Modern-day Witch Hunts Examples 2023

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The timeless American play, ‘The Crucible’, by Arthur Miller, dramatizes the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century. The series of unmerited trials and hangings took place in colonial Massachusetts. The event was an instance of mass hysteria, a phenomenon found in groups of people where they share a common delusion or symptom, often as a result of general fear or anxiety. In many cases, there is a scapegoat involved where a person or a select group of people are unjustly blamed for some sort of bad situation. In ‘The Crucible’, innocent people are accused of witchcraft and attempting to undermine the court. Consequently, upright citizens of the community are blamed for the unusual fits and illnesses occurring within the town and hanged as a result. Salem was subject to an appalling case of mass hysteria. A modern case of mass psychogenic illness is the anti-vaccination movement. Just as innocent citizens were scapegoated in ‘The Crucible’, modern vaccinations are blamed for numerous developmental issues without evidence to support this.

In both cases of mass hysteria in ‘The Crucible’ and today with vaccines, the ones creating a scapegoat do so because of their lack of knowledge regarding the issue. Back in colonial Massachusetts, puritans were very religious and believed that humans could make deals with the devil in order to harness his power to harm others. When a group of young girls are caught dancing in the woods, Betty, the reverend’s daughter, falls sick the next day and begins having unusual fits. Initially, the girls swore that they only danced in the woods. When a rumor of witchcraft began circulating within the town, the girls changed their stance and say that they have been bewitched. They knew that if they were accused of witchcraft, they would hang if they did not confess. If they confessed to being bewitched instead, they knew that they would receive a much more merciful punishment. In this instance, the people of Salem did not understand why the girls went to dance in the woods or why Betty started acting strange seemingly as a result. Due to this confusion, people resorted to declaring witchcraft for what they did not understand. Anyone could be at risk of being accused because there is no evidence to prove a person guilty of witchcraft. This made the fear of witches in colonial Massachusetts a very susceptible setting for scapegoating.

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Today, people supporting the anti-vaccination movement are commonly known as anti-vaxxers, and they are unknowingly repeating similar mistakes made during the Salem Witch Trials. Since the creation of vaccinations, people have questioned the real effects of them, allowing false information to convince them that this medical procedure is actually causing developmental issues in children. The opposition against vaccines has been seen in the masses during several occasions throughout history. The most extensive case of this was in 1998, following the publication of a paper written by Andrew Wakefield. In this paper, Andrew Wakefield suggests that there is a connection between the MMR vaccine and the development of autism in children. About a year later, numerous studies were published disproving any association between vaccines and autism. Although his research was deemed false, word about the supposed dangers of vaccines had already spread worldwide. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the MMR vaccination rates persistently droppe throughout the early 2000s. The UK experienced 56 measles cases in 1998, but as a direct result of the vaccine hysteria, that number rose to 449 during the first five months of 2006 with the first measles related death since 1992 occurring as well. By 2008, measles was declared endemic in the UK. Outbreaks were happening all across the globe. Ireland had 1,500 cases and three deaths in 2000 as a result. France faced more than 22,000 cases between 2008 and 2011 (Muacevic and Adler, 2018). As this vaccination hysteria continues to grow and becomes more and more detrimental to the health of people all over the world, we could potentially be in a position where measles outbreaks can not be suppressed.

Similarities can be found between the Salem Witch Trials of the late seventeenth century and the anti-vaccine sentiment occurring today. Scapegoats such as innocent citizens and harmless (more accurately, beneficial) vaccines were blamed for issues that people did not understand. In regards to the witch hunts, unusual illnesses and erratic behavior were believed to be caused by witchcraft. Today, many people attribute a wide range of health problems to vaccinations. It is a very human tendency to try and find a cause to all problems, and when there doesn’t seem to be one, we tend to blame such problems on a vulnerable target; one that can not stand up for itself. Clearly, much adversity had resulted from this natural instinct. Innocent people were hanged in Salem and today people are becoming severely sick and even dying from once eradicated diseases. This was all prompted by generalized fear and anxiety found in the masses. Just as citizens in Salem were turning against their neighbors due to fear of the devil and witchcraft, people today refuse to vaccinate their children in fear that they will develop disorders such as autism. In both scenarios, the people doing the blaming were the misinformed. Doctors back in the late 1600s did not have the access to information we have today, so they pinned the cause on witchcraft. Current parents have access to numerous resources on the internet, not all of which are reliable. You can easily find false information concerning the harmful effects of vaccines through the internet because you do not need any medical qualifications to publish your unsupported views online.

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Modern-day Witch Hunts Examples 2023. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from
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