SHAM (Three Rivers Press, 2006)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008



SHAM is Steve Salerno's expose of the Self Help And Actualization (get it?) Movement, which he succinctly describes as " ... an enterprise wherein people holding the thinnest of credentials diagnose in basically normal people symptoms of inflated or invented maladies, so that they may implement remedies that have never been proven to work". Up for investigation are such luminaries of the field as Tony Robbins, Tommy Lasorda, Laura Schlesinger, and Dr. Phil McGraw, as well as the numerous "twelve step" programs fathered by Alcoholics Anonymous. The book winds up with an out-of-place attack on the American educational system that, while raising some valid points, also comes across as tangential and a bit of a pet peeve clumsily hammered in where it doesn't really fit. Most of the book's focus takes on the millionaire "self help gurus", however, and these sections are delightful reading, and a much-needed investigation of a multimillion dollar industry essentially based on misdirection and manipulation.

Posted by St. Drogo at 3:04 PM  

11 comments:

P 2 - "Self-help is an enterprise wherein people holding the thinnest of credentials diagnose in basically normal people symptoms of inflated or invented maladies, so that they may then implement remedies that have never been shown to work."

St. Drogo said...
June 12, 2008 at 1:34 PM  

P 13 - "Americans for some reason assume that Recovery groups work, when in fact there is little or no hard evidence of their ability to help people recover from anything, as this book will document ... The results of a 1995 study conducted by Harvard Medical School indicated that alcoholics have a better chance of quitting drinking if they don't attend AA than if they do ... AA and it's sister organizations have actively opposed independent research that could test their programs' effectiveness ... At meetings of AA and other support groups, the leader's sole credential may consist of his being in recovery from whatever the specific addiction is. Society, again, seems to think this makes good sense ... I would ask ... if your problem was, say, that the electrical fixtures in your house were acting funky, would you really want a workshop taught by some other homeowner who couldn't get his lights to work right? Or would you want a trained electrician?"

St. Drogo said...
June 12, 2008 at 1:34 PM  

P 16 - "SHAM ... is an $8.56 billion social crusade about nothing. It is a religion whose clerics get very, very rich by stating the obvious in a laughably pontifical fashion. As Anne Wilson Schaef ... informs us ... 'Life is a process. We are a process. The Universe is a process.' To which a cynic might add: Making airy, asinine statements meant to impress or hoodwink gullible people is also a process."

St. Drogo said...
June 12, 2008 at 1:35 PM  

P 26 - "... the self-help movement still divides roughly into two camps. There is Empowerment - broadly speaking, the idea that you are fully responsible for all you do, good and bad. And, in contrast, there is Victimization, which sells the idea that you are *not* responsible for what you do (at least not the bad things)."

St. Drogo said...
June 12, 2008 at 1:35 PM  

P 93 - "Pitino said it explicitly, but many other Sportsthink gurus also preach that everything is within your grasp, that environmental obstacles can be overcome if you just follow Kirk Gibson's lead by calling on your psychic and emotional stockpiles ... This 'attitude uber alles' mantra groosly and unfairly oversimplifies the mechanisms of both winning and losing. According to Mark Fichman, PhD, an organizational consultant attached to Carnegie Mellon University, mental attitude is a "relatively small (factor) compared with your location in the social world to begin with." Archly, he adds, "It is easier to become president if your father was president." Fichman also underscores the logical flow in selecting only successful figures, like Riley and Walsh, and asking them to reflect on the attitudes and behaviors that (supposedly) got them where they are."

St. Drogo said...
June 12, 2008 at 1:36 PM  

P 96 - "Jay Kurtz, the president of KappaWest, a leading tactics-based consulting firm, agrees. 'We're coaxing people to buy into a conceit that's suspect to begin with, and even if they do buy in, there's almost no guidance on how to translate that conceit into useful practice," he told me. 'It's all psychological gamesmanship.' Kurtz argues that Sportsthink gurus "took a short, punchy, profitable metaphor and converted it into an extended, even more profitable metaphor. But it's still a metaphor." And like most metaphors, it breaks down under deeper scrutiny. Which may explain why leading Sportsthink aficionados fall back on the quasi-religious line that 'you just have to trust it'."

St. Drogo said...
June 12, 2008 at 1:37 PM  

P 103 - (referring to an extended dialogue filled with sports metaphors on Bill Maher's Feb. 20 2004 show) "Lost in the adulation was the fact that Allen has grossly distorted reality, diminishing his subject by oversimplifying it ... Sports-inspired oratory may produce wonderful sound bites and stump speeches, but it also encourages a win-at-all-costs outlook among politicians and their followers ... Worse, America buys in. This simpleminded conceit becomes part of the national dialogue ... 'You're either on my team, or you're not'"

St. Drogo said...
June 12, 2008 at 1:37 PM  

P 144 - "... by characterizing addictions as 'lifelong diseases', AA-based platforms actually lay the groundwork for their own failure. If Alcoholics Anonymous has been adept at persuading society of any one thing, it's that even after an alcohol abuser stops drinking, he or she remains a 'recovering alcoholic' ... One of the most eloquent critics of the twelve steps, Michael J. Lemarnski, writes in the Humanist that such programs "offer what is, in reality, the antithesis of therapy. There is no cure." In any case, research through the years has cast doubt on the cardinal AA belief 'once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic'. Studies by the RAND corporation and by seperate Scottish and Swedish teams, among others, have uncovered a sizeable percentage of former alcoholics who reverted to social drinking without also reverting to lives of chaos and heartbreak."

St. Drogo said...
June 12, 2008 at 1:37 PM  

P 161 - "If there's an overriding message to this book, it is this : Even if you've never turned a single page of a self-help tome or heard the first word of wisdom depart the lips of some newly ordained self-improvement deacon, the way you live your life has been affected, if not transformed, by SHAM and its canons. There is simply too much of it in the environment: on TV, in magazines ... in the codes of behavior spelled out in your company's personnel-policy manual. Over time ... SHAM's program for better living has a way of sounding plausible, inevitable, "normal".

St. Drogo said...
June 12, 2008 at 1:38 PM  

P 174 - "Myrna Blyth accuses Cosmo and Glamour of indoctrinating women in the notion that "narcissism is an advanced evolutionary stage of female liberation" and that a "predatory" approach to dating and sexual relationships is "the most important step in a woman's personal liberation."

St. Drogo said...
June 12, 2008 at 1:38 PM  

P 244-245 - "Political message points today aren't overly nuanced' one top political consultant told me. "You'll support a war or you won't. You favor affirmative action or you don't. There's none of this 'depending on the course of events' ... that's nuance, and nuance doesn't sell." Let's be clear here: Vulnerability to a simplistic message has little to do with intelligence per se, but rather stems from what one might call conditioned impatience. A constituency accustomed to twelve straightforward steps, or the facile bullet points inspired by SHAM in general, has no tolerance for esoteric rants or multiple shades of grey. The kind of an audience that's ripe for demagoguery expects the same monosyllabic clarity from politicians that it gets from a Dr. Phil ... Health care, global terrorism and welfare reform must be distilled to the geopolitical equivalent of "Get real!" This is not helpful in a nation trying to sort through issues that defy a quick fix."

St. Drogo said...
June 12, 2008 at 1:39 PM  

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