Thursday, October 1, 2009

Moral Panics and Shysters

I've been thinking about con men and moral panics.

I grew up watching "The Music Man" and other musicals. My grandmother loved the confidence man or the shyster character. She gave me an early appreciation of a good villain. Even as a child, Ursula reminded me of her, though I think at that age it was largely a cosmetic similarity I saw. (Some of us grandkids used to joke, "Giggy's not out of shape. Circle is a shape.")

Joseph Smith was a convicted con man before he started the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (How is it LDS instead of LdS ince the "d" in the full name is lower case? This kind of thing bugs me.) L. Ron Hubbard was most assuredly a liar and a shyster and crazy as hell to boot. Of course, Marshall Applewhite wasn't a paragon of sanity himself. (Pop unders on that last link.)

First you have to start a moral panic. You have to convince people that they have a problem only you, your infomercial product, your business seminar, your health care plan, or your cult can solve. Religions capitalize on this largely by telling people that perfectly natural elements of their lives - everything from natural disaster to sexual arousal - is the product of sin in their lives. Guilt for perceived wrongs, and fear of retribution, are the primary tactics used by religion.

A technique used by politicians, televangelists, and Professor Harold Hill is the moral panic. I'll let Tracy explain.

(Gotta love the Westboro Baptist Church for showing the world just what the Bible really says. They may be vile and hateful, and they are definitely damaging their children, but they aren't hipocrits.)

You can see this technique now in the Astroturf campaigns against health care, and paying your taxes, and getting a better source of energy than coal. The Deathers and Birthers and Tenthers and 9/12ers. The 9/11 Truthers.

There are a shit load of crazy people running around right now, and I for one and am not happy about it. Goddamn moral panics!