Politics, Magic and Your True Will

“If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention.” I can’t find the original source for that quote – it could have come from the left or from the right. With the election less than two weeks away there’s a lot of outrage in the air. And while I am not a conspiracy theorist (the world is too complicated for grand conspiracies to work), there are people out there whose goal is to keep you outraged.

If you’re outraged you’re more likely to give money to candidates, parties and PACs. If you’re outraged you’re more likely to watch Fox News or MSNBC. If you’re outraged you’re more likely to listen to talk radio or hang out on The Huffington Post. A whole political industry has sprung up not with the goal of governing well (by any definition) but with the goal of winning elections and raising money.

Modern American politics has become a spectator sport, complete with non-stop media coverage, obsession with the private lives of the players, an attitude of winning at any cost and the worst of fan behavior.

There are three problems with this. Being outraged is a lousy way to go through life. Democracy is not a spectator sport. And as the results show, it’s a lousy way to run a country.

If you’re passionate about something, get involved. I think about Thorn Coyle, whose passion for justice has led her to march and protest and to be a regular volunteer at a soup kitchen. I think about Cara Schulz, whose passion for liberty and to give people a choice beyond two parties has led her to work for the Gary Johnson campaign. I think about Amber Briggle, whose passion for her community has led her to serve on Denton advisory committees and to be a fixture at city council meetings. They’re not spectators, they’re participants. They’re not just speaking, they’re doing.

Being a passionate fan doesn’t accomplish anything except raising your blood pressure. If you aren’t able or willing to get involved then simply be a good citizen – stay reasonably informed and vote for intelligent, thoughtful, responsible candidates.

It is helpful to remember that politics and magic are closely related. Both involve creating change in consciousness and in the material world by the directed application of Will. A few lessons from magic are appropriate here.

Politics, like magic, works best when its goals are clearly and specifically defined. Justice and equality are great principles and noble aims, but achieving them requires clearly and concisely stating exactly what you want. In politics as in magic, fuzzy targets yield fuzzy results, and what you want often comes in undesirable ways or with unwanted side effects.

If you want a big change – in politics or in magic – it’s far easier to break it down into a series of smaller changes. The odds on a big change may be 1 in 100, while the odds on one of its components is 1 in 10. With the diligent application of Will, you may be able to improve the odds on the smaller change to the point where it becomes highly likely. Then go on to the next segment, and the next. Eventually, the big change is complete.

When you’re dealing with issues of basic rights and justice it’s hard to accept a partial victory. And I realize no one wants to hear a straight white man say “things take time.” But if it’s results you’re after, a sustained incremental approach is usually more successful than an all-or-nothing campaign.

Beginning magicians frequently think of Will as “what I say I want, how I say I want it.” Experienced magicians understand that True Will is what your soul wants – what you’re called to do and be. Experienced magicians also understand that good things can come in many ways.

Not all the change we want to see is best accomplished through politics. The political process – particularly at the higher levels – is heavily influenced by the political industry: the advisors and pollsters and analysts whose primary goal is to extend the perpetual campaign. And to do that, they need to keep you outraged.

Let go of the outrage. Do what your passion calls you to do. If that can’t be done through the political process then do it through a religious or charitable group. If there’s not a religious or charitable group for your passion then start one. You can’t end world hunger, but you can feed a few homeless folks. You can’t guarantee a dignified retirement for all our elders, but you can look after a few elders in your community. You can’t end religious bigotry, but you can be such an upstanding exemplar of your religion that anyone who speaks against you will show themselves for the bigots they are.

Our world needs many changes. Some of them will be accomplished through politics, but many will not. Don’t let the political industry and the outrage it creates keep you from doing what must be done.

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  • Great post, John!

    Aristotle articulated three ways that people can be persuaded, specifically within a political system. These three ways have been used by over 2000 years and have stood the test of time.

    They are:
    1) Logos, or arguments through logic. This is how scientists and researchers communicate; using facts, evidence, and reason.
    2) Ethos, or arguments from character. This is when you are believed because you appear to be a competent, ethical, credible person (or you are in a position that automatically gives you authority, such as being a doctor and speaking on health issues).
    3) Pathos. This consists of arguments from emotion. Aristotle indicated that these are the most dangerous, yet most powerful, arguments. He suggested also that democracies should avoid them at all costs, because when people begin feeling, they stop using logos-based arguments.

    Most rhetoricians today (that is people like myself who study and teach rhetoric) are deeply concerned. All of the evidence in our political system suggests that pathos is so rampant now, its overshadowing reason, logic, and any form of evidence.

    I like how, in your post, you suggest a productive pathos, in that people who are angry or enraged can funnel that into productive, community-centered activity.

  • I'm not sure there was ever much logos in American politics. What concerns me deeply is the political parties' use of full-time operatives who understand how pathos works and who manipulate it for the sole purpose of winning elections.

    The political process is too important to abandon entirely, but I'm growing more and more convinced that the changes our world needs will have to come through other methods.