The self-help industry often been attributed as a source of inspiration and useful principle for many people. But I have raised problems about it, that it is sometimes being used to condemn people to the point of harming them at times. That's what I theorized in my article about The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.
|Napoleon Hill, writer of many 'self-help' books; |
but was this part of an industrialist plot to quell worker dissent?
The Secret itself is a refurbishing of what is often called MagicalVoluntarism, the belief that as long as people will for something strongly enough, it will be magically be 100% certain success for them, whether they take action or not. In other words, they will get what they want and life will be easy as long as they want it hard enough ("focus your mind" or "work hard enough"). This actually panders to people with sense of entitlement and may actually have the effect of making people more mendicant, covetous and arrogant rather than responsible.
One of the problems with this belief, aside from its being disproved in many cases, is that it has a sense of condemnation against the person who does not seem to follow it.
This is often reflected in many myths about poverty. These myths include, "People are poor because they are lazy or stupid," "Those living in poverty just want to stay there," and "America is the land of opportunity and if you work hard enough, you will succeed and move up the ladder of success." Thus, those who are poor and fail are explained to be the ones to blame for their problems. One should not blame racism, discrimination or any other external force for their misfortune.
Napoleon Hill, one of the first and most iconic "self-help" writers, said that his work was inspired by a directive to discover the "secret" of rich and successful businessmen and leaders like industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Of course, one may question Hill's methods of research, because they were probably done not according to the most modern rules of empirical research. But after looking at his points, it seems he holds the same ideas as the above; that "poor people are lazy" and those who are not "successful" have only themselves to blame. So Hill may have been part of a move to vilify the poor and quell dissent against his rich bosses. Note that Hill's time was when various unions were being organized to campaign for workers' rights. The Robber Barons or large business owners of the time wanted to prevent this since they feared it would cripple or kill their businesses, sometimes resorting to violence. Who knows if Hill's superiors were supporting these businesses, and they resorted to the method of propaganda, developing a quelling formula that even the workers themselves may believe.
It's eerilly similar to how Barbara Ehrenreich described how so-called positive thinking has been used to quell dissent against those who dismissed warnings of the 2008 crisis.
Think about it. If a person believing in the above sees poor people today, they're likely to condemn the poor and refuse to extend help the poor people need it. Perhaps someone else will help the poor, but even worse is that believers in the "poor people are lazy" philosophy may even obstruct proper help to the poor. This is wrongdoing, because it has threatened the poor person's well-being and security, which are at risk in the first place. In other words, it may have violated someone else's human rights. The richer people may say, their security has been threatened by the existence of the poor, but there is no proof of a threat. Rich people, being unable to relate to the problems that poverty brings against well-being and security, are unable to relate and become cold and cruel against genuinely suffering people.
Thus, it may be that the real reason for development of "self-help" content was to ensure impunity for the rich, and subdue labor rights movements. While Napoleon Hill is not the first to come up with Magical Voluntarism ideals (that may be traced to New Thought and Word of Faith beliefs, and Wallace Wattles' The Science of Getting Rich), he may have been tapped to use these and produce these "anti-poor" philosophies. These later spread throughout the United States as popularly held views, but are often more held by pro-corporate parties and other vested interest groups (think ALEC).
Some people may claim that Magical Voluntarism and the "poor people are lazy" philosophy is the way to end the problem of mendicancy in the Philippines. But this reasoning has flaws. First, it is not only the poor who have mendicants, but even the middle class and rich have mendicants (yes, the rich, especially if they just inherited their wealth and do not work). Second, exploitation of the poor by the rich remains a fact. It is not merely a popular view, since much evidence exists to qualify this assertion. Third, the beliefs of Magical Voluntarism actually encourage mendicancy, as I explained earlier about The Secret.
History has been full of exploitation. Slave labor had been outlawed only in recent times, but there are still countries that practice it. Even today, there are still entities that seek to limit the rights of others so that they could gain advantages and privileges for themselves. They want their own comfort at the expense of others. They are likely the ones promoting the myths about poverty in order to prevent actions to solve it.
Like I said before, positive thinking is fine, but it's not an absolute law for success and prosperity. But positive thinking can be misused as a weapon of abuse, a tool to brainwash people and depower them from truly solving their own lives. I am for poor people not giving up and continuing to make efforts to bring themselves out of povery. But not everyone can be successful on their own, and they need help.