These are modern times. Our collection of electronic “devices” with their “tap” facility has exuberantly overtaken us. We’re daily adjusting to their many alternatives as variously listed on “Settings” or “Preferences” among a host of others. Meanwhile it’s an era when, thanks to the internet, truth has become a malleable instrument for personal use (and frequently for nefarious purposes). Gone are the days when madness was confined to some obscure book written by an equally unrecognizable author. Now we’re daily bludgeoned with similarly frantic assertions by famous and sometimes renowned persons touting what they describe as illuminating and tenable fodder.
The gardener believed that, as soon as war was declared, they would stop all the railways. “Yes, to be sure; so that we sha’n’t get away,” said Françoise. And the gardener would assent, with “Ay, they’re the cunning ones,” for he would not allow that war was anything but a kind of trick which the state attempted to play on the people, or that there was a man in the world who would not run away from it if he had the chance to do so.
Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way
Part of what is standard instruction to the masses of any age is caution about the legitimacy of what is unearthed on the internet. In the past four years for example Donald J. Trump (the erstwhile comedic entertainer) has by his accidental presence in politics energized another of his conspiracy theories directed at what he calls the “Fake News”. The black humour of his allegation is all the more mephitic by virtue of his sad record of persistent lies and absurdities. It is unfortunate that so much media attention currently involves the lurid propositions of the likes of Trump and his most recent drudge Marjorie Taylor Greene. Greene like Trump is destined to marginalization and eventual anonymity because apart from their entertainment value to the public and profiteers they’ve done nothing to distinguish themselves for the public good. Already the devotion of newly elected President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. and Vice-president Kamala Harris to improvement of the well-being of Americans is outdistancing the childishness and opportunistic behaviour of so many of the Republican stooges to Trump. Ignorance of Republicans has proven to be the only solution to adult conduct. Republicans time and again have shown manifest incongruity with both truth and morality.
These bruises to the popular good will eventually heal and their memory will fade. What however lingers is a growing suspicion of the poisoned themes which are hidden underground but which survive through the cracks in the rock. What is regrettably assured is that these straggling venoms will percolate to the surface with the appearance of novelty or strength – at least in the eyes of those who perceive a way to manipulate the advantage. The Church of England once sought to punish the Puritans. But the righteousness of one escaped the violence of the other. By design the manifestation of moral purity reappeared in a new and even more rigid form. This account is illustrative of the ability of codswallop to regenerate. We all know what King Henry VIII thought about the alliance of church and state; and we all recall how the Puritans handled the Salem Witches.
New England had been settled by religious dissenters seeking to build a Bible-based society according to their own chosen discipline.
Arrests were made in numerous towns beyond Salem and Salem Village (known today as Danvers), notably Andover and Topsfield. The grand juries and trials for this capital crime were conducted by a Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 and by a Superior Court of Judicature in 1693, both held in Salem Town, where the hangings also took place. It was the deadliest witch hunt in the history of colonial North America. Only fourteen other women and two men had been executed in Massachusetts and Connecticut during the 17th century.
The episode is one of Colonial America’s most notorious cases of mass hysteria. It has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process.
Typically the current generation looks back upon the past with astonishment. Yet it is a reminder that the future will regard us similarly. Pointedly the term “witch hunt” was routinely captured by the man behind so much of our current provocation. When his upcoming impeachment unfolds I fully suspect to see a re-enactment of similar hysteria at the unwitting hands of soft minds.