Today, I would like to talk about the New Agey idea of “The Law of Attraction” and why it is destructive to the spiritual journey and the quest towards the ultimate Happiness that arises from being in tune with the True Self.
Briefly, the Law of Attraction states that thoughts produce results and that like thoughts will produce like results. Negative thoughts will produce negative outcomes in the world, while positive thoughts will produce positive outcomes. The idea is based on the pseudo-scientific nonsense that everything “vibrates” at a particular wavelength and that vibrations of a similar wavelength will attract each other. By this logic, certain ideas occur at certain vibrations and these then attract the events at a similar level of vibration.
At a deeper level, it is believed that one can tailor one’s own thoughts to achieve a particular outcome, so that if you want find your Soul Mate, all you have to do is tell the universe, and put out that “intention” and that person will magically appear. If they don’t, clearly you were doing something wrong. Perhaps you were sending “mixed intentions”, or perhaps you didn’t really want a Soul Mate after all!
Adherents to this philosophy will often talk about “putting it out there”, as a way of saying that they told the universe that they wanted a particular outcome. In my own experience, when the outcome happens, they’ll talk incessantly about it, thereby earning Spiritual Awareness Brownie Points (SABP) from their peers, but when it doesn’t they won’t say a word, because it would mean that there was something wrong with their intentions and this would rob them of SABP while damaging their egos and social standing.
While the idea is itself over 100 years old, the most recent push for it came within a book called “The Secret”, in which the main idea was that if you wish for something enough, it will somehow manifest in the real world. Because of this, the Law of Attraction is also referred to by many as “The Secret”. An excerpt from The Secret official webpage tells us that
“Money is magnetic energy. You are a magnet attracting to you all things, via the signal you are emitting through your thoughts and feelings. Discover how to become a powerful magnet for the creation of personal wealth”
Those familiar with certain types of protestant Christianity will recognise a similarity between these ideas and the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” so much beloved of Evangelical con men everywhere. Prosperity Gospel has it that despite all evidence to the contrary God really wants us all to be really, really rich. Interestingly enough, the first step on the road to your wealth is to donate money to whatever Evangelist you happening to be listening to at the time.
With the “Law of Attraction”, the first step is to buy the author’s books, DVDs, and whatever else they feel will help you on your journey towards making them filthy rich.
Why people love the Law of Attraction.
What both of these deceptions have in common is their appeal to two basic human emotions: Greed and laziness.
Everyone wants to be rich. Everyone wants to be able to live lives of financial security, family bliss and career satisfaction. And far too many people want these things to be handed to them on a silver platter. Financial planning for a significant percentage of the population seems to rely on winning the lottery, rather than investing energy into achieving their goals.
So, when someone comes along and says that we can simply become a “magnet” for money by thinking the right thoughts, the response of many people is to jump on the bandwagon and to embrace the silliness wholeheartedly. So much so, that there are a staggering 21 Million copies of this book in print and it has been translated into 44 languages. It seems that the real secret to wealth is to dangle it in front of others.
The Law of Attraction is nonsensical on a multitude of levels.
At its essence, it is saying that if you wish for something hard enough, you’ll get what you want. It’s the Genie and the Lamp story without the genie, or the lamp.
If someone handed you a lamp and asked you to rub it, so that a genie would emerge and grant you three wishes, most would think them quite mad. But take away the lamp, add some pseudo-scientific nonsense about “vibrations” and suddenly people are rubbing like mad.
Conflicting Intentions. What Law governs the “Law”?
But what of these “vibrations”? What does it even mean to say that thoughts have vibrations? How are they measured? How does one vibration attract another? How is it that one piece of paper (money) has a different vibration to another piece of paper (a phone bill). How is it that electronic money has the same vibration as paper money? How is it that “wealth” vibrates at all? Which scientific journal can I go to have these questions answered?
What happens when intentions collide? Lets say I meet an absolutely adorable girl, who I am just crazy about. I put out my intention to have her as my girlfriend. But she finds me somewhat less sexy than Godzilla, so she’d rather cover herself in honey and dance on an ant’s nest than have anything to do with me.
Both our intentions are clear. We are both “putting it out” into the universe, but only one of us is going to get what we want Probably her: Honey and ants are so easy to find…
But what happens if she just wants a boyfriend and I really, really want her. Does that mean that my certain intention wins against her vague one? Does the universe put our opposing intentions on a scale and award the prize to the most intense winner? Does success come to the biggest couch potato, basement dwelling fanatics?
Of course not. Indeed it is amazing that anyone past the age of believing in Santa should continue to believe that simply wishing hard enough for something will make it come true.
Magnify this conundrum by 7.whatever billion people on the planet, each with their own conflicting desires, intentions and ambitions and it should be fairly easy to see just how silly the whole idea really is.
The “Real Secret”!!
Think of anyone who has achieved success in their life and you’ll immediately realise the major lie inherent in the Law of Attraction.
Ask these people what they regard as “THE SECRET” to their own success and they’ll happily tell you: Persistent hard work that adds value. And a few other things, like having fun while doing it.
Success requires what is called “Sweat Equity”, in the form of focussed, active effort that produces results over and above your financial input. It involves challenging yourself and overcoming your fears, doubts and inhibitions.
Very few people achieve anything in life without putting in the hard work to get what they want, whether it be money, soul mate, happiness, friendship, career, education or family. Sure, there are many people who inherit good fortune, but even then, their subsequent relative success depends largely on how well they are prepared to work towards their goals.
Because what are these things, if not the result of some sort of hard work, by somebody? Money doesn’t exist on its own. Rather, it is a store of value and that value has been created somewhere by somebody. In a primitive society, I’d use my labour to raise a goat, which would be tasty and therefore have some value. I’d then barter it with someone else, in order to obtain something that I might have needed (fruit perhaps from a fellow farmer’s orchards). Each time I put effort into raising goats, I multiply my wealth. Each time my fellow farmer tends a tree he magnifies his. When we trade, we both benefit, magnifying our combined wealth.
Money is simply an abstraction that streamlines the bartering process. By itself it has no value. You can’t eat it, live in it, or (Rule 34 aside) have sex with it, but because we all agree that it is an abstract representation of wealth it attains recognised value.
You can’t simply produce value and wealth out of thin air. Wealth is produced when people create things. Houses, cars and plasma TVs don’t build themselves, but require that someone puts in the hard work to build them. If you want them, you should similarly expect to put in the hard work to produce something that someone else also wants.
Obviously, in cases of charity, or hardship benefits provided by Governments, there is a recognition that not all people are capable of producing wealth in this fashion and that they should not be adversely penalised for it. But generally speaking, intentional failure to do so as a way of life is regarded as “Free Riding” on the efforts of others.
Even if “The Secret” was true and people could magnetically attract money into your life through thinking about it, unless they are producing something of equivalent in your life in exchange, it is hard to see how this is any different from stealing: Like any thief, you are taking other people’s hard earned wealth while providing nothing in exchange.
The example of money extends to every other thing of value that people might wish to “attract” into their lives. If you want to find your soul mate, you need to put in the hard work of finding them and the even harder work of maintaining the relationship over the course of a lifetime. If you want a good education and you need to put in years of dedicated study to achieve academic mastery. Want to play the violin and you need to practice on it every day for years to achieve proficiency.
There are no shortcuts!
For most of us, there is precisely no situation in which failing to work towards a desired outcome will produce that outcome. Sure, you might inherit money, or win the lottery, but wealth gained in this way is easily frittered away and lost. In fact lottery winners are more likely to become bankrupt than other people.
Because it hasn’t been worked for, windfalls have no intrinsic value, which is probably why so many people who win the lottery end up just as poor, or poorer than they initially were. A similar phenomenon can be seen in child and teenage stars, who’s success relates to their parents effort, rather than their own.
Is That “Intention” Even Real?
If someone isn’t prepared to put in the effort required to achieve their desires, I’d really have to question whether they really are “desires” (as opposed to ephemeral wishes) in the first place. For example if we reject a suitable job because it requires us to get up an hour earlier, or get home late (thereby missing our favourite TV show – and yes, I have seen this happen), how much did we want the job? If a suitable partner appears but we reject them because they live a few more miles away than we hoped, or they not quite what we expected, how much do we really desire that soul mate?
If we can’t put in the required energy to work with what the universe has already given us, why on earth would we think that we can put in the required energy to magically manifest it in our own lives?
Secondary Benefits of the “Real Secret”.
While we work towards achieving something we are developing a range of skills and significantly boosting our willpower, self-control and resilience. In working towards something we also learn much more about ourselves than we might otherwise have done. Hard work teaches us our strengths and weaknesses. It stretches us and allows us to grow as people, in ways that we could never have imagined.
There is a common saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”. Why? Because busy people are not only active at working towards their own success, but are far more likely to be skilled in managing the tasks that they need to do in order to succeed.
The converse also applies. By failing to work towards our desires and by simply “putting it out there”, we are encouraging stagnation and sowing the seeds of our own doom when our failures inevitably catch up with us.
Often if we are failing to work towards our goals, it is simply because we have no idea of how to achieve them. In these situations, something like the Law of Attraction allows us to invest hope in something (much like people who habitually by lotto tickets they can’t afford), but will inevitably lead to depression because we will be unable to deny to ourselves that we have no real hope of achieving our aspirations, or ambitions.
Moral Bankruptcy and The Law of Attraction.
My final objection to the entire philosophy entailed by “The Secret” is that it is morally offensive. I’ve already discussed how, even if real, there really isn’t any functional difference between applying “The Secret” and free-loading off the efforts of others.
But as I write this post, many parts of the world are in chaos. Just last week a Jordanian pilot was burnt to death. Over the last several years, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed in the Syrian civil war. In the 1940s six million Jews were murdered by Germany’s Nazi regime, more than the entire population of my home state of Victoria, Australia. Mao’s Great Leap Forward killed up to 45 Million, more than four times the population of New York City.
On a daily basis, thousands of people in our cities are being assaulted, raped, murdered and victimised. Many people I have spoken to over the years have described horrific treatment, often at the hands of those whom they loved.
If it isn’t our own inhumanity to each other, nature too causes its own share of misery. Ten years ago, over a quarter of a million people lost their lives during an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Five years ago, 160,000 people lost their lives during the Haiti earthquake. In the fourteenth century, the Black Death is estimated to have killed between 30-60% of Europe’s population, accounting for a staggering death toll of between 70-200 million people.
According to the “Law of Attraction” all of these people “attracted” this death and destruction to themselves. Despite what they might have said while being lead to the gas chambers, or fleeing death and destruction, the supposed Secret invites us to say that each of these people truly got what they thought they deserved. They truly got what they wanted.
Taken to its natural conclusion, “The Secret” becomes the ultimate tool of victim blaming. It teaches us that we are the sole agents for our own fortune and misfortune, conveniently neglecting the real truth that evil (for want of a better word) people exist and that the random forces of nature can easily overwhelm our defences. It is an abhorrent philosophy.
As someone who has been responsible for more evil in the world than he would like, I find it disgusting that those who I have treated badly,or abused should be asked to take the blame, rather than the real instigator: Me.
As a can be seen, the “Law of Attraction”, also known as “The Secret” is silliness on multiple levels. Not only does it encourage us to free load off the efforts of others, but taken to its logical conclusion it inevitably leads to abhorrent victim blaming and the mind-boggling conclusion that, despite all evidence to the contrary, people actively want evil things to happen to them.
In reality, the only “SECRET” is focused, productive, hard work. Only hard work will get you where you want to be and only hard work will allow you to achieve your life’s goals. Nothing of value was ever achieved without effort and it is this realisation that will allow you to grow as a person, to progress on your spiritual journey and to become the being that you would truly like to become, whoever that might be.
The one surprising secret about the “Law of Attraction”? That it is complete bollocks and that if you really want something, you need to exert some effort to work towards it.
Although that probably wasn’t too big a surprise now was it? 🙂