Staten Island Web logo

Correction: The correct statement should be more like "The alternative to mayhem is by providing a forum for the peaceful resolution of disputes; we call it the
legal process."

As long as I'm at it, I did discover why the false accusations in Salem were believed by the adults, in a way relevant to us, and my own work representing people who've been accused on the basis of false accusations believed by the authorities.

Salem has some significant parallels with some of the false accusation outbreaks we've experienced in this country over the past 15-20 years, such as the many children's accusations of sexual molestation that turned out false (no need to remind me that some are true; the trick is to tell which are true and which are false), "repressed" memory, and "satanic" abuse allegations. All have inspired witch-hunts in present times. See Edward Humes's "Mean Justice," Simon & Schuster, 1999, if you'd like to read why.

Among the parallels is the willingness of adults to believe horrible things spoken by children. Where do the children get these things, if they aren't demonstrably false? They get them from the adults, through the process of questioning and what we call the surrounding atmosphere in which our worst fears are frequently talked about at all levels and ages.

The result can be summed up in an aphorism I coined.
"Children don't fool adults. Adults fool themselves."
First the adults unwittingly suggest by subject, tone of voice, and body language, thus contaminating the child. Then they have the child repeat to others. When the child feeds back what they've been led to believe is true, the adults believe, because it is what they are most prepared to believe, their worst fears.

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself," spake Richard Feynman, "but remember, you are the easiest person to fool." "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman," (Cargo Cult Science).

Feynman was talking about scientific investigators hoping for a result, but it applies to everyone, medical and legal investigators particularly.

Salem was caused in part by medical misdiagnosis (a "iatrogenic" in origin, meaning a "doctor caused" malady). Interesting that there's a word to describe the mischief done by doctors, present company excluded, of course.

Why did Dr. Griggs see the fits as "bewitched?" Because the Salem kids acted as they understood bewitched people acted; everyone knew that, just like our kids know how to act like ghosts at Halloween. It's part of the culture that you absorb by osmosis, like Santa and the reindeer.

So watch out what you are prepared to believe or your nightmares may come true. Later of course, after the mischief is done, it turns out the whole problem existed only in our minds. At least, that's the way Salem turned out. Incidentally, most of the Salemites figured this out in late 1692, after the shock of witnessing all the hangings, five in one group, of women who'd led law abiding lives. They'd never seen such goings on, and they cooled off, questioning, then outlawing, the spectral evidence on which the convictions were based. This is where the girls said they saw the defendant's ghost (spectre) attacking the "victims." Only the girls could see this. No one else could see it. After all, not everybody can see ghosts, only special people, like teenage girls.

Some of the magistrates, along with at least one of the girls, Anne Putnam, publicly apologized for being deluded. By whom? Satan, of course.



Staten Island WebŪ Forums Index.