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I wouldn’t describe myself as a James Lindsay Stan, but I’m inclined to like him. He has a great post up over on his ‘stack today about what he calls “Dialectical Inversion” about the tactical decoupling of science from epistemic superiority and the consequent shoehorning into an equal position of “other ways of knowing” by the woke. It’s a worthwhile read.
One thing I attempt to do on my blog is a kind of dialectical re-synthesis of ideas that have been inconveniently detached by the woke project. Tactically, this comes from the recognition that synonymous words do not necessarily share connotations between social languages.
Linguistically speaking, “magician” and “shaman” mean slightly different things, but fiddling around with the frame of reference allows you to use them more or less interchangeably. If you do that enough with enough words—for example, “memespace egregore” and “myth”—you start to see that the concepts can be swapped in and out as well, independent of their connotative meaning. If you do that enough, you start to see a lot of really cool parallels. That’s what I mean when I point out that language is modular.
A lot of people who were involved in pickup artistry when that was a thing were professional magicians and hypnotists. (Erik von Markovik, AKA “Mystery,” star of VH1’s The Pickup Artist, was a nightclub magician before he got famous.) The skill set of all three groups is based around the same conceptual toolbox used by literal shamans. Psychic surgery is a great example of this. In psychic surgery, the shaman uses a combination of sleight-of-hand and the authority conveyed by his position and the ritual he performs to apparently pull an ectoplasmic invader (in fact, a chicken giblet or similar offal) out of the body of the afflicted.
The fuck of it is, it works. People very often really get better. The human brain is capable of doing all kinds of counterintuitive stuff with the human body if it’s appropriately stimulated, and while psychic surgery does not in fact involve pulling demons out of your chest and healing the incision with magic, it does involve really curing people of certain ailments (most of them mental illnesses). Shamans aren’t by definition charlatans.
The branch of science we in the West use to achieve analogous results is cognitive neuroscience, which has confirmed a lot of really cool discoveries that men in wolfskins came up with millennia ago. (An analogous modern neurological hack is the use of mirror boxes to deal with phantom pain in people with amputations—the brain is fooled into believing that the mirrored hand is the amputated hand, allowing the amputee to unclench fingers whose nails are dug into the palm, or otherwise move the hand into a more comfortable position.)
As much as I like the phrase “all wolves are one Wolf,” I enjoy quietly pointing out that all magicians do variations on the same job even more.
There is a direct application of this principle to wokeness, and to the problem presented by Lindsay—that wokies are detaching the epistemic superiority from hard science and associating it with “other ways of knowing.”
First, agree with them. Tell them that, sure, other ways of knowing are entirely valid. Magic is a thing, and it runs the world. So does faith.
Then, point out a few cool magic tricks performed by indigenous people. Burning caribou shoulder bones to divine the location of the best places to hunt caribou is a personal favorite.
Once they’re nodding in agreement, point out that what the hunters who burned the antlers and then interpreted the resulting cracks were actually doing was adding a deliberate element of randomness to the hunt, because if you staked out a specific hunting ground and went back there over and over again, the animals you’re hunting would get thinner on the ground. These primitive people were applying probability—an element of statistics—to keep their tribe fed, and calling it magic.
Then ask them, “Isn’t it neat how magic is just a different language we use to describe concepts validated by empiricism?”
(There are analogous points to be made about sincere religious faith and the associated health benefits. Personally, I’ve come the long way around to theism, but the underlying strategy is sound regardless, and people who truly believe won’t be offended by arguments against faith unless you’re obnoxious or offensively persistent.)
For bonus points, be super respectful throughout—make it seem like it was your interlocutor’s idea if you can. Remember: you’re not trying to score points on them, you’re trying to point out that their whole philosophy is entirely reconcilable with hard science. (Making them look stupid personally is a failure condition, because it puts you in the position of throwing cold water on their faith, and that’s an asshole move.)
In the event this is disproved to be an actual technique used by indigenous shamans, a useful google search string is something like “how did shamans do real magic?” There’s tons of these tricks, and archeologists, historians, and cognitive neuroscientists are doing a lot of really interesting work on shamanism right now; you’re bound to find something.
Personal favourite here (more relevant for talking to atheists about religion, but the same general principle):
What's the practical difference between "God" and "an engineer with admin access to the simulation you're living in, who uses a big white beard in the sky as his avatar"?
"...and people who truly believe won’t be offended by arguments against faith unless you’re obnoxious or offensively persistent."
Well played, lol.
Of course, you must know that this means "we" are quite literally more powerful than "you" and always will be, no matter the language model or depth of the neurological dive..
*ominous musical cue*