WEDNESDAY, APRIL 6, 2022
Possibly takes a wrong turn: In yesterday's column in the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg pretty much started where we left off last Thursday.
We humans believe the darnedest things! Headline included, Goldberg started as shown:
GOLDBERG (4/5/22): Why Are Seemingly Functional Adults Falling for the ‘Furries’ Myth?
A Nebraska state senator, Bruce Bostelman, last month warned of an alarming new variety of deviance making its way into the state’s schools. “It’s something called furries,” he said. Schoolchildren, Bostelman claimed, were identifying as cats or dogs. “They meow and they bark.” And educators, indulging them, “are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for the children to use,” said Bostelman.
Perhaps needless to say, none of this was true. Bostelman later apologized for spreading falsehoods, saying, “It was just something I felt that if this really was happening, we needed to address it and address it quickly.”
What interests me is why he thought this was really happening, and not just in decadent enclaves like New York City or San Francisco, but in his own Midwestern backyard.
Apparently, Bostelman really believed that teachers might be setting out litter boxes for kids who identify as cats and dogs. Goldberg wanted to know why a "seemingly functional adult" could have believed such a thing.
She went on to offer specific theories, starting with the influence of social media. We think she was making a type of category error, blowing past a basic fact:
We humans aren't super-rational after all. Simply put, we don't have the greatest analytical powers.
According to experts, we humans believe the craziest things as a basic matter of course. Simply put, this is simply one of the things we fallible humans do.
For our money, Goldberg went on to make two additional moves in her column. One of her moves was thoroughly sharp. One of her moves perhaps wasn't.
In the move which made perfect sense, Goldberg linked certain current beliefs about sexuality and identity issues all the way back to the preschool panic attacks of the 1980s. You can sample her reasoning here:
GOLDBERG: The deeper question is why apparently functional adults find these outré suburban legends plausible. My theory is this: The current freakout over sex and gender identity in schools is a generational conflict, one driven in large part by older adults’ fear and bafflement at the sexual mores of the young.
The “satanic panic” of the 1980s, a frenzy of accusations of ritual child abuse that resulted in the conviction of dozens of innocent people, was driven in part by deep anxiety over working women and day care. Four decades later, the country is once again in a moral panic about monstrous things being done to children, with teachers and entertainers accused of “grooming” them for abuse. And once again, it’s driven in large part by unease over rapidly changing gender roles and norms.
It's true. We've had waves of crazy belief and behavior in this general realm dating back at least to the crazy (and tragic) preschool cases of the 1980s.
Goldberg was right to see that link. In our view, she was wrong to suggest, as we think she may have done, that these attacks of moral panic have constantly come from the right.
In the "satanic panic" attacks concerning imagined preschool sexual abuse, a great deal of the lunatic conduct came from individuals and groups from our own side of the aisle. It was social workers and child therapists, along with the standard ambitious prosecutors, who threw innocent people in jail and threw away the keys.
The beliefs and behaviors were deeply insane. They often came from Us and from our allies.
(One major player was Scott Harshbarger, who ended up as the Democratic nominee for governor of Massachusetts in 1998. See below.)
We liberals are strongly inclined to believe that all such crazy behavior and ideation comes from The Others—from crazies on the right. Plenty of that is going on now, but it may not always be so.
We expect to explore this general topic next week. For today, we'll leave it at this:
It's natural to picture it that way, but it ain't necessarily so.
She won the Pulitzer Prize: Eventually, Dorothy Rabinowitz won a Pulitzer Prize for her tireless writing about the (imagined) preschool sex abuse scandals of the 1980s.
The conduct was baldly insane, and it went on for years. For her account of the Bay State's insane and tragic Amirault case, click here and then keep clicking. (Amazingly, Violet Amirault ended up dying in prison.)
It's all anthropology now. We told you that years ago.
We humans believe the darnedest things. Especially at times of social dislocation and tribal conflict, this inclination is hard to control.