The Curse of Seeing a Pattern in Randomness
Why, during times of horror, do humans inflict this further cruelty on their neighbors and themselves? Why do we so often choose witch hunting over solidarity? In those African villages, it always seemed to me that a belief in witches is—at the most basic level—a rebellion against the cold randomness of death. If you live in the Tanzanian bush—or in a German village in 1672—almost anything can kill you, and it probably will: a mosquito bite, a mouthful of water filled with invisible bacteria, a cut knee that becomes infected. Death is everywhere, random and sudden and final. In these circumstances, it is more reassuring to believe there is an evil out there that you can personify and hunt down and kill than to acknowledge the truth: that you are powerless.
In a review by Johann Hari of two books on "witches" and their persecutions in Slate. Expect to see more and more of such outbreaks of conspiracy theory paranoia and scapegoating during this economic downturn. Symptoms will be additional psychotic political murders and probably cult suicides.