Welcome to 2022, readers. Let’s start the year with the energy of this Oregon crow who befriended a class of fifth graders:
[Education assistant Naomi] Imel said the bird wasn’t aggressive at all and seemed to love the kids.
“It landed on some people’s heads,” she said.
And, she added, it spoke. The bird could say, “What’s up?” and “I’m fine” and “a lot of swear words.”
I’m doing my part–I’ve taught my 9-year-old to say “va fungool”, which he prefers to pronounce as “fats and goo!”
In other linguistic news from Harvard Magazine, my alma mater has articulated some useful principles for “de-naming” buildings and programs that honor slave-owners and other problematic characters:
Harvard Law School has changed its shield, given its prior association with a founding benefactor who was a slaveholder. The faculty deans of Lowell House have relocated representations of Abbott Lawrence Lowell—a former Harvard president, whom they associated with racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic views and actions—and prompted a wider discussion of the House’s name. (“Faculty dean” is itself a 2016 retitling of the position formerly known as “House master”—a decision accompanied by some controversy.) Critics of the Sackler family, associated through their pharmaceutical company with the lethal opioid epidemic, have called for renaming the eponymous museum (the donor, Arthur M. Sackler, pioneered pharmaceutical advertising, but died a decade before Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin, the compound associated with the epidemic.)
One of our local writing groups hosted an online discussion this winter on Craft in the Real World, by bestselling novelist, essayist, and writing teacher Matthew Salesses. In true Harvard student fashion, I hadn’t actually read the book yet when I attended, but it’s on my long wishlist because of the compelling insights in his January 2021 LitHub essay “25 Essential Notes on Craft”. Salesses points out that aesthetics are never universal or apolitical. Rules for good writing are audience-dependent, and we don’t always need to cater to a white American individualist audience.
Craft is also about omission. What rules and archetypes standardize are models that are easily generalizable to accepted cultural preferences. What doesn’t fit the model is othered. What is our responsibility to the other?…
Craft is the history of which kind of stories have typically held power—and for whom—so it also is the history of which stories have typically been omitted. That we have certain expectations for what a story is or should include means we also have certain expectations for what a story isn’t or shouldn’t include. Any story relies on negative space, and a tradition relies on the negative space of history. The ability for a reader to fill in white space relies on that reader having seen what could be there. Some readers are asked to stay always, only, in the negative. To wield craft responsibly is to take responsibility for absence.
I never get tired of reminding people that the controversy over false memories was largely manufactured by defense experts for parents accused of child molestation. “Harvey Weinstein’s ‘False Memory’ Defense and its Shocking Origin Story,” a Longreads article from February 2020 by Anna Holtzman, is subtitled “How powerful sex offenders manipulated the field of psychology.”
Founded in 1992, [the False Memory Syndrome Foundation] was on its surface an “advocacy group” created by and for parents who’d been accused by their children of sexual abuse. The group’s supposed agenda was to provide support and fellowship to families that had been “destroyed” by accusations of incest. They launched a well-funded media campaign purporting the existence of an epidemic of “False Memory Syndrome” — not a scientifically researched condition, but rather a slogan concocted by accused parents to discredit the testimonies of their children…
The strategies by which FMSF infiltrated the psychology profession share much in common with Trump’s methods. The foundation used a carrot-and-stick technique to coerce the mental health field to fall in step with their agenda. The carrot was an impressive list of researchers, psychologists and academics that the accused parents of FMSF had recruited to be on their Scientific and Professional Advisory Board. The stick was a far-ranging assault of well-funded lawsuits aimed at discrediting, disbarring and suing therapists who dared to support incest survivors and validate their memories.
Psychologists and therapists were threatened with professional ruin if they sided with survivors and were tempted with professional reward if they aligned with the powerful forces behind the anti-survivor backlash…
Elizabeth Loftus, widely cited as the preeminent memory researcher in the “false memory” camp, has made a career of defending alleged child abusers in court for large sums of money. By her own admission, she has no experience working with trauma survivors in any clinical or research capacity.
Holtzman notes that the FMSF board included University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Martin Orne, known for working with the CIA on mind-control experiments during the Cold War.
Orne and his MKUltra colleagues likely believed that by traumatizing their “research subjects,” they could ensure that their victims would not remember the abuse or would at least be too afraid to tell anyone. When survivors started speaking out, however, it became evident that their memories were resurfacing. So, what better way to silence sexual abuse victims than by launching a propaganda campaign that labels victims as crazy and discredits their memories? And what more natural frontmen to hide behind than the aggrieved parents of FMSF?
Holtzman’s article carefully and clearly debunks the main arguments used to discredit recovered memories. Whether or not you buy the CIA conspiracy theory, her logic is sound. And the Weinstein connection? One of his expert witnesses in his rape trial was, you guessed it, Elizabeth Loftus.
Safe Communities Pennsylvania has created this free 36-page guide to making your church congregation a safer environment for survivors of child sexual abuse. What I appreciate is that they treat it as a theological issue, not only a pastoral care issue. The guide suggests ways to rethink your preaching about forgiveness, suffering, and peace, among other concepts, so that survivors are not silenced or pressured to do emotional labor to redeem their abusers.