Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Magical Children

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

- Arthur C. Clarke, Third Rule of Prediction
Perhaps the most famous quote in science fiction ("Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent," comes close as does "Use the Force, Luke"), Clarke was of course speaking about mechanical technology. But I'm beginning to think there's more to this quote than first glance reveals.

I am firmly grounded in reality, I believe (some of my friends on the farther left would quickly add "in concrete shoes"). A cause has an effect, good doesn't always triumph over evil, and mother nature is unfair altho she does occasionally level the playing field a little. The world is a complex place, and while I think we can pretty much explain most of what happens here, I don't think we'll ever truly understand our universe.

That's not, however, a reason to stop trying.

I say all that, because I didn't watch the State of The Union address last night, and it bothered me this morning when I read an email asking me why. I mean, it was the most important speech of 2007, and likely will be when the dust settles, and it directly affects the course of this nation for the year, but I ended up watching the NHL All-Star coverage, the skills competition and the Youngstars game.

It's not like I don't care, as an even cursory glance at this blog will show.

It's just that...well, it hit me this morning like a ton of bricks as I listened to the pundits parse and dissect the speech.

You see, Bush, with his "Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq -- and I ask you to give it a chance to work" pleas sounded like a little boy who's team is losing the Super Bowl by 40 points with one second on the clock, screaming at the television that "we can win this! We can do it! Throw a bomb, and we can score, then have an onside kick and then run that in, then..."

And then it hit me: Bush, along with most of the Republican hierarchy, is a magical child.

That's not a compliment, by the way. While it might sound like a pagan hippie in a commune in the woods of Marin County, it's an image put forth by John Bradshaw:
It's natural for a child to think magically. But if a child is wounded through unmet dependency needs, he does not really grow up. The adult he becomes is still contaminated by the magical thinking of a child.

Other contaminating magical beliefs include:

- If I have money, I'll be OK.
- If my lover leaves me, I'll die, or I'll never make it.
- A piece of paper (a degree) will make me smart.
- If I "try hard", the world will reward me.
- "Waiting" will bring around wonderful results.
When magical child "thinking" fails, you end up in a cycle of acting out:
- Re-enactment of violence on others.
- Doing or saying to our children what we said we'd never do or say.
- Spontaneous age regression -- temper tantrums, pouting, etc.
- Being inappropriately rebellious.
- Carrying on idealized parental rules.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Religion, like alcohol or drugs, can be an addiction, and in many ways, a worse addiction, because aside from the occasional joke on late night television, who makes fun of the faithful? Who intervenes? You might say to your friend or loved one "I think you drink too much," but you'd never say "I think you pray too much."

And yet, as we see from Bradshaw, religion is a form of magical thinking. Mostly. There's nothing wrong with believing in a higher power because, as I said earlier, hell, we're never going to understand the universe, so it's comforting to place your trust that someone does. I do. Billions of the faithful do.

It's not unlike having a glass of wine with dinner. That's no problem, it doesn't affect your work or family, and even eases your life a little bit and has been demonstrated to be healthy for you.

Bush is a raging alcoholic, though, and an untreated one at that. All he did was replace his primary addiction, mood-altering substances, with another, more acceptable one.

Notice, though, it doesn't mean he learned anything. All his life, Bush has lived in magic: if he needed something, it was given to him. A college degree? Why, Yale is just the ticket! A way to duck the draft? Daddy called in a favor. A failing business? Daddy called the Saudis. A governorship? Daddy made some calls, and Karl Rove pulled some tricks out of his hat. A presidency? Diebold took care of that, along with brother Jeb and that famous witch, Katherine Harris, and Rove was there with his bag of tricks. A DWI? The Bush name will get that hidden away.

It's been said of Bush (James Carville, I think) that he was born on third base, thinking he'd hit a triple, and there's an awful lot of truth to that when you view it through the "magical child" lens. How can he comprehend the grief of a family over the loss of a loved one, when he himself has never had to face that? How can he understand the sheer terror a soldier faces in Iraq? When faced with a once-removed threat of combat, he ducked into a domestic-based Guard unit and even then, ducked out on his full tour. How can he understand that families are struggling with needs, like health care, like putting food on the table, like raising their kids, when he himself was pampered and nutured not by his parents (talk about unmet needs!) but by nannies and maids and butlers?

To make this image crystal clear for you, could you picture Barbara Bush standing in little Georgie's doorway, demanding he clean his room? If he tossed a tissue on the floor, a maid picked it up, magically, while he was outside by the pool or on the family yacht.

When you grow up with unmet needs and the perception that things get taken care of for you, and then add a religious addiction on top of it, you're just begging for trouble. His overinflated ego coupled with his magical thinking now has him believing that, if only America believes, this will all turn out for the best.

Ask him what history will ultimately say about the war, and he'll tell you that, someday, he'll be proven right, but he never outlines how that will happen, and there's the key. A reality-based person who believes that in the long run, things will be OK will be able to point to specifics in the now that lay the groundwork for that assessment.

For example, I wanted to save for my daughter's college, so way back when, I started putting away a few hundred dollars a month, on the odd chance she might make an Ivy League school (on her own, I might add). For years, it never looked like much, especially when the market tanked and Bush was unable to lift it for years and years. But I had faith, and I kept telling myself that if I continued to put money away, college would be affordable.

She goes away this fall, and surprise surprise, it is.

I worry about something, and I go and do something constructive about it. I solve the problem, rather than pray it will go away.

What's frustrating for me, and most people on the left, is dealing with magical children. See, many of my Republican friends are also reality-based, but approach life from a different reality.

That's OK. I can influence their opinion and they can influence mine, and at the very least, we challenge each other to come up with better explanations for why we believe what we believe.

To talk to someone who is a magical child, who walks around in a virtual wizard's hat, is next to impossible: when confronted by facts, the magical child runs further and further into the fantasy world he's constructed. He believes he can point out the flaws in your logic by nitpicking and harping on inconsistencies that you wouldn't even dream of defending, because they're basically irrelevant: Iraq's a disaster but you know, the Kurds are much better off than they were before Saddam, so we were right to go in. There is no global warming, because it snowed in Malibu last week.

That sort of thing. And Bush serves to give them legitimacy with his wounded inner child.

I made the point a few weeks back that Republicans believed in a patriarchal society, dominated by black-and-white rules that allow for little leeway and very little forgiveness, and now we get a glimpse of why this is so.

See, magical thinking implies that things must work in some fashion according to rules that only those who are magical can break freely. If you break the rules and get caught, well, then, you weren't magical and so you must not be as good as I am, since I get away with it.

In other words, free will only applies to those who can take advantage of it, anyone else be damned. Further, the cause and effect of actions gets distorted: if only the country would ban gay marriage, then we'd all be happier, or if only you believe in my war plan, we can win this thing.

When he don't understand the consequences of a decision, the decider makes bad decisions.

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