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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Magic Dirt

 

Although I’m aware that some people morally prescribe what sociopolitical issues shouldn’t, mustn’t, or oughtn’t to be discussed within polite society, I value open inquiry and critical thought regarding such matters. Therefore, I reject moralistic prescriptions of this nature.

 

According to one source, “About six-in-ten Americans (57%) say dealing with immigration should be a top policy goal for the president and Congress this year, a share that’s increased 18 points (from 39%) since the start of Biden’s term.” Within my blog, I’ve addressed this issue, as well.

 

Rather than accepting an ad hominem attack leveled by those who seek to silence healthy dialogue, branding anyone who discusses the United States (U.S.) immigration problem as “xenophobic” or “racist,” I reject labeling of this sort and seek to understand different perspectives regarding this issue.

 

What is it that motivates some U.S. citizens to not only tolerate and accept mass immigration, though to actively promote an influx of the reported 7.2 million illegals, undocumented, or migrants – or whatever linguistically-manipulated term with which one is comfortable using – who have entered the country since President Biden took office?

 

One explanation purporting to answer this question is the so-called “magic dirt theory.” Describing this proposition, one source states:

 

Magic dirt is a derogatory term for the theory that where a person lives determines the person’s psychological characteristics. It is a variant of the “blank slate” theory.

 

Such views are often applied to migrants, both between countries and within countries, with an assumption being that migrants (or their descendants) from poorly functioning areas/populations will assume the characteristics of well-functioning areas/populations by migrating.

 

A similar theory is that moving students from poorly functioning schools to well-functioning schools will cause the students to become well-functioning. Civic nationalists often explicitly or implicitly support the theory.

 

Given this explanation, a number of thoughts come to mind. First, I was taught at a young age that there was a difference between dirt and soil. Dirt is comprised of sand, clay and silt, and is insufficient for growing plants on its own.

 

On the other hand, soil contains dirt though is also comprised of other essential minerals and other organic matter necessary for plant growth. Thus, I suspect that “magic soil” is a more fitting term, though this is my pedantic quibble and adds nothing of value to this matter.

 

Second, in a blogpost entitled In Theory, I stated:

 

As I most commonly encounter the oft-misused version of “theory,” I find that it can be quite challenging to dispute unsubstantiated irrational beliefs when people mistake their hunches for scientific or legal theory. This can be a particularly onerous affair when addressing conspiracy theories.

 

Although my advocacy for use of the proper distinction between “theory” and “hypothesis” may appear unimportant, I maintain that the difference actually matters. Clarifying this matter, one source reports:

 

A hypothesis is an assumption made before any research has been done. It is formed so that it can be tested to see if it might be true. A theory is a principle formed to explain the things already shown in data. Because of the rigors of experiment and control, it is much more likely that a theory will be true than a hypothesis.

 

When using Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I dispute irrational assumptions which are often attributed to personal hypotheses. For instance, client X may hypothesize that person Y intentionally disrespected him, so I challenge the assumption (hypothesis) in order to discover truth.

 

However, I’ve yet to meet a client who maintains a personal scientific theory. Theories are developed over time and altered with consideration of evidence stemming from experimentation and control measures.

 

Given this distinction, I maintain that the “magic dirt theory” is in actuality a hypothesis. Unlike the petty differentiation I highlighted regarding dirt and soil, the difference between a hypothesis and a theory is significant.

 

Third, the source that describes the magic dirt assumption references similarity to the “blank slate,” or tabula rasa, proposal. Tabula rasa is defined as the notion that the mind is in its hypothetical primary blank or empty state before receiving outside impressions.

 

Early proponents of this illogical and unreasonable hypothesis ostensibly proposed that one could take an infant – any infant from across the world – and raise the child in a particular manner, producing either a physician or a criminal depending on environmental influence.

 

However, early behaviorists who supported this nonsensical assumption were wrong and their ideas have been rejected by those who are focused on truth and reality. Regarding this matter, in a blog entry entitled Tabula Rasa, I stated the following:

 

This simplistic view of humanity has been criticized, because, as one source states, the “belief downplays the effects of genetics and biology on the development of the human personality.” It may be hopeful to pretend as though we are all created equal—literally the same—though this simply is not the case.

 

Remarkably, there are people to this day who still support the tabula rasa assumption. Presumably, they assert that one can take a person from anywhere in the world, import that individual into a new environment, and the person will flourish or languish depending on the magic soil upon which one is imported.

 

This form of unfalsifiability fits the description of what one source states, “Magical thinking, or superstitious thinking, is the belief that unrelated events are causally connected despite the absence of any plausible causal link between them, particularly as a result of supernatural effects.”

 

Merely supporting the process of mass immigration may allow a naïve individual to irrationally assume that one has behaved in a morally upstanding manner, because transferring a person from an underdeveloped nation to a developed country can somehow magically allow an immigrant to flourish.

 

However, this form of woo-woo nonsense denies the influence of genetics, biology, personality, culture, values, and other elements which comprise complex systems which create human beings. Concerning this form of foolhardy reasoning, I echo a Gad Saad quote expressed in my blogpost entitled Unicornia:

 

[T]hat doesn’t mean that spreading a message—“Love will conquer all,” “Love is love,” “Kindness to all,” “The only way we’re going to solve all problems is through greater kindness”—that’s not a realistic, adult position to take. That makes you a three-year-old living in Unicornia, utopia. That’s not how an adult thinks.

 

The childlike rationale of a magic dirt hypothesis discounts realistic variables which are testable. When is it necessarily a good, correct, or benevolent option to determine the validity and reliability of this absurd hypothesis without research controls in place before implementing a measure of societal change?

 

Lastly, the source that describes the magic dirt hypothesis invokes “civic nationalists” as supportive of the proposal. It may be important to first know what civic nationalism is before drawing conclusions when hearing the oft-maligned term “nationalist.” According to one source:

 

Civic nationalism, otherwise known as democratic nationalism, is a form of nationalism that adheres to traditional liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights, and is not based on ethnocentrism. Civic nationalists often defend the value of national identity by saying that individuals need it as a partial shared aspect of their identity (an upper identity) in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives and that democratic polities need a national identity to function properly.

 

While I can understand how one may reject a civic nationalist perspective, I would ask what such a person desires in regard to the future of the U.S. Divided enclaves of individual groups sharing no loyalty to a greater collective seems like the antithesis of “united” states.

 

Minor quibbles aside, I largely concur with the assertion of the source that describes the magic dirt hypothesis. I suspect not everyone will agree with this stance.

 

Nevertheless, it’s irrational (illogical and unreasonable) to believe that transporting people from point A to B will magically result in a utopic fantasy for the person from point A or the residents of point B. The magic dirty hypothesis source continues:

 

Supporters of the magic dirt theory and mass immigration often point to earlier immigration of Europeans to the United States, arguing that this was successful, despite sometimes initial opposition to some immigrant groups, and claiming that the same thing will happen in the future.

 

This ignores the very different nature of many current immigrant groups with, for example, the cultural and genetic differences being much larger. Black-White differences and problems are still extensive, despite Blacks having been freed from slavery for many generations. Another difference is that the earlier European immigration occurred when tax-paid welfare systems were much smaller or absent.

 

Simplistic solutions to complex problems may have unintended and even unknown outcomes. This is one reason why, when starting a new psychiatric medication, people are low-dosed and advised to monitor for side effects.

 

For example, if a significant effect such as homicidal ideation occurs with a 10mg versus 100mg dose of medication X, the idea is that unrelenting thoughts about harming others may be more manageable at the lower quantity than at a 100mg dose. This isn’t particularly complicated rationality.

 

Nevertheless, millions of people have been introduced into the U.S. in a relatively short period of time is indicative of a high dose with unintended and unknown dosage effects. Childish logic and reasoning to support such action may be more detrimental to the national system than what a 10mg dose may’ve offered.

 

To better understand what the source that describes the magic dirt assumption proposes, consider the following syllogism:

 

Form –

If p, then q; p; therefore, q.

 

Example –

If millions of people immigrate to the U.S., then their cultural and genetic differences won’t present a problem.

 

Millions of people immigrate to the U.S.

 

Therefore, their cultural and genetic differences won’t present a problem.

 

This is the utopic logic of a three-year-old. Of course, illogical proposals such as this are unreasonable, because the effects of confounding variables aren’t taken into consideration (e.g., shared legal values).

 

Likewise, the irrational notion that the U.S. can afford millions more people, perhaps drawing upon welfare, when our citizenry has finite resources is ridiculous. Regarding this matter, in a blog entry entitled Bar NCO, I expressed the following fiscally pragmatic view:

 

U.S. citizens, to include the wealthy among us, have a finite amount of money. We can’t resolve a deficit or balance a budget with more spending, nor can we rely on hopes and wishes to remedy our problems.

 

Just as our nation doesn’t have enough funds to outcompete China’s influence across the world, or our involvement in wars abroad, we can’t fiscally support the mass influx of people immigrating to our country. To illustrate this point, consider the following syllogism:

 

Form –

If p, then q; and if r, then s; but either not q or not s; therefore, either not p or not r.

 

Example –

If millions of immigrants arrive in the U.S., then U.S. citizens are responsible for financially supporting immigrants; and if U.S. citizen funds are finite, then there aren’t enough funds to support millions of immigrants.

 

But either U.S. citizens aren’t responsible for financially supporting immigrants or there are enough funds to support millions of immigrants.

 

Therefore, either millions of immigrants don’t arrive in the U.S. or U.S. citizen funds aren’t finite.

 

The major premise is factual. Likewise, the propositional minor premise is based on reasonable logic. Therefore, the conclusion is factual and the overall logic is sound. Either millions of immigrants aren’t allowed within the U.S. or U.S. citizens are presumed to have infinite funds.

 

Of course, our nation’s population doesn’t have unlimited funds. Thus, the outcome of testing in regards to the uncontrolled and real-time project of a magic dirt hypothesis is rejected.

 

Although one may argue with the rational arguments outlined herein, presumably through use of appeals to emotion, what I’ve used in this blogpost is rational thinking that resulted in a logical and reasonable outcome. This is precisely my approach to working with psychological problems.

 

Moreover, I find that the manner in which I dispute irrational assumptions is why a significant number of people to whom I’ve introduced REBT will ultimately reject this psychotherapeutic modality. “Feels over reals,” is what this irrational process is pejoratively called. In a syllogism, here’s how it works:

 

Form –

If p, then q; if q, then r; therefore, if p, then r.

 

Example –

If I go with my gut (trusting instincts), then I don’t need facts which counter my instincts.

 

If I don’t need facts which counter my instincts, then what I assume is most valuable to me.

 

Therefore, if I go with my gut (trusting instincts), then what I assume is most valuable to me.

 

This is the reasoning of a child. Take that however you may. The application of one’s subjective instinctual assumptions can lead to potentially irreversible outcomes. This is because our actions have consequences.

 

When working with clients, I invite and encourage people to consider the consequences of their beliefs. For instance, if client X hypothesizes that person Y intentionally disrespected him; I challenge the assumption in order to discover truth, because an undisputed irrational belief could otherwise result in client X physically assaulting person Y.

 

However, using rationality doesn’t “feel right” or doesn’t “feel natural,” I’m often told. Trusting one’s gut and enduring the consequences of unproductive beliefs is apparently something that feels authentic and is thus preferable to some people.

 

Ergo, some people subscribe to the absurd magic dirt hypothesis – presumably because it feels better than rationally assessing and perhaps ultimately rejecting the flawed assumption. Alas, I unconditionally accept that some people choose to live irrationally. Play in the dirt all you like.

 

In any case, for those individuals who value rational living, I’m available to help you stop disturbing yourselves with a “feels over reals” perspective. If you’d like to know more about how this is accomplished, I look forward to hearing from you.

 

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

 

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

 

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

 

 

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


 

References:

 

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