

So I attracted that SUV driven by the bleach-blond bimbo chatting on her cell phone...

Really - the last thing this world needs is another petticoat to hide behind to avoid responsibility. What drivel.

And oh yeah - thanks for ruining my day by making me aware that this self-important blithering idiot is now worth millions because another self-important blithering idiot pronounced the first idiot brilliant and a bunch of fatassed housewives with no life outside their medicine cabinets snapped up and plunked down their plastic. Jesus the prevailing mendacity of our society makes me physically ill sometimes.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 8, 2007 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

I was thinking ham, but my wife bought a turkey.

There goes Oprah's crediblity.

Posted by: skeg on April 8, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

I could have thought up a better answer to the Darfur question.

"Did the kids bring the rapes and maimings on themselves?"

"No. They didn't want to become victims of genocide--but the janjaweed just wanted to genocide them more than the kids of Darfur wanted to live."

That's the thing that the books supporters didn't bring up. If I will say... Kevin's Inkblot to die, and Kevin wills Inkblot to live, then whatever happens will tell us whose will is stronger. That's really the easy answer to all those criticisms--not all wills are created equal.

Posted by: MNPundit on April 8, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Who's Oprah?

Posted by: Keith G on April 8, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

skeg...

Ahhh, but your inner self probably subconciously desired turkey! And your wife simply reacted to some inner force that prompted her to stop by the turkey bin at the grocery!

Posted by: pencarrow on April 8, 2007 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

So a baby born with, say, Down Syndrome wished it on themselves? Or did their parents wish it on them? And if their parents wished it on them, where is the kid's ability to unwish it? Or does the kid have that ability, but just refuse to use it?

Posted by: Martin Gale on April 8, 2007 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Have you ever looked into the Business section at the big bookstores? The shelves are filled with books just like "The Secret." All you need is to think being rich in order to be rich. All you need to be a great manager is to read about Genghis Khan's management skills. It's like science fiction for adults.

Posted by: FS on April 8, 2007 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

I think anyone who wants to bleat about "quantum physics" or "quantum conciousness" as the "explanation" of this should first undergo Schrodinger's Cat experiment with himself in the place of the cat.

I bet none of those idiots have ever cracked open a physics book in their lives.

Posted by: grumpy realist on April 8, 2007 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist, but somehow I cannot rid my mind of the suspicion that this is all a giant con by the credit card vultures to extract more profits. Please, someone prove me wrong before I blame it on the Tri-lateral Commission.

Posted by: Etaoin Shrdlu on April 8, 2007 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

I have made a appointment in my calendar to field a call from the Norwegian Parliament sometime this year and to face the subsequent flood of inquiries from reporters all over the world.

Posted by: gregor on April 8, 2007 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like your typical new age pseudo-scientific garbage, a la "What the Bleep..." But tell me this, why is it that we are free to recognize and dismiss this for the absurdity that it is, but make one change -- i.e., instead of calling it "attraction" or visualization or what have you, you call it "prayer" -- we are required to suddenly be respectful? The idea that if you just pray to and trust in God, all good things will come to you is quite prevalent in religious circles in this country, and I'll be damned if I see one iota of difference between that view and Oprah's latest flimflammery.

Posted by: Glenn on April 8, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone else having trouble loading the New And! Improved WaPo website?

Or, is it my fault? I don't want to read their stories enough?

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on April 8, 2007 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

I guess this is what happens when we let THE MARKET decide. HL Mencken is proved right again.

Posted by: Martin on April 8, 2007 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't it amazing that in this "information age", when virtually all of the accumulated scientific knowledge of the past 10,000 years is a Google away, people still buy into this pseudo-religio-psychobabble nonsense? Incredible.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on April 8, 2007 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

After reading the article, the book sounds like another rightwing cultural virus that seeks to blame those who are struggling to get by for their own problems. It's a way to distract from the effect of rightwing policies that harm workers and the middle class while giving bloating the wealth of the already rich.

Posted by: McCord on April 8, 2007 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

So just how does wishing for things to happen work out when the wished-for goals are zero-sum things? Winning American Idol, for example. What if 100K readers of this book all wish to become next year's American Idol?

Posted by: Peter on April 8, 2007 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

I know folks (including a family member who now runs his own business) who have been greatly helped by this book, or the video version of it, so, it's fun to mock and all, but if it inspires people to do better, well, there are worse things in this world.

Not everyone was born a brainiac or with a silver spoon in their mouth. If some folks need a little inspiration, whether it's from religion, yoga, sports, or something like this, who cares? I'm sick and fucking tired of you elitist pricks and your constant mocking of everyone who doesn't have a Master's degree.

The real world sucks, people do what they have to do to get by, to find some happiness, sorry that's so offensive to all the scientists here.

Posted by: Matt on April 8, 2007 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

I bet none of those idiots have ever cracked open a physics book in their lives.

They don't have to, because in their mind they just wanted to understand physics, and that's better than actually learning it.

Posted by: Qwerty on April 8, 2007 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Have you ever looked into the Business section at the big bookstores? The shelves are filled with books just like "The Secret." All you need is to think being rich in order to be rich. All you need to be a great manager is to read about Genghis Khan's management skills. It's like science fiction for adults.


Posted by: FS on April 8, 2007 at 3:42 PM

-Too eff'ing right, amigo!

I guess this is what happens when we let THE MARKET decide. HL Mencken is proved right again.

Posted by: Martin on April 8, 2007 at 5:09 PM

-Funny...I was gonna say P.T. Barnum.

I work for a bookstore chain that shall remain nameless, and I've been asked a few times what I think about 'the Secret'...

I tell 'em the 'secret' is get your book on Oprah.

If I were a con-artist, the author would be my new idol...best scam ever!!!

Posted by: KerouacZac on April 8, 2007 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

This philosophy also pretty much captures a typical right-wing world view: Thinking makes it so.

The great hero Bush will make everything right in Iraq because of his will and his goodness. (We know he's good because he's faithful to his wife, and the only real morality is sexual morality.)

And people don't need to be competent and well qualified to run FEMA, or the Justice Department, or the CPA, or the counry, for that matter. All they need is to have the "right" ideas and faith!

And it's those left-wing so-and-so's who say the war is going badly who cause it to go badly with their lack of faith. What's more, they're not even saying it's going badly because they believe it; they say it because they want it to go badly, and what's more, they know that if they want it and say it, it will happen! That's why they're traitors.

It's all perfectly coherent and consistent.

Posted by: trillabead on April 8, 2007 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

I bet none of those idiots have ever cracked open a physics book in their lives.

Yeah, they're probably busy working a couple of jobs, trying to raise a family with shitty health care, high gas prices, bills that keep piling up, ect. Not everyone has the time or energy to study fucking physics, crazy, I know.

Posted by: Matt on April 8, 2007 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sick and fucking tired of you elitist pricks and your constant mocking of everyone who doesn't have a Master's degree.

The real world sucks, people do what they have to do to get by, to find some happiness, sorry that's so offensive to all the scientists here.

Posted by: Matt on April 8, 2007 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

-Just for the record: I don't have a masters [or even a bachelors] and I'm smart enough to see the scam. Even if it is wrapped up in a blanket of nice warm fuzzy thoughts. What offends me is that this book is basicly a tool for taking money from people who may actually need help.
On a side note I'd like to mention that several people have come back and thanked me for talking them out of buying it.

Posted by: KerouacZac on April 8, 2007 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

Norman Vincent Peale wrote "The Power of Positive Thinking" back in the 50's. I heard Charles Osgood on CBS radio equating "The Secret" to the book several weeks ago. I wanted to throw something at him.

The books are not the same. Peale DOES emphasize visualizing success -- holding positive thoughts of what we want in our minds -- but he also adds praying about those things AND adding good old elbow grease -- working like the dickens to make it all happen.


Posted by: pol on April 8, 2007 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

KerouacZac, most everything in the world is a scam, the lottery, the bible, the secret. What I don't get is the scorn people feel they need to unleash on other people who are simply trying to better themsevles.

The family member I mentioned up thread is in his early 50's, barely got out of high school and until recently never made more than 25 grand a year. He's neither dumb nor lazy, but life has really kicked the guy around. He got a hold of the secret through a friend and I've seen his life turn around with my own eyes. My point is that it doesn't matter if religion, spirituality, or whatever it is you're into that gets you through the day is a scam, if it helps, that's what's important.

Honestly, I guess I don't mind the criticism, it's the mocking that really gets to me.

Posted by: Matt on April 8, 2007 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

"Have you ever looked into the Business section at the big bookstores? The shelves are filled with books just like "The Secret." All you need is to think being rich in order to be rich. All you need to be a great manager is to read about Genghis Khan's management skills. It's like science fiction for adults."
Posted by: FS on April 8, 2007 at 3:42 PM

It would be interesting to get a group of Big Book Store *employees* together and ask them what they think about the stores they work in and the people that buy the books, state of our Culture, etc. On a different note.. I got a good chuckle out of seeing "Drumming for Dummies" at B&N recently.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on April 8, 2007 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Matt...just visualize getting that Masters degree. When you do, you'll have more hair, develop 6-pack abs, and get lots of checks in the mail.

As for me, I'm visualizaing you not posting here.

Posted by: elitist prick on April 8, 2007 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/25/fashion/25attraction.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5088&en=81538d3b85977700&ex=1330059600&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

"Shaking Riches out of the Cosmos"

dang! I KNEW that somebody connected with this was involved at some time with AMWAY.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on April 8, 2007 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder how many fans of "The Secret" know that it's exactly the same technique used by witches and ceremonial magicians to cast their supposedly evil spells. Who's for getting up a petition to have Oprah burned at the stake?

Posted by: fyreflye on April 8, 2007 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK
If some folks need a little inspiration, whether it's from religion, yoga, sports, or something like this, who cares? I'm sick and fucking tired of you elitist pricks and your constant mocking of everyone who doesn't have a Master's degree.

May I offer a conciliatory note?

It is a truism that human beings have a strong tendency to attachment and excess. We tend to glom on to valid insights and overplay them to the point of absurdity. That explains a lot in this case.

There is a kernel of truth in the positive thinking philosophy. We can credit that and show it respect. 'Positive thinking' only becomes a racket when it's advocates lose their perspective and start making sweeping, universalist claims.

As humans we're all prone to the basic pitfall of getting too attached to an idea. No need to be vicious when it happens to others.

Posted by: obscure on April 8, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

this sounds like old-fashioned gospel of prosperity with secular packaging. it absolves the rich — they're rich because they deserve to be — while relieving them of any obligation to use their wealth to help others (or pay a higher share of the tax burden) by blaming the poor for their own misery. a sort of class warfare in reverse. the rest of us? why of course we don't hold it against the rich 'cause that's just who we want to be, and will be with a little more visualization (or prayer). in the end there really is very little difference between this and what norman vicent peale was preaching. and both are disgusting.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on April 8, 2007 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK

Regardless, I'll still trust Oprah's judgment over anything offered by anyone in the Bush administration, while still agreeing that we could do much, much better that either of those choices.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii, looking for wingers to sacrifice to the volcano goddess Pele on April 8, 2007 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

in the end there really is very little difference between this and what norman vicent peale was preaching. and both are disgusting.


mudwall, I disagree. All I can say is that there have been times in my life I did just as Peale suggested -- prayerize, picturize, and actualize -- usually to get through a tough time, and things turned out okay.

If you read The Power of Positive Thinking, it really isn't about getting rich. It's about getting through stuff -- becoming a better person. My goodness, it's common sense. If you want to lose 50 pounds and be thin again, the best thing you can do is imagine yourself as thin again. Then, you go on a diet, get exercise, pray (if you're a believer) and get thin. You're not "attracting" anything -- you're keeping a thought in mind that you really want to accomplish -- then you go after it.

That is not the same thing at all as The Secret, where you just believe things are going to come to you because you want them and think about them.

Posted by: pol on April 8, 2007 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

Is the author of this book associated with the Rosicrucians? I went to thesecret.org, and it is a Rosicrucian website.

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on April 8, 2007 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

In an age when all the real secrets are guarded by hard mathematics, people are still looking for a royal road that doesn't involve geometry (or calculus).

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on April 8, 2007 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

In the late 90s, a newly ordained Science of Mind minister came to Santa Clarita, I went to her ordination. It was known there was some hesitation in ordaining her for the position because she had recently filed bankruptcy.

She had a bunch of speakers come like Danald Walsh that believe in belief over rational action. She believed and moved the whole church that to act like you have already received was the action of gratitude.

Make a long story short in six months, she had run up huge debts and depleted all the church's credit. In one year, the church was bankrupt and its members scattered. They had followed all the principles as a congregation of the secret but somehow reality intruded. They like the bush cabal failed to create their own reality that had any substance other than the mirage of their minds.

Posted by: yoduuuh on April 8, 2007 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

You're all just cranky because it's your thinking attracted George W. Bush into your lives! ;-)

As someone who lives with heart muscle damage caused by the radiation and chemotherapy that saved him from near-fatal lymphoma 20 years earlier, I find that The Secret is, to borrow a phrase from another pop-culture phenom, "glib! GLIB!!"

My thoughts as a happy 21-year-old somehow managed to attract the lymphoma, but then also attract all the doctors and hospitals and the newly-created therapies that saved me, but my thoughts were simultaneously attracting treatments that would 20 years later, seemingly out of nowhere, make my heart stop working? And were my thoughts simultaneously attracting the radiation damage in my jaw that would turn cancerous 20 years later, or was that some other, more recent thought?

Any attempt to apply The Secret to the real world quickly breaks down into nonsensical babbling.

Much like a similar 'you magically get what you believe in' scheme, the Bush foreign policy.

Posted by: biggerbox on April 8, 2007 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

...class warfare in reverse.

Huh?!?

Where do people (I've seen it before) get this convenient view that class warfare begins with working/struggling/poor people?

Any honest reading of history would show the opposite.

Posted by: skeg on April 8, 2007 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

The Secret really does describe Bush's policies. When he was asked why the surge would work, he said "Because it's got to."

Posted by: natural cynic on April 8, 2007 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

"There's a secret born every minute. . ."

PT Barnum (thinking about not being dead)

Posted by: Sparko on April 8, 2007 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

Azura wrote:
"Of course, the culturally-starved idiots who live in the suburbs eat it up, to add a little colour to their drab lives."

Do you have any actual evidence of what percent of her fans are in the suburbs? I've lived in the Chicago burbs for 20 years, and I only know a couple women who are fans. Most of my female friends don't care for her.

Aboput the culturally starved crap, I also lived in the city for 6 years, and most people I knew weren't all that culturally enlightened. A lot of urban folks are pretty ignorant about the world outside their own little ghetto.

Posted by: YetAnotherRick on April 9, 2007 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

I liked the book better in the original publishing.

Posted by: PseudoNoise on April 9, 2007 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

"lived in the Chicago burbs for 20 years"
"I also lived in the city for 6 years"

Nice to know anecdotal evidence from 1980 still holds water.

Listen, you can shop at Wal-Mart, watch American Idol, eat at Mcdonalds, drive a Ford Explorer, live in a cookie-cutter house out of the 1970's, have a white picket fence with a well taken care of lawn, and that's all well and good. But it's also the epitome of middle brow, ok? Let's not pretend there is anything even remotely close to good taste culture wise about any of that.

Big cities have something resembling good culture, as do small towns. The suburbs though, is where culture goes to die, turning once vibrant people into consumeristic shills.

Posted by: Azura on April 9, 2007 at 12:40 AM | PERMALINK

Matt, what I'm saying is if you want to throw around terms like "quantum physics" as an explanation of something, you'd better know damn well what you're talking about. How about the old problem of calculating how long it takes a particle to tunnel between the two lobes of a double-welled potential, hmm? Trivial for someone who really does understand quantum physics.

What we've got here is nothing more than wishful thinking with a thin veneer of New Age Ninnyism on top. Feh.

Posted by: grumpy realist on April 9, 2007 at 2:35 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know.... THis sounds AWFULLY a lot like the way the Bush Administration does Iraq policy to me.

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on April 9, 2007 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe they are using Nancy Reagan's astrologers?

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on April 9, 2007 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

The suburbs though, is where culture goes to die, turning once vibrant people into consumeristic shills.
Posted by: Azura

You have a somewhat outdated vision of the 'Burbs as an exclusively middle class enclave. It point of fact poverty has migrated outward.

Please see:

'The New Suburban Poverty', Eyal Press
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070423/press

[snip] One reason this shift may not have sunk into public consciousness is that for as long as suburbs have existed, Americans have tended to envision them as pristine sanctuaries where people go to escape brushing shoulders with the poor. The most familiar historical example--much lamented by a generation of progressives who came to associate the migration to suburbs with racial backlash and urban decline--is the mass exodus of middle-class white ethnics from the nation's central cities, which accelerated in the wake of the riots and social unrest of the 1960s. In more recent years, it's often assumed, the forces fueling the growth of suburbs have only made things worse--the social landscape more segregated, the sprawl more extreme, the gap increasingly vast between people who rarely set foot in cities and those who rarely leave them.

In fact, however, the gentrification of many urban neighborhoods, from Brooklyn to San Francisco to Washington, has forced many working-class residents out. In a reversal of the classic migration story, many of these displaced residents have fled to the suburbs, lured in part by the growing pool of mostly low-wage jobs there--cleaning homes, mowing lawns, staffing restaurants, strip malls and office plazas. Alan Berube, co-author of the Brookings Institution study, says the "decentralization of low-wage employment" is one of the main factors driving suburban poverty rates up.

In some counties, a lot of those jobs are falling to immigrants, who are increasingly heading straight to the suburbs rather than to cities in search of employment.

[snip]

Posted by: MsNThrope on April 9, 2007 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Forget about The Secret- now Oprah has The Road for her book club. That combination is going to seriously screw some people up.

Posted by: Felipe on April 9, 2007 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Listen, you can shop at Wal-Mart, watch American Idol, eat at Mcdonalds, drive a Ford Explorer, live in a cookie-cutter house out of the 1970's, have a white picket fence with a well taken care of lawn, and that's all well and good. But it's also the epitome of middle brow, ok

No, the epitome of middlebrow would be shopping at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, watching PBS, going to Starbucks, driving a Prius and living in a renovated 1920's tract house.

Posted by: C.L. on April 9, 2007 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

old wine in new bottle -- in the 80s, it was called "EST," and adherents were called Estholes.

Take comfort from this: the average IQ is 100. This is just one of the necessary corollaries.

The right, of course, benefits hugely from a populace so unsophisticated and easily gulled. I wonder if the demolition of the educational system, which is part of the problem, is deliberate, as a means of producing such a populace, or just an unintended but welcomed side effect of their unwillingness to invest resources in education (for anyone but their own offspring)?

Posted by: smartalek on April 9, 2007 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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