An Epidemic of Magical Thinking

 

When was the last time you stated a thought like, “At least we haven’t completely lost our republic,” and followed that with a quickly stated, “Knock on wood,” looking for a wooden object or knocking your forehead as an easy substitute? Or made a wish when blowing out candles on your birthday cake? Or carried a rabbit’s foot or other favored item for good luck? Many of us follow these practices and sometimes even realize that we do them playfully, without an expectation for results. Mostly. These wishes and desires are a form of “magical thinking” and are relatively harmless in most situations. But I propose that in this time of COVID-19, magical thinking has infected the worldwide population.

What is the definition of magical thinking? Here is one definition:

Magical thinking refers to the idea that you can influence the outcome of specific events by doing something that has no bearing on the circumstances.

Another similar definition is here:

Magical thinking is defined as believing that one event happens as a result of another without a plausible link of causation. For example: ‘I got up on the left side of the bed today; therefore, it will rain.’

When we hold these assertions lightly and don’t seriously embrace them, they usually don’t interfere with our lives. But magical thinking has dominated the psyche of many Americans in these times to the degree that they are imposing on the lives of many and are damaging relationships with others who refuse to accept their beliefs.

So what are the signs of magical thinking today? It depends on whom you ask.

I propose that if you are making decisions about your health based on only subjective information, fear, and anxiety, you are likely vulnerable to magical thinking. Unfortunately, when there is conflicting information available, but people are overwhelmed with apprehension, they may be reluctant or even unable to look at the complexity of data. Their fear will dictate the steps they take to “protect themselves” and their families. Magical thinking guides them to wear masks indoors and outdoors, even in their cars. It tells them to avoid other people, to always maintain 6 feet between themselves and others. It insists that they reject vaccines for a variety of reasons (they’re in good health, they hate shots, the shots don’t work, the shots don’t work well … and so on). At the same time, refusing to take the vaccine can be a reasonable choice for some people (preexisting conditions; previously contracting the disease, thereby having natural immunity). The key point is to determine whether magical thinking is involved or whether sensible decisions based on your own personal situation is your mode of operation.

Without question, magical thinking is likely involved when people decide to mandate that others accept their views. The Karens of the world will not be satisfied until each and every person complies with their demands. We know enough about COVID-19 at this point to assume that mandated requirements are unacceptable. We still live in a free society that allows us to make personal choices about our health, and magical thinking should have no role in this process.

Regrettably, Joe Biden and his administration rely heavily on magical thinking. People will die if everyone is not vaccinated. (Someone should tell him that some people will die anyway, regardless.) Masks provide protection for everyone. (People must weigh whether the discomfort and social consequences, such as limiting our seeing the faces of others, are worth it.) Insisting that drugs that have been proven in the past won’t help in treatment. (Why isn’t anyone conducting trials?) Dr. Anthony Fauci should be the poster boy for magical thinking; no matter what he says, the science no longer plays a role in his recommendations, which sound more and more like mandates.

If you have people in your life who are stuck in magical thinking, is there anything you can do? Basically, I believe there are two strategies for helping them, if they will allow you. One step is to explain what magical thinking “looks like”; you can give them examples that they have demonstrated to you. The second step is to help them identify the inconsistences in the information given by the “experts” and their possible motivations for expounding them.

These are the signs of magical thinking:

  • They obsess about the virus, and they insist on following several steps to protect themselves.
  • They have stopped doing most of their usual activities, even though their decisions may not contribute to their avoiding the virus.
  • They have damaged relationships because of the limitations they have put on their own lives or the criticisms they have made of others who are not following the same practices.
  • They refuse to accept the recommendations for drugs that could mitigate the effect of the virus if administered early, thus leaving them more vulnerable if they contract the virus.

How can they work at minimizing or eliminating magical thinking?

  • Read studies or executive summaries of studies that present both sides of exposure to or treatment of COVID-19. If they are intimidated by the scientific language, they should ask someone who is familiar with it to determine whether the study used scientific criteria, including a large enough sample and rigorous procedures.
  • Require the experts to cite studies to back up their claims; consider that the government’s efforts are guided by their demand for power and control.
  • Realize our temptation to rely on experts as a shortcut to making the effort of learning for ourselves. Don’t be afraid to study both sides of an issue. The more you take those steps, the more competent and the less stressed you will be.

It’s important to remind our anxious friends that COVID-19 will be with us, in one form or another, forever. If they are to live their lives with richness and meaning, they are best off making choices and decisions that contribute to that type of lifestyle. In the beginning, they may find their anxiety increases. Over time, however, they will likely feel empowered by their knowledge and their determination to master their lives and live freely.

Published in Healthcare
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  1. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Great post and great advice, as usual, @susanquinn. Exceptional, even for you!

    • #1
  2. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Excellent!

    • #2
  3. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    I have observed that humanity is more irrational and magical than logical. I think it would be good if more people went to church in order to channel their unchangeable irrationality into something that promotes community and charity. 

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    I have observed that humanity is more irrational and magical than logical. I think it would be good if more people went to church in order to channel their unchangeable irrationality into something that promotes community and charity.

    It’s interesting that in both articles I cited, Henry, religion was mentioned, but it was not necessariy magical thinking at all. It reflected people who hold a truth (that can’t necessarily be proven) that is meant to better their lives.

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Great post and great advice, as usual, @ susanquinn. Exceptional, even for you!

    Thanks so much, @jimmcconnell, as well as @markalexander! High praise!

    • #5
  6. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    It reflected people who hold a truth (that can’t necessarily be proven) that is meant to better their lives.

    Religion includes the supernatural and superstitious. People think they can avoid Covid if they wear masks the way that superstitious people around the world wear talismans, gris-gris bags or medicine pouches. Other’s prefer crosses and think they have special power if the cross was worn by their Grandma or blessed by a favorite Priest. These traditional practices of neckwear seem to have minimal negative impacts on society as opposed to masks. 

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    It reflected people who hold a truth (that can’t necessarily be proven) that is meant to better their lives.

    Religion includes the supernatural and superstitious. People think they can avoid Covid if they wear masks the way that superstitious people around the world wear talismans, gris-gris bags or medicine pouches. Other’s prefer crosses and think they have special power if the cross was worn by their Grandma or blessed by a favorite Priest. These traditional practices of neckwear seem to have minimal negative impacts on society as opposed to masks.

    Although those practices can be found among religious people, it is not part of the formal religion, and are relatively harmless. But not always. 

    • #7
  8. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    It reflected people who hold a truth (that can’t necessarily be proven) that is meant to better their lives.

    Religion includes the supernatural and superstitious. People think they can avoid Covid if they wear masks the way that superstitious people around the world wear talismans, gris-gris bags or medicine pouches. Other’s prefer crosses and think they have special power if the cross was worn by their Grandma or blessed by a favorite Priest. These traditional practices of neckwear seem to have minimal negative impacts on society as opposed to masks.

    Although those practices can be found among religious people, it is not part of the formal religion, and are relatively harmless. But not always.

    Actually, I believe it is formal for a priest to bless a specific cross. Additionally, voodoo and Native-American traditions aren’t particularly formal religions but neckwear and the powers that they grant are a normal feature of those religious traditions. A pedantic point to be sure but an accurate one.

    • #8
  9. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Entrepreneurs love magical thinkers. They will happily mass produce anything that catches the gullible public’s fancy in a crisis — masks, sanitizers, mugs, T-shirts, etc. Crisis commerce is booming.

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I believe a priest is a conduit to G-d, so Catholics might accept the blessing as coming from G-d through him. The other religions are  pagan religions, and I wouldn’t call them one of the “traditional religions.”

    • #10
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Rodin (View Comment):

    Entrepreneurs love magical thinkers. They will happily mass produce anything that catches the gullible public’s fancy in a crisis — masks, sanitizers, mugs, T-shirts, etc. Crisis commerce is booming.

    Funny that you mention entrepreneurs. The woman who cleans my house, a lovely woman originally from Colombia, brought me a shampoo from her trip home for my slowly growing hair. She raved about it, that it was used world-wide, and implied it would somehow help my hair growing back, all natural ingredients, yada, yada, yada. Yeah, I’m as gullible as the next guy. 

    I’ve used it twice. It’s okay. When I went to the website, the woman who began the company had a terrible incident and I believe she had to shave off her hair. (It’s not clear.) And she wrote how she has dedicated her life to using natural products and saving the earth.. Tomorrow I will use my usual shampoo and hope my lady doesn’t ask the next time she comes why the new one isn’t in the shower. Sigh.

    • #11
  12. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    How can they work at minimizing or eliminating magical thinking?

    • Read studies or executive summaries of studies that present both sides of exposure or treatment of Covid-19; if they are intimidated by the scientific language, they should ask someone who is familiar with it, determine whether the study used scientific criteria, including a large enough sample and rigorous procedures.
    • Require the experts to cite studies to back up their claims; consider that the government’s efforts are guided by their demand for power and control.
    • Realize our temptation to rely on experts as a shortcut to making the effort of learning for ourselves. Don’t be afraid to study both sides of an issue; the more you take those steps, the more competent and the less stressed you will be.

    Compare U.S. government “expert” claims about COVID-19 to published truths about all previous infectious viruses. Reject current claims if they do not match past diseases. 

    It’s important to remind our anxious friends that Covid-19 will be with us, in one form or another, forever. If they are to live their lives with richness and meaning, they are best off making choices and decisions that contribute to that type of lifestyle. In the beginning, they may find their anxiety increases; over time, however, they will likely feel empowered by their knowledge and their determination to master their lives and live freely.

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Thank you, @cliffordbrown, for two excellent videos. (I’d seen the Rand Paul video–he’s my hero.) People should view both of these if they haven’t already.

    • #13
  14. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):
    Religion includes the supernatural and superstitious. People think they can avoid Covid if they wear masks the way that superstitious people around the world wear talismans, gris-gris bags or medicine pouches. Other’s prefer crosses and think they have special power if the cross was worn by their Grandma or blessed by a favorite Priest.

    I just keep my fingers crossed.  It’s worked so far.

    • #14
  15. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Rodin (View Comment):

    Entrepreneurs love magical thinkers. They will happily mass produce anything that catches the gullible public’s fancy in a crisis — masks, sanitizers, mugs, T-shirts, etc. Crisis commerce is booming.

    Rocks.

    • #15
  16. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Magical thinking has an increasing number of followers in any society where an understanding of mathematics, and an understanding of proportion and ratio are missing.

    “Our spaghetti sauce now has 50% more meat.” Well that is just ducky isn’t it? I mean, with the right background jingle for the commercial, and the properly diverse group of actors seated at the commercial’s dining room, we’d all run out and by that sauce, wouldn’t we?

    Except some of us might query “Fifty percent more meat? How much meat did it have to begin with?”

    That is called having a rational response to the magic of the Madison Fifth Avenue ad campaign. Sure, the jingle was catchy, the cartoon people endearing, the colors and design enticing. But it doesn’t change that a 50% increase in 1.2% meat amount doesn’t even bring the sauce to a full two percent of the sauce’s content.

    So now  we have a virus that had a survival factor of 99.053% for any of us in good health and not too elderly. (In other words, out of ten thousand cases, only 5 would not make it.)

    In 1960, the measles had a survival rate of 99.03%. (Again, out of ten thousand cases, three people would die.) This was just a few years shy of when the first measles vaccine was released for the public.

    Did we wear masks? Did we shutter our businesses, keep the kids home from school for several years? Avoid going out except when absolutely necessary? And when we did, did we stand six feet away from each other?

    And had we done all that, and experienced the resulting economic devastation, the suicides, the collateral damage of people not getting needed medical treatments,  would we question the Authorities who had sold us this Grand Response to The Measles Panic?

    And if the vaccine that came out proved to still allow for break through cases of measles, and the vaccine was so leaky and imperfect those who were vaccinated had their bodies turned into mini factories for measles’ variants, then what?

    And if the vaccine was more injurious and more deadly than the measles virus, then what?

    Of course in 1960, were those things true, the governmental agency officials  would have done as they did with the Swine Flu vaccine in 1976. After some 50 deaths, that 1976 vaccine was taken off the market.

    But now we are ruled by unelected officials who know as long as the media is held hostage to the COVID Game Plan Of the Elite, they can continue to mesmerize at least 42% of the population. And apparently that is all the magic that is needed.

    ####

    • #16
  17. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Susan Quinn: Dr. Anthony Fauci should be the poster boy for magical thinking; no matter what he says, the science no longer plays a role in his recommendations, which sound more and more like mandates.

    Yeah, the SOB is trying to cancel Christmas (no word on Thanksgiving):

    https://www.newsmax.com/newsfront/fauci-pandemic-christmas-covid/2021/10/03/id/1038937/

    • #17
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Stad (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Dr. Anthony Fauci should be the poster boy for magical thinking; no matter what he says, the science no longer plays a role in his recommendations, which sound more and more like mandates.

    Yeah, the SOB is trying to cancel Christmas (no word on Thanksgiving):

    https://www.newsmax.com/newsfront/fauci-pandemic-christmas-covid/2021/10/03/id/1038937/

    This man is one big nightmare. Can we just get on with our lives??

    • #18
  19. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    I think we are seeing Eric Fromm’s notions of ‘escape from freedom’ playing out.  The world was already kinda scary, relationships harder to sustain, technology and globalism making employment in flux, religion less influential and reassuring, politics dumber and uglier, and no sooner had we settled into an irrational fear of climate change, COVID-19 hit. The hell with freedom, please fix everything, somebody.

    Notice that despite the fact that Fauci is an utterly ridiculous man, so many still need to see him as an authority figure.  The idea that there really is no way to control COVID-19 and that we have to make our own choices about imperfect solutions has proven to be unacceptable for most people.  Do Something.  Tell me that it can work, that I am safe. And because I harbor suspicions that what you are telling me is complete BS and because I really need to believe, all doubters and deniers need to be aggressively silenced.

    Fromm said that if we are freed from external constraints and if we don’t use that freedom to attach our lives to love to others and larger meaning, then we will instead seek authoritarian rule to take away the uncertainty and pain of being free and create a paradise for Karens.

    The more the desire to escape freedom, the larger the appetite for fear that justifies authoritarian rescue.  So a MAGA hat means death for polar bears, a return to slavery, and that Grannie must die of COVID.  

    There are too many of us who are unhappy, unattached, and hopeless so acceptance of irrational reasons for surrender of freedom and individuality seems to make sense.  Not magical at all.

     

     

    • #19
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    There are too many of us who are unhappy, unattached, and hopeless so acceptance of irrational reasons for surrender of freedom and individuality seems to make sense.  Not magical at all.

    As always, an insightful comment, @oldbathos. We can quibble over the meaning of “magical”; I would say that if people still believe that Fauci has any credibility at all, they are indulging in magical thinking. The misery that comes out of their choice is just a byproduct.

    • #20
  21. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    There are too many of us who are unhappy, unattached, and hopeless so acceptance of irrational reasons for surrender of freedom and individuality seems to make sense. Not magical at all.

    As always, an insightful comment, @ oldbathos. We can quibble over the meaning of “magical”; I would say that if people still believe that Fauci has any credibility at all, they are indulging in magical thinking. The misery that comes out of their choice is just a byproduct.

    Well, “magical thinking” is more polite and possibly thought-provoking than “completely full of sh*t” or “just dumber than a box of hair.”  I’ll grant you that.

    • #21
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    Well, “magical thinking” is more polite and possibly thought-provoking than “completely full of sh*t” or “just dumber than a box of hair.”  I’ll grant you that.

    That’s what you get when the poster likes fairy tales! (Although secretly, I like yours. . .) Oops. Guess it’s not a secret anymore .  . .

    • #22
  23. Jim George Member
    Jim George
    @JimGeorge

    Susan Quinn: Regrettably, Joe Biden and his administration rely heavily on magical thinking. People will die if everyone is not vaccinated. (Someone should tell him that some people will die anyway, regardless.) Masks provide protection for everyone. (People must weigh whether the discomfort and social consequences, such as limiting our seeing the faces of others, are worth it.) Insisting that drugs that have been proven in the past won’t help in treatment. (Why isn’t anyone conducting trials?) Dr. Fauci should be the poster boy for magical thinking; no matter what he says, the science no longer plays a role in his recommendations, which sound more and more like mandates.

    I can only echo the accolades of others above in noting what an excellent piece of writing this is!

    I have long been deeply concerned about not only the magical thinking of this group in the White House and their Merry Band of Sycophants in the media, at times so unmoored from reality it would be comical if not so potentially dangerous, but also about the apparent lack of any moral guidelines among these people who lie about — well, everything! I had the extreme displeasure of having to deal with a few – thankfully only a handful- lawyers who had no compunction about lying about everything, and that included, sadly, some lawyers who wore the Black Robes. They were truly dangerous, in so many ways. 

    Susan, not to try to treat such a serious topic lightly, but here is a headline from The Babylon Bee this morning, which points up how totally, absolutely, completely these wretched people are divorced from reality:

    Wife Claims $3.5 Trillion Spending Spree At Target Actually Cost $0

    I sent the article out to friends with this subject line: They think-KNOW-we’re stupid. REALLY stupid. 

    As to Fauci, as the comedian Billy Crystal always says in his act, imitating his Mother– “Don’t get me started on that!”

    Thanks again for your usual excellent work, 

    Sincerely, Jim

    • #23
  24. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jim George (View Comment):
    I have long been deeply concerned about not only the magical thinking of this group in the White House and their Merry Band of Sycophants in the media, at times so unmoored from reality it would be comical if not so potentially dangerous, but also about the apparent lack of any moral guidelines among these people who lie about — well, everything!

    I agree, @jimgeorge! Andthank you for the kind words.The lying bothers me so much, almost more than anything else. And they do it so effortlessly! In part, this comes from years of our brushing off the lies, because, well, it goes with the political scene. Today we are paying the price. There is little value given to truth, honor and wisdom. Sad.

    • #24
  25. Jim George Member
    Jim George
    @JimGeorge

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    There is little value given to truth, honor and wisdom. Sad.

    Even more sad when one considers the fact that only is little value given to those time-honored values on which our Nation was built but we are now entering an age when those values are sneered at, ridiculed, sniffed at, demeaned and those who loudly and proudly proclaim them are taunted as the kind of White-Right-Domestic-Terrorists our military is out looking for rather than learning how to win wars. I hope and pray we can turn this around in time but it promises to be a close-run thing! Sincerely, Jim

    • #25
  26. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Jim George (View Comment):

    Susan, not to try to treat such a serious topic lightly, but here is a headline from The Babylon Bee this morning, which points up how totally, absolutely, completely these wretched people are divorced from reality:

    Wife Claims $3.5 Trillion Spending Spree At Target Actually Cost $0

    I saw that and laughed until I realized it was an apt analogy . . .

    • #26
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