John C Wright is upset that people didn’t take his Left=Witches argument seriously

In a piece entitled “Rational and Magical Thinking”, Mr Wright attempts to deal with the criticism of his previous argument. Here’s a taste:

Here is the difference between arguing with a rational atheist and arguing with a Leftist: suppose for the sake of argument that you penned a column describing the psychology of Leftism as involving a neurotic (if not deliberate) confusion between symbol and object, commonly known as “magical thinking.”

Magical thinking is thinking where the believers believes that manipulating a symbol manipulates reality. By this definition, anyone who hopes to remove race hatred from among men by changing the words used by one race to refer to another is engaging in magical thinking.

Let us further suppose that when you list three or four examples of magical thinking about the Left, one of the groups mentioned is a coven of wicca who claim to be casting spells on Donald Trump. Let is finally suppose you call them by their traditional name, witches.

Now, a rational atheist will argue with you, and say that since the supernatural does not and cannot exist, therefore there are no witches, so your column errs in referring to these people by that term.

This argument is fallacious (it depends on the fallacy of ambiguity) but it can be addressed. Once you point out that the column is explicitly agnostic on the question of whether the witch’s spells actually are real, the question of whether the people calling themselves witches are real can be addressed. And that is a simple question of fact that the rational atheist can discover for himself.

Whether witchcraft is real or not is a question not addressed by the column. The people who think it is real are real.

Mr Wright gives a straw man example for a case of ‘magical thinking’: ‘anyone who hopes to remove race hatred from among men by changing the words used by one race to refer to another is engaging in magical thinking’. Ignore the straw man element here for a moment and consider the elements.

  • What are the symbols in this example? Words.
  • What is the ‘reality’ in this example? Racial hatred.
  • What kind of thing is that ‘reality’? A set of ideas and attitudes and emotional responses.

Put that all together and Wright’s example implies this: attempting to use words to change ideas, attitudes and emotional responses is magical thinking. Now, this is perhaps not far from his actual beliefs, in so far as he seems to believe in a kind of Platonistic spiritualism, but in this essay, he is ascribing this ‘magical thinking’ to the left, not to himself.

Looking back at his original essay you can see the same confusion. Aside from the actual examples of people overtly calling themselves witches, his other examples of people on the left engaged in supposedly magical rituals are all the same. In each case, it is people doing symbolic things in an attempt to effect how other people are thinking.

That is not ‘magical thinking’, that is ‘people communicating with other people’. In short, Wright is confusing cognitive psychology with magic.

‘Ah!’ Says an imaginary interlocuter, ‘You think minds are based in physical reality and so you do think physical entities are changing because of symbols being manipulated!’

Meh. We don’t even need intelligence or to delve into how minds might work to see that mechanical devices can exist which can effect physical change because of how I manipulate symbols. I’m doing that right now as I type on this laptop. That isn’t magic or magical thinking.

Mr Wright then complains that people on the left treated his argument with disdain:

But a Leftist does not argue in this way. Rather, his argument is that you are a stupid lunatic for being afraid of witchcraft, and for thinking that everyone on the Left is a practicing satanist.

Now, if you notice, there are three things wrong with this argument: first, you neither said nor implied what the Leftist accuses you of saying or implying. So it is a strawman argument, therefore irrelevant. Second, it does not address the argument you gave, merely mocks you as a person. So it is ad hominem, therefore irrelevant. Third, it is not an argument at all. An insult is not an argument.

One cannot argue with this for the same reason one cannot argue with poop flung by a monkey. The monkey poop is not attempting to discuss a difference of opinion nor come to a conclusion about the true answer to any questions being discussed.

Why would a Leftist in an argument make statements he knows or should know have no relevance to the argument?

The answer is as given above: the words uttered are merely symbolic. It is a verbal form of magical thinking.

He is correct here that the reaction to his claim was not a reasoned argument. He is incorrect that therefore the reaction was irrational or another example of ‘magical thinking’. Laughing at poorly constructed arguments with absurd conclusions is both reasonable and rational.

Mr Wright is capable of structuring argument but he often fails to do so and he has great difficulty in continuing a rational dialogue in good faith. Why, in such circumstance, should anybody on the left treat his argument with any kind of depth of analysis? His conclusion was false and easily refuted – the tortured root by which he reached a false conclusion (replete with much-overblown language) is of interest only from an educational perspective.

So what is magical thinking? Magical thinking is when people confuse their desires with reality i.e. when people confuse what they would like with what actually *is*. That might involve rituals or manipulating words, but it is just as frequent when people use their own powers of thinking to bemuse and befuddle themselves – just as John C Wright is apt to do on a range of topics from history to climate science.

Put yet another way, when a person ceases to be able to distinguish between fact and fiction.

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14 comments

  1. RD F

    Let us further suppose that when you list three or four examples of magical thinking about the Left, one of the groups mentioned is a coven of wicca who claim to be casting spells on Donald Trump.

    Which is different from prayer because…?

    Liked by 1 person

    • camestrosfelapton

      Ah, well because, well, you see um because actually, if you look at it, then, because of the, and anyway, so all in all, when you consider the issues, and take account of what I said, then, actually….OH MY GOODNESS LOOK OUT THE WINDOW AT THAT THING! [runs off]

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    • camestrosfelapton

      There is a history of witch persecution within Catholicism premised on the belief that witches have real access to real supernatural power but there is a parallel history of skepticism about such things (e.g. the Jesuit Friedrich von Spee https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Spee ) – to the extent of Catholicism seeing witch persecution as a protestant vice. Now given Wright’s predilection to cherry-pick his way through Catholic tradition in search of what is typically anti-rational, anti-humanist and just plain frickin’ awful, my guess would be, yes he believes in witches and hence believes that witchcraft can actually work against Trump – but he’s just avoiding thinking those thoughts at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • JJ

        camestrosfelapton: my guess would be, yes he believes in witches and hence believes that witchcraft can actually work against Trump – but he’s just avoiding thinking those thoughts at the moment

        My guess is that he is actually thinking those thoughts, but knows that voicing them will get him dismissed as the crackpot he is.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Kat Goodwin

    I’m terribly confused: racism can’t be changed by expressing the wish that people would stop doing it instead of approval, and therefore fighting racism is magical thinking and accepting racism as just fine is reality? And that’s just like ancient pagan religions that use symbolic ritual, which the Catholic Church then borrowed for its symbolic ritual of holy mass with wine and wafer? Or is he saying that he himself is a wiccan witch? I can’t follow this.

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  3. Schnookums Von Fancypants

    Thanks, posting another Wright screed without any warning *marks off 5 points of sanity off my character sheet, raises Cthulu Mythos score by 2%*

    Liked by 1 person

  4. lunarg

    Changing the words *does* change change the underlying thought process. Not so effectively as buzzword tossing MBA consultants would like to have you believe, but this is an empirically proved fact.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Brunner

    Speaking of Wright, you might remember when David Brin took him to task for his regressive love of feudalism.
    I recently found this comment by Wright on Nick’s blog http://nicdevera.blogspot.com/2013/01/im-7-chapters-into-john-c.html in which Wright claims that he could completely refute Brin, but out of respect for Brin’s advanced age (fully 10 years older than Wright), Wright won’t “embarrass” Brin by providing the (I’m sure, totally effective and completely and devastatingly convincing) refutation. Truly a man of grace and honor.

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