Someone recently asked me whether I would be willing to write about the rise of President Trump from a magical standpoint, specifically in response to the question, if there are so many sorcerers, witches, priests, and magicians opposed to Trump and everything he represents, how could he have possibly come to power? The following is my response; though, I am afraid it may be a bit more technical (and snooze-worthy) than the questioner would like. For that, I apologize, but this is also something I have been thinking about quite a bit.
1. Subjective Universes, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Language We Use
The modeling function of the human brain is a fantastic thing. Through pattern recognition and analogical thinking, we are capable of creating / assuming the existence of entire subjective universes for ourselves, whether through art, rhetoric, magic, science, or any other world view that can be figured in systemic, structural terms. And while we may sometimes wonder how accurate or “real” our subjective constructions actually are (implicitly invoking Platonic idealism in which there is a perfect reality to which everything can more or less correspond), we nevertheless live our lives as if what we believe is actually real.
There is much to be learned by studying ourselves in these ways. Clearly psychology, linguistics, anthropology, political science, and history have more to discover here. And, as self-introspective individuals, we must also have a range of inner discernment privately available to us along these lines.
All such inquiry is good. All of it is especially worthwhile to us as magical seekers engaged in the Great Work of determining True Will and realizing ourselves most fully. But what happens when we encounter those who don’t share these ideals? What happens when the subjective universes we have built for ourselves—the “reality tunnels” that seem most meaningful and true to us—collide with paradigms diametrically opposed to what we have come to consider the summum bonum, the highest good? For many of us, myself included, a certain amount of cognitive dissonance results.
Recently, Tommie Kelly brought this up on his excellent blog, Adventures in Woo Woo, relative to what he experienced on Facebook when he tried to talk about magic:
I had been in a few FB groups, such as CMG V1, I wasn’t very active and I certainly would never post anything public about Magick. My friends list was full of people would would just instantly attack, argue and even bully to some extent. Lots of atheists, lots of people who read The God Delusion and lots of people who were extremely angry if religion, god, spirituality or anything similar was ever mentioned. Like REALLY angry and aggressive. There was also a lot of Catholics and general Christians who also wanted to be heard. I felt unbelievably restricted and kept in a box – different boxes for different people.
Kelly’s Facebook experience is not surprising. When people feel cognitive dissonance by having their assumptions about the world challenged or otherwise threatened, they typically undergo “a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance” (McLeod). Especially on social media, this feeling of discomfort will often give rise to expressions of fear, sadness, anger and defensiveness, since it is so easy to disparage and even troll those who are different. As Kelly puts it: “different boxes for different people.”
In some ways, this is a natural thing. In the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn talks about the evolution of scientific worldviews in terms of competing paradigms, which culminates in “paradigm shift” when an abundance of data or key discoveries force a change in underlying assumptions. This happens in the world of magic as well, but it is complicated by the fact that, unlike science, we lack an agreed-upon language to use as a foundation.
According to Peter Carroll in “Paradigm Shifts and Aeonics,” “The main difficulty in recognizing and describing the pure Magical Paradigm is that of insufficient vocabulary.” We have to borrow language from science, the humanities, and the arts. When we do have something to say as magical people, we often have to use more words, take more time, and think more carefully about our vocabulary than others because we are borrowing and re-purposing language to describe that which defies description.
So asking, how could Trump have happened? from magical standpoint is very difficult because we don’t have the language to describe the magical side of his rise to power and our subsequent cognitive dissonance.
2. The Subjective Universe of Trump and his Supporters is Vastly Divergent from All Others
Spend more than 30 seconds listening to Kellyanne Conway attempt to rationalize Trump’s erratic behavior (like watching someone on drugs try to explain string theory) and you may feel your IQ starting to drop. This is because she speaks from a Spicer-esque place of utter complicity with the Trump Administration and its assumptions.
Conway, like Spicer and Trump himself, is a magical thinker, practicing a very thin, very unaware form of creative visualization: if I decide on a set of facts and insist that they are true, then they must be true—at least for me. This is inherently magical. But magic done without awareness (that one is doing magic, that magic will have results, that those results can be disastrous when they are not controlled) will only result in damage to the magician. In this case, we see the subjective universe of Trump & Co. becoming an ironclad delusional prison, essentially a shared mental illness.
Experienced sorcerers believe magic is dangerous in the hands of fools. And this may be why.
3. Getting Past Our Own Cognitive Biases
Given these things, we can turn back to the original question. Asking how Trump could have happened when there are so many magical people arrayed against him presupposes a world in which those magical people would automatically take effective, operative action. This may not be the world in which we live.
It also seeks a magical solution to a political situation. Even though we agree there is a magical side to politics and a political side to magic, the extent to which one area influences the other remains an open question—as open as any question about the operability of magic in the physical world.
Lastly, when we talk about subjective paradigms and reality tunnels, we’re borrowing the language of philosophy and psychology to talk about something that isn’t wholly a part of those worlds. We cannot be certain how magical the term “alternate facts” is (or may become). We cannot fully comprehend the magical power inherent in the Office of the President of the United States. Nor will we ever grasp the reach and operative capacity of the creative visualization being undertaken by Trump and his followers.
All we can say is that in our liberal magical viewpoint, Trump should not have become President. But now that he is, we are responsible for getting over our cognitive dissonance, our mourning and grief, and taking action to make the world a better place, accepting the reality of what is, not feeling betrayed according to what we think it should be.
There is magic to be done. There are people to guide, educate, protect, heal. We can’t wait around for someone to take positive non-violent action. If not us, then who?