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Weapons of mass distraction: Magicianship, misdirection, and the dark side of legitimation


Most discussions of legitimation focus on factors that are expected to contribute to it, such as tradition, expertise, or prosperity. Less attention has been paid to "the dark side" of legitimation, which depends heavily on evading attention. A potentially informative approach is to learn from professionals with special expertise in evading attention while making things "disappear" - magicians. Rather than seeking overt control over the audience, they perform in plain view, largely by using well-timed distractions, or "misdirection." Preliminary evidence suggests that similar techniques may be widely used in political contexts, with some of the most effective forms of misdirection involving diversionary reframing - diverting attention away from any questions about existing distributions of privilege, not by brute force, but by changing the subject, especially by raising questions about the legitimacy of critics. These and related techniques clearly deserve to be the focus of additional research.

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