Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible speaks of a well-known case of mass hysteria, The Salem Witch Trials. In 1962, a group of Salem, Massachusetts residents turned on each other, based on hearsay accusations about witchcraft. The unfounded allegations lead to the hanging of several socio-economically disadvantaged individuals with the majority being women. At the time, the Salem residents were a close-knit community under great stress created by the hype of those who accused many (Bartholomew 2017).
The nature of not understanding the unknown can be a strong motivator of fear. Fear can be a pivotal and powerful emotion. It can either override or elicit rational reasoning, which is a central and decisive factor in how humans make decisions. When fear contributes to good reasoning, it allows us to make good choices that often keep us safe. However, whenever fear contributes to negative reasoning, it often leads to negative and harmful behavior. As a result, deviant behavior seems as uncertainty, which produces anxiety. An example of a harmful behavior that is fear driven is mass hysteria. The Salem witch trials came to be because of mass hysteria that was driven based on unfounded information.
Governing individuals or entities are often in the position to utilized hostile topics and situations that allows them to manipulate societies’ natural inclination towards hysterical beliefs. In the Crucible, John Proctor takes advantage of his social standing by lying in court, which leads to the dismay of innocent individuals (Arthur 1996). In the same matter, a prominent and influential character, Judge Danforth utilizes his position to persecute innocent individuals knowing that the accusations are bogus. “Putnam: You are not undone! Let you take hold here. Wait for no one to charge you – declare it yourself. You have discovered witchcraft” (Arthur 1996). John Proctor will do almost anything to keep his reputation; he will lie and do everything in his power to protect it. Driven anxiety can be made worse with fake and manipulated information or information that is targeted so that people receive only inflammatory information. (Umbrasas 2018). Presenting the residents of Salem with persuasive inflammatory information about witchcraft created an anxious and fear-driven environment that resulted in the manipulation and support of the majority of the residents.
In order for there to be a transformation in society that may eliminate the probabilities of mass hysterics, influential individuals of different positions must educate the population to understand and apply qualities, such as respect, which inculcates self-restraint and safeguards their zealousness from ignorant co-optation for immoral purposes (Umbrasas 2018). Moreover, the justice system, news, and social outlets must base their reporting on facts and not mere speculation. Processes should be put in place to hold accountable those in power who are not protecting and intervening by allowing powerful outlets such as social media platforms and news reporters to feed the public inaccurate and unverified information. It is important to present exculpatory evidence regardless of how insignificant it may seem.
Furthermore, protection against hate driven and false information should start throughout the scholastic years. Another way to avoid future opportunities for mass hysteria is by advocating for a school curriculum that emphasizes and encourages individuals to develop the critical faculties required to analyze information in an unbiased manner. It is important to instill an understanding and the pursuit of wisdom as opposed to accepting hearsay as facts because of a predisposition to biases or fear of the unknown. It is imperative to encourage the ability to utilize investigative faculties to search for the truth that could overthrow efforts at manipulation (Umbrasas 2018).
According to Umbrasas, “mass hysteria creates societal disequilibrium, which creates conditions favorable to revolution” (2018). It is imperative to consider the consequences if we do not begin to advocate and implement approaches to avoid future cases of mass hysteria. It is also important to consider how devastating the implications can be for future generations. If corrective approaches are not put in place, the results can lead to constant abuse of powerless social outcast individuals’, and the violation of human rights, and the acceleration of sociopolitical hostility (Umbrasas 2018). Even worst distorted views will become the standard on how society handles injustice and unfairness. Increasing the probability of unfair, cruel and immoral treatment of disadvantaged individuals.
In conclusion, when fear spreads and invokes anxious responses and becomes widespread and delusional as it happened in Salem, it converts into collective anxiety (Bartholomew 2017). For centuries, collective anxiety has served as a tool for personal gain, as an opportunity to gain political advantage and as a weapon for retribution. Thomas Putnam is a perfect example of taking advantage of fear for personal enrichment. Putnam accused innocent individuals for personal gain. In the Crucible, the convicted are usually forced to sell their land at second-rate prices. Giles Corey exposed Mr. Putnam agenda, “Thomas Putnam is reachin’ out for land!. The Salem Witch event correlates with findings in the witchcraft literature suggesting that seemingly inexplicable illnesses, premature deaths, and financial hardships tend to be the major causal forces generating witch-hunts (Adinkrah 751).
- Adinkrah, Mensah. “Child Witch Hunts in Contemporary Ghana.” Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 35, no. 9, ser. 0145-2134, 2011, pp. 741–752. 0145-2134, doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2011.05.0.
- Bartholomew, Robert. “Why Are Females Prone to Mass Hysteria?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 31 Mar. 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/its-catching/201703/why-are-females-prone-mass-hysteria.
- Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. Penguins, 1996.
- Umbrasas, Karl. “Hostile Information Operations and Mass Hysteria.” Small Wars Journal, 8 Nov. 2018, 10:00 am, http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/hostile-information-operations-and-mass-hysteria.