Witch Hunts, Satanist Scares and Stranger Danger

WeBelieveChildrenA Q&A with Richard Beck:

In the 1980s there was a panic in America, a moral panic. Satanists and deviants, it was feared, were everywhere, operating secretive sects that targeted children for ritual sexual abuse. The panic spread across the country, to small towns. It destroyed communities in New Jersey, Florida, Texas, and many other places, including Minnesota where in Jordan, just southeast of the Twin Cities, some 23 innocent people were charged by prosecutors for these crimes, charges which were ultimately dismissed. The charges were false. The wild accounts of orgiastic abuse were elicited with leading questions from prosecutors and therapists. In the end, more than 190 people across the country were formally charged in these cases, and 80 were convicted. People like former Attorney General Janet Reno launched their careers off them.

In his new book, “We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s,” Richard Beck, an editor at n+1 magazine, looks at the causes of the panic, the evidence, the trials themselves and their effects.

Read the rest here.

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The Art and Science of Hope

CutlerHopeFrom The Rotarian:

A few years ago, I was passing through the northern Nigerian city of Kano when I stopped at a roadside stall for some tea. The proprietor asked me where I was from. I told him.

“I want to go to America!” he told me, smiling. “We are just suffering here in Nigeria. If I go to America, I will not come back to Nigeria again.”

“Not even to see your mother?” I asked.

He laughed. “I will send her some money.”

I thanked him and drank my tea. After I left, I wondered if he was serious or just talking.

As I traveled through the region, I met several people headed north, on their way to Europe. It was a difficult and dangerous journey that tens of thousands of people set out on each year, many of them never reaching their destination. I often marveled at the confidence a person must have to embark on a trip like that, to leave everything behind, to be certain of somehow making it.

Like most people, I’d always assumed these travelers were the most poverty-stricken, the most hopeless. But now I can see that this isn’t the case – at least not entirely. Often, the people who leave their villages are the brightest and most ambitious ones, the ones with the biggest dreams. As one poet from Cameroun wrote after arriving in Spain, “No money in the pockets/But hope in the heart.” Hope, as much as anything else, drives them.

Hope may be our most important asset as a species. Hope is the thing that drew us out of our caves and around the world. Hope is what gets us out of bed in the morning. Hope lets us imagine our lives as more than they are. Yet when we talk about hope, we usually mean the vague feeling that things will get better. But that is not hope.

Read the rest here.

In Praise of the Wild Child

mm0814_TrueNorth4BFrom Minnesota Monthly:

When I was 5 years old, I wanted more than anything to go camping, to be out in the woods, running, climbing, exploring. But we didn’t own a single piece of camping gear, and my dad was, let’s just say, not much of an outdoorsman. He came from Iowa, where forests didn’t really exist. As a boy, he joined the Boy Scouts and went to a nearby lake with his troop, where they were supposed to cook food “like the Indians did,” buried underground with hot coals. His potato came out black and hard on the outside yet somehow raw on the inside. So he went to bed hungry, tossed around all night on the hard ground, got eaten by mosquitoes, and vowed never to set foot (or at least sleep) in the woods again.

But I begged and begged, until finally some uncles invited us to go camping with them, and my father grudgingly agreed. At a garage sale down the street, we found an old canvas World War II tent and some worn cotton sleeping bags. With these, we headed into the wild.

phpThumbWe met the others on the banks of the St. Croix River. My uncles came hauling a new, shiny pop-up camper that looked like the Taj Mahal on wheels. My dad looked around, picked a spot at random, and set up our tent. That night, we tied the flaps shut and drifted off to the buzz of mosquitoes in our ears. Some hours later, I woke up to the sound of my dad splashing around and swearing, having discovered too late that he’d put our tent (more or less) in a dry creek bed. Water was flowing through the middle of our sleeping area, and we spent the rest of the night shivering on the car seats. I realize now that he did all this not because he loved nature, but because he loved me.

Read the rest here.