Thursday, May 31, 2007

THE SECRET - Part Two - Wherein THE AUTHOR reveals that one of THE SECRET'S "gurus" is, in fact, a greedy, lying SLIMEBALL

(Image courtesy of Connie Schmidt's Whirled Musings blog)

It seems the house of cards that is The Secret is beginning to tumble down. One of the slimiest scheisters on the DVD (see Part One) was Aussie "Investment Advisor" David Schirmer. He made a number of remarkable claims about how he simply "visualised" cheques and money arriving in the mail and - lo and behold - they did. Amazing. Strangely, the DVD kinda skipped over why people were sending this guy money. Apparently "the Universe" just decided to reward him for his visualisation and positive vibrations.

Well, Australian TV show A Current Affair has shed some light on this mystery and, in the process, sent the cockroach Schirmer scuttling for the shadows. In a story this week (
May 28, 2007 - video here) ACA interviewed Schirmer, showing him proudly displaying his multi-million dollar mansion, his BMW and boasting about his $1 million dining table. Seemingly, all this was the result of his application of "the Secret".

Except the show then presented six people who had been fleeced by Schirmer's dodgy investment seminars and a former employee who is owed over $50,000 in pay by Schirmer. This guy took $5,000 from each of his seminar participants' fees and promised to invest it and then give them 50% of the profits after a year; profits which he predicted would be "900-1000%". Over a year later, none of these people had seen a cent.

Nicely ambushed by ACA, a squirming and stammering Schirmer did a spectacularly unsuccessful job of deflecting questions about where the money had gone or how much money his investments had made. Finally pinned down, he gave a highly insincere-sounding assurance that he'd find out how much these investments had made and give the 50% share he'd promised to his former seminar attendees. I suspect ACA will be holding him to that promise.

Interestingly, Schirmer was very enthusiastic about his upcoming appearance on ACA beforehand and posted on
an online forum devoted to The Secret encouraging his acolytes to watch it. When it became clear that ACA was not giving him "a great plug", these posts suddenly disappeared. How strange ...

Still, thanks to the magic of internet caching, we can read what Schirmer said before and after the interview, despite the attempted censorship. Before it, he was pretty gleeful about the prospect:

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.
(05/24/07 08:02 PM)

Well, they certainly had some questions, but they weren't exactly "hard". How "hard" can a question as simple as "David, where is the money" be? After the interview, Schirmer rapidly changed his tune:

I 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 ...
(05/25/07 02:37 AM)

Well, yes David - that's because the segment made it pretty clear that you are a greedy, grasping, lying weasel. And, in your words, "it is hard for people to deny that when presented with the correct facts". The weasel went on:

(T)he 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.

Actually, anyone who watches the segment (here's that video link again) can see that it was punctuated with some very long, nervous pauses and awkward silences, with Schirmer sweating, swallowing and squirming while the interviewer waited for a straight answer about where the invested money had gone and when Schirmer's customers were going to get what they had been so grandly promised. Even given ACA's undeniable talent for selective editing, it's pretty clear that Schirmer spent much of his time in the interview staring like a doomed rabbit caught in car headlights and struggling to find anything credible to say.

Luckily the faithful of "The Secret" were there to rally around their persecuted guru. "Can't remember the quote now but there is one about any 'new' idea some thing like "first it is ridiculed then hailed as a truth" - thats the one you need :-)" purred "kittybaroque" soothingly, ignoring the fact that lying to people and running away with their money isn't exactly a "new idea". Others adopted the remarkable policy of blocking their ears to this "negative talk" and thinking postively. Ignoring what the segment was actually about, a poster called "Aylyese Ragen" dismissed it as "attacks on (the) Law of Attraction", which ACA never mentioned.

Schirmer was considerably comforted by these muddle-headed posts:

Thanks so much everyone for your great comments. This is what I do know: "no positive action can ever come from negative thought." 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.
(05/25/07 06:07 AM)

Er, actually Schirmer, they weren't objecting to you trying to change their beliefs. It was your attempt at changing their bank balances so you can buy $1 million dining tables that they didn't like.

Anyway, after a few more soothing, rambling and totally irrelevant posts, the administrators of the Forum promptly yanked the whole thread. It seems they weren't too pleased about one of their gurus being exposed as a slimeball.

But even the woolly-brained lemmings who subscribe to "the Secret" could detect out-and-out censorship when they see it. Not long after the thread suddenly vanished, a few of them were asking why. "Angelo Garozzo" asked, quite reasonably:

Why did this site remove the comments made by Mr. Schirmer about his discussion on A Current Affair, when he said he was set up?(the law of attraction at work?) I saw the program and he did not come out of that unscathed,he appeard to be a true conman! Any one care to set me straight? Please?
Others also smelt a rat. "Mandy & Paul Robertson" said:

I agree!! I saw the interview and posted 2 comments in the post started by David himself, but came back and the whole post is gone!!Whatever happened to free speech??Is it because he is a "Teacher" and therefore beyond reproach??
The True Believers were quick to circle the wagons. "Cornelius Vanderbilt" explained that it was all perfectly reasonable to remove the nasty thread:

There should be no need for an explanation. This is not a place for such negative debates, remarks or comments; whether it be regarding The Secret or its Teachers. .... Remember..Positive engergy flows within this forum, and obviously, any negativity does not contribute to that.
Then one of the Forum's founders and administrators chimed in:

(I)n the end I made the unilateral decision to remove the lot and free everyone to get back to focussing (sic) on their own happiness rather than someone else's complaint and misery.
How very convenient. With that, the True Believers were quick to find a silver lining in this dark cloud of ... ummm ... persecution (or something):

Based on (the Law of Attraction) David attracted this situation into his life, for some reason based on what David is wanting, the universe decided that this was to be part of the journey to get it - this may appear to be a 'bad' situation from the outside but obiviously (sic) it is all part of a grander scheme, with wonderous results yet to be unfolded.
So this was actually a good thing?! Yay! These people's capacity for self-delusion seems to be their main talent. Though it's rivaled by their talent for staggering illogic. Take this gem from "Nikki Agnew":

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 Nikki, people fear being fleeced by a smirking, materialistic conman. And J.K. Rowling hasn't ripped anyone off.

Reassured that you can still fool some of the people most of the time (the dumb ones mainly) Schirmer responded by assuring everyone that his "
Born Rich Seminar" was still going ahead in Melbourne this September.

Phew, that's a relief! Imagine if it didn't go ahead? David Schirmer might not be able to afford some $500,000 chairs to go with his $1 million table.

But one of the forum posters was also kind enough to link to a YouTube video in which, allegedly, Schirmer puts "his side of the story". Unfortunately, this so-called defence turns out to be an extended (and inarticulate) whine which is heavy on insincere righteous indignation and light on any actual information about what ACA got wrong. You'd think if the guy had a leg to stand on he'd be putting his case in this video, long and loud, and with full details. But instead all he does is bleat about what a poor victim he is and then, incredibly, spend the last quarter of the video plugging his bloody seminars!

But he does promise to keep us up to date regularly with what's going on. And ACA is doing a follow-up story tonight.

This is getting rather amusing. As one real scientist (cited by The Secret) once said:

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
(Albert Einstein)

Post Scriptum: - Connie Schmidt's excellent Whirled Musings blog has some rather nifty analysis of "The Martyrdom of Saint David" and the woolly-minded defence of their dodgy guru by "the Secretons". Worth a read folks.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

THE SECRET - Wherein THE AUTHOR doth delve into an arcane recipe for WEALTH and SUCCESS and discovers it to be solid gold New Age BULLSHIT

A couple of years ago Australian TV writer and producer, Rhonda Byrne, cracked the secret of vast wealth. If you read her mega best-selling book or watch her video – The Secret - you might think the secret she found was the one described in those works, fully endorsed by Oprah and snatched up by millions. But, in fact, the “secret” she cracked was how to repackage some hoary old New Age and self-help psychobabble and flog it to the gullible, making herself a multi-millionaire in the process.

After seeing vast piles of the book and DVD in Borders a few months ago and watching a queue of people (mainly women, actually) lining up to buy them as though they were proverbial hotcakes, I decided to check it out. Suspecting it was a load of over hyped crap, however, I waited until the DVD arrived at my local video outlet so as to minimise the amount of my well-earned dollars finding their way into Ms. Byrne’s already well-lined pockets.

My suspicions were correct – it’s a load of over hyped crap.

Hilarious crap though. The first part of the video consists of scenes that look like low-budget outtakes from the movie of The Da Vinci Code and gives the viewer the impression that this “Secret” is something discovered by the ancient Egyptians (cue mystical music – because when were the Egyptians ever wrong about anything?), hidden from the evil Catholic Church (boo! hiss!) and deciphered by wise, smart Eighteenth Century-looking people in periwigs.

This is achieved by a hokey voice-over explaining all this, some spooky music and scenes of people escaping from temples with mysterious-looking stone tablets, guys being pursued by bad dudes in flowing robes, some Templars (of course!) and thoughtful looking chaps in dark chambers poring over big dusty books. I was kind of hoping that the video would go on to tell this exciting story and explain the evidence for this historical stuff, but it doesn’t. We just get the Da Vinci Code atmospherics and then we’re supposed to simply accept that all this is true. Or something.

Then we are promised that now the “Secret” has been “rediscovered” (er, by an Aussie TV producer), some of the world’s finest “scientists, philosophers and thinkers” were about to explain it to us. What follows is, therefore, something of a let down. We get a gaggle of no-name self-help authors, goofy “positive thinking” hucksters and Anthony Robbins-wannabes spouting facile clich├ęs at us, but not a “scientist” or “philosopher” of any calibre is amongst them. And few of them seem to be much chop at being “thinkers” either.

So what’s “the Secret”? well, it’s not much of a secret and nor is it much of a mystery. Basically it’s Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, written back in 1952 (and not in ancient Egypt), repackaged with some spooky music and silly visuals. Not to mention some additional New Age hokum and vague claims to a “scientific basis”.

Essentially it claims all you have to do if you want something – and it can be anything – is (i) visualise yourself getting it (ii) “believe” and (iii) accept it when it comes. That’s it. But that would make for a very short video, so they repeat this endlessly, over and over again like a 1.5 hour infomercial-from-Hell, with footage in the background of people visualizing, looking thoughtful and “believing” and then banking big cheques, happily driving away in BMWs or laughing the arms of a perfect new lover.

Well, there is a bit more to it than that. You see, if you visualize what you want and then “believe” the universe “always” gives it to you. But if you think “I wish I WASN’T fat/poor/lonely/in debt”, the universe won’t get the “WASN’T” bit and you’ll stay fat/poor/lonely/in debt. Apparently the universe has some trouble with basic grammar.

How this facile nonsense could appeal to the woolly-minded is pretty clear – it sure would be nice to live in a universe where this was true. But the examples the video gives of the success of The Secret don’t exactly inspire confidence. For example, the author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack Canfield, assures the viewer that “the Secret” worked for him. He “visualised” having $100,000 by adding some zeros to the number on a $1 bill and then looked at it every day. And then – hey presto! – the universe heard him and gave him (almost) $100,000!

Well, sort of. Canfield actually did more than sit on his backside and visualise having money. He also (i) wrote a book, (ii) came up with a cheap way of marketing it and (iii) sold a shed load of copies. Most people would point out that if he had done these things without the visualisation he would still have made the money and that if he’d just done the visualisation without doing these things he wouldn’t. Therefore it seems pretty obvious that it was doing these things that got him the money, not the visualisation.

Of course, the visualisation probably did focus him on his objective and open him up to ways of achieving it, and that bit of “positive thinking” isn’t hokey at all. Psychological studies of “lucky” people have found they aren’t much luckier than “unlucky” people at all, they just have a more positive attitude to life and are more focused and reasonable in their goals and expectations. This attitude and focus means they are more likely to achieve these goals, and are less likely to dwell on them if they don’t, than their “unlucky” and less positive and focused counterparts tend to be.

Where The Secret veers wildly off into kooksville is in its claim that all you have to do is visualise and “believe” and nothing else. And that the universe will “always” give you what you want. It also claims that this is “confirmed by science”, but here it gets strangely vague again. In this bit of the video the various talking heads start throwing around comments about “quantum mechanics” and doing some general frenzied hand-waving (while computerised music plays in the background and a photo of Einstein floats across the screen, for some odd reason). Then we’re reassured that it doesn’t matter if we don’t understand how quantum mechanics explains “the Secret”, because most of us don’t understand electricity either, and that still works!

By this stage I was audibly groaning in genuine pain.

But it gets worse. Not only does simply thinking about what you want magically mean you’ll “always” get it, but “the Secret” also explains the bad things that happen to people. Basically, it’s all their own fault. They have thought and imagined bad things and so bad things happen to them. All they have to do is grasp “the Secret” (and buy the book/DVD/fridge magnet/coffee coasters and steak knives – dial this number now!) and everything will be okay for them.

It only takes a few moments’ rational thought to begin to see the problems with this idea. One might question what “bad thoughts” a four year old girl was thinking which caused “the universe” to have her abducted by a pedophile gang and brutally raped. Or what the infant babies “thought” which led to them being tossed into Nazi gas chambers and murdered. But the glib and shiny people on The Secret don’t pause in their slick sales patter to let you think about nasty things like that.

In fact, they tell you that you shouldn’t. You see, watching footage of sectarian violence in Iraq or massacres in Dafur or starvation in Africa and worrying about it is thinking “bad thoughts”. It’s better not to get concerned about these things, because you’ll only attract bad things to yourself if you do. Besides, selflessly worrying about the woes of other people will distract you from visualising your new Mercedes, your 15 room mansion and your Fabio-lookalike lover.

At around this point, I was starting to feel a bit sick.

Not only is The Secret simplistic wishful thinking slickly packaged and marketed at the gullible, but it’s also designed by and for the most self-centred, materialistic, narcissistic and revolting element in our society. Not only is it brainless crap, it’s also vile, selfish and disgusting brainless crap.

Still – it did “work” for one person: Rhonda Byrne is now rolling in dosh. Not enough to bother sharing with her elderly mother, Irene Izon, however
who is still living on a $1050 a month aged pension. "She is very generous giving all those millions to charity," poor old Mrs Izon told a British paper, "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." Keep on visualising, Mrs Izon - maybe the power of "the Secret" will make your daughter less of a selfish, greedy bitch.

Interestingly, that wise oracle of all that is bright and true, Oprah Winfrey, has been madly endorsing The Secret for a while now. But recently she had to “clarify” her enthusiastic imprimatur when she was contacted by “Kim”, who had swallowed The Secret whole after watching Oprah and decided to go off her cancer chemotherapy and “heal myself” using “the Secret”. Perhaps smelling a law suit from the woman’s grieving family when she died, Oprah’s PR people scrambled madly to back her away from her endorsement:

"What I believe about the law of attraction, I want to clarify it," Oprah says. "I want to say it's a tool. It is not the answer to everything. It is not the answer to atrocities or every tragedy. It is just one law. Not the only law. And certainly, certainly, certainly not a get-rich-quick scheme.”

Actually Oprah, The Secret repeatedly claims to be both these things. Perhaps the letter from “Kim” gave Oprah a whiff of reality-coffee for a brief moment of clarity.

Ah, such negative thoughts …