when i gave a shot at analyzing the witch-hunt against jason richwine, i said that nearly all of the elements of a classic witch-hunt were present afaict, but i didn’t have an example of “use of the loaded question technique.”

now i’ve got one, provided by jason himself in his excellent article in (above all places!) the national review – “About That Dissertation”:

“I don’t apologize for any of my writing, but I deeply regret that it was used to hurt my friends and colleagues at Heritage. Seeing them struggle on account of me was the most painful aspect of the whole ordeal. I remember a particularly difficult moment when a Heritage spokesman went on Univision to defend the Heritage report. He explained, accurately, that I was just the number cruncher for the study. Here’s the question he was given by the host:

“‘So you’re telling me that you used the numbers from a man who has written that Hispanics have a low IQ and will have a low IQ for generations. So what makes you think, unless you agree with that premise, what makes you think that his numbers are sufficiently good in order for, for them to be included in your study?’

“How can anyone respond to a question as absurd as that one?”

exactly. and, of course, no one is meant to respond to such an absurd question. that’s the whole point.

anybody who puts a question like that to someone is doing so for the exact same reason that other witch-hunters pose loaded questions, for example these papua new guinean witch-hunters:

“Janet, you drank the blood from your husband, when are you going to give it back, so that our uncle can have his life again?”

the aim is simply to illustrate the “guilt” of the witch or crimethinker involved and to shut down rational discussion entirely (if rational discussion was ever an option in the first place).

witch-hunts — whether looking for “actual” witches or religious heretics or even political witch-hunts (and, yes, that includes the mccarthy hearings, too) — while they may vary in the particulars, are all fundamentally the same thing: a method of delineating the boundaries between the in-group and the out-group — between what is acceptable behavior and what is not. they are freakish events, and terrorizing, because they generally occur at moments of crises, so you never know when they’re going to rain down on your head (that’s what the historians/anthropologists have concluded anyway – see previous post and/or Meaning and Moral Order: Explorations in Cultural Analysis, pgs. 114-121).

witch-hunts serve the same function as other normative rituals like weddings and funerals, superbowls and fraternity hazings: to demonstrate for everyone who’s IN and who’s OUT — and what you need to do to be IN. jason describes this perfectly in his article:

“The furor will soon pass. Mercifully, the media are starting to forget about me. But a certain amount of long-term damage to political discourse has been done. Every researcher who writes on public policy over the next few years will have a fresh and vivid memory of how easy it is to get in trouble with the media’s thought police, and how easy it is to become an instant pariah. Researchers will feel even more compelled to suppress unpopular evidence and arguments that should be part of an open discussion.


the witch-hunt is just an emergency version of society’s bonding rituals. (note that they can obviously also be used and manipulated for political ends.) my question still is: what is this emergency that the politically correct crowd is feeling these days?

read jason’s entire piece here: “About That Dissertation.”

previously: “to disbelieve in witchcraft is the greatest of heresies”

(note: comments do not require an email. d*mn witches!)