Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bonnette v. Byrne: the fight of the century (or at least the week)

I’ve always been one to root for the underdog. That’s why I’m rooting for Aussie Vanessa Bonnette, author, teacher, holistic healer and founder of something called Shekinah Therapy. Vanessa and I have been corresponding privately; she initially contacted me to thank me for mentioning her on my May 25 post. She knows I’m a cynic about holistic stuff. But she also knows that I’m no fan of The Secret or of its creator and producer, Rhonda Byrne.

Vanessa, who has been conducting international workshops for a decade or so (currently she's in Singapore), claims that Rhonda plagiarized parts of her work – specifically, portions of a 2003 book she wrote called Empowered for the New Era. Vanessa detailed her claims on her web site, and Australia’s A Current Affair (the show that recently "confronted" investment guru David Scammer Schirmer) also did a segment about her on May 14, which they titled "The Secret Stoush." (I love that word, "stoush." I also love "spruiker," which is sort of the Aussie equivalent of "hustledork.")

Now Rhonda and gang have struck back against Vanessa, going to Federal Court (in Australia) with claims that Rhonda and her Secret franchise have suffered "loss and damage" because of Vanessa’s allegations. They claim that sales of The Secret brand and title "are likely to be affected" as a result.

Gimme a break. Do they honestly think Vanessa's claims will stop Rhonda from making money hand over fist with her infomercial, book and auxiliary products?

Anyway, Rhonda’s team insists that Rhonda had no prior knowledge of Vanessa’s work. However, in a comment on "The Secret Notes" blog last month, Vanessa wrote that in 2005, she had sent a promotional copy of her book to Channel 9. Rhonda worked for Channel 9 in her pre-Secret life, and, according to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Channel 9 reportedly advanced Rhonda 10 percent of the three million dollar budget to create The Secret.

Now, whether Rhonda plagiarized Vanessa or just unwittingly imitated her is not for me to say. But to me, that’s not even the biggest issue, though it certainly is to Vanessa, and I wish her well in her attempts to get the truth out. To me one of the biggest issues is the amoral attitude that the Secretrons seemed to have about Vanessa’s plight. This is in keeping with the general amorality that seems to be rampant in the Secret/LOA culture; I blogged about it at length the other day.

When Vanessa's story first came onto my radar, via a now-defunct thread on the Secret/Powerful Intentions forum, I was appalled by some of the Secretrons’ opinions regarding the allegations. I'm not talking about those who disagreed that it was plagiarism; that's a matter of opinion at this point. No, I'm talking about those who said that even if it was plagiarism, it was no big deal because a greater good was being served.

Although I quoted some of their remarks the other day, I’m going to do so again because I feel they illustrate my point about how The Secret has encouraged (and revealed) an unprincipled narcissism in many of its followers. As you’ll see, the remarks have not been edited for spelling, grammar, or logic.

"…that other author, honestly when you look at her, its obvious that she has not applied anything from LOA to herself, so its natural that people are not going to believe what she says.

"If she believes the LOA, then she should stop complaining!"

. . . . .

"…as with ‘the other woman’ [Vanessa] she is a perfect example as to why her book wasnt successful in bringing the information from the universe through and Rhondas did (Rhonda is genuine in bringing this info thru) im sure she was chosen for the pureness and truth of her one 'stole' anything like Rhonda said in the DVD about the secret exisiting for ages and all of the people who knew the secret ..she merely put it together and HER book/DVD took ....people related to it ..and were ready for it .. it is the way it has always been people against and people for is designed to reinforce the truth ..the knowledge we know inside ourselves to be true ..thats all that matters there will always be the yin and yang to keep balance to the universe make those nonbelievers WANT to believe reguardless to what is being presented and in what light ..that is what is meant to be .. know that even if the story was made to "look" a certain way you know that it will reach those whgo were meant to be reached and they will seek .."

. . . . .

"Rhonda has definately done miracles that this ‘other woman’ hasn't in bringing LOA to the consciousness of the masses."

. . . . .

"Is it former-colleague-now-a-millionaire-envy going down at 9?"

. . . . .

"Is there a less successful author wanting something not rightfully hers or does she really believe her work was stolen?"

. . . . .

"I do think that Rhonda may have plagerised, but i honelst dont care! The point is, that the secret is helping people live happeir lives and has given power back to alot of people, who felt helpless for so long.

"And it is wokring for me, so i dont care if the other lady has been ripped off. If she was able to get this message across to people half aswell as Rhonda, then someone would have actually heard of her."

Vanessa was reading those comments too. After I wrote my May 25 post, I got this email from her. She has given me permission to quote her as long as I give her web site address and her email address, which I’ll do at the end of this post.

Dear Connie,

Blessings from Australia! I would like to thank you for putting out the information about the copyright infringements of my work for people to view and make their decisions, I greatly appreciate that.

To the lady who stated that my work "doesn't come through" etc should view my website to see that in fact my work has been impacting people's lives for over a decade i.e. I'm working in Singapore in June and the second edition of my book is going to be released soon.

Byrne's lawyers are working hard to silence me but I am adamant the public have the right to know the truth about The Secret.

In regard to Schirmer the Current Affair program is going to reveal his fraudulent activities of get rich quick scams affecting 1000's (of) people…

I replied to Vanessa, telling her I planned to do a follow-up piece on her story. When she wrote back to me, she said, "I’m curious. Just what is it you don’t like about The Secret and Rhonda Byrne?" I replied:

... there are so many things. I do not like the simplistic way that ideas such as the Law Of Attraction have been repackaged (and, I feel, misrepresented) in The Secret. I find the aggressive promotion of the DVD (and the book) downright obnoxious. Matter of fact, I have always considered The Secret DVD to be a glorified infomercial for the expensive services and products sold by the talking heads whom Rhonda hand-picked to be in the film. I do not like the pseudoscientific pronouncements by folks who can barely spell "quantum physics," let alone understand it. I do not like the way The Secret seems to encourage narcissism and laziness (as if the world, particularly the U.S., needs any more of either!). I most especially do not like Rhonda Byrne's "let them eat cake" attitude towards the ill and unfortunate of the world.

Rhonda herself strikes me as a dilettante and a bit of an airhead who happened to be lucky enough to be in the TV industry and was able to scrabble together the resources to produce her DVD. She then prevailed upon the 'stars' of her DVD to promote the heck out of it and get people panting and lusting for it months before it was released. Brilliant marketing, to be sure; I'll give her that.

Even if Rhonda's original motives in creating The Secret were altruistic, it does seem greed has taken over. Now, I am no fan of Esther and Jerry Hicks and their entities Abraham (again, as you may find out from reading my blog), but I do respect intellectual property, and it seems that Rhonda got a bit greedy with the Hicks. They were wise to back out of her franchise.

Regarding your case, I am of course not an intellectual properties or copyright attorney and cannot make any legal pronouncements. However, it does appear to me that at the very least Rhonda "borrowed" some ideas from you. Unfortunately she has the big bucks (which means the big lawyers) on her side, as well as her throngs of adoring fans. But I'm rooting for the underdog here.

To which Vanessa replied:

Thanks so much for your in depth response. I am of the same opinion in regards to the "new wagers" as you call them and in fact it is the one of the reasons why I am so adamant to maintain my integrity in this field. I can only hope that in the end "the weeds" will be removed from the good wheat as Jesus said and the truth prevails for all mankind.

Byrne's marketing of the secret was clever – but like any other form of secular advertising is simply "pretty packaging covering empty content". Her book is inconsistent, incoherent and lacks depth, substance – all the things which are contained in my work which I would like people to have i.e. the whole truth, not just superficialities.

I don't plan taking Byrne on in a legal battle for the reasons you stated which is I why I have to rely on unconventional methods such as your blog, my website, media, word of mouth etc. So again, I appreciate your exposure.

The Schirmer program is on ACA tonight so I'm looking forward to seeing the whole story – it is done by the same man who interviewed me. Once my story aired two weeks ago a whole lot of emails started to roll in and investigations started from there so it should be interesting to see what transpires from here on…

As noted above, whether or not this is a clear case of plagiarism is not for me to say. At the very least it seems that Rhonda may have "borrowed" a few ideas from Vanessa without proper attribution. I suppose it will be battled out in court now, though that apparently was not Vanessa’s original intent. However, once the flying monkeys attorneys get involved, all bets are off.

And here, as promised, is Vanessa Bonnette’s email address: Her web site is

PS – Here’s an interesting story about Rhonda and her mom. At the time the story was published May 19, Mom was still waiting for a plane ticket so she could visit her celebrity daughter at her new home in LA. She said this about Rhonda: "She is very generous giving all those millions to charity, but I have to admit she hasn't given me a single dollar, though I'm expecting she'll send me some financial help soon. That's what she told me. In the meantime, I'm OK. I get by on my state pension of $1050 a month." (That's about $869.00 US.)

Rhonda has since told her family to stop talking to the press.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The martyr is back on YouTube

This just in:
David Schirmer's rebuttal to A Current Affair is back up on YouTube, but, curiously enough, comments have been disabled this time around. That's okay; I saved the original comments. I'm not going to print them, of course, because some of them are pretty nasty – about as nasty, in fact, as some of the unprintable comments I've received from Secretrons and Tilak supporters.

Meanwhile, a new thread has arisen from the ashes of the old deleted thread on the the Secret/Powerful Intentions forum. The Schirmer supporters are out in force, with one person comparing David Schirmer and The Secret to the Harry Potter books:

I remember when Harry Potter first came out and boy do you remember the backlash it got. My daughter was at an age then to read it. There was a lot of contriversy [sic] and it was going to banned in schools etc.

Look at J.K.Rowling now, who would have thought! People fear change, this is all that it is.

Actually, Harry Potter is still being fought in some school districts that have an overabundance of fundie Christian types in the community. And...uh...not to throw water on the Schirmer supporter's analogy, but the Harry Potter books have always been marketed as fiction – unlike The Secret. Also, unlike David Schirmer, JK Rowling didn't make her fortune promising other people that she would make them rich.

And in the head-in-the-sand category...oops, I mean the ignore-the-negative-and-focus-on-the-positive category, we have this from another forum member:
I have recently trained with Bob Proctor to become a lifesuccess consultant and one valuable thing I learnt was not to read newspapers or watch television and I don't. The negativity, lies and stretching of the truth that the media deliver is not good for you to take in. I have met David personally and he is the most beautiful person you could hope to met!!! There is a movement in Australia to discredit the secret and anything relating to it so I suggest we do not give it more energy and be true to ourselves and to each other.
I would suggest to this forum member that she stay away from this blog as well, because who knows, I just may have a story here some day – or at least a link to a story – about someone who lost lots of money investing in a Bob Proctor program. And goodness gracious, she wouldn't want to know about any negative stuff like that.

There's a lesson here, and it's one that leaders of religious cults have known all along: If you're a New-Wage hustledork/scammer, one of the first things you should do is teach your followers to isolate themselves from the news media or any other source of potential negativity.

At any rate, Saint David himself had this to say:

Here is what I know ... every time we face an adverse situation, regardless of what it is, we have two choices: to repond [sic] or to react. ...

...Every Secret Teacher is who they are because they responded to adversity. Adversity is where we learn and grow and become a higher state of awareness...

...Someone once said "Don't pray for it to be easier, pray for you to be better!" A few years ago I prayed "God, give me the challenges that would allow me to change to the person I need to be." I am grateful that the work continues.

With God, the Universe and the Secretrons on his side, will Saint David prevail against his accusers? Stay tuned; rumor has it that A Current Affair is going to run Part 2 this coming Thursday.

BTW, you can participate in the Secret/PI forum if you're a member, but remember, keep it light and sweet and positive. Save the criticisms for other forums...such as this one.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Martyrs and narcissists: the saga continues

Although the martyrdom of Saint David Scammer Schirmer goes on, the thread initiated on the Secret/Powerful Intentions discussion forum by Schirmer, the lone Aussie "star" of The Secret, has gone the way of many volatile threads. It has been deleted. We who were following the little saga knew something was amiss yesterday when many of the posts, including Schirmer’s initial message, were replaced by a bunch of xxx’s.

Paul Harrington, a co-founder of the forum (and co-producer of The Secret), wrote this in explanation:

To all the posters on this thread, and particularly those who have posted in support of The Secret, I have deleted messages unilaterally and with no prejudice to one side or the other. I appreciate that many posts contained no malice. I am merely being fair to all. This discussion belongs on a tabloid TV show. The Secret Forum was founded in a spirit of joy and to provide a place for people to come to feel good. There are many other places you can go to debate. I love you all and you are very welcome here of course. But as to this particular quarrel, please take it outside if you don’t mind.

In case you’re joining me late and don’t want to take time to back-link to my previous posts on the matter, David Schirmer is, as mentioned above, a "star" of The Secret. He has made his fortune as an investment guru, or by convincing many people that he is one, anyway. But now there's trouble in Schirmer's self-created paradise. Folks have been complaining because they say Schirmer has bilked them out of many thousands of dollars, and they want their money back.

The Aussie tabloid show A Current Affair (not to be confused with the defunct US series, and hereinafter referred to as ACA), recently aired a short exposé on Schirmer. He complains that they set him up. Apparently he was led by ACA reporters to believe that he would be coming on the show to talk about The Secret and, at worst, to address some of the criticism of Rhonda Byrne’s famous infomercial. Schirmer had felt this would be an excellent opportunity to spread the message of The Secret even further, at least to Australians. (Interestingly, as Steve Salerno pointed out today on SHAMblog, The Secret is just now taking off in the Land Down Under.)

According to ACA, Schirmer actually contacted them initially, asking to be on the show. Well, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for: the investment guru apparently "attracted" a little more than he’d bargained for. The segment began with Schirmer taking a reporter on a grand tour around his palatial estate as he (Schirmer) boasted – with, I must admit, a little encouragement from the reporter – about his luxury sports cars, his $250,000.00 dining room table (!), and the joys of living the lifestyle of the rich and infamous. (Does any of this sound familiar? Seems we have a few US Secret stars who love to brag, brag, brag about all of their expensive toys and their fame.) After the tour and the bragfest, Schirmer was then taken into the ACA studio, presumably to speak with some folks who had questions or concerns about The Secret and the Law Of Attraction (LOA).

These folks turned out to be some of the very people he had bilked. Oops! Everyone I know who has seen that segment has remarked, "The look on Schirmer’s face said it all." You can view the video here. (Note: As I learned firsthand, this link will work best if you’re using Internet Explorer. Users of other browsers such as Mozilla Firefox will probably be asked to download a free plug-in in order to view the video.)

Okay, so the ACA deal was a set-up. But the cynic in me wryly notes that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Very soon after the ACA segment aired, David Schirmer posted a video rebuttal on YouTube. He did not mention ACA by name; he only mentioned "false press." Nor did he directly address the allegations about bilking people out of thousands of dollars; he merely said that his "beliefs" were being attacked. He concluded with the declaration that it would be "business as usual" with his various enterprises, adding that he hoped to see many of his viewers at the upcoming get-the-gurus-even-richer workshop he’s throwing along with fellow Secret hustledork Bob Proctor. I linked to Schirmer’s rebuttal video in yesterday’s post, but alas, the video has already been "removed by the user." At first I thought this might be due to the advice of his lawyers. But Scott Pape, aka the Barefoot Investor, informed me by email that the comments to Schirmer's rebuttal "weren't good" and that someone even went to the trouble of posting Schirmer's cell phone number. (Shortly afterward Scott sent me a copy of those comments, which he still had in his cache; to say the remarks "weren't good" is a massive understatement.)

Not surprisingly, forum participants rallied to Schirmer’s side when he complained on the Secret/PI forum about ACA’s tactics. A few came out against Schirmer, but most were supportive, with some even saying that the folks who got bilked out of their hard-earned money "attracted" their situation. Some even insinuated that the bilking was just a matter of perception, with the implication being that the accusers were simply perceiving things incorrectly.

These attitudes are hardly surprising, considering that many of the Secretrons, including and especially Rhonda herself, have expressed a rather cavalier position regarding other people’s misfortunes. Holocaust victims, African genocide or famine victims, AIDS sufferers, even fat people – let them eat LOA! After all, we "attract" everything that happens to us, good or bad.

In any event, the discussion got a bit heated, evidently violating the happy-happy joy-joy intent of the forum. As for the xxx-ing, co-founder Paul said he did not have the power to delete posts or entire threads. For that, he had to wait for bubbly Marcy From Maui, another co-founder of the forum, to come back online after her long weekend.

Marcy’s attitude early on, regarding Schirmer’s troubles, was entirely consistent with the ditzy who-am-I-to-judge approach she seems to take with most controversial issues:

Did I miss it??? [the ACA segment]

Did anyone see it?

I just would have loved to watch it just to see you on air David!

Your fun energy always delights me!

And the media Adores contrast!

They want what they want, which I make up to be ratings!

And all publicity is good publicity!

You are very wise to stick to you own vision no matter what and I KNOW all this means HUGE things are happenning for you

How exciting is that?????????????

Time magazine "set up" Rhonda, but they also chose her for one of the top 100 most influencial people this year and invited her to a magnificant party!!!!!!!

And none of the "negative" has stopped any joy or spreading of the message and I am betting it has simply called more attention to it and actually has supported EVERYONE’s desire, even those that push against it or appear to!!!!!!!

I did not see that at first when all the media got involved but I can see it so easily now and it puts an amazing new light on everything!

It really is all good and it really IS serving so many people!!!!!!!!!!

I am THRILLED for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Although Marcy may very well still be thrilled for David Schirmer (as well as for all of the negative press The Secret is now getting), the thread is now gone. At least it’s gone from the PI/Secret forum. But who knows? It just may pop up again somewhere...

But seriously now… why this matters
I have said time and again that Whirled Musings is intended mainly as a humorous blog, or at least a light-hearted one. My approach, where New-Wage and self-help matters are concerned, has generally been to satirize or to laugh ’em off. My general attitude has been that this stuff is ludicrous and occasionally stupid, but essentially harmless for most people. Even so, I do occasionally ruminate on more "serious" matters related to the New-Age/New-Wage, pop spirituality, and other relevant aspects of pop culture. And although my usual MO is to take a relatively light-hearted approach to these things, writers such as the aforementioned
Steve Salerno have long been saying that there is a more insidious side to the self-help movement, and we need to wake up to it. Some of my other online allies have also made this point in various ways, as you’ll see in a moment.

Granted, I was initially drawn to the Schirmer affair not only because of its humor potential, but at least partly because of its lowest-common-denominator appeal; my inner gossip was on full alert, as was my inner scandalmonger. Heck, we haven’t had such a good Secret-related near-scandal since Rhonda Byrne broke off her short-lived romance with phony guru and sex maniac Tilak.

But I’m not all cheap laughs and snarky gossip. I have also grown increasingly disgusted with The Secret, more specifically, with the greed and dishonesty that I perceive in many of the "stars" of this infomercial. And I think this latest incident really brings these issues into focus.

Though it may not be apparent here, I have made an honest effort to see things from David Schirmer’s point of view. I admit, for example, to having felt some ambivalence about ACA’s "setup" of Schirmer. Further, like many of the Secretrons who rallied to Schirmer’s side, I am annoyed by the sleaziness of tabloid journalism in general. For that matter, the line between tabloid journalism and more "respectable" journalism is becoming increasingly blurry. All too often, ratings trump good taste, accuracy, and fairness.

When I expressed my reservations about ACA’s treatment of Schirmer to a couple of friends in an online discussion, Blair Warren (who has given me permission to quote him) responded with his usual common-sense perspective. He wrote:

I understand your ambivalence about ACA’s tactics, but the way I see it, all the Secret gurus have huge platforms from which to speak every day – their e-mail lists, the stage, etc. But their victims are most likely just average folks that really have nowhere to turn to share their stories. At least this once the victims got the better side of things. It will be interesting to see if they ever do get their money back.

Blair has a good point. It seems that even the people who had close ties with Schirmer couldn’t get satisfaction. Ralph Ward, one of the folks who claimed to have been bilked by Schirmer, wrote this on the now-defunct PI/Secret forum thread:

And who am I? I have known Lorna Schirmer since we were kids, and I have known David Schirmer since 1995 when he and his family moved to Melbourne. Our children grew up together, and I worked for his Trading company for 2 years from 2004-2006, I am the largest investor in his Life Success business (the one that has not provided any returns for 4 years and now worth a lot less than what I put in apparently), we went to the same church for many years……………so you could say that I know David Schirmer very well, you could almost think, like I did, that we might have been friends. Do friends take your money and not give it back and only discuss the issue through their lawyer, while at the same time making personal attacks on your family?

My pal Tony Michalski, who was in on my discussion with Blair (and who, incidentally, first alerted me to the controversial PI/Secret thread), also had something to say about tabloid journalism, and, more significantly, about some of the moral issues this matter has raised. As he has given me permission to quote him at length, I’m going to turn the blog over to Tony for a few minutes.

Let’s face the facts regarding tabloid journalism: it’s much like a joke in poor taste – it’s funny because there IS an element of truth behind it. If nothing were true in the interview, any thinking person’s first words would be "lawsuit for libel." As we’ve duly noted, not only did Schirmer not do that, he did not even respond to the accusations; he merely tallied the "good" that he’s done. Now, I can’t say that I really blame him. After all, it’s what almost any person would do (unfortunately). What REALLY bothers me is how many people are either defending him or saying that the past is in the past therefore let us forget about it because he has done so much good.

What caused these people to deny their rational faculties? If I discovered that someone I allowed in my life were a thief, I’d quickly eject them from my life. How can these people deny what their senses are telling them? How can they feel sorry for Schirmer, but NOT feel sorry for the people who were bilked of their money? "Those people attracted it to themselves," they say, with a straight face. I really don’t get it. Yes, I understand that some people’s belief will become entrenched when faced with virulent opposition. But, frankly, I would only expect that from a radical element, not necessarily from "Susie homemaker" who watched The Secret a few times or maybe even attended a seminar. How can these people (or ANY people for that matter) simply deny cause and effect – the naked truth?

If I may be allowed, I will invoke Godwin’s Law by stating that by these people’s standards, Hitler was an all-right guy. How so? Well, even though he had over six million people exterminated, he actually helped MUCH more than that by reviving then Germany’s economy and developing a true middle class in the midst of a world-wide depression. Or how about Chairman Mao? The Cultural Revolution, while bloody and harsh, was necessary to equalize the social system so that the proletariat could claim his economic comeuppance.

Even on a microscopic level, perhaps just about every rapist, murderer, and thief should be spared any sentence because of the good that person had done in their life rather than receiving justice for the "faux pas" they committed? Much like the gang-banger in California who was sentenced to death for shooting a few people in the face with a shotgun at point-blank range; people protested his sentence because he did good – he wrote a children’s book.

We’ve spoken about how the philosophy of The Secret and much of self-help in general can harm people, but I don’t think we’ve actually ever named or discussed exactly WHY it is so... Evil. I think this case highlights exactly with what we are dealing: the death of any rationality. The demise of any sense of standards or values. The belief that all will end well and what will be will be – because the UNIVERSE will deliver it to us, a gift. Nothing is earned and value is diminished. Those who created the world about us – the thinkers, scientists, explorers – were nothing but tools of the Infinite Mind who only thought correctly, rather than worked hard and thought hard. Thus, the housewife is equal, if not better, than the surgeon. The lowest criminal more worthy or rewards than the inventor. After all, it’s only a THOUGHT that differentiates them – not work, education, persistence.

Thus, David Schirmer is, as you stated, Connie, a martyr. Luckily, there are two definitions of the word:

martyr (märtr)
1. a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs: the first Christian martyr.
2. a person who displays or exaggerates their discomfort or distress in order to obtain sympathy or admiration: she wanted to play the martyr.

Hopefully, there is enough of a spark of intelligence and clear thought in most people to see that Mr. Schirmer is a martyr as defined by the second use of the word.

David Schirmer is, indeed, shaping up to be quite the little martyr in the second sense of the word.

In response to Tony’s comments, Blair wrote:

I, too, was taken aback by the folks who said the people on ACA had attracted this into their lives. Yes, I do realize that it "takes two to tango" and that in some cases victims do play a role in their own demise, but these Secretrons seem to be blindly throwing that accusation around without any basis in fact.

As for your question, "How can these people deny what their senses are telling them?"... I’ve mentioned it before, but the book Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me is very, very revealing about this process… the ideas in the book are fascinating. And frightening.

Blair says the book is a little too political for his tastes, but still well worth reading.

Tony, responding to Blair's message, wrote:

I see what you're saying, but it doesn't mitigate the fact that the people on that forum choose not to use their reason and instead defend an obvious fraud. I can understand Schirmer (or a politico, for that matter) defending themselves at any cost. I can see them deflect blame off themselves. But when a person willingly denies the obvious and ignores the facts in front of them, it is terrifying. To me, it's not a matter of cognitive dissonance. I think that falls into a different category. These are people volitionally handing their power of reason, their selfs, to someone else.

Whatever it is, though, you're right – it's frightening. Let's get your book out there ASAP. People need it!
The book to which Tony referred is the forthcoming Enlighten This!, a revised and expanded edition of Blair's book The No-Nonsense Guide to Enlightenment. It will be released by Kallisti Publishing (soon, I hope!).

So where do I stand, now that I have spent a little more time mulling over the serious side of the stuff I so love to poke fun of? While I still do not advocate the banning or censorship of The Secret or other self-help/New-Wage creations, I am seeing their "dark side" more clearly as time goes by. Yes, The Secret has arguably brought joy to millions of people (fleeting as that joy may be for many), and indisputably has brought millions of dollars to a few people. And it has certainly given bloggers like me a lot to blog about, and real journalists a lot to journalize about. At the same time, however, the franchise has nurtured narcissism, greed and, as that infamous PI thread demonstrated, an insidious streak of amorality in its followers. And the justifiable reaction to some of its more outrageous consequences has, unfortunately, made martyrs and false heroes out of some of its leaders.

The problems with The Secret do not lie, as the Secretrons claim, with the "naysayers" who would "destroy" the uplifting message Rhonda Byrne altruistically packaged and sold to a waiting world. The real problems lie with those who demonstrate the laissez-faire outlook of the conspicuously enlightened when it comes to the sins of their favorite hustledorks, yet are quick to savage those who dare to criticize their heroes. The deeper and more disturbing problem is the increasing tendency of many otherwise decent people to address the most important questions about morality and evil by invoking imaginary laws and repeating platitudes about an infinitely wise, benign and obedient Universe.

It's funny, but it's really quite sad too.

PS – Speaking of Secretronic amorality, I’m not quite finished with that deleted PI/Secret thread, or with the topic of Vanessa Bonnette, who claims Rhonda Byrne plagiarized her. That’s coming next.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The martyrdom of Saint David

I was going to sit down and write a thoughtful post to follow up on the David Schirmer / Secret topics I wrote about the other day. But I'm a bit of a hurry right now because I want to go out and enjoy this lovely Memorial Day holiday with The Rev. So I'll just take the lazy way out for now.

It looks as if Schirmer, the lone Aussie talking-head on The Secret, really was "set up" by the Australian show A Current Affair. I have, however, modified my opinion that this was a shameful thing on their part.

Take a look at the video of the segment and see for yourself. (Note: This link only seems to work if you're using Internet Explorer as your browser; if you are using Mozilla Firefox, you will be asked to download a plug-in to view the video.)

Schirmer is now in full martyr mode, and he posted a message to his supporters on the thread he started on the Powerful Intentions forum, where he went to boast before the fact, and then to whine after the fact, about his ACA interview. Essentially he said that he is only going to comment once regarding the recent negative media, and will not respond to any further "slanderous claims or defamatory comments."

...As for the people who spoke on there, the truth always wins. All accusations will be dealt with thoroughly and in the proper legal and commercial manner. I'm not angry at them as they have their view and perspective on events, (n)or will I attempt to defend any comments made by others on TV or here ... it would be a waste of everybody’s time and effort and ultimately turn into "he said, she said, I said" rot. The truth will always be the truth even if only one or two people know it. Whatever you focus your energy on you draw toward you, and I choose to focus my energy on the thousands who I help and work with, the teenagers who go through Youth Destiny Camp and are transformed for life, the drug addicts that set free from life threatening addiction, the couples whose relations grow and flourish, the people who hear our story and see a new hope and the thousands of students who have attend our stock market programs and Mind & Money event are now making more money then they ever thought possible. When you understand true abundance you can not harbour revenge, resentment, anger, jealously, spite, envy, or covert what someone else has. All those things are the fear of loss of something ... and if there is true abundance how can one fear loss.

...Being on The Secret was always going to be a risk ... every concept that challenges a persons way of thinking has its attackers ... history shows they continue until accepted by the majority; people were stoned to death for saying the world was round! There was a reason I was chosen to be on The Secret, thousands of others could have been, yet they weren't ... think about it, maybe it has something to do with the life I have lived, the results I have achieved and the standing I have with my peers here and around the world...

Notice the diversionary tactic of reciting some of his good works, as well as that much-used declaration about new ideas being a threat to the unenlightened masses.

This, Dear Ones, is modern martyrdom at its finest.

PS - I'll have more a little later – including more about Vanessa Bonnette, whom I also mentioned in my May 25 post. Vanessa says Rhonda Byrne plagiarized some of her writings, and I think she has a point.
PPS - My thanks to Scott Pape, aka The Barefoot Investor, for keeping me abreast of the Schirmer matter. Scott, as you may recall, wrote a fine article on Schirmer and The Secret last week.
PPPS - My thanks also to Blair Warren, who just sent me this link to a video of the unrepentant Saint David's rebuttal to the "negative press." "Notice how he can't seem to resist turning it into a sales pitch at the end," Blair wrote. "Amazing." Notice, too, how Schirmer invokes the name of another Secret saint, Bob Proctor, whom he says is his mentor. Funny thing, I just heard a tale of someone who claims he got screwed out of thousands by Proctor... but that's not my story to tell.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Move over, quantum physics!

The cover story in today's Parade Magazine is about dark energy, which supposedly makes up two-thirds of the Universe. The story, which you'll be able to read online as of Tuesday, May 29, is by Meg Urry, who is an astrophysicist, Yale University professor, and soon-to-be chair of the Department of Physics at Yale. Meg says that what we discover about dark energy, once we figure out what the heck it really is, may very well impact our lives as much as – or more than – quantum physics.

Granted, Meg is just a physicist and not a real scientist like Bob Proctor, James Arthur Ray, and all of those other Secretrons who 'splained the scientific nature of the Law Of Attraction to us. At the very least, however, her ideas can be a starting point for a whole new generation of New-Wage wonders.

Can't you just see the possibilities unfolding? Not only is the concept of dark energy rich in metaphorical and mythopoetic potential, but the discovery of dark energy,
when we previously had no concept of it, is one more example of what the conspicuously enlightened have been trying to tell the skeptics and naysayers for years: Science doesn't know everything. And there are always new things waiting to be discovered. Take that, naysayers!

So if you're a New-Wage capitalist, I urge you to read the Parade article. Do a little more research on dark energy if you think that will make you sound more credible and give you more scientists to quote out of context. And then go out and make a DVD, write a book, and offer expensive workshops that demonstrate how the concept of dark energy offers scientific validation of whatever New-Wage philosophy, modality or technology you happen to be selling. Oh, yeah, and if you're spiritually inclined, don't forget to include the notion that dark energy is proof that God exists.

C'mon, hustledorks, time's a-wasting!

Friday, May 25, 2007

"The Secret" may fade, but stupid is forever

There's a saying often attributed to Albert Einstein (though he may not have really said it): "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."

Whether or not he actually said that, I’m sure that Einstein, one of the unwitting stars of The Secret, would view Rhonda Byrne’s infomercial as a prime example (or, to be more exact, a
Prime Time example) of human stupidity.

Some might argue that the bloom has faded from The Secret rose. Or, to throw another metaphor into the mix, "The Secret train has left the station," according to Walter Terry at the ROI Copywriting blog. The train may have left, but that hasn’t stopped the herd of hustledorks who are still trying to catch it and, with varying degrees of success, cash in on the franchise.

Even so, the formerly frenetic buzz around The Secret has calmed down a bit. Things were even kind of quiet on The Secret official discussion forum for a while, at least in the sense that nobody was saying anything that struck me as excessively inane. Then my pal Tony Michalski alerted me to a thread initiated yesterday by David Schirmer, the lone Aussie talking-head on The Secret.

As luck would have it, I just mentioned Schirmer here the other day, in the context of announcing an article about Schirmer and The Secret written by another Aussie, Scott Pape, for Australia’s largest daily, the Herald Sun.

Schirmer is now on the front lines defending The Secret against unfair criticism – fighting the good fight, according to the Secretrons. On May 24 he announced his appearance on one of Australia’s hard-hitting news shows:
I am doing a shot with Channel 9 "A Current Affair"* today (and yesterday). It will be a great plug for The Secret. I'm sure they are going to try lots of hard and crazy questions ... the great thing is that the truth is always the truth and it is hard for people to deny that when presented with the correct facts. I am lead [sic] to believe I will also be addressing the question that Rhonda has copied this other woman's work (can't remember her name but wrote a book in 2003!)

I'm not sure when it will air, it guess it will either be tonight or early next week.
The first person to respond wrote, "Whose [sic] this, 'Other Woman'?" Soon enough there was this reply: "The other woman, is someone who wrote another book on the LOA."

At first I thought these folks were referring to Esther Hicks and her imaginary pals Abraham, who were featured quite prominently on the original version of The Secret DVD. (Not to give short shrift to Esther’s hubby Jerry, who wasn’t on the DVD but who, like some very ambitious New-Wage pimp, pushed Esther into "the life" in the first place by encouraging her to create her imaginary buds. No doubt about it, Jerry and Esther have earned themselves a fortune with this Abe-gang shtick.)

Anyway, at the dawn of The Secret era Rhonda had a wonderful relationship with Esther and Jerry, who have perpetrated, among other works, a book called
The Law Of Attraction. These days, however, Esther, Jerry and…um…"Abraham" are railing against Rhonda’s greed and have even released a DVD proving that they, and not Rhonda, are the ones who really know the true Secret.

So when I read Schirmer's post and the initial responses, at first I was thinking, How could these folks have such a short memory? How could dedicated Secretrons not remember the sacred names of Abraham-Hicks?

Then I did a little more digging. The woman whose name no one, including Schirmer, could remember, is not Esther Hicks; she is, apparently, Vanessa J. Bonnette, a holistic healer who – and this should come as no big surprise – claims to know secrets that The Secret didn’t reveal. Vanessa also claims that Rhonda plagiarized her 2003 book, Empowered For The New Age.

Rhonda has refused comment on this allegation. But apparently she doesn’t need to comment, for she has her posse of passionate defenders. F'rinstance, they angrily responded to one of my recent posts, leading Tony M. to make the observation that while so far not one person has made a comment on my recent post about Emile Coué, " off- handedly (and somewhat satirically) say that Rhonda pops pills and ... WHAM! ... a veritable sh-t storm of activity. Go figure."

Rhonda's defenders are out in force on Schirmer's Secret forum thread too. The Secretron I quoted added this (which I’m going to present unedited, without the constant insertion of "sic"):
And as for that other lady, i dont really care if Rhonda stole her or anyones work.
The point is, since the secret was released (whether it was clever marketing or not) people around the world are happier and have so much hope.
The LOA is a law like gravity. So it would be stupid if Sir Isaac Newton starts complaining that the law of gravity was stolen from him.
If its a law, it doesnt belong to anyone!
And that other author, honestly when you look at her, its obvious that she has not applied anything from LOA to herself, so its natural that people are not going to believe what she says.
If she believes the LOA, then she should stop complaining!
Ah, yes… the invocation of Sir Isaac Newton and the law of gravity. It always seems to come up when the Law Of Attraction is mentioned. Haven’t we seen this discussion before? And I like that Secretron's amoral attitude regarding theft of intellectual property.

In any event, David Schirmer had a disappointing experience with his interview (and again, I’m not editing or "sic"-ing this):
…have just got back from my interview and I have been setup. I was invited into the studio under the pretense that it was to answer questions from people who wanted to know how to apply the Secret in their life. When I got in there I found out it was a huge anti-secret, anti-david, The Secret is a con, I am a con ... the interviewer talked over me the whole time with information he had twisted to make out that I (and The Secret) am one big fraud. Every time I attempted to share the truth behind accusations he cut me off or talked over the top. I now understand how Rhonda felt after she was attacked by the media and why she rarely does any interviews any more.
It feels so weird after you've helped many thousands of people to get a handful of people not tell the truth. So right now I'm REALLY looking for the seed of greater benefit in this adversity!
Naturally the Secretrons rallied to his side, with one of them offering this assurance to David:
I believe David that when we hear this negative talk those who believe band together and become stronger! There are always going to be critics out there, their problem not ours. The wonderful thing is, is how many people have changed their lives thanks to the secret and people like you. Look at me for instance, remember my situation and what you did for me and the secret so i will always be a fan of it all!!!
And another:
…their attacks on Law of Attraction will only cause those who dont know about it, to dig a little deeper and see what all the fuss is about.
They will find us - and the truth.**
And yet another:
…she [the woman who claimed Rhonda plagiarized her] is a perfect example as to why her book wasnt successful in bringing the information from the universe through and Rhondas did (Rhonda is genuine in bringing this info thru) im sure she was chosen for the pureness and truth of her one "stole" anything like Rhonda said in the DVD about the secret exisiting for ages and all of the people who knew the secret ..she merely put it together and HER book/DVD took ....people related to it ..and were ready for it .. it is the way it has always been people against and people for is designed to reinforce the truth ..the knowledge we know inside ourselves to be true ..thats all that matters there will always be the yin and yang to keep balance to the universe make those nonbelievers WANT to believe reguardless to what is being presented and in what light…
A few comments later, Schirmer himself came back thanking everyone for their support, adding, "Someone said to me today that as you try to change the world for better some will try to destroy you rather than change their beliefs."

And so David Schirmer joins Rhonda Byrne in the ranks of the world’s great martyrs: those who fight bravely to make the world a better place, only to be viciously attacked by the dark forces. To read the entire PI Forum thread, click here.

Y’know, Schirmer may indeed have been set up by the folks at the TV show, and if so, shame, shame on them. But I don’t think we really need to be too concerned about his future. Matter of fact, I’m sure he is crying all the way to the bank. After all, as my friend Blair Warren has pointed out, Schirmer is one of those at the top of the Secret pyramid. He’s pretty much made his fortune by telling others that they can make a fortune too. The whole thing is basically just a giant MLM scheme. And as long as The Secret has any power at all, there will be no shortage of folks who try to use it to reach their own pinnacle. But someday the pyramid may come toppling down,*** as Blair notes:
At some point people have to do some actual work, produce something of real value lest the thing collapses.
Oh well, at least the truly "spiritual" ones at the top of the pyramid will have already made their piles of money by the time that happens. And when it does their success will only further "prove" how spiritual they were and how much more work their minions still have to do.
After all, the Universe likes greed.
Meanwhile, the Secret rose may fade and eventually wilt, but more roses – oh, many more, count on it! – will grow in its place. The train may leave the station, but another one will come along, and then another.
And the infinite universe of human stupidity will only continue to expand.

* Not to be confused with the defunct syndicated US "television newsmagazine."
** If they really find "the truth," it’s curtains for The Secret for sure.

*** (Added a couple of years later): For David Schirmer, the pyramid did indeed come tumbling down. The Current Affair expose was just the beginning of his troubles, and he remains one of the least successful and most obscure "stars" of The Secret. Follow the "David Schirmer" tag here and you'll get an idea.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Just another manic Thor's Day...

It’s been a bit frantic around here, so I’ll just be serving sight bites again today. Sorry I didn’t have time to cook up a big meal. I don’t even have time to set out plates. I’ll just throw out the tidbits and they can land where they will.

Germain to the topic of Ascension…
I’ve mentioned
Saint Germain here before. He’s a sort of gay-looking Ascended Master who really seems to like the color purple. Though many revere him, the woman who apparently is the Germ-Man’s sole authorized Earthly rep, or at least is his favorite, is one Troika Celeste Saint Germain. Troika writes:

Ascended Master Saint Germain has been appearing to me since I was a small child. He has revealed Ascension secrets, tools, products and techniques to me over the years and recently requested that I make them available to all who seek them.

I just got an email from Troika and the Germ-Man, via my favorite New-Wage spam service. "Wrap yourself with the energy of Saint Germain," read the subject line. And that's easier than you might think, for Troika and Saint G have come out with a new sacred scarf that will help you with all of your Ascension needs. "Divinely inspired and spiritually created," the Ascension Prayer Scarf is a lovely royal purple combined with cobalt blue, which, Troika explains, will help open both the Third Eye and Crown Chakra. The design on the scarf is the "I Am Saint Germain Mandala in pure gold," which "brings the Golden Ray of the Christ Consciousness into your Aura."

Troika assures us too that "Deep Prayer, Ceremony and Ritual accompanied every step of the manifestation process of these beautiful Sacred Garments. Each scarf was individually made by hand, in the US, by Lightworkers." After the scarves were made, Troika "performed Alchemical Ritual & Ceremony with Saint Germain to infuse the scarves with His energy and the frequencies of Ascension and the Higher Realms."

The Saint Germain Ascension Scarf is normally $85.00, but through May 31 it can be yours for the special introductory price of $74.77. Heck of a deal.

How does it work, and what does it do? Well, it works just like a magic carpet. You spread your Ascension Scarf out on the floor (it is recommended but not absolutely necessary that you clean the floor first), whereupon you sit on the scarf, stick a carrot up each nostril, shout "I can do it!"*, and then voila! You begin Ascending. How far up you go is up to you, though if you do it indoors there are, of course, limits. Outdoors you have more options, but you should proceed with caution when Ascending in high-wind conditions or you could find yourself ass-end up.

Okay… I was just kidding about the magic-carpet stuff, as well as about the carrots and such. In reality, you use the scarf as you would a prayer shawl: you simply throw it around your shoulders, then sit around looking holy and wise. Frankly, that’s not my style. But here’s something that is…

Clothes captioning for the spiritually impaired
My friend Durga, aka Moi, who frequently comments here, directed me to a web site, that offers "Amazing Magical Clothing," one example of which is pictured above. According to the web site, wearing this Amazing Magical Clothing is 100% guaranteed to:

  • Raise your kundalini 3.73 inches
  • Spin your chakras at 14.8 mph (that’s 8.3 degrees Celsius)
  • Increase your IQ by the square root of -1
  • Help you reach enlightenment (*step ladder not included)
  • Speed up your hard drive, lower your mortgage, give you six-pack abs, help you lose up to 200 pounds in 3 hours!

The makers of these garments assure us, "All Amazing Magical Clothing products are guaranteed to have been sanctified, had their vibration raised, been blessed, and otherwise made magical by our two Bengal cats, Lily and Lula."

I would love to have a Bengal cat myself, but I can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars for a purebred when there are so many "ordinary" felines on the street, or on death row in the shelters… Besides, I can't afford to buy a pricey cat right now. However, you can buy me one if you wish. That way I won't have the shelter thing on my own conscience (it will be on yours), and I'll have a new cat. So If you enjoy reading the free articles on this blog, feel free to send me one Bengal kitten, male or female. I prefer a "snow spotted" or "snow tabby" color pattern to coordinate with the colors of the other quadrupeds in my household.**

But I digress. The really good news I wish to share is that you can get four or five pieces of Amazing Magical Clothing for the price of one Saint Germain Ascension scarf. But you must act now, "before The Rapture causes shipping delays!"

You are like a hurricane…
Comes the
worrisome news in Wednesday’s Houston Chronicle that due to numerous factors, the 2007 hurricane season may be worse than the 2005 season that brought us Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. I really wish the news media would get on the stick and stop focusing on negative outcomes. How many times do the Secretrons and LOA-noids have to say it? Focusing on the worst makes the worst happen! Focusing on good stuff makes good stuff happen.

Alas, the news media are full of negative Nellies and Norberts who just want to alarm us because it’s good for ratings. Thank Goddess, then, for folks who have the ability to neutralize or redirect hurricanes. There is, for example, Lynn Marks, aka "Phoenix the Spirit Diva," whom I blogged about last September. Lynn has said she can actually communicate with hurricanes, and some of the ones she’s communicated with explained to her that they were just out to have a good time and didn’t intend to hurt anyone. Hmmm…sounds as if Spirit Diva may have had a few too many Hurricanes herself.

Spirit Diva is not the only one who uses her mind to mess with our weather. Who can forget the classic case of a group of positive thinkers who redirected Hurricane Rita in 2005? Read the heartwarming story here. No doubt about it, these folks kept that storm from doing any serious damage. The Texas and Louisiana Coast and parts of East Texas owe them all a big hearty thank you.

Y’know, it seems to me that predicting the future has become passé. It’s soooo pre-twentieth century. The big thing now is to mold the future – and the present, too, with one’s thoughts. But I’m kind of an old-fashioned gal who is still into predictions, and I predict this about the 2007 hurricane season: If it fails to be as bad as the dire prognosticators warned, the wind whisperers and LOA folk will take credit for focusing on the positive, ignoring the negative, and therefore neutralizing the storms. If, on the other hand, the season is as bad as or worse than predicted, the LOA-noids will say that the folks affected by the storms attracted their troubles. So either way, the New-Wage weather watchers are covered.

And the people whose lives are decimated by the forces of nature are still just as f-----d.

"I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…"
Finally, I wish to extend my sincere apologies to everyone who has come to Whirled Musings in search of a specific piece of information, only to be sorely disappointed or even, perhaps, disgusted. At least it would appear that way, since these folks’ visits here lasted precisely 0 seconds, according to
SiteMeter, the hit counter and stat tracker I use. The first thing I do when checking my stats is to click the item, "By referral," which, more often than not, reveals the words that my visitors typed in to Google. In most cases, they’re searching for information on people, products or services I have made fun of. In many cases it seems that they were searching for favorable comments about those people, products or services (or at least some objective information; good luck with that on this site!). Or for some other reason they didn’t find what they were looking for in these pages.

And so they hastened away, presumably without letting the virtual door slam them on their virtual behinds on the way out.

I must admit that the 0-second visits are a bit of a blow to my ego, but they don’t really surprise me. What’s gratifying is to see the visits that last ten to twelve minutes and more. (Curiously enough, most of those seem to come from the UK or US university sites.)

I have had a lot of folks land here when searching for "criticisms of The Secret." Lately I’ve also had an unusually large number of people looking for information on "Jonathan Jacobs, healer." I mentioned Jonathan in the "comments" section on one of my posts, so that’s why I pop up in a Google search. (FYI: Jonathan is not the guy’s real name (see page 60 of linked PDF document).)

I do get a kick out of perusing the Google searches that lead web wanderers to my Whirled. Some of the searches are a little bizarre, such as this one I saw recently: "Lightworkers attracted to people going to the bathroom at night." How that led to Whirled Musings, I have no idea.

I do suggest you get SiteMeter for your own blog or web site. It's loads of fun and very informative. It comes in a free and a paid version (currently I'm using the free version and it suits me fine).

And, oh, yeah. When going to the bathroom at night, keep an eye out for voyeuristic Lightworkers.

*The carrots and "I can do it!" bit was inspired by Steve Salerno of SHAMblog, who wrote in the comments section to his Feb. 14 post: "You know, folks, it has just about reached the point where, if you tell people that by stuffing carrots up their noses and chanting the phrase "I can do it!!" over and over in Lebanese, untold riches will come to them, they will praise your name and love you, and pay you almost any amount of money to KEEP RIGHT ON telling them that!"
** Not really. Send me money instead. The Rev and I have enough cats for now. And in reality we don’t make any effort to color coordinate our four-legged companions, though I would love a tri-colored Welsh Corgi pup to match Layla, our tri-colored hound-terrier mix...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Everything old is new again

When doing research for my recent post on Wilhelm Reich and his "Orgone generator" – yes, despite my laziness I do occasionally venture off the Internet for my research – I pulled an old book off my shelf, Fads, Follies and Delusions of The American People, by the late great journalist Paul Sann. Sann was sometimes known as the "king of tabloid journalism," but if that calls to mind scintillating articles about Elvis or Bigfoot sightings, or Lindsay Lohan’s latest drunken escapades, you’ve got Sann pegged wrong. Following the link to the Paul Sann web site will give you an idea of what he was about, as will opening the pages of Fads, Follies, etc. if you can find a copy. Unfortunately it is out of print, but used copies are available from several sources.

Published in 1967, the book is, it goes without saying, a bit dated. "Beatle haircuts" and mini-skirts were the most notable disruptions in the high schools of the day (school shootings had not yet come into vogue), while San Francisco hippies and the Mothers of Invention were the most cutting-edge phenomena Sann could find to target with his poison pen (I’m sure he came off as a hopeless square to any flower children who may have picked up his book). Even his information about older fads and follies is, of necessity, incomplete. In his chapter on L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics, which was such a raging fad for a brief shining moment in 1950, he concluded with the tale of how Hubbard’s bubble burst in October 1950 when he and his Dianetics shtick were discredited by some insiders in his organization. Before the year was out, Dianetics was replaced by the next folly du jour. At the time Sann wrote his piece, he had no way of foreseeing the explosive growth of Scientology and its widespread acceptance in Hollyweird; in 1967, after all, John Travolta was still in junior high, and Tom Cruise was a kindergartener.

Still, Sann’s book is invaluable for its wryly intelligent look at American culture, and besides, the older fads he writes about are what I find particularly intriguing. Consider, for example, 1920s pharmacist-turned-psychologist/philosopher, Émile Coué, sometimes called the father of autosuggestion, which has nothing to do with manifesting a new car. (Back in the 1920s, people weren’t sophisticated enough to understand that wishful thinking can manifest new luxury sports cars.) Before there was manifesting a la The Secret, before there were affirmations, before, even, there was "positive thinking," there was Couéism, aka the Coué Method.

Coué was a big believer in the power of thoughts and words. His most famous creation, which hit the US circa 1923, was one you’ve no doubt heard: "Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better." Twelve magic words, these were. Actually, in the original French the message came to fourteen words: Tous les jours à tous points de vue je vais de mieux en mieux – proving once again that English is a much more efficient language than some of those other tongues. Take that, you snooty French people! We Americans may be the undisputed champions of gullibility these days, but at least we have a streamlined language, even if we do often misuse it to make up stupid new words and even stupider concepts.

Once Couéism hit America it took on a life of its own, as things so often do on these shores. His twelve-word magic formula was all the rage for a while, with Coué advocates claiming that the formula could cure all sorts of ailments, including varicose veins, and could even grow hair on bald heads. We can’t blame Coué himself for some of the more outrageous claims, though he did take credit for more modest achievements, such as helping a man who was suffering from unceasing yawning; he didn’t actually cure the man, but he did cut the frequency of the yawns. He also supposedly helped a couple of young boys who stuttered. His biggest public triumph was allegedly getting an eighty-year-old trolley accident victim to walk with a cane for the first time in two years. The victim’s doctor, however, said there wasn’t anything wrong with the old man’s legs in the first place. (In all fairness, I don't know the whole story here. If the man really wasn’t walking at all before that, there had to be some reason, if only psychological or emotional, so I suppose it could be argued that perhaps Coué was able to motivate him somehow.)

Although Coué managed to impress quite a few prominent folks and organizations in the U.S., including the Daughters Of The American Revolution, the medical establishment was not pleased. The American Medical Association called him "a purveyor of cloudy fluff." He ran into some real opposition when he announced that autosuggestion could not only determine in advance a baby’s sex but could also predetermine its career. He wrote:

If a mother wants a boy baby, she must bend her will to that effect, repeating with absolute confidence thirty or forty times a day, "My child will be a boy." If she intends him to be a great painter, she will insist on this to herself. She will visit art galleries and surround herself with beauty, and above all she will think beautiful things.

Hmm…does any of this sound familiar?

There’s no telling how many pregnant women followed Coué’s advice, but once again the medical establishment became a burr in Coué’s side. And in this case that’s more than a figure of speech, for it was Dr. Charles Burr, a brain specialist on the University of Pennsylvania faculty, who submitted that Coué’s claim was "scientifically out of bounds" – a nice way of saying that the Frenchman was out of his tree. As noted above, most of the rest of the medical community concurred, though a few, such as Dr. George Draper of Presbyterian Hospital in New York, came out in Coué’s corner. Dr. Draper suggested that Coué had robbed disease of its power by getting people to believe in their own regenerative powers, and said it was wrong to ridicule anyone who had that ability.

Amazingly enough, despite the appeal of that magic twelve-word formula, Couéism did not really take hold in America, and was a short-lived fad. While today the man would probably be elevated to cult-hero status in the U.S. – and his ideas certainly live on in many forms – Americans weren’t quite so enamored of magical thinking in the early 1920s. Of course we've always been gullible in plenty of other ways; had this not been the case, Paul Sann would not have been able to fill up a large book documenting our follies (360-plus pages, oversized (85/8 x 111/8), set in double columns in 10-point Baskerville type).

But Coué, with his sophisticated notions of autosuggestion, faced much the same problem that Michael J. Fox’s character, Marty McFly, encountered in Back To The Future, when he launched into a cacophonous guitar riff at a 1955 sock hop. When Michael-as-Marty’s musical efforts were met by stunned silence, he conceded, "I guess you guys aren’t quite ready for that. But your kids are gonna LOVE it." Similarly, Americans in the early ’20s weren’t quite ready to embrace the true power of thought. Give them another thirty years, though, and they were more than ready for Norman Vincent Peale. Give them another fifty years after ol' Norm came out with his classic, and they were perfectly primed for The Secret. Coué would have probably been one of the top "stars" on Rhonda’s infomercial.

Alas, poor Coué did not have the advantage of Marty McFly’s time-traveling perspective, and in due time he went back to the Continent, where, despite any autosuggestion or other techniques he may have tried, he died in 1926 of heart failure (some sources say pneumonia was the culprit). As Paul Sann noted, "One of the obituary writers summed up the story of Couéism in fifteen words: ‘It was conquered less by the scientists than by the demand for a new fad.’"

And that is as true today as it always has been. When The Secret eventually falls out of favor – which I’m sure will eventually happen despite the increasingly absurd Secret spinoffs that continue to be churned out – it will be due less to the efforts of scientists, skeptics and random critics than to the public’s short attention span, and their hunger for ever newer and more exciting "breakthroughs." The big difference is that today there are a heck of a lot more exciting breakthroughs to choose from. And the bar has definitely been raised, miracle-wise (Paul Sann would have a field day, don’t you think?)although even today, some folks are still recommending some variation of Coué's "magic words."

Day by day, in every way, the New-Wage world keeps getting sillier and sillier. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

PS added on Monday afternoon ~ Regarding one of the latest Secret-related gimmicks that allows you to actually "install" The Secret, my buddy Blair Warren wrote, "Soon they'll make it so easy for us that we'll be able to inject it, inhale it, add it to drinking water like a fiber supplement, etc. I'm sure someone...will offer to install it in people remotely, over the phone or via an e-mail request."

Recognizing, however, that some folks may have swallowed a bit too much Secret, and they might be feeling a bit clogged-up as a result, Blair added, "Maybe we should come out with our own Secret enema? I think there are a lot of people who could use one right about now."

"Fine, Blair," I wrote back. "You create the graphic for that one."

And he did (though fortunately, he chose not to depict the product actually being put to use. Good thing, too, since this is not that kind of blog.).