Witchcraft, Leprosy, and Covid: “Power to Harm” as Political Weapon


By Stacey Rudin

The Covid pandemic is mired in questions of responsibility and blame. In the heat of panic, we abandoned all of our prior behaviors and assumptions surrounding communicable diseases, instantly replacing them with a propaganda-driven “new morality.” In the ultimate switcheroo, instead of assuming personal responsibility for our own health, we are now encouraged to blame others for hurting us if they refuse to fundamentally alter their lives in order to “protect” us.

We ask them to give up everything they hold dear — up to and including Constitutional freedoms, means of making a living, and educating children — to participate in a concerted effort to “stop infections” which shall continue indefinitely.

This is the perfect formula for achieving total control over a society. Everyone is blaming everyone else for external behaviors — social disapproval eliminates the need for police enforcement — with a targeted goal of perfect compliance. This was set in motion when the government made a bald, difficult-to-disprove assertion — “Together, we can stop death” — and built-in a dissent-silencing mechanism: “We are trying to save lives, so anyone who disagrees with us is a killer.”

How convenient. Do as we say, or be condemned. The resulting silence makes it impossible to determine how many people genuinely believe in the merits of this system, and how many participate purely out of fear and shame. If history is any indication, this system will perpetuate itself until a critical mass gathers the courage to resist it.

What our silenced population was not thinking about during the fearful spring of 2020 was the fact that alleged insidious, non-disprovable “abilities to harm” have been used as political tools for centuries. Powerful governments and special interests know that people tend to associate risks and dangers such as illness, natural disaster, and famine with conduct that transgresses societal norms. When people believe that “better behavior” can remedy a threat, they work hard to force that behavior on everyone.

Cultural theory teaches us that this predictable response to threats can be used to promote certain social structures, both by “imbuing a society’s members with aversions to subversive behavior and by focusing resentment and blame on those who defy such institutions.” Political targets can be — and often are — entrapped by the framing of a behavior as “good and safe” and another as “bad and unsafe.” In 2020, lockdown was framed as “safe,” and Sweden’s mitigation approach as “unsafe.” Before we analyze the outcome, let’s consider the historic uses of witchcraft and leprosy in this same manner. They both involve an alleged invisible “ability to harm,” which is impossible to disprove, culminating in near-perfect control over society.

“Whether the witch is really able to harm or not, whether the person is really infectious or not, the attribution of a hidden power to hurt is a weapon of attack against them. Attributions of occult injury and hidden infection informally entrench the hierarchy of social categories and warn well-placed persons against indiscriminate social intercourse . . . The accusation can be completely outrageous; it will be credible essentially if the political system on whose behalf it is made is accepted.”

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that innocent women executed (hanged) in Salem, Massachusetts, were persecuted — they suffered an appalling fate. But at the time, the whole of society “went along” with the narrative that they had supernatural powers, could harm enemies at whim and insidiously, and therefore needed to be destroyed for the “safety of the community.”

Their condemnations were based on post hoc, ergo proper hoc circular reasoning: harm occurred, therefore witchcraft caused it. In one example, the death of a child occasioned the condemnation of his “disagreeable” grandmother. The evidence against her consisted of “human feces discovered at the top of a palm tree.” Because women generally didn’t climb trees, and certainly cannot perch on top as necessary to defecate, her accusers argued she “must have supernatural powers” “since she did it.” In the prevailing cultural environment, this was considered a more reasonable explanation than “I did not, in fact, defecate in the treetop.” The woman was banished.

Not everyone in the unfortunate woman’s community would have believed she was guilty as charged. Many probably knew her to be a good and kind person, and hated to see her treated this way. Perhaps most “went along to get along,” seeking foremost to avoid becoming the next victim of the unjust system. This ever-present threat of accusation — and the impossibility of proving innocence — is an ingenious means for the ruling class to maintain control.

Leprosy was used similarly. Archaeologists now know that alleged widespread “leprosy” epidemics were largely not leprosy at all — many “lepers” had non-contagious skin ailments or other innocuous health problems. One can imagine the ever-present threat members of these societies lived under, when a simple rash could condemn a disfavored person. Conforming, submissive behavior is not difficult to understand under these circumstances. “Stay in favor, do exactly what I say, or your next bout of rosacea will be your demise.”

These same dynamics are being exploited by politicians and symbiotic special interests during Covid-19, at the expense of innocent civilians. Our Constitutional rights and privileges as basic as educating our children have been suspended on the premise that “we pose a threat to others.” We are treated like children, told we “must behave just as the government says for the safety of everyone.” (This would sound very familiar to the residents of Salem, Massachusetts, and certain leper colonies.) Even though we are completely healthy, we are forced to make incredible sacrifices in service of “stopping the invisible enemy.” “It’s unsafe to open your restaurant.” “It’s unsafe to educate your children.” “It’s unsafe for you to walk past me with an exposed face.”

Just six months ago, these restrictions on freedom would have been unthinkable to the average American. Yet today, they are the prevailing “normal.” Nonconforming behavior occasions averted eyes at best, open hostility at worst. These assertions are obviously outrageous in light of the dazzling example of Sweden — it has lower per-capita mortality for 2020 than it did on this date in 2015 — yet they are widely accepted because they are part of the political zeitgeist. We don’t know how many people genuinely agree that livelihood destruction and educational deprivation are justified and acceptable — we just know that most are afraid to oppose them for fear of appearing “reckless to human life.” “Whether the person is really infectious or not, the attribution of a hidden power to hurt is a weapon of attack against them.”

People do not want to be attacked — they’d generally rather fall in line than stick out their necks. This is why “witches” burned, lepers were banished, and schoolchildren spend their days alone in front of screens. Our ingrained tendencies are still just as subject to exploitation as they were in 1693. A formidable political weapon, indeed.

While science did not allow Salemites and lepers to disprove their alleged power to harm, in 2020 we can exculpate ourselves with one simple, easy-to-understand scientific fact — one that is as well-established as gravity: all epidemics end with herd immunity, and not before. Herd immunity is the natural and singular endpoint to every viral epidemic. We will all get there eventually, whether via natural infections — ala Sweden — or a combination of natural infections and vaccinationImperial College London said as much in the March 16, 2020 model that influenced world governments into “locking down:”

Once interventions are relaxed, infections begin to rise, resulting in a predicted peak epidemic later in the year. The more successful a strategy is at temporary suppression, the larger the later epidemic is predicted to be in the absence of vaccination, due to lesser build-up of herd immunity.

Do we want our epidemic now, or later? These are our choices. We cannot change the size of our epidemic, but only the timing. The only way to minimize mortality is by letting the low-risk expose themselves to the virus while the higher-risk temporarily reduce mobility. This indisputable scientific fact debunks the allegation that anyone has an “insidious ability to harm” that threatens other people.

We may be infectious, but an infection in us and the consenting people with whom we mingle is beneficial, since it reduces the time to herd immunity for the whole of society. With this simple return to science, we can neutralize the potent political and psychological weapon deployed against us. We can abandon the devastating system of tyranny and blame imposed on us via Covid propaganda, replacing it with our habitual, healthier American system of personal responsibility and — above all else — freedom.

Stacey Rudin is a writer, activist, community leader, volunteer, and former litigator active in the grassroots movement to ensure future pandemics are managed in accordance with established public health guidelines. An avid tennis player and reader, Stacey lives in Short Hills, New Jersey. Read more from Stacey Rudin on Medium.