If this part is not understandable enough, you can skip to part 3. Each part is written in a different style.
When I read The Hammer of Witches, I had to check to make sure it wasn't written recently, because it was too familiar.
But the parallel I want to draw your attention to is not in the specifics of the widespread cultural belief I referred to in part 1.
That belief was witchcraft in 1486. Today it is unlimitedly-powerful essentially-telekinetic postmodernist category-error mind-body-mystical slippery-as-a-press-release balls-to-the-wind pan-contradictory quasi-witchcraft abject woo-woo.
It also isn't in the bizarre methods of exorcism, which relied on rituals then and rely on rituals now.
The parallel is that the fundamental underlying social phenomena — roughly comprising various types of biased attribution and characterization, apathetic and wishful thinking, unquestioned obedience to authority, abuse of authority, denigration including scapegoating, and political oppression — remain unchanged 500 years later.
These phenomena form a cluster. Humans exhibit the cluster again and again.1
Right now it is happening to millions of people. There is a large amount of suffering and death. Nobody is immune.
The freakishly widespread cultural belief, which amounts to a belief in telekinesis and is held by doctors and laymen alike (now and 500 years ago), is part of that cluster and is influenced by it. It is not generated rationally as most assume.
The cluster persists through shifts in fashion.
Like racism, misopathy is recognizable.
Le Roys will repeat until we tackle it directly and comprehensively. It is approximately like racism in its complexity and simplicity, a mixture of incentives and impulses.
There is reason for optimism. People get racism — its cluster is generally known now after a long struggle — and open racism is significantly reduced in many places.
That's the point of this article (the whole series):
In my view, attitudes and behavior toward disease are among mankind's most striking unaddressed irrationalities. They lead to suffering and death.
How many people 500 years ago recognized that the age they lived in was irrational?
How will our descendants regard our age?
I think we can do something about it.
There are reasons for irrationality
Instances of misopathy and racism have an explanation, but it cannot be found in the rhetoric of denialists and racists.
You will encounter fallacy after fallacy, nothing but fallacy, fallacy all day and everywhere, but in my view fallacies do not fundamentally underlie the persecution as is often assumed — they cannot.
When you fix them, new fallacies take their place. Bad reasoning cannot be the driver. It is just another part of the cluster.
There are reasons for fallacies.
And here is my way of saying that:
A racist lynching is not adequately explained by the excuses of the lynchers; it is explained better as racism.2
Exactly the same principle applies with misopathy.
Fallacies have reasons underlying them, and I believe that has consequences for us.
Namely, we must recognize that logic does not pierce every shield. It will not work where it has no purchase. Really winning will require every logical and rhetorical — and political — force we can mobilize.
It will require massive manpower just as racism did.
Le Roy is simple
Le Roy is now an ally. Fortunately, it does not challenge people's belief in a just world nearly as repulsively as The Pandemic.
It is not millions of people. It is not billions of dollars. Nobody has died. Yet.
That is what makes it suitable. Le Roy and its alikes will provoke less resistance. When it is vindicated, there will be a teachable moment for those who can be taught.
But we can think bigger. In principle, it can be a cynosure, a rhetorical ramp, in order to vindicate it.
Now for where we can go with this. We are done with the witch hammer.
I am going to talk about an age of mankind, and science vs. authority, in part 3. It is much more accessible than what I just talked about. I hope you will read it.
The study of denialism and misopathy can be consequential and rigorous. It is a rich frontier.
It is not a perfect explanation by any measure, but it is a better one than anything you will hear from the lynchers.
"The victims deserved it", "they brought it on themselves", "it's tradition", "it wasn't that bad", "I'm only doing my job", "they are scientifically proven to be morally inferior", "everybody else was doing it", "we didn't know", "it's the system", "it is absolutely permitted by the rules", "they are not like we are, they aren't really human", "we were only joking" — those are not reasons; they are pretexts and rationalizations.
They are rhetorical window dressing for incentives and impulses.
Lynchers and the authorities who sanction them, including academic ones, including official ones, including the press, are not merely mistaken about a logical principle or a fact.
Neither are misopathic bigots and their authorities, including academic ones, including official ones, including the press.
Politely reminding them of their errors in reasoning will never address their incentives or impulses. It will therefore never stop them from killing. No more than asking the wasp not to sting you.
You still have to point out errors, but it is only to demonstrate to them that they cannot get away with it (and to address their audiences). Making and understanding sense is not their priority.
Sometimes that is not true. Some people hold mistaken reasons for their behavior, and we can sometimes fix those, but we must not fool ourselves into thinking that's always effective.
For a strategy using incentives, see A Machiavellian approach.