Twenty-first Century Talisman for a Scared Society

© 2020 Debra Littlejohn Shinder

Tom and I were talking this morning about the mask phenomenon, as we often do. He said something that he intended to be dismissive, I think, but it hit me like an epiphany when he observed that “It’s like a rabbit’s foot.”

Yes. Yes, it is. That’s exactly what it’s like. It’s an object that some people have imbued with magical protective powers, that brings them comfort and gives them hope and soothes their fears — even though it doesn’t really do much of anything to protect them from the virus.

Rabbit Foot Keychain For Sale | Paxton Gate

But a lot of people still carry around a rabbit foot, too — although not nearly as many as did when I was younger. Others carry a lucky coin, or wear a special amulet or necklace or ring, or hang a horseshoe over their doors to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune.

In fact, most cultures have had their good luck charms. In Italy, the horn known as the “cornicello” is a traditional talisman. In Sweden it’s a carved Dala or Dalecarlian horse. Elephants are a symbol for good luck are common all over Asia, but they are especially prominent in India and Thailand. In England, carrying an acorn in your pocket is supposed to protect against illness. And of course we’re all familiar with the four-leaf clover to which the Irish attribute good fortune.

So it’s really not so strange that so many have glommed onto the mask now in spite of increasing evidence that its efficacy is suspect, at best — not as the political symbol that it represents to others but as a totem that will confer a force field against Covid-19 around them and their loved ones.

Lucky Charm Bitcoin Four Leaf Clover St Patricks Day Wall Clock by teepsy |  Society6

And just as the superstitious gambler will absolutely insist that he loses or wins based on whether he’s wearing red or has a badger’s tooth in his pocket, those who have subscribed to faith in the mask truly believe that they’re saving their own and others’ lives by wearing it, and if they don’t, something bad will happen.

Belief in magic is something we all succumb to now and then; it seems to be a propensity that’s hard-wired into the human condition, affecting some people more than others.

The appetite for such beliefs appears to be rooted in the circuitry of the brain, and for good reason. The sense of having special powers buoys people in threatening situations, and helps soothe everyday fears and ward off mental distress.

Do You Believe in Magic? New York Times

Magical thinking is much more common than most people think. No matter how rational and logical you are, you probably engage in it now and then. When I travel(ed), especially on a plane, I always wear the same necklace, a pendant with a picture of my beloved cat, Bobble, with her angel wings. Do I know, intellectually, that it doesn’t keep the plane from going down? Of course. But hey — not once have I been in a plane crash while wearing that necklace so it must work, right?

The problem isn’t that ordinary people are donning their “good luck” masks in a time of fear and uncertainty. It might be surprisingly if they didn’t. The problem is that governments around the world have, for various reasons, decided to make doing so a mandate.

That is not really surprising, either, to anyone with more than a passing interest in history. This human susceptibility has been exploited throughout time by those with nefarious intent, ranging from lowly con men to powerful kings.

After all:


” … certain forms of social compliance and obedience to authority historically evolved from magical practices of mind control and are still powered by the implicit belief in magic.”

The Belief in Magic in the Age of Science – Sage Publishing

The above-referenced paper is a long but fascinating read, and it sheds light on much of the mystery surrounding the whole Covid “crisis.” Over and over, when I’ve discussed both the governmental reaction and willingness of otherwise intelligent people to go along with it and even embrace and defend it, there has been an aura of bewilderment. “How did this happen?”

The SagePub article addresses not just the idea of attributing magical powers to objects (such as the mask) but also the attribution of magical abilities to people — such as Dr. Fauci and the other “experts” whose words are taken as gospel even when their advice and opinions regularly make 180° turns.

“The psychological structure of the modern belief in some
people’s special abilities cannot be properly understood
unless we have a brief look at historical roots of this belief.
In traditional societies, people believe that some individuals
have special powers; these individuals can speak with the
Gods and spirits …

“As the belief in magical forces in traditional societies is so
strong, people view the orders coming from their leaders as
imperatives that are sanctioned by spirits, and the issues of
resisting these orders or critically analyzing if these orders
are true or false rarely arise.”

Frazer, 1890/1959; Lévy-Brühl, 1923/1966; 1926/1985

So when we look at this from a human psychology point of view, it starts to make (a crazy kind of) sense. There’s even a name for this “condition”: Belief-in-Magic-based social compliance (BMSC for short). Here’s what the article has to say about it:

It is well known that reasoning, perception, and other cognitive functions can be affected by emotional attitudes (Forgas, 2002; Gasper, 2004). However, the characteristic feature of BMSC that distinguishes it from other “emotionally driven” responses is that while affecting participants’ actions, subconscious magical beliefs do not affect participants’ critical reasoning capacities. As a result, an individual who exhibits BMSC must display a word/action dissociation of the following type:

(a) Individuals are conscious that the suggested idea is wrong and/or has no personal benefit to them, but (b) they act as if they believed that the suggested idea is true.

Applying this to our current situation, then, we come upon the people who claim to “believe in science” but who reject all of the scientific literature and even the previous statements of their esteemed leaders that came prior to Covid becoming a political issue showing masks to have little or no value in protecting against virus transmission. When asked why all those previous studies were wrong and the new dogma proclaiming masks as the miracle preventative, they flounder, and frequently just get angry and accuse you of “not believing in science.”

But why is it that some of us seem to have been immune to the delusion from the beginning, others bought into it at first but then lose the rose-colored glasses and see through the scam after a while, and still others continue to cling to the mask hysteria for dear life?

Hypnotized Person Clipart Hypnosis Hypnotherapy Clip Hypnotized Person  U3jvx Image Provided - EpiCentro Festival

I have no idea whether there is a connection here, but I find it interesting that some people (estimated 25% of the population) can be hypnotized easily and others can’t be put into a trance even when they try hard to let it happen. As you might guess, I’m in the latter group. Several times in my life I’ve volunteered to be the subject of hypnosis, but for whatever reasons, I can’t go under. Some scientists say the brains of people like me are physiologically different from those of folks who can fall under the hypnotist’s spell.

Other researchers have found correlations between hypnotizeability and certain personality traits.

In everyday life, says Dr. Spiegel, high hypnotisable people are notably different than their less hynotisable peers.

‘They get side-tracked by sunsets and lost in movies; they tend to show up three hours late for things because they lost track of time.’

By contrast, those who are resistant to hypnosis tend to be more judgmental, fastidious in their habits and less trusting of people.

Scientists discover why some people just can’t be hypnotised – Daily Mail

I can’t deny that the last paragraph sounds a lot like me. And although they didn’t say it in so many words, my guess is that most of us in the “can’t hypnotize” category would also be described as control freaks. It makes sense that if you’re less trusting of people, you’re less likely to allow someone – especially a stranger or mere acquaintance – to “put you to sleep.”

Maybe that explains why I wouldn’t or couldn’t believe the “experts” when they changed their minds and told us all to wear the mask. Or maybe it doesn’t.

Because you know, I do believe in magic. Just not the magic of masks and medical “experts” and politicians. I believe in the magic of love and the way it can transform a life. The magical healing power of nature. The magical bond between a human and an animal. And, of course, the magic of my “Bobble necklace,” that has kept me safe on so many trips to so many lands.

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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