The toll of magical thinking

Lies damage everything and everyone eventually

Several years ago, Sam Harris, the neuroscientist turned public figure, wrote a book entitled Lying.1

It begins:

Among the many paradoxes of human life, this is perhaps the most peculiar and consequential: We often behave in ways that are guaranteed to make us unhappy. Many of us spend our lives marching with open eyes toward remorse, regret, guilt, and disappointment. And nowhere do our injuries seem more casually self-inflicted, or the suffering we create more disproportionate to the needs of the moment, than in the lies we tell to other human beings. Lying is the royal road to chaos.

I grew up lying, in a household that made lying to itself and others a center piece of existence. The toxicity and danger of lying to yourself and others cannot be understated. Accepting lies into your life can lead to wasting that life. Accepting lies as a lifestyle that you promote means that you are not only damaging your reality but also the reality of everyone you interact with.

What if nothing you did in this life really mattered? Would that change your priorities? What if someone told you that this is only a board game and that the life that really matters does not happen on this planet. It happens on a different planet that only comes into existence after you die. Would that change your behavior? For most people, I suspect the answer is yes.

Magical thinking, which is when you attribute events in the physical world to things that are only happening in your head (or the heads of other people around you) is extremely dangerous. Magical thinking means that you are committing all the resources you control to something which does not correlate to reality, and for which no actual evidence exists.

This article defines magical thinking as believing in things more strongly than either evidence or experience justifies. As an example of this, Donald Trump claims to be a successful businessman but has declared bankruptcy 11 times. The evidence suggests that Donald Trump is not a successful businessman, just as the experience of his being President of the United States suggests that Donald Trump is a chaos agent.

“Shut up,” she said to me when I complained that Donald Trump is certainly not the representative here on earth of any sort of omniscient being. She believes, despite any evidence, that there is a being watching over the affairs of us earthlings who has our best interests at heart. She is lying to herself, of course.

Why would any god pick such a loser to guide the United States of America? That question is impossible to answer without magical thinking, which is to say major mental gymnastics. Ninety percent of Americans believe in capital G god. Without a shred of evidence. Why? Because they were brought up to follow the convolutions of the current culturally dominant magical thinking of the day.

Donald Trump rose to power on a magical flying carpet composed almost entirely of lies (also some Dunning-Krueger, cognitive dissonance, and a few other things like unconscious and conscious racism). The majority of Trumpkins are not overt racists. They are people who have been conned that were predisposed to being conned.

Many of them will wake up to that once Trump is no longer dominating the airwaves. Some of them will realize what the last four years have actually been: a bunch of lying, cowardly Republican senators supporting an unhinged, mentally ill agent of chaos while he rampaged through the American system incoherently damaging everything his gaze fell upon. All the evidence of that is in plain sight. Unfortunately, humans are easily blinded.

Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. To lie is to recoil from relationship.

Harris, quoted above, goes on to presciently tell us how the lies of the powerful erode trust in the systems that keep our society functional. Lying is a book that should be required reading. If it replaced the Holy Bible in American culture I would celebrate that. I will always trust new information and data over old, especially when it is based on science.

Soon, we will know if Donald Trump has completely destroyed the American experiment in democracy, or if he has only done major damage that can be repaired. If you are on the side of magical thinking, I hope you come around to evidence based reasoning before you kill yourself and others.

I no longer talk to her. She told me to shut up about her flawed god king. Sorry, mom, but I am not going to do that. If you ever decide to apologize for the harm your support of Agent Orange, the loser god-king has done, maybe we can have a talk about how to repair the world by getting rid of magical thinking.

The lies you keep telling yourself and others are intolerable to me. I do not blame you for that, but I will not enable you either. There is no supreme being working through Donald Trump. He is exactly what he appears to be; an insufferable, malignant fool enabled by liars and cowards who are more scared of losing power than they are of burning down the whole world.

Also, I know that some of my readers are afraid of the election outcome. Please read this. The party of magical thinking will not win honestly.

Lying is the road to chaos and chaos will march our species right off the edge of existence. Demand change. Fight for it if you want humanity to evolve instead of going extinct. Refuse to pay the toll being demanded by magical thinking.


  1. Affiliate link. If you buy the book Lying you are financially supporting this newsletter and my writing.