Monday, May 24, 2010

MODERN WITCHCRAFT

Apologies for the delay in Posting. Two things happened over the past 5 days: first, computer connection problems – now solved.

Second, the latest series of ‘Miss Marple’ mysteries on PBS has shocked me. You may recall that this is part of a series of PBS mysteries set in an ‘old’ England that looks much like the Merchant-Ivory England of the 1980s, with charming country villages, bosky estates, tastefully attired Brits, and various old cars in all their shiny glory. Well, the recent installment chooses as its old car … a 1956 T-bird, which really doesn’t strike me as old at all!

That said, I came across a short piece in ‘The Atlantic’ this morning that merits a quick look.

The Republic of Central Africa has a ‘court problem’: its courts are currently jammed to overflowing with trials for witchcraft. This is especially true in the outlying districts, beyond the capital - where, if the country has any natural resources worth noting, there are probably scads of thoroughly modern US government types busily trying to deconstruct local culture and also secure rights (or at least functional control over) the resources. Such is our modern American reality.

The article estimates that a full 40 percent of trials are witchcraft prosecutions. And in some areas, for example in the local center of Mbaiki, Pygmies – who by conventional wisdom are well-known for “bewitching each other” – drive that up to 50 percent. Many American readers may quietly snigger, but the alert American observer of Our domestic affairs needs no enlightenment in this sort of thing. Such is our modern American reality.

A local judge, university-trained and exuding a French gentility, points to the section of the Criminal Code that requires for the crime of PCS (‘the practice of charlatanism or sorcery’) a decade or more in jail and a fine for engaging in witchcraft.

The ‘charlatanism’ recalls the ‘cottage industry experts and advocates’ that have sprung up like remoras around the great shark of the Sensitivity Revolution over here: dubious ‘numbers’, dubious ‘studies’, dubious credentials, dubious worst-case claims, a highly elastic definition of the ‘crime’ that could be anything at all.

The reporter (Graeme Wood) opines that while the judge admits things are a little extreme law-wise, and the township doesn’t have the money to maintain the jail that would have to hold all the convicted, yet he (the judge) sorta likes a law that gives him so much authority.

Apparently, especially among a certain tribe within the Republic (referring here to Central Africa), “a staggering range of misfortunes” are ascribed to “meddling by witches”. You don’t have to look very far over here to see the lists of claims as to what even the most minimal relational or sexual contact can do to a life. And helpfully so, explaining away with no responsibility accruing to the erstwhile ‘victim’, just about any failure or mis-step or unhappy outcome in a life.

Further, the ability of ‘witches’ to “cast spells” and to generally – well – ‘bewitch’ folks, is so widely and pervasively active there (according to the conventional local wisdom) that the government simply has to step in and do something about it.

Although just what a government can do about witchcraft … well, in the modern West (up to about 1970 or so) that lesson was learned the hard way: the Salem Witch-trials of the late 1600s left the Medieval Catholic heresy trials in the dust, drawing the coercive police power of the government into torture and execution merely on the 'allegations' of those claiming to be victimized (the professional term of the era was 'spectral evidence' - meaning evidence that nobody but the accuser-victim could know or see or - oy! - prove).

Which also dragged the newly-aborning court system that was emerging out of the Medieval morass back down into the awful swamps of innuendo, fear, accusation without evidence, and ‘victim’ assertions running as wild as kudzu.

But the Central African citizenry “demand that the law reflect the influence of witchcraft as they understand it”. Which gets me to thinking not about how un-modern the Central African folks remain, but rather how un-modern the American folks have become … all over again.

Nicely, it is not legally allowable to claim as a defense that the plaintiff suffered “an act of God”: the witchcraft apparently overrides any power God might have in the world as it is seen over there. In this sense, while the Central African culture accepts the actions of the Beyond in its daily affairs, yet that Beyond is somehow not responsible for the evil competencies of witches and sorcerers. And since such witches and sorcerers are very much in this world, then a government of this world must somehow use what powers it has to solve the problem.

Which is a curious mishmash of belief in a Beyond and yet a Flattened sense of what that Beyond can or does do.

Not that the government over there minds. Since you are going to start taking over the powers of God, then you will need the authority of God – and what government in human history has ever turned THAT offer down?

Well, come to think of it, that government Framed in Philadelphia in 1787 … but, as conventional wisdom now assures us – at least among the elites – that government is “quaint”*.

Interestingly, the Republic’s national government (Central Africa’s, not Ours) is thinking of striking witchcraft from the books. Perhaps – may I? – they figure that if they are going to be pressured into accepting assorted American legal ‘reforms’ associated with things like sex-offenders and ‘sensitive law’, then they really won’t need ‘witchcraft’ laws any longer; they’ll have more than enough chance to strut their authority going after sex-offenders and such.

Although if that is indeed part of what’s going on, then they need to be apprised of just how frakkulous a mess ‘registration’ regimes have created for States here and for the Federal-State ‘partnership’ in general.

Perhaps those distant legislators have already noticed that they too are now being offered a ‘partnership’ – and if so, then I can only hope that whatever residual fear of genuine evil they still retain might serve them well in warding off this most recent temptation masquerading as ‘humanitarian reform’.

Anyhoo, Wood reports that the lawyers over there whom he interviewed still wanted to keep the laws on the books, although “they admitted that it [i.e. witchcraft law] fits uneasily into a modern legal system”. And that’s true. Though hardly a new observation; the blood of many judicial executions paid for it in 1692.

Although the US no longer has a ‘modern legal system’: it has been ‘reformed back’ – or ‘regressed’ – to a pre-modern form, thanks to the ‘sensitivity law’ legal regime and its assorted related crazes, manias, philosophies, and claims. Apparently these members of the Bar over there were trained in ‘modern Western’ law and have not been familiarized with the back-to-the-swamps ‘reforms’ of the postmodern American legal cosmology. Multiculturalism, we hardly knew ye!

Western Law, we hardly knew ye! And now it’s gone.

Well, not quite.

Wood interviews one attorney who has recently defended (unsuccessfully) a bunch of Pygmies who had been accused of murder-by-witchcraft. Observes the defense counsel: “The problem is that in a witchcraft case, there is usually no evidence”.

Bingo. Precisely the swampy mess that the West was trying to grow out of in the 1690s when the Salem Trials tried to re-introduce the old addled screams and claims as sufficient ‘proof’ (along with any pressure that could be brought on the hapless defendant to ‘confess’ (or – nowadays – plea bargain)).

(And after reading Nussbaum, you will see precisely just how ‘the lack of evidence’ is now considered a ‘reform’, especially since the trial is expected not to find out if a crime has been committed but rather to demonstrate the State’s power by punishing someone already presumed to have committed the crime (if there is indeed a victim, there must indeed be a perpetrator … see, it’s logic and science!)).

Good blessed grief. This is progress?

It’s anticlimactic perhaps when the reporter then asks “how one determined guilt where the alleged witches denied the charges”. The attorney replies that “the judge will look them in the eye and see if they act like witches”. But of course. If you act “strange” or “nervous” in court (and who the frak wouldn’t, facing such a meat-grinder?) then clearly you are guilty. No Visigoth or Ostrogoth could find anything objectionable in such jurisprudence.

The attorney then, however, adds an interesting bit: the legal system (in Central Africa) “could not ignore a social fact as firmly embedded as witchcraft in the republic”. And I imagine that witchcraft is as firmly embedded there as in many other societies not deeply touched by the history of Western Law during its classic (now considered “quaint” by American elites) period.

There is, after all, a dark primal strain in all human beings; after all, we retain a complex layered brain structure that contains the old primitive sections, and then evolved more complex and advanced sections only more ‘recently’ (in evolutionary terms).

The kicker is that in the classic West, and in the government Framed in Philadelphia in 1787, the benefits of that evolutionary advantage were built into the political (and legal) system: it would be the reasoning competencies of the most advanced (but recent) parts of the human brain upon which the whole structure would be built. Hence, those more primitive legal practices based upon suspicion, fear, dark and unreasoning emotions generally, and especially upon impatient fear and revenge … those practices would be left behind.

But then came the awful resurgence of emotionalism that has accompanied the stampedes of the past 40 Biblical years over here, and almost immediately those stampedes began corrupting (and regressing) the hard-won legal developments that had put a stop to all the dynamics evident in the old witchcraft trials. And in the name of ‘reform’ and ‘progress’. And with the full connivance of a vote-addled Beltway.

This, I think, has not been a good thing.

And I don’t think it well end well. But that’s a quaint view, and hardly original. The Framers saw as much in 1787. The government in London saw as much even as far back as 1693.

I can’t see the ‘progress’ here. At least, not enough progress to justify the awful cost of unleashing the dynamics of witchcraft and the profoundly dark ‘witchcraft instincts’ deep within humans.

NOTES

*I have recently completed reading two works: Robert Elias’s book “The Politics of Victimization” from 1986 and Martha Nussbaum’s 2007 Harvard Law Review 100-page article “Constitutions and Capabilities: ‘Perception’ Against Lofty Formalism”. I will be Posting on both shortly, just so you can get a sense of a) how far back and how serious was the threat posed as far back as a quarter century ago, and b) how even the most ‘elite’ and prestigious legal thinkers (and law professors) are now undermining any efficacious concept of ‘limited government’ (which phrase I use here to mean the limitations on the deployment of the sovereign police power against the Citizens).

Again, I think it is important for the Us to get a grasp on just how much these legal ‘deforming reforms’ are not simply some weird weeds that have sprung up in an otherwise well-tended Constitutional garden, but rather are just an initial few in a possible jungle full of seeds being developed by assorted elements among the various professional elites, and are being sold to the Beltway (eager buyers, all) as not only Necessary but as A Good Idea and as The Right and Only Way To Go.

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1 Comments:

Blogger James said...

This is all the more interesting in light of the "revival" of witchcraft today and its link with some strands of feminism. So the victims return to 'take back the courts.' It reminds me that there is a good essay by Diane Purkiss called "A Holocaust of One's Own: The Myth of the Burning Times," a chapter in The Witch and History: Early Modern and Twentieth Century Representatives New York, NY: Routledge, 1996

11:56 AM  

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