Let's get situated in Le Roy
For example, doctors may perceive from the circumstances, such as the patient's age, healthy complexion, and the reaction of his eyes, that his disease does not result from any defect of the blood or the stomach, or any other infirmity; and they therefore judge that it is not due to any natural defect, but to some extrinsic cause. And since that extrinsic cause cannot be any poisonous infection, which would be accompanied by ill humors in the blood and stomach, they have sufficient reason to judge that it is due to witchcraft.
This was written in 1486 in Europe.1
As far as I am concerned, the only things that would seem really out of place in official discussion of Le Roy, New York, USA are "humors" and the last word, and those are merely details that got updated in the half-millennium since.2
To me, it elegantly snapshots the misattribution we are talking about at Le Roy, the town in NY, USA now known for school girls (and others) with Tourette's-like tics. To compare quickly:
We have conclusively ruled out any form of infection or communicable disease, and there's no evidence of any environmental factor. — Gregory Young, NYS Department of Health, who also ruled out drugs and anything ingested.3
Officials settled on a conclusion that they found agreeable. A New York Times article approved.4 No need to investigate further. Smedley is delighted (his words: "GREAT BALLS OF FIRE!")
In fact, it is widely agreed, just as witch possession was: there is nothing in Le Roy except excitable girls and a protean collection of bad social influences that are physically possessing them.
(And only them. In a triumphantly unspecified way.)
Don't spoil the happiness. We have our answer now.
By "misattribution", I mean, "attributing a disease to something other than a disease", as officials did in 1486 and in Le Roy.5
With inconvenient diseases, there are also denigration and mischaracterization.
These three actions are different, but the same people tend to do them, and they tend to be done to the same diseases. They get mixed and jumbled in ways that of course have nothing to do with logic. The important thing is that they are found together.
In some cases the person being blamed will be different from the sick person (for example with refrigerator mothers). In some the sick person is blamed. These too tend to be done by the same people, and to the same diseases, and they get mixed and jumbled.
Now forget the details
Details are important, but there is a bigger picture.
I believe it is possible to examine the cluster of how inconvenient diseases are treated. It is misopathy. Misopathy is like racism, except with diseases.
The fallacies and biases and actions in and around Le Roy, worldwide, are all part of this cluster.
But Le Roy is only one town and now is only one time, so let's zoom out into history.
Not a new phenomenon
The same type of misattribution occurred at Camelford and Incline Village and other towns where people's diseases were denied.
And with epilepsy and Parkinson's and diabetes and allergies and peptic ulcers and narcolepsy and writer's cramp and interstitial cystitis and autism and of course Tourette's — and hundreds of other diseases that history repeated on you. No sort of disease is excepted.
If you read the paper I discussed in my modest monograph on edema, you will find a reference to "hysterical paralysis", now called MS.
I have a long list.6
But there is no bodily infirmity, not even leprosy or epilepsy, which cannot be caused by witches…. And this is proved by the fact that no sort of infirmity is excepted by the Doctors. — The Hammer of Witches
The misattribution in Le Roy, and the massive persecution in The Pandemic and its allies, and misopathy around the world,7 is not a new phenomenon.
But over and above the misattribution and denigration and mischaracterization, and the suffering and death, there is more: each history for each disease gets washed silently and thoroughly.
Here is a forgotten battle:
Between attacks, the frank epileptic is usually a constitutional psychopath of the most disagreeable sort. … [Epileptics] are self-centered, unable to grasp the viewpoint of others, and childishly, uncomprehending when forced to accept the opposite view.
This was in the 1942 edition of Cecil's Textbook of Medicine, according to two other books. The textbook is now being sold in its 22nd edition here.
Many people think textbooks are infallible. They have no idea that battle, and others at the disease level (millions at the individual level), existed. It faded from public memory.
'Accuse, v.: To affirm another's guilt or unworth; most commonly as a justification of ourselves for having wronged them.' — Ambrose Bierce
We are swimming in misopathy.
The erasure of inconvenient diseases
So when there are people who are sick with inconvenient diseases, it works like this:
- It all seems new and then
- the authorities say it's witchcraft (or the same in contemporary terms) and then
- everybody believes it, until
- after long hard struggle it's acknowledged to be an ordinary disease and nobody cares, and then
- the long hard history of misattribution and denigration and mischaracterization disappears, fades, gone, and then
- the next disease pops up and
- it all seems new.
It is Shirley Jackson's The Lottery with oblivion. The villagers are picked off one by one, then never-existed.
Society cheerily steps over the bodies. First they are erased as not having a disease. Then the erasure itself fades. Nobody, except those affected, remembers that there was anything to remember.
It is the Inquisitors, not their victims, who practice black magic. They make things disappear.
To be continued here.
1 The Hammer of Witches (Malleus Maleficarum), republished for 183 years, translated by Montague Summers in 1928. I would be interested in other translations and notes on these excerpts, such as by Mackay.
It continues apace:
And secondly, when the disease is incurable, so that the patient can be relieved by no drugs, but rather seems to be aggravated by them.
Thirdly, the evil may come so suddenly upon a man that it can only be ascribed to witchcraft. …
My take is that 1486 was a brave new world of pseudo-medical deadly breakthroughs exactly like ours.
2 We will need to update "complexion" if it meant something like "the combination of the hot, cold, moist, and dry qualities". Dunno if they knew about infections per se — germ theory was proposed in 1546, 60 years later. Blood and stomach doesn't seem out of place, but we can update that also if it sounds funny to you. Drugs and anything ingested?
5 See this blog label for lightish treatment of misattribution vs. modus tollens, Occam's razor, natural selection, the meaning of health as it relates to breadth of facts, and future topics. (Blog labels stick lists of posts in the main column.)
7 Let's continue with epilepsy: (1) Asian character change away from old denialist morphemes. (Not open access unfortunately, so look for summaries.) (2) NYT on misopathy against epilepsy in Sierra Leone. (3) Same thing emphasizing demonic possession.