Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ivy Leaque intellectualism as a primitive religion

James Taranto finds an explanation for Yale University's ban (later rescinded) on the use in plays of fake weapons that don't look fake enough:

The Yale Daily News reports that "in the wake of Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech in which a student killed 32 people, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg has limited the use of stage weapons in theatrical productions":

According to students involved in the production, Trachtenberg has banned the use of some stage weapons in all of the University's theatrical productions. While shows will be permitted to use obviously fake plastic weapons, students said, those that hoped to stage more realistic scenes of stage violence have had to make changes to their props.

"Fub," a commenter on the Volokh Conspiracy, has a perceptive analysis:

What makes these ritual bannings of depictions or imitations of real weapons politically effective (among those for whom they are effective) is a very primitive human thought process: belief in sympathetic magic.

The actual object, the weapon, is imbued with magical power. Its very presence magically causes harm. It causes people to behave in evil ways. The rationale commonly offered is that the mere presence of a weapon makes people more prone to violence.

Sympathetic magic is the belief that what one does with an imitation of the thing with magical power will affect the actual thing. For example, in a magical religious context we see the image of a deity addressed, or given gifts or sacrifices. The magical deity is affected through the treatment of its image, and so performs its magic for the one who gives the image a gift.

In the imitation weapon banning context we have first the belief that the object, the actual weapon, is magic and causes those in its presence to behave in an evil manner. The sympathetic magical belief is that by banning the image or the imitation weapon, the magical power of real weapons to cause people to be violent will be lessened, or the real weapons will stay away from the presence of the faithful.

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