Dear Knights of the Brotherhood,
Howdy! I hope everyone’s summer is off to a swell start, and that, wherever this newsletter finds you, you are healthy, happy, and as intent as ever on clandestinely controlling every facet of global influence with the quiet and cruel fist of the élite.
It is an exciting time to be in the Illuminati! We have just welcomed a whole slew of wonderful new members into our family, all of whom look forward to meeting you at one of our bi-monthly meet-and-greets hosted by Rupert Murdoch, hitting the links for a round of golf on the recently reopened Clear Channel eighteen-hole course, or even just talking universal suppression of the common man over a highball in the newly refurbished NATO Oasis Lounge. And that’s just the beginning! So please do not hesitate to introduce yourself to our neophytes: Lupita Nyong’o, Ted Cruz, Michael Sam, Savannah Guthrie, and (yes, finally!) Blue Ivy Carter. Welcome, Fledgling Mercenaries of the New World Order!
But, first things first—I want to thank everyone for such a terrific turnout at our Viva La Revolución Fiesta Fundraiser back in March. I mean, wow! Go, team! With your help, we raised over 1.2 trillion dollars. Not too shabby! That money will go directly into bolstering bastions of religious influence in Latin America, pumping psychoactive carcinogens into domestic water supplies, and a long overdue paint job in the women’s locker room. Major props to Chuck Todd, Ludacris, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for putting in so much time and effort, as well as Jamba Juice and the Banco Central de Chile for making the night possible. You guys literally rule!
Now, August may feel far away, but trust me, enlightened few, Family Fun Night is just around the corner. Remember, this year’s theme is “proletariat fools,” so please tell your kids to start picking out their favorite naïve peon for the costume contest. First prize is two hundred dollars cash and a future ambassadorship.
Since publishing “The Secret,” in 2006, the Australian author Rhonda Byrne has been writing self-help manifestos based on the idea that people who think positive thoughts are rewarded with happiness, wealth, influence, wisdom, and success. In November, 2013, she published “Hero,” the fourth book in the series. The book showcases the wisdom of twelve heroes—businesspeople, sports stars, writers, and philanthropists. Byrne’s idea isn’t new—it’s been a mainstay among greeting-card companies, motivational speakers, and school teachers for decades—but she’s become one of its most visible prophets. “The way to change a lack of belief is very simple,” Byrne writes. “Begin thinking the opposite thoughts to what you’ve been thinking about yourself: that you can do it, and that you have everything within you to do it.”
There’s some truth to Byrne’s ideas about the relationship between thought and action. New inventions emerge after their inventors struggle through years of planning and mental preparation, for example. When people have a condition called somatization disorder, their psychological or emotional distress can manifest in physical symptoms—joint pain, headaches, even seizures. Byrne is also right to emphasize the stubbornness of thought. Once you think something, it is very difficult to eradicate that idea from your mind. The late, brilliant social psychologist Dan Wegner described this as the great irony of mental control: in order to insure that you aren’t thinking about an unwanted idea, you have to continually turn your mind to that very idea. How do you know that you aren’t thinking of a white bear driving a red Ferrari unless you think about whether you’re thinking it?
The books have many adherents; most of their Amazon reviewers give them five stars. But they also have detractors. One criticism is that the books use a technique popularized by fitness gurus: when you see actors with tanned, chiseled bodies promoting a new piece of fitness equipment, you get the sense that they aren’t in excellent shape because they’ve spent hours using that particular machine. More likely, they jog or lift weights, or have great genes or a lightning-fast metabolism, or have some combination of these characteristics. It’s just as hard to believe that the heroes in Byrne’s books—let alone a feverishly productive polymath like Goethe or the notoriously irritable Beethoven—succeeded because they cultivated good thoughts. Moreover, as the journalist Oliver Burkeman noted in “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking,” “Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good.”
Burkeman is onto something. According to a great deal of research, positive fantasies may lessen your chances of succeeding.