Historical Hysteria

From OregonMuse’s A♠ Sunday Morning Book Thread

Mass Hysteria

Has our country gone mad? Well, maybe. But what we’re seeing right now is not unprecedented. Not so much burning cities, but mass hysteria about other things, namely, children. I’m talking about the daycare child abuse panic that started in the late 1980s.

“There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”
–Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, 1742

No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times by Dorothy Rabinowitz discusses some of these miscarriages of justice, such as the ones involving the Wee Care Nursery School (Kelly Michaels) and the Fell Acres Day Cay Center in Malden, Massachusetts (Amirault Family). Also the one involving

…Grant Snowden, the North Miami policeman sentenced to five consecutive life terms after being prosecuted by then Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno…who spent eleven years killing rats in various Florida prisons before a new trial affirmed his innocence.

Yes, that’s right, the same Janet Reno, appointed Attorney General by Bill Clinton and who was ultimately responsible for the government-instigated massacre at Waco.

In those days, even the merest accusation of child abuse could get you a show trial and stiff jail sentence. For the children! And some of the materials used by the the child protection service officers who interrogated the suspects said things like (I’m paraphrasing) “If a suspect denies being a child abuser, that should be considered proof of his guilt since that exactly is what a child abuser would say.” Of course, that is what an innocent party would say, too, but that wasn’t mentioned.

And, according to another book on the subject, We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s by Richard Beck,

It would take years for people to realize what the defendants had said all along — that these prosecutions were the product of a decade-long outbreak of collective hysteria on par with the Salem witch trials. Social workers and detectives employed coercive interviewing techniques that led children to tell them what they wanted to hear. Local and national journalists fanned the flames by promoting the stories’ salacious aspects, while aggressive prosecutors sought to make their careers by unearthing an unspeakable evil where parents feared it most.

One can only wonder how worse it could have gotten if America of the 1980s had the extensive social media it has now.

But it could be worse. At we’re not going through anything like The Great Singapore Penis Panic of 1967.

From Amazon:

The Great Singapore Penis Panic and the Future of American Mass Hysteria

by Scott Mendelson (Author)

Forty-three years ago, a strange series of events unfolded on the island of Singapore. Hundreds of men rushed to the hospitals of the island with the terrifying belief that their penises were shrinking. Each feared that if his penis shrank away completely, he would die. Some came with lucky red strings tightly wrapped around their penises to prevent the lethal disappearance. Others had clamps holding their wayward organs in place. Most often it was a firm grasp of a hand, their own or a frightened family member’s, that prevented the shrinking penis from slipping away and taking their life with it. Oddly enough, about a dozen women also fell victim to the panic. This was the Great Singapore Penis Panic, or what doctors refer to as an epidemic of the psychiatric condition called Koro. The Great Singapore Penis Panic and the Future of American Mass Hysteria explains the basis of koro in Chinese medicine, and how and why something so peculiar as the Singapore Koro epidemic could have happened when it did.

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