Magic: The Blathering


I say this! Well I say that! Don’t cross the streams!

You’ll have to excuse the faltering nature of this post: My Facebook status is currently “Low on Mana.”

You know I like to think the Big Thoughts (har) and these mental excitations decidedly do not lead to good vibrations. In fact, more often than not, they lead to impasse.

Most people, I hear tell, have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Not me. I have a miniaturized and hovering Gandalf the Grey and he continually yells, “You shall not impasse!” For some reason, though, that’s not all that helpful.

What sort of big thoughts, you ask, oh helpful reader? Just wee trifling matters. Is climate change real and impacted by human behavior? Do vaccines kill my kids? Should girls be allowed to show a little shoulder in their high school yearbook photos? Will a little non-disclosed GMO kill me? Is it acceptable to harvest organs from poor people? Would raising minimum wage help or hurt the economy? Will we as a society literally swallow petroleum until it kills us? Does being armed to the teeth make society safer or more dangerous? Should politicians and people advertising products have to tell the truth? Does Earth orbit the sun or does the entire universe orbit the Earth? Does trickle-down economics represent the overall best solution for everyone? Why does Hulu Plus have commercials if there’s a monthly fee? Why does a good portion of the people on this planet feel it is acceptable for a 50-year-old man to marry a 12-year-old girl? Does Obamacare make our nation stronger or weaker?

It should be obvious my wee little brain is incapable of grappling with weighty issues like these (and many, many more). What to do? What to do?

I call stuff like this a Magic Problem. The real truth and/or solution is behind a curtain and I don’t get to speak directly with the Wizard.

Why the word “magic?” Simple.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

–The Third of Clarke’s Three Laws

For most of us the “magic” in our lives is omnipresent. Things like light switches, toilets and the thing under the hood of our car that makes it go are absolutely indiscernible from magic. How do those things work? Hell if I know. It would probably be correct to say that you shouldn’t be allowed to use any technology that you don’t understand, can’t build and don’t know how to fix. But, as a society, we’ve decided wholeheartedly that we don’t need to live that way.

I don’t know much. I don’t know how to prove what my gut, intuition and reasoning abilities deduce what must be correct about these sorts of things. Remember, I’m the same guy who thinks that light switches, toilets and motors are magic.

At least I know what I don’t know. And I do know this: Beware anyone who comes at you regarding such things and claims to have a monopoly on the truth. Beware those who say they know. Especially if the topic is something that is still way beyond the capacity of humans to understand.

Oh, you believe XYZ is false? And, coincidentally, you profit and make your livelihood based on XYZ being false? And you have no specific experience or training or innate abilities involving this subject? I’m not exactly getting a warm fuzzy feeling that you are the best source of information on this particular topic. Ya think?

The problem with that which exists behind the curtain is that it is not knowable. If it was knowable, we’d all know it. Right? Of course, these days, what people will quibble about is downright head scratching. We thought the case was settled but now a few nutballs have reopened it. “Gravity doesn’t exist,” the yell. “And Jay-Z has talent.” Are they crazy or what?

Here’s the dilemma: You’ve got this piece of magic in front of you and you have to deal with it. You are unqualified and don’t have the training or the knowledge. So you rely on the opinions of experts. This is a lot like getting your car fixed. The mechanic says, “You gotta replace the confubulator. It’s gonna run you $600.” What the hell are you going to do about it? All I know is the thing needs to go. Please, just make it go. Here, take my $600 and my confused and dubious thanks. This same phenomenon exists, of course, with light switches, toilets and other stuff like computers. It doesn’t apply to TVs because they are disposable. We just throw it in the garbage and buy a brand new one. It would be a waste of money to pay someone to try to fix it.

Case study: Vaccination debate. There isn’t a chance in hell I can understand the issue myself. Maybe if I went to college and got my Ph.D in biology I might be able to grok the inklings of the topic. But who has time for that? So we turn to persons other than ourselves to inform us. Experts and advocates. The problem? There are two sides and each claims to have the facts, science and scientists on their side. It’s magic. How am I supposed to decide? Nothing personal but I’m feeling uncomfortable about putting all of my eggs in your basket.

When I reach impasse that seems like a good time to remind myself that most people probably don’t know any more than me. And that the louder the yell the more they must be overcompensating for a lack of knowledge. Especially when their financial bottom line hangs in the balance.

How certain are you that everything you believe and everything you’re being told is really what it seems to be? It too much certainty a bad thing?

11 responses

  1. For the things we care about , it’s up to us to be informed about them.
    Or at least, to pick people who are informed about them to represent us.

    So most of the mess we’re in is our own fault.

    You’re welcome.


    1. So in other words: Perceive, judge, evaluate and reason. And hope that somehow it works! 🙂

      Perhaps when faced with two “experts” with opposing points of view a useful criteria might be looking at what else these experts believe.

      Expert A believes the Earth is flat and that dried animal bladders ground into a powder can ward off evil spirits.

      Expert B believes that the Earth is round and that rhino horns do not have healing properties.

      I’m pretty much going to tend to believe Expert B more than Expert A.


      1. Well, you have an education for the basis of your faith in Expert B.
        And presumably, Expert B showed up with evidence/proof.


  2. Word. I think about this very thing often. It seems like with science, religion, technology, etc., we think we have the answers. I think part of the reason is because in modern discourse and ideology nuance has become decidedly unsexy, ambivalence and ambiguity have become weaknesses to to fix, black & white thinking the norm. “My way or the highway.” “You’re either with us or against us.”

    I can’t believe how many headlines I see these days that expressly tell you why you should or shouldn’t believe something, and how many articles are partisan screeds.

    On a different note, I used to think Kleenex boxes were magic. As a kid, I loved pulling the tissues out because another one would just appear. Witchcraft!


    1. Obviously a Kleenex box is sufficiently advanced technology for you. 🙂

      I forgot another key issue to ponder: Western medicine vs. “homeopathic” healing.

      One thing is for sure: There are a lot of people out there convinced they are right!


  3. It’s harder and harder in this Information Age to sort out actual facts from “nuanced” ones. That said, it’s not impossible. And to clarify, there aren’t always two sides to a debate. Sometimes there’s only one. Sometimes there’s many.

    Case in point, vaccines. The overwhelming evidence is that vaccines are safe. So, you can believe the worlds’ immunologists, or you can believe the crazy lady with that forwarded email from her aunt. That’s not a debate.


    1. Thanks to modern technology I’m able to reply to this comment while sitting in a folding chair on the front lawn waiting for the spaceship to beam me up. It’s probin’ time!


  4. This is all a little too deep for me. Thankfully you’re here to guide us.

    But I will say this…when in doubt, Pinterest it.
    Something pretty will show up.

    That is all.


    1. Pinterest has something to do with the meaning of life? I did not know that.


  5. When faced with two experts with opposing opinions, I tend to side with the one of them who I like better, or the one who says what I want to be true. As for vaccines, I think it would be nice to have a third expert tell us what happens if we don’t vaccinate children in the first place. This won’t clarify if they are safe or not, but it might make choosing a side a little easier.


    1. It’s so refreshing to hear from someone who has it all figured out. I want to be more like you. The thing with vaccines is that it’s so simple. It only requires experimentation. Inject the kid and see if it lives. Then you’ll know.


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