Free Expression in an Age of Hysteria

 

Over 400 years ago, nineteen people were hanged and one pressed to death because the Massachusetts Bay Colony got it into its collective head that witches were attacking the community. This was not an idea pushed by the people at the top, though their response strengthened and prolonged the delusion. It began, rather, in the homes and meeting-houses of small communities, when teenage girls started acting out in strange and dangerous ways. This behavior spread, appearing, to the confused and alarmed citizens of the colony, as if their bodies had been taken over by evil spirits or demons.

This was a community of Christians – God-fearing, pious Puritans who had carved a way of life for themselves out of an unfriendly wilderness. So naturally, they turned to the explanation that had developed in their culture: it was witches. Since the years of the Black Plague, only some three hundred years prior to this sudden plague of possessed girls, witches had been blamed for the evils that suddenly overtook communities. And those accused of witchcraft were the people who either did not fit into their communities or were seen as a burden to their families or others: Jews, the non-pious, elderly widows, impoverished women, Gypsies.

The Salem witch trials followed a centuries-old pattern. Young girls were stricken with some sort of hysteria, which was clearly socially contagious. The ordinary people – what we would call the grassroots today – blamed it on witchcraft. Community leaders, lacking any other explanation, shrugged their collective shoulders and concurred. People on the fringes were punished. Some chose to profit from the subsequent arrests and trials; disputed land wound up in the hands of the possessed girls’ families, or sheriffs confiscated livestock and valuables to sell when their owners were imprisoned and helpless to protest.

In the end, the hysteria died out when community leaders, alarmed at fields lying fallow and mills shuttered, simply put a stop to it. It did not run its course; that would have destroyed the colony. Instead, it was stopped when men stopped acting like cowards.

Meanwhile, no one dared speak out against the hysteria, even though at least half the community was beyond unconvinced. Those who spoke out early were arrested, and several were hanged. Even those who were not hanged faced financial ruin, which at that time potentially meant death for themselves and their families. There was no such thing as free speech during the trials, even though free speech had already become a strong American community value.

We are facing much the same thing today: teen girls suddenly feeling that their bodies are wrong, not their own, in a socially-contagious hysteria. The pattern is much the same: clusters of girls who know each other, either in-person or online, suddenly acting in ways their parents do not understand, saying things that just don’t make sense. The community has found an explanation for it. The community leaders, with no alternate explanation for the hysteria, have shrugged their collective shoulders and bought into it. And of course, there are those who are profiting from it.

Today’s iteration of a hysteria old as humanity is the transgender explosion. Young girls who are often autistic, usually vulnerable, and possibly gay have decided that their bodies are lying to them – that they are, in fact, boys in girls’ bodies. It is happening in clusters, not individual cases as one would expect from an authentic gender disorder. It is contagious; one, then two, then an entire group of girls announce they are in fact boys. And it is not just tacitly supported, but enthusiastically embraced, by many community leaders: celebrities, politicians, even religious leaders.

But in the end, it’s exactly the same thing that happened in Salem all those years ago: young girls convinced that their bodies are no longer under their own control.

We have seen other similar expressions of this hysteria recently; it can be argued that bulimia and anorexia are sometimes contagious social hysterias like this. About thirty years ago, there was an explosion of “recovered memory” cases in which people, most often women, “remembered” sexual abuse and other traumas. But none of these waves has been politically exploited in the way the transgender hysteria has been, or in the way the Salem hysteria was. (Though any of them could have been.)

Nor have any of them resulted in the quashing of free expression in the same way. Just recently, Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze That’s Seducing Our Daughters was removed from Target’s inventory after a single Twitter complaint. (After a social media uproar and press inquiries, it was replaced.) Feminists who have so much as questioned the veracity of all these sudden transgender cases have been shouted down, labeled with nasty names, and dismissed as bigots and homophobes – even though many of them were lesbians themselves. J. K. Rowling was “canceled” when she tweeted her doubt, not that transgenderism was real, but that gender itself was malleable in the way transgender activists insist.

In 1692, anything you said expressing doubt that witchcraft was real and active, or that the possessed girls were infallibly telling the truth, or that the trials were bad for the community, or that maybe something else might be going on, was deadly. You could be arrested, dispossessed, and hanged for it.

Today, we are seeing much the same thing, though without the hanging. People lose jobs, friends, reputations, and freedom when they simply express doubt in the transgender craze. When will our community leaders come to their senses, stand up, and stop the insanity? Because that is what it will take.

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  1. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    It seems that you are implying that there is a sort of hysterical confusion that tends to act out among teenage girls in every era. A sort of teenage rebellion perhaps? What are their elders to do to mitigate or prevent this? Also, what about boys who identify as girls? Some of them that have been in the news are much younger than teenagers.

    • #1
  2. Jamie K. Wilson Member
    Jamie K. Wilson
    @JamieWilson

    JoelB (View Comment):

    It seems that you are implying that there is a sort of hysterical confusion that tends to act out among teenage girls in every era. A sort of teenage rebellion perhaps? What are their elders to do to mitigate or prevent this? Also, what about boys who identify as girls? Some of them that have been in the news are much younger than teenagers.

    It’s not rebellion; it’s hysteria, a little-understood phenomenon. Remember how girls would faint at Beatles or Elvis concerts? Same thing. It’s present in every teen girl cohort, but expresses differently over time. As for how to mitigate, you got me. I think it needs to be understood before we can possibly address it as a culture. Anecdotally, though, paying attention to the girl and being firm about reality seems to work – essentially, good strong parenting. 

    As for the boys, I’m not sure.  This thing presents very differently in boys; with girls, there is a lot of consistency regarding age, certain traits, etc. I have some theories, but nothing I’m willing to argue. Yet. 

    • #2
  3. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    JoelB (View Comment):

    It seems that you are implying that there is a sort of hysterical confusion that tends to act out among teenage girls in every era. A sort of teenage rebellion perhaps? What are their elders to do to mitigate or prevent this? Also, what about boys who identify as girls? Some of them that have been in the news are much younger than teenagers.

    This is an issue that has touched my family. 

    I’ve spoken with many of my adult, gay, male friends. And most of them say that had they been asked at a young age if they wanted to be a girl, they would have answered yes.  (To a one, they are horrified at the trans craze that we are gripped with)

    I think the young boys who now are identifying as girls are gay, or would at least have grown up to be. 

    • #3
  4. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Arthur Miller’s play about the witch trials, The Crucible, was once popular among liberal academics and K-12 teachers.  It’s ironic…many of these same people, or their academic descendants, are now major fomenters of our present-day hysterias.

    • #4
  5. CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker
    @CarolJoy

    Jamie K. Wilson (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    It seems that you are implying that there is a sort of hysterical confusion that tends to act out among teenage girls in every era. A sort of teenage rebellion perhaps? What are their elders to do to mitigate or prevent this? Also, what about boys who identify as girls? Some of them that have been in the news are much younger than teenagers.

    It’s not rebellion; it’s hysteria, a little-understood phenomenon. Remember how girls would faint at Beatles or Elvis concerts? Same thing. It’s present in every teen girl cohort, but expresses differently over time. As for how to mitigate, you got me. I think it needs to be understood before we can possibly address it as a culture. Anecdotally, though, paying attention to the girl and being firm about reality seems to work – essentially, good strong parenting.

    As for the boys, I’m not sure. This thing presents very differently in boys; with girls, there is a lot of consistency regarding age, certain traits, etc. I have some theories, but nothing I’m willing to argue. Yet.

    There is at least one fact in your well written essay that you overlooked. Scholarly examinations of the Salem Witch Hunt, written up in the 20th Century, show that often those who were accused of being witches were people living in families who owned desirable plots of land.

    It started with three pre-teen aged girls picking on women who clearly were outcasts. But it soon became more than that.

    For instance, Rebecca Nurse and her husband Francis lived on and owned a parcel of land that bordered on the Putnam family’s land. The two families were involved in a heated dispute over property boundaries. With the Putnam family having political dominance, they saw to it that she was charged and arrested. The jury offered a verdict of not guilty, but with the Putnam’s demanding the jury re-consider, they did so. They then ruled she was guilty and the woman was subsequently executed.

    Also, although the pre-teens have become the villains in this piece, nothing at all would have come of their delusional accusations if the more powerful families in that society had not chosen to honor those delusions.

    In total around 200 people were accused of being witches. Some 140 to 150 were found guilty. Nineteen of these people were executed. One person was tortured to death, while the authorities attempted to find out if he was a witch.

    • #5
  6. Richard Easton Member
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker (View Comment):

    Jamie K. Wilson (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    It seems that you are implying that there is a sort of hysterical confusion that tends to act out among teenage girls in every era. A sort of teenage rebellion perhaps? What are their elders to do to mitigate or prevent this? Also, what about boys who identify as girls? Some of them that have been in the news are much younger than teenagers.

    It’s not rebellion; it’s hysteria, a little-understood phenomenon. Remember how girls would faint at Beatles or Elvis concerts? Same thing. It’s present in every teen girl cohort, but expresses differently over time. As for how to mitigate, you got me. I think it needs to be understood before we can possibly address it as a culture. Anecdotally, though, paying attention to the girl and being firm about reality seems to work – essentially, good strong parenting.

    As for the boys, I’m not sure. This thing presents very differently in boys; with girls, there is a lot of consistency regarding age, certain traits, etc. I have some theories, but nothing I’m willing to argue. Yet.

    There is at least one fact in your well written essay that you overlooked. Scholarly examinations of the Salem Witch Hunt, written up in the 20th Century, show that often those who were accused of being witches were people living in families who owned desirable plots of land.

    It started with three pre-teen aged girls picking on women who clearly were outcasts. But it soon became more than that.

    For instance, Rebecca Nurse and her husband Francis lived on and owned a parcel of land that bordered on the Putnam family’s land. The two families were involved in a heated dispute over property boundaries. With the Putnam family having political dominance, they saw to it that she was charged and arrested. The jury offered a verdict of not guilty, but with the Putnam’s demanding the jury re-consider, they did so. They then ruled she was guilty and the woman was subsequently executed.

    Also, although the pre-teens have become the villains in this piece, nothing at all would have come of their delusional accusations if the more powerful families in that society had not chosen to honor those delusions.

    In total around 200 people were accused of being witches. Some 140 to 150 were found guilty. Nineteen of these people were executed. One person was tortured to death, while the authorities attempted to find out if he was a witch.

    I’m descended from a sister of John Alden, Jr. who was one of the last people accused. Friends hid him until the furor ended.

    • #6
  7. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    And, of course, defending an accused witch was evidence that you, yourself were also a witch.

    This is happening now.  Here’s Jonathan Kay:

    A few weeks ago, shortly after I left my magazine gig, I had breakfast with a well-known Toronto man of letters. He told me his week had been rough, in part because it had been discovered that he was still connected on social media with a colleague who’d fallen into disfavour with Stupid Twitter-Land. “You know that we all can see that you are still friends with him,” read one of the emails my friend had received. “So. What are you going to do about that?”

    “So I folded,” he told me with a sad, defeated air. “I know I’m supposed to stick to my principles. That’s what we tell ourselves. Free association and all that. It’s part of the romance of our profession. But I can’t afford to actually do that. These people control who gets jobs. I’m broke. So now I just go numb and say whatever they need me to say.”

    See my post The Multi-Front Attack on Free Speech.

    • #7
  8. CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker
    @CarolJoy

    David Foster (View Comment):

    And, of course, defending an accused witch was evidence that you, yourself were also a witch.

    This is happening now. Here’s Jonathan Kay:

    A few weeks ago, shortly after I left my magazine gig, I had breakfast with a well-known Toronto man of letters. He told me his week had been rough, in part because it had been discovered that he was still connected on social media with a colleague who’d fallen into disfavour with Stupid Twitter-Land. “You know that we all can see that you are still friends with him,” read one of the emails my friend had received. “So. What are you going to do about that?”

    “So I folded,” he told me with a sad, defeated air. “I know I’m supposed to stick to my principles. That’s what we tell ourselves. Free association and all that. It’s part of the romance of our profession. But I can’t afford to actually do that. These people control who gets jobs. I’m broke. So now I just go numb and say whatever they need me to say.”

    See my post The Multi-Front Attack on Free Speech.

    What an astoundingly good essay. Thank you for writing it, and also for linking to it.

    • #8
  9. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Excellent post !

    This isn’t very important to your point, Jamie K. Wilson, but I can’t resist mentioning it because it fascinates me: The witchcraft, I mean the practice of it as defined at that time, may have been real in one or two cases. What you couldn’t question was the idea that these superstitious beliefs, and possibly occasional practices, were causing the girl’s behavior and self reported experiences of being tormented by people in spectral form.

    Today you can’t question the idea that the young women and girls are  really males trapped in women’s bodies.

    • #9
  10. Richard Easton Member
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Quibble alert. 2020 – 1692 = 338 < 400.

    • #10
  11. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Well-observed. There is definitely a social contagion aspect to the trans business. I have a 13-year-old niece, and after spending a couple of days with her it’s easy to see how susceptible her demographic is to fashionable ideas such as this. (Fortunately she hasn’t decided that she is trans but she sure knows kids who are, and she thinks it’s the most normal thing in the world.)

    Jamie K. Wilson: one pressed to death

    The story of Giles Corey is about the most badass thing I’ve ever heard.

    • #11
  12. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    the most badass thing 

    A chick saying “badass“ is kinda hot.

     

    • #12
  13. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    the most badass thing

    A chick saying “badass“ is kinda hot.

     

    Thanks, Jimmah. Means a lot coming from you.

    • #13
  14. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    the most badass thing

    A chick saying “badass“ is kinda hot.

     

    Reminds me of this scene, which I recently saw for the first time:

     

    • #14
  15. KevinKrisher Coolidge
    KevinKrisher
    @KevinKrisher

    As others have pointed out, the best response to apparent hysterias is to try to prevent them from leading to irrevocable decisions. After suspected witches stopped being arrested, the craze died. Similarly, after minor children are no longer deemed appropriate for any sort of medical sex change procedure, this craze will probably die.

    Unfortunately, some hysterias can occur on much larger political scales and lead to more disastrous outcomes. The historian Thomas Fleming points out some in his book A Disease of the Public Mind. He argues that Prohibition, the Russian Revolution, and the secessionist movement of 1860-1861 were essentially public hysterias that reasonable people failed to stand up against.

    • #15
  16. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Our reaction to Covid also qualifies as a mass hysteria.

    • #16
  17. Jamie K. Wilson Member
    Jamie K. Wilson
    @JamieWilson

    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker (View Comment):

    Very true, but I didn’t overlook it: “Some chose to profit from the subsequent arrests and trials; disputed land wound up in the hands of the possessed girls’ families, or sheriffs confiscated livestock and valuables to sell when their owners were imprisoned and helpless to protest.”

    My own multiple-grands uncle John Proctor was one whose possessions were stolen by the sheriff when they came to arrest him and his oldest three children. Greed was a powerful motivator then just as it is today.

    • #17
  18. Jamie K. Wilson Member
    Jamie K. Wilson
    @JamieWilson

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Quibble alert. 2020 – 1692 = 338 < 400.

    Ah, you’re right. This is why I was an English major and hence will never make the big bucks. (Not that I could count them if I did!)

    • #18
  19. Jamie K. Wilson Member
    Jamie K. Wilson
    @JamieWilson

    Charlotte (View Comment):


    Jamie K. Wilson
    : one pressed to death

    The story of Giles Corey is about the most badass thing I’ve ever heard.

    “More weight.” Corey was a ‘Merican.

    • #19
  20. Jamie K. Wilson Member
    Jamie K. Wilson
    @JamieWilson

    KevinKrisher (View Comment):

    As others have pointed out, the best response to apparent hysterias is to try to prevent them from leading to irrevocable decisions. After suspected witches stopped being arrested, the craze died. Similarly, after minor children are no longer deemed appropriate for any sort of medical sex change procedure, this craze will probably die.

    Unfortunately, some hysterias can occur on much larger political scales and lead to more disastrous outcomes. The historian Thomas Fleming points out some in his book A Disease of the Public Mind. He argues that Prohibition, the Russian Revolution, and the secessionist movement of 1860-1861 were essentially public hysterias that reasonable people failed to stand up against.

    I must read that.

    • #20
  21. Jamie K. Wilson Member
    Jamie K. Wilson
    @JamieWilson

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Arthur Miller’s play about the witch trials, The Crucible, was once popular among liberal academics and K-12 teachers. It’s ironic…many of these same people, or their academic descendants, are now major fomenters of our present-day hysterias.

    And Miller wrote his play in protest of McCarthyism, from a profoundly leftist point of view. It’s amazing how blind ideological blinkers can make one.

    • #21
  22. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Jamie K. Wilson (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Arthur Miller’s play about the witch trials, The Crucible, was once popular among liberal academics and K-12 teachers. It’s ironic…many of these same people, or their academic descendants, are now major fomenters of our present-day hysterias.

    And Miller wrote his play in protest of McCarthyism, from a profoundly leftist point of view. It’s amazing how blind ideological blinkers can make one.

    Speaking of McCarthyism….Tom Watson Jr, the longtime head of IBM, wrote (in his outstanding memoir) about his personal encounter with same.  A set of vertical blinds was involved.

    These were not common in the early 1950s, and an engineer who was in a meeting in Watson’s office sketched them and left the sketch in his shirt pocket.  The dry cleaner who found the drawing thought it looked very suspicious, and reported it to Authority.

    Pretty soon, a group of investigators came and said to the engineer, “We’ve identified this as a plan for a radar antenna, and want to hear about it. We want to be perfectly fair. But we know it is a radar antenna and the shirt it was found in belongs to you.”

    The engineer explained about the vertical blinds, and the investigation team then asked to see Watson. The chief executive officer of IBM showed them the blinds and demonstrated the way they worked.

    They looked them over very carefully and then left. I thought I had contained it, but I wasn’t sure, and I was scared. We were working on SAGE (the computerized air defense system–ed) and it would have been a hell of a way to lose our security clearance.

    Shortly after the incident with the vertical blinds, Watson was invited to a lunch at Lehman Brothers, along with about 20 other high-ranking businesspeople. During the lunch, he mentioned his concerns about McCarthyism

    Of the twenty-odd people present, I was the only one who took that position. That didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that the following week I got letters from several people who had been there, and they all had a similar message: “I didn’t want to commit myself in public, but I certainly agreed with everything you said.

    The difference from our present hysterias is that today, most of them wouldn’t even dare send a *personal* note saying that they agreed with the heretic.

     

    • #22
  23. CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker
    @CarolJoy

    iWe (View Comment):

    Our reaction to Covid also qualifies as a mass hysteria.

    Yes a fake pandemic purported as a real one by the fake news media.

    (The illness is real, but its status as a pandemic would not have come about if WHO had not changed the definition of a pandemic from being that of an illness wherein 10% of the citizens of many countries died, to being that of an illness noted across multiple countries.)

    • #23
  24. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Our reaction to Covid also qualifies as a mass hysteria.

    Yes a fake pandemic purported as a real one by the fake news media.

    (The illness is real, but its status as a pandemic would not have come about if WHO had not changed the definition of a pandemic from being that of an illness wherein 10% of the citizens of many countries died, to being that of an illness noted across multiple countries.)

    According to this article, “The Elusive Definition of Pandemic Influenza“, there has never been a formal definition. There have been statements on its web site that have been taken as definitions, and some of the changes have been controversial. Between 2003 and 2009 there was a statement that referred to “enormous numbers of deaths and illness.” The reference to “enormous numbers” was removed in 2009. But I don’t see anything that ever said 10 percent.  

     

    • #24
  25. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Our reaction to Covid also qualifies as a mass hysteria.

    Yes a fake pandemic purported as a real one by the fake news media.

    (The illness is real, but its status as a pandemic would not have come about if WHO had not changed the definition of a pandemic from being that of an illness wherein 10% of the citizens of many countries died, to being that of an illness noted across multiple countries.)

    According to this article, “The Elusive Definition of Pandemic Influenza“, there has never been a formal definition. There have been statements on its web site that have been taken as definitions, and some of the changes have been controversial. Between 2003 and 2009 there was a statement that referred to “enormous numbers of deaths and illness.” The reference to “enormous numbers” was removed in 2009. But I don’t see anything that ever said 10 percent.

    Yeah, the global death rate for the Spanish Flu of 1918 was 2-3% and I don’t think many people would say that wasn’t a pandemic.

    • #25
  26. CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker
    @CarolJoy

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Our reaction to Covid also qualifies as a mass hysteria.

    Yes a fake pandemic purported as a real one by the fake news media.

    (The illness is real, but its status as a pandemic would not have come about if WHO had not changed the definition of a pandemic from being that of an illness wherein 10% of the citizens of many countries died, to being that of an illness noted across multiple countries.)

    According to this article, “The Elusive Definition of Pandemic Influenza“, there has never been a formal definition. There have been statements on its web site that have been taken as definitions, and some of the changes have been controversial. Between 2003 and 2009 there was a statement that referred to “enormous numbers of deaths and illness.” The reference to “enormous numbers” was removed in 2009. But I don’t see anything that ever said 10 percent.

     

    In all honesty, I read an article that laid out how the WHO had defined a pandemic up until its re-defining of pandemic in 2018 or 2019.

    The number 10% stuck in my brain, and the important part is, I don’t remember if it was 10% of all cases or 10% of the population.

    After reading Randy Wedova’s reply to you, it probably was more like 3 or 4%, or less. And perhaps it would be against all cases.

    So possibly that might be  why that guy Ferguson of the Imperial College over in England made a big point of saying that 3.4% of all COVID cases would be fatal.

    One of the entire casualties of the hold Big Pharma has on the population is through the escalation in the use of the word “epidemic.” An epidemic was once something like smallpox or polio, that swept through a population and killed or injured tens of thousands of people in our nation. Now an epidemic is any illness affecting more than two dozen kids.

    Yes, with Big Pharma wanting so badly to entrain the minds of Americans, we saw this happen several years ago:

    So 33 kids go to Disneyland and end up having measles. In the end, several weeks later it was proven all those kids had been made ill by the vaccine version of measles,not the wild version. But that truth came about far too late to make a difference for many uninformed people.

    Big Pharma was allowed via its hold on Big Media to not  only plaster the airwaves with  the hysteria that 33 kids had been sickened with measles!! and that 33 measles cases equaled an epidemic, they also interwove that hype into the new scientific truth that unless 100% of all of Calif’s babies and children were innoculated against measles, the measles vaccine would not work!

    This entire concept that all must be vaxxed for a vax to work directly contradicts the  actual underpinnings of vaccine theory.

    • #26
  27. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker (View Comment):
    This entire concept that all must be vaxxed for a vax to work directly contradicts the actual underpinnings of vaccine theory.

    I wish people wouldn’t cast aspersions at some of the best computers ever made…

     

    • #27