Blogging “The Power”: A Critique of Rhonda Byrne – Part 1: Hommage to Her LawyersAugust 19, 2011
Rhonda Byrne has written a follow up to The Secret, called The Power. In it she claims to have discovered “the most powerful force in the universe” and that her readers can learn to manipulate this “Power” to make all their dreams materialize.
The power she is talking about is “the power of love”. This might seem like a let down to those who were hoping for nano-death-rays or a mini-black-hole-invisibility-cloak…..But surely Ms Byrne is just indulging in a little harmless rhetoric in order to encourage us to allow a little more love in our lives….isn’t she?
…Nope. Ms Byrne is not being rhetorical. Incredibly, she is attempting to talk straight science to her readers, presenting “facts” that no scientist on the planet (at least none over the age of eight) would take seriously. Even more incredibly, she has taken a silly factual error from The Secret and instead of quietly correcting it, she has magnified it and made it the centerpiece of her entire teaching.
Worse still, her self-help advice is of an extraordinarily low quality, even by the low standards that genre usually maintains. Yet somehow she managed to achieve stupendous success.
This will be a fairly snark-free series of blog posts, focusing largely on the way Byrne achieves the effect with which she has won over so many people, rather than spending too much time debunking her factual errors. I’ll go into some detail in the first few posts, at times taking it line by line, and move a bit faster in the later parts.
The introductory pages start off with Byrne recounting how her life was a mess and then she read Wallace Wattle’s book Get Rich and Screw Your Neighbor (or something), and everything improved. She then repeats the familiar claim that this “secret” has been known for millennia and passed down secretly.
The “secret” is of course the Law of Attraction, and the “Power” with which this book deals is the power to use the LoA. (Well, the power is also the power of love, which is also the LoA itself, but it also governs the LoA somehow, and is the law of gravity and the law of life and several other things, depending on which paragraph you happen to be reading. But more on that later…)
Byrne starts off:
There is so much for you to know and understand about yourself and your life.
With this sentence, Byrne establishes her relationship with the reader. She addresses the reader directly, placing herself in the position of “expert”, offering unquestionable truths to the reader. (Nowhere in the book will we read words like “perhaps”, or “maybe” in relation to her teachings. The reader is expected to swallow it whole and apply the advice….but first tell all their friends about it.)
Byrne’s technique here works on a range of people, because it establishes a relationship with those who feel themselves powerless in one aspect or another of their life – in relationships, health, or finances. Successful business people often feel themselves a little lacking in the love and relationship department, or the kinky sex department – although Byrne is careful only to hint at the latter. Whatever, whether a person wants to fulfill their “wildest dreams”, get the love they always longed for, or use magickal scientific forces to heal their cancer or drive their business through the roof, Byrne knows the answer. (Essentially, the reader’s dreams and hopes become the product Byrne is selling back to them.)
The sentence quoted above has another effect too. I don’t know whether Byrne is doing this deliberately, but it plays an essential role in the whole “Secret” phenomenon. It instantly creates strong revulsion in any reader who does not accept this relationship with the author. This quickly filters out all those who would be unlikely to swallow her story. It puts up a wall against those who would otherwise criticize her and expose any lies and manipulations she might commit. Making your book repulsive to critics s a great way to avoid criticism, especially when the big selling point of the whole book is this special “relationship” to the reader. Fans read the book; critics avoid it, or struggle through enough of it to get a picture of what it is talking about, by which time they are so annoyed with the book that their irritation is obvious to the fans. (“You’re just intimidated by it’s positive message” “Why are you so full of rage?” etc etc.)
This polarizes fans and critics. Fans find themselves in a cult-like social isolation from critics. Byrne makes it a black and white issue: either you accept the LoA wholesale, or get out. There will be no consideration of its merits, no discussion of its philosophical underpinnings, no improvements, no discussion of the science she claims supports it.
…And it is all good.
It might be a bit scary to start delving into the secrets of “yourself and your life”, but Byrne reassures the reader that the news she is about to share with them about themselves and their life is “all good”. This reassurance is also a great selling point of the secret.
In fact it is beyond good it is phenomenal!
And with that sentence, mysticism slides into salesmanship.
That was all in the intro. Now the acknowledgments. Byrne acknowledges “the greatest human beings in history, who risked their lives to ensure the knowledge and truth of life”, subtly placing herself in the lineage of Plato, Newton and Einstein, who, she insists, also knew “The Secret”. The idea of Byrne also risking her life to put this out publicly for the “first time” adds to all the drama and builds up the wall against criticism a bit higher – fans should expect the evil powers that be to criticize it.
Then comes a rather curious acknowledgment:
…my deepest thanks to lawyers Brad Brian and Luis Li at Munger Tolles, for their guidance and expertise, for being a living example of integrity and truth, and for bringing positivity into my life.
This is due to their defense of her in a nasty authorship wrangle.
Brad Brian of Munger Tolles defended his client’s principles: “The evidence showed that she believes passionately in the Law of Attraction and she always displays both gratitude and generosity.”
You can always tell a true mystic by the way their lawyers affirm their spirituality. But Brad Brian and Luis Li defended four time killer, three time negligent homicider and Secret star, James Ray. Their defense rested squarely on the notion that the LoA does not exist – that Ray was an innocent victim of circumstances, a bystander in a “tragic accident”. (In fact they went even further and even denied normal materialistic laws of cause and effect, albeit unsuccessfully.) Luis Li also ridiculed witnesses in the stand for having exactly the kind of spiritual beliefs that Byrne holds.
Their tactics have been blatant, doing everything they can to derail the trial process and attempt to help their client evade justice through technicalities. They raised no argument protesting his innocence, instead arguing that he had no duty to those who trusted him, paid him, and believed the lies he deliberately told them.
Byrne has never publicly commented on the monster she helped create, but she obviously has no problem with the LoA being dropped as soon as self-interest is threatened. Of course, she doesn’t advise her readers to also drop it like a hot potato as soon as following it gets tricky. Instead she abandons her readers to experiment with what happens when you take an idea which you have believed in good faith to be true and attempt to live according to it.
And the fact that she feels this bunch of sharks brought “positivity” into her life makes me wonder what on earth the word “positive” means to her.
In part 2 we will start to delve into the main part of the book….