Scapegoating: take responsibility for my sins, please.

It is well understood that the concept of scapegoat started as a way to channel everyone’s sins into a goat and releasing it into the wild, and the sins with it. In general, people widely accept the validity of scapegoating through their unthinking acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice, that one man’s sacrifice (all man all god, whatever the hell that means) can somehow transfer responsibility for everyone’s sins, as long as you believe in his sacrifice.

From a purely logical standpoint, this doctrine is an intellectual mess. There can be no such thing as delegation of responsibility for one’s “sins.” There is no reason why such delegation would only work if the person whose sins are delegated also believes in the validity of the delegation. It’s a ridiculous belief, and Christianity is an extremely bad framework to understand scapegoating.

I think scapegoating can be understood much better from the perspective of the manichean worldview. One of its basic premises is that the in-group is always right, good and noble; this entails a huge paradox because it fails to account for evil behavior and purposes within the in-group.

The most direct response is, as always, to ignore it, but this is only possible up to a certain point. There is only so much that one can ignore before the cognitive dissonance becomes just too great. Cults and governments get around this problem with information control, but unless you have absolute dictatorial control there’s only so much you can hide. And obviously you can’t attack the in-group, because the in-group is always right.

So the way out of this conundrum is to vilify, objectify and marginalize the individuals we believe are responsible. You have to set them apart from the in-group in order to preserve its moral purity. And you need to use labels and social roles within the in-group to differentiate between the “bad people” and the “good people.” So you’ve got “criminals,” unbelievers, “terrorists,” traitors and subversives, “suppressive people,” socialists and communists, and so on.

The scapegoat absorbs the sins of the population and, by doing so, becomes a subversive element (you can’t be subversive unless you’ve been marginalized first). Because of this, the scapegoat becomes the target of all the pent-up cruelty that would be reserved for the opposing out-groups. No amount of cruelty is too much to inflict on a scapegoat.

So you’ve got this attitude of “no cruelty is bad enough” against “criminals,” unbelievers, “terrorists” and all the other undesirables. People will always be in favor of more restrictions against “criminals” and their rights, no matter how cruel, because they “don’t have rights” or have “surrendered their rights” by standing against the in-group’s rules. This can only possibly make sense if rights are granted by some moral authority, but I’ve already debunked that notion.

Other examples of scapegoats in popular political discourse are abused women (who are called whores, attention-seekers), POC (such as the black men getting shot by police, who are painted as thugs and gang members and are portrayed worse than white serial killers), “immigrants,” welfare recipients (who are portrayed as exploiters of the system, and whose basic needs are portrayed as entitlement, because right-wingers confuse rights and entitlement).

Another excuse for scapegoating is the “it was consensual” defense. It seems that consent is another black check for any amount of abuse, such as rape and BDSM, workplace abuse, religious indoctrination and cults, and so on. Of course the vast majority of this supposed consent is actually imaginary: dressing “slutty,” being drunk, “consensual non-consent,” having a job at a certain workplace, belonging to a religion or a cult, are not acceptable forms of consent. But either way, people believe that there is actual consent there and that it excuses any amount of abuse.

Of course this abuse is often reframed in more positive ways. One way we justify abuse, especially against children, is under the strange contradictory concept of “tough love.” We also call it “teaching them a lesson” (because they need to be reminded of how evil they are) or that they “deserved it” (for being evil).

From all this we get powerful defensive responses when someone tries to debunk any instance of scapegoating: “how dare you defend them?” This is a powerful response because we’ve been conditioned to associate scapegoats with opposition against our in-group, and any support of a scapegoat is equated with attacking our in-group. It doesn’t feel good to attack our in-group and it’s easy to say things like “well, I don’t support what they do, but…” That sort of reasoning, though, fails to do justice to those labeled scapegoats, who are usually the victims in that situation.

One thought on “Scapegoating: take responsibility for my sins, please.

  1. […] policies is easy to do because anyone who goes against them is by definition a criminal, and we scapegoat […]

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