I have a friend in Papua New Guinea named Monica Paulus who was accused of casting sorcery spells because a person died in her village. Her neighbors almost murdered her until she fled the region. Now she works to save other women falsely accused of sorcery who are targets of torture and killing. This is a window into the mob violence Western civilization crawled slowly out of through the establishment of principles like the presumption of innocence.
To millions of Americans, Brett Kavanaugh seems just as guilty as Monica seemed to her accusers. They sincerely believe, because the power groupthink has over the human mind, that Kavanaugh has all the signs of their suspected profile of an abuser of women: rich, white, elite Catholic school attendee, conservative, and nominated by Donald Trump. Millions of people have repeated this so often that it feels deeply true. Plus, there were accusations!
Monica’s accusers believed she fit the profile of a witch. Once the first accusation was levied, it was easy for others to believe it was true. From an outside vantage, charges of deadly sorcery seem absurd to third-party observers. But in Monica’s culture, belief in the power of sorcery to kill children and cause calamity has been universal for millenia. Though recent infections of Christianity have shaken it, sorcery is still a fact of life.
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Personhood has been a hard-fought prize of Western civilization. The idea that an individual person has a right to their own life and liberty regardless of the passions of the collective is a relatively new and fragile gain for humanity. For most of history, the individual person accused by a crowd or community…