Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

Independence Day

On this day, the anniversary of the founding of our nation, I want to talk abit about magical thinking and how it applies to law.  I’m sure that all my readers have read me quote Wikipedia’s definition of magical thinking sufficiently at this point.  So, I will just use my own understanding to break it down this time, and skip the quote.

Magical thinking consists of several different basic issues: Correlation equaling causation, contagion, synchronicity, and symbol power.  All of them profoundly rooted in the laws of our land.

Correlation as causation is the idea that related events must cause each other.  People who own homes generally don’t get caught breaking into cars.  Thus, a multi-billion dollar tax write-off (mortgage payments being tax deductable) is foisted upon an unthinking public. (Obviously, owning a home does not cause good behavior, it is merely associated with it.)

Contagion is the idea that things placed near each other share some transfer of identity or quality. From this concept, the voodooist makes a doll of the persons’ clothes or hair, the clairvoyant needs something that belonged to the deceased, and the Catholic church claims healings resultant from holy relics.

Synchronicity seeks to relate a number of random events with unifying cause.  For instance, the charge that California suffers many earthquakes because it is the center of the United States pornography industry rather than because of the San Andres fault.

The power of symbols, is what I wish to talk about today.  Dwight Conquergood said this of symbol power “Symbols instill beliefs and shape attitudes that underpin social structures. The binding force of culture, by and large, is a web of symbols that enables people to control and make sense out of experience in patterned ways.”  Tarot for Dummies has this to say “You may not even realize it, but your life is shaped by symbols that are passed to you or inherited from your culture, your race, your peer and social groups, and your family” and further “The picture symbol of an evergreen tree decorated with lights and other ornaments is an archetype for Christmas. Without consciously thinking about it, you are prompted to think of snow and Christmas presents when you see a picture like this. (And depending on your past experiences, you may feel anything from excitement and hope to depression and anxiety.)”

Symbols have no more power than we give them, but often, as a society, we grant enormous power to certain symbols. Imagine you are lost and need to ask for directions. Think of a small plain building with a flagpole in front. On the flagpole flies Nestle Company flag.  Would you be comfortable stopping there?  Most likely. Now, imagine the same scene, only the building flying a Nazi flag.  Would you stop for directions?  If not (and most people do say “no”) why not?  From a logical stand point, why not stop?  In a democratic society there will obviously be people you disagree with.  Is a historical revisionist, white supremest somehow more evil corporate lawyer? (Turn your attention again to Nestle, it has purposefully marketed infant formula to developing nations’ mothers by having actresses dress has nurses and give away free samples until the mothers milk dries up, then begin charging for it.  They also use child slaves in the processing of their chocolate.)

The Nestle ImageThe Nazi Image

Despite the fact that both represent oppressive regimes, you would most likely stop for Nestle, but not for Nazi. The greatest absurdity, of course, is that a person’s adherence to bankrupt moral code has little to do with their capacity to get you from 10th Street to Mulligan Avenue.

That is the power of a symbol.  One associates so much with the mere symbol that the instant response is revulsion and fear.  That a symbol of 60 year old failed government induces more concern than the corporate herald of multi-billion dollar corporation that employs child slaves in the third world to make candies for child consumers in the first also shows how the power of symbols can have nothing to do with what is truly being represented, and everything to do with what people feel is represented. Finally, it shows how a group may maintain a symbol and operate under the social protection that the perception of that symbol provides.

How does this relate back to this Independence Day?  The constitution of our country is not the law of our land.  That which is fair and just is rarely simple. The constitution is not the law, but the heart of the law, the principals from which the laws are derived. The real “law of the land” is the United States Legal Code available here.  In a democracy, the law will never be simple.  Different groups and people will require compromise and specification. Which means volumes, rather than pages of law.

You will hear in these United States constant statements such as “The Constitution guarantees certain rights”.  And that, dear readers, is bullshit.  The constitution is lovely piece of old paper.   Next time your rights are being violated, call out to the constitution. See if it sprouts little parchment legs and comes running to your defense, a musty musket clutched to its flat, printed breast.  The constitution is a symbol.  It is not the symbol of justice which makes justice,but just men and women.  Rosa Parks was granted her rights not by the Constitution in a little glass box but by the work of her hands and the bravery in her heart.

The Constitution is the symbol of everything that is right in the country.  I mean it no disrespect.  But let us remember, today of all days, that it is not the symbol of freedom that guarantees our freedom.  It is free men and women, fighting to stay so.  Do not put your trust in the symbol of power, but its source: your own heart.

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July 4, 2008 - Posted by | Government, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. A very good read. I liked the part about the constitution as a symbol, you make a very valid point.

    Comment by kyriakonie | July 7, 2008 | Reply


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