Book Review #18

Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds

Extraordinary Popular Delusions & The Madness Of Crowds

I am ticked off…. or rather, this book is ticked off the reading list challenge that I don’t follow.

It was originally published before I was born – more than a century before. It was first printed in 1841. The copy that I got on an inter-library loan was reprinted in 1980. It had 3 prefaces – the original, a slightly revised version when the author had it reprinted 30 years later, and yet another from the 1980 re-release.

The 1980 instigator was taking a University Psychology course, when he thought he heard the instructor speaking of an old book about The Madness Of Krauts. He didn’t realize that Germans were called Krauts, that far back. A check of the University library showed him his mistake, but since the copyright had long expired, he felt that he could make a little money by having it reprinted.

This book was a disappointment, yet also a delight to me. Even since the ‘70s, there have been great changes and improvements in psychiatry and psychology, but since I only knew of the 1980 publish date, I hoped to get some fairly up-to-date insights into mob behavior. The 1841 composer rendered none of that. He only provided recountings of historical events which were notable for mass delusion.

These included the likes of the monetary bubble, collapse of the Louisiana Investment scam/scandal, the sad failure of the earliest attempt at a German Crusade, and the ongoing hysteria of the witch hunts. While the historical details were interesting enough, he delivered them all with the long-winded panache of someone reciting a Life Insurance actuarial table.

With the German Crusade, 100,000 young men were said to have started out, but only a handful survived, even to reach Constantinople, because of fighting among themselves, and with the armies of states and countries they marched through and denuded for food and drink.

As usual, the section on the witch hunts provided the worst atrocities. It was both a Church and State viewpoint that, “Because of the seriousness of this offence, none who are accused of this horrid crime shall escape torture to make them confess their sins. It is better that a million shall die, than that one witch shall be allowed to escape.”

Even while trying to do good, the well-intentioned did bad. As the witch-hunt frenzy was ebbing, a minor member of British Nobility tried an experiment. He was unconvinced that torture-induced confessions, and especially the naming of other witches, was valid.

He was acquainted and friends with, two Jesuit priests who acted as judges at the torture trials. To convince them of his viewpoint, he used a woman accused and imprisoned as a witch. They all attended the torture chamber, and he acted as interrogator. He had the woman stretched on the rack, and afflicted with the gamut of horrible tortures. Within a day, she admitted that she was a witch. Skillfully using leading questions, he also had her claim that the two Jesuits were wizards, calling them by name.

As they left the building, leaving the poor woman to her undeserved fate, the senior priest said, “It is well that this was done by a friend, rather than by an enemy.” And so, the witch-hunt frenzy slowly died, but not before thousands of innocent people also suffered and died.

This book is old enough to display some of the some of the English language’s spelling shifts. Words like ‘showed’, and ‘shown’ were printed as shewed, and shewn. While it was not what I thought I was getting, still it was an interesting read.

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Cognitive Dissonance II

Bible

A California lawyer has submitted a referendum proposal to outlaw homosexuality in the famously liberal western US state, on pain of execution.

“The abominable crime against nature known as buggery, called also sodomy, is a monstrous evil that Almighty God, giver of freedom and liberty, commands us to suppress on pain of our utter destruction even as he overthrew Sodom and Gomorrha,” reads the proposal, registered for comment on the attorney general’s website.

“Seeing that it is better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God’s just wrath against us… the people of California wisely command, in the fear of God, that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method,” he wrote.

When I read this, I couldn’t understand why this man’s head didn’t explode, I know mine almost did. In seven words in the second line, this lawyer goes immediately from “freedom and liberty” to “commands us to suppress.” The arrogance of this religious Fundamentalist, is matched only by his ignorance.

Only the night before I read this, had I reluctantly watched with the wife, a National Geographic TV documentary about ‘homosexuality’ among animals. In a one-hour show they listed seven examples, including coyotes, dolphins and Canada geese, and mentioned that there were several more. So much for his imagined “crime against nature!”

I don’t know where you’d store an Ego large enough to make you think that you have the right to speak for God. Perhaps in the same twisted, dark corner of the brain where you believe, without proof, that homosexuality is ‘evil’, or that God deigns to command you to do His work, and suppress it.

The Bible does speak against homosexuality, but I have never heard or read of anyone who claimed that ‘God ordered’ them to do something, who could point to anywhere other than their fevered religious imagination, for validating ‘proof’ of their Crusade. These delusions can be suppressed with proper medication and therapy.

This man seems to fear death from a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah destruction. The self-believed expert on the subject even managed to misspell Gomorrah, in his application. If God didn’t take out various 17th century Italian cities, 18th century Paris, or 19th century London, He’s not going to stir himself about a bunch of fags in San Francisco.

Even were such a destruction to occur, does he not believe that the God of Love would forgive him, and the other innocent Lots, and condemn only the sinners? Does he feel that God is too stupid or venal to judge each of us individually?

Like many of his religiously judgemental confreres, his very zealotry proves that he is not actually familiar with the Bible, instead, relying on what he thinks it says, or what someone else told him that they thought it says. I can recommend several good short passages.

Love one another.
Love thy neighbor as thyself.
As ye have done unto these, the least of my brethren, ye have done unto me.
Do unto others as you would have done unto you.
Judge not, lest ye be judged.
Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.
Render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar’s.

I feel sorry for depressing, narrow-minded, opinionated, supposedly-religious assholes like this….no I don’t! If they all died tomorrow, I’d stand in line to volunteer to load them into trucks with a pitchfork.

Amen means a soft, accepting ‘let it be’, not ‘use fire and sword to force your superstition on the infidels.’ We leave that to the likes of ISIS, who recently bulldozed down historic, artistic Iraqi Assyrian statuary. I feel sorry that the rest of us kind, loving people, like Job, are afflicted with them.

#497