Oct 30, 2011

Herman Cain: Napoleon Hill Fan?

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

I knew something sounded familiar about this staggering quote from Herman Cain regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks, if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself! ... It is not a person's fault if they succeeded, it is a person's fault if they failed.

I've placed it. Cain's statement sounds a lot like this little gem from Napleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich.


As discussed here, that's an exact quote -- all caps, bad grammar, and all. And I think it's a fairly heartless philosophy. Worse, as I've observed many times, much of "new thought" is basically apologia for the worst excesses of capitalism. It's little wonder that books like The Secret get the full sanction of the corporate media. (It's also, arguably, why James Arthur Ray got the kid gloves treatment throughout the sweat lodge trial.) Poor people have no one to blame but themselves. And having money and success equals legitimacy. Nothing to threaten the power structure there.

I can remember leafing through Hill's perennial favorite -- a book that's been in print since 1937 -- when I was working in a new age bookstore. It never really clicked for me, even when I was enjoying the works of other new thought leaders like Louise Hay and wanted desperately to believe that I could control everything with my thoughts and make all the bad things go away. Paging through a little of it now reminds me as to why Hill never really resonated. He says far too much that makes no sense at all. One needn't look much further than the passage from which I take the above quote to see how badly the book fails the basic logic test.

In planning to acquire your share of the riches, let no one influence you to scorn the dreamer. To win the big stakes in this changed world, you must catch the spirit of the great pioneers of the past, whose dreams have given to civilization all that it has of value, the spirit which serves as the life-blood of our own country, your opportunity and mine, to develop and market our talents.

Let us not forget, Columbus dreamed of an Unknown world, staked his life on the existence of such a world, and discovered it!

Copernicus, the great astronomer, dreamed of a multiplicity of worlds, and revealed them! No one denounced him as "impractical" after he had triumphed. Instead, the world worshipped at his shrine, thus proving once more that "SUCCESS REQUIRES NO APOLOGIES, FAILURE PERMITS NO ALIBIS."

So Hill had kind of a myopic view of history. While it's true that Copernicus's work is legendary and foundational to our current understanding of astronomy, his escape from negative consequences may have owed something to fact that he died of natural causes rather promptly after publishing on his heliocentric model. During his life, he kept a lot of his ideas close to the vest to protect himself from consequences.

About 1532 Copernicus had basically completed his work on the manuscript of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium; but despite urging by his closest friends, he resisted openly publishing his views, not wishing—as he confessed—to risk the scorn "to which he would expose himself on account of the novelty and incomprehensibility of his theses."[63]

His theories were denounced by some Church officials and debated for some time. His grave was not so much venerated back then as it was lost and his epitaph destroyed during wars in the late 17th or early 18th century. Some of his remains were very recently found and reburied.

Copernicus was reportedly buried in Frombork Cathedral, where archaeologists for over two centuries searched in vain for his remains. Efforts to locate the remains in 1802, 1909, 1939 and 2004 had come to nought. In August 2005, however, a team led by Jerzy Gąssowski, head of an archaeology and anthropology institute in Pułtusk, after scanning beneath the cathedral floor, discovered what they believed to be Copernicus' remains.[73]

. . .

The grave was in poor condition, and not all the remains of the skeleton were found; missing, among other things, was the lower jaw.[74] The DNA from the bones found in the grave matched hair samples taken from a book owned by Copernicus which was kept at the library of the University of Uppsala in Sweden.[75][76]

On 22 May 2010 Copernicus was given a second funeral in a Mass led by Józef Kowalczyk, the former papal nuncio to Poland and newly named Primate of Poland. Copernicus' remains were reburied in the same spot in Frombork Cathedral where part of his skull and other bones had been found. A black granite tombstone now identifies him as the founder of the heliocentric theory and also a church canon. The tombstone bears a representation of Copernicus' model of the solar system—a golden sun encircled by six of the planets.[77]

So, I don't know. Maybe Hill was talking about some other "shrine" somewhere.

Copernicus's ideas were far from uncontroversial and continued to be so long after his death. Galileo, who famously embraced the Copernican model, was found guilty of heresy, was forced to recant, and lived out his days under house arrest. Such was his reward for being as bold as Hill recommends.

More to the point, Columbus... Wow... So, as per Hill, Columbus seized the day and the world is all the better for it. In fact, we owe our way of life to Columbus. Some might call that revisionist. Some might call it a grievous insult to the millions of native peoples on two continents whose cultures were destroyed in one bloodbath after another over hundreds of years.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love my country. As you can see, I'm spending the duration of the DC40 celebrating the Goddess Columbia, whose name is ostensibly derived from that of Columbus. But our history is far from clean and is the product of a kind of violent imperialism that we like to think of as consigned to the annals of history. Yes, conquest was the way of the world back then and history is littered with the corpses of people who've been on the wrong side of its relentless march toward "progress." But that Hill blindly accepted the version of history that was written by the winners is about the kindest thing you could say about that sentiment. The idea that the European conquest of the Americas was an unalloyed good is the worst kind of white, imperialistic arrogance.

There are some successes that require far more than simple apologies. Our treatment of Native Americans in this country is our national shame for which we can never make adequate restitution.

It might just be time to reassess a hierarchical, patriarchal model that makes the successes of some dependent on the failures of others. Anyone who divides the world into winners and losers and posits that the winners never have anything to apologize for loses morality points as far as I'm concerned.

As discussed here, new thought tomes like The Secret and Think and Grow Rich effectively blame the victims of the excesses of others. It is the opposite of a balanced, inclusive world view in which we take responsibility, not only for our actions, but for our entire co-creation.

As Christina Pratt explained in an episode of Why Shamanism Now? devoted to The Secret, this completely misses the point. We're not all just creating our own, individual, discrete reality. We are part of a collective reality that we are constantly co-creating. She calls this "the big dream." Says Pratt:

Do not think that you can use this idea that we are dreaming our reality to bludgeon other people who are suffering. In other words, if there is a drought-ridden country somewhere, you can't just go, "Oh well those people dreamt up that drought." Not only is that, um, ignorant, and not remotely compassionate, but you're missing the point, entirely, which is that we are dreaming. We, the entire family of humanity is dreaming life as we know it. And so the drought over there is most likely the manifestation of a dream that is dreaming excess somewhere else. That the dream -- because, we are never not dreaming -- but we have not been trained the responsibility of being a dreamer. We've not been trained to dream well; to dream with maturity for easily, oh, two thousand years or more. And so, consequently, we are dreaming constantly pollution, toxicity, excess, deficiency, and what results then in disease in our human lives into the dream. Because we are not disciplined, we are not even aware, that we, every moment, we are contributing to the dream. And so The Secret says, you know, every moment you're manifesting your life. Well, yes, you are. Every moment you're also manifesting mine and I'm manifesting yours.

So, it comes down to whether we want to continue to extol the individual "dreamers" of Napoleon Hill's unapologetic, imperialist world view or embrace our role in co-creating a "big dream" in which all people can thrive.

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