Culture

The red flags of a religious cult — and what it's like to escape one

"I own me." This sentence, comprised of three short words, seems inarguable. But when attorney and author Faith Jones says them aloud, as she does in her 2019 TED Talk and in her new book, "Sex Cult Nun: Breaking Away from the Children of God, a Wild, Radical Religious Cult," they symbolize a lifetime of experience, learning and healing.

Jones was born into and raised within the powerful Children of God, later known as the Family, a religious group founded by her grandfather David Berg. She, like her parents and everyone else in their peripatetic community, was expected to be obedient and to distrust outsiders. It was, perhaps inevitably, a climate rife with abuse and exploitation. That Jones struck out on her own, attending Georgetown University and eventually becoming an attorney, is a testament to her internal strength and resolve. That she has since made it her mission to empower other women to similarly claim ownership of their lives is remarkable.

Salon spoke to Jones recently about her memoir, and her lessons in creating healthy boundaries and recovering from the unimaginable.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

I want to start with this mantra of yours, this mission of yours, that you discuss in the book. What does it mean when you say, "I own me?"

"I own me" is recognizing that I have a property right in my body. My body is my sole property, which means like other property, nobody gets to tell me what to do with it. Without my express permission, nobody gets to access it. Nobody gets to enforce their will on me without my willing, free, unpressured permission. To me, that was such a revolutionary concept because I had grown up being told directly my whole life that my body was not my own. That it belonged to God, but really they meant it belonged to the group, and they got to tell me what to do with it. When I figured this out, that was the key for me to understand what had gone wrong in this group and in so many of these organizations, whether religious or family or governmental, where they try to take away our right of ownership in our body.

The way that you discuss the difference between what you were told but what your gut was telling you is something that not just people who grew up in cults can relate to. Being told that what you feel is not right. "Don't trust yourself, we're going to tell you what you feel." Talk to me about how you came to that understanding, and the people along the way who helped you trust yourself.

Learning to trust yourself is a continuing journey for all of us, especially for people who've experienced abuse and exploitation. That's one of the hardest lessons that we have to come to terms with, trusting ourselves. That is one of the reasons why this framework is so powerful because I believe it gives us the tools to understand and to trust that, if I'm feeling pressured, if I'm feeling a certain way, then I already know that's a red flag, that this is a violation. Something is happening here.

That's critical, because we're so used to being told that what we feel isn't true. So we try to keep trying to dismiss it instead of accepting it. One of the biggest issues we have is creating healthy boundaries when you've grown up without having boundaries, or when those boundaries have been violated. That's really what this framework is about — helping us who are recovering, but helping society in general, because these are the foundational principles of all society.

Later on in the book, you step back and look at your parents to get clarity on where they were coming from — because of what they brought to their parenting experience in this really, really strange environment. To see these patterns and where they come from, and to know that they don't come out of nowhere is important. How do you get to that place, though? Particularly for those who are survivors — to distinguish between understanding and distancing — because you've had to set those boundaries.

I've been on this journey of healing for many years, and there were certain things that were key turning points for me in that. One of the things that I read was Alice Miller. She's a psychologist, and she wrote a great book called "The Drama of The Gifted Child" and other work like that, where she looks at the effects of this type of abuse and where it comes from and how it persists generationally. Oftentimes abusers are people who have also been abused. That enabled me to take a step back and look at that, and say, "I can see where they're coming from, but I don't want to continue that pattern." That is the key responsibility of each of us, to step up and say, "Okay, I see what happened. I see my parents and the maybe abusive patterns that they had. It probably came from their parents and so on, but I am my own person and I get to step forward and say, it stops here. I get to work on the change in myself."

Writing this book, I spent hours interviewing my parents and other people to make sure my memories were accurate and details were correct. That was one of the interesting things I learned writing this book, just hearing more of the background stories to some of these things that happened. It gave me an even clearer understanding of things that I didn't really understand about them, their past experiences, what it was like for them in the moment they were going through. For instance, with my mother had basically left me for two months when I was a baby.

I was like, "How could you do that? How could anyone do that to their baby?" Understanding what had happened to her and how she had been threatened she could lose me if she didn't submit to this helped shift my mindset. Oftentimes, we're trapped in the narrative we know. Taking that time to explore it more can also bring us a kind of release because our reality is our story, the story we tell ourselves.

Your story is so unique, and yet, the scale was shocking to me. The number of people involved, the global scope of it, was huge.

Yes. Something like over 10,000 members, but thousands more moved in and out of the group over forty, fifty years. But it's much bigger than that. I talked to so many of my friends, men and women, who grew up in normal society and many, many have experienced child sexual abuse. Many have experienced some form of sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, control. So many have experienced abusive beatings from their fathers or father figures.

The cult didn't start this. The cult took things that existed in society and it created a microcosm and an isolation and a validation that allow people to take it more to an extreme. But this stuff exists throughout society, which is why I'm so passionate about saying these are the principles we need to get really clear on and understand. That's the only way we can kind of inoculate people against these type of cults and anywhere in society where we say, "Hey, are they trying to get you to give over your body, your free will? Are they using manipulation? Are they trying to get you to give over your creations and saying you don't own this? Are they violating these principles?" Red flag, right?

People involved in these cults at the higher levels, or involved in these power dynamics in abusive relationships as the antagonists, don't see themselves as villains. The question that a lot of people reflexively ask of the victims or of the survivors is, "Well, why did you stay?" without understanding the escalation. Without understanding, "This was also the person who was caring for me. This is also the person who I was dependent upon." That's a crucial element, whether it's a cult or a marriage or a job.

You said something really important. These people don't see themselves as that. In fact, they see themselves as very, very good. "I am this great, good person. I am this prophet. I am hearing from God." They have this vision of themselves. Most people in the world, they don't see themselves as bad or evil, even murderers and serial killers have this vision of somehow, "I'm doing this for a greater, a better, higher purpose." Which is why you need a standard and principles. Because when you can take it, you can say, "Hey, I'm hearing from God, and God tells me to do this thing." If it's a violation of one of these principles, you already know, I'm in the wrong boat right away.

What happened to my mother, for instance. She joined this group. It wasn't a sex cult when she joined. It was this biblical missionary group that was out to save the world. It demanded extreme sacrifice and loyalty from its followers. But the sex stuff came in quite a few years later. It was seeded in slowly into the indoctrination of the people by my grandfather. He didn't just change overnight. He presented all of these letters, preparing his followers' minds over a year to get them into a place, prepping them for this.

I interviewed cult survivor Daniel Barban Levin recently, and he said, "Nobody joins a cult. They join a group of friends." Nobody signs up for an abusive relationship either. Nobody says, "I'm going to start a relationship with this person because this seems like someone who will really, really hurt me."

So let's talk about those principles. Whether you are in a group or in a one-on-one relationship, there are some of these red flags that you need to be thinking about and have top of mind.

It's first stating, "I own my body. It's my sole property." Therefore I own what I create with it, whether it's my services or products or invention. And then once I create something — and this is a constitutional right — I have the right to contract. I have the right to make a deal to exchange.

I think one of the main things that gets violated is there are five elements of any good exchange or contract. One of the main elements of this is something called no undue pressure. Because what is blackmail? It's blackmail when you apply undue pressure to somebody. For instance, in the group, I was subjected to pressure to have to have sex with other members where I really didn't want to, but I was told that I had to for God, or to avoid punishment basically.

When you coerce somebody into doing something through either implicit or direct threats, that is not a free choice. That is not a free exchange. You violated one of those principles. In that particular case that could even be considered rape. And then the final element is the effect. What is the impact? How much responsibility do I bear for impact beyond my direct control? My grandfather, how much responsibility does he bear, not just for the children that he molested himself, but for espousing those ideas in such a way that other people did that as well.

So that principles, and the red flags are: They put it always in very noble terms, that your body is for service or instead of saying, "You own you. You get to choose. You have free choice, and as long as your choice is not violating other people's rights, that's fine." Nobody gets to tell you who you are and what you need to do. That is your choice.

There's another thing, how vulnerable you make yourself in this story and your realization that, "What happened to me, that's called rape." For a lot of people, when they have that dawning, it's not necessarily because someone has jumped out of a bush in a dark alley. It's well after the fact. It's so important for someone reading that to understand that's often what it's like.

I think that's true. I think people who experienced child abuse are the same, they don't realize it until much later what happened to them and what was taken from them. As to how I get through it, there's a few resilience techniques which really helped me to come through it in a different way, that I used without realizing what I was doing. But also I didn't just sit around. I went after healing and happiness like a bulldog.

I was like, "I'm not going to suffer. This is not what life is for. Life is to grow." So yeah, bad stuff happened to me and I'm going to figure out how to heal in myself. That's what I did. I talk about some of the most powerful techniques that I used to heal and to recover. I wrote a guide for women called, "I Own Me." Talking about those experiences, talking about this framework and how learning to see ourselves and our bodies in a different way, really helps. There are certain psychological techniques that I used. I was helped with therapy to do certain healing processes that really helped to clear out I think some of the residual trauma locks that were in there.

Even after recognizing what had happened to me, I did not think of myself as a victim. That wasn't the role I wanted. That wasn't the part I wanted to play. I could say, "This bad thing happened to me, but here I am taking control of my life. This is my life now." I wasn't going to live in that story. I didn't talk about it all the time. In a healing process, it's one thing to bring it up and go through it, which you need to do, to access it. Some people don't do the healing because they're too afraid to access it, but you don't have to keep living in that story. You get to write a new story. And that's what I decided.

Going back and writing this book was tough, because you don't only have to write your most painful experiences once. You go over them a hundred times because you edit them and then edit them again and then edit them again. Every time I was like, "Oh no, I do not want to read that chapter again." I wouldn't have done it if it wasn't that I had a bigger purpose in this. This is really just a vehicle to express what happens when we, as a society, as a group, as individuals don't have clarity on what are these fundamental principles of human integrity.

What's the phrase you used? "Twenty-three years of in indoctrination doesn't disappear in an instance." I love that line, because it's true. Tell me a little bit about what it looks like now that you're doing this work and you're living within your own identity now.

The thing is, I think we get to change identities. I've done it a number of times in my life. We get to write our own story and our identity. When I initially thought about writing the story, I had thought, "We just had such a crazy life, it would be kind of interesting to write the story." I was more thinking of it from a perspective of wanting to show people who didn't have much that they could still achieve and do well. I became a lawyer and I work for some of the top law firms, and I wanted them to show them that path didn't have to be their story.

But as I grew and developed and healed and learned, I created the framework and began this journey of writing this book. All of these stories that I didn't think I was going to tell or write, especially not in such detail, were really the story that needed to be told. Even now, it's daunting because I've always been a very private person. But I think if it can help people to reconcile some of their own experiences, then it's worth it to me.

At the end, you make it clear that the other members of your family have made different choices and gone on very different paths. There isn't just one story from an experience like this, you can go in so many different directions from it.

That was why I tried to really stick to my story and my experiences, because each person who goes through this is affected differently. Each person has their own journey, their own story. My own family members, fortunately are all in their own stages of recovery from this, but they have learned and grown. My parents have as well. My mother, when I taught her this framework, had a lot of really good conversations. It gave her a lot more clarity on what had happened to her in the family. what some of those practices were, clearly defining what was wrong with them. When you don't have that framework in your mind, it's going to be hard to define exactly what was wrong.

Until you have the language to really articulate your experience, it is very, very hard to identify it. That's what this book is about. It's a very personal story, but it is also a guide for other people who are looking at their experiences and going, what is the word for this? What is the language for it?

This is why I want to get these principles taught in schools and to young people and in colleges and to people who've experienced abuse, because it does give them the language to express themselves. To say, "No, this is not what I want." To have a conviction that they are right. And also to say, "Well, this happened to me and it was wrong because..." It gives us the language to communicate about these topics and even gives us the language between men and women to communicate about these topics in a way that men appreciate. It allows us to talk about it. I think that's very important, whether it's in the corporate environment, talking about sexual harassment, but also in our schools, to teach children these principles so that they have the words.

What do you hope now for this book? Where do you want to see this book go in terms of who's going to read it and who's going to learn from it?

I hope that each person who reads it, if there's somebody who suffered some kind of abuse like this, that it can give them strength and insight. And if they haven't, that it will give them insight into what other people go through and then understanding perhaps things that have happened to friends or relatives. I hope that this is a door and a gateway to helping us to have bigger conversations about this stuff, particularly things like child abuse.

I think women and sexual harassment, while this is not solved, it's been brought much more to the forefront of human consciousness. But still a lot of stuff about children and how they are treated as property is not really discussed I think in the way it could be. My own personal work I'm doing now is both to help people achieve emotional independence and freedom through understanding these principles and other types of techniques.

A big part of what I am teaching now as well is, how do we create economic stability and freedom? My mother left the group for a while when I was a child and we were basically homeless for some time. She couldn't support us. So often the reason that people stay in bad environments, relationships, controlling groups, is they don't have a way economically to care for themselves outside. You both need to have the emotional freedom and understanding of what is true, and then you need to have the economic tools to be able to take care of yourself. Those are the two pillars that I'm working on, helping to share with people who are coming out of experiences like this.

How Gen Z is fighting back against Big Tech

As a seventh grader, Emma Lembke was one of the last in her friend group in Birmingham, Alabama, to get on social media. When she did, she says she soon found herself addicted, spending five hours a day on the apps, mostly Instagram.

“At an important developmental period in my life as a young female, as a young kid, in middle school, [I got] wound up in this world of likes, comments, very deeply quantifiable measures of my value, addictive algorithms, and the endless scroll,” she says.

When Lembke reached what she calls a “breaking point” in ninth grade, she began looking into the effects of social media. She found research articles, statistics, and a now widely shared TEDx Talk that all suggested to her that the anxiety, body image issues, and isolation she thought she was alone in feeling were in fact linked to social media use.

During the pandemic, Lembke, who is now 19 and a freshman at Washington University, started an organization called Log Off, which provides resources for reducing screen time, advice for better digital well-being, a curriculum for schools on navigating social media, and a place to submit personal stories so teens can break what Lembke says is a stigma around admitting that use of social media is making them miserable. The group has since grown to a team of 60 digital youth advocates from 16 different countries.

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“I was unaware of the heavy editing and toxicity of the body standards present on the apps, but what I was aware of was how I was not meeting that preset standard,” starts one anonymous story published on the organization’s website. “I wish someone would have told me to never get on the apps as a young, highly insecure 7th grader. It has taken years of self discipline and reflection to get to a place where I can look in the mirror and smile.”

Log Off is part of a growing Generation Z movement pushing back against companies like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, and the way they control teens’ social lives. Those born between 1995 and 2010 are often portrayed as “digital natives” who are gleefully glued to their phones. But they, like all age groups, are struggling with the mental health effects of spending hours in worlds that encourage heavy social comparison and value the quantifiable, the optimizable, and the performative over the authentic. Forty-two percent of Gen Z-ers now say they’re “addicted” to social media and couldn’t quit if they tried, and more than half believe life was better before social media, according to polling by the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.

“Teens face a choice: Either risk your social circle or risk your mental health,” Lembke says.

The Social Media Generation

Unlike older adults, Gen Z never really had a meaningful choice about whether to use social media. To not be on Instagram or Snapchat or TikTok is, at most American schools today, to be in a distinct and socially left-out minority. Even before the pandemic, 95% of teens in the U.S. had their own smartphone or access to one, according to Pew Research Center, and 75% had at least one active social media profile, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

READ: Why we should reject Mark Zuckerberg's dehumanizing vision of a 'metaverse'

At the same time, research is increasingly showing that smartphone and social media use is connected with heightened anxiety, depression, self-harming behaviors, and sleep deprivation in teens.

In 2017, when psychologist Jean Twenge published an article in The Atlantic linking increased smartphone use with a 56% rise in suicide rates in Americans ages 1024 between 2007 and 2017, her findings were widely dismissed.

“The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health,” she wrote.

But our understanding of social media has changed dramatically since 2017, with recent revelations by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen that the company’s own research found that teen girls’ eating disorders and body image issues got worse on Instagram. This came as there was already a growing awareness of the negative effects of heavy social media use because of the forced isolation of the pandemic. The release of The Social Dilemma on Netflix in September 2020, which features former employees of Facebook, Google, and Twitter revealing the addictive, emotionally manipulative design of these apps, furthered this cause.

In the past year, a nonprofit headed by The Social Dilemma protagonist Tristan Harris called the Center for Humane Technology—perhaps the organization that has done the most to raise awareness of and put pressure on Big Tech—has begun heavily supporting the work of young activists.

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This includes LookUp, a nonprofit that funds young people to raise awareness about digital wellness and develop more ethical and inclusive tech. The organization was founded in 2019 by Susan Reynolds, a former English teacher at a private boys school in Concord, Massachusetts, who began researching the impacts of tech after noticing the addictiveness of AOL Instant Messenger in the late 1990s for her and her students. By the 2010s, she was meeting with college students to share research on associations between smartphone use and weakened cognitive capacity and sleep disruption.

“What was clear to me was that [teens] needed data, but they didn’t need me telling them what to do,” Reynolds says.

In the past year, LookUp has expanded, with chapters in the United Kingdom, India, and Africa. In October, the organization hosted a youth summit that drew 1,200 registrants and featured more than 175 youth speakers, as well as a panel hosted by Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts, and remarks by Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey, who is cosponsoring the KIDS Act. If passed, this legislation would ban social media’s addictive features, such as autoplay, push alerts, and follower counts, for users under 16.

Ritom Gupta, 22, director of community engagement for LookUp India, believes raising awareness is especially important for his peers. “People in this country are still getting addicted to tech. It’s still in its infancy, not like the U.S., where everyone’s aware.”

The group makes recommendations to its audience, such as not using one’s phone first thing in the morning, turning off notifications, and practicing meditation to use social media more mindfully.

“The irony on social media is that while you’re trying to capture the moment, you’re missing out on that moment to show people who are not there in that moment,” says LookUp India Chair Rijul Arora, 25.

One app LookUp has funded, called Mynd, allows users to rate their moods while on social media, selecting choices like “happy,” “angry,” or “anxious,” and then view trends as well as set goals for healthier social media use. Creator Madi McCullough, 23, a recent college graduate and freelance social media coordinator, was inspired by health apps that “use persuasive technology for good,” such as encouraging people to run more, rather than promoting addictive use.

Less and Better Tech

While the initial focus of LookUp was on funding tech projects like Mynd, Reynolds says that one of the widest-reaching initiatives centers around going tech-free. NoSo November, created by 20-year-old University of Colorado, Boulder, student Maddie Freeman, is an initiative for high schools and individuals to log off or delete all social media apps for the month of November and spend their free time doing activities like yoga, cooking, and calling friends. The idea is to make going off social media a group experience rather than a socially isolating one. (Freeman recently shot a promo for the challenge with The Social Dilemma director Jeff Orlowski).

Like other Gen Z-ers, Freeman appreciates that social media allows her to connect so easily with people in different time zones and doesn’t think it is the sole cause of mental health issues, but she believes it contributes heavily. In high school, 12 of her peers, including several friends, and all of whom were heavy social media users, committed suicide.

During the first NoSo November challenge last year, participants noticed a change right away, she says: “Within days of being in that challenge, everyone was like, ‘I do not miss these apps at all. I don’t want to re-download them.’ It was a weight lifted off of all of our shoulders.”

While in the near-term, young activists have focused on raising awareness of social media’s impact and strategies to cut down on their use of it, they don’t talk about it as a matter of personal responsibility and self-control the way older adults often do. Instead, they frame it as a systemic issue that requires regulation, such as the KIDS Act and an online safety bill out of the United Kingdom that could influence how the rest of the world handles tech.

At the same time, teens and young adults don’t believe social media is going away. The focus, they say, must be on designing more authentic and less toxic ways of connecting, and teaching media literacy—and they are ready to help lead the way.

“Being in Gen Z, social media was baked into the DNA of my childhood, and I think that’s going to be the same with every generation that comes after,” Lembke says. “As a society, we can force social media companies to prioritize their users and youth mental health, and to exist in healthier ways. I hope legislators will open up and listen to us, because there’s much to be said from our side.”

This story was originally published at Yes! Magazine.

Former Reagan White House staffer defends Pete Buttigieg against MAGA Republicans: 'The vilest form of masculinity'

Veteran conservative columnist and former Reagan White House staffer Mona Charen has a long history of identifying as "pro-life" and has often been an outspoken critic of feminism (at least parts of it). But Charen, who supported now-President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, is also a blistering critic of former President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement. And Charen, in an article published by The Bulwark on November 10, defends Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg against attacks from MAGA Republicans — and finds herself agreeing with feminists that Trumpism represents a "toxic" brand of masculinity.

"When it was revealed that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was taking four weeks of paternity leave to care for the newborn twins he and his husband had adopted," Charen explains, "the right-wing death eaters were scathing…. Tucker Carlson mocked Buttigieg on his Fox show…. And QAnon-adjacent Lauren Boebert, who is an elected member of the House of Representatives because, I guess, we are being cosmically punished, popped off with some non sequitur about how she had given birth to one of her four children in a truck, and so, therefore, people shouldn't take time to bond with their kids?"

Charen continues, "Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted his disapproval of Buttigieg…. Always trawling for a big cultural fish to land, Sen. Josh Hawley has taken up the defense of masculinity."

Charen agrees with Hawley that the term "toxic masculinity" is "unhelpful," adding that "there has been a tendency in progressive circles to pathologize normal boyishness and to disdain everything associated with 'traditional masculinity.'" But the former Nancy Reagan speechwriter goes on to say that the MAGA movement does nothing to help the cause of "family values" by mindlessly worshipping Trump.

"Here is the bigger problem with the conservative critique on masculinity and family issues: Hawley and Cotton and Carlson and Boebert and their crew all pay lip service to family values while lashing themselves to the Greatest Toxic Male in American history," Charen argues. "They have embraced the vilest form of masculinity: strutting, bullying, disrespectful…. And Hawley and Co. mock Buttigieg? He's doing the hands-on work of fatherhood. If more American men were deeply involved in raising their children, many of the problems that worry social conservatives would be drastically reduced."

Charen adds, "These avatars of manliness are confirming the worst suspicions of feminists, and moving us further from the goal that both sides should embrace: repairing marriage, decency and family stability."

This notorious 15th-century book gave instructions on spotting witches

by Melissa Chim, General Theological Seminary

Books have always had the power to cast a spell over their readers – figuratively.

But one book that was quite popular from the 15th to 17th centuries, and infamously so, is literally about spells: what witches do, how do identify them, how to get them to confess, and how to bring them to swift punishment.

As fear of witches reached a fever pitch in Europe, witch hunters turned to the “Malleus Maleficarum," or “Hammer of Witches," for guidance. The book's instructions helped convict some of the tens of thousands of people – almost all women – who were executed during the period. Its bloody legacy stretched to North America, with 25 supposed “witches" killed in Salem, Massachusetts, in the late 1600s.

As a reference librarian and adjunct professor at the General Theological Seminary in New York, I have the rare opportunity to hold an original copy of the “Malleus" in my hands and share this piece of history with my students and researchers. Much has been written about the contents, but the physical book itself is a fascinating testament to history.

Witches 101

The “Malleus" was written circa 1486 by two Dominican friars, Johann Sprenger and Heinrich Kraemer, who present their guide in three parts.

The first argues that witches do in fact exist, sorcery is heresy, and not fearing witches' power is itself an act of heresy. Part Two goes into graphic detail about witches' sexual deviancy, with one chapter devoted to “the Way whereby Witches copulate with those Devils known as Incubi." An incubus was a male demon believed to have sex with sleeping women.

It also describes witches' ability to turn their victims into animals, and their violence against children. The third and final part gives guidelines on how to interrogate a witch, including through torture; get her to confess; and ultimately sentence her.

Twenty-eight editions of the “Malleus" were published between 1486 and 1600, making it the definitive guide on witchcraft and demonology for many years – and helping the prosecution of witches take off.

Targeting women

The authors of the text reluctantly admit that men can be agents of the devil, but argue that women are weak and inherently more sinful, making them his perfect targets.

Accusations were often rooted in the belief that women, especially those who did not submit to ideals about obedient Christian wives and mothers, were prone to be in league with the devil.

The authors detail “four horrible crimes which devils commit against infants, both in the mother's womb and afterwards." They even accuse witches of eating newborns and are especially suspicious of midwives.

Women on the fringes of society, such as healers in Europe or the slave Tituba in Salem, were convenient scapegoats for society's ills.

Hand-held history

At the General Theological Seminary, anyone interested in examining our copy of the “Malleus" needs to make an appointment to visit the special collections reading room. Due to the book's fragility, visitors are asked to wash their hands before touching it.

One striking aspect is its size. The “Malleus" is just under 8 inches long, with 190 pages – this book was meant to travel with its reader and be stored in a coat or bag.

Our copy is from 1492, and it was published by the famous bookbinder Peter Drach from Speyer, Germany. This makes it a rare example of “incunabula," as scholars call European books published before about 1501 – the earliest period of printing.

After much wear and tear, this copy was rebound in leather in the 19th century. Small handwritten notes cover most of the pages. On page 48, for example, a reader numbered three points and wrote the words “delightful religious journey" on the opposite page. Numerous pages feature hand-drawn arrows pointing to paragraphs.

Another point to consider when looking at this edition is its provenance, meaning who has owned it over the years. This copy is originally from the collection of the Rev. Edwin A. Dalrymple, who was the rector of a school and Episcopal church in Virginia in the mid-19th century. The book moved from his shelves to the Maryland Diocesan Library until it entered our library system.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this “Malleus," in addition to the text itself, is a bookplate pasted on its back cover. This bookplate states: “It was the handbook of the Witchcraft Persecution of the 15th and 16th centuries. This copy possesses much the same interest as would a headman's ax of that date in as much as it has probably been the direct cause of the death of many persons accused of sorcery."

It's unclear who attached this statement, but its sentiment rings very true: The “Malleus" represents the power of ideas – for good or ill.

General Theological Seminary is a member of the Association of Theological Schools

The ATS is a funding partner of The Conversation U.S.

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Melissa Chim, Adjunct Professor and Reference Librarian, General Theological Seminary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

LISTEN: Texas schools official tells teachers they must offer 'other perspectives' when teaching the Holocaust

A Southlake, Texas school official is under fire after telling teachers if they have a book in the classroom about the Holocaust they must also teach "other perspectives."

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979," Gina Peddy, the executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Carroll Independent School District, said in a training session Friday, as the recording (below) from NBC News shows.

“And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives," she told teachers in a training session on the new law.

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?" one teacher asked.

“Believe me," Peddy said. “That's come up."

At issue is a new Texas state ordinance drafted and rushed into law after parents complained about books teaching about racism.

"The training came four days after the Carroll school board, responding to a parent's complaint, voted to reprimand a fourth grade teacher who had kept an anti-racism book in her classroom," NBC News reports.

“Teachers are literally afraid that we're going to be punished for having books in our classes," one elementary school teacher told NBC News. “There are no children's books that show the 'opposing perspective' of the Holocaust or the 'opposing perspective' of slavery. Are we supposed to get rid of all of the books on those subjects?"

Conservatives across the nation have been attacking and threatening school boards over the nearly non-existent teaching of Critical Race Theory, and are demanding all teaching about racism end.

The debate in Southlake over which books should be allowed in schools is part of a broader national movement led by parents opposed to lessons on racism, history and LGBTQ issues that some conservatives have falsely branded as critical race theory. A group of Southlake parents has been fighting for more than a year to block new diversity and inclusion programs at Carroll, one of the top-ranked school districts in Texas.

That new law, which eliminates the requirement of teaching "the history of Native Americans," also eliminates the requirement to teach about the writing of the founding "mothers and other founding persons" except founding fathers. It also eliminates from the curriculum Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," and the "I Have a Dream" speech, along with pages of other important historical documents.

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Image of Auschwitz by Elsa Gortais via Flickr and a CC license

How the vampire myth was born

by Stanley Stepanic, University of Virginia

The vampire is a common image in today's pop culture, and one that takes many forms: from Alucard, the dashing spawn of Dracula in the PlayStation game “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night"; to Edward, the romantic, idealistic lover in the “Twilight" series.

In many respects, the vampire of today is far removed from its roots in Eastern European folklore. As a professor of Slavic studies who has taught a course on vampires called “Dracula" for more than a decade, I'm always fascinated by the vampire's popularity, considering its origins – as a demonic creature strongly associated with disease.

Explaining the unknown

The first known reference to vampires appeared in written form in Old Russian in A.D. 1047, soon after Orthodox Christianity moved into Eastern Europe. The term for vampire was “upir," which has uncertain origins, but its possible literal meaning was “the thing at the feast or sacrifice," referring to a potentially dangerous spiritual entity that people believed could appear at rituals for the dead. It was a euphemism used to avoid speaking the creature's name – and unfortunately, historians may never learn its real name, or even when beliefs about it surfaced.

The vampire served a function similar to that of many other demonic creatures in folklore around the world: They were blamed for a variety of problems, but particularly disease, at a time when knowledge of bacteria and viruses did not exist.

Scholars have put forth several theories about various diseases' connections to vampires. It is likely that no one disease provides a simple, “pure" origin for vampire myths, since beliefs about vampires changed over time.

But two in particular show solid links. One is rabies, whose name comes from a Latin term for “madness." It's one of the oldest recognized diseases on the planet, transmissible from animals to humans, and primarily spread through biting – an obvious reference to a classic vampire trait.

There are other curious connections. One central symptom of the disease is hydrophobia, a fear of water. Painful muscle contractions in the esophagus lead rabies victims to avoid eating and drinking, or even swallowing their own saliva, which eventually causes “foaming at the mouth." In some folklore, vampires cannot cross running water without being carried or assisted in some way, as an extension of this symptom. Furthermore, rabies can lead to a fear of light, altered sleep patterns and increased aggression, elements of how vampires are described in a variety of folktales.

The second disease is pellagra, caused by a dietary deficiency of niacin (vitamin B3) or the amino acid tryptophan. Often, pellagra is brought on by diets high in corn products and alcohol. After Europeans landed in the Americas, they transported corn back to Europe. But they ignored a key step in preparing corn: washing it, often using lime – a process called “nixtamalization" that can reduce the risk of pellagra.

Pellagra causes the classic “4 D's": dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia and death. Some sufferers also experience high sensitivity to sunlight – described in some depictions of vampires – which leads to corpselike skin.

Social scare

Multiple diseases show connections to folklore about vampires, but they can't necessarily explain how the myths actually began. Pellagra, for example, did not exist in Eastern Europe until the 18th century, centuries after vampire beliefs had originally emerged.

Both pellagra and rabies are important, however, because they were epidemic during a key period in vampire history. During the so-called Great Vampire Epidemic, from roughly 1725 to 1755, vampire myths “went viral" across the continent.

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As disease spread in Eastern Europe, supernatural causes were often blamed, and vampire hysteria spread throughout the region. Many people believed that vampires were the “undead" – people who lived on in some way after death – and that the vampire could be stopped by attacking its corpse. They carried out “vampire burials," which could involve putting a stake through the corpse, covering the body in garlic and a variety of other traditions that had been present in Slavic folklore for centuries.

Meanwhile, Austrian and German soldiers fighting the Ottomans in the region witnessed this mass desecration of graves and returned home to Western Europe with stories of the vampire.

But why did so much vampire hysteria spring up in the first place? Disease was a primary culprit, but a sort of “perfect storm" existed in Eastern Europe at the time. The era of the Great Vampire Epidemic was not just a period of disease, but one of political and religious upheaval as well.

During the 18th century, Eastern Europe faced pressure from within and without as domestic and foreign powers exercised their control over the region, with local cultures often suppressed. Serbia, for example, was struggling between the Hapsburg Monarchy in Central Europe and the Ottomans. Poland was increasingly under foreign powers, Bulgaria was under Ottoman rule, and Russia was undergoing dramatic cultural change due to the policies of Czar Peter the Great.

This is somewhat analogous to today, as the world contends with the COVID-19 pandemic amid political change and uncertainty. Perceived societal breakdown, whether real or imagined, can lead to dramatic responses in society.The Conversation

Stanley Stepanic, Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

'We're going to get some backlash': Writer is defiant after right-wing outrage about bisexual Superman

A DC and Marvel comic book writer says that having a new Superman, who is bisexual, to many people will be "more powerful than a locomotive."

"We're going to get some backlash," the award-winning comic book writer Tom Taylor told CNN's John Berman Tuesday, "but the key for me isn't the people that are upset, it is for the people welcomed in by this that say today, this is more powerful than a locomotive."

On Monday, coinciding with National Coming Out Day, DC Comics revealed the son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, Jonathan Kent, has taken over the franchise, and that he is bisexual. He "will soon begin a romantic relationship with a male friend," The New York Times reported.

"I promise he will punch a robot, that's just a guarantee," Taylor, who is Australian, said of the new Superman. "He will come up against Lex Luthor," he added, noting that being bisexual "is just something extra that that very important symbol can now represent."

Taylor also said that he's seen "so many messages from all over the world, so many different languages, people saying they saw this news and burst into tears. People saying that they never thought that they would be able to see themselves in Superman."

Berman noted it's "wonderful" that many people are responding positively, but noted that here in the U.S. some have not reacted positively, pointing to one Arizona Republican state Senator who was clearly furious.

Wendy Rogers angrily tweeted, "Superman loves Louis Lane. Period. Hollywood is trying to make Superman gay and he is not," ironically spelling Lois as "Louis."

"I cannot stress the level of ignorance in this tweet," Berman said, mocking the MAGA and "America First" far right-wing lawmaker.

"I mean, Lois Lane's his mom – how depraved," Berman added.

"I just hope," Taylor said, laughing, "whoever Louis is I hope he's a wonderful man and they're very happy together."

Taking a more serious tack, Taylor concluded, "this is literally the most powerful superhero in comics – and one of the best-known all around the world is now bisexual. And I think that's a really big and really strong statement."

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Did COVID-19 secretly unite (rather than divide) us? A new documentary argues just that

Living through history is not always pleasant. Generations from now, historians will study how humanity coped with the pandemic in the 2020s. That's because the COVID-19 pandemic has been an inflection point in history, an event that transforms the world. It is easy to overlook this as we're caught in its throes; yet considering that more global tragedies related to issues like climate change and income inequality are in the offing, that analysis will offer more than merely academic insights.

There are real individual human beings making this history, men and women from all walks of life who view themselves not as tiles in a mosaic but as ordinary people trying to get through the day during unprecedented times. Netflix is sharing their stories in its new documentary, "Convergence: Courage in a Crisis," and does so by showcasing similar experiences from across the globe from humans of all walks of life. There is the heroism of a Syrian refugee and volunteer hospital cleaner, Hassan Akkad (also a co-director), who fights to end a terrible injustice, and of a Miami doctor desperate to protect Florida's homeless community. When a volunteer in Wuhan helps medical workers visit the city where the outbreak all began, there is a visceral sense of tension from anyone who can imagine the stress of such a trip.

To better understand this film — and its surprising argument that humans converged in this crisis — Salon spoke with Orlando von Einsiedel, an Oscar-winning documentarian (for his short "The White Helmets") who led a group of ten co-directors to bring these stories to the screen. "Convergence: Courage in a Crisis" premieres on Netflix on Tuesday, Oct. 12. This interview has been edited for length, clarity and context.

What broader lessons did you learn from looking at how these different cultures have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic? What are the guiding principles that humanity can take away from this experience?

When we began, this started off as a film about individuals around the globe responding to the pandemic. I think the film morphed into a story about individuals around the world, responding to the flaws in society that the pandemic has massively exposed and then civil society rising up to plug those holes. I think that's one of the things we've seen around the world in a number of places. What are those flaws — injustices, social inequities, big flaws like racial injustice? I think those are the things that COVID specifically has really shown us. It's been like a magnifier.

Can you give specific examples that really struck you while you were making the film?

In Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, there is a community where water is shut off at eight o'clock and the protagonist whose story we follow in the film talks about how the government has everyone need to wash their hands and has those sorts of health measures in place. And yet the water for that community is turned off. I think that shows enormous inequality in Brazil, for instance.

I suppose one of the major ethical questions that exists right now in terms of COVID-19 discourse is, to what extent should we respect cultural differences versus to what extent should we insist on people following public health precautions? In the United States, as I'm sure you know, there are many people who oppose mask mandates, vaccine mandates, social distancing, and other public health measures. Does the documentary provide any insights in terms of how we should approach those questions?

Actually we decided from the beginning to not focus on the everyday politics of COVID. We tried to tell a human story. Yes, we focused on countries where COVID has been politicized, because I think that has shown those have been the places where we've seen the pandemic play out at its worst, and it's been the hardest to control it. But the film doesn't sort of delve into the every day politics of COVID in that regard.

Where does it draw the line in terms of the kinds of political issues it does explore and the ones that it does not?

Ultimately we follow the stories of our protagonist at the hands of the film. So it's, where do their stories take us? If the story then explores inequities in Miami to do with unhoused individuals, or inequities in a Brazilian favela, or injustices against migrant workers, then we explore those issues.

Now I'm wondering, in terms of the broader lessons from your film, people like me who think about things in historical terms wonder what will the long-term impact be of the COVID-19 pandemic on humanity? Because something that literally affects every human being alive in such a profound way is going to have permanent consequences. Have you given thought to this question? And if so, what kinds of answers do you think your documentary provides?

One of the things I hope the documentary does is highlight the commonalities between us. I'd like to think that the film focuses on some of the things which pull us together. I believe that it's global events like this, that show that we are all living on a small planet, that can help us in the future tackle these big global issues.

Do you think this is a lesson that humanity is learning? Or is it the lesson that we should learn?

Well, it's definitely a lesson that we should learn. I think COVID has highlighted that enormously, whether or not the leaders in place at the moment are the best equipped to learn from those lessons. I don't know. But I think one of the effects was just to show just how connected we all are, and how to solve these global crises we have to work together.

Your documentary is appealing because it covers the experiences of people from all over the world responding to this same event... You said that the lesson is that we need to view ourselves as a global community in terms of practical efforts. What would that look like? Whether in the United States or Brazil or China or Russia, or anywhere else? What would it look like for real world political change to occur that would better serve everyone, whether it's through COVID-19 or climate change or any other crisis?

I guess the very simple answer to that is working together. [WHO Executive Director- General] Dr. Tedros Adhanom in the film very much says that. This is what he's been very much tasked with doing, is trying to put people together to work together in global solidarity. I think that is key. How can you just solve COVID in one country? You can't. This is a global problem. Everybody has to pull together. And to your point, how do you solve climate change? It involves everybody working together. There's no point just one country working on this decision in isolation. The world doesn't work like that. We are all interconnected and therefore we have to work together on this stuff. As I said earlier, I think COVID can be a real lesson to all of us, but to solve these problems, we have to work together.

Why right-wing comedy is becoming profitable — and a crucial element of conservative politics

by Nick Marx, Colorado State University and Matt Sienkiewicz, Boston College

In August 2021, Fox News' “Gutfeld!," a late-night comedy-talk show hosted by right-wing pundit Greg Gutfeld, overtook “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" in overall ratings.

Surprised?

We weren't.

As media and comedy scholars, we've been tracking the recent ascension of right-wing comedy, which has flourished thanks to shifts in media industry economics and political ideologies.

Gutfeld's success might come as a shock because it punctures long-standing assumptions about what comedy is, who can produce it and who will enjoy it. These prejudices obscure an important truth: Right-wing comedy has become both a viable business strategy and a crucial element of conservative politics.

Yes, “Gutfeld!" is on Fox News, the cable channel known for partisan, right-wing political perspectives and news commentary. But it has all the markers of late-night comedy, too. The opening monologues are filled with Jay Leno-like punchlines that draw laughs from the studio audience, and the interviews with conservative politicians, pundits and other comedians frequently center on “owning the libs" with one-liners.

The opening monologue of the Sept. 17, 2021, episode of 'Gutfeld!'

Then, of course, there are the silly “Saturday Night Live"-like sketches. One recent episode broke from a panel discussion on cancel culture in order to imagine what a politically correct James Bond would look like. In the prerecorded bit, a crudely costumed actor chases down a thief and pulls a banana on him instead of a gun. Then “Bond" heads to a bar to order a latte – a soy latte – instead of a martini. You get the idea.

Regardless of whether or not this comedy is to your taste, it's working for Gutfeld and his audience.

Hiding in plain sight

Despite its growing prominence, right-wing comedy remains largely invisible in both mainstream and scholarly discussions of media and humor. In part, this has happened because social media algorithms don't send users jokes likely to challenge or offend their political sensibilities.

There are also intellectual trends that make it possible for Greg Gutfeld to spend two decades sneaking up on the Colberts of the world. Comedy theorists tend to diminish, or at least distinguish, right-wing humor from what they deem to be more authentic, liberal humor.

Philosopher Umberto Eco, for example, demotes joking that fails to critique power structures to the status of mere “carnival."

Others make similar arguments, saying “true" liberal comedy is more likely to “punch up," while dismissing conservative comedy as mere mockery that reaffirms unjust systems of power.

This effort to use ideology in order to categorize comedy can lead audiences, political analysts and even comedians to downplay or outright dismiss right-wing humor.

But even if conservative comedy doesn't fit liberals' tastes, it's still comedy. And it's increasingly becoming a feature of right-wing politics. Even “Daily Show" host Trevor Noah noted how former president Donald Trump's performances at rallies mirrored those of stand-up comedians.

Some studies go as far as to identify innate, psychological differences that explain why liberals are more likely to laugh while conservatives are more prone to seethe. This research, often inspired by the success of liberal satirists such as Colbert, Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee, certainly provides intriguing looks into the relationship between politics, psychology and sense of humor. They are, without question, pleasing to the liberal reader's ego.

They do not, however, square with the way Trump changed the country's politics and culture.

The political comedy of the early 2000s, with its relatively big tent media companies and pre-Barack Obama politics, tended to joke primarily in the political direction of the largest audience segment interested in satire at that moment. “The Colbert Report" and “The Daily Show" became hugely successful during the years of president George W. Bush and inspired countless imitators, crowding the media marketplace for liberal laughs.

However, comedy's perceived political bias at the time was more likely driven by specific economic circumstances, which have now radically changed.

Since then, further audience fragmentation, along with the proliferation of podcasts and social media platforms, has made it possible for right-wing comedians like YouTuber Steven Crowder to rise to prominence beyond conventional cable television. And it's forced networks like Fox News to take comedy seriously.

On one level, Gutfeld succeeds today because he has virtually no competition from fellow conservatives in the late-night television comedy space. On another, he thrives because the current media industry moment is built not for a big tent of all viewers, but for audiences who share specific demographic, psychographic and political traits.

In this environment, the partisanization of comedy to the right was perhaps inevitable.

What's in a definition?

If you find comedians such as Gutfeld unfunny or, more to the point, offensive, you may ask whether he should be granted the honorific of comedian.

Failing to do so, we argue, obscures the ways in which the right-wing political world uses comedy as a recruiting tool and unifying force. Republican politics have long been built upon an uneasy fusion that aims to bind together libertarian and traditionalist values, despite their apparent contradictions. The crassness of Trumpism has only added to this conceptual tension.

Right-wing comedy, we argue, serves to iron out, or at least paper over, such philosophical divides.

In addition to his show's success, Gutfeld today resides at the center of a growing complex of comedians reflecting elements of right-wing worldviews, ranging from libertarian, libertine podcasts like “The Joe Rogan Experience" to Christian satire websites like The Babylon Bee to Proud Boys founder and Gutfeld-protégée Gavin McInnes. While the creators of this content don't always agree on specific issues, they are united in their motivations to hilariously own the libs. They strategically cross-promote one another, while social media algorithms urge fans of one program to check out other flavors of right-wing comedy.

Gutfeld may be the biggest star, but a range of right-wing comedians are coming together in a constellation that allows young, right-wing-curious consumers to find a place in the universe of American conservative media and politics. The value, or danger, of right-wing comedy is a matter of political opinion.

Its reality, however, is no joke.The Conversation

Nick Marx, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, Colorado State University and Matt Sienkiewicz, Associate Professor of Communication and International Studies, Boston College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A sociologist explains the truth about cancel culture

The topic of "cancel culture" has been discussed ad nauseam in the national media. As far as I see it, it goes something like this.

Conservatives believe that progressives are far too sensitive and censorious. According to conservatives, progressive thought police, armed with a notion that "words are violence," patrol social media and bludgeon anyone who says something they deem out of bounds. They may cite attempts to cancel Harry Potter author JK Rowling for making comments that ran afoul of trans rights groups. Or they may point out how internet mobs can take a video or phrase out of context and falsely paint someone as racist, as in the case of Dominique Moran.

Progressives counter by saying that there is no epidemic of cancel culture. Most of the supposedly canceled people are doing quite well, even thriving after the so-called cancellation. The negative publicity around people like Dave Chappelle and Bari Weiss seemed to have increased their relevance rather than erase them from public view.

Moreover, progressives argue, conservatives try and cancel folks, too. One of the more famous cancellations was the blacklisting of the Dixie Chicks by conservative radio stations, because the trio criticized the George W. Bush-led Iraq invasion. They were called "Saddam's Angels." More recently, and more concerning, is the banning of what is being called critical race theory from K-12 schools in many states.

Thinking critically about cancel culture
Cancel culture is, in the abstract, levying negative social sanctions on someone we perceive as doing something out of bounds. This is not new or unusual. Individuals throughout history have found informal ways to express their disapproval of others. Our political ideologies do not exempt us from the human tendency to want to call out the behavior we think is unacceptable.

Technology puts this tendency in hyperdrive, allowing everyone with a social media account to register their disapproval. The wider cleavages in modern society present people with more opportunities to identify behavior deemed "out of bounds." But ultimately, we are using our cell phones to paint modern-day scarlet letters.

Cancel culture arguments are not about free speech. Both "sides" agree in principle that we need free speech in a democracy. The arguments are about the public's response to speech (counter-speech). The crux of the argument is whether people have a right to express their criticism in any way they (legally) can.

Conservatives respond more poorly to cancel culture than progressives, although both are at risk of receiving negative social sanctions. The less you think you need other people, the more likely you are to get upset when the people you think you don't need complain about something you say.

Progressives, on the other hand, need to view public outcry differently. We believe we are in a broad community working to address issues of poverty, oppression and inequality. It is essential to consider public opinion. I think this is especially so for marginalized groups. They are more likely to register a concern because their hold on full citizenship is more tenuous. Transgender people cannot afford to let transphobic jokes by Dave Chappelle go unchallenged. Sometimes a joke is not just a joke. When groups make a stink, progressives need to stick their nose in it and grow.

Using cancel culture to grow
The CBS reality show The Activist illustrates how one can grow through public criticism. The original format of the show was a five-week competition between activists seeking funding for their causes. The activists were to be assisted by the photogenic celebrities Usher, Priyanka Chopra and Julianne Hough.

The reaction to the press releases for The Activist was swift and not kind. Activism is not a game. The causes the contestants would focus on — global health, education and the environment — are matters of life and death. Instead of staging an expensive show, why not simply donate the money to those causes? The show and its photogenic stars are trivializing serious issues.

In response to public outcry, the producers changed the format. According to a statement from CBS, the show will shift from placing activists in competition with each other to highlighting the "tireless work of six activists and the impact they have advocating for causes they deeply believe in … Each activist will be awarded a cash grant for the organization of their choice, as was planned for the original show."

While this was a PR move, I'd like to think the folks at CBS learned something. "Social justice warriors" and "virtue signallers" actually do care about the causes they promote and don't want to see them sullied by a reality show.

Need another example of growth?

Here is a tweet from me a few months ago, where I tweeted that I "understand incels." The reaction to this tweet was swift and not kind. The replies were primarily about me being far too sympathetic to a group of people who actively hate women and propagate ideas about hurting them. It was the replies from women that were the angriest. And I understand now. They did not want incels to be spoken of so sympathetically because women are in harm's way of incel violence.

Had I not received that public criticism and been open to learning from it, I may not have experienced that growth.

The progressive's guide to "cancel culture'
I understand that a mob can be unreasonable. When phrases are taken out of context, it should not be incumbent upon the person mischaracterized to defend themselves against a lie. This essay is not about those situations. Instead, it is about the cases where the public has a legitimate concern about something said or done. This essay is also not for conservatives who do not share assumptions about an individual's obligation to others.

I suggest that instead of scurrying into a bunker labeled "free speech" and howling madly into the moonlit night about "wokism" or "snowflakes," lean into the criticism. The people who share this earth with you are telling you something. Think about why people are registering concern and incorporate their ideas into your future thoughts and communications.

The Activist failed at its initial attempt to do a reality show about social justice, and I fell in my initial attempt to talk about men struggling to gain intimacy. I want to think that both of us learned from that experience. And instead of thinking we were "canceled," we may have been given more information about how to platform our ideas more effectively.

Rod Graham is the Editorial Board's sociologist. A professor at Virginia's Old Dominion University, he researches and teaches courses in the areas of cyber-crime and racial inequality. His work can be found at roderickgraham.com. Follow him @roderickgraham.

Even the most ‘innocuous’ songs were banned from radio airplay after the 9/11 attack

The term "political correctness" is often described by Republicans to attack liberals and progressives they view as hypersensitive, but Republicans have their own version of "political correctness" and ideas on what one should or should or shouldn't say. Right-wing political correctness was painfully evident in the months and years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and some of it came from the supporters of President George W. Bush who comprised the management at Clear Channel. Journalist Cheyenne Roundtree, in an article published by the Daily Beast on September 9, looks back on the songs that Clear Channel excluded following 9/11.

After 9/11, Roundtree recalls, "Even family-friendly Disney Channel played a part in hammering home the idea of nationalism in having a handful of its beloved child stars, including Hilary Duff, Shia LaBeouf, and twins Tia and Tamera Mowry, wax lyrical about the American flag…. It was in this same vein of thinly veiled propaganda wrapped up in patriotism that the country's largest radio company, Clear Channel Communications, now iHeartRadio, attempted to ban more than 150 songs from the airwaves across its roughly 1200 stations."

Roundtree continues, "Any song that mentioned airplanes was targeted, as well as war, death, and fire. The de facto ban seemed primarily to target rock, punk and heavy metal bands, such as Alice in Chains, System of a Down, and every single track by Rage Against the Machine. But relatively innocuous songs were included too, including 'Walk Like an Egyptian,' because of its references to the Middle East; the hopeful lyrics of John Lennon's 'Imagine'; Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World'; and Frank Sinatra's cheery 'New York, New York.'"

The Bangles' 1986 smash "Walk Like an Egyptian" is a fun, goofy song from the Ronald Reagan era — hardly an ode to jihadists. But as Roundtree points out, the very fact that it had "references to the Middle East" suddenly made it unacceptable to Clear Channel execs.

"At the time," Roundtree explains, "Clear Channel moved quickly to stamp out reports that it had issued a mandate that barred stations from playing these songs. But when the full list eventually leaked, top executives hurriedly placed the blame on those at the local level, calling it 'a grass-roots effort that was apparently circulated among program directors,' although the final compiled list, known as the 'Clear Channel memorandum,' was sent out by company management."

On September 17, 2001 — six days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — Slate reported that Clear Channel's do-not-play guidelines included not only edgy heavy metal favorites like Metallica's "Seek and Destroy" and Ozzy Osbourne's "Suicide Solution," but also, Pat Benatar's 1983 hit "Love Is a Battlefield" and Bobby Darin's recording of "Mack the Knife" (an English-language version of a German cabaret standard from the 1920s). Slate observed that "many of the songs on the list are ridiculous in their tenuous connection to anything even remotely offensive to survivors of the September 11 attack."

Roundtree comments, "On the surface, it makes sense for stations perhaps not to play songs about death, airplane crashes, or anything doomsday-related out of an abundance of caution and sensitivity for freshly traumatized listeners — who had just witnessed a terrorist attack unfold in real time on their TVs. But in hindsight, it reeks of needless censorship."

Nora Pelizzari, director of communications for the National Coalition Against Censorship, believes that Clear Channel's post-9/11 do-not-play list went to ridiculous extremes.

Pelizzari told the Beast, "It's one thing to say, 'OK, we're not going to release a movie that depicts anything eerily similar to what happened on 9/11 because we feel now is not the moment when that's going to get a good response… But John Lennon's 'Imagine' was on that list. What's the justification there? The idea that we shouldn't be talking about peace, we shouldn't be talking about people coming together as one — that somehow that was going to be the wrong moment to be talking about that?"

Rage Against the Machine, a rap-metal band with a hard-left point of view, were totally banned from airplay under Clear Channel's do-not-play guidelines.

"It just reinforces this sort of nativist patriotism that is really troubling to see reinforced by private companies, because what it really suggests is that dissent is unpatriotic, when in fact, America is built on the right to disagree with the government," Pelizzari told the Beast. "We must be allowed to access dissenting views and opposing views to express our own dissent, our own confusion, our own anger, our own agreements. That's how our democracy functions. Disagreement and debate are crucial to thoughtful decision-making. In times of crisis, it's even more important to make sure that we're allowing dissenting voices to be heard."

Happy Holidays!