In our time---an age of machines that enable millions to soar in
cyberspace, gathering information, shopping and sending messages
around the globe with the click of a mouse and at the speed of
light---the Alchemist tradition persists as strongly as it did a
thousand years ago, with the overwhelming majority of human beings
believing in Wizards and Sons of Wizards who can transform lives
perceived as cold lead into warm gold if only a certain recipe is
The same Wizard who created an infinite universe and the natural laws
that govern it will presumably, if given proper respect and not spoken
of unkindly, occasionally, perhaps on a whim, cancel those laws for
the convenience of some creature on a small planet lost in an ocean
A popular bumper sticker reads:
"In Case of Rapture, This Vehicle Will Be Unmanned"
This could be amusing were it not for the nagging suspicion that, on
at least a few of the cars, this message is meant as a serious
warning rather than an attempt to bring a smile to the faces of
If meant as a warning, one can assume that the driver believes in a
Wizard who is a kind of ultimate ethnic cleanser, doing the dirty work
of arranging for the eradication or hellish torment of billions of
people while a few thousand are whisked away to a place where
everyone looks, acts and thinks alike, and is thus . . . well,
heavenly. Parents whose child has been spared in some tragic school
bus accident give thanks to the same Wizard who, if cognizant of and
sensitive to expressions of gratitude, presumably could as easily
have spared the lives of the dozens of other children who died.
People commit suicide because some Wizard has told them that is the
only way they can board a spaceship that will take them to a better
People declare they could not bear to live without belief in their
Grown men and women appeal to Wizards not only for victory in war but
in sporting events.
It is mandatory for politicians to express belief in a Wizard, the
particular Wizard in question not being as important as the matter of
following a recipe book where the author is a Wizard.
Our money and courthouses are emblazoned with the affirmation that we,
as a nation, place our trust in a Wizard.
People hate and kill because their Wizard tells them to.
Some Wizards have informed their followers that individuals of other
races are "mud people", not really human at all but comparable to
beasts of burden.
Wizards enable otherwise intelligent, rational people---from
laborers to rocket scientists---to believe six impossible things
This addiction to magical thinking mixed with our ineradicable
tribalism is a particularly murderous combination.
There is usually one Wizard or another lurking at the bottom of the
slaughters of millions of men, women and children over the ages, and
particularly in this blood-soaked slice of a century.
One model for this curious behavior might be contagious physical
disease, with the affliction in question being of the spirit rather
than the body, an infection passed on from parent to child,
generation after generation.
Perhaps there is a genetic predisposition to a need for Wizards, in
which case, despite our achievements in the physical world, we will
remain an essentially mad species with enormous potential intellect
but burdened with the crippled souls of children who cannot, or will
not, grow up.
Wizards can be viewed as Santa Clauses for adults.
The problem is that given the toys we now have under our tree as we
approach the next millennium---weapons of mass destruction ranging
from thermonuclear bombs to exotic germ farms---our species may be
starting to give off the odor of extinction. For not a few believers
in Wizards, this is an indescribably sweet smell, for it will yield
to the obliteration they so desperately yearn for.
Somebody should make up a bumper sticker.