Monday, 15 January 2018
When I snap my fingers you will awake. One, two, three... So goes the old stage hypnotist spiel, whereupon the supposedly mesmerised stooges will act out their rehearsed business and the audience will be amused for a few minutes. And then the audience gets to go home and think about the act of gross deception they just participated in. Were those subjects really unable to resist the will of their puppet-master, or were they just going along with it so as not to spoil the show?
Do I think hypnotism is a crock? Pretty much, in that environment; the idea that certain people possess the power to almost instantly induce a trace state in their subjects is clearly risible. (Having said that I have endured some of Ed Miliband’s speeches.) Do I believe that in a controlled environment people can be induced to relax and enter a waking dream? I guess so, if they want to. Can hypnosis create Manchurian candidates who will kill on a command word? Hell no – far too many people took far too many drugs in the sixties.
I have a low regard for the soft pseudo sciences, especially those whose title ends in therapy: psycho, aroma, chromo, hypno and so on. And especially those whose claim to be a science derives from their name alone. It’s not that they have no place at all; after all the placebo effect is recognised, measurable and can be surprisingly strong. It’s just that even after their snake oil salesmen practitioners have been revealed as charlatans, the weak-willed still feel the need for a magic cure.
Magicians often hide their distractions in plain sight, misdirecting their observers with dazzling displays while the mundanity of the trapdoor allows the ‘volunteer’ to vanish. But we all – by the age of majority, you’d hope – know that what we are seeing is a show and not reality. Spend money on a hypnotist to stop you smoking and you will be taught practical strategies, displacement activities, to get you over the craving. It isn’t the hypnotism that is stopping you smoking, but having bought into it you will convince yourself that Mr Mesmer did the trick.
Look into my eyes...
The above, however, seems to be utterly negated by the Trump effect. Whatever else he might be – madman, liar, crook, psychopath, bully, paranoid power freak – all of which he has in common with many who have held the office before him, he has the left mesmerised to instantly react whenever he appears. And that is a bloody brilliant act. As the blond bouffant hoves into view you can barely take your eyes off it. And then off they all go, wildly strutting about the media stage, clucking like hens, fighting off imaginary threats and helplessly dancing to his tune. When Donald Trump snaps his fingers... One, two, three...