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While the first ‘witch’ was executed today in 1692, the puritan spirit that drove the Salem Witch Trials executions is well alive and thriving

The manner of trials may have changed, the forms of punishment may have been altered but to this day, it continues to occur.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

Throughout its history, Monotheism has had a strange way of manifesting itself in the most twisted of ways. The entire concept is dependent on the existence of a ‘Great Other’ who constantly seeks to undermine the authority of the God-head.

In Christianity, the ‘Great Evil’ is called Satan or the Devil. Although the word ‘Devil’ is also used to describe demons in general, when ‘the’ is used before it, it only refers to Satan unless stated otherwise specifically.

Ever since Monotheism gained prominence, the adherents have attempted to wipe out the worship of all others Gods, save their own, terming the Divine as a manifestation of the Great Other. In the process, genocides have been committed, innocents have been tortured and the pious have been put to death on charges of the most heinous crime in Monotheism: Worshipping False Gods.

Monotheists also live in a constant state of paranoia, that the Great Other is always in our midst working to implement his heinous designs and corrupt humanity to turn us away from God. The paranoia manifests itself frequently and more often than not, innocents lose their lives as a consequence.

One of the most heinous manifestations of this paranoia in history was the Salem Witch Trials. Over the years, the trials gained great infamy for the manner in which the accused were held guilty and have now been popularized in pop-culture as one of the great evils of religion itself.

June the 10th has special significance in this regard as it was on this day all the way back in 1692 that the first victim of the trials was executed by hanging. Bridget Bishop was convicted of being a Witch as she was believed to live an ‘immoral lifestyle’ which was not consistent with the staunch Puritan norms that prevailed during that era. She also wore black attire and odd costumes, contrary to the mandates of the Puritan code. All these factors combined led to her execution.

The accusations against were quite fanciful, to put it mildly. In his book ‘Wonders of the Invisible World, Cotton Mather describes the allegations against her. According to some people, an apparition in the shape of Bishop would bite, pinch or choke them. Others claimed that the apparition threatened to drown them if they did not write their names in a certain book. During the hearing, a jury of women found a third nipple on her body, considered a sure sign of witchcraft, yet upon a second examination, the third nipple was not found. According to Mather, “there was little occasion to prove the witchcraft, it being evident and notorious to all beholders.”

For those with modern sensibilities, the allegations appear quite preposterous. However, ‘Spectral Evidence’ played a major role in convictions. It refers to the testimony of the allegedly afflicted that they saw an apparition in the shape of the person who was afflicting them. There were other ‘evidence’ presented as well, however, in all of them, ‘Spectral Evidence’ featured prominently.

Bridget Bishop was not the only one who fell victim to what has been referred to as a ‘mass hysteria’. 19 people were executed in total, one of them was executed because he refused to enter a formal plea. Giles Corey, an 81-year-old farmer, refused to enter a plea when he came to trial in September, the same year. The judges then sentenced him to death through an archaic form of punishment even in those days, the peine forte et dure, where stones were piled on his chest until he could no longer breathe. Contrary to popular beliefs, not only women were found guilty. Of the 19 executed, 5 were men.

The Salem Witch Trials are often described as a case of ‘mass hysteria’ but more accurately, it was an amalgamation of a myriad of political, religious, social and local factors. It wasn’t mere ‘hysteria’ either, some of the accusations were made due to rather petty personal squabbles and often motivated by vendetta. Therefore, to reduce the vast complexity of the events as mere hysteria is a great disservice to the victims. The conditions necessary for such a tragedy were very much in place and some people took advantage of it to settle personal scores.

An important thing to note here is that the Salem Witch Trails may have occurred centuries ago, however, the Puritan spirit that drove the persecution of the innocent is still very much alive. The manner of trials may have changed, the forms of punishment may have been altered but to this day, it continues to occur.

The first person that comes to mind is James Watson, the famed American molecular biologist and geneticist who proposed the double-helix structure of the DNA along with Francis Crick. In an interview with The Sunday Times in 2007, Watson said that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”. He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

His opinions were reflected in another book that was published around the same time. He opined, “There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.”

As a consequence of his comments, Watson was stripped of his titles and ostracized from the ‘scientific community’. Circumstances were so dire that he had to sell his Nobel award. He issued an apology after severe condemnations and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) allowed him to retain an honorary position at the institution. In 2019, however, given an opportunity to take back his comments, Watson refused to do so.

In a PBS documentary, Watson said, “I would like for them to have changed, that there be new knowledge that says that your nurture is much more important than nature. But I haven’t seen any knowledge. And there’s a difference on the average between blacks and whites on I.Q. tests. I would say the difference is, it’s genetic.’’

Watson does admit that he wishes it were not so. Watson says,  “It’s awful, just like it’s awful for schizophrenics. If the difference exists, we have to ask ourselves, how can we try and make it better?” It’s pertinent to note that his own son was diagnosed with Schizophrenia in his teens. After his recent comments, the CSHL cut remaining ties with him. His son was unhappy, understandably so, but his comments were seen as sufficient reason for the severe consequences.

Amusingly enough, one would think that one of the most celebrated geneticists of our times would have greater knowledge about genetics than most of the ‘scientific community’. It’s also important to note that he was making a scientific point. His case reminds one of Christian crucification of heretics.

If IQ science is wrong, then the whole project ought to be scrapped entirely. Then why is it so that it is still prevalent and used by a great many institutions and taught in psychology departments across the world? Either it’s completely bogus or it is not, one cannot have both ways. Even more amusingly, Jordan Peterson, who has great respectability across all sections barring the Alt-Right and the Far Left, has echoed Watson’s opinions on several occasions without attracting the severe condemnation that the geneticist did.

Peterson continues to remain an esteemed Clinical Psychologist and is invited regularly in podcasts and for interviews where he is given the opportunity to defend his opinions at great length. He is seen as an inspirational figure. He has said that if anything in Social Science was authentic, then it was the concept of IQ. Granted that he has dealt with the question far more clinically and eloquently and humanely but the fact remains, he too agrees with Watson’s opinions. Of course, he doesn’t base it on Genetics like Watson does but then, who do you trust more when it comes to Genetics? An esteemed psychologist or an esteemed geneticist?

The question is not whether Watson and Peterson are right or wrong but whether Watson was deserving of the treatment he received? Peterson, quite clearly, hasn’t suffered any consequences at all. Then why Watson, one of the greatest geneticists to have ever lived?

There are other victims of this Puritan spirit of persecution as well. The manner in which Justice Kavanaugh was dragged through the mud in the USA for sheer politics was deplorable as well. An allegation of rape was levelled against him, the alleged victim did not remember when it occurred, where it occurred or the manner in which it occurred. The witnesses she claimed would corroborate her story denied having remembered anything close to what she was describing.

Soon after, other allegations surfaced as well and those were found to be complete and utter fabrications made by people of questionable character to slander Kavanaugh’s reputation. Needless to say, the allegations that were made against Kavanaugh would not even be considered by any Court in the USA. However, that did not prevent anyone from calling him a rapist, a sexual predator and a threat to women. This was akin to the ‘Spectral Evidence’ in the Salem Witch Trials. A man of impeccable reputation who has risen to where he is today was slandered merely for political objectives. This was not ‘mass hysteria’, this was the manifestation of the vile Puritan spirit of persecuting heretics.

Apart from these individual instances, we see a broader phenomenon at work as well. Anyone who disagrees with popular notions of Feminism and Liberalism is labelled a fascist, a sexist, a racist and attempts are made to destroy his or her career. We see it in the West and we see it here in India as well.

Consider the manner in which Alex Jones was deplatformed by social media organizations. He is a funny figure, sure. But the conspiracy theories he peddled were rather harmless. For certain, they were not anywhere close to being as harmful as the Russian Collusion delusion peddled by nearly every mainstream media outlet. They were certainly not as harmful of the Weapons of Mass Destruction conspiracy theory peddled by the US government and endorsed by every section of mainstream media to justify the Iraq War.

These sentiments have real-life violent consequences as well. Numerous Trump supporters were attacked viciously by Leftists causing immense them great injury. Due to this Puritan spirit of the Left, children as young as seven are being given puberty blockers, that is, hormones which prevent the normal growth of children through their adolescence into childhood without anyone with significant power raising a hue and cry over it. In the United Kingdom, authorities covered up the string of rapes of children by Muslim grooming gangs because they were too scared of being called racists. these violent delights do have violent ends.

Modernity has conclusively demonstrated that there are no more witches in this world to persecute. Therefore, the Puritans of the 21st century are engaging themselves in a bid to rid the world of racists, sexists, homophobes and xenophobes through any means necessary. In the aftermath of the Salem Witch Trials, there was great regret among the people regarding how things turned out. And the victims were exonerated of their guilt and given due honour. One can only hope that after this phase of Puritan rage is over, we will see a similar reckoning.

It is also important to note that such phenomena are only observed in the West while in India and other Asian non-monotheistic countries, it is not observed. The sole reason for it is that polytheistic cultures do not provide for the Puritan spirit necessary for the manifestation of such evil. There are on and off cases of ‘witches’ being lynched and put to death, sure, but the organized effort to execute them through the organized arms of the state is something that is never witnessed. And the people who do commit such atrocities are always booked under the law and awarded due punishment.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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