Rational Religion

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Mana, Mana...Who's Got the Mana?


Original ideas are at a premium.


Pretty much everything I've put into this bible I've cribbed from somewhere and someone else; not always consciously, but it's all borrowed from somebody.


Amateurs copy.  Professionals steal.


I am a professional.


Yet, there is one notion I've come up with that I simply can't recall ever having seen anywhere before.  ( I am certain some of my readers will have, and so apprise me.  I've always learned most by shooting off my mouth and being corrected.)


Anthropologists in Polynesia during the first part of last century discovered an indigenous concept, and a single word for it, which seemed to sum up something which Europeans had been trying to say in a number of languages for millennia.


The word is "mana" and to the Polynesians it means something like "personal magnetism;" "charisma;" unusual power to influence others; "Oomph!"  "It!"   "Sex appeal:" all that and a bit more.


The Islanders considered it an Entity; a spirit which suffused the whole society but was concentrated in the Chief and other leaders.  Essentially it was the “spirit of the tribe.”  Everybody had part of it, as judged by her or his relative influence as part of society.


Of course the Chief had the most, which was a kind of Polynesian version of the Europeans’ “divine right of Kings” mythology.


But the anthropologists discovered that there were occasional manifestations of mana in persons who were outside the orthodox power structure of the society.  Therefore it appeared that a certain kind of mana wandered around, pretty much willy-nilly, and essentially powerless  - until it entered into an individual human being!  


Which human being was then rendered influential, attractive and persuasive beyond her or his peers; and more or less without logic or reason. 


You see, character, morality, or even wisdom didn't enter into the equation.  The "mana" simply popped at random into some human personality and gave that human magical power to get other people to do what he or she wanted.   If the endowed one happened be wise, moral or possessed of sterling character, then the results were likely to be socially constructive.


Unfortunately, human nature and intelligence being what they are, the mana often did more harm than good.   What it produced in preponderance was not great leaders or shamans but con men and manipulators. 


The Islanders had observed all this, and codified it; so that the anthropologists could gratefully appropriate it and apply it, with some cultural tailoring, to Western civilization and civilizations in general.


Since we believe in a Rational Religion, we tend not to have much truck with wandering spirits, disembodied or residing in a neighbor.


But there is without doubt a personality trait - or a collection of them - so similar in function to the mana as to be indistinguishable in practice.


We have all known some of these people, and if your experience is like mine at least 75 per cent have been con artists.   The terminal goof offs and outright thieves bring the percentage of sociopaths up to about 90.   Add in another 5 percent or so of successful demagogues - religious or political - and the positive influence of mana-bearers shrinks into the low single-digits.


The problem is that most people who have it have it from the git.  They wield this mysterious power over the rest of us as very small children; and very small children who are accustomed to getting pretty much what they want from their environment without much effort or reciprocation tend not to develop very good work habits or much social altruism.


The Universe being the impersonal force that it is, sooner or later the honeymoon will end.  The little manaista will run up against some vicissitude which will deny her or him the usual gratification. 


The result is, initially, bewilderment; then anger and resentment; finally the search for a way around or through the impediment.  The Gifted One becomes a schemer; a role-player; a liar and a cheat.


And very successful at all these things, because he or she still has this inexplicable appeal which tends to make people believe that she or he is incapable of such chicanery; and even when chicanery is exposed and proven, to forgive it.


It takes unusual character to turn the mana into a socially useful entity.   Great parental wisdom can help, but ultimately it is the possessor of the power who must be willing to tame and mold it into a positive force.


An interjection, here!   Beauty - unusual physical attractiveness - is not the same as mana.  Anybody who wins a major beauty contest probably has mana, but the two individual advantages are not related.  In the first place, beauty is transitory.  It has an adaptive purpose related to the reproduction of the species, and when it is no longer useful for that purpose, it goes away. (But if you are beautiful and you are interested in keeping it from making you a spoiled brat, a good deal of the following will be useful to you, also.)


The mana generally stays with you for life, and it can be a heavy cross to bear, let me tell you, when your life is winding down and you haven't "lived up to your potential."  There's a lot of bitter old mana out there, polluting the society.


Which brings me to what I now have the temerity to claim as an original concept; a program for the control of mana, and why you should bother to do it. 


Most of the readers into this little secular scripture are probably going to be young people.   Their elders are going to identify a Rational Religion early on, as something which they have either thought of, themselves, or (90-odd percent more likely) are inclined to reject out of hand.  The following admonitions and advice wouldn't do them much good, anyway, because they will already have pretty much codified their personalities.  (Though they are welcome to try to modify same if they are dissatisfied with their construction.)


But for you who are still building yourselves, from scratch, out of the spare parts we old farts have left around for you to play with; consider this!


I speak to those of you who have the mana; or think you may.  (It is not an absolute power; it comes in degrees.)


You have been given an awesome responsibility; and a curse!


You can't even throw it away, if you decide you don't want it!


Up to now you have probably followed the very human path of least resistance;  "For free, take!"


Now that you know who you are, you can't do that any longer!   


You have to get rid of the seductive habits of your entire life up to now!  And you have to do it by yourself. 


Oh, people will be ever so eager to help!  They always have, haven't they?   But, as always, they will try to make it easy for you and that isn't the drill!


Your first job is to find something, or spectrum of things, that you like to do which are also positive disciplines.  Both "positive" and "discipline" are imperative.  You have to busy yourself doing something humanly worthwhile; or some things; you shouldn't make life decisions without trying several avenues which interest you.


When you find the one or two which seem to involve you most thoroughly, dedicate yourself. 


That means effort, great and constant; and education, as much as you can get in whatever field you choose. 


Rest assured, you will not lose your mana; you will just render it more and more useful, to yourself and to the society around you. 


But the trick is never to let it slide you through the tough spots.  You have to work your way through those, even if the people responsible for evaluating your work are too willing to let you slither.  That means that you have to develop the critical sense to evaluate yourself, since you can't trust whether others are applauding your work or the mana


Remember that it's magic; real magic; and real magic isn't skill; it's cheating. 


It's tough, but it's not impossible. All the great performers and statesmen (and women) have managed to do it.    (It may be impossible to become a successful public figure without a modicum of mana, and a lot of control over it.)


People who use their mana successfully develop all sorts of strategies to factor it out of their achievements.  The most obvious tactic is to enter competition; put your best up against everybody else's best and see who wins!


This is one reason why sports heroes are so numerous, and so popular. 


Michael Jordan is a middle-aging black man in a reflexively racist and youth-oriented society who is almost universally loved and admired by his fellow-Americans of every race, sex and age.   He almost certainly has a whopping component of mana, but he very early found an environment which demanded that he develop his physical skills (no matter how many of his teachers, coaches and fellow-players liked him and cut him extra slack, socially and academically).  His habits of physical and mental discipline are so well-developed that he seriously took a leave of absence as the reigning king of basketball and tried for a year or two to excel professionally in another major sport!  And un-retired a second time for reasons possibly economic--possibly just because he missed the game.


His mana has undoubtedly helped to make him a very rich man, (all those commercials and his easy-going "natural" leadership on the basketball court) but his choice of career guaranteed that it couldn't let him cheat.  There was always somebody almost as good trying to beat him, no matter how much they liked him, and even a little laziness or lackluster performance would have permitted them to do it. 


There are other competitions than sports; or your bent may not be competitive at all.  Still, you have to seek out standards, and measure yourself against them; and be constantly aware that your mana may be lulling you into a false sense of achievement.


(The rap on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the reason he never became a better poet - He's only celebrated in the U.S., you know - was that he was so loved and admired as a Harvard professor that he didn't have a chance to develop his talent; beyond "Hiawatha" and "Evangeline," which are both great stories, but high-class doggerel.)


My personal preference would be to undertake some fine or high art.  The competition, here, is fierce enough to offset your natural tendency to bullshit your way to prominence.  Be aware, however, that the artistic world is full of poseurs, and the final refuge of unrealized mana is to fake it.   


The most effective thing to do is go into performance, where the mana can be an active part of your "talent."  But watch that! It's VERY difficult to measure your developing abilities if your biggest enemy is also your strongest ally.   Better pick something like ballet, or classical music, where arduous training is part of the formula.


And of course there is always the question of absolute talent.  That's another imponderable which you don't have a great deal of personal control over. Do you have it or don't you?   That's why I specified you should look for something you are already good at and develop it.


Politics is another natural avenue, but the pitfalls here are legion!  True, the labor involved in getting a law degree (and passing the bar exam), the way most politicians start out, is the right kind of discipline.  But there are so many opportunities for the mana to take over and suck you into a life of expedience, or outright crime! 


If you go into politics, take an iron-bound morality with you.  Ethics alone won't do; too easy to fudge.  What you need is a lot of rules to follow and lines in the sand past which you will not step.


Above all, whatever you decide to do with your life, don't get discouraged.  You should be pretty hard on yourself (It's okay to become a little bit obsessive.), but don't let it drive you suicidal, or into giving up and falling back on the charm for the rest of your life.


You may ask, "Why bother?  As long as I've got the world working for me, why mess with the formula?"


Because for you, disillusionment (and it will come) will be multiply harder than for the average Joe or Jill who is used to being dealt from the bottom of the deck.  The mana will only take you so far, by itself.  After that you will be identified, by the people who do things, as exactly what you are; a fake.   You will spend your entire life sliding around in glass-ceilinged incompetence, wandering from one thing that you are "sort of good at" to the next and living on what you can get people to give you. 


As a charming lightweight, you will be at the mercy of a society which will probably like you, but not enough to give you any real responsibility or reward. 


Reward comes for accomplishment.    What naked mana attracts is cumshaw and charity. 


But if you actually accomplish something, your mana will also magnify your rewards (see Michael Jordan, above).


I don't expect you to do this cold turkey.  You've been getting away with murder up to now and nobody can shed that kind of habit without a lot of work.  Just pick some element of your life that you can identify as "too easy" and concentrate on either getting rid of it or learning to do it better than anybody else in sight. [Running a con doesn't count.  We're trying to break you out of that.]   After you've fixed that one, go on to the next.


Finally, if you can't control your mana, you ought to wear a sign, like on those convex rear-view mirrors.  "Positive Elements of the personality are smaller than they appear."


So, there it is; a primer for the gifted personality.   It may not be as original as I imagine, but from the startled reaction of all the (4 or 5) young mana-bearers I have personally tried to counsel over the years, I gather it isn't a standard approach.  In the first place, it really makes them nervous that I have identified their racket.