March 18, 2021 Reading Time: 4 minutes

The state of Massachusetts has now entered Phase III Step 2 of a reopening, which means all sorts of amazing nonsense cobbled together by people with power who imagine that their high-end credentials grant them the intelligence to outsmart a virus. Not that many citizens of the state really believe this is true but they have to comply nonetheless. 

Among the things now permitted in the state are small weddings. However, dancing at such events is strictly regulated, so much so that it is effectively abolished. The website doesn’t explain the details of this regulation but a friend in the catering business was the recipient of a direct letter from the once-respected Department of Health. It explained that people at a wedding party can only sit at square tables that seat six, and each table must be six feet apart from other tables, even though people have started to admit that there is zero science to back this rule. 

It gets crazier. If there is to be dancing, the venue must create a circle on the floor out of tape next to a table, and the only people allowed in the circle are those at the table and not people from other tables. Additionally, while they are dancing, they must be wearing their masks. 

My friend found all this so preposterous that he is ruling out doing any wedding parties. His job is to make people happy with food and fun, not enforce puritanical regulations on how close people can and cannot be with each other. Of course all these wacky rules only drive social activity underground. Essentially the whole state has been one big speakeasy since the summer. Everyone knows it but hardly anyone talks about it for fear of media and police. 

Very strange times for Massachusetts! But how strange is it really? Going back to Colonial times, something very similar took place, not in the name of controlling a virus but rather controlling sin, witchcraft, heresy, and any belief or practice that contradicted Puritan teaching. 

The Reverend Doctor Increase Mather (1639-1723) was the most influential Puritan cleric in New England at the time of the Salem Witch Trials. A graduate of Harvard, he eventually served as its president. He was singularly responsible for eliminating the readings of ancient Roman authors and the study of Latin, replacing them with Christian authors and the study of Greek and Hebrew. He was also an advocate of the suppression of Catholicism as well as a pusher of sumptuary laws; that is, regulations against clothing that is too fancy or otherwise impious. 

I never thought we would see the return of sumptuary laws in modern times – until state mask mandates were imposed last year. The mask is precisely the kind of virtue signal that Rev. Mather would have approved of. It clearly delineates saints and sinners, those who comply and those who do not. He was obsessed with such symbols. The same piety that drove Rev. Mather to outlaw buckles on shoes also leads the current governor to have the most strict mask mandate in the country. Take off your mask in public in Massachusetts, count to ten, and almost always someone will yell at you for violating the rules of public piety. 

But the focus for now is on the subject of dancing. Rev. Mather is the author of the famed 1684 tract “An Arrow Against Profane and Promiscuous Dancing Drawn Out of the Quiver of the Scriptures.” The qualifiers of “profane” and “promiscuous” are important here. He writes that dancing “may be of use” in some settings such as “where men vault in their Armour, to shew their strength and activity.” Also there is nothing wrong with “leaping” when it is “a natural expression of joy,” a mere “outward expression of inward Rejoycing.”

What he opposed was “Gynecandrical Dancing, or that which is commonly called Mixt or Promiscuous Dancing, viz. of Men and Women (be they elder or younger persons) together: Now this we affirm to be utterly unlawful, and that it cannot be tolerated in such a place as New- England, without great Sin.”

He explains:

If we consider, by whom this practice of Promiscuous Dancing was first invented by whom patronized, and by whom witnessed against, we may well conclude, that the admitting of it, in such a place as New-England, will be a thing pleasing to the Devil, but highly provoking to the Holy God… Who were the Inventors of Petulant Dancings? They had not their original amongst the People of God, but amongst the Heathen. Learned men have well observed, that the Devil was the first inventor of the impleaded Dances…

We command you, Brethren, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw your selves from every Brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the Tradition which he received from us. Now they that frequent Promiscuous Dancings, or that send their Children thereunto, walk disorderly, and contrary to the Apostles Doctrine. It has been proved that such a practice is a Scandalous Immorality, and therefore to be removed out of Churches by Discipline, which is the Broom of Christ, whereby he keeps his Churches clean. 

Replace every mention of religious motivation with scientific disease control and you have a template that could easily fit with Phase III Step 2 of “reopening Massachusetts” today. It is officially permitted to dance with a mask, with people in your household, or with friends up to six. But moving from table to table, dancing without a mask, or otherwise doing line dances or square dances with strangers is nothing but a danger to public health. 

There are aspects of lockdownism as ideology that have a religious caste, and this has been true from the beginning of the lockdowns. People seen experiencing joy during lockdowns are shouted at by the members of the new flagellants. The idea is that if you are failing to be miserable and sad, you are contributing to the spread of disease and thus prolonging the period of misery for those who are compliant. 

Under lockdowns, society is divided between the clean and unclean, not for reasons of spiritual sin, but for reasons of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, as proven by a PCR test which is then tracked and traced to root out all stains of germ from the community. Despite the 300 years between them, the ideological distance between Rev. Increase Mather and Governor Charlie Baker is not that great. 

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research.

He is the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and nine books in 5 languages, most recently Liberty or Lockdown. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

Jeffrey is available for speaking and interviews via his emailTw | FB | LinkedIn

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