Mystification is the state we’re in after we’ve been mystified. According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to mystify is to: 1: to perplex the mind of; bewilder 2: to make mysterious or obscure. I venture most of us have been mystified at some time by the performance of a magician. When it is done for entertainment it can be enjoyable and leave us appreciative of the performer’s skills. Sometimes a teacher may mystify us as a means of introducing us to a subject. Once the teacher has caught our interest, they can proceed to instruct us in the discipline involved. Perhaps, this is the most common method of education in the natural world. However, the act of mystifying people isn’t always done with such a benevolent motive or positive results. Sometimes, in fact quite often these days, when we’re being mystified it is being done with a predatory motive.
First, it is important to understand that we, as human beings, all love to play. We love to be entertained. When I was young I was introduced to the axiom “Work before pleasure.” That guidance has undoubtedly sustained humankind throughout the centuries. However, it is often through play, during leisure time, that we reap the benefits of new ideas, creative thinking. We know that it is stimulation that leads our bodies, including our brains, to develop fully. Often during play, or leisure time, we follow the flights of fancy that one stimulation, or another, may have given birth to within us. Sometimes it is just a moment’s enjoyment. However, sometimes we find ourselves positively mystified by something we’ve experienced through our senses or within our imagination. I say “positively” because these are the times we are caught by an idea which we want to follow up on. An idea about how to do something in a more efficient manner, or about creating something. Possibly a tool, or perhaps a work of art. Sometimes mystification, followed up on, can lead us to positive, culture changing discoveries. I wonder if all new inventions and works of art begin with a person being mystified by something?
In fact, mystification has played such an important role in human development, I venture that we instinctively appreciate it and seek it out. In our earliest memories we find ourselves being mystified by about everything. To a very young person, even the actions of walking and talking are mystifying experiences. We are mystified, we learn, we accomplish. To our minds, in it’s most wholesome manifestation, mystification is akin to our bodies experiencing the aroma of a fine meal being prepared. First the tantalizing promise of a reality, then, with the application of disciplined effort, the realization of the promise.
We have, through time and personal experience, come to value mystification for it’s ability to lead us to new visions, new understandings. However, within the predatory business model which currently dominates commerce worldwide, the reality that mystification has a value has not been ignored. Today several entire industries utilize mystification routinely in their marketing and as a lever in their all too predatory pricing practices. Contemporary industries which strongly rely upon the public being mystified with their product in order to both attract customers and demand inflated prices include: communications technology: cellphones, computers, and related devices, many other high-tech industries, pharmaceuticals and many other medical devices and practices.
In the middle of the 20th century the use of mystification as a mass marketing tool was possibly pioneered by the movie industry. But over time, increased familiarity with the product and it’s means of production, have resulted in a general demystification with the movie industry. However, a good story, well told, can still draw an audience.
From a developmental perspective, a major problem with the way mystification is being used by industries today is that unlike the process in which it occurs within nature, as a part of process of benevolent development, within many industries mystification is being used as a component of an extremely predatory business model. There’s no developmental “payoff” included nor intended. Just an ongoing demand for exorbitant prices on the part of the industry.
Which brings us to possibly the most culturally damaging effect this use (misuse?) of mystification is having in the world. Like the addicts who pay extortionate prices to illicit drug dealers for a fix, we are paying extortionate prices to the industries who have mystified us with their products and the short term satisfaction we often get with their use. I say “short term” because that’s what it is. Whether we’re referring to the instantaneous stimulation we get from video games and various electronic technology, or the temporary immunity offered by vaccinations (versus the permanent immunity from a naturally occurring immune response). We’re apparently transfixed by these products, their complexity, their mystifying actions (and the promises our subconscious infers based in evolutionary history). So we keep paying, and paying and paying to access them. We pay extortionate cable fees, internet fees, game rentals, equipment costs. As far as pharmaceuticals go we often pay exorbitant costs for the product’s development and then the extortionate costs demanded for the product.
It must be noted these aren’t the only products which have managed to mystify great numbers of people resulting in demands for exorbitant prices for the products. Some others in the U.S. include professional sports/athletes and “superstar” entertainers. Also Las Vegas and other extravagant, mystifying gambling houses. All of these enterprises rely upon mystification in the marketing of their products.
So what? Isn’t it just the way it is that businesses charge as much as they can? What’s wrong with that? What are you, some kind of idealist?
There is a concept that is important to grasp. It is the concept of a body working in balance, in harmony, as opposed to a body in which the various components of the body are fighting with each other for vital resources. If an organ, or group of cells, within our physical body goes on a campaign of inordinate growth, that is often a case of what we call cancer. Left unchecked it will result in the demise of the body it is occurring within. What is important, vital, to grasp is that the same principle is at work when we increase the scale we are looking at. The same principle applies when we’re looking at families, cultures, nations. Balance and harmony indicate a healthy body. Whether that body is a tribe, town, city, nation or planetary culture. If some component of the whole begins working to acquire inordinate amounts of the vital resources required by all, that is a symptom of a condition of disease and left unchecked will result in the demise of the body it is occurring within.
As with other aspects of what it is to be human, such as pleasure, mystification is a vital, important part of our lives. However, if we allow an inordinate amount of our personal time, energy, and material resources, or our collective time, energy and material resources, to be captured in a single minded pursuit of mystification, other vital areas of our lives, we ourselves, are going to suffer for it. On a cultural level, other professions are going to find the vital contributions they make to the sustaining of our lives, our communities, going undervalued, or ignored. Farmers, teachers, janitors, construction workers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, store clerks, restaurant workers, sanitation workers, police, firefighters, healthcare workers of myriad disciplines, all these contributors to our personal and cultural wellbeing and more, will find, are finding, their ability to earn a decent living increasingly diminished. Diminished because we are allowing a few to acquire too much of what is needed for the good of the whole. In part because we are captured by the mystification we experience when accessing their products.