there and back again: shame and guilt in ancient greece

william hamilton wondered if renaissances/enlightenments happened in places roughly 800 years after some hardy altruism genes were introduced by barbarians into panmictic (really outbred) populations. i wonder instead if what happens is that renaissances/enlightenments occur after ca. 500 years or so of outbreeding which results in nepotistic altruism (or clannishness) being reduced or even mostly eliminated which, in turn, leads to greater cooperation and reciprocal altruism within the populations — conditions i think you might need to have a renaissance at all (see also here).

where intensive outbreeding (and manorialism) happened in medieval europe — and there is a lot of good, strong evidence for it — certainly seems to match well with where the european renaissance occurred. after some fits and starts in the 500s to 700s, the practice of avoiding close cousin marriages really took hold in exactly the areas where the renaissance/reformation/scientific revolution/enlightenment later happened — i.e. core europe — in short: england, france, the netherlands, germany, and northern italy. scandinavia a bit, too. oh…and the lowlands of scotland.

the evidence for outbreeding in ancient greece is much more tenuous. it appears fairly certain that the upper classes outbred during the archaic period in greece (800-480 b.c.). whether they outbred during the entire time period or began the practice sometime before or after 800 b.c., i don’t know. it may also be, judging by something hesiod said, that the lower classes followed suit, but it’s impossible to know for certain going by just one comment from one ancient writer.

some circumstantial evidence that might offer further support to the outbreeding-in-archaic-greece theory is that, in the 400s to 200s b.c., there was a shift in kinship terminology in ancient greece. the distinctions in the greek language between the paternal and maternal sides of the family began to disappear — for example, uncles on both sides came to be called just “uncle,” rather than there being specific words for paternal vs. maternal uncle, and so on and so forth. the same sort of linguistic shift happened in medieval europe. in germany, for instance, that shift happened between the 1100s and 1400s. at the end of the day, all cousins came to be called simply “cousin” rather than “father’s brother’s cousin” or “mother’s brother’s cousin.” the lesson seems to be: change the kinship structures and the long-term mating patterns in a society, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the kinship terminology will also change. no need to specify different sorts of cousins if all of them are off-limits as marriage partners.

michael mitterauer points out that there was a time lag in the linguistic shifts in medieval europe — the terminology changed ca. 300 to 600 years after the mating patterns began to change. perhaps something similar happened in archaic greece — the linguistic shift happened in ca. the 400s to 200s b.c. so perhaps we can infer that the mating patterns had changed to a more outbred form a few hundred years earlier. maybe right around the end of the greek dark ages and the beginning of the archaic period. dunno. complete speculation.

now i’ve come across another piece of circumstantial evidence that outbreeding may have been happening in archaic greece and that is that there was a(n incomplete) shift in the society during the time period from being a shame culture to being a guilt culture. i’m getting this from The Greeks and the Irrational, a book originally published in 1951 and written by classical scholar e.r. dodds (who was kicked out of oxford for supporting the easter rising — troublemaker! (~_^) ). presumably there have been works criticizing dodd’s thesis written since the 1950s, but i’m afraid i haven’t read any of them yet. i’m just going to run with dodd’s idea for now, but, please, consider this a sort-of thought experiment. more speculation.

first of all, in shame cultures, bad behavior is checked by the fear of being caught — of being shamed and embarassed. in guilt cultures, bad behavior is checked by one’s inner voice — feelings of guilt occurring before any action is taken. these are behavioral traits that must have been variously selected for in different human populations. secondly, shame cultures are all tied up with honor — especially family honor. japan — with its meiwaku and seppuku — is the classic example of a shame culture, but china with its confucian filial piety is not far behind. the arabized populations are definitely shame cultures with their honor killings and all their talk of respect. even european mediterranean societies are arguably more honor-shame cultures than guilt cultures [pdf].

if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll recognize all of those shame cultures as having had long histories of inbreeding: maternal cousin marriage was traditionally very common in east asia (here’re japan and china); paternal cousin marriage is still going strong in the arabized world; and cousin marriage was prevelant in the mediterranean up until very recently (here’s italy, for example). it’s really, once again, the outbred northwest “core” europeans who are unique here with their guilt culture (although perhaps there are other guilt cultures out there as well). my guess is that long-term inbreeding tends to result in shame-honor cultures, while long-term outbreeding leads to guilt cultures. i’ve said so before.

back to dodd, his thesis is that ancient greece went through something of a transition from a shame to a guilt culture, but that shift was incomplete. the trend may even have reversed in classical athens. dodd points to several thematic shifts in greek literature from the iliad to the writings of plato including: a move away from blaming human failings on atē or the direct, external influences of the gods to more personal “demons,” often seen only by the individual person; the gradual adoption of the idea that individual humans have “souls” or independent “personalities”; a move away from the idea that people’s failings are due to a lack of knowledge (again coming from outside the person) as opposed to, perhaps, their own culpability; that zeus over time becomes more and more a dispenser of justice rather than just a being who capriciously interferes in human affairs (justice being important in guilt cultures as opposed to revenge in shame-honor cultures); and that philosophers and thinkers increasingly complained that the inheritance of guilt down through a family line was unjust. here from dodd on that last point [kindle locations 669-671]:

“Solon speaks of the hereditary victims of nemesis as άυαίτιοι, ‘not responsible’; Theognis complains of the unfairness of a system by which ‘the criminal gets away with it, while someone else takes the punishment later’; Aeschylus, if I understand him rightly, would mitigate the unfairness by recognising that an inherited curse may be broken.”

the idea that only the transgressor should be punished (as in guilt cultures) as opposed to additional or all of his family members (as in shame-honor cultures) doesn’t actually occur to these writers, so they haven’t quite arrived fully into a guilt culture, but they do seem to have been on the way there. much more so than earlier writers anyway. again, dodd emphasizes that [kindle locations 587-588]:

“[M]any modes of behaviour characteristic of shame-cultures persisted throughout the archaic and classical periods. There is a transition, but it is gradual and incomplete.”

the transition may have been incomplete — in fact, may have even gone into reverse — because inbreeding (cousin marriage) became increasingly common in classical athens (see here). from “Agnatio, Cognation, Consanguinitas: Kinship and Blood in Ancient Rome” in Blood and Kinship: Matter for Metaphor from Ancient Rome to the Present [pgs. 24-26], we saw in a previous post that while “aristocrats in early [archaic] Greece…married beyond the limits of their *patris*”, in classical athens “members of the *anchisteia*, the legally defined kinship group including first cousins once removed, were the preferred marriage partners.” the ancient greeks might’ve gone from being a (presumably) inbred/shame culture in the dark ages, to an outbred/quasi-guilt culture in the archaic period, and back to an inbred/shame culture over the course of the classical period. maybe. Further Research is RequiredTM.

(yes, i know. it’s all very tenuous. i told you it was speculative!)

in any case, evolution is not progressive. (heh! i’ve just been dying to say that. (~_^) ) there’s nothing to say that evolution cannot go in reverse, although perhaps it wouldn’t go back down the exact same pathway it came up. there’s no reason why we — or, rather, our descendants — couldn’t wind up, as greg cochran says, back in the trees*.

i think the way to think of the evolution of behavioral traits like nepotistic and reciprocal altruism in humans — especially perhaps in recent human evolution — is like a big simmering cauldron of stew where bubbles of certain behaviors rise up in some places only to sometimes pop and deflate and almost disppear again. outbreeding appears to have occurred many places, although whether or not over the long-term is not always clear: archaic greece (maybe), ancient rome, the bamileke of cameroon, the igbo of west africa, the turkana of east africa, the semai of malaysia, the bushmen of southern africa (aka The Harmless People), and europeans since the early medieval period — especially northwest europeans. the ancient greek experiment seems to have run out of momentum and collapsed on its own; the roman example probably popped thanks to the barbarian invasions; and the northwest european one is…currently ongoing. for now.

previously: renaissances and the transition from shame to guilt in anglo-saxon england (and “core” europe) and archaic greek mating patterns and kinship terms and ελλάδα

*“Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.”

(note: comments do not require an email. archaic greek dude.)


something’s rotten in the state of denmark

i really don’t know how the danes can claim they’re the happiest people in the world year after year, when the place must STINK to high heaven thanks to how very rotten the place has apparently become.

in an unbelievably nightmarish case of déjà vu, professor helmuth nyborg has been watsoned for crimethink. again. in happy, happy denmark.

professor nyborg has come under fire for a paper which he published in 2012, The decay of Western civilization: Double relaxed Darwinian Selection. (no, i haven’t read it.) dr. james thompson has the details here on his blog: Helmuth Nyborg gets Watson’d (see also My letter to Scientific Dishonesty Minister).

in short what has happened this time is that three girlie men — and they must be girlie men, because real men — real scientists — would’ve just submitted a rebuttal paper to Personality and Individual Difference, the journal in question here — but, noooo — these three girlie men, these three harpies, complained to a committee about professor nyborg’s paper.

see? girlie men.

professors jens mammen, jens kvorning, and morten kjeldgaard took it upon themselves to complain to the danish ministry of love’s science, innovation and higher education’s danish committees on scientific dishonesty (dcsd) about what they viewed as problems with nyborg’s paper. these included accusations of plagiarism. there were, if i understand it correctly, six original charges. the dcsd has found professor nyborg guilty of two of them. you can read the decision and the entire case here [pdf] — if you read danish. a reader at dr. thompson’s blog has given a brief synopsis of the decision.

most amazingly: “Denne afgørelse kan ikke påklages til anden administrativ myndighed, jf. § 34 i lovbekendtgørelse nr. 1064 af 6. september 2010 om forskningsrådgivning m.v.”

google translation: This decision can not be appealed to any other administrative authority under § 34 of Act No. 1064 of 6 September 2010 on research consultancy, etc.”

wtf, denmark?!

these danish committees on scientific dishonesty have a colorful history. from wikipedia:

“Previously obscure, the DCSD became embroiled in controversy after its January 2003 decision that the 2001 book The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg was ‘clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice’, due to the author’s systematically biased choice of data, and objectively was scientifically irredeemable, but Lomborg himself could not be subjectively convicted of intentional or gross negligence. Lomborg had argued in his book that claims by environmentalists about global warming, overpopulation, deforestation, and other matters are not scientifically substantiated. The DCSD further held that because of Lomborg’s lack of scientific expertise, he had not shown intentional or gross negligence, and acquitted him of the accusations of scientific dishonesty.

“In February 2003, Lomborg filed a complaint with the Ministry, and in December 2003, the Ministry found that the DCSD’s handling of the investigation in the case had been improper, and remitted it for re-examination. In March 2004, the DCSD stated that since its finding had been to acquit Lomborg of the charges of scientific dishonesty (although they had criticized his biased selection of data), there was no basis to re-open the investigation, and dismissed the case.

“The original DCSD decision about Lomborg provoked a petition among Danish academics. 308 scientists, many of them from the social sciences, criticised the DCSD’s methods in the case and called for the DCSD to be disbanded.” (see also nature.)

ah ha! i see. so the dcsd is the place to go in denmark if you want to whine about some politically incorrect research/opinions and hope to scupper the career of whomever the crimethinker happens to be. gotcha.

from that wikipedia article, we learn that professor mammen, one of the whiners to the dcsd this time, was formerly a member of this board of inquisitors the dcsd, but he resigned in a huff the last time professor nyborg was brought before the committee to recant…er…i mean, defend himself:

“The DCSD was involved in another controversy investigating a paper on sex and intelligence authored by Helmuth Nyborg. After the DCSD cleared Nyborg of the charges of scientific misconduct, two Aarhus University professors, Lise Togeby and Jens Mammen resigned from their positions in the DCSD, citing that the DCSD operated from too narrow of a framework.”

maybe they were disappointed that they couldn’t test whether or not professor nyborg would float.

we’ve recently been discussing on the blog here authoritarian personality types and behaviors — including left-wing authoritarianism which van hiel, et al., found in the populace in flemish belgium, but only in extreme left-wing parties like the communist and stalinist(!) parties of that country. i think that, perhaps, we may be seeing an example of left-wing authoritarianism in action in this case.

van hiel, et al., only looked at willingness to use violence and willingness to submit to a strong leader as characteristics of left-wing authoritarianism, and i’m certainly not accusing any of these men of being willing to use physical violence against anybody (there’s no evidence at all for that) — however they do seem willing to go to some extreme measures to shut nyborg up. rather than simply provide evidence that his conclusions are wrong, which is what a scientist ought to do, they attack him in the danish media (apparently) and drag him repeatedly before ridiculous committees. in other words, they have been trying to destroy his reputation and his career, rather than to engage with his arguments.

all of this sounds extreme to me — left-wing authoritarian, in fact. and — surprise, surprise! — one of these three fellows, professor mammen, was actually a member of a communist party in denmark for fourteen years (1974-1988) [in danish]. not that there’s anything wrong with that! he’s perfectly entitled to belong to any party he wants. but a communist party, according to van hiel, et al., is exactly where we should expect to find left-wing authoritarians in western europe.

professor kjeldgaard has also acted in some extreme ways wrt professor nyborg. he, in fact, keeps an entire blog/website devoted to tracking nyborg. yeah. weird. google translation:

“The most advanced eugenics (eugenics) advocacy in Denmark is Emeritus Professor Helmuth Nyborg, a former employee at the Department of Psychology, University of Aarhus.

“ dedicated to documenting the international network of eugenicists, their scientific tinkering, and the so-called ‘Nyborg case’ a case of scientific misconduct raised by Aarhus University against Helmuth Nyborg in 2002.”

again, he’s perfectly entitled to be weird like this imho, but it does come off as rather…stalker-ish. (why not just write rebuttal articles??)

i am tired of these watsonings, richwinings, derbyshearings, and nyborgizations. GROW UP PEOPLE!! act like academics engaged in the search for facts and the truth for a change!

someone over at dr. thompson’s blog quoted steven pinker on the last time professor nyborg was watsoned. i think i’ll quote him, too:

“I am writing to protest the shocking and disgraceful treatment of Dr. Helmuth Nyborg following publication of his report on possible gender differences in average IQ scores. Dr. Nyborg may be mistaken, but the issue he is addressing is a factual one, and can only be evaluated by an open examination of the evidence. To ‘investigate’ him, shut down his research, or otherwise harass him because his findings are politically incorrect is unworthy of an institution dedicated to the understanding of reality. It is reminiscent of the persecution of Galileo, the crippling of Soviet science and agriculture under Lysenko, and the attempt of the American religious right wing to inhibit the teaching of evolution in the schools.

“No one has the right to legislate the truth. It can only be discovered by free inquiry, and that includes investigations that may make people uncomfortable. This is the foundation of liberal society, and it is threatened by attempts to interfere with Dr. Nyborg and his research. If he is incorrect, that will be established by a community of scholars who examine his evidence and arguments and criticize them in open forums of debate, not by the exercise of force to prevent him from pursuing his research. These are the tactics of a police state, and bring shame on any institution that uses them.”

hear, hear!

update: see also – Danish Government Tries to Censor Science it Doesn’t Like by helmuth nyborg @american renaissance (thanks, elijah!).

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

(note: comments do not require an email. girlie men.)


just a quick follow-up on my witch hunt post … a very kind reader very kindly sent me a copy of this article — Witchcraft Beliefs and Witch Hunts: An Interdisciplinary Explanation — by niek koning (thanks very kind reader! (^_^) ).

to be honest, i didn’t quite follow koning’s explanation for where belief in witches comes from as it was a little … involved. something about how our innate fear system was fine-tuned during our hunter-gatherer evolutionary history to pick up on cheats and sneaks, but that this combination of behavioral traits got a bit out of whack once we settled down in larger, agricultural-based societies. then people started suspecting strange neighbors of putting the ‘evil eye’ on them whenever crops failed or they became ill.

not sure i bought koning’s entire explanation, but he did include some interesting data on what sorts of societies tend to believe in witches and witchcraft. basically, hunter-gatherers not so much — simple agriculturalists and agriculturalists quite a bit — and pastoralists off the charts. belief in actual witches pretty much disappears with modernity (although, as i argued in my post about the jason richwine affair, the basic elements of the witch hunt, including all the irrational behaviors, are very much still around!).

here’s a neat table from koning (click on table to EMBIGGEN it):

koning withcraft beliefs

here are the percentages of those with the strongest (4) beliefs in witchcraft for each type of society:

nomadic foraging = 28.6%
(semi-)sedentary foraging = 30.0%
shifting cultivation without metal hoes = 35.0%
other hand-tool farming systems = 44.7%
plow agriculture = 69.2%
pastoralism = 72.0%

apart from degree of complexity, i can’t see any other obvious pattern there (like iq). pastoralism doesn’t really fit the complexity pattern, though — you’d think that the plow agriculturalists would have the most complex societies (maybe i’ll have to see if i can find out exactly which societies koning was looking at). -?-

one interesting characteristic that i can think of wrt the pastoralists is that they are usually some of the most inbred, so perhaps “genes for belief in witchcraft” can pile up in those populations rather quickly? dunno.

koning also points out that in times of crisis (echoes of the anthropologists i referenced in the previous post) — in particular economic crisis — a population which doesn’t believe in witchcraft can revert to holding such a belief [pg. 10 in the pdf]:

“The conclusion that resource stress may revive witch paranoia in more-evolved agrarian societies is also confirmed by the witchhunt in Europe. In contrast to older studies that cited the role of elites or the emergence of rural capitalism (e.g., Levack 1987; Macfarlane 1970; Muchembled 1987; Trevor-Roper 1969), researchers such as Briggs (1996), Behringer (1995, 1999, 2004) and Pfister (2007) have convincingly argued that this historical event was stirred by popular fears induced by demographic pressure and socioenvironmental crisis. Quantitative analysis in Oster (2004) confirms that witch hunting was related to demographic stagnation and de-urbanization.5 Although some witch trials and a series of demonological studies occurred during the fifteenth century, the witch craze was largely between 1570 and 1630.6 In this period, the exhaustion of a cluster of medieval farm innovations (Mazoyer and Roudart 2006) and the onset of the Little Ice Age caused a steep increase in real grain prices, on top of the inflation caused by the influx of American gold and silver. The first witch hunts occurred in Alpine valleys, where population pressure became critical earlier than in other places and farming was sensitive to climatic cooling (Behringer 1999, 2004; Ostorero 2008; Pfister 2007). In more peripheral areas, where overpopulation occurred later, the outburst was delayed by several decades (Ankarloo and Henningsen 1990; Goodare et al. 2003; Karlsen 1987; Ostling 2011; Thurston 2007; Woodward 2003). The northern Netherlands, which avoided the crisis through specialization and commercial expansion, witnessed few witch trials (Gijswijt-Hofstra and Frijhoff 1991)….

“5 That economic slowdown and an increase in witch hunting were mainly caused by the Little Ice Age, as these authors assert, is less clear. Climate studies differ about the precise timing of the Little Ice Age, and in Oster’s analysis the statistical correlation of population and de-urbanization with witch hunting is much stronger than that with climate change.

“6 The decades of economic growth in the early sixteenth century saw a leveling off in the number of witch trials and an actual decline in some areas (Behringer 2004; Levack 1987).”


previously: “to disbelieve in witchcraft is the greatest of heresies” and a loaded question

(note: comments do not require an email. bewitched, bothered, and bewildered.)

a loaded question

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!)

“to disbelieve in witchcraft is the greatest of heresies”

that’s the epigraph on the title page of “The Malleus Maleficarum” — “The Hammer of the Witches” — THE handbook on witchcraft from the late middle ages (you can read it here). while it does discuss some interesting things, like whether or not a belief in witches should be part of the roman catholic church’s orthodoxy (the epigraph pretty much answers that question) and how witches got their powers (from satan!), most importantly it explains the procedures for uncovering witches (via a witch-hunt). it, and other books like it, came in real handy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries during the heydays of the witchcraft trials in europe and north america.

they’re still killing “witches” in papua new guinea today. in 2009, over fifty people in just two png provinces (there are twenty-two provinces altogether) were tortured and killed because the crowd concluded they were witches. they’re still at it this year. in fact, there are some concerns that, if anything, the witch-hunting has sped up. from the sydney morning herald last month:


“Kapi is the local gravedigger…. He is paid about 150 kina ($67) a grave; if a family wants him to build a proper, cement gravestone, that is extra. Then there is the time-consuming and more important task of guarding the graves from *sangumas*, or witches, the belief in which is almost universal in PNG.

“‘The *sangumas* come at night to eat the corpses,’ Kapi tells me matter-of-factly. ‘It’s like meat to them. It’s how they get their magical powers. And not just one, but five or 10 can come and cut up the body; “You get this hand … you get this leg ….”‘

“During the day, ‘they look just like us,’ Kapi explains. He says at night, however, they sneak into the cemetery disguised as cats or dogs, snakes, rats, bats or frogs….

“Kapi shows me his gun, pieced together using hessian strips, metal pipes and a steel spring. It can shoot only one bullet at a time, meaning that if you miss, the sanguma invariably get away. ‘But it doesn’t matter,’ Kapi tells me. ‘Sometimes we shoot the sanguma in the eye or the leg or neck, then if the next day we see a man missing an eye or with cut from a bush knife, then we know he is the sanguma.’

“‘But how do you know for sure?’ I ask.

“‘We know,’ Kapi replies.

“‘So what do you do?’

“‘We kill him.’

“‘Have you done this yourself?’

“‘Yes, plenty,’ Kapi says, nodding. ‘We tie him up and burn him up, in public. We burn him alive….’

“In 2011 she [janet kemo] was the second wife of a man called Kemo Fogodi, who became ill with what turned out to be tuberculosis. When Fogodi began coughing up blood – a sure sign of sorcery – Kemo was accused by her husband’s family of using witchcraft to kill him. Early one morning, while her husband lay helplessly ill nearby, she was hauled out of bed by a group of 15 men, one of whom tied a chain around her neck. She was then dragged 800 metres up a muddy track, through a forest, and tied to a mango tree, where she was tortured for 12 hours.

“‘The men used a hammer to smash my teeth and break the bones in my hands,’ Kemo says. ‘They chopped my face and head and burned me with iron bars that they had heated in a fire.’

“They also cut the tendons in her wrists and carved a cross in her chest with their bush knives. Kemo was blindfolded but recognised the voice of her husband’s nephew, Junior Taweta. ‘Junior asked me, “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?” By this stage I was only barely conscious, but I said, “Junior, I’m not a witch! I’m a child of God!”‘

janet kemo was lucky (i guess) and survived. read the rest of the article to hear what’s happened to some others … only if you have a strong stomach though. here’s some more:

“Not surprisingly, Highlands funerals, or *haus krais*, are highly charged affairs. It’s not unusual to find women prostrate on the road, clawing at the dirt in agonised displays of grief. If the deceased died suddenly, talk invariably turns to sorcery, with a *glasman* or *mambu* man brought in, usually from outside the area, to identify the guilty party. *Glasmen*, who can be paid handsomely for their services, are, in essence, black-magic consultants; they use bowls or glasses of water into which they gaze until the faces of the witches magically appear. (*Mambu* men perform the same service, only with a piece of bamboo, or *mambu*.) They are powerful figures, all care and no responsibility.

“‘The glasman looked into the water and made clear to us who did the witchcraft,’ a man who claims to have taken part in an attack on a witch near the town of Goroka tells me. ‘But then he said, “It’s up to you what you do next….”‘

“Few societies have collided with modernity quite so hard and fast as the Highlands of PNG, where the first white explorers, many of them Australian, only began appearing in the early 1930s. The transition that followed, ‘from stone to steel in one generation’, would have been traumatic for any people, but for a nation as fractious as PNG, which has more than 800 separate languages, the result has been a cultural car wreck. Town life, television, the predations of ‘civilisation’ and consumer culture, all have proved wildly destabilising, a situation that has, in combination with a lack of education and opportunity, actually heightened the allure of magic….

“*Sanguma* lore has similarly flourished, spinning off into ever wilder and more arcane territory. *Sangumas* are said to have their own ‘parliament of witches’ at Mount Elimbari, a sheer, pyramid-shaped limestone peak between Goroka and Kundiawa. They are thought to operate in regional hierarchies, with *kumo* kings and queens who plan mob-like ‘hits’ and approve, when necessary, the restoration of stolen body parts. They are also tech-savvy, increasingly using special ‘*kumo* guns’, ‘*kumo* helicopters’ and ‘*kumo* jets’, plus powerful hand-held lights that allow them to see at night.”

douglas walton has spent a lot of time researching and thinking about argumentation and logical fallacies. he’s analyzed witch-hunts and come up with a set of properties that characterize the witch-hunt (see “The Witch Hunt as a Structure of Argumentation” [pdf]):

1) pressure of social forces
2) stigmatization
3) climate of fear
4) resemblance to a fair trial
5) use of simulated evidence
6) simulated expert testimony
7) nonfalsifiability characteristic of evidence
8) reversal of polarity
9) non-openness
10) use of the loaded question technique

wrt the first one — “pressure of social forces” — i’ll get to that below. some historians/other researchers have really looked into the social forces behind witch-hunts, with some very interesting results. “stigmatization” and “climate of fear” are kind-of self-explicatory, although i’ll get back to climate of fear again below as well.

“resemblance to a fair trial”: in the png examples above, nothing resembles a fair trial — unless being tied to a tree and tortured is what passes for a fair trial in png (trial by ordeal?). nevertheless, these are pretty clearly witch-hunts, so i think we can conclude that there doesn’t have to be a “mock trial” in a witch-hunt — although it certainly would be a plus, i would imagine. “use of simulated evidence” and “simulated expert testimony”: for example, all the stuff about the glasmen and mambu men looking into bowls of water to see the guilty party. ’nuff said. “nonfalsifiability characteristic of evidence”: the witches in png enter cemeteries disguised as dogs or cats or frogs. okaaaay.

“reversal of polarity”: this, which is very important, refers to the fact that the burden of proof is reversed in the witch-hunt or trial. the accusers or the prosectors don’t really have to bring much, if any, evidence against you — we know you’re a witch — otherwise why would you have been brought to trial for being a witch? see? it’s up to you to prove you’re NOT a witch. and good luck with that, because the rules are usually rigged against suspect witches (“she drowned, so she wasn’t a witch! yay?”). “non-openness” is related to this — the judge and the jury (the mob) have already decided in their minds that you are a witch. they are not “open” to hearing otherwise.

finally, “use of the loaded question”: we saw this in the article above when the nephew of the man who died of tb asked the widow, “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?” right.

historians who have studied witch-hunts, both religious and political ones, have found that they generally take place during times of turmoil or uncertainty. they are rituals of a sort in which social (and sometimes physical) boundaries are defined — witch-hunts are, at these critical moments, extravagant ways of working out who’s in the in-group and who is not. and woe to anyone who is not. the turmoil and uncertainty are the “pressures of social forces.”

from Meaning and Moral Order: Explorations in Cultural Analysis [pgs. 114-121 – links added by me]:

“Witch-hunts, therefore, are a type of ritual. They occur sporadically, unlike holiday celebrations. But they generally consist of public acts involving patterned events in which messages are communicated about values and norms that have allegedly been violated….

“The witch trials in colonial Massachusetts were examined from this perspective by Kai Erikson in his book ‘Wayward Puritans’ (1966). Erikson showed that these trials had occurred not simply at random but in three distinct spurts. The first of these ‘crime waves’ took place during the second half of the 1630s, the second occurred in the late 1650s, and the third broke out in 1692. The interesting feature of these outbursts was that they coincided perfectly with crises in the authority structure and values of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The first followed closely on the heels of the so-called antinomian controversy involving Anne Hutchinson. The controversy poked at the heart of colonial authority because it challenged the worthiness of the Puritan clergy to legislate in spiritual matters. Hutchinson and her followers argued that the doctrine upholding the ‘priesthood of the believer’ should be more strictly interpreted, giving residents greater freedom to decide on their own qualifications for religious and political participation or leadership. The second bout of witch-hunting came into being in 1656 and continued for nearly a decade. According to Erikson, it was instigated chiefly in response to the arrival in the Puritan colony of Quakers, who, though few in number, symbolized a departure from the Puritans’ staunchly ascetic values. The Quakers’ emphasis on inner spirituality challenged the theocratic discipline of the colony much in the same manner as Hutchinson’s alleged antinomianism. Neither of these episodes involved accusations of witchcraft per se, only charges of heresy. The third outbreak did. It was the famed witch-hunt in the town of Salem. The crisis this time was more severe because it involved a genuine threat of serious potential consequences for the political leadership of the colony. This threat was from England, and it involved both the possibility of losing title to the entire colony at the hand of the king and a series of disputes with the Puritan hierarchy in England over theological points and questions of church discipline.

“Erikson concluded from these three episodes that witch trials were collective rituals that emerged in response to ‘boundary crises’ in the moral order of the Massachusetts colony….”

“Erikson’s use of the term ‘boundary’ is largely figurative. It subsumes a variety of collective values, definitions, and relations. Disputes over boundaries arise in a number of ways, including internal disagreements, ambiguities over the correct or effective application of cherished values, redefinition of boundaries by the physical inclusion of new members, and external threats. Hugh Trevor-Roper’s (1967) [see also] discussion of witch-hunting in Europe during the same period provides instances where boundary disputes can be taken literally….

“The spatial distribution of European witch-hunts…. It was primarily in border areas where Protestants and Catholics were caught up in controversies over geographical boundaries and political jurisdictions that witch-hunts broke out. Nor was it simply the presence of adherents to an alien faith that became the target of these rituals. Catholics did not round up Protestants and accuse them of heresy, nor Protestants, Catholics. Each groups found subversives within its own camp, not traitors who were explicily allied with the enemy, but weak souls endangering the solidarity of the total community by practicing sorcery.

Under threat of external attacks on the community’s physical boundaries, greater certainty was needed about the statuses, loyalties, and values of members within the community. The presence of religious competition at the borders may have created uncertainties about the location of these borders themselves, but the more immediate source of ritual activiety was the need for greater clarity about the social relations within the community. In order to mobilize its resources to the maximum, the community needed to know where its members stood and, more important, needed to shore up those loyalties to the community as a corporate entity that may have grown blurred with the passage of time and the pressures of individual or localistic demands. Witch trials became meaningful rituals under these circumstances. They dramatized the nature of collective loyalties and defined precisely the range of acceptable and unacceptable religious activity.

witch-hunts are “most likely to occur in situations of social *uncertainty*…. [T]he greater the uncertainty that exists about social positions, commitments to shared values, or behavioral options likely to influence other actors, the greater the likelihood that behavior will take on a ritual dimension of signficance….” a type of “uncertainty” most closely tied to witch-hunts “invovles external shocks to a cultural system. One way of interpreting the effect of these shocks is to say that they introduce new sets of contingencies into the system. Understandings communicated by external groups — the king, religious out-groups, Populists — now have to be related to existing understandings, whereas the two systems were formerly capable of functioning in isolation.”

what happened to jason richwine this week — and everyone else who’s been watsoned for politically incorrect crimethink, like john derbyshire — was a witch-hunt. no question about it. and it wasn’t even metaphorically a witch-hunt, or even just kinda like a witch-hunt — the event bears all the traits of an actual, honest-to-goodness witch-hunt like they do it in papua new guinea or used to do it in medieval europe, just with less violence, that’s all.

the politically correct chattering classes, both on the left AND on the right, who went after richwine behaved EXACTLY, in every regard, like png witch-hunters (except, like i said, for the violence). the richwine affair was an irrational ritual so that all those involved — and everybody watching — would be absolutely clear from now on what the acceptable boundaries are when it comes to discussing immigrants or non-whites or … whomever.

what did we have? “stigmatization”? check. (plenty more examples out there like that one.) “use of simulated evidence”? did anyone actually read jason’s thesis? no. check. “simulated expert testimony”? i don’t have any links on hand now, but i saw appeals to stephen jay gould in rebuttals to jason’s research. definitely simulated expert testimony! “nonfalsifiability characteristic of evidence” and “use of the loaded question technique”? probably, but i don’t have examples (anyone?). we’ll leave those as unknown for now. [edit: i now have an example of “use of the loaded question technique.”] “resemblance to a fair trial”? well, like in the png examples above, there was no mock trial, but there was certainly a trial of sorts in the press/on the internet. “reversal of polarity” and “non-openness”? oh, yeah! richwine was obviously guilty of being a warlock crimethinker from the moment someone discovered his thesis. and pretty much NO ONE was open to hearing otherwise — no one who isn’t already a crimethinker themselves, that is.

“climate of fear.” climate of fear is an interesting one because it’s something that sorta feeds back into the whole system exacerbating it all, since what’s going on is that, not only are the richwines and derbyshires of the world afraid (or supposed to be afraid, anyway), EVERYone is afraid — afraid of becoming the next one accused of being a witch/crimethinker. as we saw above from Meaning and Moral Order, witch-hunts occur sporadically, so you can never know when or where the next one will be — or who the next victim will be. witch-hunts are terrorizing — and they’re meant to be. from walton [pg. 396 – pdf]:

“A climate of fear is a third important characteristic of the initial conditions of the witch hunt. First, the witch hunt is based on, and propelled by fear of the stigmatized individuals that are the objects of the hunt. Witches are portrayed, for example, as both repellent and dangerous. But second, the whole procedure of the witch hunt is suffused with fear. Everyone who could be accused is terrified, because they know that targeting is relatively random, and even an innocent person can be accused. But also, they know that once they are accused, and caught up in the tribunal process, the consequences are horrific (for anyone whose reputation matters to them) and the outcome is inevitably certain to be bad. Thus a climate of (well-founded) fear is characteristic of the whole process of the witch hunt.

this is why everyone piles on the accused so quickly and with full force — because they REALLY want to establish in a very public way that they, themselves, are NOT witches/crimethinkers, ’cause none of them want to experience being on the wrong end of a witch-hunt.

edit: i should’ve mentioned that none of these behavioral patterns are particularly conscious ones for the witch-hunters involved. they’re just acting on some sort of instinct — a herding instinct or something. some people out there might, of course, understand how to get a good witch-hunt rolling and use such events for their own purposes. not saying that that’s what happened this week — just sayin’.

i’m having a hard time figuring out what the “pressure of social forces” factor is for all the politically correct people who take part in these watsonings/witch-hunts. i mean, witch-hunts supposedly take place in eras of turmoil and uncertainty — and, while I certainly feel we’re living in an era of uncertainty with all this mass immigration and rapid changes, what are the pc people concerned about? they LIKE all this change and multiculturalism, don’t they?

and they can’t possibly feel threatened from the alt-right, can they? the left might feel threatened by the right on many issues and vice versa, but since almost all of them are politically correct these days, they can’t feel threatened by each other on that count. or do they? i really don’t know — help me figure this out!

the only thing i could think of is that maybe they actually are afraid of the brave new world they’re creating (a la putnam [pdf]), but because they want to run with the herd, they don’t want to voice any concerns — and so their concerns/fears are coming out in nervous witch-hunts? i dunno. but check this out — from Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance [pg. 195]:

“The example of the Renaissance witch craze provides a lesson for contemporary society: Multiculturalism does not eradicate the moral panic. Indeed, the more diverse the society, the larger number of moral panics, as competing symbolic-moral universes produce their own folk devils, each with exaggerated fears and anxieties. In turn, these folk devils resist such definitions, drawing, as they will, on the support from members of competing symbolic-moral universes. The modern scene of moral panics thus witnesses a larger number of moral panics, some in conflict, some potentiating each other, and some flourishing and fading as quickly as they have come into being. The modern, complex moral structure of societies may very well create a social setting which gives rise to a multitude of moral panics.


there is NO way to win if you’re on the losing end of a witch-hunt. trying to be rational will not get you ANYwhere. we’ve learned that by experience, and now on reading about witch-hunts, we can see that there is nothing rational about them — and they’re not meant to be rational affairs. they are ritual events that serve to clarify social norms and boundaries of acceptable behavior.

the only thing to do, i think, is, like heartiste keeps telling us, to reframe the discussion entirely. i gave that a shot with my post on friday about why human biodiversity is true (and, therefore, why these politically correct people are wrong), but i don’t think that that reframes the discussion enough. you want, of course, to turn it around completely and put the witch-hunters on the defensive. being one of those aspergian-types who prefers her discussions to be logical, i have NO idea how to do this. feel free to drop some suggestions in the comments. thanks! (^_^)

remember, though, to disbelieve in witchcraft the evilness of racism is the greatest of all heresies. recant and be saved! (~_^)

update: see also a loaded question and bewitched.

(p.s. – due to me spending way too much time on this post today, and due to the call of that siren known as procrastination [read: will be spending the rest of the day on reddit/twitter], this week’s linkfest will happen on tuesday.)

(note: comments do not require an email. omg! they killed kenny!)