The Covid Fall of Magical Thinking

by Bob Schwartz

I’m fascinated by magic. Not the sleight of hand, card trick, disappearing kind. The kind described this way:

“Magic is one of those terms for a phenomenon that is hard to define, yet easy to recognize. Magic is the overarching term for a ritual for power involving incantations, symbolic behavior, materials, and/or formulae meant to influence events and/or entities.”

Magic has been with us since antiquity, and will continue forever. Thinking, often against reason, that a magical intervention will affect the course of events is very human. We want to believe that wishing and hoping themselves may have such power.

There is a small chance that this fall may see an immediate gradual or dramatic drop in the impact of Covid in America. But every indicator says otherwise. With so many people still unvaccinated, with so many officials banning or limiting effective mitigation (vaccination, masking, testing), and with a more contagious and deadlier variant on the attack, such a drop is very unlikely. Not impossible, given that the behavior of the virus is still full of surprises, but very unlikely.

Yet there are plenty of people and institutions acting as if that isn’t the case. Instead, they are insisting that normal life as it was in 2019 return—right now. Some might call that unbridled optimism. Some might call that ignorance or denial. It seems more apt to call it magical thinking. If we somehow act as if the threat is not there, it will disappear. Like magic.

Covid is here. Like the worst of our enemies, it lives to hurt us and kill us, to hurt and kill our loved ones. All the magical thinking won’t slow it or stop it. People will believe what they will and think as magically as they will. The only “magic” is the one that science is trying to provide. We ignore and reject it at our most dire peril.