Last week, my introductory psychology class read a book called “Remembering Satan” by Lawrence Wright. I read it too. I mention that not just to shock the world with news of my timely completion of a reading assignment, but because I really thought this book was great. It is the story of a family destroyed when two daughters falsely accuse their father and some of his friends of horrific sexual abuse and satanic torture. Lots of stories of incest, rape and baby killing.
But that’s not why I liked it, you sickos.
The part I found fascinating was the accused father’s concoction of a series of apocryphal confessions — “recovered memories” — about this satanic abuse he and others allegedly committed against his daughters. But he actually was just highly susceptible to suggestion and made up the confessions out of a preternatural need to please his interrogators.
This case is just the tip of the Satan-berg. All across early 1990s America, accusations of satanic ritual abuse proliferated like man-eating rats in the Davenport Cottage Common Room (a chilling story we’ll save for another time). Thousands of families were destroyed, with no evidence of SRA ever discovered beyond “recovered memories” elicited from people who were either helped to “remember” by “therapists” or who were just “full of [expletive].”
I suppose I should feel unsettled by the idea this modern day Salem witch craze has been repeated so recently and in so dramatic a fashion. After all, people betrayed their closest friends and relations, and in the process revealed fundamental fissures of distrust, paranoia and perversion in the human psyche. But I don’t want to be Mr. Rain on the Parade here. Let’s talk about some of the positives of realizing the extent to which many, many people are messed up in the head.
If you’re a capitalistic megalomaniac (man, I’m the president of that club), then you’ve got to see the wonderfully profitable possibilities opened up by “Remembering Satan.” Here’s a quick test to see whether you qualify as one of us or whether you’re just one of the drones we’ll exploit.
Empirical Fact: Many people are shockingly easily manipulated simply by the power of suggestion. In response, a good megalomaniacal capitalist:
A. Sighs, “Oh, nerts!”
B. Spits violently on the ground, then points an indignant finger to the sky.
C. Exploits this weakness to further the ultimate goal of ruling the means of production and the universe for all time.
If you answered C, then you might be asking yourself the same question that I am asking myself now: Why in the name of Robert J. Sternberg didn’t I take psych earlier?
To answer my own rhetorical question for the both of us, perhaps it was the price of the Sternberg textbook. Jumping Jehosophat. I didn’t want to sign Detek Jeter; I just wanted to learn about psychology. How can one book cost more than my baby cousin on the black market? Does it transform into a Dino-bot?
Brilliant diatribe aside, if you know how the feeble human mind works, you can control it. Regular readers of this column are likely familiar with its author’s staple obsessions: power, wealth and avoiding college graduation. I think the elements of human memory discussed and analyzed in “Remembering Satan” might very well help me unite these three obsessions into one coherent harebrained scheme.
Imagine the power I could exert over countless throngs of people using simple persuasion techniques. One day, people notice a new building (consisting of a cardboard box taped with a construction paper sign that says “Police Substation”) has been constructed on the Cross Campus Lawn. This is my base of operations. People walk by, and if they look “suspicious” or “wealthy,” I retain them for questioning.
Here’s a sample of such a session.
Me: Now, your friend has already told me that you owe me $1,000 and a 20-piece of Chicken McNuggets. Why don’t you talk to me about that?
Bejeweled Dowager Princess: I don’t remember that. Who are you?
Me: Cut the crap, Gidget. $1,000. 20-piece. You’re just repressing it.
BDP: Oh, of course! Now I remember.
Me (aside, chortles): Easy money. (Pause, to BDP) You forgot I like barbecue sauce, didn’t you? Didn’t you?! (BDP looks searchingly, puzzled) God Almighty! You ice queen!
BDP: Uh, no, no … of course I didn’t forget! Here’s $25,000! And I’ll pay for you to go to college forever!
(Exploitation continues ad infinitum)
I understand it is not just money and McNuggets that grease the palms of the powerful. Think of the amazing impact this power of suggestion could have on other aspects of my personal life. Look at this scene:
Me: Remember those 50 dozen roses and choreographed flourish of white doves I gave you for Valentine’s Day yesterday?
My girlfriend: You gave me a “special rock.” And a dead squirrel.
Me: No, your friends were all talking about what a great boyfriend I am … how romantic and sweet my gifts were. You have to remember that!
My girlfriend: You idiot.
Okay, so maybe we’re not all crazy. But anyway, I just wanted to get the important point across that if somebody says you have been involved with Satanic ritual abuse, either receiving or giving, and you don’t remember it, chances are you probably owe me money.
Michael Zimmer is a senior in Davenport College. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.