Magic Force

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Magic /
@ K. late 1990s

The Force: Basic Magician’s Tool
(AKA: Magician’s Choice)

Pick a card … any card …

Somehow you’re been picked from the audience. You are on the stage, uncomfortable, on display, lights in your eyes. The magician expertly fans a deck of cards before you. You pause. He fans them wider, smiling, patient. The fan is perfect: this guy has handled cards before. Horowitz doesn’t play the piano any better than this guy fans cards. You reach your hand toward the fan. The choice is yours: fifty-two cards, randomly distributed — we all just saw him shuffle them …

And the deuce of clubs jumps into your hand. Boom! It’s there. Or the ace of spades. It doesn’t matter: not to you. You hold whatever card the magician wants you to be holding. The audience thinks you chose a card at random. If you are at all honest, at all self-aware, you know you had nothing to do with it: you put your hand out to choose, and a choice was made for you. No choice masquerading as choice.

thanx smithsonian

“Neuroscientists are novices at deception.
Magicians have done controlled testing in human perception for thousands of years.”

Nobody said it better than Hitler:

There’s always one of two possibilities.

Two possibilities? Gee, then oughtn’t the possibilities to be two?

Henry Ford said it damn well himself:

You can have any color you want: so long as it’s black.

When we go to the magic show we know it’s a show. The modern stage magician even calls himself an illusionist. But in our public lives the same old tricks are called law, democracy … or Christianity … the Truth!

And the magicians are called experts … teachers … lawyers … congressmen … (And most of them can’t fan the deck worth a damn. Once licensed, they don’t even have to try. It’s only on Broadway that the illusion needs be deft.)

This point iterates passim throughout But bkMarcus has just shared this quote from Murray N. Rothbart, very much to the point, so I attempt to share it further:

It is also particularly important for the State to make its rule seem inevitable: even if its reign is disliked, as it often is, it will then be met with the passive resignation expressed in the familiar coupling of “death and taxes.” One method is to bring to its side historical determinism: if X-State rules us, then this has been inevitably decreed for us by the Inexorable Laws of History (or the Divine Will, or the Absolute, or the Material Productive Forces), and nothing that any puny individuals may do can change the inevitable. It is also important for the State to inculcate in its subjects an aversion to any outcropping of what is now called “a conspiracy theory of history.” For a search for “conspiracies,” as misguided as the results often are, means a search for motives, and an attribution of individual responsibility for the historical misdeeds of ruling elites. If, however, any tyranny or venality or aggressive war imposed by the State was brought about not by particular State rulers but by mysterious and arcane “social forces,” or by the imperfect state of the world-or if, in some way, everyone was guilty (“We are all murderers,” proclaims a common slogan), then there is no point in anyone’s becoming indignant or rising up against such misdeeds. Furthermore, a discrediting of “conspiracy theories” — or indeed, of anything smacking of “economic determinism” — will make the subjects more likely to believe the “general welfare” reasons that are invariably put forth by the modern State for engaging in any aggressive actions.

The rule of the State is thus made to seem inevitable. Furthermore, any alternative to the existing State is encased in an aura of fear. Neglecting its own monopoly of theft and predation, the State raises the specter among its subjects of the chaos that would supposedly ensue if the State should disappear. The people on their own, it is maintained, could not possibly supply their own protection against sporadic criminals and marauders. Furthermore, each State has been particularly successful over the centuries in instilling fear among its subjects of other State rulers. With the land area of the globe now parceled out among particular States, one of the basic doctrines and tactics of the rulers of each State has been to identify itself with the territory it governs. Since most men tend to love their homeland, the identification of that land and its population with the State is a means of making natural patriotism work to the State’s advantage. If, then, “Ruritania” is attacked by “Walldavia,” the first task of the Ruritanian State and its intellectuals is to convince the people of Ruritania that the attack is really upon them, and not simply upon their ruling class. In this way, a war between rulers is converted into a war between peoples, with each people rushing to the defense of their rulers in the mistaken belief that the rulers are busily defending them. This device of nationalism has been particularly successful in recent centuries; it was not very long ago, at least in Western Europe, when the mass of subjects regarded wars as irrelevant battles between various sets of nobles and their retinues.

from Chapter 3: The State, The State and the Intellectuals
search, link not current

People are social. We form groups: for companionship, for reproduction, for cooperation, for competition, for food gathering, hunting … trade … manufacture … We form families, groups … tribes … cultures … This is natural. So long as we are social creatures, it is inevitable. It is neither right nor wrong. So long as our survival strategies continue our survival (or our luck), such strategies are just fine.

The governments of civilization are something else again. One doesn’t need government to be civilized. No culture in the Middle Ages was more civilized than the Irish: and they lived free, had no State. (You do need a state to be a kleptocracy.) I say that there is no illusion more artificial, more imposed upon us, more dangerous than the modern imposition by states of the belief that they are both necessary and inevitable.

A few days later bk emails me a Penn & Teller quote in which Penn characterized the US two party system as a magician’s choice: that is, no choice at all. Gore Vidal had another challenging way of sayig the same thing. He said that there was not and had never been more than one party in America: the property party. Vidal did admit however that it had two wings: one more conservative, the other more liberal.
When I told t hat to bk he immediately interrupted to “correct”: “the anti-property party” he insisted.

A personal illustration of The Force will get linked.

Magic Menu

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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