I have lived through many hysterias. Four come to mind. The first was the view that children were being kidnapped at dangerously high rates.
Nearly all Americans believed that 100,000 children were being abducted every year. The most important consequence was that parents wouldn’t let children walk to school alone or play outside by themselves. This had a vast impact on the generations raised after 1980. The fact was that only 125 stranger abductions of children occurred every year, based on FBI data.
The second was that kindergarten children and preschoolers were being subject to satanic rituals. This was in the mid-1980’s. Dozens of adults all over the country where found guilty and imprisoned for these satanic outbursts with the testimony of very young children as the only evidence.
The third was the testimony of adults, females, who had ‘repressed memories’ of being sexually abused by parents, step parents and relatives. These horrifying memories were recovered in psycho-therapeutic sessions. This was in the early 1990’s.
By the mid-1990’s a global panic spread that human carbon dioxide pollution was resulting in an Armageddon scale of global warming that portended a disastrous outcome in starvation and ocean flooding.
I now see that hysteria has a definition. The definition comprises three components:
- The idea or belief is widespread in some large and cohesive population and strongly believed to be true.
- The idea or belief is not subject to any dissuading with facts, data or reliable evidence. Or not susceptible to finding any counter-evidence.
- The idea or belief would look ridiculous in any other period than during the hysteria.
When I finally came to this definition I realized that this was a secular version of man’s need for religion, for a cohesive group belief. This is a very deep human need. It seems to vary with time and sweeps through society without predictability. I suspect we experience more hysterias as traditional religions retreat.
We Americans are currently in a hysteria where it is widely believed that men make sexual overtures to women who are mentally harmed as a consequence. This began in the 1970’s and has expanded ever since then.
All five of the American hysterias I have listed are rooted in Puritanism where sexuality outside of marriage, alcohol, dancing and frivolity are condemned.
The connection to each hysteria is slightly different. The first two resulted from mothers being in the labor force and being outside the traditional role for married women. The third, which I watched from client zero, was an outgrowth of hippy female sexual promiscuity and subsequent guilt. The last, global Armageddon, comes from the collapse of anti-commerce in the USSR and China. It thrives in the failed Lefty world.