The Magic Bullet Syndrome

Magic bullets. You’ve seen them. We all have. The pill that claims it will melt away pounds while letting you gorge on Big Macs and never exercise. The miracle wrist bands you can get for just $19.95 that will make your joint pain vanish. The miracle nutrition supplement that will let you throw away your glasses, or keep you from getting dementia or cure the ailment of your choice. The miracle food that will prevent cancer. The list is endless.

Every generation has their own unique set, it seems. When I was in college one was laetrile, a quack remedy made from apricot pits that was alleged to cure cancer. It didn’t, of course. Previous generations suffered through a variety of radium cures that claimed to help everything from impotence to ‘female problems’ to gray hair. Or electric cures, or ultraviolet light cures. I could go on listing them all day.

The magic bullet syndrome has infected almost every aspect of society. Medical, nutritional, political. They have the ‘magic bullet’, that if only you’ll elect them or buy them, will be a fast and cheap cure for whatever problem you have.

They don’t work, of course, these magic bullets. They never have. They never will. The frustrating thing is that even though we know they don’t work, that they can’t work, huge numbers of people keep buying into the belief that there is something, somewhere, that will solve whatever problem they need solved, without any work on their part, without them having to make any kind of significant sacrifice or effort, and which won’t cost them much.

And magic bullets almost always make things worse, not better. This belief in a magic bullet masks the real problems and the real solutions to the problems. Often until the situation has become so bad that we can’t hide it, can’t try to ignore it, and finally are forced to do something. And by that time, things have gotten so bad, so out of control, that it’s going to cost ten times more to fix it than it would have if we’d just tackled the problem the right way in the beginning. Or in the case of some of the health scams, you end up dead.

They’re seductive, though, these magic bullets. There is no doubt about that. I can certainly understand the temptation to believe in them despite the fact that I know that, ultimately, they will always make the problem worse than it was before.

But it’s oh so tempting… The magic bullet, well, that means you don’t have to accept responsibility for the problem. You don’t have to change. You don’t have to give anything up. It isn’t going to cost you anything, financially or personally.

As the election insanity approaches its climax, we have packs of politicians swarming around the country, each promoting their own particular magic bullets, they themselves. They are the magic bullet that will solve all of the country’s problems. They can fix the economy. They can create new jobs. They can improve the schools. They can bring peace. They can stop terrorism. They can fix anything and everything.

The root of the magic bullet syndrome seems to be intimately linked to our refusal to take responsibility. No one wants to admit that the problems we are facing are our own fault, and the politicians are taking full advantage of that. They’ve latched  on to  the magic bullet syndrome’s close relative, scapegoatism.

Scapegoatism is simply a different form of the magic bullet syndrome. Instead of a magic bullet fixing something, scapegoatism is the attempt to blame all problems on an individual or small group. It’s been around as long as magic bullets have been, and it has it’s roots in the same basic human fault that makes magic bullets so attractive, our unwillingness to admit that we are responsible for our own problems.

And like magic bullets, it’s so easy to do, so tempting to blame someone else, isn’t it? It’s not our fault, it’s, oh, immigrants or one’s political opponent, or the government. The list of scapegoats is as long as the list of magic bullets, really. Unions, teachers, students, young people, old people, immigrants, governments, politicians, religions, communists, democrats, republicans, liberals, conservatives, rich people, poor people, middle class people… They’ve all been used as scapegoats.

When are we ever going to get over the magic bullet syndrome? When are we ever going to be able to admit that our problems are largely our own fault? When are we going to be able to admit that there is no magic bullet, that the scapegoat is really us?


Author: grouchyfarmer

Yes, I'm a former farmer. Sort of. I'm also an amateur radio operator, amateur astronomer, gardener, maker of furniture, photographer.

One thought on “The Magic Bullet Syndrome”

  1. Another word for “Magic Bullet” is Placebo…. You think they cure that illness, make your hair last longer, give you those vitamins that your body is supposedly lacking etc etc but it’s all in the mind..

    Being 45, disabled, married with 2 grown up children i believe I have entered a state of “acceptance”… I know that if I do a certain action physics tells me something will happen, biology tells me that body parts slow down as we get older so if we accept that these things may and can happen I believe that makes it easier to deal with if and when it does..


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