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The Fallacy of Magic Pixie Dust

April 29, 2011

I was a teenager at a time when women’s liberation had already peaked and some feminist inspired lawsuits seemed based more on knee-jerk sensitivities rather than grounded in solid issues involving oppression. One such lawsuit related to a woman’s disgust at having been declined an opportunity to find employment as a fire fighter. The premise of the lawsuit was that the physical requirements for that job unfairly prevented women from becoming fire fighters. Apparently, there were physical requirements related to a persons ability to carry someone from a burning building. While most people had no problem understanding how that would be a necessary part of the job, there were those who seemed oblivious to the notion that certain jobs required certain levels of capabilities. This brings us back to one particular feminist and one particular lawsuit, and this particular individual’s pursuit was actually legislation – apparently, she felt that if a law were passed requiring that the physical requirements were lifted relating to being a fire fighter, that mystically science would invent a bionic suit that would render even the most dainty individual the strength to perform the duties of a fire-person. As I contemplated the logic (or lack there of) behind such an assertion, I came to realize the presence of a fallacy of logic which I now label the ‘Fallacy of Magic Pixie Dust’.

Perhaps the best way to explain this fallacy is to describe a similar fallacy which is ‘slippery slope reasoning’. An example of slippery slope reasoning is to assert that if one thing happens then there would be one bad thing after another happen until ultimately there would be catastrophic consequences, and holding on to that belief despite the lack of logic or evidence that the bad things would ultimately happen. An example of slippery slope reasoning would be that a ban on smoking would cause people to use nicotine alternatives, which would lead to use of other soft drugs, which would lead to hard drug use by masses of people, which would lead to everyone breaking in to each others homes and the whole country turning to anarchy. Similarly, the Fallacy of Magic Pixie Dust starts with a premise and ends with positive or highly desired outcome through causation with no other supporting fact, logic, or law of nature other than what could only be described as a result “as if by magic”. Since my days as a teenager, it seems as though the Magic Pixie Dust Fallacy has been exercised with increasing and alarming regularity.

Legislatures, reacting to pressures from constituents to deal with particular issues, feel inclined to pass laws and regulations with no regard as to how the legislation will actually be implemented, nor do they necessarily have supporting studies or facts to suggest that the intended outcome will occur. While I understand that a legislature may not actually believe themselves that the desired outcome will come to fruition but simply are playing the game of politics, I don’t understand the mindset of masses of individuals who actually believe such measures have merit. For example, to help combat the meth problem, legislation was passed that required drug stores to track and report individuals who purchased too much Sudafed, as they may be making meth with it, and thus that would stop meth abuse. So the whole of the premise was 1) Pass a law requiring the reporting of those who buy ‘x’ amount of Sudafed, & 2) drug problems would disappear. To a person of logic there is an obvious gap between these two points, and the only way to explain the correlation is via the sprinkling of Magic Pixie Dust. Want proof? Since the law passed, meth use has risen, not dropped. The law is impossible to fully implement as a person can simply buy product at various locations in small amounts. There was no thought as to how the law would be implemented, no provision for measuring effectiveness, and no consideration to how it might impact businesses and the consumer. Yet, despite its utter failure, there are those who refuse to believe that there is failed logic behind the law, for reasons that I can only attribute to mass acceptance of a fallacy too often exercised.

It is easy to spot the exercise of this fallacy. When someone is asked why they believe that a particular measure will result in the desired affect, the response is usually inline with wishful thinking – “it just will”, “because it has to”, “I have faith in people”, etc. Perhaps there are personality traits that lend toward victimization of this fallacy, as those individuals that are idealists, (the polar opposite of realists), tend to be the type of individual that struggles with contemplating causation logic. Such individuals tend to be the driving force behind legislation brought about by Liberals, albeit there certainly are plenty of Republican sponsored laws that also defy logic.

Another avenue where this fallacy is common is in health care. There are those who seem be feel that they should be able to have terrible health habits, and then simply take a pill and poor choices are instantly equalized. Apparently that special ingredient in the little white pill is Magic Pixie Dust. Others feel they should be able to spend up to or beyond their means and then live like a millionaire in retirement. Apparently, their bank accounts are influenced by Magic Pixie Dust. Yet others feel that marriage and relationships work out all by themselves without having to work at them. After all, isn’t that the fairy tale – get married and live happily ever after? Perhaps in Never-Never-Land relationships are aided by an amble supply of Magic Pixie Dust, but in the realm of reality, Magic Pixie Dust is a fallacy, and leads to millions of people scratching their heads in bewilderment as to why step one did not automatically lead to an idealistic goal.

So to those who still feel that a society can legislate morality, that automobile safety features can replace defensive and alert driving, that pills can replace poor health habits, that knowledge automatically results in correct choices, and that relationships work themselves out, I’d like to help you by pointing out this one singular reality…there is NO such thing as Magic Pixie Dust.


From → American Society

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