Violence and Magic
Almost all stories are about violence and magic. Even romances are usually about a wild/violent/powerful male that is tamed, broken, and yoked by a woman (the tamed, broken, and yoked part is why men don’t read them). There is one caveat I can think of, humor; humor is often not about violence or magic, but sometimes it is as well, and after the humor people get back to more violent and magical pursuits.
Both of these basic truths are something that I resisted for a long time. I saw them as flaws of human nature that should and could be remedied, but I was wrong. These are so fundamental to humans that it is almost impossible to even limit or diminish them. I don’t even have a desire to anymore anyway because one is the foundation of knowledge and the other is the foundation of society. (Technically there is a mutual foundation to knowledge and magic, but that doesn’t sound as good; just as there are several stones needed for the foundation of society. For a better understanding of truth you can look into criteria of truth, I suggest looking at negative pragmatism from William Ernest Hocking and falsifiability from Karl Popper as starting points.)
Humans are magical creatures, so magical in fact that we can make other magical creatures. Humans are violent animals, so violent in fact that it shapes our every interaction. These two have combined into a truly magnificent creation.
Magic is about making things that don’t exist, about things that are not true in reality. A magician doesn’t truly make a person disappear, but she does disappear. It defies logic, defies understanding, goes beyond what we know, beyond what we can know. Magical thinking goes much deeper than this.
Man created the concept of the gods out of his own lack of understanding combined with his yearning for an answer. (If you are gender sensitive you can read man as persons and his as its.) Without being able to understand a volcano, but wanting to understand a volcano (in an effort to both be able to predict it and have some influence over it) he did what man always does, he lied, he made it up. What did he make up? What could he make up? Well, man did the natural thing and personified it. We see kids (and adults, kids are just developing adults) personify everything from trucks to vegetables. The volcano itself was alive, and obviously angry, probably at man; or, the volcano was on his side and was destroying his enemies; or, the earth was sick; or, whatever. The same goes for the wind, and the rain, and the trees, and the animals, and the sky, and the stars, and the sun, and the moon, and the ocean, and the . . . everthing. Small parts of nature are the first gods (although dead people may be the first magical creatures, it’s pretty easy to personify a person). These parts are combined over time, reshaped and reformed in many ways, sometimes broken apart, but usually moving towards combination. Eventually we get to the concept of one god with the Ancient Egyptians (who didn’t take to well to it at first). I will leave the discussion of the bicameral mind out of this, although I think that Julian Jaynes had some genius insights.
How does all of this happen? Why do dragons, demons, ghosts, aliens, fairies, gods, unicorns, the yeti, Zeus, griffins, the plural version of pegasus, and all of the other magical things exist? It’s for the same reason that we have pop-tarts, and science, and philosophy, and buildings, and steel, and fire, and farming. There is a mechanism, a process in the human mind that allows us to do these things; to create what does not exist, to remake the world in our mind (often in our own image, personification).
Abstraction, the process of coming up with more encompassing concepts, occurs because of measurement omission. That is Ayn Rand’s greatest insight in her work on epistemology. As a quick and simple demonstration you can picture a chair in your mind, which is amazing in itself. Now, you can take off the legs. You can let the legs be a variable. This ability to create a variable is abstraction. You can make a chair with four legs, or three, or two, or one, or none, or one thousand. All of this can occur in your mind in an instant with almost no effort; it’s incredible! You can do this with basically anything. I call the ability to create the variable abstraction and the filling in of the variable reification (I am trying to usurp the use of that word for my own purposes because it is close and there isn’t another adequate one). If you take just the feelings and thoughts of humans, by eliminating all the other aspects and making them a variable, you have the ability to personify. If you abstract as far as you can you have the universe (everything, infinity, all that was, is, and will be). If you make give this highest abstraction the properties of a living thing you have the idea of a living universe you have what some people call pantheism (although the word is debatable). If you give the universe human characteristics, if you personify the universe, you have God (there can only be one in this case, many people have much smaller abstractions of god that allow for two or more). This ability is amazing. It allows for all of our knowledge and all of our magic (including religion). It is the most human part of the human. (Numbers are interesting abstractions to think about, as well as all words).
Combine this ability to conceptualize (abstraction and reification together) with some other aspects of the mind, such as association and assumption, and you can see how things go wild very quickly. Anything can be associated, and the closer in time and place they are the more likely it happens. That is why confusing correlation and causation is one of, maybe the, most common errors in science, and all of human thinking (another is context dropping, abstracting too much). Most of human thinking has to be based off of assumptions because you have to move forward even though you can’t definitively prove anything, (see negative pragmatism) and assumptions are just plain efficient (when they work). The relational frame theory is an interesting example of how some of this can work. The basic idea is that the human mind can relate any two things (this is because of abstraction). As an example take a pig and a chair. How are they related? I’ve done this with a number of people and their first reaction is, “What?”, but after they think about it for around 30 seconds or so they realize that they can come up with a number of ways that pigs and chairs are like each other, and many more ways in which they are related.
Alright, let’s transition to violence.
I don’t think I have to demonstrate that humans are very violent, that they are fascinated by violence, or even that they like violence. Maybe some will say they doubt it, but you could demonstrate all of these things by reading or watching history, or the news, or television, or video games, or whatever. You could also point out how pervasive violence really is, and that they are violent themselves, and that violence is a necessary foundation of society. War, killing, murdering, rape, robbing, slaying, torturing, beating, these are just a few of humans favorite things (suicide is a special case of violence against the self, usually to escape pain, I understand).
The only person that doesn’t experience violence or the threat of violence every day is a person that is alone on an island (and even he always has the threat of someone coming there and killing him). Every law is the threat of violence. Think about how many laws there are. You cannot comprehend the amount of violence in a large society because it is mostly indirect. There are people that are still directly violent by stabbing or shooting someone, but most people are not. Most people are indirectly violent. As a simple for instance take someone that believes people shouldn’t be allowed to shoot heroin, or that someone should wear a helmet on their motorcycle, or that someone should or shouldn’t . . .(fill in the blank). “Do this or else.” “Don’t do this or else.” What is the “or else” part? It’s violence. If you don’t wear a helmet you will be fined. If you don’t pay your fine you will be arrested. If you arrest being arrested you will be beaten, tasered, shot, etc. Violence is the go to solution for humans. What’s the answer to a violent protest? Violence. What’s the answer to a peaceful protest? Violence. What’s the answer to someone that doesn’t agree with you? Violence. You may think that it shouldn’t work that way, but it does.
What about cooperation? Yes, cooperation is important and useful for something like technology and society to develop. That is another one of those stones at the foundation, but cooperation is largely brought about by violence (or the threat of violence) and leads to larger scale violence. I think many of the parallels between animals, chimpanzees and baboons in particular (but also rats), and humans are fairly obvious. Hopefully you realize that that’s because humans are animals. Cooperation through violence (or the threat of violence) and violence through cooperation are the norm. Voluntary exchange is peace and allows for prosperity (the prosperity of a society being in direct proportion to the voluntary to involuntary exchange ratio), but it is the oddity in nature and in humanity (humanity being a part of nature, remember abstraction). (Animal and human submission are the basis of proof by authority as well, although it is often useful).
It’s also important to remember that prosperity is only possible (because voluntary exchange is only possible) because of and through property. Property cannot be had without violence (unless every human decided to respect all property rights in all cases, which is such a fundamental change to human nature that they would no longer be humans). Many people live in a fantasy land where humans could have property without violence, but they are usually very violent people. (Babies learn to tear down blocks before they learn how to put them together, destruction is the more fundamental skill).
Magic and violence come together to do amazing things. The history of humanity is mostly the history of war, and magic and violence have come together to create such amazing things as nuclear weapons and drones. Religion is a great fusion of magic and violence. There is no peaceful religion, Buddhists have fought in many wars including in WW2 against the US; Quakers fought in the American Revolution. All people who say they are peaceful are quickly revealed to be very violent if they get power, or even sooner by explicitly stating all of their desires for actions of indirect violence, sometimes in the same breath (humans have an amazing capacity for contradiction). The prolific amount of religious wars are a great example of magic and violence coming together. God is always on the side of everyone, the same god or a different god, it doesn’t matter. Human sacrifice is very popular in religion. Abraham almost sacrificing his son, Jesus, people whipping themselves, soldiers dying for God and country, it’s amazing that people often even want to do that, and others are very happy to let them. (I know I make broad generalizations. If you are interested in that or the nature of the subject/predicate structure of language I suggest looking into General Semantics founded by Alfred Korzybski. For a broad and useful overview of human ethology I suggest “The Human Zoo” by Desmond Morris).
Where am I going with all of this? Is it even related to writing? Yes.
I’ve been thinking about C. S. Lewis and George R. R. Martin a lot recently. Martin doesn’t like writing battle scenes and was a conscientious objector in the Vietnam War, so why doesn’t he mostly write about violence? Because he thinks violence is important. He writes about what is important and what scares him, so he writes about violence and magic in “A Song of Ice and Fire.”
C. S. Lewis converted to Christianity after many years of being an atheist because it is a beautiful story. He created his own beautiful story in his own world of violence and magic in “The Chronicles of Narnia.” The depth of the symbolism and meaning in those stories is amazing.
All of the best selling, most read, most impactful books and stories of all time deal with violence and magic: “Harry Potter,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Bible,” “Atlas Shrugged,” “Fifty Shades of Gray,” etc. Does “Atlas Shrugged” have magic in it? Yeah, it’s dystopian/utopian science fiction. Is “Fifty Shades of Gray” magical? It is definitely a fantasy (and what is love if not magic? Well, there are two primary meanings. One is basically synonymous with valuation and the other means identity fusion). But what about mysteries and such? Well, they are very violent, and they include the rational aspect of magic, knowledge. Using deduction, abduction, induction, and logic to solve puzzles. And, maybe violence is just more foundational to the human animal anyway.
The primary reason people read fiction is to escape the stress in their lives, violence satisfies part of their animal needs (“romance” is in most stories as well, that kind of completes the picture, some stress one more than the other). The magic satisfies the spiritual and/or intellectual needs. They both help you to escape, but that isn’t my primary concern. The second most popular reason that people read fiction is to gain a new perspective on life; that is what I want to offer. The most important perspectives are about the most important things. Whether split infinitives and stranded prepositions are proper in the English language may be a good subject for nonfiction, but it isn’t powerful enough for fiction (English is a mix between a Romanic and Germanic language, stranded prepositions and split infinitives are things you shouldn’t do in Latin, but that should not apply to English, which is why some great sayings break those rules). To make it come alive you would at least have to add some violence, and maybe some magic too.
I am not sure if I am going to be able to live up to the ideal of offering new perspectives about important things by immersing people into stories, but I can definitely try.
You are welcome to join me at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com
Also, I am working on developing my Patreon account as an alternative way to finance the creation of my writing. Check it out: patreon.com/JeffreyAlexanderMartin