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I normally don’t pay a lot of attention to politics, but when I see reports arguing about how many people showed up for some Tea Party event in Washington to somehow mark the anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I get…well, what?
Annoyed, certainly. But this is so typical, I really don’t want to spend the energy. What’s the description for just wishing that a problem would go away? I don’t particularly want to ignore it. I just want the people involved to spontaneously combust, so that the rest of us can mourn their passing and getting on with our lives.
Rather, I want all the talking-head reporters covering Washington (yes, I’m looking at you NPR) to understand that there’s this thing called reality. Reality generally has numbers attached to it. One set of numbers, with an error bar as needed.
It seems that the Conservative segment of US politics has wholeheartedly embraced magical thinking. As defined by me, this is the idea that you can through special knowledge and practice, change reality, mostly by changing how you see it.
Remember good ol’ Bushie II? He seemed to run on the idea that if he said something, it was therefore true, especially if he could threaten anyone who disagreed with him. That’s the playbook we see now: bullshit (or lying when they care about the truth), threaten those who disagree, and keep reinforcing the story up until it becomes people’s consensus reality.
This is magic, and unfortunately, it works. It’s also not new: if you look at spell, enchant, charm, glamour, even fetish, you see that these all describe types of media manipulation. People often think that our ancestors were stupid to believe in magic. They weren’t: what they called magic was when a slick-talking stranger came to town and drew up a paper that said that the land they had farmed for generations now belonged to some other dude. And they knew they couldn’t fight him, because they didn’t know how to spell. Only the truth would set them free, and all to often, their church told them that they owned that truth too, bound up in the words of the Bible. Magic is a perfectly good way to describe such a world, when you’re ignorant and powerless. The fact that people still use it today should leave us wary, not complacent.
What’s fascinating to me is how inefficient this type of magic is: No one is sure how much the Koch brothers (link to New Yorker article) are spending to bankroll the Tea Party movement, but it’s a lot. And it’s not terribly effective, despite the noise.
Still, it sucks that so many angry people are getting manipulated so badly, conned into parroting the interests of a group that demonstrably do not have their best interests at heart. Unfortunately, this group would be perfectly willing to destroy my life in multiple different ways, so I’m not that sympathetic.
But all things considered, I prefer the cold iron of real numbers. They’re more useful than the magical BS these dudes are promulgating.
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