Column by Paul Hein.
Exclusive to STR
I’ve always enjoyed magic. Magicians, especially those who trick us by sleight of hand, impress me with their skill. But until recently, I didn’t realize that there were two forms of magic. There is private, or voluntary, magic, and public, or compulsory, magic.
You know the private, voluntary kind. It’s generally done on stage, with the magician asking for a VOLUNTEER from the audience. If nobody volunteers, there is no trick, but somebody always volunteers--even if it’s the magician’s stooge. The magician may then ask the volunteer to give him a ten dollar bill. The volunteer does so, with some—perhaps feigned—hesitation. The magician at once tears the bill into small pieces and throws them into the air--Federal Reserve confetti.
“Not to worry,” he consoles his victim. He then reaches into a large fishbowl, in which goldfish are swimming, that has been on stage the entire time, and withdraws a plastic bag. Inside the bag is a tiny scrap of paper, which he carefully unfolds. Behold! It’s the volunteer’s ten bucks--it even bears the initials the magician had him place on it before handing it over. A terrific trick! The audience applauds.
Then there is the public, or compulsory, magic. The magician, as in the previous case, asks for a volunteer, but, unlike the private magician, he asks everyone in the theater—very forcefully--to volunteer. As bulky fellows appear at every exit, and onstage with the magician, some of them obviously armed, the audience volunteers--each and every one. The magician’s assistants circulate through the theater, collecting ten dollar bills from everyone present. Then, when these are presented to the magician--he makes them disappear! Magically, they reappear in the pocket of the dictator de jour, who uses them to buy a new Mercedes for his mistress. Amazing!
Of course, as in the first example, if no one had volunteered, there would have been no trick, but the magician is prepared for that eventuality. Had he been unable to make the audience’s money disappear, he’d have made the audience disappear! Also amazing, but in that event, no one would have been around to applaud.
The public magician also does some mental magic, planting certain ideas into the numbed minds of his audience. One of his favorites is the slavery trick, in which he convinces everyone--again the evidence of their very eyes--that slavery has disappeared. Indeed, he and his colleagues have done this trick so long and so many times, that virtually the entire country experiences the post-hypnotic suggestion that slavery has vanished.
This is a truly remarkable accomplishment in light of the definition of slavery: “submission to a dominating influence.” (Antonyms are “freedom” and “liberty.”) The befogged victims of this trick cannot earn a living without turning over a substantial portion of it to the magician. They cannot drive an automobile without paying him, or a colleague, for the privilege of doing so, and paying an additional amount for the automobile itself, over and over again. They cannot own a home unless they give a magician so much money that, over a period of many years, they’d have paid the magician more for the home than they paid the builder! Another magician mysteriously transmits a percentage of whatever they pay for anything into his pocket. The magicians take care to never let the audience awake from its trance, although, inevitably, a few come to their senses.
This trick is equaled by the “money” trick, wherein the magician so clouds the minds of his audience that they will work tirelessly, perhaps even rob and kill, to obtain bits of paper, impressively engraved, which he has obtained for nothing, which his victims believe are money. He can hardly conceal his own amazement that otherwise intelligent individuals will work ten times as hard to get one of his scraps with 100 printed on it, as they will to get one with 10. In a sense, the trick is TOO good, with virtually no one appreciating that it is only a trick.
These amazing feats are not sleight of hand, however. Like the private magician, who may employ elaborate devices for his effects, the public magician makes use of devices also: jails, fines, and tasers, for example. These are reserved for those audience members referred to above who, somehow, resist his magical incantations: not “hocus pocus,” but “your fair share,” “defending your country,” “providing security for your senior years,” or even “protecting our allies.” These reinforce the very powerful and ever-present spell of perpetual danger, imminent crisis, terrorist threat, or collapse of some vital system--health care, for instance, or the environment.
Of course, the private magician’s audience knows it’s being tricked, and is fascinated that the magician can do what seems to be impossible. A few in the audience of the public magician may realize that they’re being tricked as well, but the magician’s power to make homes and bank accounts disappear is too impressive to ignore, and quickly convinces them of his prowess.
Challenging the magician can be dangerous!