The Cost of Magical Thinking

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by Jim Bertram

We live in decidedly difficult times. As most of us are aware, difficult problems require that we dedicate ourselves to processes of problem solving which make significant effort necessary. That reality applies to many, if not all, current issues. And it is always disappointing to see attempts to pass off half-baked thinking in the guise of a solution. As if merely pronouncing the words one chooses will produce a wonderful resolution of a problem. Truly magical thinking, which usually has as its object some reward for the speaker.

A disappointing example of this was cited last week when, in ‘A Time for heroes’, David Shanahan referred to the Premier of Ontario advising people to shop at big box stores as a solution for many of the woes due to Covid. Wonderful. What a solution in the time of Covid. Only a few problems with that though, not the least of which is the plight of small and medium business owners, many of whom are losing their lifetime of work and investment dedicated to building their small but vital piece of Canada’s business economy. Oh well, Mr. Premier, at least your large corporate friends will be well cared for. And I guess that suits you. But what is the COST for so many small businesses of your magical, unreflected solution? And the global cost to our economy?

A second example of shallow magical thinking was referred to in a letter by Willem Van Dam, when he referred to an old and seriously overworked pseudo-solution to society’s many problems: just tax those evil rich who we know (don’t we?) don’t pull their weight in society. Mr. Van Dam refers to Ms. Rekmans’ letter of January 20, which did contain some interesting points. But Mr. Van Dam rightly makes a beginning in attacking Ms. Rekmans’ magical thinking ‘tax the rich’ scheme. His excellent, practical critique could have gone much further, even unto book-length. Basically though, punishing taxes on the ‘rich’ would ultimately have costs far greater than any good produced for society. Perhaps a sense of balance and priorities, to say nothing of truth, would serve government and society better than leading a tax rampage against Canadians whose chief crime seems to be that they have been successful at their professional or business activities (think doctors, owners of truck centres, homebuilders, lawyers, etc). That observation will, of course, not please the Left, whose preference for empty ‘magical’ solutions and utopias is well documented, as is the extensive human and economic wreckage left in their wake. Nor will it please governments, whose hunger for your wealth, meagre though that “wealth” may be, is voracious and infinite.

Another example of magical thinking in the service of unintelligent and destructive government policy is the claim by MPP Steve Clark that the jail he foisted on us in a surprise announcement in August would provide economic growth overall for our North Grenville community. In a series of articles last September, I referred, among other things, to numerous objective academic studies which countered both Clark’s self-serving claims, and those of his cheerleaders on local Council. Unfortunately, many in our community have found it easier to join Council and roll over before the provincial juggernaut without even the merest opposition to the Clark/Ford jail. And the cost of accepting the magic of expediency? Think of your community here in Kemptville in 10 years with the social and fiscal costs attendant with the operation of a large jail, a jail which, once established here, will only grow in size. Given the ravages of time, I probably won’t be here to ‘enjoy’ that scene, but I’m willing right now to continue fighting for the rights of those that will be. Hopefully others will eventually find the wherewithal to stand up in numbers to oppose the folly of this jail. This monument to superficial magical thinking.

So, at the end of the day, if not superficial nostrums and magical thinking, then what? Mr. Shanahan, in his article cited above, alludes to our power as individuals who contribute importantly to solutions. First, I say don’t accept bafflegab offered on the political level, either locally or provincially. Think. Think again. And act. Act to help (y)our neighbours. Last week I wrote about food banks. They’re still there. We can also frequent our local businesses and help them maintain their existence and, thus, their valuable contribution to our social and economic welfare. We can be vocally active in defense of our community. We can avoid the quick solution, the glib prepared comment, the magic of the empty, self-serving statements of many politicians and their reward-seeking servants. Send the magicians on their way and work your own individual solutions. As Mr. Shanahan suggests, find a way to be a hero. If you do, you will work true magic.

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