Hegemony, and Other Passing Fads

But there must be still other countless errors of the same sort that no living man can yet detect, because of the fog within which our type of Western culture envelops us. Cultural influences have set up the assumptions about the mind, the body, and the universe with which we begin; pose the questions we ask; influence the facts we seek; determine the interpretations we give these facts; and direct our reaction to these interpretations and conclusions.

Gould, 1987b, quoting Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (1944)

Forgotten AIDS Myths

Time Flies like an Arrow, Fruit Flies like a Bananna.

Jenny Holzer, Web Site

See separately available essay: Sex Wars: The New Left's AIDS-related Scientism

Day-Care Devil Worshipers

Jenny Holzer, Web Site

Remembering Events

Lest we forget some events in a recent decade, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the furor of articles, arrests, prosecutions, classroom discussion, etc. about 'Satanic Ritual Abuse' (and a few allied concepts) which occurred between, approximately, 1980 and 1993. During this time, hundreds of people were convicted based on evidence that seems laughably absurd from the "outside" of the transient ideology of ritual abuse, thousands more were accused and hounded, and dozens of the convicted remain imprisoned on sentences ranging from tens to hundred of years. America's newspapers-of-record reported and advocated these goings on pretty much without demur until the early 1990s. Journals which should have known better[note]

I think particularly of the shameful participation of Ms. in the witch hunt. During its "academic", ad-free, incarnation, no less!

engaged in obsessions of taint and impurity. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on fantastic police and prosecutorial investigations (mostly at local or county levels in a few places), and hundreds of millions more were spent on institutes, conferences, training materials, and the other academic trappings of legitimation (mostly at a federal level). Although the scale of this particular hysteria cannot compare to the vaster scope of our drug-war state, it certainly exceeds the scope of other famous American witch-hunts: those in Salem and by HUAC.

It is not my goal in this section to provide anything original in terms of empirical description of what I will call 'ritual abuse ideology.'[note]

For my purposes herein, let us allow the inclusion of several related concepts/ideologies within the general term. The notions of 'rape trauma syndrome', 'repressed memory syndrome', 'sadistic abuse' and some other pseudo-clinical terms are markers of a few slight variations on the themes of ritual abuse ideology. The history and functioning of the several notions is close enough that they may easily be considered under a common term for my general purpose of determing their mode of ideological functioning.

The cat has been let out of the bag by a number of writers more familiar with the historical details than I am. What I hope to do instead is show how the ritual abuse ideology of our recent past illustrates some of my concepts of totalization, hegemony, and the non-refutational demise of ideologies. As far as that empirical description which I shall find relevant, I shall rely on the quite excellent text, Satan's Silence [Nathan and Snedeker, 1995], which although written from a journalistic and legal perspective, well illustrates many of the philosophical concepts I want to implement. Other recent books and articles have covered similar ground, although none probably quite as thoroughly.

Forgetting Everything

The very first paragraphs of Nathan and Snedeker's book point towards both of the complements which I have tried to articulate in this dissertation: the necessary and the impossible. More narrowly, the complements (at least complementary in a diachronic sense) are totalization and amnesic non-refutation.[note]

See the discussion below, at page### 232, about this slightly specialized term I advance.

Both elements in the histories of hegemonies serve to remove the "ideas" which make up these ideologies from the discursive dialectic of a Habermasian or Millean "contest of ideas." Let us look at Nathan and Snedeker's remarks, which are proffered without any particular philosophical intent:

Writing this book has been hard for us. There was a time when publicly expressing skepticism about small children being ceremonially raped and tortured by organized groups was, as one journalist put it, practically an indictable stance. We can testify to this: in the late 1980s, one of us had the police at her door, on a maliciously false report of child maltreatment, after publishing an article suggesting the innocence of a day-care teacher convicted of ritual abuse.

Several years later, the national mood has changed. Doubting is easy now and, for many of the people we know especially lawyers and journalists even fashionable. Both of us have been lauded for our early skepticism, praised for helping free innocent prisoners, and asked how we were able to remain clearheaded when so many others didn't.

For people not caught up in a hysteria, it is easy to demonstrate its absurdity. What is hard is to appreciate its sense, to recognize how a social panic "works" for people people who may not be very different from the skeptics who deride them. [Nathan and Snedeker, 1995, p.ix]

I fear that in certain cases I participate in a sin of my discipline by expressing ordinary ideas "theoretically." Here is a chance for a partial remedy. Totalization and amnesic non-refutation, for all their neologistic sound, are quite ordinary phenomena of everyday lives. Nathan and Snedeker stand innocent of my theoreticist sin.

Totalization, in the end, is just a name for the historical sequences by which certain things become "unsayable" or at least, not sayable within the bound of "normal" discourse. Saying certain things things which were quite ordinary a few years before, and which become quite ordinary a few years later becomes met with a number of mechanisms of social eschewal. Such eschewal can take a number of forms. We can say things only ever to be met with blank stares; or we can say things only to have a "principle of generosity" [note]

A certain amount of discussion of Davidson's concept occurs beginning on page### 255. I believe enough is apparent from immediate context.

kick in according to which every time we say 'X' it is quickly interpreted as 'Y', since only the latter "makes sense;" or we can encounter insistent, but empty, refutations of "you certainly cannot mean that!"; or, where necessary, we can be arrested, lynched, or run out of town when we say eschewed things.

One key to deciphering totalization is in its transience. Or more precisely, it is totalizing ideologies' amnesic non-refutation. If it were the case that an idea held sway for a time, based on a bunch of evidence supporting it, but was given up by agreement after dispassionate discussion, I would not want to call the old ideas totalizing. Even ideas which somewhat less than entirely met this picture, but had a lot of tendencies it that direction, would hardly be totalizing ideologies. The picture I briefly sketch is a common lay-positivist one of scientific progress. One could mention Popper here, but the picture is nothing so specific as that. But in the same approximate way that non-totalizing ideas can be described as Popperian, totalizing ones can be described as Kuhnian (or maybe Feyerabendian). The step of positivistic refutation just never happens to totalizing ideologies. Rather, the old totalizing ideas just get old, and the constellations of forces which made the ideas non- refutable (by all the social eschewals mentioned above), just do not operate any longer. I do not have a theory of why this happens in just the same way that Feyerabend [Feyerabend, 1975] does not have a theory of scientific change. Things change for a chaotic assortment of reasons which operate at all levels of description, and all levels of social agency; one does not have a unified theory of anarchic regularities.

Let me note here that we have a luxury with ritual abuse ideology, with AIDS, with the terrorist imago, even with the war-on-drugs frenzy, that we or I do not have with other ideologies I argue are totalizing throughout this dissertation (or social forms, for that matter, that I have to argue are ideological at all). Some ideologies are short enough temporally that I and my readers can live through both sides of them. Others we might see only the start or end of hopefully the end which might still give us the comparative viewpoint to understand what we could not from within the totalizing ideology. Of still others, we might get glimpses of the outside from old writing by long-dead writers (or painters, builders, etc.). But of still others, no reasonable outside exists which is substantially or concretely available to us. The outsides of sex, or of causality, are thousands of years gone, or in some indefinite distant future. It would be nice to "critique" sex (or causality) sometime after its amnesic non-refutation, but that is not an available position from which I can identify sex as a totalizing ideology.

The luxury provided by ritual abuse ideology is the luxury of homology. All my case studies are just that. I can track these histories of a few totalizing ideologies, show how they operated, start to finish, then bring those modes of operations to ideologies with larger horizons. I cannot see from the outside of some larger closures, but at least I can see that the view from the inside looks an awful lot like the view from the inside of those totalizing ideologies whose horizons we have transcended (by historical accident, not by force of will). The conclusion of this examination of homology is the following: if big hegemonies are ever transcended, it will be in the mode of amnesic non-refutation, not in that of refutation. If we get past sex or causation or subjectivity, it will not have been by critique. Just like it was not by critique that we got past the little ideology of ritual abuse.

Motives, Right and Left

Like anything which can function in a totalizing manner nowadays, ritual abuse ideology has its special appeal to both the Right and the Left; and every political slant (which can be multiplied by more than one split, of course) feels its participation in the ideology as an intrinsic and organic outgrowth of what it really always believed all along.

Ritual abuse ideology grew out of some ideological movements which did not function in a totalizing manner, but which also had a parallel appeal to both Left and Right wing thinking in particular, both feminists and anti-feminists had an interest in proto-ritual-abuse ideas.[note]

As is obvious, 'Right' and 'Left' cut up a number of axis which are not identical. There is a Right and a Left on welfare-policy, on individualism/communalism, on corporate vs. government autonomy, on "social issues" like sexual choices, on regulation of speech, on income distribution, and so on. Although opinions on such ideas cluster, all kinds of permutations occur. Saying feminist vs. anti- feminist is actually not just one such axis, but several. And even these several axes do not exhaust the dualities in the appeal of ritual abuse ideology and its predecessors. However, in a broad sense, ritual abuse ideology can be understood as growing out of strong pro- and con- reactions to the women's movement of the early 1970s. The ideology is not reducible to that movement, but it cannot be understood without a strong sense of the connection to the women's movement (and to the movement's enemies).

A unified appeal to opposite groups for opposite reasons seems to be a necessary, but not a sufficient, property of ideologies which totalize. The crucial proto-ideology leading up to ritual abuse ideology is that of father-daughter incest.[note]

I hope it will be obvious to readers of the rest of this document that by describing father- daughter incest as an ideology, I am not dismissing a legitimate concern about the crime. But the discourse of father-daughter incest in the late-1970's was not generically a "legitimate concern." Discourses ideologies have their own ways of conceptualizing their object, of legitimizing their inquiry, of propounding their viewpoint, which are not crudely reducible to an unreflective "legitimate concern." Actually, such a reduction to "common sense" to a claimed purely non-ideological status is always a good marker for the ideological function of an idea (but not, I think, evidence of totalizing function). In this, father-daughter incest was very clearly an ideological formation.

Feminists of the 1970s focussed much of their critical analysis on the functioning of patriarchy within family structures, on domestic violence, on heterosexuality as a control mechanism. An attention to father-daughter incest is a short step from these concerns. But incest ideas would not have done as well had they been relatively univocal in arising from feminist concerns. Instead, they simultaneously arose from distinctly anti-feminist sentiments.

It was not just patriarchy that was to blame for father-daughter incest so say some of its ideologues but also the women's movement.

[They] saw this domestic Lolita as a reincarnation of the good traditional wife. While her mother engaged in neurotic job and community pursuits, the daughter greeted her father fondly when he returned after a miserable day at work Under the circumstances, the poor father could hardly help being aroused, and there was no one around to save him from his lust. His wife, after all, acted "remarkably oblivious" to the developing incest since it promised to free her from her husband's unwanted demands. For [the anti-feminist incest ideologues], the foundation of a good domestic system was a husband and a wife who got along well. If they did, incest was unlikely Part of the repair work involved getting the mother to apologize to her daughter. [Nathan and Snedeker, p.21]

As with the following ritual abuse ideology, these apparently opposite approaches to conceiving incest had more than just a coincidental confluence.

[F]eminists did not back the [...] pro-family program simply as a compromise with moral conservatism. On the contrary, many women's advocates found much to like about the [...] approach to incest intervention Feminists [...] were also excited by [...] efforts to control men's private behavior and, in so doing, to make them "more submissive and nurturant" towards their wives and children. [Nathan and Snedeker, p.22]

In this strange alliance in what seems to be an identificatory mechanism with an unfolding ideology we start to see the glimpses of totalization which comes to fruition in ritual abuse ideology.

Another predecessor ideology which contributed to ritual abuse ideology was the kiddie porn crusades. Kiddie porn was a godsend for anti-porn feminists. Totalitarians like Dworkin and MacKinnon never carried much sentiments for civil liberties, but,

[M]any feminists, who found pornography distasteful, were torn by their belief in the First Amendment right to produce and view it. On the other hand, sexual depictions of children seemed incontrovertibly wrong But now, as the congressional witnesses paraded their dire statistics and pictures of nude children, [feminist columnist Ellen] Goodman felt "a sense of relief." Now, she wrote, Americans could register their disapproval of pornography in a "refreshingly uncomplicated" way. [Nathan and Snedeker, p.42]

From the other side, an anti-feminist "family-values" ideology found kiddie porn a similar godsend. Kiddie porn, to them, had a similar moral disambiguity in proving all that was wrong with "deviant" sexual practices homosexuality, exhibitionism, promiscuity, etc. which to them were all of a piece with kiddie porn. Kiddie porn was probably the start of the totalizing function in this cluster, and certainly provided the necessary ideological tools with which to build ritual abuse ideology. Although,

At its height, kiddie porn grossed far less than $1 million per year (compared with billions of dollars for the adult industry) [T]his information was publicly available by 1980, but during the next few years, officials and much of the media continued to claim that commercial child pornography involved millions of children and a vast underground network of pedophiles engaged in a multibillion-dollar business. [Nathan and Snedeker, p.42]

With the intellectual and epistemic pieces in place, a totalizing ideology came together.


Ritual abuse ideology congealed in a couple places, fairly rapidly. In some ways, the "outbreaks"[note]

Even though the disease metaphors of 'outbreak', 'spread', 'infection' and so on have some connotations I do not want to make, overall the imagery fits the pattern of ritual abuse ideology too closely to disallow the metaphor. I do not think the ideology affects only 'infected' communities in a broad sense, nor that it is as self-contained as a virus or germ which really is in a distinct geographic location. But still, the pervasiveness, and the concrete effects (i.e. prosecutions), have the uneven distribution of an infectious disease, and much the same pattern of spread. The preconditions are global, but the outbreaks still have their identifiable "Typhoid Mary's."

were triggered by quite accidental particularities. But given the elements which came together in the above discussed kiddie porn and incest ideologies, I think the occurrence of ritual abuse ideology in its manifest form of prosecutions was bound to occur somewhere. Prosecutions of persons for ritual abuse of children have clustered in a few places, although in those few places as many as dozens of child-sex abuse rings have been "uncovered." That is the manifest form of the ideology; the latent form was certainly much more widespread, and the ideology was generally believed in a more passive way pretty much throughout the USA.

As the motive cause of the first two waves of ritual abuse prosecutions were the delusional fantasies of two Southern California women suffering from severe mental disorders. In 1982, Mary Ann Barbour, in Kern County, began making accusations of molestation against a wide range of people whom her daughters had been in contact with, mostly extended family. Over the course of the following year or two, these accusations spread to include many more "abusers", and through a network of social-services and police agencies, many more "victims" as well. In 1983, Judy Johnson, of Manhattan Beach, began a similar range of accusations, although this time specifically against day-care providers. Again, as police, prosecutors and social-workers were recruited into the cause, dozens or hundreds of additional victims were recruited into the prosecution of the infamous McMartin Preschool case. Testimony of children children more and more peripheral to the original accusations was evinced over time using some of the techniques and "expert knowledge" described below; as more testimony was evinced, grander and grander conspiracies of Satanist sex rings was revealed (or rather, imagined).

It is not particularly remarkable that a couple women with histories of delusional mental illness could imagine scenarios in which their children had been sexually abused. To Barbour and Johnson, these frightful events (made ever more fantastic with the later invention of child-abuse "professionals") must have seemed terrifyingly real, as are many delusions of schizophrenics. What is shocking in retrospect is the manner in which a variety of centers of professional, official knowledge were put into the service of legitimating and enforcing these delusions. The police initially treated reverentially the none-too-subtle and semi-coherent rantings of accusers. Psychologists and social-workers stepped into to "interview" children with the effective result of producing imaginary stories wilder than any original delusions of Barbour or Johnson. Children who invented stories about the original accused, in the same coercive situations invented further stories about unrelated additional perpetrators; and these secondary accusations in turn led to new waves of investigations, new groups of children recruited to "testify," new "sex-rings" being uncovered,

The social hysteria that McMartin incited upped ritual-abuse cases to another level. While at first they were products of delusional individuals, by 1984 whole social systems had been set up to justify and develop accusations and prosecutions. What happened in Kern County is an example. There, local officials assembled a remarkable apparatus for generating massive investigations and trials. It included sheriff's deputies, social workers, prosecutors, and [doctors]. [Nathan and Snedeker, p.93]

The irreality of the construction of "official knowledge" in the ritual abuse communities quickly encompassed the judiciary also,

[Kern County Defendants'] sentences ranged from 273 to 405 years in prison; the women's time shattered previous state records. When a newspaper reporter asked Friedman [the judge in the case] why he had meted out such draconian punishments, he answered that it was because he had seen pictures of the defendants molesting the children and committing "every perversion imaginable." Yet no such evidence had been presented to the jury, nor was there any found by the sheriff's office after countless searches The judge's phantasms were shared by all of Kern County; indeed, it seemed that the whole community had plunged into a collective nightmare. By the beginning of 1985, four sex-ring trials clogged the Kern County courthouse, and a total of eight had been uncovered in an area containing about 130,000 people. [Nathan and Snedeker, p.98]

The ideological preconditions must have existed in many places. But in a few places where initial accusations were developed, they spread quickly to encompass many additional prosecutions. The same phenomena which occurred in Kern and Manhattan Beach in 1983-5 occurred again over the next few years in Wenatchee, Washington; in Lowell, Massachusetts; under the inspired fanaticism of eventual Attorney General Janet Reno, in Dade Country, Florida; and in a handful of other places. The image of a forest in a drought springs to mind. Anywhere throughout the forest could burst into wildfire at any time, but that crucial spark only happens to occur in a subset of the places. Such was the USA in 1984.

Obtaining Outsidelessness

The ideology of ritual abuse is more sophisticated in its internal structure than a simple dismissal as 'hysteria' or a 'witch hunt' might lead one to think.[note]

Of course, other social 'hysterias', and other witch hunts (literal and figurative), have often had their own associated ontologies and deductive systems. It is not the case, for example, that European witch hunts over decades or centuries were simple unstructured fears which overcame otherwise sensible people. That movement also had its own internal logic, its own "philosophers" and ideologues, its metaphysical reasonings, and so on. People believed in witches, and in satanic possession and the like, for reasons that played into a variety of social reasonings, and fit moderately systematically with other belief schemes. I take no position, just for lack of sufficient study, on whether, or in what respect, older witch-hunts participate in the trends of totalization and amnesic non-refutation which are my concerns in this particular discussion.

The ideologues of ritual abuse rely on many true and cogent observations. They carry through deductive reasonings. They integrate other areas of thought and knowledge. For example, one common premise of ritual abuse ideology almost seems to be a Freudian truism,

The daughter's lie, cautioned Summit, "carries more credibility than the most explicit claims of incestuous entrapment. It confirms adult expectations that children cannot be trusted. It restores the precarious equilibrium of the family. Children learn not to complain. Adults learn not to listen. The authorities learn not to believe. [Nathan and Snedeker, p.222, quoting Roland C. Summit, "The Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome," Child Abuse and Neglect, 7(1983)]

Psychic repression, at some level, is an undeniable property of human thinking. When used by the ritual abuse ideologists, like Summit, it forms the linchpin of a mechanism of justification. It is an argument to trump all non-totalizing ones which might be counterposed to it, and in that creates precisely the kind of outsidelessness which I discuss in this dissertation.

The totalizing quality of ritual abuse ideology's repression explanation lies in its ability preemptively to coopt the very argument which most immediately refute its claims. The "abused child" is firstly granted a privileged epistemic status, in an echo of Hegel's master/slave dialectic or of much feminist standpoint theory, which grants special knowledge to the oppressed. But then a special hermeneutic is introduced to truly understand the meaning of the "abused child's" testimony and this interpretive principle performs the foreclosure. Another prominent ritual abuse ideologist describes the "unfolding" of truth in children's testimony,

In May 1984, Kee MacFarlane told Congress: "What we capture on videotape on the first interview is an incredible kind of spontaneity, this eye- opening reality that comes from children's first descriptions of abuse." [Nathan and Snedeker, 1996, p.224, quoting Kee MacFarlane, "Child Sexual Victims in the Courts," Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Juvenile Justice of the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate, May 2,22, 1984, p.88]

Of course, MacFarlane's "spontaneity" is still one mediated by the enclosing principle of an outsideless ideology since,

[I]nstead of revealing heartfelt narratives by children, the recording starred the interviewers [such as MacFarlane] themselves, and showed them working strenuously to lead children from denials to "yes" answers. The same tapes were instrumental in producing jury verdicts favorable to [defendants]. [Nathan and Snedeker, p.224, notes added]

As mentioned, an outsideless ideology is not merely spontaneous, as the term 'mass hysteria' might be read. Totalization cannot function without a certain sort of spontaneity, inasmuch as a large number of people must be in some way predisposed to participate in an enclosing reasoning. I have discussed some such motives. But at the same time, spontaneity also requires a lot of leg-work for the ideologists.

Much of the work in establishing the right interpretive framework, the hermeneutics, of ritual abuse ideology, is getting the right social system of official expertise in place (as with most ideologies). In this, the ideologists quickly realized that videotape could not be relied on to provide an adequate hermeneutic, and interpretation must be left to experts best able to understand the meaning of children's spontaneous testimony (which generally takes the form of denial of the events proposed by prosecutorial staff, even after moderate coercion). By 1985,

[A]ttendees learned at the FBI's 1985 ritual-abuse conference, abandoning their tape recorders and notepads "worked" for prosecutors. [Nathan and Snedeker, p.226].

Such a hermeneutic was given even more explicit imprimatur within a few more years,

Child-protection authorities institutionalized their phobias about interview records in 1987, when the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse (NCPCA) published a voluminous manual instructing district attorneys on how to handle child abuse cases. Titled Investigation and Prosecution of Child Abuse [it] contains reams of advice on how to gather pro-prosecution expert witnesses perhaps most important on not videotaping interview with children, since doing so may help the defense. [Nathan and Snedeker, p.226]

Once the ideological leg-work is done, most people are pretty inclined to believe what "all the experts" say about a matter, especially if not to believe is to be cast in the same boat with child-molesters and the like. And even more especially if the right internal mechanisms exist to incorporate apparent refutation into the conceptual scheme of ritual abuse ideology.

Remembrance of Ideologies Past

What happens when totalization is a thing of the past? The actual positivistic step of refuting the old ideas is the rarest of beasts. But for almost everyone who remembers an old ideology, it is de rigueur to experience a homologue of refutation. I believe that it is in the nature of life within ideology (not to say there is another kind, of course), to require the structure of belief which positivism endorses in a general way. Perhaps not the whole progressivist structure we have experienced for a few hundred years of rigorous science and Capitalism, but at the very least a structure of experiencing the past in terms of overcoming; Benjamin's undoubtably more accurate Angel of History, who sees only the accumulation of horrors while being blown backwards, is not the Angel of Ideology. Nathan and Snedeker give an illustration,

The older reporters always passionately recount how, while everyone else at their newspaper or TV station ten years ago thought Kelly Michaels or the McMartin teachers were guilty, they saw the whole thing as a witch hunt (even though they filed no stories to that effect and did not argue the point with their colleagues). [Nathan and Snedeker, 1996, p. 245]

The truth is, I do not know what happened to ritual abuse ideology. It seems to be gone now, and I think probably no more waves of mass prosecutions of supposed Satanists will occur in the next few years. In some manner, the preconditions which congealed by 1983 have dissipated by 1995. The eventual acquittals of a some defendants has (mostly on appeal, therefore outside the immediate communities) probably had a certain effect. Kiddie porn and incest have faded from media focus although those fadings are no more obvious causally. But far more than these "refutational" aspects come into play, an ideological forgetfulness has come over us. The ideological alliances which shaped ritual abuse ideology have moved into new formations (for example, anti-welfare ideology grabs a similar range of elements). Attentions have shifted to new fantasies and new anxieties. Totalities follow fashions, hems rise or fall, a new band or movie is all-the-rage, and it is hard to imagine the appeal of what we recently believed with what was in us more than we were in ourselves.[note]

For some general discussion of the notion of "more than we are in ourselves", see page### 153, and the notion of "Subject-Supposed-to-Know.

Tsars and Jihads

[A]longside the "war machine", there has always existed an ocular (and later optical and electro-optical) "watching machine" capable of providing soldiers, and particularly commanders, with a visual perspective on the military action under way.

Virilio, 1989, p.3

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