Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’
Planning and dreamin’ each night of his charms.
That won’t get you into his arms
So if your’re looking for love you can share
All you gotta to is hold him and kiss him and love him’
And show him that you care
– “Wishin’ and Hopin’” Originally by Dusty Springfield and covered by Ani DiFranco in My Best Friend’s Wedding Soundtrack
Brace yourself, dear readers. A personal development diarist (that’s me) is about to commit new-age, positive-thinking heresy.
The Law of Attraction is bollocks.
The Law of Attraction (LoA) posits that your thoughts – whether conscious or unconscious – create reality. What you think about magnetically ‘attracts’ that outcome. If you believe that you will win the lottery, then you will. If you worry that your partner is cheating, then she will. What you think about is your wish or intention that you broadcast to the universe and which, in turn, is answered by the universe. You create your own reality with your thoughts.
I call bullshit.
First, just from a rhetorical perspective, the formulation of the LoA is a tautology. A tautology is a circular, self referential argument in which the conclusion is the same as the premis. An example of a tautology is something like this: It will work because it is right, and it is right because it works.
Or, in LoA language: You create your reality with your thoughts, so what you think becomes reality. If it your thoughts did not become reality, then you didn’t think them or believe in them hard enough. Tell me what you want, what you really really want…I wanna I wanna I wanna I wanna really really really wanna zigazig ha.
Oh I’m sorry, did I inadvertently slip from the Law of Attraction into a Spice Girls song? It’s an easy mistake to make.
Back to tautologies. In addition to being an example of sloppy, circular logic, a tautology is also an unfalsifiable and fundamentally uninformative argument. If, for example, every single object in the universe is the colour green, then what does green describe? If everything is ruled in, then what is ruled out?
That kind of argument, dear readers, will get you a whole lot of professorial red scrawls on your university essays. It is just sloppy thinking. And you should NOT run your life according to sloppy thinking. I’m just saying.
Now, let’s talk about the very name, the “Law” of Attraction. Calling this tautology a ‘law’ is a linguistic trick to lend the weight of science to a motto or a personal mantra. Calling it a law is an attempt to lend credence to a hypothesis by aligning it with scientific principles and proven natural laws. Like gravity. Look, we can document gravity. Climb a tree. Drop an apple. That, my darlings, is what a mofo ‘natural law’ looks like.
Now, back to the pseudo-scientific construction of this so-called natural law. All of the evidence offered by proponents of the LoA is anecdotal, which means that it is intrinsically flawed because it passes through the bias of self-selection. Personally, I’m all about the anecdote – I’m a writer, after all – but I make no claims that my anecdotes are scientific evidence. Anecdotes are not objective proof of anything. They are just word-paint – a way of illustrating your meaning. They are the primary tools of an artist, not a scientist.
I realize that all of this is a pretty academic and probably pretty boring argument. I’m playing tricks with language, rhetoric and logic, after all. Sexxxxxxxxy. (Well, I think so, but I’m a dork.)
Here’s something more compelling. The LoA relies on and encourages magical thinking.
Sounds harmless, right?
Magical thinking is when you observe two closely occuring events and decide that one has caused the other. Magical thinking is when you believe that the nursery rhyme “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” is predictive, prescriptive, and true. It is a stage of thinking in early child development and ultimately vanishes from the thinking of (most rational) adults. It is also a fundamental characteristic of disordered thinking and delusional and sometimes dangerous behavior.
The Law of Attraction is supposed to be empowering, right? Your reality, and your fate, is in your hands – or, more accurately, in your head. Well, when I hear stories like the unemployed guy who takes his last fifty bucks, unbeknownst to his wife, and buys lottery tickets, and wins, I don’t think LoA. I think ‘gambling problem’ and I see divorce and bankruptcy in his future, winnings or no.
Finally, the LoA is supposed to encourage optimism and personal accountability, but implicitly it constructs a blame-the-victim philosophy.
Is this how we wish to explain Darfur? Rwanda? Childhood cancer? Gang-rape? Lynching? Did Anne Frank wish to die ina concentration camp? Do babies dying of starvation have death wishes? Did the people in New Orleans wish Katrina into their lives? Is the LoA democratic? Once a critical mass of thought is reached, a tragic act-of-god occurs?
That is not just magical thinking – that is monstrous thinking.
Far from being empowering, the Law of Attraction encourages profound passivity. Think, hope, wish, and pray hard enough and the universe will deliver. You don’t have to crack a sweat or get an education or a job or anything tedious like that.
If, however, the universe does not come through for you, well that evidence is not enough to invalidate the Law of Attraction, it simply invalidates your efforts (such that they were). You simply didn’t believe hard enough. That’s a cool trick. I’m going to try it with my five year old when she decides she wants to fly.
Furthermore, there is a very real and very material value to confronting and managing obstacles rather than wishing around them. The constraints of reality fosters human creativity and engagement and community building. Magical thinking does not.
In short, BAH.
All of that being said, here is what I like, and think is useful about the Law of Attraction.
The Law of Attraction encourages people to take responsibility and accountability for their attitudes and the way that they approach life. I’m encouraged that so many people are attracted to that idea.
So even after this diatribe, you still like the Law of Attraction, I humbly suggest, that yes, you think positive, and let your actions fall in line with your values and beliefs. Go ahead and write your brief. Feel free to clarify your intentions. And then, for the love of pete, take what you’ve got and run with it. In the words of my beloved baldheaded Captain Picard, make it so.
Just please don’t think that reality exists only within the confines of your own noggin, because IT DOES NOT.
In fact, just beyond the end of your nose, there is a whole wacky, wonderful, wrenching world of people and events to experience. If you are too busy rigourously controlling your thoughts to venture out into it, then my darling I can tell you with great authority and even greater tenderness, you are missing out.
So, if you’re looking for love, go ahead and keep wishing and hoping and thinking and praying, and good luck with that.
However, if you actually want to find love, so sayeth the oracle Dusty Springfield, then you will probably need to to take some kind of action. I recommend going on a date or two (I’m available).
originally published May 6 2009