Magicians everywhere

Posted 09.24.13

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Magic and magical thinking are topics that grow bigger, more widespread, the more thought and attention they're given.

For example, politics is magic. I was watching an explanation for disappearing coin tricks -- magic -- when it hit like a ton of bricks: Politics is the art of diverting attention, which is the basis of magic.

In every case the "magic," the trick, is occurring where we are not looking. Our attention has been grabbed, or subtly pushed aside, by what our eyes and the monologue of the politician-magician tell us. In politics, since we can't all be present at meetings and decisions, we have our attention drawn away by what we're told -- by the political actors and by the media.

This is not a conspiracy theory. Political actors use actual events to draw our attention away -- they provide an interpretation of these events which makes us look where they wish us to focus.

Their interpretations are effective in grabbing our attention because they are usually heavy with emotion. The media loves an injured child, a crying mother -- "if it bleeds, it leads" is corporate-news thinking. A photo or an interview with a crying parent reduces the networks to a stall. Brains switch to autopilot, or cruise control, with emotion-laden reports.

Most important, we are no longer looking at the offending politician, at the Prime Minister's office, at our embassy in Cairo, at committee rooms in the House, deregulation measures, omnibus bills packed with hidden clauses, falling poll numbers, hostile court evidence, testimony at commissions and inquiries, all the stuff which hits us over the head eventually, but which is hidden at the time by the fog of emotion and chatter -- and especially by distractions.

Negative advertising is a form of distraction: "Don't ask what we are proposing, look at how bad the other guy is." If we vote against someone, rather than for someone, chances are we've been distracted. That's magic.

Much of the discussion around the PQ's Charter of Values has been distraction, and the Charter proposal itself can be seen as a distraction. Bulletin reader Steve d'Eça has proposed four goals of Premier Marois as she uses the charter to cover up: Clamping down on religion, Islam in particular, poor economic performance and high job losses, picking a fight with the federal government to stampede nationalists away from the splinter parties that have taken votes from the PQ, and, finally, as a means of scaring or chasing out anglophones and other minorities who prevent an independence referendum victory. No doubt there are also other goals, some positive, some not.

The Charter with its huge emotional stage-set is only one example. Are the threats to Syria a diversion -- from the slaughter of the opposition in Egypt, to a home economy that won't ignite? The "foreign money" accusation within the pipeline debate, keeping us from noticing the dangers that pipelines pose? The list is endless. But why are we, the public, so endlessly distractible?


Copyright © 2013 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/09.13