Maureen Therese Anderson manders at midway.uchicago.edu
Thu Nov 18 00:26:04 PST 1999

Yoshie, Michael, Charles, Steve:

> as soon as I heard stories of the
>"ritual abuses" at day care centers, I immediately thought: "Only in
>America! It's scary that anyone could actually believe such things!"

The particulars of the daycare scare (its site, imagery, political field) are North American. Bien sur. When panics related to global-capital take place in Latin American, Asian, Eastern European, Britain, West Africa, etc., they articulate with the sociocultural forms, economies and institutions of those places.

But if I'm reading you right, your "Only in America!" was provoked by the idea of rational people having such bugaboos as ritual abuse. But that's one of the part that's been most constant in the rash of panics that have sprung up round the globe in recent years.

Though there's lots of local variance, the rumors and panics usually converge around a few themes: mystical fears of theft and sale of body parts (especially of the young); fear and moral outrage towards occult practitioners who create wealth by mysterious means--often involving the destruction of others or their own value-creating capacities; fears of reckless consumers--in both senses of the word: consumer-consume and devour-consume (as in life-force of an other, by zombification, soul-eaters, etc.). ...And from where in the world-system most of these fears are generated, that's certainly how a lot of things seem on the ground.

Many of these occult-fears generated in the 3rd-world contain not-too-hidden critique of global-cap. One simple for-instance is how through the '90s parts of Latin America have witnessed mass panics about unscrupulous gringos ("saca-ojos") stealing the organs of infants and youths which they carry off to America for mystical, wealth-creating ends. (=affluent America siphoning off the essense of impoverished "others" for their own gain, etc.). What do you think of a case like that? Are the Guatemalans and Peruvians idiots for literally believing that their countryside is teeming with gringos who fill up suitcases with eyes and organs extracted from their community's children? or are they astute to intuit some larger truths? some of each?

The general "ritual fears and children" theme has countless European counterparts as well. See Jean LaFountaine's _Speak of the Devil: Allegations of Satanic Child Abuse in Contemporary England_. Or if the tabloids are more fun reading, see (as random example) "Satanic Ghouls in Baby Sacrifice Horror" (undertitles "cult is cover for paedophile sex monsters" and "they breed tots to use at occult rites") in News of the World, 24 August, 1997, 30-31. Very similar imagery.

>in Satanic day care workers _are_ idiotic, in a peculiarly American way.
>Those of us who stand on the side of reason should _not_ hesitate to point
>that out. If we hesitate and make excuses (called "understanding,"
>"explanation," etc.), we end up encouraging the very tendency we need to
>combat. They should be laughed out of existence. Last but not the least,
>the day care scares, more than anything else, are indices of the weakness
>of the feminist movement, so we need to work hard to reactivate the

Yes, the daycare panics were strong indices of the weakness of the feminist movement. In fact, if strong feminist values were already reflected in the social forms and understandings of those communities, then the panic as such would have been unimaginable. So are they idiots for having vulnerabilities associated with the absence of the world they don't inhabit? or rather are they idiots for not expressing their response to that vulnerability with resources from a world that they don't inhabit?

Michael asked:

>Maureen, do you think there was a daycare center that really was the site
>of a satanic conspiracy to abuse children? If so, which one?

>If no, then this particular point really is all or nothing. No one, not
>even Alex, is denying the reality child abuse. Just satanic child abuse.

I presume the overwhelming majority of accusations were towards innocents. But not having looked into the cases, I'm in no position to say every last one was virtually unfounded. As I suggested last post, sites that are charged for parents/community-members tend to also be charged for the more disturbed among us--they're part of our same social world, after all. So if I had a kid in a daycare center where rumors of satanic rituals were flying, I'm pretty sure I'd be checking it out.

Related example of the phenomenon I'm talking about: I alluded above to panics, often occult-tinged, about transnational trades in young people, body parts, and so forth. Fears related, I'm arguing, to global-cap's translocal processes of value extraction, commodification, and its associated intensities, powers, insecurities, temptations. In this context there's not always going to be a firm line between charged fears and the charged activities of nut-cases who inhabit that same world: consider the case in Germany about the ""Leather Witch and Sado Hangman" who were alledgedly offering Czech girls on the internet, to be used in torture, sex slavery--pickup and disposal of bodies inclusive, for DM 15,000. ["Couple on trial for child torture offer," in The Guardian, 8 August, 1997, p. 13.] Is this all hype? The Bavarian courts don't think so. And no recovered memory syndrome here.


I'm not saying that the basic operation of advanced-cap is too abstract for the average person (on that score I'm much more concerned, like you, that she even be exposed to something besides Newsweek). I'm saying that it's impossible for any one, even if we know the basic schtick, to keep hold of all late-cap's linkages and causes and effects in everyday life, or of how it's transforming the various social forms and dynamics of those lives.

your point about the new child/adult criminal laws is provocative in the context of this child as pristine innocence theme. When I read your lines I thought Oh, it's the race-thing: the child of "pristine-innocence" is white, the "adult criminal" child is, in the Michigan imaginary, a black youth gang member. But then I thought (and this doesn't contradict the first): if the child-innocence site is an inverse projection for adults of their own experiences of a Hobbesian world, then for many people, the more sheltered and cut-off from the world the child-image is (in the home, not daycare), the more a symbol of that innocence. Meaning that the most purely "innocent" child of all would be the one still in the womb. The symbolic logics at work here might link that truism about most anti-abortion activitists (only preoccupied about the unborn, not homeless kids) to the child-adult law. As enclosed-innocent, just as the unborn child becomes "contaminated" with society by actually being born (more exposure to the Hobbesian world etc.) so the child-criminal, being the horrific antithesis of that image of pure childhood, has to be exiled from the very category of childhood. (something like that. just a hazy thought.)

Steve, proposing why the satanic ritual abuse crowd deserves dismissal and the militia crowd does not, says:

>The basic premise of the
>ritual abuse hysteria--"recovered memory" and the alleged
>mechanism of "repression" that underwrites it--appears to
>be wholly groundless, while the basic premise of the
>militia mentality--that american government as a whole
>is anti-democratic and serves priorities that run counter
>to their interests--is not.

Did recovered memory syndrome play much role in the daycare cases? I thought RMS was part of the adult-child/family member phenomenon. In any case, as Katha and others have pointed out, the scare emerged from a confluence of disparate influences. Some of the influences were relatively evanescent (therapy insurance policies, the pop-psych theories of the moment) some more pervasive, long-standing sociocultural forms (fundamentalist Christianity, psychological discipline, global cap itself). We could probably look in detail at the practices and understandings of some militia, and find a parallel confluence of multi-levelled influences.

Also in both cases we'd be able to identify, in the lives of "conspiracy-belief holders" diffuse angst which revealed doubts in the dominant interpretations about what is supposed to be happening in their lives. Also in both cases the diffuse angst is all too readily translated into vivid images (satanist childminder, jewish banker, whatever).

>that many
>of the people attracted to this basic premise of the
>militias are poorly educated, not evil, and are worthy
>of the attention and wooing of the left.

As are many caught up in the satanist-scares. It's true that for the satan-crowd as a group, official "politics" isn't as much of a unifying or self-conscious part of their identity. (They are more likely to land innocents in jail than to blow them up in a federal building.) But this reflects the difference between happenings in the more guy-related spheres (and politics is guy-centered), and dynamics taking place around children, families, intimate spaces and intimate vulnerabilities. They should be equally political issues, but that's not our world right now. And apparently not in Alex C.'s mind either.

>regarding the
>satanic ritual abuse question, there is much that may
>be usefully unpacked [...] but i think everyone agrees that that is a
>more complicated matter

well I'm glad you at least think so. part of the reason I thought it needed more unpacking was because Alex C. for one certainly wasn't seeing it as a more complicated matter. He called it mindless, demented hysteria.


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list