Here follows vaguely related content; it’s another haphazard book review of a tome I thought was going to be more useful than it turned out to be…Who here remembers Satanic Abuse Syndrome (which, rather drolly, can become the acronym ‘SAS’ (which a proper Conspiracy Theorist would have a field day with))? It was all the rage a decade back, with mass reportings in the States and Australia. The Christchurch Civic Creche scandal we had in New Zealand had overtones of SAS and it was from such cases that we’ve now inherited the wisdom not to trust regression or hypnotherapy as good evidence for an event’s occurrence. I’m not going to go into that subject; it’s been covered by better minds with much more experience in other places. No, as usual I’m interested in the Conspiracy Theory angle.I’m not sure about Australia (and I’ve just avoided making the usual, obvious joke that comes from that kind of statement) but in the US SAS was linked to a large Satanic Conspiracy that threatened, as usual, the American Way of Life and the Christian Principles of the Founding Fathers (an interesting, low-level Conspiracy Theory of its own). SAS and the conspiracy it was said to stem from fizzled out as more and more cases of alledged SAS were quashed in court, but for a time it seemed that the Salem Witch Trials weren’t just an historical oddity but a feature of the American mindset.America…There is a common thread to a lot of the literature on Conspiracy Theories. It seems to run thusly: the current fascination with Conspiracy Theories is an especially American fascination.
â€˜There is something about America that makes conspiracy theories inevitable. Something that makes them necessary. The word conspiracy derives from Latin roots which translate roughly as â€œbreathing together.â€ Sounds healthy, but the idea is heresy. In America, the word used to conspiracy theories is â€œparanoid.â€ Conspiracies are delusions. Believe in them and you are mentally ill.â€™–â€˜Conspiracies, Cover-ups and Crimes,â€™ Jonathan Vanakin
Whilst it is true that an awful lot of Conspiracy Theories come out of America and that a lot of these Conspiracy Theories have to do with the American Government or American Big Business seeking to curtail our rights and bring hegemony upon us, I think that this is mostly due to America being big. Really big. Impressively large.Which brings me back to witches.I am currently reading a book (‘Evil Incarnate: Rumours of Demonic Conspiracy and Ritual Abuse in History’ by David Frankfurter) on SAS (although it uses the far more mundane SRA as its acronym) which tries to place the mid-nineties belief in a Satanic Conspiracy into an historical context, using pieces of Anthropology, Comparative Religious Studies, History and so forth. It looked like it would be an informative book, but after two chapters I’m struggling to get through it. The broad strokes approach that the author has taken irritates me. Rather than taking concrete case studies we get the entirety of Egyptian demonological history summarised in a page and from that we infer characteristics of other, later demonological systems, all of which bleeds into an account of the rise of a priestly caste. It is, at times, exactly like reading some of my lecture notes from the undergrad years; you can see that whatever you had been told was indeedly very interesting but, somehow, the writing it down part has stripped it of its proper context.It’s a pity that all this ‘anthropological’ material prefaces the meat of the book, which begins about a third of the way through. Frankfurter is interested in the modern-day ‘experts in evil,’ contrasting the experts in the Satanic Conspiracy behind the abuse claims with the witchfinders and shamans of earlier times. His eight page summary of the growth of SAS from a few case studies in the early eighties to the fear of a Satanic Conspiracy infiltrating all levels of the American, then British, then Australian government. It’s fascinating reading, especially since the associated growth of paranoia that came with the escalation of the SAS paradigm is scary in its own right, showing just how far we haven’t come from those earlier, supposedly more irrational times of witches (The book seeks to link the witch hysteria of the Middle Ages with SAS, which seems like a sensible thing to do, seeing that both hysterias share a lot of common context.) and demons on our doorsteps.
‘The sociologist David Bromley has proposed that any conspiracy theory, but particularly those envisioning witches or Satanists–some flagrant evil–involves several key dimensions: a “history” in which the evil has an origin and has since operated covertly; a “space” or realm in which evil forces dwell separately from our own (or in the very interstices of our own); and a “counter-/culture/” of values, goals, and relationships that are invariably the inverse of our own in the treatment of children, corpses, blood and sexual relations. To render this picture of evil conspiracy into a warrant for action, however, there must also be an equally detailed picture of evil “agency”–the multifarious ways that the conspiracy attacks our world and its hitherto secure institutions. Evil agency, as it is imagined in ancient demonologies, witch-finding tracts, and modern pictures of Satanic cults, ranges from public catastrophes to the covert stealing of babies, seduction of youth, and brainwashing of adults.’–(‘Evil Incarnate: Rumours of Demonic Conspiracy and Ritual Abuse in History’ by David Frankfurter p. 69
Paranoia is often taken to be one of the chief associates of the Conspiracy Theorist. Paranoia is an interesting thing. I’m sure it’s related to our ability to correlate data and that the fault in paranoia is that we take the correlation as being indicative of some causal relationship. I’ve found my paranoia spiking uncontrollably recently; when you read as much as I am on Conspiracy Theories you often can’t help yourself from drawing links between separate phenomena. I keep reminding myself whenever this happens that correlation doesn’t show causation, but sometimes it takes a few seconds for that to sink in.Damn the irrational basis of being human.The paranoia that stemmed from the SAS endemic seems both logical and fanciful all at the same time. Cases of apparently Satanic abuse were immediately denied by both the perputrators and by state authorities. If you assume abuse was going on, then the immediate denials does look like conspiracy. Of course, that you assumed that it was abuse that was occurring is, in itself, informative.Various forms of regression therapy were common tools used by analysts. Through role-playing, hypnotherary and various drugs patients were regressed to earlier times in their lives and relived experiences, often ones that they had no memory of. It’s fairly common knowledge now that people in such states often form memories of events that did not happen (this explains why we are often so dimissive of abduction claims in reference to UFOs) but this is a fairly recent development. At the time when SAS was rampant there were a number of suspicious professionals but also a fairly large number of ardent supporters of the technique in the psychiatric community.That your chosen methodology yields bad results is always going to be unfortunate, especially if that methodology then implicates other results (in this case, the denial of your results as being indicative of a cover-up), but some of the fear that the results generated seem inexplicable. I’m not talking about the fear parents suddenly gained over the care of their children but rather the paranoia that the finger-pointers developed. Many of the people leading the charge against the Satanic abuse of children starting claiming that they might well be imprisoned if they were to reveal the depths to which the conspiracy had reached. Their paranoia seemed to get to such a state that even the thought of a far-reaching conspiracy was enough to make them feel persecuted. Admittedly, if, after you approach official after official, no one believes your story then you probably will feel persecuted. I suspect that some of the officials, exasperated by the persistence of some of these researchers, even threaten them with legal action (nuisance laws, et al) and these minor concerns probably then morphed into a giant, malevolent conspiracy seeking to crush all who sought to reveal it.Or so I hypothesise.Whatever the case, SAS was a scary ride. It reminds me of the Cold War; I still remember that at the end of Mass we always said a prayer for the fall of Communism, and in the eigties we listen with either disbelief or rage at the continuing satanic abuse of children worldwide. In retrospect it all seems a little weird, as if that world was unique and the circumstances that produced our madness have passed by. Then I think about the war in Iraq and I realise that we haven’t changed at all.Perhaps we never will.1. I’m fond of the witch hysteria of the Middle Ages; it gets trotted out to explain a lot about the modern era. My favourite theory, which also seems sensible, is that the current UFO fad is a re-imaged witch hysteria; alien abductions, et al, share the same characteristics as the actions of witches who stole people away from their beds, and so forth. Of course, I think that this shows that there is some common psychological consideration to both phenomena, but some infer that all this means is that UFOs are demons and that Evil hasn’t changed its tricks but rather its marketing. It is an exciting world we live in.2. I think I do believe that humans are irrational, fundamentally, if only because some of the heuristics we operate under (of which we can tell nice, rational stories for) lead to frequent irrational behaviour (such as running upstairs in a fire and pausing in front of oncoming cars). Still, I do think that with sufficient training humans can become rational agents, although I’m not sure I would like to meet one.