by Susan Rosenthal
(Updated at: The Secret: Snake Oil for the Soul)
Oprah, Ellen, Larry King, and other celebrities want you to know The Secret. For $50 you can discover how, "You create the circumstances of your life with the choices you make every day."
The Secret assumes that we live in a just world where people reap what they sow, where what goes around comes around, and where the good are blessed and the wicked are punished. In such a world, those who suffer must be doing something wrong, and they can change their lives by making better choices.
In reality, the world is anything but fair. Innocent children are born into poverty and doomed to stunted lives. Hard-working people lose their jobs when the market changes. Families are devastated by wars that ravish their homelands.
If there is no fairness, if people can be hurt through no fault of their own, then how do we protect ourselves and our loved ones?
Feeling powerlessness in the face of danger is so scary that people cling to comforting beliefs, however false. While it is soothing to think that the right choices will protect us, when bad things happen we blame ourselves and each other.
Blaming implies responsibility, that people have the power to make things right, they just aren’t using it. For those without power, blame and self-blame offer the illusion of control — "I could have made something of myself, if only I had (or hadn’t)…"
In fact, the world is not fair because the capitalist system allows a few people to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. Examples are plentiful: Katrina, AIDS, famine, pollution, global warming, and war. Do we protest this injustice, or do we blame ourselves and each other for falling victim to the rich?
The Secret blames people for their problems in order to sell them snake oil for the soul. Of course life is better with a more positive attitude. But a good life is the best way to produce positive feelings. So what makes life good?
Human happiness is based on three elements: having the basics, feeling socially connected, and doing meaningful work. Capitalism is organized to produce profit, not happiness. Basic necessities are available only to those who can pay; inequality and competition rupture social bonds; and the majority are excluded from the decision-making process. Adding insult to injury, hordes of hucksters prey on unhappy people.
Here’s the real secret — social problems require social solutions. If we stop blaming ourselves and each other, we can work together to ensure that everyone has what they need to be happy.
For more on this subject see POWER and Powerlessness, Chapter 10, "Blame the Victim." Available at www.powerandpowerlessness.com