Libertarians are often puzzled by a recurring phenomenon. In the course of a discussion it is obvious that the correct arguments are on your side. Your opponent can offer no alternative to your assertions, cannot point out a flaw in your logic, cannot challenge your basic assumptions. Yet he remains unconvinced. Frustrated, you conclude that further discussion is useless. As you walk away, he is convinced that you have lost the exchange simply because your dismay is obvious.
Consider, for example, the following readily recognizable exchange. A libertarian says that taxation is morally wrong, and the statist he is talking to incredulously asks why.
Libertarian: "Taxes are collected involuntarily, by coercion."
Statist: "But taxes are paid voluntarily."
Libertarian: "Or else!"
Statist: "But we live in a democracy, where the people freely chose their representatives. Since the people's freely elected representatives pass the tax laws, taxation must be voluntary on their part."
Libertarian: "But how can it be right for a group of people to do what would be criminal for individuals?"
Statist: "What's right or wrong is what the law says is right or wrong. You can't call taxation criminal, or involuntary, because it's done by the state, and the will of the state is the very definition of legality."
And so it goes. Discussion beyond this point is futile. Once the argument has reached the point of differences over such fundamental concepts as reality, identity, objectivity, the verification of moral judgments, the meaning the statist gives your own words is not what you intend. Rational dialogue becomes impossible.
The error most make under these circumstances is to dismiss their opponent's irrationality as a mere personal fluke. This is a very serious error, because what has been encountered here is nothing less than the magical view of the world. It is more common than one might think, and many individuals who consider themselves rational don't realize that they share it. The magical worldview is a serious obstacle to libertarianism, for indeed, it would not overstate the case to say that reason and liberty stand or fall together.
"Magical thinking" is not an assorted grab bag of isolated superstitions, fallacies, and wishes independent of each other. It is an integrated world-view with definite assumptions, "logic," and theorizing, and it attempts to explain the same world reason does.
Rational people are often infuriated by the mere suggestion that magic has a "logic." Hating it, fearing contamination, they avoid discussing it at all costs. Thus the basic assumptions and central fallacies of the magical world-view are almost never probed or challenged.
Here are some examples of the magical kind of thinking:
Baseball announcers don't mention it when someone is pitching a no-hitter: angry fans would blame the announcer for jinxing the pitcher.
Several years ago I was in a car with a friend in a hurry to get someplace when we were stopped by a traffic light at an intersection before a railroad crossing. To calm his anxiety I said, "Well, at least a train's not coming." At that exact moment the crossing lights started flashing and the barriers descended as a long freight train passed. He behaved as if my comments were responsible for the train's holding him up.
From a recent TV show:
Patient, jokingly: "I need an operation, right Doc?"
Doctor: "Yes, it's your gall bladder."
Patient, worried: "You're kidding!"
Doctor: "No, it has to be operated on."
Patient: "That's what I get for making jokes! God is punishing me for making jokes!"
Of course, the doctor had made his decision several hours before.
And, from The Crack in the Cosmic Egg:
Few people understood my fury when the medical center that had attended my wife requested that I bring my just-then-budding teenage daughter for regular six-monthly checkups forever thereafter, since they had found—and thoroughly advertised—that mammary malignancies in a mother tended to be duplicated in the daughter many hundred percent above average. And clearly such tragic duplications do occur, in a clear example of the circularity of expectancy verification, the mirroring by reality of a passionate or basic fear. [Joseph Chilton Pearce (New York: Julian Press, 1971), p. 8]
An excellent summary of the magical worldview is to be found in Walter Goldschmidt's foreword to Carlos Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.
Anthropology has taught us that the world is differently defined in different places. It is not only that people have different customs; it is not only that people believe in different gods and expect different post-mortem fates. It is, rather, that the worlds of different peoples have different shapes. The very metaphysical presuppositions differ: space does not conform to Euclidean geometry, time does not form a continuous unidirectional flow, causation does not conform to Aristotelian logic, man is not differentiated from non-man or life from death, as in our world. [p. 9.]
An even more radical statement may be found in Joseph Chilton Pearce's remarkable book (remarkable in that it does not shrink from even the most egregious absurdity), The Crack in the Cosmic Egg. Even though in the sequel, Exploring the Crack in the Cosmic Egg, Pearce modifies his position somewhat, Crack is still both a wonderful example of perfect nonsense and a consistent exposition of what the magic worldview really involves.
Later I will try to summarize how an infant's mind is shaped into a "reality adjusted" personality, and show how this representation helps determine the reality in which the adult then moves. By analyzing how our representations of the world come about we may be able to grasp the arbitrary, and thus flexible, nature of our reality. The way we represent the world arises, though, from our whole social fabric, as Bruner put it. There is no escaping this rich web of language, myth, history, ways of doing things, unconsciously-accepted attitudes, notions, and so on, for these make up our only reality. If this social fabric tends to become our shroud, the only way out is by the same weaving process, for there is only the one. So we need to find out all we can about the loom involved, and weave with imagination and vision rather than allow the process to happen as random fate. [p. 4.]
Can it be that Pearce projects his own confusion onto reality, concluding that since the contents of his consciousness are confused, relative, arbitrary, fluid, and out of focus, reality is the same way?
The general principle underlying this book, and magical thinking in general, is what Lawrence Jerome, in his article attacking astrology in the October-November 1975 issue of The Humanist, calls "the principle of correspondence." He identifies this as the fundamental principle of magic and then examines how astrology makes use of it. The principle can be stated as follows: an object is associated with an analog object which has certain qualities, the qualities of the analog object then being imputed to the original object.
Babylonian priests were quite "skilled" in using omens to foretell future events, usually in reference to business or state. Entrails of animals and natural events such as comets and eclipses were the omen-readers stock-in-trade. Complex rules were developed for reading the "signs," based upon the idea that, if the priest could see some sort of connection or analogy between the omen and the real world, the state or condition of the omen would by analogy foretell the upcoming state of the world.
This is, of course, magic, and it may be fairly stated that essentially all magic—white, black, or sympathetic—works in theory the same way, via the "principle of analogies or correspondences."…the omen or magic object has certain physical properties that are related to the external world by analogy. For instance, the reddish color of the planet Mars means to the astrologer that it is magically related with blood, war, and the metal iron, which proved so superior to bronze for weapons.…
The "principle of correspondences" is fully discussed in Cavendish's The Black Arts, Jack Lindsay's Origins of Astrology (1971), and my article "Astrology and Modern Science: A Critical Analysis" (Leonardo 6 (1973)). Initially, the correspondence is made within the magician's mind by means of his imagination and has only a superficial basis in reality. In most sympathetic magic, the magician's strength of will is supposed to complete the magic link between amulet and corresponding object; only in astrology is the magical link made automatically through the "celestial harmonies of the spheres."
What distinguishes Pearce, and the magic worldview, from the mere manipulation represented by the shamans and magicians, is the placing of consciousness as the analog object for the real world. Adherents to this worldview (magicians, for short) give reality the properties of consciousness. Magic thinking has these distinct features:
Consciousness is king and reality an obedient servant.
Reality is different for different people; or, there are different realities for different people.
There is no reality independent of the mind.
States of consciousness (words, intent, feelings, assertions, etc.) are active and determine the form of reality. Words have power in themselves and prophecies are self-fulfilling.
But if all this is true, one might be tempted to ask, what prevents me from turning, say, my typewriter into Sophia Loren? Pearce has an answer. Reality is social in nature. The pressure of the socially created construct, which we naive realists mistakenly take for reality, forces most people to perceive a typewriter as a typewriter and not as Sophia Loren. Individuals are like lines, on his view, and culture is a force that bends the lines into a circle. Individuals tend to leave the socially acceptable reality but are prevented from doing so by the force of other people's thinking. Courageous individuals may enlarge the orbit of culture, but for the most part we can no more break away from culture than the moon can break away from its orbit about the earth.
The implications of all this are breathtaking in their absurdity. For example, when people thought the earth was flat, it really was. Before Columbus discovered America, it didn't exist. Before the Copernican revolution, earth was the center of the universe. Blood did not circulate in the human body before William Harvey discovered its doing so in the 17th century. Newton, Maxwell, Mendeleev, Planck, Einstein—all the greatest minds of the ages—were merely imposing their private visions on the rest of the world, robbing us of our own creative potential.
For those who find it incredible that any human being could maintain this with a straight face, I urge that they read as much of Pearce and Casteneda as they can stand.
Since, on these hypotheses, morality is impossible, the irrationalist will retreat, when pressed, to the definition of morality as that which is socially acceptable. Hence the reliance on democratic process and legal positivism. The challenge to reason is clear. The challenge to liberty is clear.
The acceptance of liberty depends on the nature of an individual's reality-concept, or, to use Kuhn's phrase, his paradigm. It is not hard to see why this should be so. Libertarianism's case is developed by reason. Its case for individual rights and noncoercion depends on the existence of an independent, knowable reality in which there is only one logic, Aristotle's, and actions are related to consequences as cause and effect. Though it may seem like flogging a dead horse to some, it is important to keep flogging this horse until it really is dead. We must not flinch from getting our hands dirty. We must never allow the enemy to go unchallenged. With this purpose in mind I offer a refutation of this tissue of absurdities.
In the first place, reasoning by analogy is never valid. An analogy may sometimes be a useful illustrative device, but it is never anything more. No analogy ever proves anything. Once the principle of correspondence is challenged, magic and the magic worldview collapse like a house of cards.
The proponents of magic never go beyond their assertions. While mathematicians committed to the strictest possible application of logic (precisely the logic the magicians deprecate) have gone beyond Euclidean geometry, those same mathematicians will admit both that Euclid's achievement was of the first rank and that Euclid is still valid for most practical purposes. (In technical parlance, Euclidean geometry is valid "locally" and non-Euclidean geometry is simply more general.) Modern affine, projective, hyperbolic, and differential geometries merely make some different assumptions from Euclid and pursue rigorously the logical consequences of those assumptions. At no point does wishful thinking enter the picture, least of all in the choice of assumptions or axioms—because the crucial purpose of our investigations is to yield knowledge of reality.
No advocate of magic has proposed an alternative either to Aristotelian logic or to causation that could stand even a moment's critical examination. (See Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, pp. 75-89, Omnipotent Government, pp. 143-47, and Theory and History, pp.31-32, 122-42, for discussions of what he calls "polylogism.") Logic, of course, cannot be proven valid, because proof and validity presuppose logic. The magicians, denying logic, can claim only preference and opinion, not validity, truth, or proof for their worldview. Their only recourse is to enthrone preference and opinion, denying any possibility of truth. This is, of course, what they in fact do, beneath all the verbiage.
That the world exists independently of the mind, and is not determined by consciousness, is a logically necessary truth. For the world (whatever its ultimate nature) must exist for individual minds to exist.
Further, unless there is an independent reality there can be no such thing as truth (conscious identification of reality, using language), right or wrong, good or evil, rights, or logic of any kind. Without an independent reality, no particular statement of the form "x exists" could be true (or false)! The denial of reality and logic therefore leads inexorably to the ultimate absurdity of denying existence itself.
We can see, then, that the magical worldview is the sheerest nonsense, totally unsupported by experience and, further, logically impossible. We then have nothing to fear from magic, and indeed a sustained critical attack on it can be of enormous psychological benefit, since nearly all of us are occasionally guilty of succumbing to it.
Far from being a mere theoretical exercise, the basic principles here outlined are of immediate practical consequence. Aside from demonstrating the involuntary nature of taxes, the refutation of the magicians bears directly on the nature of the justification of the State. For example, without some variant of the magical world-view, how could legal positivism make its claim that morality has no necessary connection with the law, that the law may sanction the use of coercion even for demonstrably immoral aims, that the law does not have to be justified on moral grounds? Surely the legal positivists are engaging in magical thinking as here defined when they assert that the law, regardless of its content, is still the law and can command obedience without entailing criminal acts on the part of makers and enforcers of the law. An insistence by libertarians that the law be justified on moral grounds, and morality on reality and logic, would be one of the most practical things they could do to help arrest the relentless juggernaut of the state as it tramples individual liberty.
George Morrone is a student at Temple University majoring in computer programming. He is an associate editor of Individual Liberty, the newsletter of the Society for Individual Liberty, in which portions of this article previously appeared.