Friday, February 18, 2005 the apostrophe

In writing, below, about the Salem Witch trials and rye ergot, I lost, I think, the proper issue. If the problem was literally in the bread, the accused were certainly innocent. But the real issue, and the issue Arthur Miller was getting at in his play, is the reaction of society.

Society reacts to percieved threats to society. Michel Foucault would undoubtedly show us that it is a question of how "madness" is both understood and responded to. In medieval Europe, it was largely accepted. In Puritan Salem, in the thrall of the Enlightenment, "madness" was demonic possession. So the reaction of society to the "witches" is the crux of the issue. Society responded to a perceived threat. Were these things right, or wrong? But the critical question is this: who holds society responsible for its mistakes? Later society?

Likewise, who holds the commanders responsible for misdirecting the troops? The ACLU reports today that the records of abuse just released show clearly the torture and abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan was too wide-spread to be "a few bad apples." Clearly leaders are complicit in this scandal. Leaders hold a dual role in a governmental hierarchy: they command, but they also represent. What they "represent" is society (even in totalitarian regimes). The stability of the leadership gives society its sense of security.

When the leadership is the problem, by extension, society is the problem. What then?
Who watches the watcher? Who holds the king and his advisors accountable? How does society hold itself accountable?

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