Bipolar Disorder: an op ed rant

by rthieme on March 1, 2007

No, I don’t mean the condition we used to call manic depression. I mean the compulsion of television news programs to divide every issue into yin and yang, for and against, two often arbitrary but always oppositional positions that polarize a discussion.

This method of “delivering issues” creates a false aura of importance, requiring opponents to shout at each other. Taking their cue from the hollering matches that pass for analysis, shouting heads have replaced talking heads on many cable stations. Even changing in the locker room at the fitness center, I am assaulted by sports pundits yelling about nothing and shouting each other down.

So the other morning, Matt Lauer welcomed one of the flim flam men hawking the latest New Age scam, The Secret, to the Today Show. The Secret, of course, is no secret. It is the oft repeated claim that “as you believe so shall you receive” that is repeated regularly in the self-help world because desperate people who can’t change their lives will always buy simplistic solutions to complex or ineradicable problems. The secret is as old as Napoleon Hill and the first recorded self-help material eighty years ago.

If self-help books worked, of course, there would be fewer of them each year, not more.

The Secret recycles the belief that we create or attract happiness, healing, prosperity, everything by believing as we do.

Except … (1) we don’t; and (2) it’s not a secret.

Yes, beliefs and intentions have a lot to do with what happens to us throughout our lives. I’ll tell you that for nothing. But beliefs do not determine everything. Some apples bonk us on our heads even if we believe we can fly.  Some boulders roll down hills and hit cars, some people leave others, some get sick through no fault of their own, some are poor because the marketplace does not reward their skills and safety nets have holes.  Lots of things get in the way that are not our fault and over which we have no control.

So yes, belief and intention create a lot of space in our lives, but not all of it, not everything, and sometimes, not at all.

Every time someone claims there’s a secret that they alone know and which they will sell, not give, you, it’s bogus. The secrets of Judaism and Christianity are open and available to everyone. There’s no secret to being a mensch or accepting sacrifice as the cost of personal transformation.

But I digress.

The silliness that prompted this bit is that Matt Lauer had to have two people arguing about this, one a snake-oil guy who was selling the book and DVD, the other a sane professional who pointed out how idiotic the other’s remarks were.

By presenting both sides as if they were equal, Lauer dignified the silliness and also amplified the selling of the book, the movie, the whole marketing scheme.

As they say in Hollywood, it’s not the money – it’s the money! If someone will buy it, someone will sell it. And you can bet that NBC or GE had a stake somewhere along the line.

Lauer concluded the “debate” by saying, you out there (that is, us), go read the book and buy the DVD and decide for yourself.

As Good Old Charlie Brown used to say: Aaaarrrrrrrggggghhhhhh!

You know what? The holocaust really happened. We landed on the moon. But if someone is on television to discuss the holocaust, there has to be a holocaust denier, a person with zero credibility and hate in their hearts to create a false opposition and attract viewers by the shrillness of their argument.

And the moon landing? Better have someone on who says it was staged.

Examples can be multiplied. The “news” programs do not present intelligent discussions by people behaving civilly. They set up brawls and call them “fights of the century.”

The real secret is out. You do not have to pay someone for it. Everything you need to know about how to live life is already known and in the public domain.  It’s available at the library, in religious services week in and week out, in books published long ago that have no special effects.

This commentary is free. It will never be amplified by Oprah. But mundane as it is, it is all true, and no secret.

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