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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.Published in