What a Witch Hunt Looks Like

We were talking about witch hunts in the comments to my recent post on lynching and the use of the language of lynching. I said that it’s important that witch hunts threaten more than one’s reputation and that witch hunters use evidence or tests that are not logically connected to the supposed conclusion of witchcraft (among other criteria). To illustrate what we’re actually talking about, I thought we should not stay abstract about witch hunts any more than we were abstract about lynching: and if you haven’t read that post, it’s not abstract at all. That post cannot be more disturbing because of All The Racism, and this one is potentially less disturbing only because of the lack of pictures.

That said, in a world that includes witch hunting, it is important to discuss it honestly, to understand what a witch hunt actually does, what witch hunters actually do. It is every bit as important to understand witch hunting as it is to understand lynching. So, if you’re ready, I give you two short illustrations of witch hunting from the perspective of a victim and from the perspective of a perpetrator.

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Why Lynch Mob is Overused … and Underused

Content note for All The Racism, including graphic photos; witch hunt links contain All The Sexism.

A while back I wrote on Pharyngula about losing my patience with the phrase “witch hunt”. Witch hunts were real things, actively targeting real people for death. They weren’t “partisan”. They didn’t seek actual lawbreakers out in both Massachusetts and the Carolinas, but more aggressively sought out Republican lawbreakers in Massachusetts and more aggressively sought out Democratic lawbreakers in South Carolina. They didn’t take actual evidence and hype it more than it deserved: actual evidence did not exist. What was used as evidence came solely from the prosecutorial imagination.

Worse, witch hunts still take place today, and Christian denominations still encourage them.*1 While I don’t know of any recent witch hunts in the US or Canada, I’m more than happy to condemn this trivializing use of “witch hunt”.

All of which to say that I have been even more offended for even longer at hearing the misuse of “lynch,” “lynching” and “lynch mob”.

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Is it okay to wax nostalgic for Marie Antoinette?

While a number have agued that Marie Antoinette has been unfairly maligned, it’s my rather historically-uneducated opinion that any damaging stories likely misrepresent her more in degree than in kind. After all, historical facts include her incredible luxuries and the wealth that she lavished on the gardens and palace of Versailles – wealth that had to come from somewhere – and not only Antoinette’s public campaigns for food-charity (before, after, and during les Guerres des Farines) and opposition to the new economic ideology described at the time as “laissez faire, laissez passer” and remembered today as “laissez faire economics”.

The previously dominant economic ideology of France was one that demanded royal regulation of and intervention in the markets for necessities, in particular those for flour and for finished breads. Les Gendarmes (“Les gens d’armes” or “men at arms”) of the day carried the name contemporary French police forces still use, but they were more properly understood as a civil service with broad responsibilities including, but not limited to, keeping the peace. The security of French persons was understood, quite obviously, to be as threatened by hunger as much or more than it was threatened by violence, and les gendarmes, acting on behalf of the king, had for centuries acted to make sure food was shared during famine and to prevent price gouging.

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