Vanitas and the ‘Law of Attraction’: Promethean Rebound

This week I welcome a philosophical rant by my friend and colleague, Donna Hazel, Ph.D.  I’ll be following it up in a few weeks with my own thoughts on the positive potential of hate and anger, as well as stressing the disgusting class implications of the Law of Attraction and its predecessors.  Enjoy!

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Nietzsche in the Antichrist voiced the strongest argument not merely against theology but against metaphysics, that hope is mistaken for truth; that the impossibility of living happily, or even living at all, without the thought of an absolute, does not vouch for the legitimacy of that thought - Theodor Adorno, Minimum Moralia, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott (Verso, London, 2005), p. 97.

[A key to abbreviations and a bibliography can be found at the end of the article.]

WARNING: Throughout The Secret, Rhonda Byrne mimetically likens us all to magnets in order to illustrate how the ‘Law of Attraction’ operates according to the bespoke principle of ‘Like Attracts Like.’ Have you tried this at home? If you to attempt to demonstrate this “universal principle” using actual magnets you will find (as most elementary grade children already know) that LIKE POLES REPEL whereas UNLIKE POLES ATTRACT.

Drawing of a magnetic field by French philosopher René Descartes, from his Principia Philosophiae, 1644.

I am tempted to leave a critique of this “universal law” right there: quod erat demonstrandum.  However, as this dubious “principle” or cosmological “truth” has now gained a significant cultish following, I will unpack the assumptions and the pernicious rebound consequences entailed by the logic. The mantra of ‘Like Attracts Like’ is posited as axiomatic but even if, per impossible, it was true, the other side of this Janus-faced coin discloses a repugnant metaphysical bullying stick. Existential isolation is an emergent dictat arising from a covert justification for social irresponsibility. With supreme irony, far from cosily uniting us in a universe of vibrational sameness, the logic denies our interconnectedness and interdependency. Further, in an unhappy circle, it is premised on atomization, on each of us operating as discrete, atomic focii of autonomous power, needing nobody, and ends by returning us through its internal logical ramifications – estranged, exigent, exiled and isolated – back to the inaugural violence of its original premise. It further presupposes the commonality it eviscerates and disavows: twice over. First, the purchase is secured through our modern climate of social disempowerment and economic dysphoria. Second, it assumes and projects a shared horizon of culturally desirable objects.

There are various strands and formative versions of the ‘Law of Attraction’ but I am going to concentrate on the two which have had and continue to compel the widest audience and the loudest reception. These are the most extreme, uninflected and therefore brutal versions as peddled by Rhonda Byrne and Esther and Jerry Hicks. The texts are so facile that there is almost no purchase for the finesse required to secure a well-argued philosophical critique. Accordingly, there will be nothing subtle about this critique. It does not require finesse to smash a nut. The telling concern is why such a radically inane thesis has been embraced and how this has been achieved by rhetorical strategy. The appeal is plain. In a world of increasing secular anomie, commodification and political effacement, the time was serendipitous for these books to receive a Velociraptorous welcome and an abundance of gratitude.

Head of Janus, Vatican museum, Rome

Who Invented the Law of Attraction?

Against uptake of Byrne and the Hicks’s works, it is not an entirely homogeneous or unitary concept. It has a number of forms along a continuum, starting at a reasonably innocuous psychological level and – with a sleight of hand along the way transmogrifying thought into thing – ending in a selfish excuse for excoriating cruelty and retribution. However, the most well-known texts on it remain the pop-culture book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, made into a film in 2006, and the veritable torrent of best-selling books and workshops by Esther and Jerry Hicks. Where or what is the origin of the ‘Law of Attraction’? The idea has a number of historical strands which could be considered as precedents, going back as far as occult Magick and the ancient (and infinitely preferable) philosophic concept of Vitalism. But these tend not to have the extreme egoistic emphasis on the virile and masterful subject nor the ideational self-gratification central to Byrne and what are dubbed the Abraham-Hicks teachings. The modern Western precedent can be traced in large part to the “positive thinking” pioneer, Phineas P. Quimby and New Thought. Feeding out of New Thought emerged, amongst others, The Science of Getting Rich (1910) by Wallace Wattles, the landmark Think and Grow Rich (1937) by Napoleon Hill, and The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) by Norman Vincent Peale, who blazed the popular trail for creative visualization and auto-suggestive affirmation.

In a squabble over intellectual property rights, both Byrne and the Hicks’s claim to have pre-dated one another with the “discovery” of the idea of the ‘Law of Attraction’ (henceforth LOA). However, as if to defuse the self-aggrandizing arrogance of knowing and disseminating the “secret”, Byrne attempts to displace any authorial responsibility by spuriously throwing it back into an unverifiable past. She dumps knowledge of the Secret (aka The Law of Attraction) onto an historical riot of thinkers who apparently knew about it before she did, and who quietly passed it on as if through an esoteric and equally secret society. She claims that it was known by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagorus, Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Edison, and Churchill, amongst others (TS, p. 4). They all secretly knew the Secret. As did all the major world religions (TS, p. 4). There is no clue as to why these thinkers or religious traditions would have kept it quite such a secret. As a philosopher I can speculatively attest that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras would be horrified at such an attribution and there is no evidence to suggest that they knew this “secret.” I can only think that Byrne has access to a secret library unavailable to the rest of the world (there is an allusion to a mysterious hundred year old book in the Foreword, with no further details). It is also bothersome that given the power of positive thinking to attract all good things, Socrates died in 399BC after drinking hemlock (and despite the positive and deliberate intent of wishing to continue educating the youth of Athens) whereas Galileo was tried for heresy in 1633 by the Roman Inquisition and spent the rest of his life under house-arrest. Churchill suffered appalling spells of depression. If they knew the Secret, then there’s not much to be said for it; on the contrary, one would want to stay away from it at all costs. The idea that thought creates reality is derived from the Stoics but it only meant that we create our reality through our beliefs and attitudes and, although we can potentially change those, they did not claim that we could physically rearrange the particles of the universe to manifest whatever we fancy.

"black dog" by elsh on Red Bubble; All Rights: elsh

“black dog” by elsh on Red Bubble; All Rights: elsh

Rhetorical Appeal and Cloudy Concepts

 The writings of Byrne and the Hicks’s rely on naïve presentation designed to secure naïve uptake.  Paradoxically, the philosophical thinness and complete lack of density mobilized through vacuously indeterminate concepts work to make them user-friendly and assimilable. Counter-intuitively, the weakness of these concepts are their strength. The more vague and indeterminate a notion, the more Protean it becomes. That is, the crude and flimsy nature of the idea is the secret of its powerful appeal, together with the indeterminacy of the language of vibrations mobilized to prop it up.  Factor in a superficially undemanding authorial address masquerading as humility in the face of received wisdom. Byrne relies on a bricolage of decontextualized quotes and constant reverential references to dubious self-selected “authorities.” The Hicks’s appeal to an even higher authority: a paternal entity, or more precisely a prosopopoeic agglomeration of entities from another dimension, biblically entitled “Abraham,” apparently “channelled” through Esther. The books deploy a heavy-handed tactic of constant repetition and emphasis where key words and phrases are tirelessly invoked in sentence after sentence. No thinking required. Relax. This is the story of “Creation.” Here are the (question-begging) answers.

The ‘Law of Attraction,’ if followed correctly, elevates you to the status of a God. Create your own reality. We are not talking helpful psychological attitudes here, but material creation. According to Byrne, your thoughts become things! (TS, p. 9, my emphasis). Each one of us, she exhorts, is the locus for an infinite power of creation. Or, adding in the auspices of A-H Source, you are co-creating with the universe. Gosh. Feels good, doesn’t it? This is, above all, a set of infantilizing feel-good books which suasively bypass any critical thinking. Critical thinking is too negative. And you want it to work, to be true, don’t you? Of course you do! That’s the predatory purchase of these books; they latch straight into childhood fantasy and fairy-tale. That’s the patronizing secret appeal. You are being offered a fiction, an Aladdin’s lamp. The scope is breath-taking, Prometheus has nothing on this. It promises, like the archetypal Fairy Godmother or a benevolent genie, that all is within your power. Byrne explicitly embraces the genie metaphor throughout The Secret; the LOA is an Aladdin’s lamp (TS, pp. 45-6), deathlessly reiterating that the Genie is the ‘Law of Attraction.’ But better, she says – you are not limited to only three wishes. Furthermore, there is no Goddish judgement involved for the Law is neutral and impersonal. The only criterion for evaluating what you wish to manifest is a feeling; whether you feel good or not, ‘all the things that you consider to be good, are dependent on the way you are feeling right now’ (AG, p.89). That’s it. You might feel good about murdering a child. It doesn’t matter because the child attracted its own death, ‘everything that happens to you is all your own doing’ (AG, p. 128).

You are immune from any moral judgement apropos objects of desire or whatever makes you feel good. Do not worry about children, ‘or about anyone’ (AG, p. 102), ‘Do not try to save the world; save yourself’ (AG, p. 256).

Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp; The Arabian Nights

How is the LOA supposed to work?

Again, the rhetoric is all important. The ‘Like Attracts Like’ thesis hinges on the opacity of the notion of “vibrations,” which in turn harmonically orchestrate a scale of “octaves” and “frequencies”. This is a New Age jargon of authenticity. These terms are speculatively plucked from the Musica Universalis by much of New Age thought. This word, and, in the A-H teachings, the sister concepts of Energy and Source (a vague version of Plotinus where the metastatic One “emanates” existence) crop up like wearying Jack-in-the-Boxes at every turn, often in Important Authoritative Capital Letters, and as if mere asseveration, Upper Case, and repetition can replace persuasive argument. Note that it is one thing to call upon a register of metaphors such as “vibrations” to gesture towards something that cannot be cognized, but quite another to be reflexively unaware of the status of these metaphors as tropes. This does not suit either Byrne or A-H.  They would rather you apprehend vibrations as actual physical features of the Universe. Byrne bolsters up the credibility of “vibrations” with declamations insisting that ‘Quantum physicists tell us that the entire Universe emerged from thought!’ (TS, p. 15). Given that she does not understand basic magnetic polarity it is almost hysterically funny that she appears to comprehend and appeal to the field of quantum mechanics, ‘when I read complex books on quantum mechanics I understood them perfectly’ (TS, p. 156). But there is an escape-hatch. You do not need to understand the nature of vibrations. Byrne bypasses explanation, as usual, by substituting analogy. We don’t know how broadcast frequencies are transformed into television pictures (TS, p. 10), ergo no need to understand vibrations. Predictably, the claim is then made that you too are a transmission tower (TS, p. 11, see also AG, p. 39). If you don’t like the picture the world presents to you, all you have to do is ‘change the channel and change the frequency by changing your thoughts’ (TS, p. 11).  If you are looking for proof of that you won’t find it here. The only evidence for the efficacy of the Secret is strategically anecdotal.

Logic and Method

Once we concede or agree that somehow everything is the same, it’s all “vibrations”, and all is connected energetically (to verbalise the noun, as if it is an active agency) then the attenuated conceptual space is created to start talking about the possibility of marrying up vibrational signals, frequencies, alignments or blockages. Remembering that all is the same vibrational energy – mind, body, spirit, matter, grass, colours, toast – the simplistic idea is that you can affect one vibration with another. That is, pull other parts of the universe (things, situations, money, and so on) towards you if you “match up” the vibrational frequency. You can attract whatever you desire, ‘all you require is YOU, and your ability to think things into being’ (TS, p.57). You can summon up whatever you desire by deliberate intent, focus, directed thought, and feeling good. What constitutes “good,” as if that is entirely unequivocal, unilateral and unambiguous, is not analysed. It is situated as entirely subjective. Correlatively, anything that makes you feel “bad” must be repressed or moved on from irrespective of context. Such “bad” feelings are to be replaced as quickly as possible by shifting your attention to something that makes you feel better. Anything you like, even if it is abusive to others, there is no prohibition on what makes you feel good. That there could be a problem with what you want doesn’t occur to Byrne, Esther, Jerry or “Abraham”. There is no cultural or economic analysis concerning the creation of desirable “goods.” There is no consideration of value. I hunted in vain for any secret moral or ethical note or even a small neophyte octave or a very teeny, tiny, tinkling sub-atomic vibration. Nothing. Mapping onto the neutrality of the “Law”, it’s “anything goes,” ‘Whatever you choose for You is right’ (TS, p. 179). There is no analysis or interrogation in either Byrne or the Hicks’s concerning the nature of thought or the structure of desire. In this solipsist Berkeley-esque Universe it’s esse est percipi (essence is perception), but with the twist of mind becoming matter. The nature of thought and desire are simply taken as self-evident, univocal, self-legitimating and transparent.

As long as you want it, it doesn’t matter what it is, where it came from, or what value it might possess. There is no concern whatsoever for motivation or value. Does it really not matter what we desire or why we desire it? Does it really not matter who else might be trampled or destroyed under our unexamined desires?

Taken from Annabelle Magazine; All Rights Reserved.

Taken from Annabelle Magazine; All Rights Reserved.

Concept and Existence: A Smidgen of Kant and Hegel

The cornerstone or central plank animating the ‘Law of Attraction’ is the postulate that we are all made of the same “stuff”: vibrations, ‘We are all connected, we are all One’ (TS, p. 175). The term, sometimes unhelpfully substituted with or allied to those of “Energy” (‘Everything is energy’ TS, p. 175), “Frequencies” or “Source”, comprise a mobile army of metaphors pressed into the philosophical work of unification. On this view, difference becomes a dispensable moment, a metaphysical illusion. Everything is connected and essentially the same. Really?  Hegel supplies a conceptual corrective and Kant an existential one. Here’s Hegel, ‘Unity, difference, and relation are categories each of which is nothing in and for itself, but only in relation to its opposite, and they cannot therefore be separated from one another’ (PS, p. 219). The notion of unity is comprehended only through its “other,” or what it excludes in relation to itself. This applies to all binary oppositions.

This gets us so far and no further. Let’s ask that question again: Really? The ‘Law of Attraction,’ and its resonating octaval racket, we are exhorted to believe, is a “law of nature” (TS, p. 13). The notion that everything is composed of vibrations is presented as if substantive, as if possessed of physical essence. Here is our sleight of hand, the transformation of thought into thing. The concept of vibration is conflated with actual existence, as if that inevitably follows, in a weak echo of Descartes’ attempt to prove the existence of God – although Byrne and Abraham-Hicks don’t respect your intelligence sufficiently to bother with a burden of proof. They present the ideas of Source, Vibrations, Energy, Whatever, as if they actually exist. The confusion is an illegitimate move from a concept to existence. It seems almost unseemly to bring the rebarbative prose of Kant in to deal with something this superficial but I will let him do the job anyway. Kant explains, ‘…in dealing with objects of pure thought, we have no means whatsoever of knowing their existence’ (CPR, p. 504). He continues, ‘Whatever, therefore, and however much our concept of an object may contain, we must go outside it, if we are to ascribe existence to the object’ (CPR, p. 506). In other words, to ascribe existence to an object of thought (such as Vibrations) requires synthetic knowledge, or knowledge from experience, a posteriori. All existential propositions are synthetic. Again, ‘the concept of a supreme being [substitute any ens realissimum] is in many respects a very useful idea; but just because it is a mere idea, it is altogether incapable, by itself alone, of enlarging our knowledge in regard to what exists’ (CPR, p. 506; my insertion). To paraphrase, and to recall the quote from Adorno, the actual existence of an object (God, Source, Vibrations) is not analytically contained in the concept. To put it yet another way, forming an a priori concept of, say, Vibrations where existence is supposed to be included in the concept, tells us nothing whatsoever about the ontological existence of the concept.  Existence is simply being presupposed.  Just because you can conceive of something does not automatically mean that it exists. Unicorns might be a good example here… We’ll move on.

Unicorns, 1675.

Defence: Positivity

Still, you might want to say, even if the LOA doesn’t stand up to close logico-existential scrutiny, isn’t it a helpful optimism? The LOA feeds straight into the current obsession with optimism, which has been accepted as if it were tautologically true by definition that optimism is necessarily a “good thing” in and of its undifferentiated self. This recalls the previous failure to analyse the nature of conceptual thought where it was impossible to ditch difference in favour of sameness or unity. Here we have a similar failure, this time in terms of the negative and the positive, and a similar existential conjuring trick. This hinges on the unanalysed and decontextualized concepts of “good” and “bad” which, although not strictly homologous, can be provisionally slotted onto those of “optimism” and “pessimism”, or better yet “abundance” and “lack”. Still, you might insist, never mind all that, is it not always useful to remain positive and optimistic? No. The current flat notion of “optimism” misappropriates the concept of “optimal” in Leibniz. Taken as a fluffy absolute, the credo places a taboo on the expression of important forms of human emotional life, simultaneously disengaging involvement with others. Furthermore, it comprises a negation of the potential of “negative” emotions to instigate transformation.

Put minimally, disappointment and dissatisfaction can be catalysts of pro-active change. It comprises a categorical negation of negation, and a flatly indeterminate one at that. It simultaneously invites and covers over a loss of loss. Sacked from your job? It’s an opportunity. Lost a loved one?  See it as a lesson in moving on from grief. Conversely, one’s “positive” actions in the world might not be innocuous or beneficial in relation to others. There is no internal criterion of justification for optimism. It is not and cannot be a self-validating value. One cannot rescue the LOA by an appeal to optimism or “the positive”. They are both meaningless when disinterred from all context. The indeterminate inverse is not just divisive but metonymically hijacked into a complete destruction of self-worth.  “Negative” is supposedly “bad” by definition too. Are you a toxic, negative person, full of doubt and anxiety? Negativity must be referred to the horizons which inform it. There is no such thing as a “negative” person, as if that somehow exhausts, defines, and condemns one’s entire personhood.  This is another cruelty hiding in the back porch of the LOA. The elasticity of a diffuse concept of “negativity” or better yet infectious “negative energy” (TS, p. 132) hides a judgement and furthermore a judgement arising from a shared ideological structure. That is, our commonality and our reliance on others is assumed and re-imported at every turn. This also applies to those LOA apologists who insist that the negative is not so much denied as a dispensable moment there to remind or guide us back to the path of the Positive or the Good.

Illustration Harry Clarke for the 1925 Edition of Goethe's "Faust."

Illustration by Harry Clarke for the 1925 Edition of Goethe’s “Faust.”

Ugly Consequences

The texts promise not a little, and not a lot. That’s not enough for the Promethean Western Super Subject. The LOA promises everything, ‘The Secret can give you whatever you want’ (TS, p. xi), ‘You can do anything you want’ (TS, p. 170). The grandiose audacity is staggering, and even immortality is within our reach. We only die because we expect to (AG, p. 287 and elsewhere). Quite a claim (see also TS, p. 131 for the secret to eternal youth)! Which, apart from its blatant disregard for cellular proptosis, fails to account for sudden and unexpected accidental death. There you were, happily tootling along thinking pleasant thoughts, feeling good and terribly positive, when the oncoming articulated lorry swerved into your path. Or consider the case of a paranoid schizophrenic dangling out of a window under the delusion of impervious immortality or an ability to fly. Or a child with no conception of mortality as it teeters on the edge of a balcony. And so on. One could enumerate so many obvious counter-examples that it seems ludicrous to do so. More precisely, ‘Whether the trauma to your body seemed to come suddenly as the result of an accident or whether it came from a disease such as cancer, you have created the situation through your thought’ (MLA, p. 113).

The promise of immense idiosyncratic power renders many adherents blinkered to the pitiless and inhumane implications. We should all be familiar with Rhonda Byrne’s intimation during an interview that the Tsunami victims of 2006 brought it upon themselves by being on the same “frequency as the event” even if they had not been thinking of it directly. Or for a period of time, one supposes, and contra the book. On this risible logic, presumably the same can be said of 9/11 and the 6 million Jews and the 5 million other “minorities” who died in the Holocaust. One could append an entire taxonomy of collective human atrocity and misery. But, according to A-H, ‘every death is self-imposed’ (AG, p. 291, MLA, p. 165).

How are you supposed to control your vibrations? According to both Byrne and Esther/Jerry/Abraham, you have an emotional guidance system. If a thought makes you feel good then you are on the way to attracting what you want. According to E/J/A, ‘you are manifesting the essence of what you are thinking about’ (APD, p. 27, my emphasis). They enjoin you to focus on “allowing” and “appreciation” and all good things will come your way. ‘Like attracts Like.’ Substantively, in concreto. You have the power (if you apply thought “correctly”: the catch-all get-out clause) to actually create your world in a brick-like fashion. You can manifest a Rhondian necklace round your neck. Little you can do that. But watch out, there’s a corollary, a necessary corollary on this logic, ‘unwanted things cannot just jump into your life uninvited’ (AG, p. 101, my emphasis). Here’s our cosmological explanation for evil. Anything bad that happens to you is also because you invited or attracted it to you. Mugged on the way home? You invited it. It’s not the mugger’s fault. He was probably working on manifesting a person to mug. Indeed, quite how conflicting intentions and desires all fit together is mind-boggling. Here we get to the uglier not-so-feel-good part of the LOA. A few examples of the consequences of the LOA:

Raped? You asked for it.

Domestic violence? You weren’t offering the right vibrations.

Tortured? Your fault.

Aunt died from cancer? She wasn’t letting Well-Being in. Furthermore, it is useless to try to cure disease, it’s all caused by vibrations (MLA, p. 114). There is even a fantastic claim that when the media broadcasts that there are free flu shots available, it will spread the flu virus (MLA, p. 133).

Put on weight? You were thinking “fat thoughts”. ‘A person cannot think “thin thoughts” and be fat. It completely defies the law of attraction’ (TS, p. 58), again, ‘Food is not responsible for putting on weight’ (TS, p. 59). Astonishingly, an entire chapter is given over to the desirable conceit of being thin (see also MLA, pp. 167-172).

Poverty-stricken? ‘The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money coming to them with their thoughts’ (TS, p. 99). ‘There is no condition so severe that you cannot reverse it by choosing different thoughts (AG, p. 95). Apparently (and this should elicit speechless incredulity), that 1% of the population earns around 95% of all money earned has nothing to do with circumstance and economics. It’s because they understand the Secret (TS, p.6). Pretend and act as if you can afford whatever you want (TS, p.105). Credit crisis anyone? Unbelievably, ‘Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Jesus were not only prosperity teachers, but also millionaires themselves, with more affluent lifestyles than many present-day millionaires could conceive of’ (TS, p. 109). I dropped my tea in laughter. Has Byrne secretly found evidence of fossilized yachts, Rolex watches, and a Time Machine?

Didn’t manage to manifest? Didn’t attract a new car, a thin body, or money? This is because, ‘choosing different thoughts requires focus and practice’ (AG, p. 95). One must learn to soften a vibration of resistance to what one desires (AG, p. 197). You weren’t trying hard enough for long enough. You didn’t understand what “softening” could possibly mean. You have offered thoughts that disallow the natural flow of your abundance (AG, p.51). We don’t need a government, a police force, a jurisprudential system, hospitals, or even a Bill of Rights. We have the power to do without all that. Inter alia: we don’t need each other.

Ill health? No problem. That’s all psychosomatic, ‘every bit of it. No exceptions’ (AG, p.289), ‘physical pain is just an extension of emotion’ (AG, p. 289). To say that this trivializes pain, especially trauma suffered at the hands of another, is to state the blindingly obvious.  Even cancer can be cured if you change habitual patterns of thought that don’t let your entitlement to Well-Being in. Something Jerry Hicks manifestly failed to do. Byrne is no better, and visits us with yet another intellectually offensive extrapolation from science, ‘If our entire [cellular] bodies are replaced within a few years, as science has proven, how can it be that degeneration or illness remains in our bodies for years? It can only be held there by thought’ (TS, p. 130), ‘You can think your way to the perfect state of health, the perfect body, the perfect weight, and eternal youth’ (TS, p. 131). Again, ‘You cannot “catch” anything unless you think you can’ (TS, p. 132). That should cover everything from the common cold to the devastating effects of biological weapons. Deny suffering and give everyone a copy of The Secret instead. They will all want the perfect weight.

But what about unhealthy or abused babies? Are they not feeling pleasure and coherently thinking pleasant thoughts? Esther/Jerry/Abraham can answer that too. An unhealthy baby has ‘been exposed to a vibration, even in the womb, that caused them to disallow the Well-Being that would have been there otherwise’ (AG, p. 287). There is no further explanation for the origin of this unwanted vibration here.  Was it the baby or someone else? Caused? Does that mean one person can cause harm to another by thought alone? This ambiguity shifts to place the blame squarely on the baby in Money and the Law of Attraction, vibrations are offered ‘even when the child is still in the womb or is newly born’ (MLA, p. 116). Worse, it chooses to experience illness and suffering before it is born or incarnated (MLA, p. 122, and vast chunks of AG). Anyway, it doesn’t matter because once grown-up it can regenerate itself into wellness (AG, p. 287). Everything is ultimately harmless. Neutron bomb? If you are still alive you can regenerate yourself from your incinerated ashes. And remember that if no amount of vibrational alignment brings you what you want, it’s because you decided on a life of misery before you were born. This is a scabrous appeal to the ad hoc hypothesis.

How about nightmares? What if you manifest a monster? But there’s an answer to that. Such a simple one again, too. They reassure you that, no, ‘you do not create while you are dreaming’ (AG, p. 196). You only create while you are awake. No explanation for this is ever provided. Nothing obliges this exception. What if you are wide awake, attempting to “manifest” and it doesn’t work? You’re doing it wrong. To show you how to do it correctly there is a whole program laid out for how long to focus, how to gradually move and pivot up a scale of positive thoughts and feelings, and so on. There is plenty of scope for not getting it right. It doesn’t mean the ‘Law of Attraction’ is wrong. You’re just not doing it correctly! However the A-H teachings do let the monster back in: during a hotel stay the staff behaved atrociously because ‘they were simply being influenced by Esther’s dominant thought about them’ (MLA, p.35). Was she asleep? (see also MLA p. 56). Byrne – and this is equally catastrophic –  also allows for the possibility of manifesting a monster. People can draw bits of the universe to themselves, ‘consciously or unconsciously’ (TS, p. 104, my emphasis). She appears to have no idea of the powerful and disastrous nature of this concession. One presumes that this seemed a handy get-out clause for attracting something not consciously wanted; in fact it undermines the premise that one “attracts” only through conscious thought. With that one careless word, the entire project collapses.

Animals? Animal cruelty? According to Esther during a workshop – I believe it was in Ashland in 2000 – it’s all right if a child kicks your cat because the cat is teaching him a lesson. Animals don’t matter. Indeed, you could probably attract Well-Being back to the cat and the pain and violation it experiences is merely psychosomatic.

The pernicious consequences of this should be clear by now. Already we have a blame manifesto. The victim of circumstance or abuse is now a double victim. Not only did they attract it to themselves, however unwittingly, but they can be hit over the head with that thesis by somebody else. But it gets worse! How should we respond to someone in trouble? After all, we have already been told not to concentrate on bad news in the media, social injustices, the indigent, the abused, the starving, the impoverished, wars and atrocities. In case, given the matching vibration, we draw it upon ourselves (TS, pp. 144-5). In time, soothes “Abraham”, you won’t notice anything bad (MLA, p. 50, my emphasis).  I find that repulsive beyond description. Note the towering narcissism here: it’s all about making ONESELF feel good. You must pass the beggar by because you don’t want to feel bad. Too negative. This attracts the Indeterminate Negative. You might end up attracting beggarliness yourself (TS, p. 144). In any case, if beggars read all about the LOA they could manifest their own alms.

The LOA here becomes a pitiless mechanism for turning your back on a cry for help in the name of self-preservation. It’s their own fault they are suffering anyway. Not yours. Even at a psychological or therapeutic level, without requiring actual action or obliging any measure of pecuniary assistance, ‘you never help anyone by being their sounding-board for problems or complaints’ (MLA, p. 50). This amounts to ostracism and the exiling of needful human communication into a land of the forbidden. It punitively silences suffering. It’s brutal. ‘The only way unhappy people can stay in your experience is by your continuing attention to them’ (MLA, p. 52, their triple emphasis). The injunction to turn your back on others amounts to a prescription for radical loneliness and the creation of even greater unhappiness.

By extension this applies to the legal system, ‘there is no injustice’ (AG, p. 128). Best not to listen to a victim of assault. Now we have a triple victimhood. First, you caused it. Second, you are blamed for it. Third, you have no voice and may not speak of it.  Nobody should listen. As for why anyone would wish to harm another, the answer is as fatuous as all the others, ‘Do you know that no one offers any violent, or what you would call negative, behaviour who’s in alignment with Source?’ (MLA, p. 228, see also AG, p. 105). All wrong-doing and harm in the world is the result of a failure to be in alignment with Source. It’s a shame Socrates and all the rest kept the secret a secret for so long when all that human misery could have been avoided. In any case, this generates another paradox (there are too many to mention). When you are attacked and raped, is it because you attracted it, or because the rapist wasn’t properly in alignment with Source?

Gustave Moreau, “Prometheus,” 1868.

Conclusion

We can now see that the LOA is a chimera and one which necessarily produces, through its own logic, unacceptable and repellent consequences. It also presupposes what it attempts to exclude and deny.

Rather than suggest any kind of pragmatic program to foster change in the world, or any attempt whatsoever to revision and alter economic conditions or political structures, the onus in the LOA is displaced entirely away from the world and onto the individual as the repository of Titanic creative potency, although not in an Existentialist fashion. There is no responsibility involved. Forget value and the creation of meaning and worth. All you need do is focus on whatever immediacy makes you feel good, and everything will automatically follow from that, ‘It is exactly like placing an order with a catalogue’ (TS, p.48). Incidentally, you don’t have a choice, ‘The law responds to your thoughts no matter what they may be’ (TS, p.7). It is Law. It is inescapable. You are tethered and bound. This is how the Universe immutably operates, a ne plus ultra, and you are irremediably caught within its rules of operations whether you like it or not. It is Law! An unbreakable Law. The refusal to decline demolishes any deep sense of human choice or meaningful creation, in an ironic retraction and abnegation of the freedom it promises. As should be clear from the above, and contrary to expectations, the LOA is disempowering.

The ‘Law of Attraction’ amounts to a self-deceiving but highly marketable nihilism. The positive credo casts a dark shadow from within its own entrails: to repeat, it invites a cruel blame-game, and a selfish excuse to abandon others. No reference to economic or geographical specificity is ever negotiated – you may find it significantly harder to manifest a roof-top terrace garden, even one without a water-feature, if you are stuck in a war-zone. Having no coherent arguments may not have been entirely reprehensible, not everything can be attested to in the same way, but the vanity (in both senses: self-absorption and uselessness) with its emphasis on self-gratification, the failure to evaluate the nature of thought, pleasure, desire, or value (one could go on) together with the metaphysically justified evasions of social responsibility situate the LOA as completely inhuman, vicious and heartless.

It’s a shame to disappoint the poor little finite ego in its aspirations to become one of the Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation. But there it is.

***

KEY

TS      Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, London, 2006).

AG     Esther and Jerry Hicks, Ask and it is Given (Hay House UK Ltd, London, 2005).

APD   Esther and Jerry Hicks, The Amazing Power of Deliberate Intent (Hay House UK Ltd, London, 2006).

MLA  Esther and Jerry Hicks, Money and the Law of Attraction (Hay House UK Ltd, London, 2008).

PS      G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977).

CPR   Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (Macmillan Education Ltd, Hampshire, 1986).

Note: The Hicks’s have also published The Astonishing Power of Emotions and The Vortex but I couldn’t manage an over-abundance of the same. These three texts are quite sufficient, thank you.  Got the point. Any more would have disallowed my well-being.

***

DonnaHBrody

Fascinated by philosophical issues and the cross-over between philosophy and literature, Donna Hazel studied for a First Class BA Hons in both, followed by an MA and a PhD in Continental Philosophy. One of her interests concerned the notion of what is “exterior” to cognition: how can that be reprised and how can it be said in a language that does not reduce it back to the knowable? Having had experiences immune from the auspices of argument, she was intrigued with the Tarot. You can find her on a novice start-up blog, experimenting with a few possibilities at www.tarotdontarot.blogspot.com.

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19 responses to “Vanitas and the ‘Law of Attraction’: Promethean Rebound

  1. I have been trying to shoehorn myself into belief in LOA for almost a year, now. I’ve had a seriously mixed bag of results.

    But there was always a glaringly potent intellectual-blind-eye I had to turn to my rational thinking, in order to Kierkegaard – fideism – myself into believing in LOA.

    And I’ve been low-balling – creating reasons WHY belief in LOA “must” be true or useful – because I spent a whole bunch of time studying it and needed to justify that expenditure to myself.

    But I see now that LOA is irrational and it’s implications are not only unexamined and scary, but unhelpful and disempowering. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Hi Casanova,
      Thank you so much for your comment. It makes the article worth the effort! I think that happens a lot – one can read something and feel uneasy – yet not quite see why. But the hunch is usually correct. Especially with this. A lot of other people have voiced a similar hesitation. I’m really pleased to have been given the opportunity to untangle the logic.

      • You’re welcome!!! :D

        I should add – this is NOT to say, fyi, that I believe that everything to do with intention and energy and vibe and quantum entanglements and synchronicity aren’t potentially worth exploring, just that the very specific formulation of LOA is simply unworkable.

        You’re amazing, btw. I envy your facility with logic.

  2. I have some trouble with what she is saying. Think positive and you shall be ok. You don’t need anyone. I am not sure about that. I have been an athlete for the first 21 years of my life. I was narcissistic and thought I could do whatever and trample over anyone I needed to in order to live a thoughtless and gluttonous life. I was fit both mentally and physically and had all the emotional, mental and physical needs satisfied. However, until I lost the one piece of the puzzle in my preconceived prefect positive life, my world came caving in. Everything fell apart no matter how hard I tried to be positive. Have you ever had a smile on your face even though you couldn’t lift your head up to drink your favorite beverage, I am 32 now and have become accustomed to the solitary life. I have me good days and bad ones, and I can get a little cranky in the morning when i’m up all night following my favorite personas;) I am also not my ideal body image but I am comfortable because I’m not a testosterone filled arrogant prick anymore. I think it is just the evolution of being and the ability to communicate with media which is important. So, all in all, think positive OK but also come to realization of some sort of reality if you can still believe in one.

      • I think that’s right, Justin, sometimes it’s when something comes crashing down that we start to realize we do need other people and/or a reappraisal of reality.
        Casanova, thank you, and I entirely agree that all those notions shouldn’t be thrown out without further inspection; it’s all fascinating from various points of view, and worth exploring. Often when something doesn’t stand up to inspection it helps clarify both your own position and others that are presented to you. But yep, this version is unworkable. Some beliefs are harmless, even if delusory, but this one injures others. Which is also to injure oneself. There’s a political philosopher called Jean-Luc Nancy who thinks of community as “partage” where he wants to say that community is both commonality or sharing AND a recognition of division: the one is sustained by the other. He has an expression, ‘toi (e(s)t) (tout autre que) moi’ – you are me, and at once wholly other than me. So we can think sameness and difference or otherness without collapsing the one into the other. That is, by privileging the individual as in the LOA we actually destroy ourselves as individuals. If that makes sense as I’ve been rather formulaic.

  3. I use to think the drive to be an individual was a matter of consumerism. However to function what are we seeing. Mass production of goods to walmart, target and other outlets where the amount of money one has makes it difficult to be an individual concerning ones look. Don’t get me wrong their is vintage shops out their in the bigger cities. So yes our individuality does suffer and we breakdown to a mold. However, the struggle within is not the same for everyone and everyone does not reach this level for a lack of a better term. As a result, diversity in community create individuals who are ready to explore ideally. Being xenophobic only stifles ones personal development. However, xenophobic outbursts are needed in order for one to understand what that really means. In the end I interpret what you are saying as their being one force we should all give in to.[ End of time and of history- Fukyama]

    • Hmmm… I think you need to read a bit more carefully, Justin. I, for one, have no idea what you’re talking about.

      Instead of making general statements that have nothing to do with the text, it might be more prudent to take one small quote from the actual text that you’re absolutely certain that you understand contextually, cite it to start, and then move on from there making certain that you stay on point.

      Barring that, please refrain from commenting. I have no interest in wild, random tangents cluttering the comments. It’s just pollution. The next one won’t make it through the censor, i.e. me. Final warning.

      Heads up, and take care,
      Kelsey

  4. I was simply explaining the evolution of the modern individual and the stages or steps one needs to get their. This encompasses more than being positive it is the evolution of being and the society which you cannot exclude for one to get their. Sorry

    • Donna is NOT an advocate of LOA, nor am I. And your critiques are covered by Donna in this article… making your comments seem incredibly, appallingly rude — like you want to comment and say your spiel without listening to others first. I can’t and won’t abide that. No way, no how. And if it happens again, I will simply delete it. You are welcome to comment on posts, but you MUST engage the post itself.

  5. Justin, I’m not sure whether you were trying to engage with the notion of “partage” in my previous comment, but this was at a deep formal and structural level, not about ideological formations, i.e. whether a certain type of clothing or appearance conforms to a dominant ideology concerning what it is to be “unique” or perhaps a “unique individual”, where one is accorded status or worth by having the financial resources to “stand out from the crowd” rather than, say, wearing mass-issue Walmart attire. I assume that’s what you are getting at. You are working with a cultural determination of what comprises “individual” versus “conformity” (where the former is accorded a greater value on this reckoning) rather than the conceptual logic involved in thinking sameness (you are me) and difference (you are [also] other than me). To put it another way, you are not addressing what is involved in being able to think of yourself as an irreducible “I” in relation to others. This has nothing to do with standing out from the crowd.
    I’m assuming that your discussion concerning the “cult of the individual” leads you into designating a desirable objection to that as “xenophobia”. However, xenophobia is an irrational fear of what is apprehended as foreign. I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply that we should act from irrational fear?
    I have NO idea why you think I am claiming that there is one force we should all give in to. There, sadly, my comprehension fails. Spell your connections out.
    Finally, this leads me to reinforce Kelsey’s reply and further insist that it is important to anchor your comments or observations quite clearly in the actual content of the post or this starts to look like the Philosophical Ramblers Association.

  6. If you are a irreducible ‘I’ what do you become? To me that means anyone can be with or attracted to anyone. Their is an implied sameness to everyone. However, class is left out here and think it should be included. For example, I can be attracted to a celebrity but in no way will they be attracted back in most cases. Maybe one can argue one can have a platonic relationship or attraction as colleagues of friends but one of the individuals will end up in the negative realm of thoughts. Thank you is this what you mean?

  7. No. It isn’t what I mean. But this isn’t the place for a general philosophical discussion which strays into diverse areas not closely related to the article.

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