Uncommon Sense

May 17, 2007

The Secret: Positive Thinking’s New Clothes

No doubt, you will have heard of The Secret. If you haven’t, Google it and check out the video.The Secret’s claim is quite simple – you can have whatever you want, just visualise it, and it’s yours. Apparently, we create our reality with our intentions – our thoughts cause things to happen, not just within ourselves, but in our external reality too.

It doesn’t take much to see that this is really karma and positive thinking with new clothes – only here you no longer need to DO any good, you just have to THINK it. Self-directedness just became moral – after all, if the Universe supports it, it must be right?

Except that the new clothes don’t fit. And the ‘lack of fitness’ I speak about is the relationship these ideas have to reality. They simply do not, in fact cannot, work in the real world. For ‘real world’ let’s make the assumption that the world as we perceive it, irrespective of the myriad problems presented by language, culture, values and beliefs, exists independently of our opinions about it. The problem with the idea of perception being reality is that it is essentially unprovable; we can not discuss anything if we live in different universes. It would simply be a waste of time, since we are unable to correlate our perceptions. It is because we actually intend to unravel the nature of reality that we discuss anything at all.

So back to the karmic universe. Does our experience of life actually reinforce this model or must we look elsewhere for an accurate reflection of the Way Things Are?

If karma is a Universal Law, then it must apply all the time to everything. We cannot conveniently pop it in and out of reality like a magician’s prop as and when needed. It’s either the Way the Universe Works or it isn’t.

And here’s where the law of karma runs into some difficulties. How would we apply the law of karma to a natural disaster, like an earthquake, tornado, or tsunami? Are we to say that everybody involved DESERVED their personal consequence? If so, then it would make no sense to intervene – after all, they are getting their karmic due! In fact, it would make no sense to attempt to predict or prevent future occurrences of such events, since they would be karma’s way of seeing to it that everybody reaps what they sow. We could apply the same logic to disease and it’s cousin, epidemic. If karma works properly, why then people get sick because they deserve it, and we should not interrupt the course of Universal Justice. Fighting an epidemic seems futile – it will get who it must, and doing Good is the only way to avoid demise. Would that include trying to heal people? To do so would be to interrupt their fate at the hands of the administrators of karma – is this just our way of playing God, deciding which events to oppose and which to support, and in this way remodelling reality? Do we really know what is Good?

It is here that the law of karma runs into it’s second problem. Good. What exactly do we mean by Good? For most people who actually buy the karma-ruled world, Good is something that the Self wants. Good is whatever ‘Me’ thinks is good. But let’s suppose we cold design a Virtual Spaceship which we could call The Independent Observer. And let’s assume that we could view events on planet Earth from a detached, impartial perspective. The first observation we would make is that for something to live, something else has to die. It does not take an enormous amount of mental gymnastics to recognise that this trade-off is built into everything, including politics, business, sport, even our social frameworks. So what is “Good” from one perspective may not be good from another. Winning and losing are merely two sides of the same coin, two perspectives of the same event. And there is no guarantee that winning is necessarily Good – we learn nothing in comfort zones; we learn in adversity. So living in a comfort zone is not necessarily Good. I’m pretty sure I could write a book just on this subject, so I will leave this line of thought with this: Good for the individual is not necessarily good for the group. Good for a nation is not necessarily good for the planet. Good for a belief system is not necessarily Universal.

And Universal Laws introduce another variable to the mix. Which model of the universe do you subscribe to?
In a Predatory, survival-oriented Universe, the idea of Good is “That which enables me to survive” and If you don’t think our world is predatory then just try not being economically active, and see how long the food lasts. Somehow, we all have to justify our existence by doing something somebody else values – ideally, more than one person, whatever the economic model. Having other people perceive Value in what you do is not the same as Good.
In the IIlusory Universe, nothing is as it seems, and perception is merely one of a number of possible interpretations. In such a universe, reality, that is objective reality, may be unavailable. The convenient thing about this universe is that, since everything is an illusion, nothing can be known about it, so any conjecture will fit. Everyone’s potentially right and wrong at the same time. Difficult to see how doing anything at all, even having a thought, would be useful.
Then there is the Meaningless Universe, in which there is no value, just people fooling themselves that there is meaning. It’s a zero-sum game in which nothing matters, so nothing is required. Good in the meaningless Universe is Not Knowable. People do not move in here on purpose.
Lastly, perhaps, for there may be more, the Benign Universe, in which everything is fair – all injustices are made right, everyone reaps what they sow and the whole thing is really a morality test. The karmic universe is a variant of this in which there is no Personality that controls the system, a “Mister U” (as Jane calls ‘him’), who sees to it that the rules are followed. The universe nevertheless does so, say it’s adherents, although there is no direct evidence that it does, but people have written that it does, and believers have great difficulty in separating hearsay evidence from scientific fact.

There are really only two kinds of people on the planet – believers and thinkers. It is unfortunate that the majority are believers, people who have taken the Path of Least Resistance and have adopted the thinking of others, rather than working things out for themselves, because thinking is such hard work. It’s just so much easier to get a “plug-in” set of beliefs and values than attempt to unravel the world for yourself.

And isn’t a belief system that reinforces the notion that we can have the desires of our dreams and that all we need do is to believe it enough, exactly the kind of belief that most people would just love to believe? Isn’t it the perfect “plug-in”? Isn’t it precisely the kind of belief system that marketers would design? The brief may have been “Find out how people ideally would like the Universe to work, and then develop a religion that reinforces all of those beliefs”. No hard work, no adversity, trials, rejections, ‘negative’ events, just sign here and we’ll send your rose-tinted glasses in the mail… The nice thing about this system is that if you’re doing well, you can claim that it’s because The Universe supports your reality model, your beliefs and values, in short – you. No wonder people who subscribe to this defend it so vehemently – they’re really defending themselves. The self-reinforcing myth just found religion.

So much for markets, which trade on the gullibility of the ignorant majority.

And what of the ‘unsung hero’, the ‘moral victor’ and the ‘innocent victim’? Surely these could simply not exist in a karmic world? The system provides your just desserts – you get what you deserve, no more, no less. The world is fair, goes the mantra…

There are more Dreamers than Doers on the planet. One would think that, if visualization was a causative force, that the world would just have improved magically. I use the word ‘magically’ very specifically, because this is a ‘magical’ force, existing outside of the realms of scientific testing, as are all supernatural and spiritual events. Do you not think that ALL the people who go to American Idols visualise themselves as the next American Idol? Ugly Real World fact: there can only be one. Their individual dreams are subject to a simple fact: our dreams are often trade-offs. You cannot have them all, nor can you all have them, and how would we work out whether they were Good or not? Hopefully the administrator of the karma system has rules for working this out, but what of the ignorant individual who can barely understand their place in this world, much less what constitutes Good? Does karma take ignorance into account? If so, does this invalidate the pursuit of knowledge?

Adoption of the Law of Attraction requires an astonishingly arrogant assumption: that humans are important to the Universe (and, of course, obviously more important than animals). Some even take this to the extreme that humanity is the Reason for Existence. It is said that life is a tragedy to those that feel and a comedy to those that think. Human self-centredness evokes hilarity that borders on hysteria, and then one begins to see how sad it is. Copernicus is turning in his grave.

And here is the core problem with karma and positive thinking and laws of attraction: they are inevitably focused upon an individual, like a narrow spotlight that conveniently ignores the needs of the whole, with it’s enormous complexity, contradictions and contretemps. True Value lies outside the reach of the individual – in definition and achievement. It requires many working in concert, actually doing things that change the world. And this progress has in the past been driven, not by the mediocre masses armed with dreams, but by the Thinking Minority, people who were willing to work through the unpopularity of their ideas, who were willing to deal with adversity because they saw a future desired reality that was worthwhile.

But they were also willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears that denote character-building struggles. I invested hours of my time thinking about this article, drew mindmaps, wrote a draft, read it over, changed things until I was satisfied. The visualisation triggered an ACTION and even though there were other important issues and distractions, I managed to complete it.

Such a waste of time, when I could just have sent out some positive (sic) vibes…

Now where did I put those rose-tinted glasses?




  1. Hi Derek,

    I am not going to enter into a discussion about the law of attraction because we both know where it will end. What I will say is the following:

    You are where you are today because that is where you wanted to be, whether it involves heath, financial independence or your love life, you are exactly where you wanted to be.

    Of course, anyone not understanding the law of attraction or not wanting to understand or who simply disagrees with it will most likely also disagree with the statement I made above. It is for this reason that I am not going to enter into a discussion about the topic as we will only end up going around in circles.

    I myself have never believed and still don’t believe in the idea of positive thinking. I do however believe in the law of attraction.

    Just like the law of gravity, the law of attraction exists whether you believe in it or not!

    Anyway, I have opened the can…I am sure you will let the worms out :-))

    Comment by Craig Haywood — February 29, 2008 @ 10:00 am

  2. Right. So people who are starving really want to be starving, and people with terminal diseases want them, and those who suffer natural disasters actually brought them on. And no doubt all successful people are so because they merely wanted it. One has to live in a tiny universe to beleive this, a universe so small that it revolves around your own needs.
    How is the Law of Attraction different from positive thinking?
    The Law of Attraction implies that an individual ‘deserves’ to distribute wealth towards themselves. What is it that makes an individual who is so self-absorbed that all they can think of to visualise is benefit for self. A Universe that respects such a person is a Universe that scarcely deserves respect. It is also beyond me how any of the ‘secrets’ exposed in The Secret can possibly be known.
    Lastly. we can show that the law of gravity works; we can demonstrate it’s effects. Let’s conduct a scientific experiment to prove that the Law of Attraction works, because I am so sure it doesn’t that I am willing to embrace it wholly and without reserve if a clinical test establishes it’s validity. I think the people who benefit the most from the Secret are thsoe who market it.

    Comment by justd — February 29, 2008 @ 10:19 am

  3. Aaah, the power of “visualization”……I have visualised many good and bad things (fears that creep in, in the middle of the night, without so much as a “may I ?” ), that have come true. I have also equally visualised many good and bad things that have not come true…Hmmmm I have to ask myself if I have visualised some things MORE than others, is that why some have happened and others not? NOPE. My imagination was equally strong in all cases.
    So, if the non-educated, living in a squatter camp, poor individual with malnutrition that is being raped on a daily basis by a family member, visualizes a life of living in an up-market suburb with a really good job and a functional relationship with a soul mate and beautiful children, will it come to him/her? I mean REALLY make an effort at visualizing this. Complete with small details like the colour of the flowers in the pots by the front door? Really, really put huge effort in visualizing, thinking about this all the time. WIL IT COME TO THEM?? What bullshit….
    And still, somewhere inside me a little voice says,” If you can think it, you can do it, believe…JUST BELIEVE!!”
    Sigh, as I said, I have been able to realize some dreams because I believed I could. And some not. As Carl Seighan would say “ It’s all about the hits and misses”
    What the hell, this “secret” feeds on the thing that keeps us all going. HOPE. Without hope, most of us would have turned around and just died and rotted round about the age of five. I think hope was hardwired into us by a cruel God that knew we couldn’t play this sick game without hope. So, I see it, I am cynical, but like the rest of us, without thinking about it, I hope everyday for stuff, things, better stuff, more things, better relationships, more love, and the hope makes me work at these things all the time. And sometimes they happen and sometimes they don’t. But without it I will have to turn around and start rotting.
    What the hell: I BELIEVE! I will keep on visualizing, maybe I’ll die with a smile on my face visualizing all the things that have and cannot happen for me. At least I’ll die with a smile.

    Comment by Linda Davis — May 23, 2008 @ 9:57 am

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