Why Trials by Fire May Not be the Best Thing to Commend When Scared The Effects of Irrational fear

"The Crucible" is an iconic and widely distributed play that was written in 1953 by Arthur Miller. It is a known fact that Miller wrote his play about McCarthyism, a four-year-long, intense movement during the Cold War. It was founded and propagated by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was searching for Communists in the American society and government. At the end of those four years, McCarthyism was debunked as fanatical, and the movement died rather quickly. In that time, however, McCarthyism influenced the creation of many similar, smaller-scaled trials, the end result being thousands of people having their jobs and reputations lost to the wind.

With this in mind, it is interesting to note how history seemed to repeat itself, almost key for key, in accordance to the Salem Witch Trials. How one person's malicious influence influenced an entire society, how people were convicted and condemned for crimes for which there was little evidence, and especially how the sheer weight of a people's fear was capitalized against their own selves for someone else's gain. Now, three hundred years after the Salem Witch Trials, and sixty years after the Mccarthy Hearings, it seems as though history may repeat once more. The blind panics known as 'The Syrian Refugee Crisis,' and the broader-scoping agenda of 'Islamophobia' are taking center stage where the Red Scare once stood.

To understand the present, it is often helpful to look at the past. To this effect, "The Crucible" becomes practical as a window through history, as most of the events that transpired in the play also happened in the real Salem Witch Trials. The motif against irrational fear that was found all throughout the play can be applied now to our present world. For example, in Act III of the play, the Deputy Governor Danforth says,

"But you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time—we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world" (3.1.345-351).

In this quote, Miller shows the great dichotomy that was seen by the Salem Court Officials between those who accepted the court wholeheartedly, and those who held even an ounce of doubt in their heart. If even a small part of a man's conscience cried out against the Court, then he was either working for the Devil, or was bewitched by someone who had been working dark arts. In their strongly theocratic society, this made sense to the people of Salem, if only they did not use much reason on the topic. This reason that would have told the populace of Salem that these Witch Trials had no ground to begin proceeding with was entirely locked away, and this was for the sole reason that the people were too afraid.

When a human being becomes scared of something, especially something that can cause one great harm, almost all people resort to their most base responses; Fight, or Flight. The Devil was, to them, intangible and omnipresent wherever their beacons of faith in the form of their cities did not shine. To flee Salem was to abandon not only your property and livelihood, but also to run into the Devil's country where anything could befall you. The general consensus in Salem, then, was to fight, and to purge their beacons of faith in whatever ways they knew how. Had they not been so afraid for their own selves, the people in Salem would have undoubtedly found the gaps of reason in Salem's proceedings.

Moving back to the quote above, one can see that it was, indeed, irrational fear that was clouding the Deputy Governor's own judgement. A simple fact can be used to prove this. Judges, even then, were only chosen if they had sound logic, a grasp of the laws in the land, and a sharp mind to see through others' theatrics. It is almost comical, then, that a head judge should be the one to advocate for the legitimacy of a lie fabricated by a child. Fear, and most definitely the confessions of others to witchcraft, (done also because of fear), were the trojan horses that fooled Danforth into believing that there were dark arts being practiced in Salem.

Suspicion of the unknown and the ill-understood did not die with the end of the Salem Witch Trials. That was made clear on a national scale with the rise of McCarthyism. Furthermore, it is made clear with the events that are occurring today. What is known now as 'The Syrian Refugee Crisis' only developed into a crisis because of fear. The Middle East is a veritable mess, and it became like that because the Ottoman rulers during World War I made quite a few mistakes, both in governance and lifestyle, that tore their empire apart. The pieces have been fighting ever since. One such struggle for dominance has collapsed Syria's government and divided the population into four major categories: those loyal to the government, those rebelling against it, the new arrivals known as ISIS, and the refugees, who may have come from any of the previous three factions, or may simply have lost everything in the crossfire.

These refugees are fleeing their homeland in the thousands, though most are trapped in Syria and unable to get out. The ones that escape have no metaphorical Switzerland to go to as the Jews did during the Holocaust. The escapees are stuck in a limbo on the borders of countries, without sanitation, stable food supplies, or any real semblance of life beyond surviving another day because of one reason: fear. Especially in the Western World, there is the broad assumption that within the refugee populations are ISIS-linked terrorists that are looking for an easy way to infiltrate other countries to extend their organization's influence. However, in the act of refusing every person that asks for asylum, the Western World also turns its back on the thousands of innocent men, women and children that had no part in any nefarious schemes, resulting in many untimely deaths on those countries' hands. Granted, there is the belief that securing the safety of one's own nation is more important than helping foreigners that 'may' pose a threat to one's nation, but there are still the basic principles of humanity that should supercede that. The main motivator against helping fellow human beings in this case, yet again, can only be fear.

Donald J. Trump, the current President-elect of the United States of America, has said many spectacularly horrendous things in his time. The ones most etched into the minds of many Muslim-Americans are his comments about Islam, and what he thinks should be done to control Muslims and their so-called extreme religion. Ignoring the fact that almost everything that he says about this topic is fiction wrapped around a single grain of skewed truth, it is the social climate that he is producing that is truly the concern of Muslim-Americans. He says that all Muslims should be registered and wear a badge stating what their religion is, and that they should be questioned and monitored at all times. He has even gone so far to say that the reason extremism persists by Muslims is because the terrorist-to-be's fellow Muslims made the mistake not automatically assuming that their upset friend was going to commit an act of homicide. Nevermind how his policies will, most likely, never be passed, it is the scapegoating and alienating that Donald Trump has been doing that will cause the most trouble. Just as Salem would not have had trials if a mysterious, ever-present dark magic was not so believed in, and just how McCarthyism would not have risen to prominence if Communism weren't so strange and alien, Islamophobia would not exist if all Muslims were not made to be feared as the cause of all of the world's problems.

Thus it becomes a matter of what to believe. Before any action, there is always a thought. It becomes the responsibility of every individual, then, not to act without first seeing if their thought was in any way influenced by some kind of unbased fear. To join with a mob mentality generally means to lose your own initiative to think and act, and so therefore, to keep one's thoughts detached from their fear would be the only way to ensure that another Salem Witch trial does not occur. This is not to say that complete emotional detachment is necessary for social advance, but what is needed is a clear-defined boundary in every human's mind between hysteria and reason. Historically, fear has been the greatest motivator to do the worst things that have ever been done. Genocides of populations, alienations of "inferior" human beings, and the destruction of civilizations have occurred, in some part or entirely, because of fear. The only solution is to work towards not being so controlled by fear, and to think clearly on the tasks before us. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said in his First Inaugural Address, and for a very similar reason, "...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Works Cited

"Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself": FDR's First Inaugural Address." "Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself": FDR's First Inaugural Address. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

Economist Magazine. "Islamophobia in America." YouTube. YouTube, 09 Dec. 2015. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

History.com Staff. "Joseph R. McCarthy." History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

"McCarthyism." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

"McCarthyism." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts. New York: Viking, 1953. Print.

Created By
Saad Ayub

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