Daily Archives: October 2, 2011

The Law of Attraction and its detractors

So I’m suddenly getting comments about my blogs about the The Secret and the Law of Attraction. I don’t quite understand it. If you don’t believe it don’t believe in it, why do you need to insult other people’s beliefs? The supreme irony here is that more often than not these are the same people who claim I’m closed minded for critiquing Muslims for their rather backward religion. So let me see, beating up on people for a belief that doesn’t hurt anyone: good; beating up on people for a belief system that leads to tyranny, genocide, and massive human right violations: bad. Am I the only one who is confused?

My argument has always boiled down to two points. The first is that while I know I don’t have scientific proof in favor that the Law of Attraction, there is a preponderance of evidence suggesting that it may likely be true. My second point has been that, let’s for a minute say that I’m wrong about it and the Law of Attraction doesn’t work, then playing on oppositions turf for the sake of argument it still isn’t worth arguing about, it doesn’t cause anyone any harm and it still leads to a better quality of life. For some reason this has been interpreted as a contradiction. Apparently being able to suspend my own beliefs for a hypothetical situation is wrong…despite in any other context this would be considered being open minded. And really I just do it because the detractors claim that following this law hurts people. I can only attack that point if I for a moment play on their premises that it doesn’t work. Obviously if we play on my turf it doesn’t hurt people, but even if you assume it doesn’t work it still doesn’t hurt people. So why attack me for going about it both ways? Oh, I know why it’s wrong, because I then prove that the people arguing with me are still wrong for attacking this. I have a strong respect for defending the truth at all costs, but I also believe in prioritizing. For instance I hate socialism in all its forms. However, while I hate socialism I hate tyranny a hell of a lot more. So do I spend all my time critiquing the economic systems of the U.K. and Israel? Nope. Why, because those two countries are our greatest allies in the fight against tyranny and I prioritize that at the moment there are bigger issues to worry about. Now if we turned Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela, the majority of the Middle East, Cuba, Mexico, and at least a larger portion of Sub-Saharan Africa into functioning democratic-republics, then yes I would be harsher on socialist nations, but right now I have bigger problems. I complain about socialism mainly in the U.S. because it (A) affects my life more directly and (B) because we are at a point where we might soon collapse if we do not go back to capitalism and if we collapse then we are certainly going to cease being the biggest obstacle to the tyrannies of the world. The same applies with the law of attraction. If you don’t believe in it fine, don’t, I am a huge believer in free will and won’t begrudge you any belief in your own life so long as it doesn’t hurt mine. But even if you don’t believe in it, aren’t there bigger false ideas out there for you to challenge? The rampant misogynism in Western culture? Anti-Semitism? Even among religious beliefs you have homophobia and the culture of fear that so many religions propagate…even if you’re right that the law of attraction, basically the idea that focused prayer can lead to a better life, doesn’t exist this seems to be biggest false idea out there, why attack this one when there are far worse ideas out there?

Now of course I believe it to be true, but we’re still playing in the opposition’s ball park. They claim that they need to oppose this because it hurts people. Really. How? The basic idea of the law of attraction in all its forms can be broken down into a few simple premises.
I. Believe that you and you alone are responsible for your life.
II. Be grateful for what you have to eliminate negative thoughts in your habits of thought.
III. Focus on the end of what you want, not how you are going to get it.
IV. Act as if you already have what you want in life.
V. Believe that the universe will respond to your thoughts and it will come to you.
Now the argument over the science comes into the fifth part and again for the sake of argument, let’s say that is totally bunk. So you don’t get the payoff promised. How do the other 4 parts hurt you? “Believe that you and you alone are responsible for your life.” Now basic psychology tells you that people who take responsibility about their life, that they are responsible for their actions, their thoughts, and the outcomes of those are certainly happier and more productive. The opposite is that we are responsible for our actions, that it’s nature and nurture and chance and fate that determine our life and we aren’t responsible for what happens to us. I think we all have enough experience to know that the people who always take responsibility for their actions are much happier and more productive than people who always blame others for what goes wrong (and even those who never give credit to themselves when things go right).

Now someone might claim that there is a happy medium, people who take responsibility but admit there are things out of their control, and that seems rational on the face of it, but actually it’s not. Because responsibility isn’t so much what happens to us, it’s about how we respond to what happens to us. “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up?” as one of my favorite movies puts it. The actual other extreme is taking too much on yourself. It’s saying that you are responsible for your actions but only looking at the past and not picking yourself up. It’s only dwelling in the guilt, the fear, the blame and being as paralyzed as the people who don’t take any responsibility for anything (if we weren’t playing on the opposition’s field I might also point out that the Law of Attraction will sometimes give you something bad so as to ensure you’re in the right place at the right time to get what you really want, e.g. losing your job which forces you get the want ads in which you find your dream job has just opened up but you would have never seen it if you hadn’t been looking for a new job). And yes this obsession with the past and the blame could be a terrible side effect of taking responsibility for everything in your life. So I guess it is a valid complaint. If only every person who preached the law of attraction also told people that for the law to work they need to focus on what is already good in their life and be grateful for all those good things….oh wait.

Point two of any version of the law of attraction is that you have to focus on what’s good in life. So I guess we don’t have a valid complaint against the philosophy yet.

But maybe this optimistic outlook at what is good in your life is a bad thing. I’m going to assume most of you just rolled your eyes at reading this sentence. For those you who don’t know medical science and psychology have long since proven that optimistic, grateful people are happier, less stressed, healthier, live longer, and have a better quality of life. There are no downsides I have ever heard of to being optimistic and grateful for what you have. So how does telling people that they need to appreciate what they have hurt them? I guess you could argue that if someone becomes too complacent with what they have they’ll be come stagnant…but then you read points three and four and that kind of goes out the window.

Point three and four deal with having goals and acting toward them. Start with the goal in mind and act in accordance with getting that goal. Now it’s been a while since I’ve read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People but I seem to recall these are basic principles of any goal oriented system. Start with the goal and be the change you want to see. Typically speaking isn’t that how you get what you want, even if you the universe isn’t helping you get what you want because of your thoughts, these are still the actions that will result in getting what you want. So what’s the down side? How does this harm people?

So we’re playing on the opponents and there is no harm to a person’s life through the first four required points to the law of attraction. But, the opponents say, it will lead them to depression when they don’t get what they want! They’ll be more optimistic, more goal oriented, healthier, probably have more friends and more efficient in whatever field they have chosen for a profession (which probably means more money). Okay, so if I’m wrong about the law of attraction they don’t have the island they wanted…but they probably have more than they did before they changed their attitude to follow The Secret. I don’t think most people would complain.

Now those that complain that the law of attraction isn’t real will probably say that success in life is highly dependent on luck. But I think we’ve all heard the sentiment that luck is opportunity plus preparation. The first four points deal with preparations that are actually required for success even if you assume that the law of attraction doesn’t work. So there is literally no way this can harm people. All the law of attraction says is that the opportunity is dependent on you being prepared and you looking for the opportunity, that the opportunity literally doesn’t exist until you look for it, it is dependent on you looking for it (kind of the Schrödinger’s cat of destiny).

So please, tell me, someone who disagrees with the law of attraction, how on Earth do you claim that it harms people. That to preach this is wrong. That to make money by selling good psychological practices is a con? How?  By believing in basic psychology that everyone knows leads to better life?  I’d love to hear examples of how this could go be bad…not vague statements about well it could lead people to do have long term problems (which it won’t) but actual examples or at least hypothetical situations.

And of course there is that other point…you know the one where it is a fact of nature. Our thoughts do control our life. They do affect all those literal variables that cascade into the opportunities we can reap the benefits of or eliminate those opportunities before they ever even materialize. Now I will admit that this is an article of faith. I do not have irrefutable scientific data to show that I am right and all who disagree with me are wrong. But the opposition doesn’t have that either. I would say however that the preponderance of the evidence is on my side. There are studies that show prayer works, there are studies that prayer doesn’t work. The funny thing is that when you take a step back you find those who come into the study to prove that prayer doesn’t work prove that prayer doesn’t work and that those seem more unbiased or to show that prayer does work always seem to show that prayer has some effect (Wow, it’s almost like thought effected the reality around it…no I won’t go that far, but I will say perhaps it’s a little hard to ignore the fact that scientists are people and it’s hard to remove bias from people). Also, how do you set up a control group, only find people who have absolutely no people praying for them? Tell the patient “we’re going to perform major surgery, but you can’t pray for yourself.” Atheist in a foxhole? It’s not exact mathematical proof, but there is the suggestion of proof. (Here are a listing of studies done in looking at the effects of prayer…I I find most interesting the ones of people who told that they were being prayed for and then did worse than the control group…do you think that guilt and self hatred which may have put them in that medical condition would have made them feel even worse being told that they were being prayed for and maybe countered the prayers for them?). So I will admit that I don’t have iron clad scientific proof if you admit that you don’t either. It’s an issue of faith (one that interestingly enough doesn’t hurt anyone). Of course my favorite part of this argument against the power of prayer in scientific studies is that it’s just the placebo effect. As most of these studies rely on people not being told they were being prayed for there isn’t a placebo effect present…someone has to know they’re being given something for the placebo effect to be present. But what’s really funny about this is the problem modern science is having with the placebo effect. Apparently for the last decade or so, drugs that have previously been tested when retested show less of an increase over the placebo effect. And when you go back and look at the data it’s not that the drug is less powerful it’s that the placebo effect has been getting stronger over the course of time. So people expecting there to be a change is leading to stronger changes even if there is no real drug present…it’s not just that is seems like expectation is changing reality, but it’s almost like the thoughts of people are getting more focused and thus having a larger effect on reality. But you’d have to be one of those crazy New Agers who believe we are on the cusp of a New Age where there will soon be a major jump in the evolution of the human soul.  But I’m always open to hearing other theories as to why the placebo effect is getting stronger.   Now those who don’t believe in the law will probably argue that science doesn’t support the idea, but this is a foolish understanding of reality.  Things are true whether science and prove them or not.  The earth moved before Galileo, it was round before Columbus, gravity pulled light before Einstein…reality exists before science, just because modern science can’t prove something it’s the worst arrogance to say that just because science hasn’t proven it yet it isn’t so.  Real human life has to admit that science doesn’t know everything, especially when it comes how we live our lives.  Yes it would be foolish to fly in the face of science fact, but what science has not proved or disproved, (things like the existence of God, the soul, the afterlife, or this law), it should not be assumed that just because science hasn’t proven something yet it should not be acted on.

Now I will concede that foolishness in conjunction with surface understanding of the law of attraction could lead to problems. For instance prayer healing, the idea that if you pray hard enough you can immediately fix life threatening problems. You know, prayer works great for a disease like cancer because they take time, and those who preach the law of attraction are very clear that it takes time for effect to appear. In terms of faith healing, it’s often something that requires immediate attention, if you think it’s only a matter of how hard you pray, clearly you don’t understand that there is a time delay issue involved in how the law of attraction works. Further, let’s take an extreme view of the law of attraction, if you attracted this disease you clearly do not have the law of attraction mastered, go get medical attention and with the extra time you have to live and take some more time to get it down. The spiritual text A Course in Miracles draws a line between what it calls miracles (a true understanding that the world is a reflection of our thoughts and the ability to control the world through our thoughts) and magic (an understanding that thinks the world is something more than just an illusion projected by our thoughts, which tries to control things in that illusion through the illusion, science is included in this). A Course in Miracles makes it clear the only way you are going to learn the truth of the world is by living, learning, and growing, you can’t do that if you’re dead. If you’re experiencing problems, especially medical ones, if you know how to control miracles (well you wouldn’t be in that situation) use them—if not, probably demonstrated by the fact that you’re in a situation that could really use a miracle don’t be an idiot and go for magic of science and medicine (you have to appreciate the apparent irony of that phrase). The law of attraction is something that works, but it’s not an immediate fix to problems (unless you’ve reached Enlightenment and then I seriously doubt you’ll be reading this blog if you have). The law is supposed to be used in conjunction with reason not in opposition to it.

Of course the thing that always surprises me is that the argument I made about the first four points of the law of attraction just being good positive psychology aren’t made by my opponent. Instead of arguing against it in totality they should be arguing, “well of course being goal oriented and optimistic leads to a better life, you don’t need any mystical element to explain that” which would actually be a much harder argument for me to refute and I would have to just fall back on “Yes, but my spiritual belief system says that it also affects the world around you and provides you with the opportunities that reflect your attitude. Can’t prove it but that is what I believe, and it’s not worth arguing because you can’t disprove it.” I admit that’s a weak argument philosophically, but it’s an issue of faith and only a fool would think that you apply the laws of science to faith. But no. They take the tack that it hurts people and it must be challenged at all costs. Again I’d love to see an example of where it hur.t someone. I suspect however that it has more to do with the first point. People don’t want to be responsible for their actions. They want to avoid thinking and doing. These are often the same people who argue their life is terrible not because they didn’t get an education or a job or what not, not because of their choices, but because the government didn’t give them this or that, that the system is broken, that life is unfair and we need to make it more fair for the disadvantaged. They dislike it because the philosophy leaves no room for excuses or others to blame. It requires that you think for yourself. It requires that you act in accordance with those thoughts. It requires that you take responsibility for those thought and actions. And for some people that is a horrifying idea.

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