Everyone’s Unique Except Me: Why I Hate Magical Thinking

by Whatsblem the Pro

Ah, non-conformity. It’s what Burning Man is all about, right? I mean, aside from all the other stuff that Burning Man is all about.

getting shot with this hurts more than hollow points

Some people go through their lives (especially the part before they graduate high school) thinking “god, I’m so WEIRD, I’m not like any of these people around me.” The braver, better-looking ones tend to celebrate it openly, while the rest take varying amounts of time to blossom and grow into either a fabulous never-ending explosion of confident freakishness, or a stultified simulation of normalcy from which they never again escape, unless they do it in secret. That ramrod cop with the sour face and severe buzzcut who wrote you a ticket for a rolling stop? He’s wearing a pair of custom-made crotchless hot-pink Hello Kitty panties under his uniform. Your quiet, mousy, conservative neighbor with no friends who never takes you up on it when you invite her to weekend rave-ups at your place? You should see her FetLife profile. And then there are the crushed spirits; the faceless horde of never-rans, locked up in cubicle farms forty dreary hours a week, and mired in their own frustrated disappointment the rest of the time. Plugging away at mundane lives they never wanted in a world they never made, too beaten down to break the mold even in their most private moments.

As Burners, we’re free of all that. We tend to be pretty relaxed about our little idiosyncrasies, and each other’s. The Playa isn’t just a place where you can walk around with your junk hanging out; it’s a place where you can walk around with your entire personality hanging out. True, maybe not everyone will appreciate it, but you’re still entitled (within reason), even if you’re the most heinous shirtcocker in Black Rock City and you like to spend the entire week at the bike racks in Center Camp, sniffing Yellow bike seats and chimping off.

Conformity is a pretty effortless thing for those who are inherently non-freaky. Achieving and maintaining casual veneer of non-conformity is harder; there are so many points at which non-conformity eats itself, Ouroboros-like, and becomes conformist. You’re a weirdo if you go to a PTA meeting wearing a silver speedo, pasties, and moonboots covered in purple fun-fur, but on the Playa you’re just another glitter junkie in a vast sea of uber-colorful participants spectating each other. A lot of them look surprisingly alike.

“The Freaks Come Marching-In” – they asked Burners to draw self-portaits. Image credit Todd Berman

Fortunately, the conformity of wearing a costume to what is, essentially, a massive costume ball is not a type or degree of conformity that anyone can seriously decry as some kind of problem. Culture’s in your head, not hanging on your bones, after all. . . but there are ways of being conformist that are both terribly non-obvious and, by virtue of that insidiousness, terribly threatening to the very non-conformity that we prize so much. I know this may seem paradoxical; true non-conformity, after all, is effortless – helpless, even – and not forced.

Macy’s does not yet sell complete Playa-ready Burner ensembles for pre-fab sparkle ponies to insta-Burn in, so we don’t need to worry about that kind of very obvious conformity making inroads on us yet. It seems to me that the real threat, the most stealthy, most pervasive, and most dangerous form of conformity that we struggle with within that broad and deep wellspring of freaky creativity that is Burner culture, is magical thinking.

Maybe this surprises you. “What’s the harm?” you ask, and rightly so: it’s not like we’re an homogeneous cult full of zombie-eyed religious fundamentalists, bent on spreading and enforcing our magic-based dogma far and wide for the glorification of our imaginary friend in the sky. As long as our magical thinking is fundamentally different from the tired old Judeo-Christian fables most of us grew up rejecting, it’s all good. . . but is it really all that different?

I’ve personally come to the conclusion that the most common types of magical thinking are indeed very harmful, highly corrosive to our culture (to every culture), and disturbingly similar in their underlying natures. I find that, having thought it through a bit, I am now deeply offended by most examples of magical thinking, because so many of them boil down to the same very, very ugly reductio.

I’ll get back to that in a bit.

People sometimes ask me what I have against hippies and the Rainbow Family culture, because I do often mock and deride them, occasionally with caustic fury. Usually, I’m just going for the low-hanging fruit on the humor tree; in the aggregate, as an archetype, the hippie is risible as hell. He has a giant conceptual “kick me” sign hanging around his neck, like a skinny emo kid in a high school locker room full of jocks. The hippies had their own fun when the inimitably lampoonable Nixon was in office; now that the ’60s are over, it’s their turn, forevermore. Yep, hippies are easy to make fun of. . . and if you can’t find one to make fun of in the immediate vicinity, you can just pull all that hair and gunk and stuff out of the drain in your shower, and build your own.

It’s not that I genuinely hate them; I don’t, and it would be silly to hate them anyway, because as narrow a label as ‘hippie’ is, it still encompasses far too much cultural territory to cover with any kind of earnestly-felt emotion. Hippies, like most classifications of human, range from people I love and respect and cherish (oh my god, you guys, I’m so sorry about this article) to people I’d like to cut up and use as chum on my next fishing trip. Hopefully my digs and jabs will encourage them to take Don Miguel Ruiz’ Four Agreements to heart, with a focus on not taking things personally.

After the levity is over, ‘hippie’ becomes a pretty useful label when we start talking about different varieties of magical thinking. There certainly exists some percentage of self-identified hippies who are pragmatic, scientific in outlook, and well-grounded in subjective reality, but that percentage is small and atypical. . . so small and atypical that I would venture to guess it is dwarfed even by that tiny percentage of hippies who are useful and hard-working. In fact, it could arguably be said that one of the defining characteristics of a hippie is the tendency to enthusiastically engage in a certain flavor of magical thinking. It’s less well-defined (and requires less of a commitment) than the magical thinking of, say, the muezzin who calls out the adhan from the top of a minaret five times a day, or the magical thinking of a Catholic taking communion and believing wholeheartedly in the miracle of transubstantiation, but when you really deconstruct the beliefs held by a surprisingly wide panoply of magical thinkers, you may find that those beliefs all have certain things – terrible, awful things – in common.

Let’s take a look at a short list of magical thinkers from widely disparate parts of the spectrum:

* Christians who believe in a loving God who actively helps them through life

* The Dalai Lama, who believes that karma from previous lives determines one’s station in this life, and what pleasures and pains one will be subject to

* Theistic Satanists who believe that Satan sends them tests in life in order to spur their development as individuals

* Hippies who believe that “we create our own reality,” and that the world around us can be transformed by nothing more substantial than our own positive thinking

While these four forms of magical thinking are clearly very unlike each other, their similarity comes into sharp focus when we ponder their implications for people in extremis, especially helpless and undeniably innocent people in extremis.

Consider: If Jesus helps Tim Tebow score touchdowns, and helps Jennifer Hudson win Academy awards, and helps J. Random Christian get that promotion at work, why doesn’t He help babies who starve to death in Southern Darfur?

Christians who believe that God helps them through life must really think they’re awesome, to get all that attention from the Lord while those Darfurian babies go hungry and die. What could be more flattering? Tebow’s next touchdown is more important to the infinitely-loving creator and saviour of the universe than the needless and horrible suffering of innocent children.

The Dalai Lama, meanwhile, as a proponent of karma, believes that he is the Dalai Lama and therefore entitled to a life of wealth, luxury, privilege, and dominance over lesser beings because, hey, he was a really great guy in his previous lives, and that’s how karma works. Those babies in Darfur, on the other hand, are suffering and starving to death because they were huge assholes in their previous incarnations. They’ve got it coming! Fuck ’em! It’s just karma in action.

(Incidentally, for those of you who only question authority that doesn’t validate the things you want to believe, I highly recommend you take a look at Michael Parenti’s essay “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth,” which may cause a scale or two to fall from your starry Eastern mysticism-clouded eyes.http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html)

To the theistic Satanist, thriving and prospering is evidence of being virtuous enough to overcome the tests one has been given. Darfurian babies who fail to thrive and prosper are just not good enough to pass the tests that Lord Satan sends their way, so they lose. Those losers, they should have manned up and shown a little spirit in the face of their adversity!

And those hippies who say “we create our own reality?” Wow, they must really look down on those stupid babies in Darfur. The unenlightened little fools are doing it wrong! They’re creating a shitty reality for themselves instead of one in which they live in America and have so much food to eat that they can afford to get all squeamish and hypochondriacal about wheat gluten and high-fructose corn syrup. Good thing for hippies that they’re so wise and enlightened, or they might be feebly swatting flies away from their malnutrition-distended bellies too.

There are other parallels. The hippie meme that says that thinking good thoughts at people is a valid way of helping them, for instance, is no different than the Christian habit of praying for people who need help instead of actually helping them. It’s a way of pretending that you’re doing something, so that you can absolve yourself of the guilt of just sitting there on your fat ass while other people starve to death. Oh, but quantum mechanics (very scientific!) says it works!

No, hippie, it doesn’t, and if you really knew anything about quantum mechanics, you’d know that. Here, eat this and be quiet

Like I said, the really dangerous kinds of conformity are the kind we can’t readily detect. . . conformity that undermines our uniqueness, both as individuals and as a culture, and fucks us out of our freedom to be entirely ourselves. In the case of “we create our own reality,” and other examples of the quantum mythology that hippies seem to love so much, it makes us huge douchebags as well, of the same stripe as Tim Tebow, or those idiots who spread the urban legends (see snopes.com) about virtuous young Christian women being saved from the imminent depredations of sinister inner-city thugs by the sudden appearance of angels. Oh, the angels didn’t swoop in when you got victimized? Fuck you, Jesus obviously thinks you’re worthless trash.

gun photo from Burningman.com

You wonder why I hate hippies so much? Well, I don’t really hate them. . . but I do look down my nose immediately and severely at anyone who pipes up with “we create our own reality” or any similar half-baked hippie/New Age/quantum mythology catch phrase, just like I sneer at evangelical Christians who try to tell me about Jesus as though I’d been living in a hidden vault in a secret cave under a giant boulder on Mars my entire life. If it’s someone I like, I try to educate them out of their blissed-out stupor and show them why their magical thinking is so offensive, and such a threat to any attempt to build an alternative world that freaks like us can live in comfortably. If it isn’t someone I like, I just point and laugh and shoot them with my mirth rifle.

Be offended, or grow and be better than you are.

80 comments on “Everyone’s Unique Except Me: Why I Hate Magical Thinking

  1. Great article that stands the test of time, even four years later. One suggestion, though. Find one way to help one baby in Dafur, and believe anything you like.

  2. Thanks, this is a good article. Once a coworker told me that I was to blame for being assaulted by two people on the side of a road (I’m a woman), because I must have attracted the negative energy to myself. (He also believes people get cancer because they need to learn a lesson.) It also reminds me of having a medical emergency at BM (not drug or alcohol related, medical) only to have the med workers in the med tent say that I just didn’t want to be there that year. And to a lesser extent, in my 3rd year people telling me that I *had* to get a Playa name even though I wanted to use my own name (the horrors). And they insisted to such an extent that they got a crowd together to come up with one – against my own wishes (so I left the tent without getting the services they were offering). … Conformity to “non-conformity”.

  3. Thank you for this.

    The worst cases of magical thinking are the ones in which the person
    conceals it.

    My psychotherapist turned out to be a disguised hippie wearing a necktie.

    He kept putting karma and reincarnation into our sessions despite my telling him again and yet again I was not paying him to listen to that kind of BS.

    He was outraged and acted like a prick when I fired him.

    PS Waldorf Schools are full of this stuff, all hidden. Go read
    information by parents who found out they’d been lied to.

    Waldorf education is based an a religion of magical; thinking
    called Anthroposophy, created by Rudolf Steiner. They are
    elitists and feel entitled to lie to outsiders.

    Waldorf Watch and Waldorf Critics are great places to learn
    about a lucrative, disguised manifestation of elitist magical thinking.

    Msr. Perra, a former teacher in the Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf school in France
    was sued by the Anthroposophists when he publisihed
    an expose. Fortunately, he won his case in court.


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  21. Your article about “magical thinking” was thought provoking. I have a relationship to the universe that is somewhere between your beliefs and “you create your own reality”. Probably more towards the latter. I think it is interesting that you seem to have taken these ideas rigidly literally which of course boils them down to practically nonsense. What about the idea that through science we are learning new things about the way the universe really works and our part in that everyday? Consciousness is a wonderful mystery. Our ability to participate in and observe reality helps shape it according to the latest thinking in particle physics. So then what’s so crazy about the possibility that there is some greater consciousness we are connected to? What if consciousness is ultimately what the fabric of reality is formed from? You experience the world as a single person separate from others now, but there was a time before your were born and there will be a time after you die where you may have an experience other that that. Of course that is truly unknowable. One of the great mysteries of the universe. But isn’t it just as closed minded to say with certainty you know there is nothing more? Isn’t it better to say that perhaps since every human culture that has ever existed on earth believe in some form or another that there is a greater consciousness at work in the universe, perhaps there is something to it? I’m not saying you should believe in god, I am saying you should be open to the possibility at there is something more to your relationship with the universe than you may realize . Perhaps you haven’t noticed it because it is so much a part of who you are, you simply call it “you.” As for the starving children all over the world. Isn’t it possible that before they were born, when they were still one with the universe, they volunteered to suffer in order to teach the rest of the world compassion for others? That doesn’t make their suffering any less real, it just means that all suffering serves a purpose, and we should react to it with action and love.

    • You said:

      “Our ability to participate in and observe reality helps shape it according to the latest thinking in particle physics.”

      No, it doesn’t. . . you just have a weak grasp of “particle physics,” which you probably obtained from some fraudulent jerk like Deepak Chopra, who doesn’t need to know what he’s talking about because he is in the business of selling books.

      READ THIS, TARA: http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/Quantum/MythQC.pdf

      As for the rest of what you’ve written, it’s mostly stuff that starts out with “what about the possibility that. . . ” Do you really expect me to waste my time sitting around paralyzed by unfounded possibilities? And are you serious when you say that you think maybe suffering serves a purpose? If it isn’t your own suffering you’re talking about when you say that, my immediate reaction is to show you both of my middle fingers.

    • I personally know and have known quite a few hippies/New Agers who have scolded me for things that happened to me, or otherwise shown no sympathy for misfortunes of others, because of their strong belief that we “create our own realites” and therefore, myself and others who have encountered misfortune, we all brought these misfortunes on ourselves…. when pointing out the obvious fact that nobody wants misfortune, the argument is always that either your subconscious mind did it, or your “higher self”, or sometimes, spirit guides, were responsible

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  23. There was a point not too long ago where magnetism, electricity and the electric light bulb were considered magical; until they were understood. Similarly, there are many aspects of “energy” which are not fully understood, so the gap is filled with magical thinking. Ultimately, this too will all be figured out but it happens at a rate which is slower than most of us have become accustomed to expect.

    However, I agree that it is very common to fall back on some form of magical thinking ( or praying) as a substitute for actually doing something to help change a situation; but then again the world is way too big of a place to be able to fix everything. As one who has been to many burner events, while I am constantly in awe at the amount of time, energy and money that goes into their creation, I find myself thinking how much more could be done had it been directed to the benefit of others as opposed to being expended on yet another self indulgent opportunity to experience, party and conform to the expectations of the non-conformists. It reminds me of all of the kids i saw in high school and college that wanted to be different yet by all dressing the same; and usually in all black. I guess fur is the new black.

    • I’m not sure who ever thought electric light bulbs were magical, but I’ll let that one pass. I’m not sure what you’re talking about when you use that word ‘energy’ either; it’s a much misused word among hippies and New Age types, for whom it seems to be a catch-all for anything mystical and spooky that they don’t know how to explain. ‘Energy’ is very well-understood by people who use the word according to its actual concrete definition, and it has nothing to do with spooky mysticism.

      The thing about magic is: every single mystery that has ever been solved has turned out NOT to be magic.

      Also, people who think that the fact that science doesn’t know everything about everything means that magical thinkers know anything about anything have made a serious error in logic.

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  28. When you really think about it, it is all pretty pointless. There is no sense in life…

    So maybe it is better not to think too much about life really… and just enjoy the fucking thing while it lasts.

  29. Science eventually explains or denounces mysticism, magical thinking, and all the tools of control and crutches “magical thinkers” believe / accept. The world is not flat, the earth is not the center of the universe, Jesus Christ was not the son of god but the Bill Clinton soothsayer of his era.. Et Cetera, et cetera. Science abides.

    I applaud the article. My only critique is that I think its polarizing as opposed to being the change you would like to see whatsblemthepro.

    I’m looking forward to your follow-up post – How to be a 1% Hippie – Pragmatic and Hardworking… because I believe if there were more hippies like that the world (and burn) would be a better place… It would also give the other 99% of Hippies something else to protest about…

  30. Interesting thoughts and I enjoyed your writing. However, I find it rather ironic to be reading such a thesis on this blog of all places. Without “magical thinking” or “hippies” there likely would be no such thing as a “Burner” in the world. BRC today holds a vast spectrum of people who call themselves burners, including myself, as more and more folks come to investigate, dutifully “participate” in the best way they know how and then usually have truly transformational experiences-each one as completely valid as any other. I don’t know any of the originators personally, but from what I’ve learned the creation of Burningman was not a hypothesis/experiment/conclusion path. It was/is an evolution of boredom, anger, inspiration, reaction, intuition, boldness, faith and fate that is giving birth every year to a new mutation of itself. By any rational definition, Burningman is a complete waste of human activity except for one redeaming value: it’s ability to be fertile ground for magical thinkers and those who revel in the spectacle of it.

    We do quite literally create our own reality on a nuerological level and unfortunately pop culture has sold that concept as if one could get a new car in the driveway if they wished for it sincerely enough (and we’ll show you how!) That being said, the “manifiestation energy” on the Playa is over the top. It consistently blows my mind, defying coincidence by magnitudes and I have seen it wither even the most die-hard critical minds. I’m not saying that that is magic but it is logical to assume that there exists some fields not measurable by science yet.

    • The fact that science doesn’t know everything does not mean that hippies or priests know anything.

  31. Thank you for your responses to my comment. My point was that to dismiss a 5,000 year old spiritual practice in a couple of sentences due to an erroneous understanding of the belief in karma, which actually is different than the Hindu understanding of karma, is an unskillful thing to do. I do know something about Tibet and the Tibetan situation as I have studied Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism for 35 years and spent some time in a Tibetan monastery. I have heard many stories of what life was like in Tibet and in the monasteries. I have all respect for the teachings and am very aware of the power abuses, also. I certainly do not support abuse on any level, and do not see Tibet as Shangrila. I also do not see the Chinese as the saviors of the Tibetans. I respect and mostly agree with much of what Michael Parenti says but there are some inacuracies in his article. Mostly, I really just cannot agree with the bloggers take on the Dalai Lama and Buddhist philosophy. Sorry about the wordiness.

    • So in other words, you don’t actually have a real point to make, you’re just offended and want to lash out.

      You studied Tibetan Buddhism? Congratulations! Some nasty, oppressive priests wrote some sacred texts instructing you on how to be their patsy, and you bought into it. Having that particular wool pulled firmly over your eyes does not make you an authority on sheep and shepherds, though.

      If you had a real point to make, you’d take the trouble to spell out exactly how it is you think I’m wrong about karma, instead of just saying “you’re wrong!” and then moving on to puff yourself up about what an expert you are. It’s not like you’re too busy to expand on that thought; you even apologized for being so wordy! Thanks for proving one of the points I made in the article, though: the one about how magical thinkers are so prone to self-aggrandizement. You’re obviously wiser and better than other people because you’re a True Believer.™

      Sorry, but I have a thousand times more respect for Dr. Michael Parenti’s acumen and intellectual honesty than I could ever have for anyone with such a vested interest in defending religious dogma and the people who propagate it.

    • Your mention of the antiquity of the practice, as if that was indicative of some sort of merit, is an oft-repeated fallacy. 5,000 years, huh? You know what’s also 5,000 year old practice? Slavery. Forcible genital mutilation.

      Please do not claim historical tradition as a reason for a belief, philosophy, or practice being implemented or continued in the modern world. It is wrong, dangerous, and quite frankly very simpleminded of you.

      Of course, that it not to say we should not treasure the history of such practices and beliefs, and study them in great details…human heritage has value beyond measure. But the most immediate practicality of those studies are often in the vein of “and this is why we shouldn’t do THIS anymore”.

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  33. Excellent thoughts. The separation of church and state, commerce and religion, has become murky turf and we need more voices like yours. One question though- what ‘do’ you believe in?

    Even science has gaps in its knowledge and it acknowledges these gaps as inexplicable. As three dimensional beings we are left holding a mystery about ourselves that even science can’t figure out. Perhaps those who engage in “magical thinking,” as you call it, or subscribe to the Buddhist or Christian philosophy are just happier people. Or are they simple people?

    But, really, what do you believe in? When all the other people in the world have been appropriately labeled and are in their places, what do you turn to? What gives you comfort when you’re alone and trapped in a long, cold, dark, narrow hallway of confusion or fear? The kind of endless hallway that has no doors or windows or overhead light, the hallway that we all find ourselves in at some point. Surely, there is more depth to you than a simplistic belief that ‘life sucks and then we die.’

    • I don’t need the kind of synthetic comfort that comes out of a Bible, phakephollower. Read your Nietzsche for details.

      • Great, it’s Nietzche for you then! Grand. I wasn’t looking for an argument, it was a sincere question. I am not here in defense of the Bible (you got a little knee-jerk problem). I don’t find comfort in synthetic sheets much less a freakin’ Bible.

        There was no need to take an unnecessary jab at a reader (can’t stand the heat, get out of the blogging business). Btw, you’re looking for followers for this blog, yes? So what you really want is to attract a couple billion conformists, the more who agree with you the better but not necessary, as long as they follow. Right?

        Pull the fingernail out of your butt and you might let some of that hot air out.

      • It was a straight answer to what I thought was a straight question, not an argument or an accusation of you being a Christian. Got a little persecution complex problem?

        If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the commenting on blogs business.

      • Seriously, what on Earth did I write that set you off? Whatever it was, I only wrote it between the lines, in your imagination. You asked me what I believe in to give me comfort when I’m alone in confusion and fear, and I gave you a very direct answer: contrary to your assumption that I MUST have some comforting belief to turn to when things are dark, I have no need for such things. Nietzsche didn’t just proclaim God dead, he gave us a way to comfort ourselves and remain free of superstitious beliefs.

      • Seriously. I never mentioned the Bible. I asked what you do believe. (I regret writing “believe in” because that’s not exactly my question and also it’s grammatically gross to end a sentence with a preposition.) Your answer went back to telling me what you ‘don’t’ believe. You just posted a 500+ word post on what you don’t believe and you took some pretty good, insightful (and imo rightful) stabs at other people’s beliefs. To me, the obvious question, is what ‘do’ you believe? Your answer:

        “I don’t need the kind of synthetic comfort that comes out of a Bible,”

        That IS an insinuation that I am of christian beliefs. No persecution complex here [another insinuation by you that I am judeo/christian] you, however, need to get that knee checked.

        My question is perfectly valid and considered. I’ll hold my own in your comments section any day. And right back at ya sir: Be offended, or grow and be better than you are.

        And regardless of your efforts to the contrary, I do understand you a tad better with the Nietzsche reference. You almost. . . almost had me reaching my old dusty Nietzsche, but that was a good starting point for me about 30 years ago. Personally, I like to evolve and I like to surround myself with folk who evolve. I repel the people who made their minds up about something at 18 years old and have stuck by it just because it easier than rethinking (like a bad tattoo). I would, if pushed to the wall on a blog for an answer, describe myself as an individualist. That evolved out of reading Nietzsche (et al) and it’s not easily grasped by many individuals.

        But you didn’t ask about me. You just made an assumption and took a few pot shots.

        Never having a need for comfort, never having a mind-blowing experience that rocks you into a new reality, is kind of sad. Truth is, we all reach for a branch at some point. And just as true, that branch will eventually break.

      • You are stuffing words into my mouth wholesale. I’m not responsible for your thin skin and I didn’t even so much as imply any of the things you accuse me of saying.

        You seem to think everything is about you. It isn’t.

        I’m not going to respond to your comments any further, because you’re way too far out in left field with your inferences. Have a nice day, we’re done here.

  34. And what about the oprah obsessed that believe in the nonsense pushed by ‘The Secret’? I hardly think the legions that believe in this tripe would be considered ‘hippies’. I think your definition way too narrow. The ‘you create your own reality’ label belongs, imo, more appropriately to New Agers.

    • Maybe you should read this paragraph from the article again, T Groan:

      You wonder why I hate hippies so much? Well, I don’t really hate them. . . but I do look down my nose immediately and severely at anyone who pipes up with “we create our own reality” or any similar half-baked hippie/New Age/quantum mythology catch phrase,

  35. well, hmm, i really agree that having a discussion about victim blaming is important. However, dismissing the Dalai Lama’s teachings which are grounded in a 2500 year old system and which incorporates at least 5000 year old shamanic Tibetan practices, really sounds rather ignorant. It makes it difficult to take seriously your other points.

  36. A most entertaining article! I would cautiously add that all the greatest inventors & creative minds in our human history books were “magical thinkers” as well. I find it difficult to delineate clear lines betwixt imagination & magical thought, but that may simply be an operator derived observation. I’d hazard a guess that imagination proper is not an enemy to human progress, but externally imposed strictures of morality arises as impediments to human liberty & instruments of control. Ethical conduct, by contrast, arises from an individual’s self-imposed, learned codes of right action. Keep up the great writing- it’s an art form too often neglected on the open playa.

    • That’s a bold statement you made there when you said “all the greatest inventors & creative minds in our human history books were ‘magical thinkers,'” and I flatly reject it as incorrect.

      Also, you’ve equated being a magical thinker with being imaginative. That’s a straw man argument. You can be imaginative as hell and still be rational. . . many of the greatest inventors and creative minds in human history were imaginative, rational people.

      See what I did there?

      Thanks for your comments regardless, and cheers.

  37. Pingback: Burning Man Project to Fuel Community+Creativity in West Oakland | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

  38. Karma is a religious system that has allowed the higher castes to be dicks to the lower castes for millienia. It doesn’t just mean “Hey, bro, what comes around goes around.” It is and was a system of oppression.

    • Unfortunately, earnest young Westerners seem to have a blind spot about things like that. They may recognize Christianity as a mechanism of control, but when you tell them that people who aren’t white and who live far away or who lived a long time ago do or believe something, they immediately gush over how much better it is.

    • In my “selective superstition”, the piece I take from karma is also supported by Newtonian physics: you get back what you give out. AKA “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. I think the Hindu caste system should be separated from a consideration of karma, which exists in Buddhism also; organized systems of religious manipulation do not automatically negate the underlying beliefs they are based on. For example, just because some churches steal and molest children, does not mean that Christian beliefs of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “thou shalt not kill” are not valid and positive.

      • The only reason that the concept of karma exists in Buddhism as well as Hinduism is that Hinduism was India’s State religion when Buddha was alive. If early Buddhists hadn’t paid lip service to Hindu concepts, they’d have been persecuted. The Hindu-flavored religious slant on Buddhism was strengthened even more as it traveled up and over the Plateau through Tibet and into China.

        What did Buddha really say, according to your studies? According to mine, the core of Buddhism as promoted by Buddha himself was very simple, and can be paraphrased as “you’re unhappy because you want things you can’t have, and want the impermanent things you have to be permanent. Stop doing that, and be happy.”

        No mysticism, no mumbo-jumbo about reincarnation, past lives, karma, etc. Just simple, brilliant advice on how to improve the human condition, from a rare genius.

  39. Awesome article, and basically outlines my own views on hippies and other ‘magical thinkers’. So much so my buddy posted it on my wall and said: I had to triple check that you didn’t write this. Awesome.

    • And how exactly do you define ‘hippie,’ Jeff? I’ve thought about it and pondered all the implications, and I suspect that your theory may just possibly be stupid.

      • Yes, the hippies had some hand in promoting eastern philosophies in the west, but they’re hardly the most influential ones there. They’d vastly more influence on art, clothing, food, drug use, sexual mores, etc. It’s stupid to ignore all the historical stuff that actually matters when defining the term.

        If you narrowly define hippie, then you’ll exclude most shakara healers and yogis at Burning Man : their music tastes don’t generally match, they probably aren’t doing any drugs, etc. If you broadly define hippie, then you must prioritize stuff like clothing, sexual mores, psychedelics, etc. above fairly generic philosophical carelessness issues.

        Isn’t our electronic music really the modern heir to psychedelic rock after all too, especially with all the trippy lighting effects?

      • If we take your theory to its logical conclusion and trace influences back to give credit where credit is due, we should actually be referring to hippies — by which I mean everyone — as Tibetans.

        You are a very silly man.

      • Umm, you’re post doesn’t make much sense. You haven’t connected uniqueness with the magical thinking part, not really. An F on logic.

        You also sounds remarkably ignorant for a burner. There are many degrees and aspects of hippieness, certainly many get stupid, but not all.

        I’d agree that magical thinking sucks broadly speaking, but frankly that’s most of humanity. If you reject that outright, then you violate radical inclusion.

      • Sara, I don’t have to respect magical thinking to be radically inclusive. . . and the Ten Principles aren’t some kind of Ten Commandments of the Burner Religion anyway. You sound like a butthurt hippie who doesn’t read very well, lashing out at someone who insulted your precious rainbow.

        To be radically inclusive, all I have to do is recognize that magical thinkers have every right to be part of the Burner scene too. That does not preclude me from disrespecting their beliefs, and it certainly doesn’t forbid me from trying to change their minds.

        I’m giving you an ‘F’ too, but this one stands for “fuck yer day, Miss Burnier-than-thou.”

  40. another great, witty and thought-provoking (and hippy-provoking!) piece from Whatsblemthepro. Personally, I am not a hater, I believe in karma, good luck, and the power of positive thinking. At Burning Man, whatever I have wished for has manifested – the latency of manifestation ranges from near-instant to an hour or so. Sometimes things I wished for on the Playa manifested years later, in Meatspace, and I took them to Burning Man. I also believe in the power of the rational mind, science, hard work, and strategies well executed. There wasn’t some magical being that just handed me stuff. I had to take risks and persist and be deteremined and go get it. Which, throughout history, is a winning strategy. Many leaders have used superstition to help them, from Alexander the Great to Ronald Reagan. To our current pick of Presidential options.
    I think it is good to cultivate both sides of the brain, as well as body/mind/soul. Which implies that I believe in both mind (a trickster, it’s there but it’s not all yours, be careful of it) and soul.
    For a scientific view of “magical” aspects of our existence, I highly recommend David Wilcock’s book the Source Field Investigations – so good that I actually spent part of Burning Man 2011 reading it. Could not put it down, don’t be put off by the cheesy attempt to tie it into 2012.
    To each their own, I look forward to hearing other Burners perspectives on this post.

    • Thanks burnersxxx, it’s always a pleasure to contribute here.

      I’m not really sure that what you do qualifies entirely as magical thinking. Karma I roundly question as a valid concept, but luck? That’s just luck! What you call “the power of positive thinking” seems more related to cultivating confidence in yourself so you’ll be better-equipped to succeed than it resembles any kind of hey-presto alakazam silliness.

      I’m also a devotee of the idea that both sides of the brain should be trained and cultivated; I stop short of allowing my left brain to drag me into unfounded belief systems, however. Still, there are archetypal and allegorical modes of thinking (like certain varieties of gnosticism) that LOOK an awful lot like belief in magic, but aren’t. . . and that’s what I see in your description of your own take on things. You’re not a magical thinker per se; you’re a pseudomagical thinker. That’s a subjective thing and doesn’t translate to the kind of self-aggrandizement and victim-blaming that I describe in this article.

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