Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Super Rich Use “The Secret”…to Dupe the Masses

Attention all paranoids: you can put away your tin foil hats now. The Orbital Mind Control Radar has been out of commission for years (yet another legacy of the failed Bush Administration). Besides, the Insiders have found a much more powerful mind control tool: New Age gurus. Who needs public school, the FBI, the CIA, or the Orbital Mind Control Radar when New Age gurus can dupe the disgruntled into believing they are already rich and blaming their problems on their own stray thoughts. The elite can rest easy while the hapless masses waste their time – and their sanity – applying The Secret.

I have been wading my way through The Secret video for the last few nights, and I must give the creators credit: they do know how to stretch out a few simple ideas into an interminably long movie. But at least those ideas are wrong – for the most part.

The Secret begins with the same sort of conspiratorial silliness that I began with in the first paragraph, except they are serious. In their version the rich elite have been hiding The Secret from the masses throughout history – apparently solipsism, superstition, and wishful thinking were the tools of the rich and powerful throughout the centuries while the rest of humanity were duped into believing in physical reality. This is why the masses slave away learning science, engineering, economics, accounting, and other worthless disciplines while the Insiders happily visualize positive outcomes, follow hunches, and buy winning lottery tickets. That’s why you can find the world’s most rich and powerful people hanging out at the convenience store on Friday afternoons chatting about their fabulous weekend plans while playing Scratch and Win.

Or maybe not.

The writers of The Secret even had the gall to invoke the authority of history’s most enlightened thinkers – the very people who got us out of superstitious “New Age” thinking and into the very successful empirical mindset which dominates the West today. The Secret pulls their quotations out of context, most dishonestly. For example, Einstein was big on imagination, but Einstein was not wasting his time imagining what it would be like to be a great physicist! Einstein was imagining possible mechanisms to explain real physical phenomena. (Speaking of physics, I have forgotten way more quantum mechanics that all the so-called “quantum physicists” interviewed in the movie combined.)

This is not to say that The Secret contains nothing but falsehood. That wouldn’t fly. As C.S. Lewis noted decades ago, effective evil is goodness bent, not goodness broken. Lenin and Stalin were incredibly deadly because they mixed some good intentions toward the working class with their envy, hatred and bad economic theories. Adolph Hitler was dangerous because he mixed a good intention – the defeat of communism – with his anti-Semitism and fascism.

Visualization works as a way to motivate yourself, not to modify the universe. If you spend more time visualizing your goals instead of complaining about your problems, you are more likely to do something useful to make good things happen – at least, as long as you don’t expect your goals to simply manifest themselves while you kick back in your Lazy Boy.

“Manifestation” also appears to happen if you practice visualization. Scientific fact: the brain filters out most of what the senses receive well before the signals reach your conscious mind. This is why camouflage works. This is why many optical illusions work. You may have received several of these illusions as an email from a friend; they go around like chain letters. Visualization can help program your subconscious filters to bring different objective facts to your attention. “Manifestation” happens because your mind is not infinitely powerful. It has limited storage and processing power; it cannot handle all the data from your five senses, much less rearrange reality to your liking.

Speaking of low-level thought processes, positive statements of goals do work better than negative statements for programming reflexes and habits. “Remember your car keys” works better than “Don’t forget your car keys” if you want avoid getting locked out of your car. “Eat more raw veggies and dry tuna” works better than “Don’t eat donuts” if you are trying to lose weight. Statements in the negative require more processing. Negative thinking is great for contemplation, strategic planning and creative thought. It just works poorly for fast reactions. This is why nerds rarely make the varsity basketball squad.

Positive thinking, as in believing you will succeed, also has its uses. (Believing you already have when you don’t is pure silliness, however.) If you believe you will fail, you will not try, or you will put in a mediocre effort while focusing most of your energies on your fallback position. If you truly believe you will succeed, you can ditch your fallback position and other expensive insurance. This increases your chance of success. But it also increases the price of failure! Worse yet, if you are too positive, you can underestimate the work required. Excess positive thinking demotivates! I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times. (Just go to a typical college campus and note the parties. Things quiet down right before exams.)

Study the truly successful. Bill Gates is a multi-billionaire in large part because of his pessimism. He worried about potential competitors and took action early and aggressively. Andrew Grove, former CEO of a little company called Intel, has a book out titled Only the Paranoid Survive. Warren Buffet, a rather successful investor, buys companies on the assumption that the financial markets could collapse at any time, that he may find no buyer for years.

So, if you want to make more money, learn to make money. Get an MBA or at least read The Portable MBA. Master a useful skill and how to market it. Read a make money website  which has actionable information instead of feel-good fluff.

But if you want to understand the super rich, those whose wealth defies the bell curve and boggles the imagination, come back here in a bit. I’m working on a series of posts that will expose the real secret of the super rich. Be forewarned: this series won’t be feel-good fluff; it will have graphs and even mathematics. If you want to grow rich, you might need to actually think.