The Power of Magical Thinking
By Earnest Prankheimer
In the 1950s Norman Vincent Peale wrote a book, The Power of Positive Thinking, which became an international best seller, influencing people in all walks of life. There’s no doubt it will get you further than the negative thinking. Around the 80s “creative visualization” came into vogue, and I must say, it’s done wonders for my golf swing. Somehow over the years, though, lazier folks decided that thinking could be a substitute, rather than a complement, to real effort. This culminated in another best seller a few years ago, The Secret. The expression “visualize world peace” comes to mind.
Then there’s making yourself believe something simply because you’d really like for it to be true, and this is called magical thinking. It works even better if you baptize yourself in a famous Egyptian river, denial. Since I’ll be talking about magic we’ll need several varieties of fairy dust to sprinkle around. I’m guilty of magical thinking in sports, myself. I’ve convinced myself that if I touch something a certain way, it will help Barcelona score that goal, or Aaron Rodgers complete that crucial pass for a first down. It’s all bosh, I suppose, but it makes me feel better, as if I could perhaps influence the outcome in some way.
When the Republicans rattle on about how lowering taxes on the already filthy rich, or gutting burdensome government regulations on industry, it will free them up to create jobs, they are engaged in magical thinking. Or they’d like you to. This particular type of magical thinking has been given a name I rather like — “job creationism.” It has as much relation to creating jobs as creationism does to evolution. So let’s dip into our pouch and sprinkle some free market fairy dust around. This will magically make the markets resistant to recessions, depressions, or trade imbalances. Taking a machete to what’s left of the unions will speed things up a bit, as well.
Another popular form of magical thinking is the rags to riches story, immortalized by Horatio Alger. You can be a millionaire if you just work hard enough. Of course it follows that if you aren’t a millionaire, it’s your own damn fault. The truth is that for every Mark Zuckerberg there are millions who may have worked just as hard, but never got that lucky break, or made the right connections. You have a better chance of winning the lottery. The Right loves this one, though, because it keeps poor and working people voting against their best interests, for Republicans who couldn’t give a crap less about them.
The Left has plenty of magical thinking of their own. They like to think that by reusing fabric bags at the grocery store, they’re helping to save the planet. They don’t know, or don’t want to know, that Americans go through 50,000 plastic grocery bags every five minutes. They also like to believe that as soon as we get off using fossil fuels and onto renewable energy like wind, solar, or geothermal, that everything will be alright, and this will solve the problem of our unsustainable industrial civilization. So we have some special “hybrid” green fairy dust for them.
The UFO people have allowed themselves to think that at the last minute, just before we all destroy ourselves, their alien space brothers will come down and scoop them all up. For you Christians, just substitute Jesus for the aliens, it’s the same thing. Maybe your fairy dust can be sanctified by a priest or minister.
One of the most seductive fantasies going around these days is this idea of passing a constitutional amendment that says corporations are NOT people and money is NOT free speech. This one requires an overdose of fairy dust. Congress is bought, paid for, and owned by the corporations, and yet these people actually believe that somehow two thirds of both Houses will somehow be persuaded to vote against their sugar daddies. The sheer naivete of this delusion is almost beyond comprehension.
Your vote matters — this one is a laugher, too. Your vote might matter, if it’s counted accurately or even at all. That’s assuming you get to vote. Voter ID laws in half the states are aimed at denying the right to vote to minorities, seniors, and the young, all demographic groups that tend to vote heavily Democratic. Okay, let’s say you get to cast that ballot. Privately owned, easily hackable electronic machines will record about 75% of the votes this November. The vast majority of machines are Diebold, ES & S, and Sequoia, all owned by conservatives. The software is proprietary and therefore unavailable for election officials to monitor. In essence we have privatized the vote, with absolutely no oversight or accountability. Even if you mail an absentee ballot, these will be tabulated by the same machines. So go ahead and vote, if you can. This is border-line magical thinking, because there’s a small chance your vote will actually count.
There is one species of magical thinking that dwarfs all others, and it’s widespread throughout the political spectrum, from Left to Right. This is the doctrine known as American exceptionalism, and it goes a little like this. America is the only country that’s based on ideas, not DNA. Our Founders came out of the Great Enlightenment of the 18th Century, and started this country on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Founders? Oh, you mean those white men who kept their slaves, wouldn’t allow their women to vote, and before the ink was dry on their Constitution, began a systematic genocide on the Native American population whose country they had invaded? Are those the Founders you’re talking about?
It goes on. Because we’re the greatest country ever ever ever, we are “entitled” to steal resources from any other country we want, and we get to torture and murder anyone who gets in our way (like those countries’ inhabitants). And do you know why? Because we are that shining city on the hill, and we’ve got these great big foam fingers that say WE’RE NUMBER ONE, BY GOD! That’s not all, either. Our American exceptionalist fairy dust magically makes us immune from military coups, neo-fascism, or any of those other horrors that infect those “lesser” nations. That’s why it can never happen here. It’s just impossible, you see. You’ve got to snort a whole 55 gallon drum of fairy dust to buy all that codswallop. Don’t forget to add a heavy portion of denial.
The only thing more exceptional than American arrogance is our capacity for collective and willful ignorance. Yes, there is great power in magical thinking. With enough fairy dust, we can make ourselves believe the most ludicrous things, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That’s how we can accept the idea that shredding the Constitution and turning this country into a fully militarized police state is all for our protection, and that we remain, and will always be, the freest country on Earth. God bless America.
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”