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.


Anonymous said...

Whatch out for Thursday night on ACA - part 2 in th Saga!

Cosmic Connie said...

I can't wait. Thanks, Anon!

Anonymous said...

Hey – since you’re a YouTuber, you might want to check this out… There’s a video company that’s recruitingYouTubers and if they like your stuff, (and they should) they will actually pay you when your video gets a hit.Here’s their ink…www.flownetworkproductions.com/videorevenue.htm. It’s about time the people who makethe videos get some of the money instead of it all going to YouTube!

Cosmic Connie said...

Note to everyone: If you follw the link you will see that BJ is associated with this video company, which is pro-LOA/Secret. So I am sure they would NOT like any video I made, if I were into making online videos, which I currently am not. However, I'm publishing BJ's message anyway because I thought some folks might find this worth checking out. If I find out this is not on the up-and-up I will remove the message.

Usual disclaimers apply; I am not endorsing this company, just passing along BJ's message.

Tim O'Neill said...

Good posts on this subject Connie. I've added links to these posts and to your blog on my article on the same subject here:



Cosmic Connie said...

I appreciate it, Timbo. I'm enjoying your blog. You're not one to mince words, are you?:-)

Anonymous said...

This guy has featured in 6 episodes on A Current Affair so far. I have been to his seminars and it seems he has a habit of threatening people whenever they ask about anything. The guy has no shame, he is a selfish moron and he is getting what he deserves in my view. He is working in an area which demands honesty and integrity, a few things he is grossly lacking in. All he ever does is blame someone oe something else for his own problems when he created them himself. He can't even swallow his own advice hes that stupid. I hope we see him jailed because if he isn't he will be subjected to a life of negativity anyway so jail is probably a much easier option right now.