Interestingly, this topic of magical thinking seems to be in the zeitgeist.
What needs to be kept in mind is the ideological implications of all this (if I wasn’t clear before). In the Imperialist nations of the west, magical thinking, superstition, is labeled as “science”…often anyway. Junk science is really just the latest branch of marketing. Research is corporate manipulation.
Here is an example of real science…..
Pliable plastic is the greatest offender for it contains the most BPA. This has been well established for over a decade. Yet, these days at supermarkets in the US and Europe, you are likely to find individual vegetables shrink wrapped in plastic. Why? Part of this can be traced to a puritanical fear of dirt and germs. Even rational people I know in a sort of knee jerk reflex will drop their tomatoes into a plastic bag. The super markets encourage this. Why? Because of dirt? Dirt can be washed off. Vegetables grow in dirt for fuck sake. BPA cannot be washed off. It leaches into the food stuff. The fear of dirt and germs is a meme established back in the Industrial Revolution. The corrective to filthy living conditions at the time was to wash things. Rightly so. Today, that corrective has become an irrational obsession more fueled by an irrational sexual hysteria about dirt. Dirt is bad. Dirt is sinful.
The junk science though has made packaging the third biggest industry in the world (behind war and pornography). Here is one by product:
The ideological dimension is of course connected to the legacy of colonial thinking, the “dirty” third world. Those backward places in need of western assistance. This meme is so pervasive that it would be hard NOT to find it in cultural product. From the cave dwelling Islamic terrorist, huddled on dirt floors, unshaven and filthy to the slum dwelling “backward” peoples suffering under the neo-Imperialist domination of the west. There is of course multiple ironies involved. The first is that poverty breeds disease….specifically diseases of insanitation. However, the narrative at play is that the “poor” somehow lack education and information, or, usually, they somehow ‘like’ being dirty. Nobody likes being dirty. The insistence on western superiority however must create narrative in which that paternalism I wrote of earlier is exercised. The logic involved is what leads directly to the NGO question — those paternalistic institutions that are rarely criticized because who can criticize western “help” to the poor. Indeed, in isolated instances, this help is genuine. It is useful, but pull back and examine the wider implications and one can see that the causes of inequality are rarely questioned. Why are they rarely questioned? Well, because the master narrative at work is that the poor simply cannot help themselves — the “blame the victims” trope. In today’s master narrative the most conspicuously missing element is the history of colonialism and Imperialism. In the amnesiac corporate west, the assumption is that the poor are either unmotivated, lazy, stupid, or just not as evolved somehow. History has been erased. That the US once had a President who openly consulted astrologers is consigned to some quaint side bar discussion. That huge chunks of the US population believe in angels is dismissed with an amused shake of the head. The need to ‘feel’ superior is pathological in the west, especially the US.
Magical thinking in the west partakes of all these tropes. Meanwhile there is a karmic dimension, to indulge in my own form of magical thinking, in western consumers lined up at supermarkets with carts full of plastic wrapped foods. There are a number of narrative arteries at work in this topic.
The western retreat into superstition is a large discussion. I remember once listening to Robert Bly speak. He said when the mythic and the everyday world were confused, it was a sign a society had reached a sort of tipping point. An obvious example would be the burning of witches. REAL women were burned. Witches are NOT real. There can be a response to this, however, that extends beyond the need to stop the actual practices…which also fails to understand what was really materially behind those burnings. Its too complex to generalize, but usually the need to maintain the status quo of power — patriarchal authority in this case, is what drives things. Did all those men really believe those women were witches? Probably not, or not completely. It was a useful belief, however, to maintain their power. If one forgets this, then one simply ends up with the loss of all traditional learning and teaching — because its backward or superstitious. Narratives are important, myth is important in explaining ourselves to ourselves, but once its a tool of ideological control, it becomes a weapon for social domination.
So, from witches to seas of garbage to creationism and BPA — the common denominator is really ideology.