There are a lot of definitions of moral panic running around, but here's mine: It's when a community becomes hysterical about some problem -- often, but not always, a real one -- that becomes defined as an existential threat to public safety and moral order. In such a climate, questioning how big the threat actually is, or contesting any particular example, is not a matter of rational discussion, but of heresy.It's a piece worth reading, and her point is amplified by the fact that after reading the post and thinking it a good one, I hesitated to post it because "well, one doesn't want to seem like one of those people who insists there is no problem". Once I recognized that hesitation, I knew I had to post it.
While the moral panic is raging, ludicrous and improbable stories suddenly become convincing, and it's dangerous to question them, because why are you defending witches? Are YOU a witch?
When people are in the grip of a moral panic, going up against them to question the extent of a threat, even by doubting so much as a single case, can become dangerous. Questioning any expression of the panic is not seen as a logical debate over statistics or the details of a particular instance, but as somehow defending the threatening behavior.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
The Problem of Moral Panic
Megan McArdle has a piece worth reading talking about the UVA rape case (in which a Rolling Stone story describing an alleged gang rape and the hands of fraternity brothers turned out to be a fabrication which the reporter had not bothered to check) as an example of what she describes as moral panic: