The Secret To Teen Power is Harmful Bullshit

Awhile ago my friend's daughter turned 21 and received a copy of The Secret to Teen Power by Paul Harrington. While I'll leave it to you to mull over giving a teen book to someone turning 21, it was not well received. Of course, having written a previous article titled The Law of Attraction - And The Secret - Are Bullshit, I was keen to see how ‘insightful and helpful’ this new book was. My friend was kind enough to send it to me. It's taken me a year to get up the energy to even look at this piece of work.

My first surprise was that it wasn't written by Rhonda Byrne, who wrote The Secret. The guy who wrote this bunch of drivel is an employee for Byrne, although in the acknowledgments he says she is his best friend and mentor as well.

Let's cut to the chase of this book, which is #6 in teen health/mental health on Amazon. The reviews are mostly glowing. The ones I read were of parents and people who gave the book to kids, which I find disturbing.

Here is exactly what the Secret is: (pg 5-6)
According to science, there are certain laws that govern the Universe. There's the law of gravity - whatever goes up must come down. And there's Einstein's law of relativity - everything in the Universe is made of energy. And then there's "string theory" - everything in the Universe vibrates, everything has its own vibe. But the most powerful law in the entire Universe is ... the law of attraction. THE SECRET is the law of attraction. Everything that happens in your life all comes down to attraction. You attract all the stuff that happens to you,  every last little thing, no matter whether it's totally awesome or truly awful, it's all about you. And you do it with the power of your thoughts. Whatever you think about, that's what goes down, that's what happens.

OMFSM! My brain exploded! My BS meter overloaded. And I only got to page 6! Not only is this bullshit, it's Harmful Bullshit. We need some sanity! On the book’s page on Amazon, this is the first (most excellent) review, which sums up some of my thoughts:
From School Library Journal Grade 8 Up—Harrington promises to reveal the most powerful law in the universe that teens can then use to "create the life of their dreams." He calls it the "law of attraction." He goes on to promote believing in oneself and following one's passions as a way to find fame and fortune. Thinking positive thoughts is all well and good, but when the author writes that optimistic thinking will clear up pimples or that avoiding news coverage about current events (because it will only attract bad thoughts) will keep you healthy and on the right track, it puts the credibility of this self-help guide in doubt. Then Harrington writes that whatever happens to you is a result of what you think about. "Victims of tragedy didn't ask for their fate (and they totally didn't deserve it). They probably didn't even know they were capable of attracting stuff. But still, there's an attraction. And that's because the law of attraction operates whether you know about it or not. People who don't know THE SECRET are attracting by default." This is cruel advice to give to an adolescent. If a 13-year-old who is being abused reads this, will he think that the abuse is his fault because he attracted it? What about a 17-year-old whose boyfriend hits her? Did she attract the violence? This is a philosophy of blaming the victims, placing the onus for bad things happening in their lives squarely on them.—Geri Diorio, The Ridgefield Library, CT Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

How about the real science?

Isaac Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation, published in 1687: every point mass in the universe attracts every other point mass with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. In a nutshell, gravity is the mutual attraction of mass. The greater the mass, the greater the attraction. Gravity's effect is lessened by distance. So, to say that "what goes up, must come down" lacks understanding of gravity and childishly oversimplifies it to a ridiculous level.

Einstein's Theory of Relativity: Encompasses two theories of Albert Einstein: special relativity and general relativity.

Special Relativity (1905): a theory of the structure of spacetime. It is based on two postulates: 1. The laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion relative to one another (principle of relativity), and 2. The speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers, regardless of their relative motion or of the motion of the source of the light.

General Relativity (1916): a unified description of gravity as a geometric property of space and time, or spacetime. In particular, the curvature of spacetime is directly related to the four-momentum (mass-energy and linear momentum) of whatever matter and radiation are present. The relation is specified by the Einstein field equations, a system of partial differential equations. If you really wanted to drastically oversimplify these complex theories, you might come up with "the Universe is made of energy" but it's nonsense. 99.999999% of the universe is empty (or possibly filled with dark matter, but we don't have any way to know this for sure yet). So what you have left is a small amount of matter. Matter can be converted to energy, but I'm pretty sure matter isn't energy.  (please feel free to explain this in more detail, but in a way we can understand. It's a bit out of my wheelhouse)

String Theory: The theory has yet to make testable experimental predictions, which a theory must do in order to be considered a part of science. String theory mainly posits that the electrons and quarks within an atom are not 0-dimensional objects, but rather 1-dimensional oscillating lines ("strings").

First of all, string theory is not proven. It's not even technically a hypothesis because it can’t be tested yet. It isn't even a generally accepted model. To say that everything vibrates is a massive overgeneralization. Mass vibrates at a given frequency. It doesn't have a vibe, like some jive hipster.

Here is the most important thing I can say. Your thoughts do not have power on their own. Thoughts only have power in that they can drive action. If your thoughts had power, your car wouldn't need gasoline. You could just will it forward. Every proponent of the Secret should be able to will their cars on the power of their minds instead of paying over $4 a gallon. I have never heard of this happening.

Try this experiment: Think positive thoughts about your personal hygiene. You are clean. Your teeth are clean. Your breath is fresh. Your clothes are clean. Say it aloud, write it down, think it over and over for 7 days. Wear the same clothes for those 7 days. Don't brush your teeth or bathe. You don't need to. Your thoughts are keeping you clean. You don't even need to wipe after going to the toilet! Now see how many friends are still hanging out with you after about 2 days. None, right? Because your thoughts don't leave your head except through your actions or through your words.

How many people have read the original The Secret? How many extra millionaires are there in the world since the book and movie came out? How many more movie stars, famous people, etc? There has not been a mysterious increase in success that people have attributed to this “secret”, has there? No, just a bunch of people being duped into thinking their thoughts leave their head and the Universe then bends to their will.

What an incredibly dangerous message to put into the head of a teenager, someone who is dealing with so many emotions and hormones, just trying to grow up. Not only do they have to focus on their daily problems, now they have to somehow control every thought that bounces around their head?

And how incredibly self-absorbed is it to think the Universe will do what you command? First, the universe doesn’t have agency. Second, your thoughts don’t leave your skull, never mind get tallied up by the universe and then fulfilled! You are not that powerful. And it’s damaging to tell a person that.

It’s amazing how books like this twist responsibility and chance around to make a person into a victim twice. With religion, often all the good that happens to a person is attributed to God. Here at least you get the credit for the good stuff, but that will also give you a hugely inflated ego.

The insidious twist of the Secret is how it is presented. If something good comes your way, you had the power to bring it to you. If something terrible happens, you asked for it. If you think happy thoughts about winning the lottery and you don't win, even though you bought 1,000 tickets, then you either weren't thinking hard enough, you didn’t have enough control over your thoughts, you sabotaged yourself, or the Universe does things in its own time. See how you lose twice? As I said, religion does the same thing except you don’t even get credit for the good stuff.

Ok, this is getting really long, but here’s another excerpt from page 7 that sums up the danger of this book and this lie:
And according to the law of attraction, it’s your thoughts that hold the power, that do all the attracting. For example, have you ever had a thought about a song? Then, before you know it, you’re thinking about that song all day long until the song is totally stuck in your head. And eventually you'll be hearing that song being played everywhere you go because now you're fully obsessing. Now you're attracting the song - in the mall, at school, on TV - wherever you are, your thoughts are attracting that song.

First, in this example, you aren’t controlling how the song is stuck in your head (which is called an earworm, by the way). You’re at its mercy. (Thanks to my dear husband, I have the theme song to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang driving me mad right now! Gah!) If you hear that song around that same time, that is just a coincidence. It’s statistically probable. It’s not some type of mind power. It’s also a very common phenomenon called Attentional Bias. It’s just the way our brains work.

For example, many years ago, my husband and I shopped for a new car. I hadn’t ever really noticed Subarus before, but we ended up buying one. Suddenly, I started noticing them everywhere. Did they magically increase in number overnight? Did the Universe suddenly put them in the driveways of thousands of people in my town just so I’d see them when I was out driving? No, of course that’s ridiculous! I just never noticed them before and suddenly they were in my mind because I was driving one. That’s Attentional Bias.

There’s so much more poison in this awful little book. But that's all I can stomach of these harmful lies for now.

13 comments:

  1. "How many people have read the original The Secret?
    Unfortunately, lots and lots, since Oprah has been preaching it.

    "How many extra millionaires are there in the world since the book and movie came out?"

    Probably 1 - the author ;)

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  2. I had a similar reaction when attempting to read The Celestine Prophecy, which was also a bestseller. It was supposed to be a novel, but was actually a thinly-veiled spiritual guide full of drivel and pseudoscience. I didn't get very far in before giving it up in disgust. According to Wikipedia, critics accused The Celestine Prophecy author of "reification", which Wikipedia says "often takes place when natural or social processes are misunderstood and/or simplified; for example when human creations are described as 'facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestations of divine will'." Sounds a great deal like what the author of The Secret did with theories about energy.

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  3. Dude, of course string theory has not been proven - it's only a theory.

    Sorry, I felt like I had to take a swing at the obvious joke..

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  4. Marcia, you are so accurate! And both points are sickening! :|

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  5. Ugh, Andrea, I read that dreck ages ago.
    Yes, it does sound like The Secret can easily be accused of reification. I'd never heard that term before. Thanks so much for sharing it!

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  6. LOL, Andrew, I KNOW you are joking! Unless you want me to explain the difference between theory in the vernacular and a scientific theory? :P

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  7. Roxane B. SalonenMay 13, 2011 at 5:34 AM

    Hi Neece! Found you here today, and just have to say I agree that this "law of attraction" thing is more than a bit off and harmful. I do like positive attitude and believe it can be a powerful thing, but not in the way books like "The Secret" and others profess. Hope you have a nice weekend. :)

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  8. Hi Roxane. Yes, I agree that a positive attitude is a very good thing. That doesn't compare to the Secret in any meaningful way, though.
    I hope you have a great weekend too! :D

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  9. what do u think? Dat's all is true! I've proven. Try this,,
    sit beside ur frend, think about him that he will give you a punch. After that, take action, hit him. So u'll be hit by him too..

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  10. It's a shame you don't believe. Good things do happen if you believe but you must be one of these people who accuse me to wear pink-tinted glasses. Marine.

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  11. Hi Marine, yes, unfortunately if you believe in the Secret you are deluding yourself.
    By the way, I DON'T believe in the Secret (or any kind of magical thinking) and you know what? Good things happen to me all the time! How do you explain that?

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  12. I don't know if I'd call the SECRET as damaging as the BIBLE, but its a close second.The SECRET was marketed at an opportune time and targeted carefully to attract an audience who needed to hear its destructive message.Having said that, if OPRAH says its good,people buy into it, because she is a 'go-zillionaire', and when someone is at that vantage point,they can do whatever they want, save "buy" love.This book makes it sound like the Jews wanted the holocaust to happen; it blames the poor human who suffers misfortune for negative thinking that in turn cause(d) their pain.Further, it denies/ignores the clash of wills: say we both apply for and want the same job, ONE of us gets it because of our 'will'? What about the 'will' of the employer? This book is just full of deadly syrup that raises people's hopes in a messy world...maybe Okra,er,Oprah had a hand in writing it, or some other snake oil peddler in the fashion of a modern day ELMER GANTRY! No stars from me...just a black sewer slog! Marianne

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  13. Marianne, I agree with you once again. The secret is insidious and dangerous, and Orca Winfrey is despicable for promoting it (as well as all the other pseudoscience she promotes).

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