The Secret, First-World Privilege, and the Working Wealth Gurus

by Stephanie Brail

Does The Secret work better for affluent white people?

Here's an interesting quote I caught randomly on a blog. The article is mostly about PETA, but I was struck by this sentence at the end about the organization:

To me, they’re just another group based on the same hype that sustains New Age religion: they make privileged people feel good about their privileges, and relieve them of the difficult responsibility of making the world better for other human beings AND for animals.

I immediately thought of The Secret and the Law of Attraction, and how those memes do precisely what this author accuses: "They make privileged people feel good about their privileges, and relieve them of the difficult responsibility of making the world better for other human beings..."

What does The Secret have to do with the concept of "privilege"? First, let's back up and take a look at what privilege actually is.

What is Privilege?

Privilege is a concept that has come from the civil rights and feminist movements. What it describes are the inherent benefits or privileges a person gets due to their race, class, or gender.

These privileges are generally taken for granted and not actively pursued as a means of putting down other people; it is simply the de facto "leg up" a person has due to their position in society.

For example, the "glass ceiling" (women having a harder time becoming CEOs and leaders at corporations) is an example of male privilege. (Let's not forget the "white ceiling" as well...how many CEOs are black?) It's not that white men are conspiring specifically to exclude women or blacks from the top. Attitudes, friendships, school allegiances, and many other factors of contribute to this phenomenon. The privilege does not start at the corporation; it starts at birth.

A white boy who grows up in an affluent family and is sent to the best schools is more likely to meet the right people, make the right connections, and be put into positions of power. This is how George W. Bush became President of the United States. Politics aside: Do you believe that out of millions of Americans he would be the only person fit to hold the office? Hardly. But because he came from a rich and powerful family (and his father was President), getting to be President is that much easier for him.

The white man who is born to an affluent family that sends him to prep school and then Harvard already has advantages way beyond the black man who grew up in the ghetto. The poor black man can certainly succeed, but he will have many more obstacles to overcome and his success is not guaranteed. Conversely, the affluent white man's success is practically guaranteed: He has to actively work to screw up his success.

Privilege and The Secret

How does this apply to The Secret? Well, first of all, being born in a first-world country already gives a person tremendous advantages and benefits that people in third-world countries only dream of.

A child born in America will generally have clean water to drink, a public school to go to (even if it's not the best school), and plenty of future job opportunities.

A child born in a poor country may not even have clean water, much less food. School can be a luxury for many of these children. And jobs are non-existent.

Of course, there are also children in America living in poverty; these children too have a disadvantage compared to children born in the safe and secure suburbs.

One of the reasons that we Americans revere our country so much is precisely because America offers opportunities that other people do not have. And while our system is still rigged towards the rich staying rich and the poor staying poor, at least here the poor have someplace to go.

So where I get really frustrated with strict Law of Attraction people is that they don't ever consider that just being born in America or Australia as a white person gives them a boost over 90% of the world's population. A young girl in Africa who has been raped by soldiers and has a young baby to feed is in no position to manifest the kind of life even I have.

There are other privileges that we have that don't have anything to do with money or social status. They include: good health, good looks, intelligence, talents, and other gifts from God.

Do you honestly think a child with severe mental retardation has the ability to become President simply through positive thinking? It's a nice dream but it will never happen - at least not in this lifetime.

What Do Wealth Gurus Know About Real Struggle?

Other than a few token people of color here and there, the majority of self-appointed wealth gurus and teachers of The Secret are white people who have no clue what it's like to be a poor starving child in Africa. (I have no clue either, but I can't imagine that it's fun.)

Sure, there will be some of them that like to tell the story of how they lost all their money and gained it all back, but honestly - do you think that they really understand true struggle?

Now, there you are, an average person with average intelligence, average looks, and an average level of talent. Furthermore, you have a lot of debt, a family to take care, and some health issues.

You can go pay a lot of money for a wealth seminar that will promise you that just by thinking positively, you can "manifest" a million dollars with the sheer power of your mind. You get all pumped up by the speaker's excitement, the testimonials presented, the "big wins" that supposedly can be had.

But when you go home, what on earth will you do to get that million? You have no capital, no connections, a 40+ hour per week job with hardly any free time, and nothing out of the ordinary to offer.

Maybe what you'll do is join up with a multi-level marketing company, get super excited about the "potential" of riches, and then spend a lot of money and time (and friendships) on trying to sell products that no-one wants.

A few years later, you're still pumped up and trying, but nowhere near rich and living off of fumes - the fumes of the excitement of the constant pep rallies you get at the wealth seminars and MLM "trainings."

Here's the reality, though: Only a small percentage of the population is going to be rich. That's partly due to the way our economic system is set up, partly due to market forces, partly due to talent, and partly due to luck.

Consider American Idol: Only one person can win every year. Yet why do millions audition - many of whom have no talent whatsoever - and why do these people believe so strongly that they can succeed? Is it in part due to the line that's being sold by the New Age, that if you just think you can have something you can have it? Never mind the fact that you can't sing your way out of a paper bag - if you believe you are the American Idol, you are!

Wealth Gurus Live Off Your Hope and Desperation

Here's the real Secret, which is not so Secret: The wealth gurus make money off of desperate people who want to be rich. The wealth gurus love people who are big on hope but short on options. That's because they count on these people coming back, over and over again, to feel the high distributed at the wealth seminar.

If the wealth gurus truly knew how to manifest a million dollars out of thin air, then they would retire and stop selling themselves. But they don't know how to do that. All they know how to do is sell a dream: It's a dream that only some of us will ever realize.

Those of us who do realize the dream of great riches will have done so not through positive thinking: It will be in part due to our privilege, from our basic privilege of growing up in an affluent society to our more personal privileges of immense talent or ability.

This is not to say that hard work can't get you far. It can. But it will get you farther if you have a head start and something special to sell.

That's the reality, and something that the wealth gurus don't want to admit, since otherwise they'd be out of business.

Let's Not Abdicate Responsibility

The unfortunate side effect of the pipe dreams these wealth gurus sell is that there is always the exception. We can always find the black man who worked his way out of poverty to achieve huge riches. So we presume, if that man did it, and the Law of Attraction is true, we have no responsibility to solve the problem of poverty in our inner cities.

This is dangerous thinking. What does it matter if one black man succeeds while the rest are going to prison? We should not leave other people behind and excuse a lack of opportunity by saying "it's their fault" for not thinking more positively.

Initiatives to help children here in America and elsewhere are vital to creating opportunities for all - real opportunities. We don't all need to be super rich. And by focusing on just pushing up a lucky few to be the rich "examples," we ignore the rest who are left at the bottom.

Rather than focusing on wealth for a few (including yourself) how about shifting focus? What about looking to create a world where everyone is fed, where everyone can work, where everyone can have a basic, sustainable standard of living that supports their happiness and their families?

That has nothing to do with the Law of Attraction. But it has everything to do with a simple word that has been missing completely from The Secret:

Compassion.

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Comments

This is a GREAT article! I was going to write something on this very topic but you've covered it all yourself wonderfully here. Thank you! Amazing!

Nice article! I read a few such articles from http://powerprivilege.wikispaces.com/White+Privilege that were great too.

However, the content of the blog where you found the quote that inspired you to think about this though was very infuriating. And I hope you don't buy into such discrimination either. IMHO,here's why we shouldn't:

The fact that we can’t see the root of discrimination in history (sexism, racism) is the very same for speciesism implies we don’t really understand what causes inequality. The smugness with which we do whatever we please with other species exemplify the most extreme racist theories that might is right. Who made Hitler more ‘privileged’ than the ones he murdered? Himself. Who made men more ‘privileged’ than women? Men. Who made humans more ‘privileged’ than a non-human animals? Humans? Do you see the parallel?

Racist violate the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests to the members of their own race. Sexists violate the principle of equality by favoring the interest of their own sex. Those who stand at the power end of the power-struggle relationship treat the less powerful as if they were mere objects. And we want discrimination to be abolished, the human mind can’t be selective about this. We say one should not discriminate but the mind sees the inconsistency in other atrocities we do. And till the time we encompass all living beings with our compassion and ethics, we can’t expect racism, sexism to be completely abolished.