One Book Destroyed Western Civilization. No, It's Not The Bible.
One book synthesized and popularized the most toxic ideas in American history.
My friend had this uncle. He refused to put his scalding hot coffee in the cupholder while driving. Instead, he perched it on the dashboard. He believed it was safer there. One day the coffee spilled all over his wife's lap. A week later, it happened again. He blamed her for it. Apparently, she was causing the coffee to spill by worrying about it. She was doing it with her mind.
My friend's uncle didn't know what he was saying, but he was more or less preaching something someone had read in a book, that you attract misfortune by thinking about it too much. In reality, it's insane to put hot coffee on a car's dashboard and expect it to stay there. Never mind all that. A negative attitude trumps physics. Mind over matter.
That's the American way.
America has a habit of banning books they don't like, books that dare to talk openly about racism, genocide, poverty, or sexuality. There's one book that this country will probably never ban, even though it deserves to be banned more than any book ever written. It's called The Secret.
I never bothered to read it until a couple of years ago. It answered so many questions I had about American culture.
I should've read it sooner.
The book talks about this idea called the Law of Attraction. It argues that anyone can change their life by sending positive thoughts out into the universe. You can manifest your desires. You can manifest millions of dollars. You can think yourself out of terminal illness. You can cure blindness.
You can manifest love.
It'd be bad enough if the book stopped there. It doesn't. It goes on to insist that all disease and poverty simply result from negative thinking. You can't get sick unless you secretly want to get sick. If anything bad happens to someone, they attracted it to themselves with a negative attitude. If a friend or a loved one gets sick, you should try to cheer them up. If that doesn't work, you should get away from them. They're going to infect you with their negativity.
After describing Jesus as a billionaire prince, the author concludes by celebrating a rich American investor who manifested oil and kept drilling ever deeper into the earth until he found it. The book promotes a jaw-dropping amount of scientific and cultural ignorance. It's toxic positivity on meth.
The book has sold 35 million copies. For reference, that's almost as many copies of Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, The Secret outsold Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (30 million).
It also outsold Orwell's 1984.
It's a big deal.
You can't overstate the influence this book has had on western culture since its publication in 2006, almost 20 years ago. Even if someone didn't read the book, they've almost certainly encountered its ideas.
They've been normalized.
It's not that hard to see how dangerous the law of attraction becomes when you scale it up to matters of public health, national security, and climate change. You actually can't solve problems by ignoring them or putting positive thoughts out into the universe. Society can't run with millions of individuals secretly trying to manifest their own personal desires, with zero thought about what their own personal desires mean for someone else.
That's exactly what's happening.
Indeed, millions of individuals are trying to manifest their own personal desires without the slightest concern for anyone else. It's driving the collapse of our institutions, from public health to education.
More than any other book, The Secret encourages unapologetic greed and narcissism. On nearly every single page, it encourages readers to disregard any sense of social obligation or the greater good. It tells them to focus completely on their own fantasies, no matter how superficial. It reminds them how special they are. At one point, it even promises to save them from mortality. That's right, you can reverse the aging process.
It's no wonder half of Americans go around thinking they're invincible. It's no wonder so many of them refuse to believe their own actions impact someone else. A book that sells 35 million copies winds up infecting an entire culture. The book has done incalculable damage by promoting and reinforcing myths, and the media never does a thing to stop it. The author continues to publish installments in the series, the latest at the end of 2020. What a great time to remind everyone that diseases only exist in your head.
You see it everywhere.
When that stranger tells you to smile, they're not trying to help you or make you feel better. They're practicing the law of attraction. They believe your lack of a smile causes them personal harm. When you start talking about climate change and your friend changes the subject, they're doing the same thing. They're indulging the superstition that thinking negative thoughts can make bad things happen. It's better to ignore them.
When your therapist or some guru tells you to stop doomscrolling or even reading the news, they're echoing The Secret.
It's all nonsense.
Of course, The Secret itself simply repackaged the most toxic ideas from America's bizarre puritanical heritage. You can trace them back to a clockmaker named Phineas Quimby, who traveled the country in the 1840s preaching the idea that disease was simply disordered thought. His grift inspired Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Christian Science Movement. Christian Scientists believed the entire world was a mere illusion, like the Matrix.
They believed your own negative mindset could make you physically sick. So could someone else's bad attitude.
So if you're wondering where the American superstitions around positivity and optimism come from, there you go. False prophets have ingrained these beliefs into us for hundreds of years. Every generation, they get distilled into something even worse. The mainstream discourse almost never critiques these myths. They wind up everywhere, from Oprah to USA Today. They talk about the dangers of misinformation, but they let the root cause of that misinformation run wild. There is no idea more destructive than the one that only your own personal desires matter, and that you can bring them into being simply by thinking happy thoughts and ignoring reality.
There's one reason these ideas are allowed to circulate, and that's because they align with the tenets of necrocapitalism. They reinforce the cult of consumption, personal responsibility, and endless growth.
The biggest problem with these ideas isn't that they don't work. It's that people don't use them to manifest their own happiness. Instead, they use these ideas to harass, ridicule, and abuse others. They use it to rationalize their own selfish, abhorrent behavior, just like my friend's uncle blamed his wife for making hot coffee spill on her lap with her mind.
It happens all the time.
A large portion of Americans routinely use optimism and positivity to silence someone else for daring to express their own struggles. They use it to shut down conversations about crucial topics. They use it to quell criticism and dissent. They call us negative for trying to raise awareness about injustice. They say giving attention to problems makes them worse.
It's all watered-down pseudoscience.
It's easy now to convince someone to abandon their conscience in the reckless pursuit of personal pleasure. Who cares if the world is burning? Make your fortune. Go on your vacations. Manifest your own little bubble where none of it has any impact on you. It's easy to convince someone their actions have no impact on anyone else. Go live your life. If you happen to get someone else sick, it's really their fault. They wanted it to happen.
It's easy to justify apathy and indifference in the face of ecological collapse and corporate greed. Don't talk about it. Don't care about it. Don't read about it. Don't think about it. Just close your eyes and put positive thoughts out into the universe. Tell everyone else to do the same.
It's not helping us, that's for sure.
There's an antidote:
When someone tells you to show them your smile, just sit there with your resting bitch face. You don't owe them anything.
Talk about the floods and fires.
Most importantly, care about people. Listen to their problems. You don't have to cheer them up. You don't have to solve everything for them. You don't have to impart timeless wisdom. That's not what they want. Most of them just want to be heard. You can do that. You don't have to chase away their fears. You can validate them. You can tell them they're not crazy.
Change doesn't happen when everyone sits around trying to manifest their own personal heaven with magical thoughts. Look at history. Change happens when enough people get pissed off to do something. From public sanitation to civil rights, we got things by causing trouble and making people uncomfortable, and then doing a lot of very hard work.
That's the real secret.
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