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Love me! Love me!: Self-Help Books as Evidence of Human Regression

As some of you may have noticed, there aren’t many self-help books in this bookshop (and those we have ended up here quite accidentally).

This is because we don’t like self-help books.

Our forefathers never needed self-help books, probably because they didn’t need as much “self-help”. And even if they did, “self-help” books aren’t usually very helpful at all, unless you need a friend who says things to make you feel good, but doesn’t mean a word she/he says.

The purpose of self-help books seems to be to make a quick million bucks for writing 7-point, 10-point, and 50-point lists; except instead of calling them “lists” (which is what they really are), they are branded and marketed as shiny shimmering “Steps”, usually towards “success” of some sort, having to do with how you look, what you earn, and how you feel about yourself. Some of these authors, aiming to make an even quicker buck, reduce the 7 steps into a mere ONE STEP solution (c.f. The Secret) and package the book with extra-large fonts and textured paper to make up for the absence of words.



Perhaps it’s not entirely fair to view self-help books with such utter scorn – after all, they must have helped some people, or else they wouldn’t be so popular. I’ve even heard people say “The Secret really works!” as if they were a walking, talking web testimonial, the ones you always thought were made up by enterprising marketing executives. So there must be some value to them.

But the real question is, how did humanity regress so much, such that books containing no research, hardly any information (or words), no sense of imagination, no linguistic credibility (a 5-year old would be able to understand them if only he knew what the words “self-esteem”, “pro-active” or “visualise” meant) are now more popular than books that actually contain elements of the abovementioned list (i mean, “steps to write an actual good book”)? Worse still, why do we need so much hokey help?

Some people will, of course, say the traditional study of “philosophy” is nothing more than glorified self-help. Perhaps, but at least Plato could give reasonable arguments instead of saying “You should drink water because doctors *insert random statistic plucked from thin air and or a most likely unreliable, unverifiable source*”, as if throwing me a number or a “case study” of someone I’m not sure exists should be taken as absolute truth (which it often is). And at least philosophers aren’t particularly interested in why men don’t listen to their wives. If you ask me, that question alone has rendered feminism meaningless (I’m not an advocate of feminisim, by the way), because it implies that all women care about is the unfaltering unattention of men even though they already have a flock of girlfriends to complain about their colleagues with.