In their drive to convert America into a Christian nation, the Radical Religio-Republicans have gone after some incredibly trivial things as well as some very significant ones. Their pursuit of the demonic in our society today is reminding me of the Red Scare days in the sense that not only are they the only ones who really know the extent of the 'problem', but that they are the only ones who can tell who is demonized and do something about them.
It must be something in the psychological makeup required to be a modern religio-conservative Republicans.
Historically, America has been subjected to the likes of Cotton Mather, whose blatherings about the devil being everywhere led to the Salem Witch Trials. In one case not directly related to the Salem Trials, this incident is reported:
His steadfast belief in witchcraft was perhaps no more apparent than at the hanging of George Burroughs, a former pastor of Salem Village. Just before he was hanged, Burroughs turned to the crowd and perfectly recited the Lordís Prayer ó supposedly impossible for a witch or wizard. His dramatic prayer and claim of innocence drew tears and doubts from the spectators. Robert Calef describes Cotton Matherís reaction is his account, More Wonders of the Invisible World (1700): [A]s soon as [Burroughs] was turned off [executed], Mr. Cotton Mather, being mounted upon a Horse, addressed himself to the People, partly to declare, that he [Burroughs - ed] was no ordained Minister, and partly to possess the People of his guilt; saying, That the Devil has often been transformed into an Angel of Light; and this did somewhat appease the People, and the Executions went on.
In this one example of Cotton Mather's insane obsession, he is confronted openly by an act which contradicts his teachings, comes up with an 'explanation' which is intended to answer any doubts, and continues on his path of 'righteous' vengeance for transgressions which couldn't have occured.
It's very much like what Bu$hCo subjects the world to in their quest to rid the world of non-American-controlled energy resources. And, the reasons this works now aren't that different from those that brought about Mather's influence in the Salem Trials: uncertainty over great societal changes.
There are various theories as to why the community of Salem Village exploded into delusions of witchcraft and demonic interference. The most common one is that the Puritans, who governed Massachusetts Bay Colony with little royal intervention from its settlement in 1630 until the new Charter was installed in 1692, went through mass religion-induced hysterical delusion. Most modern experts view that as too simplistic an explanation. Other theories include child abuse, fortunetelling experiments gone amok, ergot-related paranoid fantasies (ergot is a fungus that grows on damp barley, producing a substance very similar to D-lysergic acid [LSD, for those who don't speak biochemistry]; in a pre-industrial society, it is easy to accidentally ingest it), conspiracy by the Putnam family to destroy the rival Porter family, and societal victimization of women.
There was also great stress within the Puritan community. They had lost their charter in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and in the spring of 1692 still did not know what their future would be. They were under constant Indian attack and could not depend on England at all for support; their militia came from the ranks of their young men, and in 1675 's King Philip's War their entire population had been decimated: one of ten European settlers in New England was killed by Indian attacks. Though that war was over, Indian raids and skirmishes were a constant hazard.
More and more, New England was becoming a mercantile colony, and Puritans and non-Puritans alike were making a lot of money, which the Puritans saw as both necessary and sinful. And as the merchant class rose in status, the ministerial class declined.
This part is especially significant, in that it exposes a decline in influence by the ministerial class, something which they would by definition see as a sign of demonic influence. They would also not like this reduction in influence for psychological reasons. Both - along with other motiviations - would be the driving force behind a desire to reclaim lost influence and status, and nothing would be allowed to stand in the way. Not truth, not justice, and certainly not any evidence that the 'expert' was in fact wrong.
It isn't so different from today's Iraq fiasco, brought to you by Bu$hCo, whose self-enrichment is their product - their ONLY product.
But I digress.
Perhaps the most compelling new theory is that of Mary Beth Norton, who wrote In The Devil's Snare. Her thesis: that any or all of the above explanations likely played an important role, but Salem and the rest of New England, and particularly the north and northwest areas, were besieged by frequent Indian attacks, which created an atmosphere of fear that contributed greatly to the hysteria.
Her evidence: most of the accused witches and most of the afflicted girls had strong societal or personal ties to Indian attacks over the preceding fifteen years. The accusers frequently referenced a "black man," discussed joint meetings between the alleged witches and Indians in sabbats, and described images of torture taken directly from tales of Indian captivity. In addition, Puritan clergy had, since King Philip's War in 1675, frequently referred to Indians as being of the devil, had associated them with witchcraft and, in pulpit-pounding sermons that lasted as long as five hours, expounded repeatedly about Satan and his devils besieging the Puritans, who were seen as the army of God. In short, the Indian had been associated in the New England Puritan mind as the Devil. Therefore, concerted Indian attacks were the Devil trying to bring down the Puritan society, and one should expect attacks from within as well as without. By 1691, Puritans were primed for witchcraft hysteria.
Salem Village itself was a microcosm of Puritan stress. Half the Village were farmers and supported the minister, Samuel Parris, and breaking away from Salem Town to form their own distinct township; the other half of the Village wanted to remain part of Salem Town, retain the merchant ties, and refused to contribute to the maintenance of Parris and his family. In addition, a number of refugees from recent Indian attacks in the Maine and New Hampshire regions had taken shelter with relatives in Salem, bringing tales of horror with them. As a result, by 1691 Salem Village was a powder keg, and the spreading possession of young girls was the spark that set it off.
The two underlined phrases above are the significant ideas I'm about to tie to those presented previously.
During much of America's history, religion held a special place in our society as it did during the time of Cotton Mather. The only thing that would have as much influence with the people of this continent would be economic prosperity. This economic prosperity doesn't need sermons or preachers to convert new believers - its own existance speaks to the people by itself. As Salem grew more prosperous, life got easier materially, and the primary reason people turn to religion in times of stress would be eased.
This is one reason religions tend to promote poverty as an approved way of life. Poor people are easier to control. Rich people have resources that they will use any way they damn well please - behavior we have seen in the actions of our wealthy chickenhawk neo-conmen of today. This doesn't play well with those who depend upon the status and influence of an unimpeachable source for their position in society, so they come up with something intended to scare the people back into 'their proper place', something so horrifying that only they can protect against.
In Salem, it was the Devil as embodied by the Native American, whose very existance in a difficult environment threatened unwelcome competition for survival. In America today, it is the Muslim who lives in lands that have undeveloped energy resources, and whose way of life isn't easily affected by the Western model of prosperity as a way of leveraging 'cooperation'. Because the Muslim image of great wealth isn't necessarily mass quantities of dollars, it isn't easy to impose a strongman friendly to petroleum executives. So they see to it that they get someone else to be the muscle and provide them with access to those resources that provide mass quantities of dollars.
In Salem, the indiginous Indians weren't easily 'converted' to the white man's concepts of prosperity, so they had to be eliminated if the white man were to be successful. This action established the pattern by which the Native Americans were almost completely wiped out in one of history's most notable instances of ethnic cleansing, but that isn't the topic of this post.
In America today, thanks to the great influence of the media and the technology it utilizes, Western concepts of prosperity can be presented almost anywhere in the world. I have an uncle who used to work for ARAMCO, and he told me of the Saudi workers' fascination with Western dramas like Dallas and Falcon Crest. They would huddle around a battery-powered black and white TV plugged in to the cigarette lighter of a Toyota pickup and watch the Saudi-edited episode, enraptured by the beautiful women and their open display of opulent wealth.
These concepts can influence a local people in the most subtle ways. While a diamond necklace worth millions around the neck of a pretty actress might not have much meaning to someone who never actually saw one and maybe never will, having abundant food to waste just might. The point is, many societies have lower standards of prosperity when compared to the Western, and it doesn't take much to impress the impressionable.
In reverse, it is easier to subvert a people with a puppet when the puppet is one of the people. It was a lesson lost to the colonialists, whose influence had to be imposed since it wasn't possible for them to impress a local people with symbols of great foreign wealth. They didn't have television and recorded programs of wealthy people to use as weapons of conquest.
But in that new-and-improved way, colonialism does now have television and Friends to use, and it has had an effect. Subverting locals to serve a foreign master has never been easier. When it isn't possible or feasible to use the methods described by John Perkins in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, then one locates a local to set up as the authority figure and then 'protect' him from his own with foreign troops.
If one digs deep enough in the post-WWII history, one can find this method at work all over the world. 1953: pro-West puppet Reza Pahlevi is imposed upon the Iranian people for daring to demand their fair price for oil. 1954: Castillo Armas was imposed upon the people of Guatemala because the workers were demanding wages higher than United Fruit Company was willing to pay. 1958: Abdel Kassem was installed as head of Iraq for the same reasons as the Shah in Iran - oil prices. Kassem didn't play ball well, so he was eliminated in 1963 and replaced with someone more favorable to the West.
Today, UNOCAL advisors Hamid Karzai and Zalmay Khalilzad [more here] are imposed upon Afghanistan as president and US Ambassador respectively, with Khalilzad being 'promoted' to US Ambassador to Iraq recently.
There are many similar examples I could list, but I think the idea is now clear: the West will impose itself in any way to avoid having to make the necessary changes in the same way that the colonial preachers did to avoid losing influence and status. Only the methods differ.
These efforts require, however, that there be something for the target population to fear, and that is where the people of the United States come in. It is our purpose to serve as the muscle for these efforts, risking our lives to enrich the already wealthy in return for abandonment and neglect when our usefulness is exhausted. In this, we are treated no differently than the people whose land we are sent to conquer.
But we aren't so easy to convince. We have had television burning the images of wealth into our brains all our lives, and we have enough personal prosperity to satisfy us to the point of gluttony. By being so satieted, we aren't in a hurry to lift a finger - or risk our lives and accumulated wealth - in the service of snake-oilers seeking greater wealth and not wishing to bargain for it. Thus we have to be scared into performing that service.
I believe that, at the very least, Bu$hCo knew that 9/11 was going to happen and allowed it. This provided the modern Devil: the Muslim fundamentalist. There was little question in the minds of the American people after 9/11 that this person was a threat, and we weren't informed enough to know that without passive cooperation from American officials, these attacks could have been easily thwarted, and the damage done to New York and Washington averted. Thus, the necessary image of evil was now in place, and the American people would be easy to control through the usage of it.
I won't elaborate over the historical evidence of this - color-coded alerts, USA Patriot Act - as much of it is still fresh in your minds, and as Rep. John Conyers and others reveal more about the plans to attack Iraq, the connection to 9/11 will at some point be revealed as well.
The point is, we were scared and frightened just as much as the people of Salem were, and we were so intended to be by those who sought to regain influence and control over us for whatever reasons. The fact that it worked at all has released a genie from a bottle, and by the Law of Unintended Consequences, is taking this nation down some deadly and dangerous paths.
It is also taking this nation down some superficially whimsical paths as well, such as the attempt to force the New Jersey Devils to change their 'demonic' name:
State Assemblyman Craig Stanley is taking issue with a satanic symbol representing the team, which has won three Stanley Cup championships. "This is an age where symbolism is very important," said Stanley, a Baptist deacon whose resolution to rename the team is to be introduced in the Assembly next month. "I've always cringed when people say they're going to see the Devils," Stanley said. "The merchandise, the paraphernalia is based on the actual demonic devil. Personally, it causes a little bit of an issue with me."
If this modern-day Mather is so focused on something as innocuous as a team mascot emblem, what power will he feel he has to do greater harm to our society if he were to succeed in getting it changed? How long will it be before some other self-appointed Mather begins an attempt to force Betty Crocker to show 'she' is a Good Christian and change the name of devil's food cake?
It isn't such a stretch to see such people gathering together as each achieves some little victory over their version of Satan. And as each is made famous by our pervasive media - whose nose for scandal is every bit as sensitive as Mather's nose for the Devil, they would feed upon the successes of each other. Each would grow more influential, until it would become possible for greater outrages to occur, such as a modern-day Salem Trial.
In a sense, we've already seen this happen with the likes of Jerry Falwell, James Baker, James Dobson, and Pat Robertson, so I'm not stretching reality too far with this contention.
But as I apply the Law of Unintended Consequences one more time, the influence of the blogger was never taken into account. As I pointed out through several links yesterday, and in several other posts in the past, the blogger is demonstrably driving information through institutional barriers just as economic prosperity drove a stake through the heart of the religious dominance of Plymouth Colony. As this information about Bu$hCo's activities spreads, more evidence is found and distributed, until the official dogma is finally questioned and countered.
It happened to Mather, who himself questioned his beliefs and their consequences in his old age. It will also happen to Red State America, whose smugness and intolerance recalls Mather at his worst.
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