Tue 2023-Jun-06

On Forgiving Witchcraft… Slooowly

Tagged: CorporateLifeAndItsDiscontents / Obscurantism / Politics / Religion / Sadness / ϜΤΦ

Does anybody else wonder what’s going on in the heads of legislators who are “outlier” votes? Like, when a vote is 33-1, what’s that one guy thinking? Principled holdout, or just stubborn? (Or maybe not very bright?)

Connecticut and Witchcraft

Here in New England, we’re famous for many things.

One of those things that’s campy on the surface, but actually regrettable upon reflection, is the series of witch trials in the mid 1600s to maybe 1700. They’re entertainingly weird, when viewed from a safe distance of nearly 4 centuries. But when you think about the authoritarian moral panic and the literal torture and state-sanctioned murder it inflicted on women (and a few men), it’s just sad and shameful. (Cue Arthur Miller, who wrote The Crucible during the “political witch trials” in America of the McCarthy era, when Republicans saw communist conspiracies everywhere.)

You’d think we’d learn, but today’s moral panic over trans people is disappointingly similar.

Sottile @ CNN: Connecticut formally pardons witchcraft convictions centuries later Debusmann @ BBC: Connecticut witch exoneration O'Leary @ Ofc of Ct Sen Anwar: Pardoning witchcraft So it’s… interesting (in some ways)… to see the Connecticut legislature has pardoned, or at least apologized for, the persecutions and killings of that time. It’s apparently important enough to make both CNN [1] and the BBC [2] take notice, as well as a press release from the CT state senator claiming to have led that effort [3].

It is admirably brief (7 lines) and to the point, as legislation goes. No reasonably literate person can claim not to understand the point (witchcraft trials = wrong) and the modern-day effect of the apology/pardon (not much). The legislation/resolution reads, in its entirety [4]:

Resolved by this Assembly:

1 That the General Assembly recognizes that residents of colonial
2 Connecticut were falsely accused of practicing witchcraft in the
3 seventeenth century and that such persons were tried, convicted and
4 sometimes sentenced to death for such offense, and declares that,
5 although these accusations, prosecutions, trials and executions cannot
6 be undone or changed, no disgrace or cause for distress should attach to
7 the heirs of those persons.

CNN mentions the feelings of relief – and some cautions – about alienating people, as reported by a 14th generation lineal descendant of one of the victims. 14 generations is a long time; systemic violence does lasting damage!

But… I Have Some Questions

That’s… ok, I guess? I mean, I don’t see how any reasonable person can object to this. It may not be the best use of legislative time, but it’s certainly not a bad use of time to admit mistakes, even old ones. And it’s not like this takes a lot of legislative time for debate, or so one would think.

But… I Have Some Questions. (Comme d’habitude.)

  1. I realize that “What took you so long?!” is kind of a snarky question. But, c’mon, really: 14 generations and nearly 4 centuries means A Really Long Time.

    I understand why the legislatures of the late 1600s or so didn’t want to correct the mistakes, because they were the ones who made the mistakes. Nobody likes that.

    But surely, after maybe 2 generations, their grandchildren would be willing to distance the government – and themselves – from the errors of their elders?

    Surely nobody from the late 1600s would be still in office in the mid 1700s. After all, the word “senator” comes from the Latin senex, senatoris meaning “old man”, so the originals would have died off. [5]

  2. This isn’t the first time they tried this. Not even the first time in the 21st century!

    CT Jt Res 26, 2008: Illustration of hanged witches In 2008, Joint Resolution 26 was proposed [6], illustrated as shown here with the great charm one expects of legislators, to accomplish more or less the same thing.

    But it apparently didn’t pass, for reasons unknown. Did someone actually object to this?!

  3. Actually, this isn’t even the second time in this century. After 2008, CNN reported attempts to get the CT governor to sign a proclamation of exoneration and get the Board of Pardons and Parole to issue posthumous pardons.

    This also failed. How did that happen? Did the relevant people just not pay attention, or did they actually want to perpetuate witchcraft convictions from 4 centuries ago?

  4. And even this, the third attempt just in the new 21st century, was not unanimous!

    • The earlier House vote on this was 121-30. Why did about 20% of the House actively vote against this? Are they the sort of superstitious dolt one finds among fundamentalists, who think witchcraft is actually a thing, and should be punished? Are they incapable of admitting a nearly 4 century old error?
    • And in the Senate, the vote was 33-1-2.
      • Who were the 2 abstentions, and why?

        If they were just absent because this was not a terribly important vote, then I get it. But if they actually, formally abstained and refused to commit either way on this issue… what were they thinking?

      • Who’s the lone holdout who actively voted “no”?

        What were they thinking, or is it a category error to use the verb “thinking” for this process?

        The BBC article says this was CT Senator Rob Sampson, who:

        … said that he believed it was wrong to “dictate what was right or wrong about periods in the past that we have no knowledge of”.

        “I don’t want to see bills that rightfully or wrongfully attempt to paint America as a bad place with a bad history,” he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

        “I want us to focus on where we’re going, which is a brighter and better future.”

        Or, in other words, he’s worried about image, and can’t be bothered to think about the reality of the wrong done to the victims. The “rightfully or wrongfully” part says he’s not even especially inconvenienced by concepts like truth.

        Perhaps his constituents will take note of this: if he thinks thus about small issues, how flexible about truth will he be on big issues, where there are actual consequences and lobbyists vying for his vote?

It’s a simple thing, but there are always so many questions…

The Weekend Conclusion

May we all be more quick to forgive, and more nimble at recognizing mistakes.

We can apply that rule to ourselves individually, as well: recognize our own mistakes and forgive ourselves.

Notes & References

1: Z Sottile, “Centuries after they were convicted, Connecticut formally pardons men and women charged with witchcraft”, CNN, 2023-May-29.

2: B Debusmann, “Connecticut ‘witches’ exonerated by Senate lawmakers”, BBC, 2023-May-27.


4: S Anwar, “RESOLUTION EXONERATING THE WOMEN AND MEN CONVICTED FOR WITCHCRAFT IN COLONIAL CONNECTICUT”, CT General Assembly Bill Status, retrieved 2023-Jun-06. NB: You may have to pause your VPN temporarily to access this page.

5: Today’s US Senate is more of an anomaly, with so many Old White Men. And yes, I say this from the perspective being personally an Old White Man. Yes, I think I’m reasonably smart; but no, there is no particular reason for you to agree unless I demonstrate it to your satisfaction.

Also, they’re not especially representative: due to over-representation from sparsely populated rural states, about 50% of the Senate represents only about 20% of the voters. This helps explain why the Senate is so maddeningly conservative.

Though not, perhaps, so maddeningly conservative as to preserve witchcraft convictions for nearly 4 centuries. Because, after all, the US Senate is only 234 years old as of today! Give them some time.

6: A Avery, “Senate Joint Resolution No. 26: Resolution Concerning Certain Convictions in Colonial Connecticut”, CT General Assembly Bill Status, retrieved 2023-Jun-06. NB: Again, you might have to pause your VPN to get to this.

Published Tue 2023-Jun-06

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