Witches, Feminism and the Fall of the West
Whitefish, MT: Radix & Washington Summit Publishers, 2021
Are you tired of witches organizing to try to burn you at the stake, rather than the other way around? I know I am. Edward Dutton, a British-born professor of evolutionary psychology, explains in a new book what witches represented historically and how the same type of people came to be dominant in contemporary society. As Dutton explains, witches were persecuted in Europe for 300 years, and for good reason. Those accused of witchcraft tended to represent a type which was considered alien and dangerous to the broader society.
Firstly, accused witches were usually single, childless women. For women beyond a certain age, this made them quite unusual. In a time where marriage was almost universal, it showed they were either unwilling to find a husband or unable to. If they were unwilling, they were rejecting the social order of the time. A woman without a husband was not subject to the direct personal authority of a man, meaning she was more independent than what was expected by the patriarchy of the time. She was also rejecting another socially-approved role for women, namely motherhood.
To modern ears this may sound like a bold “life choice,” but to people of the time it was threatening. Witches were persecuted especially in times of great hardship, when people became particularly keen to see that their neighbors were cooperating to secure their existence. In such times, whether the issue was harsh weather or famine, people depended on a certain spirit to survive. People were expected to sacrifice their own personal interests for the good of the community. A woman who had contributed no children to the next generation, and had no husband who might give her any, was seen as not doing her part to support the group. She might even be suspected of deliberately sabotaging the community by hoarding resources for herself, or undermining morale by rejecting the traditions which formed the basis of the group’s identity.
Of course, remaining single and childless was not necessarily a conscious choice; some women were simply not desirable to men. This was partly a matter of appearance, and as Dutton explains, this was not entirely superficial. Men do not prefer beautiful women by chance, but are following an instinct which leads them to women with better genes. Such women will tend to be easier to get along with, as well as bearing them healthy children.
Physical appearance reflects what he calls mutational load, meaning the number and severity of genetic mutations. Most genetic mutations in human beings are harmful to either physical or mental health. Those with high mutational load, i.e. those less genetically healthy, tend to be less attractive. There is a correlation between acne and anxiety and depression, and not simply because it is depressing to have acne; these mental conditions are largely genetic. Those with asymmetrical faces are also more likely to be criminals, due to heritable personality traits.
Another factor in being accused of witchcraft was poverty. Historian Richard Weisman argues that “the overwhelming majority of pre-Salem witches” were those who did not work due to disability, or those who “risked inclusion in this category.” For some time these would have been beggars, whose public panhandling was a nuisance. At the end of the sixteenth century, begging was banned by the Poor Law, which imposed a tax to pay for the upkeep of paupers, as the destitute were known at the time. In either case, struggling communities did not think highly of those who took their money and provided nothing in return. Treating them as witches was a way to remove them from the community, and sometimes even from the land of the living.
Dutton does not claim that witches were actually guilty of everything they were accused of, but in many cases they believed they were. In some European nations torture was common, making accused criminals’ confessions dubious, as they may have been coerced. In England, however, where the practice was illegal except in rare cases, women still confessed to using magic to harm or kill others. They may not have actually been murderers, but we can assume that they were at least malicious. Further, by invoking strange spirits they were rejecting the established religion, and thus the group identity, of their communities.
In the premodern times when witches were persecuted, life was in some ways much harder than it is today. This was between the late fifteenth and eighteenth centuries; the last person executed for witchcraft in Britain was put to death in 1722, although others were executed in later decades in other parts of Europe. Life expectancy was lower, largely due to high infant mortality. Those with poor immune systems or other genetic disadvantages were more likely to die in childhood and not pass on their genes.
With advances in medicine and the rise in standard of living resulting from the Industrial Revolution, however, infant mortality dropped from around 50% in 1800 to about 1% in 1900. No matter how sickly they were, the vast majority of children could now be expected to survive to adulthood and thus have a chance of passing on their genes. Unfortunately, this meant that weak genes proliferated, and the average person became less genetically healthy. This trend has continued into recent times, so that the type of people who might have been condemned as witches 400 years ago are now a sizable and powerful group.
As the title suggests, the author finds many parallels between the witches of the past and modern-day feminists. One is that neither are very attractive to men. Men are generally attracted to feminine features in women, such as larger eyes and full lips. Feminist activist women have more masculine hands , implying a higher level of testosterone and thus a more masculine appearance overall. One study found that Norwegian test subjects  believed feminist women to be more masculine in appearance than women with more moderate beliefs. Lesbians also tend to be more physically masculine than other women, and the two groups overlap. A full 45% of an American sample of feminists identified as predominantly homosexual, although only about 1% of Western women consider themselves lesbian. Other studies show that feminist women are more likely to be dissatisfied with their own appearance and to consider their own bodies unattractive, although it is not clear to what degree this reflects their actual appearance rather than their mental state.
Like accused witches in the past, feminist women have been disproportionately spinsters, meaning single women beyond the age when they would normally be expected to be married. A prominent British terrorist group known as the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which campaigned for women’s suffrage, included 63% spinsters among its membership in 1913. Some prominent suffragettes expressed a low opinion of marriage; Florence Nightingale stated that a woman would need to “annihilate herself” in order to marry, while co-founder of the WSPU Christabel Pankhurst  wrote that “There can be no mating between the spiritually developed woman of this new day and the men who in thought and conduct with regard to sex matters are their inferior.”
Dutton argues that the popular media of the time were correct in presenting both spinsters and suffragettes as physically unattractive, as well as psychologically masculine. This was likely the cause rather than the result of their lack of success with the opposite sex.
In previous centuries it was believed that there were unusual physical signs which could be used to identify witches, known as “witch’s marks.” These were placed on the witch’s body by the devil after she had sworn to serve him. Dutton identifies tattoos as the closest modern equivalent, finding a connection not with the devil but with certain antisocial traits. Unlike historical witches, the bearers of tattoos today are most likely to be young; a 2012 study  found that “women in their 20s were the most likely demographic to have a tattoo, with 29% of them having at least one.” The same study found that those with tattoos were more promiscuous, and in the case of men, more likely to have been depressed. Other studies show connections between tattoos and personality or behavior. One found a small but significant tendency toward lower agreeableness and conscientiousness  among the tattooed, which is a pattern also found in criminals, while another found they were more likely to suffer from mental illness , more likely to smoke, more promiscuous, and more likely to have spent time in jail.
Feminists today tend to undermine the fitness of their society, although not in exactly the same way as “witches” of the past. Rather than simply not following established patriarchal norms in their own lives, they overtly focus on reducing the status of men, and of men’s psychology, relative to that of women. One of the most important differences between men and women’s thinking is that women are significantly more concerned with having empathy for others. In the current year this means being more sympathetic to foreign “refugees,” for example, regardless of the consequences of allowing them into our nations.
Another downside of elevating female psychology is that it creates an environment less conducive to the development of geniuses. Dutton has written of the genius type in several of his previous works; he describes a person with extremely high IQ and moderately low agreeableness, in other words less of a tendency to empathize and conform with others. This psychology enables them not only to understand advanced problems but to develop original solutions, as they are less concerned with the offense they might cause in doing so.
Such people have made great advances in science and technology, giving an advantage to their society in competition with others. However, in a society more focused on empathy, getting along with others is prized over originality or advancing knowledge. This is true even in academia, where increasingly those with “controversial” findings are subject to investigations or even fired due to the “harm” caused by their thoughts. Geniuses are thus put at a disadvantage, and society may suffer for lack of their contributions.
Another interesting point Dutton brings up with regard to the consequences of a feminized environment is that men are becoming less masculine. Men’s average testosterone level has declined  dramatically from the late twentieth to the early twenty-first century. Several theories have been proposed to explain why, but none are conclusively proven. One such theory blames endocrine disruptors such as xenoestrogens, common pollutants which function like estrogen in the body in sufficiently high concentrations. Dutton does not accept this theory, however, as such chemicals should affect women as well as men, and we have not seen corresponding changes in women’s hormones.
More likely, men are experiencing higher levels of anxiety and depression — both of which may cause low testosterone — due to living in an environment which increasingly stigmatizes normal masculinity. Much like how the losers in a sports match display a drop in testosterone, a situation where they are often scolded for their “toxic” behavior and views may be depressing and humiliating enough to decrease levels of the hormone.
While most women were seen as naturally caring for children, witches were often accused of harming them. The story of Hansel and Gretel is still familiar today in which an old spinster has no maternal love for children, but only wants them for dinner. Some alleged witches were accused of carrying out abortion or infanticide. Dutton covers the modern phenomenon of abortion and finds connections with the “witch” type.
One 2013 study  found that women who had had an abortion were three times more likely to have ever had any mental disorder than those who had not. There was a particularly strong connection between the abortion group in the study and “conduct disorder,” meaning the type of chronic antisocial behavior often found among criminals. Another study in 2015  found that women seeking a second or further abortion were more likely to have common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. They were also more likely to be single, ignorant of birth control methods, and less educated. These qualities put them closer to the poor and marginal women most likely to be accused of witchcraft historically.
Witches can not only harm children directly but also reduce their numbers by devaluing them. Dutton mentions the twentieth-century British children’s author Roald Dahl’s popular novel The Witches. Dahl characterized them as a type of women who, although they blended in with the wider society, hated children so much that they were involved in a conspiracy to wipe them out. Modern “witches” do blend in, at least enough to avoid being burned at the stake, and presumably are not literally trying to eradicate children, but still promote maladaptive ideas when it comes to reproduction.
Traditionally, children were seen as the natural consequence of sex, and by no means a negative one. The Bible says that “sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward,” and particularly praises numerous children born to young parents: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them” (Psalms 127:3-5).
Under the influence of our modern “witches,” this view has fallen out of fashion. First of all, avoiding marriage generally means avoiding children. Postponing marriage until one is past the years of peak fertility, which has become a more common phenomenon in recent years, tends to have the same effect. But even within marriages between fertile couples, children are by no means guaranteed. Today they are seen not as a blessing, but as a choice, one the costs of which might outweigh the benefits for the parents. Those who do have children have fewer than they would have had centuries ago, not only because they have access to birth control but because they do not have the same attitude towards offspring. Some environmentalists — who Dutton argues have a similar psychology — explicitly discourage couples from having large families  out of concern for the Earth.
The recent decline in fertility may not be enough for us to die out, but it is hardly a good sign. Dutton notes in this and in some of his previous work that as civilizations become materially comfortable and complacent, the people begin to change. They become less interested in their traditional religion and increasingly disregard its strictures. Their birth rate declines because they see sex in hedonistic terms, rather than as part of a higher duty to continue their lineage. They no longer put any transcendent value on their civilization, and so are less inclined to fight for it. Corruption becomes more common, as their leaders no longer see anything wrong with harming their own kind. Such civilizations eventually collapse, as they are overwhelmed by other groups with a stronger identity. We already see the this beginning today.
Of course, Dutton does not advocate for burning witches, or for dumping them in rivers to see if they float. He ends the book with a much more reasonable suggestion: that we recognize that such people were not fabricated out of nothing historically, and that they continue to exist today. They now promote maladaptive ideas normally found in declining societies. They may not be able to cast spells to make our crops fail, but they do mean us harm.
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