Magical thinking

by stephenpalmersf

Today Donald Trump revealed he is taking the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to counter Covid-19. What has been interesting, and what this blog post is about, is the media response. In the majority of cases – including at the public session where Trump made his revelation – the media pointed out that there is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine is efficacious with this new illness. When asked what the benefits of the drug were, Trump said, “Here’s my evidence. I get a lot of positive calls about it.”

It is correct to state that there is no evidence to support the efficacy of this drug against Covid-19, but that does rather miss the point of Trump taking it. To ask Trump the question about evidence is to assess him on our ground. We can’t do this. Trump, as with all narcissists, must be assessed on his own ground, since he does not live in the world we inhabit. Only then can any conclusion be drawn about his beliefs and why he believes them.

Trump believes that merely by taking the drug he must be influencing his health. That his beliefs are fantasy is not just irrelevant to him, it is 100% terra incognita. He does not know that he does not know. He believes that by acting according to his beliefs about hydroxychloroquine he must therefore be having an effect on his own health.

This is what some call magical thinking. Magical thinking is a symptom of narcissism, in that it explicitly refuses to test beliefs or procedures in the real world. Magical thinking is the exact opposite of the scientific method, which experiments upon the independent real world to determine its laws. In the real world, as many of us realise, hydroxychloroquine has no effect on Covid-19. Spirituality, religion, superstition and the belief in the efficacy of spells are all forms of magical thinking which over time have acquired commonly accepted status in human societies.

For us and the media to state our understanding of the laws of the real world in the case of narcissists like Trump, while semantically correct and scientifically proven, is to miss the point of why narcissists say the things they do. Many people will say Trump is stupid for taking hydroxychloroquine. They are wrong. When Trump made his revelation today, he gave us a glimpse of the fantasy world he inhabits, not of his general level of intelligence.

We need to understand narcissism in all its forms. Trump and his ilk are merely the most obvious in the current political crop. But billions of human beings are thinking, believing and acting in the world today because of personal narcissism which they have not overcome.

Experiment. Hypothesise. Test. Theorise. Understand. We defer to the real world, not the other way around.