The self-help SHAM

I was going to blog more about Miers. Add my little pet theory about this so-called conservative revolt to the cesspool of mindless speculation that is the Internet. But I decided: Nah! Let's go with self-help gurus instead.

Here's Stephen Salerno's take on the Self-Help and Actualization Movement (as in SHAM) as spelled out in his book:


SHAM is based on two different philosophies - victimisation and empowerment - which can only make people's problems worse. Victimisation preaches that everybody's life is fucked up - and if you don't know it, you're really fucked up. Everything bad that happens to you is somebody else's fault, generally your parents'. This tends to spawn suspicious individuals, who are permanently in recovery. They 'believe nothing and believe in nothing'. Empowerment, by contrast, is about mind over matter. If you believe that you will be a 'winner', you will be. This sets people up for a fall, when they discover that self-belief alone cannot move mountains. [LINK]
Salerno also argues that these self-help gurus are destroying American society, a contention that reviewer Josie Appleton disagrees with. She instead claims that these "phonies" are reflections of an already flailing society:
It's only a society that has lost its moorings that can be seized by charlatans. Rasputin preyed on the decadence of the Tsarist regime in early twentieth century Russia, using his mystic cures to work his way into the elite's courtrooms and bedrooms. Self-help gurus are really just parasites, preying on the weakness of the social organism. Exposing gurus as shams won't make them vanish. They will only be out of a job when we get our heads straight.
Like Appleton, I believe that the overweening power of self-help gurus is derived from the very real desire of so many people to give up control over their lives. Pick up any self-help book and its message -- even if it contains genuinely useful information, i.e. recycled common sense -- is always the same: Since I'm the possessor of truth, why don't you do yourself a favor and turn your addled brain off.

These books can offer remedies that work in the short run, but their intent in the long run is to make us dependent. Before you know it, you can't order a meal without consulting your South Beach diet book; date without fear of running afoul of the latest version of The Rules etc. None of which is especially helpful to the self in question. It's true that we don't know how many people read self-help books or other materials with that kind of dog-like devotion, but this is a $8.5 billion industry.

So here's where I come down on this debate: when read with the requisite measure of skepticism -- i.e. ignore anything that doesn't make sense to your little brain -- even a hokey book like "The Easy Way to Stop Smoking" can be useful. It was the first and last self-help book I've read. And I don't intend to return to the genre any time soon if only because I hate being bullied. And that's exactly what it feels like.
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