The Secret of The Secret

By Matt Evans

It's hard to believe that The Secret is still number one on the hardcover non-fiction bestseller lists. It's almost as if a large segment of our nation has forgotten this basic rule of thumb: anyone who claims to have the capital "A" answer to the secret of getting rich — a secret they will sell you for a nominal sum — is only trying to make a quick buck.

But the book-buying segment hasn't forgotten this basic rule; rather, if they are anything like I am, their critical faculties have probably just been dazzled into quiet submission by the glossy promise of easy money — dazzled long enough, at least, to facilitate the Barnes and Noble's transaction with the 20 percent discount (for members). To be sure, the so-called Secret represents a financially viable means to wealth, obviously so, but let's be clear: only for Rhonda Byrnes, The Secret DVD's producer and the book's author.

Thus, Byrnes would have you believe that the world's wealthy, distinguished and famous — every last luminous one of them — attained their high position by dint of simple adherence to a secret law: The Law of Attraction. She shits you not. Furthermore, they (the world's rich, celebrated, and leisured) have all conspired to keep knowledge of this law from the rest of us. Einstein, Plato, J.P. Morgan, Mozart, Sir Isaac Newton, Beethoven, and the Rockefellers, among others, are all given as examples of this mighty (and mightily secretive) Them.

There are problems with this theory. For starters, the Law of Attraction isn't really a secret. Self-help books with a metaphysical bent have preached this stuff for centuries. I mean, just walk into your nearest New Age bookshop and pick up the first book you see; it will undoubtedly mention something about the Law.

So is Byrnes lying to us? Not exactly. Harry Frankfurt, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton, puts it this way in his book On Bullshit, "[The Bullshitter] does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose" (p. 56). A liar, you see, recognizes the truth enough to know that he's departing from it; a bullshitter couldn't care less — just show her the money.

The Law of Attraction, then, is the bullshitter's belief that one can change the objective world alone by the power of thought — forget action; in fact, eschew action. If your belief is strong enough, says the Law, your dreams and desires will come to you much as a steel screw hops across a tabletop and slaps into a powerful magnet. This is the "As you sow, so shall ye reap" philosophy minus any actual sowing, a fairy-dust notion that we all at one point in our lives have espoused: it's called magical thinking. We're supposed to outgrow it.

When I was four years old I had an invisible friend named Kenny. Unlike my busy mother, Kenny always paid attention to me and let me have my way. I loved Kenny. My mom eventually forced me to go outside and play with real children. Predictably, Kenny soon disappeared. The Secret would explain the account thus: my early imagining of a perfect playmate eventually attracted other, more corporeal playmates into my reality. Which is true — if we forget about my mom forcing me to go outside.

Oprah Winfrey, a mom to a great many of us, a mom of sorts in the same sense that the man behind the curtain birthed Oz, hosted some of The Secret DVD's featured presenters on her February 8th show earlier this year: "So this is really exciting that these teachers are here today to share [The Secret]. I know you know and believe that we all have our own magnetic power, just like Glinda the Good Witch said in The Wizard of Oz, you've always had it, my dear." (author’s copy of the .pdf) Like Oz, The Secret DVD is its own microcosm of crazy, as indeed all circuses are, with its own host of eccentric performers, trained animals, as it were — which makes Rhonda Byrnes either the ringleader or evil witch. Take your pick.

What follows, then, is an arbitrary list of some of the "authorities" that appear on the DVD, the trained animals of the circus or the witch's evil monkeys, depending on the metaphor, waxing explanatory on the The Secret. But don't imagine the monkeys as evil; rather, picture streetwise capuchins earnestly working a cheap accordion with their tiny, hairy hands, glancing up now and then with a smile, anxious to see if you've put a coin yet in their dented tin cups:

  1. Marie Diamond, internationally-known Feng Shui mistress. Diamond, a Caucasian, speaks with an inexplicably strong Asian accent, a la Seinfeld's Donna Chang.

  2. John Assaraf, "a former street kid… who has dedicated the last twenty-five years to researching the human brain, quantum physics, and business strategies, as they relate to achieving success in business and life." In the DVD, John relates an account about the power of visualization, whose denouement has him crumpled on the floor and weeping, the former street kid, because he found a picture of a house in a box.

  3. Michael Bernard Beckwith, "a non-aligned trans-religious progressive" — your guess here is as good as mine. Beckwith also claims the title of doctor, although God alone knows where the title comes from. Beckwith, ever the walking conundrum, dresses in a sharp suit, speaks in patrician tones, and sports a wild head of dreadlocks.

  4. And Esther Hicks, author of The Law of Attraction, among other books, and the spokesperson for Abraham, a multifarious spiritual entity. Hicks is a pleasant-looking, middle-aged woman, with a serene, almost comforting, presence. She has the most attractive voice I've ever heard — very earthy, very sexy. Hicks speaks in the first-person plural, which would lead most viewers to suppose that she is speaking for herself and The Secret presenters; actually, she is probably just channeling Abraham, whose name is Legion, for he is many. (Byrnes, Rhonda, The Secret, [all presenter material from the book The Secret BIOGRAPHIES section, pp. 185-198].)

Esther Hicks is no longer a featured presenter in The Secret "Enhanced" DVD. Why? It's hard to say. Esther's web site quotes Abraham, the spiritual collective she channels, on the topic: "It is our desire that you be easy about all of this. There is nothing that has gone wrong here…." (March 2007 E-mail communication between author and Hicks's company; the italics, although unnecessary, are in the original quote; indeed, all subsequent Hicks and Abraham quotes contain the same superfluous and betimes erratic italicizing.) The whole vibe is very chill; two parties have simply parted ways, financial and business, even though they esteem each other highly and just can't say enough good one about the other. No big whoop.