the secret about the secret


Like many teachers, perhaps, I have found that one of my least favorite things is one of my favorite things to talk about in class. In this case, The Secret, a trumped up argument for the Law of Attraction (LoA). The foundation of LoA is that you attract good and ill to yourself, by what you radiate out into the world. This hyper-individualized thinking is the opposite of how most serious people look at the social world: Big, social forces like sexism and racism are always at work, somehow. If you are not a sociologist and read this blurb, I’ll say this: The secret of the Secret is that it blinds you to the deep, hidden social structures at work. I find it particularly appalling that an African-American woman like Oprah would offer such full-throated endorsements of LoA. One of the charlatans in this video (the opening ten minutes is available online) claims that a hurricane was diverted because of all the positive vibes pumped out by his local radio listeners. See it here:

What do you have to say to the folks further up the coastline? What of a Glass ceiling? The Secret blames individuals for their failings–Have you been turned away from a job based on your skin color? Perhaps you are to blame!–and offers a battery of books and self-help lectures as the cure. One of the people behind The Secret is back with a #1 best-seller, The Power. Ugh. Kelefa Sanneh reviews it here.

5 thoughts on “the secret about the secret

  1. That’s funny I bring this up in my classes, too. It reminds me of an extreme version of pragmatist philosophy, and I typically bring up Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and the Matrix’s Allegory of the Spoon, to illustrate. Then I talk about The Secret, which completes the tie back to social structure. But it also has good similarities to the self-fulfilling prophecy, and the Pygmalion Effect.

  2. Hey Jon!

    I’ve found a lot of fans of The Secret in my fieldwork (about fans of financial success books), and I wrote a little about it in my dissertation. It’s really interesting, and The Secret is perhaps only an extreme version of a lot of similar literature out there. As an ethnographer, the most interesting thing is trying to understand how it is used and how it makes sense to people who are into it. There was a review by sociologist Micki McGee about The Secret when it came out, perhaps you could use it:

    McGee, Micki. 2007. The Secret’s Success. Nation 284, no. 22 (June 4): 4-6.

    And, of course Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book on positive thinking.


  3. Thanks for the tip Dani! I always wanted to write a review of that, and probably would find my same concerns in that one… I’ll check it out.

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