A new moral panic in Britain
Families endangered by do-gooders again. Note that in one of my more widely-cited papers, I found no relationship between attitude to animals and attitude to people
Does harming an animal suggest that you would harm a child? Many people wouldn’t think that one kind of behaviour would necessarily be linked to the other. Yet, it is claimed that agencies are now taking children away from their parents based on this very thinking, which appears to have become remarkably mainstream in academic and professional thought.
This latest development has echoes of the Satanic abuse moral panic of the late Eighties and early Nineties, when a substantial number of children were removed from their homes on the basis of allegations of ritual abuse - arguably on the basis of panic rather than evidence. Some cases of ritual abuse, then and since, are real, but the frequency of such reports has not been maintained, which suggests that the incidence of Satanic abuse at that time was as much perceived as real. In a BBC documentary broadcast in 2006, Real Story: When Satan Came to Town, the agencies responsible stated that such a sequence of events could ‘not be repeated [as] in the intervening years the whole landscape of child protection has changed’, citing better line-management; improved inter-agency co-operation; and a more professionalized work force.
For all that, it is now claimed that a small number of children have been removed from their families by professional agencies because an ‘abused’ animal is living in the same house. Meanwhile, vets are encouraged to check animals for sex abuse, a practice suggested to be fairly widespread (1). The assumption behind these actions is that violence is linked (and therefore predictable), and an abused animal indicates the likely presence of abused children. This new ‘moral panic’ resembles the earlier one, and the confidence of those claiming ‘it could never happen again’ appears misplaced.
The concept of a moral panic was developed by Stanley Cohen in 1972. It is understood as a pattern of mass behaviour, based on the false or exaggerated perception that some cultural behaviour or group of people, frequently a subculture, is deviant and a menace to society. Moral panics are fuelled by media coverage, framed in terms of morality, and expressed as outrage rather than fear. They often revolve around issues of sex or violence, and involve elements of legend.
However moral panics are theorised, contemporary ones have a tendency to cluster or ‘stick’ to other panics sharing overarching concerns, which makes it much more difficult to identify them at an early stage and to argue against them coherently. So, the ‘paedophile panic’ (2), and ‘child killer’ panic (3), co-exist with both the Satanic and the ‘links’ panic.
The idea of a highly organised cult of Satanists intent on the sexual abuse and murder of children appeared in the early 1980s. Child sexual abuse is an obvious candidate for contemporary moral panics, being defined not merely as a social ill, but as evil. The Satanic panic, based on the belief that children were being subjected to ritualised sexual abuse, can be traced back to a nursery in California. A psychiatrist, Lawrence Pazder, was writing a book about a patient (later his wife) who had reported abuse by a Satanic cult earlier in her life. The story of the nursery was reported by the media, which eventually led to Lawrence Pazder being invited to comment. Padzer claimed that the accused nursery worker was central to an international Satanic conspiracy. The Satanic panic was launched, but while there were many twists and tales in this story, the nursery worker was later cleared of all accusations.
At the time, many professionals readily believed that organized networks of Satanists were engaged in brainwashing and abusing victims. Others judged it wise to downplay Satan’s role, but still thought it likely that networks of ritualised abuse were commonplace. While some elements of the story seem bizarre (involving sharks and dragons killing children, babies cooked in ovens etc), over a short period social workers on both sides of the Atlantic took large numbers of children ‘into care’. Specialist teams were formed (with 80-90 such cases across the UK), and within a relatively short time many groups of social workers and others were convinced that children were caught up in a conspiracy involving, among others, freemasons and police officers. Britain’s major child protection charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) published so-called ‘Satanic indicators’, to help case workers identify a likely profile (4).
Eventually, cases in the UK (and elsewhere) died away and few today consider them to have the credibility they were once granted. This is not to deny the fact that children are abused, that abuse in some cases is ritualistic, and that some children remained in care for perfectly good reasons. But it is no accident that the huge majority of the families caught up in this panic lived in relative poverty, leading some to describe it as a ‘penalisation of the poor’. Although the responsible agencies claim to have learned from these mistakes, today in the same countries many now seek a cross-reporting protocol aimed at ensuring children can be removed from their families if an ‘abused’ animal lives in their household.
There are similarities between the Satanic panic and this more recent manifestation which is based on the cultural myth that ‘violence breeds violence’. Causal links have been elaborated in the ‘cycles of abuse’ model of family therapeutic literature and, although the hypothesis is highly contested, it has acquired the status of a truism. Many accept uncritically that all violence is linked: thus adults who harm animals also harm children, and such relationships are clear cut, consistent, and predictable.
However, there are a number of difficulties with this approach. There is evidence that people deal with the experience of violence in diverse and unpredictable ways. The language of abuse fails to acknowledge that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ varies between classes, cultures and sometimes sexes. Harming animals is morally complex and culturally ambiguous, yet research and practice tends to treat it as simple and unproblematic. Few studies provide a satisfactory definition of what is to be classified as animal abuse and this is compounded by disputes about what counts as child abuse.
The UK’s main animal welfare organisation, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), currently prosecutes up to 1,000 people a year, but the majority of these cases involve neglect not violence. To assume that neglecting an animal can be linked to violence towards a child appears even more spurious. Accounts often report the same few infamous criminals (Jeffrey Dahmer, Fred West, the Boston Strangler, Jamie Bulger’s killers) who have admitted to harming animals, but such sensationalist ‘evidence’ cannot hide the absence of serious base-line data. The links panic is reliant on the kind of consequential fallacy which would be noticed by most undergraduate philosophy students: all serial killers have mothers but not everyone who has a mother is a serial killer.
The problem is further compounded by whether the kind of people sampled in this research are likely to be telling the truth. Owning up to harming animals is difficult but a criminal sample, with a hard image to maintain, will readily admit to such behaviour. The essentially individualistic approach that characterises most of the links and cycles arguments emphasises individual pathology. As before, the NSPCC have produced guidelines (5). Broader issues concerning the socio-economic context of violence towards animals are disregarded – and again families caught up in this panic tend to be poor.
The links panic also has its origins in the US. A small number of academics have promoted ‘the links’, mainly via conferences, since the mid-1990s. Belief in the argument is now so strong that to publish academic papers to the contrary in most US or UK violence-orientated journals is challenging, as most of the likely referees take links for granted. The missionary zeal stands comparison with those who supported the earlier Satanic panic.
As a participant at the first such conference held in England (Making the Links, NSPCC and RSPCA, February 2001), I attempted to distribute a brief questionnaire asking participants (mainly animal and child welfare workers) to specify their occupation, and to note down the worst thing (if any) they had done to an animal, and to post their anonymous responses in a box at the back of the conference room (a similar exercise with groups of trainee social workers had proved informative). This was prohibited at the last moment, in spite of prior permission having been granted. Given that the links argument relies on the assumption that harming animals is a predictive variable in indicating an individual who is likely to be exceptionally violent towards people in the future, suppressing such information is suspect, and suggests doubts about research funded by organisations with a particular brief. Yet such agencies seek ‘a cross-reporting protocol’ between animal welfare and child protection agencies, an idea and practice based on a presumption of links.
The UK government has recently reviewed the risks of employing sex offenders and has determined that the category of people requiring ‘vetting’ should be extended to cover anybody ‘whose work… places them in a position of trust in relation to children’ (6). This could reasonably be expected to include bus drivers, shop workers, cinema ushers, and even other children’s parents. Some aspects of the UK’s current vetting includes ‘soft’ intelligence (eg, police information on convictions, cautions, reprimands, warnings and even allegations) as if all these are equally significant (7). If cross-reporting procedures are extended to include information of those cautioned and/or prosecuted for neglecting an animal, the potential for major miscarriages of justice is apparent.
As a result of previous research and publication, I have been approached by a number of individuals and representatives of a self-help group for those experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA. They claim: ‘Very often people who come to our help-line say that the RSPCA turn up on their doorstep in the morning and take their animals, and social services arrive in the afternoon to take their children, saying that they have been informed of the studies linking the two abuses. ’ If this is the case, this seems perilously close to similar actions during the Satanic panic. However, these processes go unreported in the UK context, because while reporting animal abuse is widespread, child care proceedings remain sub judice.
While it would be foolish to claim that there is never a ‘link’ between violent behaviours, extreme or exotic cases cannot provide secure foundations for generalised arguments, predictions, or policies that can safely or ethically be applied to the mass of the population. Recent discussions have treated the Satanic panic as a modern day witch-hunt with little foundation, and I suggest that, in retrospect, similar comments will be directed at simplified forms of the links argument and the panic it has induced.
How many under-resourced individuals and families will have their lives disrupted or ruined in the meantime? How many children will have their lives wrecked by those very vetting procedures which it is claimed are in place to protect them? How much collateral damage is acceptable?
Reject the Lie of White "Genocide" Against Native Americans
Few opinions I've expressed on air have produced a more indignant, outraged reaction than my repeated insistence that the word "genocide" in no way fits as a description of the treatment of Native Americans by British colonists or, later, American settlers.
I've never denied that the 400 year history of American contact with the Indians includes many examples of white cruelty and viciousness --- just as the Native Americans frequently (indeed, regularly) dealt with the European newcomers with monstrous brutality and, indeed, savagery. In fact, reading the history of the relationship between British settlers and Native Americans its obvious that the blood-thirsty excesses of one group provoked blood thirsty excesses from the other, in a cycle that listed with scant interruption for several hundred years.
But none of the warfare (including an Indian attack in 1675 that succeeded in butchering a full one-fourth of the white population of Connecticut, and claimed additional thousands of casualties throughout New England) on either side amounted to genocide. Colonial and, later, the American government, never endorsed or practiced a policy of Indian extermination; rather, the official leaders of white society tried to restrain some of their settlers and militias and paramilitary groups from unnecessary conflict and brutality.
Moreover, the real decimation of Indian populations had nothing to do with massacres or military actions, but rather stemmed from infectious diseases that white settlers brought with them at the time they first arrived in the New World. UCLA professor Jared Diamond, author of the universally acclaimed bestseller "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies," writes: "Throughout the Americas, diseases introduced with Europeans spread from tribe to tribe far in advance of the Europeans themselves, killing an estimated 95 percent of the pre-Columbian Native American population. The most populous and highly organized native societies of North America, the Mississippian chiefdoms, disappeared in that way between 1492 and the late 1600's, even before Europeans themselves made their first settlement on the Mississippi River (page 78)....
"The main killers were Old World germs to which Indians had never been exposed, and against which they therefore had neither immune nor genetic resistance. Smallpox, measles, influenza, and typhus rank top among the killers." (page 212).
"As for the most advanced native societies of North America, those of the U.S. Southeast and the Mississippi River system, their destruction was accomplished largely by germs alone, introduced by early European explorers and advancing ahead of them" (page 374)
Obviously, the decimation of native population by European germs represents an enormous tragedy, but in no sense does it represent a crime. Stories of deliberate infection by passing along "small-pox blankets" are based exclusively on two letters from British soldiers in 1763, at the end of the bitter and bloody French and Indian War. By that time, Indian populations (including those in the area) had already been terribly impacted by smallpox, and there's no evidence of a particularly devastating outbreak as a result of British policy.
Faith and Liberal Fundamentalism
In human society, there are many elements of behavior and philosophy that contrast with one another. In this essay, the subject is an element I refer to as "faith in the future". That is not to say specifically faith in God, or faith in a philosophy, but faith in general.
In this context, faith can be defined as a belief that there is something bigger, more important in the world than one's self, and that the future is something we should strive to make better. A lack of faith, therefore, is a belief that one is powerless and that things won't get better, no matter what one does.
In the advanced Western societies, the proportion of people with faith in the future is declining. I believe this growing loss of faith is caused by a philosophy which has overgrown its practical limitations and robbed people of their ability to have dreams that involve anything more than personal success and money. I call this philosophy Liberal Fundamentalism. It is, most specifically, a belief that mankind can control society positively with bureaucracy alone.
In practical terms, Liberal Fundamentalism has replaced all forms of faith with the idea that society should be run according to rules set down by a vaguely defined group of supposedly intellectually superior people whom I shall refer to as the Liberal Fundamentalists. Please take note that my tongue is in my cheek. These people are not elected, not constrained by any written text and are free to change their philosophy at any time. They make up a small part of society, but are basically socialists in political perspective.
They strongly reject religion, as should be expected, because religion is in direct competition with their goals; indeed, religion is their direct opposite in every important way, since religion has a more defined structure and written text as a basis for that structure. They are true socialists, in that their philosophy allows no other. They embrace capitalism only because it's a way through which to control society.
The Liberal Fundamentalists have a noble goal, which is to make the world a better place. They do not, however, understand the real concept of faith. They believe that they KNOW the truth, they have reasoned it out, and therefore they expect people to have faith in them -- something that is impossible, as you cannot have faith in an undefined philosophy by an undefined group.
Societies in Balance
In Western Europe, we can see from history that the concept of democracy that began in Greece has flourished best when it operated in conjunction with capitalism, religion and freedom in a society in balance (hereafter referred to as Western Civilization). In Western Europe, this reached a level of success that was truly world-changing. The contrasting socialist dictatorship in the USSR simply could not compete or achieve the same levels of accomplishment. In the US, this reached a high level of success, and it was transplanted into Japan after World War II. The success of Japan with its own version of this balance is a truly amazing chapter in human history.
Now this success is eroding. Western Europe was the first to begin this decline, which is best seen in the creation of the European Community, the design of which has removed much of the effect of religion in society and created a socialist, and basically non-democratic, bureaucratic form of government - call it Social Capitalism, run by Liberal Fundamentalists. They removed religion's influence in the EC by eroding its foundations, and then replacing its functions and finally its daily influence. Through both the media and the school systems, the citizenry now are taught to believe that it's the government's job to create a stable society, correct imbalances, fix problems, help the poor, teach the children and make all decisions regarding the difference between right and wrong in all areas of human life. The government should have the power to redistribute the earnings of the more successful. When this fails, it is the fault of either one particular leader, or perhaps a party, but never the system.
The citizenry are taught to distrust capitalism, distrust business, distrust successful people (except Liberal Fundamentalists), distrust religion and to place all responsibility for control of their lives in the government. The intellectually elite Liberal Fundamentalists control the government, as they largely control the media and the bureaucracy, but they remain aloof. They assign blame when things do not go right. They are never wrong, and technically they don't exist as an entity. Their ranks change with the wind. There are no elections.
It's Happening Here, Too
In the US, this process is gaining momentum. It is most easily seen in the concept of "Politically Correct" - a term that's astonishing in its honesty. PC is more strict than religion and much, much more powerful. It has no basis in anything. It changes with the weather. If you go against it, you are punished more severely than if you break an actual law, and there is no trial. Your only defense is to blame childhood abuse or drug addiction and go into rehabilitation. I do not mean that as a joke.
Because most people don't see the process for what it is, they are not organized to resist it. Liberal Fundamentalism is a basic philosophy, not an organization. It is in the ACLU. It is in Hillary's "Village" vision. It is in our schools and slowly it is taking root in society. The media has largely succumbed to the concept, because it is so easy to think that government should make things right. They do not see that by giving over too much power to the government, freedom is lost, as is our faith in the future.
The subject of right and wrong is worth exploring in this context. Today we consider people whose behavior is abominable to be "victims." (Just think of the unending spectacles provided by the likes of Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears. We are coming to believe that dirt is news, rather than events and changes in society.) But when we don't hold people responsible for their behavior we lose our own faith. If one sees no penalty for a behavior, one is likely to do it regardless of the injury it may cause another. In the past, religion placed boundaries on our behavior - and with it, faith that if we behaved better, society would be better. Liberal Fundamentalism has been unable to provide such boundaries, except with political correctness. It's a sad state of affairs.
Perhaps the problem can be best seen in young Blacks. The disproportionate number who are unskilled, poorly educated and unambitious is not due to anything genetic. It stems from a lack of faith in the future due entirely to a widely held belief that their future is desperate and they can't do anything to make it better. One Black man commented to me: "It is embarrassing to see blacks come here from the Caribbean and Africa and work hard, save their money and become successful in a generation, with so many of my fellow American blacks not making the effort."
The Liberal Fundamentalists have made it clear: this problem is due to slavery 150 years ago and to prejudiced Whites today. But while slavery can easily be seen as the root so long ago, and prejudice had a powerful effect in the more recent past, the rest of their perspective is completely wrong. If a young Black works hard today, he or she can succeed just as any other member of society can. The challenge is a bit greater, but he or she can succeed.
In the 1960s the Liberal Fundamentalists came up with a "solution" called welfare. I once heard a Black man on television refer to welfare are one of the most poorly thought-out government programs of all time, as it took away self-respect. He went on to say that Affirmative Action was the worst program of all. That's because it caused people to achieve positions they were not due, and took away their pride of accomplishment. He also added that it caused every successful Black to acquire a stain, the question being whether the success he or she had achieved was deserved or not.
What is "Faith"?
My friend, a Methodist minister, once told me a response he's developed to religious questions from people who doubt their faith. He asks: "Do you admire people you see as better people than yourself? Do you have a set of rules you follow regarding the way you treat others? Do you try to live a better life, to be a better person? Do you believe that there are things, be it country, right and wrong, or society, more important than you in this world? If you do, you have a faith. It may not be religion, but you have faith."
Consider the issue of falling birth-rates: Why are populations shrinking throughout Western civilization? Some will say the pressures of a two-career household result in fewer children. Some say women who want "careers like men have" are at fault. Some say it is due to economic pressures. In my opinion, it's a combination of factors -- but one we cannot ignore is faith. When you have little faith in the future being better, you have little interest in bringing children into it. For a society to maintain its population levels, the average birth rate per woman should be between two and three children. This allows for death, infertility and those who choose to not have children.
If you look at liberal leaders in this country, how many have even two children? How many have three or more? The Clintons are a perfect example. With Hillary's "village" philosophy, we must wonder if she spent a lot of time raising her own daughter.
In contrast, birth rates are much higher than ours in societies with strong religious beliefs. For example, if current trends continue Moslems will be in the majority in France, England, and indeed throughout much of Western Europe. The population of India, and of other countries with strong religious beliefs, is growing while Western civilization is shrinking. They look to the future; we live in the present.
Most importantly, they believe in a higher spirit, while our society has largely fallen into a belief that we are just a bunch of molecules, formed at random. That nothing really matters. "I might as will live for today, for my own personal pleasure. Why bring children into this rotten world?"
Faith requires we NOT accept the idea that people are not responsible for their actions --except corporate executives, politicians and generals. Faith requires that we believe things can get better. Faith requires that we take responsibility for our own actions, and hold others accountable for theirs.
We must honor those members of our society who are productive and strong, and encourage our young to admire them. Finally, rather than intellectualizing about the future - as the Liberal Fundamentalists are always doing - we must learn from what has worked so well in the past. Experiments are fine, but success is truth.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.