Builds Upon: The Most Precious Resource: Legitimacy
In our modern way of thought, few things can be more contemptible than superstition. Words like ‘magic’ and ‘witchcraft’ are taken to be synonymous with everything dark and barbaric.
Yet every pre-industrial society and plenty of post-industrial societies include magic as a regular part of daily life.
Whether magic is ‘true’ or not is of little relevance. We can divine that societies with belief in magic had a competitive advantage over those that did not.
If we really look at what magic is, we find that its function is pretty consistent and straightforward. It’s a means of influencing the human subconscious.
Let’s look at a typical shamanic strategy: Tell the family that the sick person is inhabited by a demon and that it can only be driven away if the family members are totally devoted in their hearts to recovery.
Is there really a demon causing the disease? Who cares? The shaman has inspired a sense of urgency in the family and caused them to really take the situation seriously. Attitude influences action and the shaman has gotten their attitude in the right place so that the right actions follow.
It’s a pretty straightforward chain of causation that almost unanimously escapes ‘rational’ modern thinkers.
In fact the relationship between the shaman and his patient is pretty similar that between worker and boss. Begin with incentives(worker gets fired if they screw up), then watch for results(worker knows on a visceral level they can’t screw up).
Magic has already been discovered by science.
The proof is a cure that often proves the equal of the best technology has to offer. Medical science calls it a ‘placebo’ a totally useless pill that actually works if you just add belief.
Yet Enlightenment thought in its worship of the Absolute Explicit still tries to tell us the placebo doesn’t work. People just think it works. Therefore if people are cured by the placebo effect they are irrational and deluded. They’ve been tricked.
Some shamans might agree with scientists that they ‘trick’ people but the connotations and implications of this word would be understood very differently.
To the ‘rational’ thinker the effects of a placebo treatment actually do not exist because the treatment itself was not explicit or measurable. To them the shaman is a primitive lout and a charlatan.
If any word hits a nerve with Enlightenment thinkers, it is ‘witchcraft.’
Today’s thinkers have never evolved beyond the 16-18th century rebels who were actually persecuted and pursued by the church, the state, the entire establishment.
The cultural memory of witch hunts by the church or by the king remains fresh in their minds as if Galileo or Voltaire still walked the earth.
In their eyes, witchcraft has become symbolic of the stupid, benighted things people did before Enlightenment.
Yet every traditional society and plenty of modern ones believe in witchcraft.
In fact, I had a roommate in college who was a Kikuyu from the Kenyan highlands. He was an intelligent and rational person who absolutely believed in witchcraft. And he quite frankly told me that witches were still stoned to death where he lived.
Why would every traditional group in the world unanimously come up with remarkably similar ideas of witchcraft and be willing to take extreme measures to prevent it?
As best as I can figure, witchcraft is the opposite of magic used for healing.
That is, a witch uses rituals to program the subconscious to achieve destructive and selfish aims.
All the nonsensical ingredients, the dolls, the rituals are a means of influencing the visceral self. To adjust one’s attitude and then passively let actions follow from the attitude. Or to adjust their environment in a way that would precipitate negative consequences…
I suppose that if I wanted to be a modern Western witch, I might go out at night and start breaking windows in strategic, visible places.
Our modern studies tell us that when people see lapses in order such as broken windows, they instinctively perceive weakness in the ruling order and more readily act on their immediate desires.
With a simple mental ‘trick’, I could influence the attitudes and therefore the actions of hundreds of people.
Pre-modern societies are in many ways founded on a much sounder understanding of human nature. Tribes founded on wishful nonsense have long since been stamped out of existence.
In our own literal-minded society, I could be punished for breaking windows, but no law we have on our books would address the far worse damage I had caused the community by influencing people. I might pay fines and do some community service or jail for vandalism, but that’s about it.
More ‘primitive’ people don’t need studies to tell them that the integrity and morale of the group must be protected at all costs.
Cohesive, pre-industrial societies would have had little patience for my mind games; the exertion of my magical powers over the populace.
Sooner or later, people would have intuitively perceived my malicious intent. Though they might not understand exactly what I was doing, I would eventually be accused of witchcraft and executed.
The society would be better off without me. It would be more fit to compete against rival societies.
While ‘irrational’ on the level of individuals, executing a witch becomes the lowest sort of pragmatism when considered on the level of the group.
A coach who cuts an underperforming or disruptive player from the team does much the same thing.