Oh, Oprah. It's hard to be you. A billionaire with a heart of gold who refuses to accept that luck has anything to do with life. Obviously, there are are smart, determined people who never find success in life. How do you explain different outcomes for similar people? Easy -- The Secret:
"The Secret" espouses a "philosophy" patched together by an Australian talk-show producer named Rhonda Byrne. Though "The Secret" unabashedly appropriates and mishmashes familiar self-help clichés, it was still the subject of two recent episodes of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" featuring a dream team of self-help gurus, all of whom contributed to the project.
The main idea of "The Secret" is that people need only visualize what they want in order to get it -- and the book certainly has created instant wealth, at least for Rhonda Byrne and her partners-in-con. And the marketing idea behind it -- the enlisting of that dream team, in what is essentially a massive, cross-promotional pyramid scheme -- is brilliant. But what really makes "The Secret" more than a variation on an old theme is the involvement of Oprah Winfrey, who lends the whole enterprise more prestige, and, because of that prestige, more venality, than any previous self-help scam. Oprah hasn't just endorsed "The Secret"; she's championed it, put herself at the apex of its pyramid, and helped create a symbiotic economy of New Age quacks that almost puts OPEC to shame.
Why "venality"? Because, with survivors of Auschwitz still alive, Oprah writes this about "The Secret" on her Web site, "the energy you put into the world -- both good and bad -- is exactly what comes back to you. This means you create the circumstances of your life with the choices you make every day." "Venality," because Oprah, in the age of AIDS, is advertising a book that says, "You cannot 'catch' anything unless you think you can, and thinking you can is inviting it to you with your thought." "Venality," because Oprah, from a studio within walking distance of Chicago's notorious Cabrini Green Projects, pitches a book that says, "The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts."
There's much more at Salon -- it's a fascinating look at the dumbing down and feeling up of American culture. There's an easy way to prove the importance of belief as espoused by the Secret. All we need are the authors, an air-tight room, and a mild strain of a flu virus. Swab some virus into each author, and see how well belief protects them.
(I'm tempted, of course, to suggest Ebola or bird flu, but the point is not to kill anybody. The point is simply to demonstrate what frauds these people are.)