{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

How to write a Self-help book.

I recently read some self-help books just to find out why people everywhere are happily becoming slaves to them. Here I would like to find out how self-help gurus do the job of making people numb to facilitate injection of self-help gyan into their veins. Not that it is a difficult job to create self-help but if there exists any method of breaking the self-help code, people can just find out that it is a easy assembly of distorted common sense that they could generate by themselves. By the end of this chapter you should be able to write one for yourself :)

There are some basic pillars on which any self-help is based. One of the pillars is to attack the rationality or to attack on the ability to think, because the manipulator always knows that if there is rationality left, he can't succeed in selling the shit. For this to be more effective, we need to bring a factor of unknown, black-box-tried-and-tested experience. This is like to support your argument that god is there by saying that you have met him, although no one has seen you both together. Ok, there is nothing wrong that you believe god because you say (true or false) that you had breakfast with him the other day. The problem comes when the manipulator generalize it to say believe in god because HE has met him. There is sure a broken link but since anything said with conviction in self help books require one more thing namely faith or power (or weakness) of believing, which is invariably baseless, makes most of the self-help logic work. Here comes extrapolation of rendezvous with god. There can be two logic here. I met god so I believe in god, or I believed in God so I met him. The second one is likely to be used by a successful manipulator because it's least susceptible to any checks and here faith comes priori. The first one will be considered a skeptic's approach and the concerned person will be given doses of faith till he becomes numb to come to the second logic or he will be deemed worthy of lacking in faith or humanity or whatever. So the point here is a manipulator proves using solid assumptions, here result come first and it can be easily explained with minor manipulations.

Since we are on this my-experience you-follow thing, there are interesting bits to observe. Some of the manipulators claim things which can't be verified like living in Himalayas or going for a long spiritual journey. The key is to quote the most unverifiable and the most mysterious experiences one can possibly have or just think of. This experience domain also involves using experience of others (preferably dead or mythological characters) and interpret them with your own dead logic which is indeed based on weak astrology or Feng shui or numerology or just faith. Now when you find Aristotle or Einstein being quoted by the manipulator, take a deep breath and cling to your own faith :)

A related thing is cause and effect, which can be used very effectively by a manipulator. For this we can take a random example. "A hungry child happily ate a loaf of bread". Now coming to self help domain, we can play with cause and effect with almost infinite possibilities. This simple sentence will be twisted as follows "If you give a loaf of bread to a child who is hungry from two days, it makes him happy and that positive energy in turn makes you happy and helps you to shine in the world of stress and competition". Effectually I can fight stress by a loaf of bread. Now this can be further extrapolated with special effects of faith. This becomes "If you believe that giving a loaf of bread to a crying homeless child who is hungry for several days , makes the child happy, and that happiness in turn will radiate back to make you happy and content then this belief with lead you to bear any stress and competition in the world and will eventually make you successful". See this is even better as now we don't spare a loaf of bread, belief and faith can do wonders.

Since all this need to be dumped to people, an able manipulator will direct it to the masses. For doing so, try to find out what people want, they want instant relief from the problems they are facing or if they are not facing any tangible problem the poor souls just want to be happy or happier in any given scenario. Self help can be for two different segments, one who feel they are ill and the one who are potential patients. Lets cover only potential patient here, not only its more interesting, but its takes care of the currently ill people also. Now try to fabricate a recipe to make people happy. For this a manipulator will make a stereotype and break it by making another stereotype which he will vehemently claim, is better suited for happiness based on some statistics, or research or personal experience or just faith. First make people believe that the problem is universal so that they can take any general remedy. It is even better to let the people believe that if they don't think about the problem, it will die its natural death. By now, in 50% cases problem will not even exist, it must have taken form of some other problem or left to die in darkness, for those people who are too dumb to still look for some solution, give them a dumber solution, like think positive, inhale positive energy, keep positive attitude, choose the right person and do the right thing and while doing all this don't forget to believe in yourself and follow your dreams and be happy till the there is love and insatiable positive energy floating in this universe.

Now we know how problems are fabricated and all-purpose answers are assigned to them. Here comes the part which is automatic, implementation of the solution. The best solution in self help is one which need not be implemented, just reading it should do. Lets see some classic implemented solutions. You must have seen people uttering such lines on the back pages of the best selling self-help books. "After reading this book, I felt that there is so much happiness in this world, we just have to reach out for it" or "This inspirational tour-de-force brilliantly manages to capture the truth of life and the basics of happiness" or "I found real spiritual pleasure in reading this enlightened discourse which is recommended to every one who want to know the little secrets of success" or 'Upon Reading this book I realized all the hidden potential within me and a deep feeling that refuse to be a victim". I can go on and on. The crux here to make the recipes feel-good two-minute cheesy tricks and their implementation just another way of restating the problem itself, which the crazy-to-be-happy-people will happily play on themselves.

You must have got it by now, self help starts with a premise that every problem has a solution. Then they go to the extreme to say that there are some generic solutions. But the worst part of all this crap is it stops us from thinking for ourselves and acting according to it. We start to work on some shitty so-called tried and tested formulae, and stop our top floor processing just for day-dreams of happiness and comfort. A manipulator is a guy who can make fortune out of mediocrity and we let him do that, trying to climb ladders of success by feeling good, trying to work out a relationship with fitting in the self help guru proclaimed stereotypes or by using Feng Shui scented paper roses, or trying to fight world hunger by having a balanced diet. The next time you catch hold of a self-help book, tear every even numbered page, it will make the same stupid sense as it made before. You can use these torn pages to clean racks to stack some real books.


Alok said...

Here goes my award for the blog post of the year!!

Thanks man for making my day. I am feeling annoyed and restless and although reading this fed more fuel to my misanthropy, it was like a breath of "postive energy" for me :)

"inhale positive energy"...hahaha or as they say in chat rooms...ROTFL :)

btw, all those quotes from the back of the books are real or you invented them?

anurag said...

Thanks a lot for the award ;)

I invented those quotes, don't they look like real crap :)

Indrajith said...

Put First Things First, I would say this is a great post. I trust you began this with the end in the mind and the article shows that you first understood and asked to be understood. I trust you should have gone through some self-imps proactively and sharpened the saw and wrote this. This synergizes me man... Blog of 2005 of Anurag!!

anurag said...

Thanks Indrajith!