What is magical thinking? 

One knows what this is in a philosophical as well as quite un-philosophical sense.


I mean, don’t we?

Hasn’t everyone had at least some portion of their lives, some phases, where they’re living in a fantasy land whether you knew it or not, that at some point you came to realize that it was kind of a fantasy? Like, then you come back to reality?

I think these expressions have some basis in truth. I think everyone has these moments.

This little essay isn’t going to be about how we discern fantasy from reality, it’s really more on a philosophical level; less on a psychological level and more critical level. I have difficulty with the psychological models that would presume to cast an umbrella over all humanity to say that there are some fundamental truths that are common amongst us all human beings; I think there is a difference between the psychological models that frame themselves around mental illness and dysfunction, and a psychology of the common human sort. Indeed psychology must deal in these absolute terms in order to even have a way to diagnose and or treat mental illness, but I reject the idea that works in reverse. Certain psychological treatment might indeed address a mental illness — Do not read this to implying that there is not mental illness— but it does not necessarily relate that the common human being is subject to the diagnoses and explanations of these mental illnesses. I find my ground in a more positive science (as opposed to a deficit science. A science of failure of not a deficit science).

That little divergence almost goes to the point of what we might mean by magical thinking. The question is always involved with: at what point does the human being find an actual truth, or ground that is “no longer magical“?

By what criterion are we discerning what is magical thinking, or enchantment, and non-magical or disenchanted thinking? What condition must arise for us to stop thinking magically? And why is it bad? Is it bad?

My questions arise from the mere notice that there might be magical thinking. How we discerning this? Indeed this involves a kind of philosophical calculus: what is moving and what is stable?

The problem with the idea of “magical“ thinking is the possibility involved with the moment that I discover that my thinking has been “magical“, or not based in reality, Fantasy. The question that must go along with this realization is, what is occurring that I have been able to discern that the “previous“ thinking was a fantasy?

We can gain our bearings in this discussion by some very actual situations. World War I and then the Nationalist Socialist, and a recent US election whereby Donald Trump was elected president. It is no mere coincidence  to be set aside in a song of synchonicity that these two events have been associated.

In both of these events there was a feeling of a kind of necessary motion, a sort of good feeling that everything is going to work out, followed by a sudden rupture, seemingly in the fabric of reality. Zizek calls these moments “events”: a moment where history is rewritten in the present retrograde, but I think they might be something else also.

If I have my history correct, World war one was a large upset to Europe. Everybody loved the Germans prior to World War I; all the great philosophers and ideas came out of northern Europe. Everyone love the Germans. But then the Germans got cocky; it appears that they were taking their big ideas too seriously. It seems that because the world loved their ideas that made their ideas even greater that they felt that they should naturally be the leaders of your up if not the world.

So in a way that great German idealism had a reality check by the rest of the world in World War One. So then there was like this check upon such huge thoughts such presumptuous thinking, and it appears that Germany got humble with the Weimar Republic that occurred in between the world wars. During this time is when the idea of genetic purity began to be associated with nationalism in an industrial sense: The point now is to produce that identity as the imperative of Being-the-world (Being-there). The ideal was one cannot simply BE, one must ACT. We might begin to see how this plays out in every era, but in particular you can see that the big thought of idealism was not so easily quelled by a few small minds, even if the small minds were pretty much the rest of the world. The Ideal of German Idealism seems to disregard what part of the planet a person is from, but nevertheless seems to involve those who are involved with Western Europe. The very idea of colonization can take on new meaning when we understand ourselves as colonizers, as having appropriated the game of the oppressor for the purpose of gaining an identity in the world that we helped define, but indeed were impotent to define by ourselves; but that is for another essay.

I read “Mein Kampf“ while ago because I was curious and I remember how about the first 20 or 30 pages seemed fairly reasonable, considering. But then all of a sudden Hitler gets crazy; all of a sudden, if I recall correctly, I am no longer on board with his book because it has grabbed my attention in a way that he probably did not consider (I was not his audience). All the sudden he talks talking about the Jews in the Jew problem and – basically a whole bunch of self-righteous ideas based on hatred, in the justification is that a rise out of that. You get the feeling that Germany had been spanked and put to stand in the corner for 15 minutes, but that really did nothing but piss them off. Democracy itself comes under fire as a disease of the weak, the name of this weakness, Judaism. Again, everything seemed to be going great, and then out of nowhere KAPLOoEY! The Frankfurt School tries to decipher what happened.

It’s a funny thing about being pissed off, I mean when you are really angry, angry to the point that you know what’s gonna come out of your mouth everyone’s going to hate and they’re going to think something is wrong with you. In these moments you generally come up and discover two kinds of people: there’s the type who mediately start yelling in like punching pillows and walls and shit, starts getting in your face and yelling at you and pointing his finger in your eyeballs. It might suck but the two responses to this kind is to either walk away or knock the guy out.

The other way That this kind of anger is dealt withis moredevious. This kind of anger is quiet and scheming. This kind of anger put on a face of civility, of concern, of yearning for progress and solution. This angry person is intelligent, and we might even say that this kind of intelligence paired with the idealism of the enlightenment you all did a particularly evil form of self righteous goodness.

The self-righteous goodness is what everyone sees because the face is of compassion and passion, hopefulness and concerned with your well-being. It is through this kind of camaraderie, this kind of empathy that hard lines are drawn, slowly and subtly people become convinced that the great ideal is indeed a good idea to implement.

And then, Bam! The reality of the situation appears, seemingly out of nowhere and places what is common sense, what was indeed commonsense what is indeed common to a regular sense of what a regular human being desires: happiness, contentment, friends, community, self fulfillment, (ah ha!). All of a sudden, this reality is disrupted by hatred and violence, of enforcement and imposition, and these values that seems so normal are usurped and used as the ground for the partitioning off one group from another; the other becomes the cause and justification for its rejection. We all know the rest…

The point I am making is not that either was magical thinking, but that both were. Despite what ground we wish to place under our ideals for what reality should be, they both take place in an ideal world, a world of ideas. Only the manner of negotiating these ideals is different. Because the discourse that describe Nazi ideology and the religious structure that occurred within and around it (Aryan, Nordic, Christian distortions) is merely a justification based in a different set of ideals. How do we know if they are distorted?

So the question then becomes, again; How do we discern what magical thinking is? How do we know when our thinking is magical and when it is based in a ‘rational’ real foundation?

Is it when we consider all human beings a part of the same group who should have equal and equitable access to justice and materials for life? Or is it when we group a set of disparate ideologies into a single ideology for the purpose of furthering a common group that we call ‘human’, even while we subject much of that common group to unfair routes of access as part and parcel of coming to terms with the equitable standard? Or perhaps it is the idea that we create our own worlds? That discourse constitute the entirety of world? That we can think outside of discourse? That we cannot know of object in-themselves? That we can? That humanity functions on models that are particularly human and do not actually reference anything but the human model? That God has the plan? That Yoga gets us right with our Karma? That we are living in the End Times? there are unicorns and elves living in the forest near you?

No answers. Just a thought.

PS:  I have not yet seen from the authors that use this trope “magical thinking” a definition that supplies a basis for what is not magical thinking.

Anyone find one?


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