A sociological and sociopathic magical thinking

Magical thinking is the belief that one’s ideas, thoughts, wishes, or actions can influence the course of events in the physical world. It is something people all over the globe engage in, and many religious and folk rituals center around it. While magical thinking can be a very normal human response, and there are aspects of it that can have psychological benefits, it can also be counterproductive at times and even be a sign of a mental health concern.[1]

When I write or speak of “magical thinking,” I’m usually referring to something a little different. My emphasis is more sociological than psychological, so when I think of magical thinking, I’m thinking of something that is often weaponized against others.

My basic example draws on various New Age scams including “The Secret.” The idea here is that a suffering person should engage in psychological (as described above[2]) magical thinking to induce positive real world results and, to aid him or her in that quest, purchase various trinkets, videos, or books. When such thinking fails to produce the expected results, the “thinker” can be blamed for lacking faith or failing to “think” hard enough. One way or another, it’s the “thinker’s” fault, not the New Age scammer’s. The scammer, having made a considerable amount of money off the “thinker,” evades responsibility by foisting it on to the “thinker.”

Similarly, when we imagine, as we do in “[a] core element of the American credo,” that “that talent, skill, hard work, and achievement largely determine life chances,”[3] the poor can be blamed for being poor because they can be alleged to be lazy or lacking in various forms of merit when, in fact, political and economic systems are rigged in multiple ways against them. Entirely too conveniently, this socially-reproduced mythology diverts attention from elite criminality.[4]

With propaganda and policy against the poor, magical thinking can be recognized from its Calvinist antecedent, in which God’s “select,” the righteous who will be admitted to Heaven, can be identified by their temporal prosperity, which the already fortunate set about affirming by working hard (or, more precisely, imposing an exchange system which is rigged against workers to compel them to work hard on behalf of their employers) and professing faith.[5]

It can also be seen with my job hunt, in which all anyone can tell me to do is the same shit that doesn’t work. It’s been over eighteen years, during which I have returned to school, finished a Bachelor’s, a Master’s, and a Ph.D.,[6] but the futility of my search can be blamed on my lack of persistence or a bad attitude. Meanwhile, I’m stuck driving for Lyft in an increasingly untenable situation, but hey, I must not want a real job bad enough.

In another example, we see the same in Britain with the Institute for Government (IfG) report and its cold dose of reality for hard Brexiteers[7] and an advertising campaign that combines with the Telegraph‘s ham-handed and jingoistic imagination (masquerading as journalism, and yes, I noticed the reporter’s surname) of government competence in delivering Brexit.[8] But here, the “thinker” and the scammer are united in Boris Johnson’s government, condemning “pessimists” like IfG as “defeatist.” Reality is not even considered: “Optimism,” “positive thinking,” and a “good attitude” are considered sound and sufficient.[9]

In the latter example, an entire country will likely pay a very high price. But it is the same kind of thinking that has been individualized against me and generalized against the poor.

  1. [1]Lisa Fritscher, “Magical Thinking Benefits and Concerns,” Very Well Mind, June 14, 2019, https://www.verywellmind.com/magical-thinking-2671612
  2. [2]Lisa Fritscher, “Magical Thinking Benefits and Concerns,” Very Well Mind, June 14, 2019, https://www.verywellmind.com/magical-thinking-2671612
  3. [3]Thomas M. Shapiro, “Introduction,” in Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, ed. Thomas M. Shapiro, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2005), 3.
  4. [4]Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor: The Underclass And Antipoverty Policy (New York: Basic, 1995); Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (New York: Crown, 2012); C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (1956; repr., New York: Oxford University, 2000); Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004); Thomas Shapiro, ed., Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, 3rd ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2005).
  5. [5]David Benfell, “They must pay,” Not Housebroken, February 21, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/02/21/they-must-pay/; Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View (New York: Harmony, 1991); Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 119-129.
  6. [6]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  7. [7]Lisa O’Carroll and Rowena Mason, “Johnson told no-deal Brexit will crush domestic policy plans,” Guardian, July 28, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jul/28/boris-johnson-ifg-no-deal-brexit-crush-domestic-policy-plans
  8. [8]Christopher Hope, “Boris Johnson to unveil biggest ad campaign since Second World War to prepare for ‘no deal,’” Telegraph, July 28, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/07/28/boris-johnsons-100million-brexit-ad-campaign/
  9. [9]See also David Benfell, “Okay, so really now, assuming they choose to do so, how do the British avoid a hard Brexit?” Not Housebroken, July 26, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/07/26/okay-so-really-now-assuming-they-choose-to-do-so-how-do-the-british-avoid-a-hard-brexit/

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