Essay 30: Magic or Sacred Geography as a Kind of Silent Education

Magic and its clone, sacred geography, are all around us and are crucial organizing principles for the way people think. Such emotions are an overlay over all formal education.

For Communists, the grave of Marx in Highgate Cemetery in England is sacred ground.  For some German soldiers after WWII who committed suicide on the steps in Feldherrnhalle (“Field Marshall’s Hall”—a display in Munich in Odeonsplatz of large statues of famous military leaders in German history), these statues and their place in Munich “means” something magical or sacred to them. North Koreans have Paektu Mountain which Kim recently ascended in a ritual addressed to the North Koreans. Think of Camelot or Lourdes.  Think of sites such as the Lincoln Memorial or Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris or “holy sites” in Jerusalem or Mecca.

Think of magical and sacred things like the three imperial regalia in Japan which Emperor Hirohito fixated on at the end of WWII.

How does this kind of thinking permeate our lives in a way that nobody quite sees clearly:

The left in American politics (Bernie Sanders, Jeffrey Sachs, et al) explicitly or implicitly, think of Scandinavian social and economic systems as a kind of “magic geography” (i.e., defects and problems are not “welcomed” in their idealized visions). On the right, there’s a Singapore paradise of the imagination (what magic geography is) whereas Boris Johnson of England sees a “high wage, low tax” investment utopia which serve as a marvelous locale for the founding of both new businesses and new families. In this vision, men found businesses and women found or establish families, so everybody’s happy.

These competing visions can be traced back as far as you like, but we point to 1974 when Hayek (“the right”) and Myrdal (“the left”) shared the Nobel Prize for Economics.

Professor Niall Ferguson, the conservative Harvard (now Stanford) financial historian (you may have seen his The Ascent of Money PBS mini-series), had a program years ago on educational TV where he walked around places in Chile that he presented as a pension “heaven.” Chile is now kind of falling apart with street riots convulsing Santiago. (Ferguson’s ideal Milton Friedman of Chicago was the main advisor of General Pinochet after the 1973 Chilean coup.

What none of these people see is that social reality is complex and highly changeable and that “magicalizing” one place or system (Sweden, Hong Kong, Singapore, Chile) won’t work because successes that look solid or eternal are often caused by all kinds of “conjunctural” (i.e., of the moment) factors which don’t last “forever.”

Thus, much less “dogmatism” is called for so that one is not “swept along” by “ideological foolishness.” embedded in “magical geography” or its clone “sacred geography.”