Scenes from a Moral Panic, Part 1
If you’ve ever wondered about those scenes of mass hysteria from history—early Christian iconoclasm, witch trials, that thing in the 1980s when they thought preschools were being run by Satanic cults—if you’ve ever wondered how they could have happened and how they spread so quickly out of control, take a good look around you. You are living through one right now.
This is not as extreme as some of those examples, to be sure, but it is certainly a full-blown moral panic, and the cause around which everyone is panicking is “anti-racism.”
Let’s define what we mean about a “moral panic.” It means an exaggerated or unreasoning fear centered around some particular moral issue. Often the moral issue is legitimate and uncontroversial. The important part is the “panic.” The moral issue is considered to be such an urgent threat that thinking, debate, the careful weighing of evidence, and the rights of the accused are luxuries we cannot afford. The essence of a moral panic is the use of morality as an appeal to emotion that overrides rational thought—resulting in widespread compliance out of conformity and fear rather than sincere conviction.
In demonstration of this, here are a few scenes from the current moral panic.
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