To Control the Wheel of Fortune Master the 17 Principles of Achievement!
December 12, 2016 10:05 AM   Subscribe

The father of self-help was a pathological fraud, abuser and super right-wing. He also lent his guidance to a cult that claimed they would raise a baby to live forever. And despite a lifetime of dozens of creative scams, such as "colleges" where students paid to work on factory assembly lines and selling stock in Mormon silent movies, he was near broke his entire life. On the other hand he did reveal to businessmen The Mystery of Sex Transmutation.

Not only did Hill's many sketchy "universities" prefigure schools like Trump University in both marketing and "substance," but "You can draw a direct line to Trump’s way of thinking through Norman Vincent Peale, an ardent follower of Napoleon Hill and also Trump’s pastor" and avowed inspiration.
posted by blankdawn (32 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
A very good friend of mine uses Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich as her go-to number one source for inspiration.

I sent her the e-mail link to this article. She later contacted me and stated that she refused to read it. She said she got so much value out of TAGR that she cared more about the message than the messenger.
posted by Roentgen at 10:20 AM on December 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


@Roentgen

The power of positive thinking at work!
posted by blankdawn at 10:27 AM on December 12, 2016 [17 favorites]


It is said sometimes that jazz is America's only indigenous art-form. This post reminds us that this is not true. The fusion of Kiwanis Club small-town business values, Phineas Quimby-esque ersatz spirituality, and naked greed lives to this day - the 48 Laws Of Power, The Secret, and Deeprak Chopra all mine the same vein.
posted by thelonius at 10:39 AM on December 12, 2016 [37 favorites]


This is why I love Tim Ferris. Sure, he'll sell you an energy drink that will increase your IQ and cure your cancer -- and then he'll sell you an entire inspirational book about how you, too, could make millions if you just came up with an equally audacious scam. If Hill is a charlatan, Ferris is a postmodern meta-charlatan.
posted by miyabo at 10:47 AM on December 12, 2016 [12 favorites]


The whole Baby Jean thing takes it to a new plane of crazyland. Especially since we don't know what happened to her; I imagine this 77-year-old, still physically a baby, smoking a cigar and drinking from a sippy cup of gin: "Yeah, that whole immortality thing, that worked out real fuckin' well for me, I tell ya."
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:49 AM on December 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


You can tell the most audacious lies in America and become president, but tell the truth too much and holy shit is your life going to be a mess before you know it!
posted by saulgoodman at 10:51 AM on December 12, 2016 [11 favorites]


It's the age of charlatanism!
posted by saulgoodman at 10:52 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


@miyabo

Yes but at least Ferris is entertaining to me with just how shameless he can be. For example, in his "cookbook" we learn that he holds the world record for Longest Tango, will teach you to speed read and can bring a woman to orgasm reliably in 5 minutes. There's also a long aside about a talk with "Barack Obama's personal chef" about how the recipes he's selling will help save the planet.

Somehow in 500 pages of this I snagged a good recipe for braising beef.
posted by blankdawn at 10:56 AM on December 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


I worked with a company (they were a client for a while, and I helped with online strategy) where the two founders were devotees of Napoleon Hill. The company went bankrupt, losing C$370 million. The two lessons are: 1) self-help books like "Think and Grow Rich" are a scam and 2) Canadian securities regulations offer no protections to personal investors.

The weird thing was that, of the two founders, one of them actually believed the "think and grow rich" Napolean Hill shit. He ended up with nothing. The other founder is doing fine, post-bankruptcy.
posted by My Dad at 11:32 AM on December 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


You can tell the most audacious lies in America and become president, but tell the truth too much and holy shit is your life going to be a mess before you know it!

Deep down, I think most Americans know everything about this place is fucked-up and stacked high against them, but they insist on clinging to the holy "American Dream™" and will lash out at anyone who dares to insist they confront reality, because that would then ask them to act on the reality, and no one is going to go out on that limb and risk what little they have left.

Charlatans like Trump et.al. understand this and make hay telling them it's all fucked-up, but then sell them on a fix that enriches only the messenger. This plays to another conceit Americans hold dear – That no one can ever con them.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:00 PM on December 12, 2016 [31 favorites]


Thorzdad nailed it. It's amazing how that article illuminates so much about America, on repeat.
posted by knownassociate at 1:13 PM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


It is said sometimes that jazz is America's only indigenous art-form. This post reminds us that this is not true.

well no, it's not, but Samuel Smiles reminds us that Self-Help isn't an American-born art form either. although I suppose you could argue that it was not an art before we elevated it, even though we did not invent it. god knows Smiles had no moxie or style at all. barely any crime either.

from the post: a cult that claimed they would raise a baby to live forever.

but who wants to live forever if you have to be a baby the whole time? "immortal baby" what a nightmare, right
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:45 PM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was just about to mention Smiles.

Strivers have always been an audience for helpers. Castiglione's Book of the Courtier comes to mind. Chesterfield's Letters to his Son. There was a slew of Savoir Vivre books explaining to the hopeful French bourgeois how to break into society and how to behave once you got there. These, NB, in societies far more rigid than in America. And there are enough stories of those who have made it to lend credence to the spiel.

Let us say the form has been refined and expanded as more people got money and literacy. That said, it would be interesting to isolate the first pure How To Get Rich title.
posted by BWA at 2:16 PM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


In America we're all Cinderella, if only our fairy god mothers would hurry the hell up and get here...

Also, Thorzdad, spot on. Although I think we no longer need quotes around The American Dream™ (Now with even more stain lifting power!)
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 2:33 PM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


"immortal baby" what a nightmare, right

I think it was Doon Mackichan who said on QI that, if she had to be frozen at a single age forever, she'd pick being a new-born baby. You would be (as she put it) "straight on the tit", with all your needs taken care of and nothing to do all day but sleep and listen to people telling you how gorgeous you are.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:36 PM on December 12, 2016


I thought this was gonna be about Norman Vincent Peale.
posted by jonmc at 2:37 PM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


17 principles? Way too many.

1 principle: Try not. Do, or do not.
posted by Twang at 2:39 PM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Let's see, do I have this right? The easiest way to get rich quick is to convince other people to pay you for information about how to get rich quick, even if you have no legitimate way to get rich quick? F'yah 'Merica!
posted by pjsky at 3:17 PM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I enjoy Thorzdad's posts as much as anyone, but more rigidly dismiss conjecture of what any other believes, thinks, or is motivated. This peering into the mind (singular) of a wildly variegated audience or constituency or partisanship? Its summative character has a relatively ugly appeal.

I understand the allure of explanation, but doubt its value.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 3:51 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


17 Principles of Achievement!?
I'll stick with my 285 Rules of Acquisition.
posted by w0mbat at 4:12 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


And God created the self-made man.
posted by spitbull at 5:30 PM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


The endless, often unnecessary, always self-serving lies are amazing and depressing enough, but this is really this hard, cruel kernel of it, I think:

"It seems ridiculous to refer to the Golden Rule as a “weapon,” but that is just what it is—a weapon that no resistance on earth can withstand!

The Golden Rule is a powerful weapon in business, because there is so little competition in its application."

When we look at the way that Hill lived his life, Hill’s understanding of the Golden Rule meant that people would become indebted to you for providing something to them. It was a weapon. Rather than “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he believed that by providing something to someone or simply showing them kindness, they owed you something in return.

posted by Caxton1476 at 5:36 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I believe this is called the principle of reciprocity in Cialdini's book Influence. It's been fully weaponized at this late date.
posted by benzenedream at 5:51 PM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Speaking of modern-day analogues, how about the thousands of sites that sell the same get-rich-quick schemes, only applied to digital products, of which the main strategy is to have a site that sells the same get-rich-quick schemes, only applied to digital products, of which the main strategy is to have a site that sells the same get-rich-quick schemes?
posted by pedmands at 6:12 PM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Well, there's also Amway, which promises riches and fails to deliver... Except to Betsy DeVos, daughter in law of the founder, who got rich enough to become Secretary of Education despite having absolutely no background in the field.
posted by miyabo at 6:42 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


> the principle of reciprocity

"Generosity is power." – Frank Underwood
posted by Phssthpok at 9:37 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


That is quite an interesting read. It reminds me a little of Ayn Rand. Is that fair? Actually, I'm not bothered if it's fair; it doesn't sound like Hill deserves fair and Ayn Rand certainly doesn't.
posted by trif at 9:41 AM on December 13, 2016


Nothing puts my professional impartiality as a librarian to the test as much as requests for bullshit self-help books like The Secret. "Yes, we have The Secret. But may I recommend literally any other book in the building?"
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:56 AM on December 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


"Somehow in 500 pages of this I snagged a good recipe for braising beef."

That's Ferriss' redeeming quality that makes him more than a b.s. artist. He shares stuff you can actually use. Talking about the Four Hour Chef, I got great mileage from his mashed cauliflower recipe, the plain ol' boiled egg and avocado tip, and i really want to try out the no-fail lamb shank. His tips on crash-learning a new skill are also pretty good. He's hyper-optimistic but at least you get the sense he's working hard to provide tangible value rather than woo or om.
posted by storybored at 11:09 AM on December 13, 2016


Bob Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad) also uses this bullshit philosophy to sell books.
posted by My Dad at 12:16 PM on December 13, 2016


I've got to say, I keep reading a little bit of this essay, losing my attention and clicking back to this thread, then reseeing "raise a baby to live forever", and starting all over again. At this rate it'll be 2018 before I'll finally figure out what's up with that damn immortal baby.
posted by muddgirl at 12:25 PM on December 13, 2016


I was in Barnes and Noble last month looking for a book about woodworking. I noticed the woodworking section was less than a shelf. In order to get to that spot in the store I have to navigate an entire aisle of "self-help" books. I'm old enough to remember when the self help section was less than a shelf.
posted by any major dude at 5:35 PM on December 13, 2016


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