Moral Panics, Then and Now.

1350180441-3 Kevin Williamson compares the contemporary moral panic over campus rape to past moral panics over rock music, marijuana, and (believe it or or not) Satanic Sex Cult Daycare Centers.

I am just old enough to remember the moral panic over Satanist Sex Cult Daycare Centers, which pitted credulous media, soulless prosecutors and snake-oil child psychologists who claimed magic powers of helping three-year-olds retrieve suppressed memories, against various middle aged ladies who ran neighborhood daycare centers and were accused of witchcraft and child abuse. The middle-aged ladies, of course, were all innocent, but that did not stop the hard-nosed rationalists, people with all the credentials of the social elite, law school and J-school grads and doctors of psychology, from sending them to prison for ritual sex abuse.

Williamson attributes the Satanic Sex Cult Daycare Panic of the 1980s to widespread feelings of guilt over the real hotbed of sexual abuse that proliferated in the 70s and 80s, families in which a mother lived with man who was not the biological father of her children. I don’t know if the analysis is correct but it is intriguing.

Williamson does not mention another great panic from the same era, the AIDS panic. Propaganda suggested that anyone could get AIDS at any time, from things as innocuous as kissing someone with a cold sore. Of course all that was false. AIDS did do terrible damage to the gay community, but if one was not a gay man, heroin addict or prostitute, the chances of contracting the disease were (and are) vanishingly small, and most people realized that. Why was there such a loud push to have AIDS seen as a threat to the general population? Was that too a form of trying to exteriorize and nationalize an internal feeling of guilt?

Williamson argues that the root of most moral panics is not just guilt, but the search for power: politicians exploit feelings of unease for their own benefit. Is there a source of guilt behind the college rape panic? College kids are less sexually active than a generation ago, and rape is less common among them than among the general population, where it is becoming less common with each passing year. If there is a rape crisis anywhere in America it is on Indian reservations, not college campuses.

Colleges are overpopulated with mediocre students who should have learned a trade in high school, but instead chose useless degrees and mountains of debt. Many of them lack both the specific aptitudes or maturity to attend, but they go anyway because society idealizes prolonged adolescence and instills fear of things like blue collar labor, growing up, getting a job and getting married.

Meanwhile college tuitions are sky-rocking as the value of the degree for getting a job drops and the nation suffers from a lack of skilled laborers like welders or machinists. Both these factors would indicate institutions (even wide swaths of the population) in crisis. Could the college rape panic be an exteriorization on the part of activist students and campus administrators (who are the real drivers of rising tuition costs) of deep uncertainty about the futures of their institutions?

Then there is a personal theory of mine, that putting men and women into direct competition with one another without allowing spaces where they can be separate and temporarily free of each other causes stress, since they are often pitted against each other in ways that play to their weaknesses and not their strengths. Each generation becomes more homogenized, with men expected to act more like women, and women like men, which might be fine for some, but not for most. Some men react to the stress by dropping out of the competition, some women react to the stress by externalizing it onto imaginary oppressors.

It is just a personal theory, maybe I’m wrong, but I think it would explain the behavior of some people a little younger than me, girls complaining about microagressions, and men retreating to the “manosphere”.


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