The Trance of Belief: Part I.

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Global warming

Most of the otherwise reasonably competent people we know who are global warming deniers will say science is a great force for good, but in this case scientists are in thrall to those seeking to enlarge government’s power over us. Most deniers are sincere in saying this. They are blind to the irrationality they demonstrate. Let me demonstrate this with an analogy.

A friend warns you worrisome symptoms indicate you might have something serious. You visit a physician and he explains you are seriously sick and need an operation. Not wanting an operation, you seek a second opinion, and see another doctor. She also tells you to get an operation. Desperate and fearful, you visit 8 more physicians. Seven echo the first two’s recommendations. However the tenth tells you the science is still out on interpreting those symptoms, and you might have nothing to worry about.

Does a reasonable person give the 10th opinion more weight than the other 9? Especially if the symptoms continue to increase?

The deniers’ logic supports arguing the 9 physicians advising an operation have bad motives. They are doing it for the money. But their claims are stranger than this. Atmospheric scientists distort their scientific work for the money but oil and coal corporations with billions at stake fund deniers from concern for the public good.

The complete irrationality is obvious to any sane person not in a trance.

And that is a clue I think to what has happened.

Hypnotism

Some stage magicians are well known for their ability to put people in trance, where they subsequently act in ways they normally wouldn’t and see things that are not there. They can even do this in front of large numbers of people. Not every one is equally susceptible, but as the video demonstrates, many who are not even the magician’s targets are impacted.

Hypnosis is resembles sleep but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted as true. The person’s attention is removed from normal awareness, and encouraged to passively accept what it is told as true. As such hypnosis shares much in common with socialization.

When we are socialized into our culture we initially accept much as unquestioned and often we do so without even knowing we are. In a sense we are hypnotized to see the world a certain way. Unlike hypnotism, our early socialization does not have to override much, the message is usually less focused than the stage magician’s demonstrations, and importantly, societies contain enough contradictions that when we notice one we begin being able to make a space of freedom for ourselves.

The more the socialization consistently conforms to a specific message, the harder it is to free oneself from it. As a saying attributed to the Jesuits goes “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” Particularly if the child accepts a worldview carrying powerful emotional energy, it is very difficult for that child to outgrow it later in life.

I want to suggest many global warming deniers are in a hypnotic trance. And that the issue goes well beyond denying the scientific consensus for no good reason.

Of tools and ideas

We usually think of our ideas as ways in which we try and understand our world. They are our tools.

But ideas are more than tools.

A tool can shape our perceptions, like the old adage when the only tool you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. But if a better hammer comes to our attention, or maybe a screw driver, we generally quickly exchange the first for the second if it will work better for us. We do not identify ourselves with our tools. With few exceptions they are simply our instruments, and that is why they are valuable to us. I have a hammer, but I am not a hammer. It makes no sense to say I am loyal to my hammer. But my meaning is clear when I say I am loyal to an idea or when I am a “conservative,” “liberal,” “Pagan,” or “Christian.” We identify with an idea, but not with our tools.

There is something subtle but important going on here.

Ideas are fueled by mental energy, and any Witch or other Pagan with much training in these matters knows mental energy plus intent is at the core of magick. Somehow focused mental energy interacts with more subtle realms to bring our normal experience into greater harmony with what our working sought to accomplish. Such workings take on added power when a coven or other small group adds several minds and more mental energy to the project.

If you have followed me this far the rest shakes out in a pretty straightforward fashion.

When we adopt an idea we can either regard it as the best approximation we have so far for understanding something, which keeps it our tool, or we put mental and emotional energy into it, particularly when we identify ourselves with it. The more emphatically we do this the more that idea has a “hold” on us and the more firmly we become attached to it. We enter into a trance.

Trance

Trance is a important term most of us don’t know much about. Trance is often defined as focus or immersion in a dissociated plane where at least some normal cognitive functions, such as reason or volition, are temporarily disabled. It is usually thought of as a negative state, which is not my meaning. For example, we are in a trance when we are so deeply immersed in doing art that the outside world disappears or becomes negligible. But whatever the trance, it separates us for a time from our immersion in normal consensus reality. In a hypnotic trance we are subject to the idea implanted in us by the hypnotist. As that Youtube video demonstrated, that idea shapes our perceptions to fit its message.

When we begun to identify with an idea we begin to perform a kind of magickal working, but unintentionally and on ourselves. We are subject to the idea rather than the idea being subject to us. We are its tool, it is not ours.

When we become the tool of an idea our capacities are devoted to defending the idea, and when the idea is seriously challenged, or even exposed to the possibility of a serious challenge, the mind turns off. Some excuse is always given. The subject is changed, the point raised is ignored, or the person making the challenging point is criticized rather than the point refuted. Whatever the excuse, it always means the idea will not be exposed to a serious challenge.

Ideologues, whatever their views, are people in a trance. This is why evidence and rational arguments make so little headway in discussions with them. I am not saying all ideologies are the same in content, only that they are the same in how they shape their adherents’ stand towards them. In all these cases the person has become the idea’s tool for manifesting rather than the idea becoming the person’s tool for understanding.

When we adopt an ideology and identify with it we voluntarily enter into a hypnotic trance where our mental energy goes to feed the idea rather than the idea serving us.   The world looks different to us than it did before. Like a hypnotized person we do not see arguments against our position and interpret our experience to fit what our ideology says is the case. Facts appear unimportant or somehow distorted. If a moral failing is pointed out the answer is either to deny it or claim the other side does it too.

Consider Dennis Hastert, once a powerful Speaker of the House and third in line for the Presidency. Hastert is now known to have sexually abused some of his male students. When one later blackmailed him, Hastert violated banking laws when he paid him $900,000. Now that Hastert has pleaded guilty to all this, prominent right wing supporters are writing letters to the judge asking for leniency.

Reportedly none actually discuss what Hastert did both long ago and recently, but instead seek to change the subject. For example, Tom Delay, himself a former House Majority Leader, wrote

“I have observed him in many different and difficult situations, . . . He has never disappointed me in any way. He is a man of strong faith that guides him. He is a man of great integrity. He loves and respects his fellow man. I have never witnessed a time when he was unkind to anyone. He is always giving to others and helping anyone including me so many times.”

DeLay closed saying “We all have our flaws, but Dennis Hastert has very few. He is a good man that loves the lord. He gets his integrity and values from Him. He doesn’t deserve what he is going through. I ask that you consider the man that is before you and give him leniency where you can,”

The judge was unmoved and gave Hastert 15 months, considerably above the six-months recommended by prosecutors. He said “Nothing is worse than using serial child molester and speaker of the house in the same sentence,”

One could argue DeLay’ss letter was just evidence of his cynicism and hypocrisy. I think it is more interesting than that.

I suspect DeLay did not really see Hastert’s crimes, either the early ones or the later ones. Their moral and legal significance did not penetrate his understanding. That he so often invoked religion and the Lord in his letter tells me this is the hypnotic prism through which DeLay views the world. Hastert is a fellow battler for the Lord. Given the contents of that prism, acting ruthlessly against God’s ‘enemies’ is as legitimate as not really seeing crimes by God’s allies.

Jeff Sharlet has written careful studies of “The Family” a powerful secretive theocratic organization in Washington with many Congressmen and Senators as members. It’s leader is Doug Coe. Sharlet describes how Coe’s son and heir apparent, David, explained what it meant to be a divinely chosen leader

“[David Coe] asked a young man who’d put himself, body and soul, under The Family’s authority, ‘Let’s say I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think of you?’ The man guessed that Coe would probably think he was a monster. ‘No,’ answered Coe, ‘I wouldn’t.’ Why? Because as a member of the Family, he’s among what Family leaders refer to as the ‘new chosen.’ If you’re chosen, the normal rules don’t apply.”

Humanity has always had sociopaths, but when we see a great many people involved in an organization with such views sociopathy alone can not explain it. Trance can. And the term does not apply just to elites. It underlies tribalism, the collective trance people enter into when they feel their society or way of life is attacked.

Most Americans who endorse torture do so despite the proven fact it does not provide the information it is supposed to. They are blind to the evidence. In debates I have seen on line torture supporters either ignore the evidence or change the subject. They do not analyze it. Ever.

A weapon of control and domination

Our natural susceptibility to trance makes us vulnerable to manipulation. If we accept someone’s framing of an issue, and accept an identity they offer us, and those pushing this message have the resources to immerse us in the message, a bubble of reinforcement arises that continually strengthens the trance. Movements that subordinate truth and reason to the power of an idea continually seek to create walls of distrust between their members and alternative communities and views.

Global warming deniers exist within such a bubble. This is why they are in so many cases impervious to the evidence. Scientists are not mistaken, they are ill-intentioned. Since scientists are clearly not in control of the world, they must be servants of those who are.  The spreading of fear or disdain of all outside the deniers’ bubble is essential to maintaining it, and those with plenty of money at stake are happy to fund what it takes.

Part II will discuss how we can better appreciate the strengths as well as the weaknesses of trance, and how not to become the tool of an idea.

 

 

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