Sunday, November 11, 2012

the downfall of the magician

When I was in graduate school I took at least one course, maybe two, in therapeutic counseling.  In one of these we had a "Reader"--a term I am not sure that's still in use.  A Reader as opposed to a textbook was an anthology--a collection of essays or cases or articles. Not sure why they were or are called Readers as opposed to anthologies.

The Reader in this class consisted of a series of cases or stories fictionalized to make a point.  Each story was headed by a quote of some sort.  One was about a client who had created a set of rationalizations and a persona to fit what he desired as opposed to what was real.  He experienced a series of disappointments when his created self collided with who he was.  The section was headed with the quote:  "The downfall of the magician is the belief in his own magic."   The point, in the course about therapeutic counseling, was to acknowledge that in dealing with those seeking help, we had to be aware of the tendency to lose one's self in the course of constructing a bogus reality.

Since the election I have read at least two articles that describe Governor Mitt Romney as being shell shocked on the night of the election when each of the battle ground states with the exception of North Carolina was coming in for President Obama.  I had become in the weeks before the election an avid follower of the race.  Each morning before I did much of anything, I sat at the computer and looked at the previous day's polls.  I counted the likely electoral votes for each candidate several times a day attempting to assess the permutations necessary for a victory.

After the first debate Governor Romney's status changed dramatically.  Many battleground states that had  been leaning blue, became red.  But after the Biden/Ryan debate and the second presidential contest, that trend reversed.  During the last week of the election only North Carolina and Florida were showing red.  New Hampshire had gone to blue and Virginia was going that way.  The state that everyone identified as the key state, Ohio, never, ever became red.  I must have looked at 50 different Ohio polls in the month before the election. 95 percent of them were blue, a couple showed the race a tie, and maybe one or two had a tiny Romney lead. However taken as a whole, Ohio was clearly blue.  Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Nevada--they were consistently blue.

Yet toward the end of the campaign Romney's advisers contended that their polls showed the results differently. They stated confidently that the election would be a decisive victory for the governor.  Even Minnesota they claimed was not out of the question.  The Republicans said they had momentum, and enthusiasm, and they would win the battleground states and the election.

I was not at all positive that Romney would lose, but if one looked at the polls that would have been the way to bet.  And, as it turned out, the polls were stunningly accurate. The Ohio result was almost exactly what the polls consistently indicated.  Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania--they all went as the polls indicated they would.

So, while I would expect Governor Romney to be disappointed, to be shell shocked, to be startled each time these results came in indicating one battleground state after another went to Obama, this is surprising to me.  Apparently, he believed in his own magic.

And I think that was the downfall of the campaign for him throughout.  When they trotted out that the crowds were enthusiastic and this meant a victory, I think he might have believed it.  When he said that they had momentum--even when the momentum reversed--I believed he swallowed his own line of malarkey.  You can't really redirect appropriately any course that is off line, if you think it is on line.

It's not just in politics, but one would think that someone familiar with the election process would be sensitive to the tendency to selectively perceive data in a way that could be counterproductive.

Not everything relates to sports, but this does.  In sports if you believe, for example, that you have a great defense--then you lose by 40 points, you can not continue to believe you have a great defense.  If you do, you will lose your coaching position or, if you are a player, your playing time.Sports and competition reduces the chances for self deception among all who continue to play.

I do not remember a whole lot from that class I took many years ago, but I do remember the quote.  It is my, and everyone's downfall,  when we believe in our own magic and kid ourselves to think that what is real is what we'd like it to be.

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