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from an email to a colleague of yesteryear:
Magic Displaces Reason in Political Administrations
I’ve been planning an essay on the above subject. I remember an illustration from my first ever faculty meeting where Colby College President, Robert Strider, announced some decision to compromise the integrity of the Colby-Marston Preserve, a bog recently protected thanks to leadership by Dr. Ronald B. Davis. President Strider finessed his plan as an “announcement,” thereby hoping to avoid faculty discussion.
My memory is of course both impression and interpretation. Something like that happened. But before I report it as a “fact” in an essay, I should shore it up with a little research. I am not in a position to read the college bylaws, retrieve that meeting’s minutes, or any such thing. I hoped asking Dr. Davis what he remembered of it would be enough. The next thing I know, I found myself answering his answer with a sketch of the essay!
A major thesis of mine these days (derived from Sir James Frazer) is that church and state are siblings, both descended from magic, not from reason, certainly not from science. Statesmen, like priests, are more akin to magicians than to philosophers: using misdirection, lies, rigged properties, shills … all in a rigged theater where they control the audience through lighting, perspective, etc.
I further see most if not all institutions as in the same game, seldom having a clue that there’s a reality other than their illusions, a reality we may stub our toe against. I want to argue that assiduous attention to detail in unimportant matters is mere misdirection so long as crucial things can be done sub-rosa, by executive privilege, appeal to “national security,” etc.
The faculty meeting I referred to was my first. In theory, I was supposed to be able to speak up, object, vote, whatever, but there was no way I was going to open my mouth without having a better lay of the land. I’d never heard of Colby-Marston Preserve, didn’t yet know you, hadn’t yet read Lamont C. Cole’s major ecological essay of that year …  I didn’t know all of Roberts Rules of Order … But I believe I knew enough to smell a rat at the outset of the meeting.
Minutes were read, then announcements, one of which was a (seemed-to-me) bombshell about the Colby-Marston Preserve. I don’t remember whether President Strider was going to fill it in, erect a theme park, a new dorm, or open a hot dog stand, but whatever it was it seemed wildly inappropriate to this newcomer. But Strider wasn’t introducing it as a proposal to be considered; rather it was an accomplished fact, old news, not new business: and, he emphasized, by some technicality, none of the faculty’s concern!
By the way, Jefferson tells Congress, I just bought Louisiana. I didn’t see it as your business so I just did it without mentioning it to you. Strider did something similar. And then tried to rush on to important matters — appropriate faculty business — new cups for the lounge or some such trivia.
My memory is that my new colleagues fidgeted a bit, but then, like good children, swallowed it. Except for you. (Which is why it’s you I ask to confirm and fill in.) I sat there, Duhh? Huhhh? That tall painter/art teacher made sarcastic comments. “Alas” is the one word I remember with confidence. But you jumped up and objected. Strider was trying to steer us toward “proper” faculty business, you were yanking him back to the skullduggery. At least you were trying to. First time I ever noticed you.
Meantime, a tired gravely voice offered its own sarcasms: “I too am on the side of the angels.” Someone ID’d him for me as old guard (i.e., a Strider shill, or, he was the real magician and Strider was his shill … Or, some alumnus was the real magician and both old guard and Strider were the alum’s shills …). Meaning I suppose that anyone recognizing Dr. Ron Davis and the preservation of a biosphere to be on the side of life and good should also recognize deforesting and bulldozing as equally “good.”
(What? Lucifer was also an angel? Therefore, there is no important difference between good and evil? Life and death? Salvation or damnation? Man as cancer and man as self-sustaining?)
(What was actually running through my mind at the time was that the “on the side of the angles” line was what Bishop Wilberforce said to Huxley in trying to deride Darwin. Translation: being on the side of the angles means being dead wrong!)
We count the pennies carefully while the millions pass invisibly behind our backs. I wouldn’t dream of farting in public (and, of course, only Congress can declare war), but by the way, I just had the troops invade Cambodia.
It’s also part of my thesis that control of illusion between audience and magician is mutual: the audience sits in the theater to be deceived (to deceive itself). Oh please: you know all our fallacies: play to them. Tell us that genocide is good so long as we’re the ones doing it, how we respect property until we want to steal it for ourselves … Above all, remember that we confuse any supporting example of what we want to believe with “proof” and there’s an end of it.