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Thread: Scapegoats

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    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    Default Scapegoats

    In every society there seems to be a person designated as the scapegoat. That is, one who bears the blame of others. On the Day of Atonement the ancient Hebrews would take a live goat over whose head Aaron confessed all the sins of the children of Israel. "The goat, symbolically bearing their sins, was then sent into the wilderness." Because of the history of the term, it is especially appropriate when discussing this process of projecting the potential faults of a society onto the least capable individual, thereby ensuring that all members have the security of superiority.

    In other societies we have the witchhunt, the village idiot, the celebrity tabloids. It appears to be a process by which the members of the society project their own fears and inadequacies onto a mutually designated individual. Perhaps by having a common enemy to ridicule, the group finds common ground that otherwise would not exist. What is especially fascinating to me is the evolution of the individual to respond to this peer pressure and 'become' the witch or the village idiot. It is a sort of degradation of the individual. When the society you belong to finds you funny, intelligent, quiet, outgoing, whatever, it is a powerful subconscious motivator to live up/down to the expectation. I have seen it a thousand times and have experienced it.

    It happens on online forums consistently - almost to the point of being agonizingly predictable. Why? Why do people participate in it? Is it a means to correct a problem? Does focusing energy and attention on a scapegoat lessen their impact on the society or does it make their behavior more prevalent? It actually appears that this process of scapegoating someone is nurtured and fostered with great focus and energy. That is why the question is so compelling to me. What is your take on this process, both online and in virtually every society?
    Step into my metaphysical room of mirrors.
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    So I guess it means there is trouble until the robins come
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    mrs disregard's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by toonia View Post
    =When the society you belong to finds you funny, intelligent, quiet, outgoing, whatever, it is a powerful subconscious motivator to live up/down to the expectation. I have seen it a thousand times and have experienced it.
    This happens in almost every situation--abusive relationships, teacher/student relationships, parent/child relationships, peer-to-peer relationships (peer pressure) are the ones that come to mind.

    I've never felt compelled to blame a scapegoat. I entertain the likelihood that there are two sides to every story, and there are countless factors that play into what you are witnessing.

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    Lallygag Moderator Geoff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by toonia View Post
    In every society there seems to be a person designated as the scapegoat. That is, one who bears the blame of others. On the Day of Atonement the ancient Hebrews would take a live goat over whose head Aaron confessed all the sins of the children of Israel. "The goat, symbolically bearing their sins, was then sent into the wilderness." Because of the history of the term, it is especially appropriate when discussing this process of projecting the potential faults of a society onto the least capable individual, thereby ensuring that all members have the security of superiority.

    In other societies we have the witchhunt, the village idiot, the celebrity tabloids. It appears to be a process by which the members of the society project their own fears and inadequacies onto a mutually designated individual. Perhaps by having a common enemy to ridicule, the group finds common ground that otherwise would not exist. What is especially fascinating to me is the evolution of the individual to respond to this peer pressure and 'become' the witch or the village idiot. It is a sort of degradation of the individual. When the society you belong to finds you funny, intelligent, quiet, outgoing, whatever, it is a powerful subconscious motivator to live up/down to the expectation. I have seen it a thousand times and have experienced it.

    It happens on online forums consistently - almost to the point of being agonizingly predictable. Why? Why do people participate in it? Is it a means to correct a problem? Does focusing energy and attention on a scapegoat lessen their impact on the society or does it make their behavior more prevalent? It actually appears that this process of scapegoating someone is nurtured and fostered with great focus and energy. That is why the question is so compelling to me. What is your take on this process, both online and in virtually every society?
    Is it not a logical end result of the human tendency to be tribal?

    Tribalism exists, forms and reforms at all levels of human society and interaction. Witness how a family closes ranks when one of them is insulted, how an area resists a challenge by another, how a country stands with a continent, how the whole race would unite when challenged by an alien threat. Look how families, and races, and nations all look for ways to badge as what we are... tattoos, flags, colours, attitudes, shared religions, beliefs, cultural memes.

    It is part and parcel of what we are. Although it makes us strong, helps us survive and prosper, it results in so many evils, racism...the lives of 10 citizens being worth more than 1000 foreign citizens (just watch the news for that to be confirmed in the public perception).

    Anyway, enough of the tribalism summary. Tribalism creates scapegoats - it badges people as different. Different is to be rejected, difference is "out of the tribe". Our desire for tribal acceptance is what leads us to join the herd, as one is formed, on an outsider.

    My conclusion therefore is that we gain psychologically more personally by joining the "tribe" that forms as an excluder group around a scapegoating, than we personally lose by rejecting them. This is further enhanced by our fear, if we do not join the tribe, that we too will be without tribe and scapegoated.

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    Senior Member JivinJeffJones's Avatar
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    Last edited by JivinJeffJones; 09-12-2007 at 03:19 PM.

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    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by toonia
    What is especially fascinating to me is the evolution of the individual to respond to this peer pressure and 'become' the witch or the village idiot. It is a sort of degradation of the individual. When the society you belong to finds you funny, intelligent, quiet, outgoing, whatever, it is a powerful subconscious motivator to live up/down to the expectation. I have seen it a thousand times and have experienced it.
    Quote Originally Posted by JivinJeffJones View Post
    This is interesting. What does it look like? How does it play out?
    It's a complex interplay, but it has to do with putting them on the defensive to such an extent as to warp their natural behavior. Societies tend to be perceptive enough to attack the person at some of their vulnerable spots, but also tend to exaggerate these. When the person becomes engulfed in their vulnerabilities they lose themselves.

    It has to do with undermining the person's self confidence and sense of worth. It is that self-respect that allows us to be our best, most thoughtful, funny, attractive, whatever. Attacking someone's vulnerable spots, exaggerating those criticisms is the most direct path to undermining the person.

    Growing up I lived in over a dozen states in the U.S. and was continually exposed to different societies. It gives a unique perspective because each has different expectations of you. It takes tremendous backbone to stay true to yourself regardless of this tendency for humans to peck someone to 'death' like a bunch of mindless chickens. In high school I deliberately befriended the scapegoats publically to make people uncomfortable and question the underlying social assumptions. By listening to these 'scapegoats' then and now, an entirely new side to them is revealed. Seeing that contrast between who they are as the scapegoat and who they are when respected is a profound experience.

    Even though this process has its roots in tribalism and can be explained, isn't the fact that we have enough of a frontal lobe to be able to examine it abstractly reason enough to question its validity? The benefits of tribalism are clear, however, I've managed primarily w/o it and have no regrets. Why give up part of yourself for the sole purpose of demeaning another human being? How does that not demean oneself?
    Step into my metaphysical room of mirrors.
    Fear of reality creates myopic morality
    So I guess it means there is trouble until the robins come
    (from Blue Velvet)

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    Lallygag Moderator Geoff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by toonia View Post
    Even though this process has its roots in tribalism and can be explained, isn't the fact that we have enough of a frontal lobe to be able to examine it abstractly reason enough to question its validity? The benefits of tribalism are clear, however, I've managed primarily w/o it and have no regrets. Why give up part of yourself for the sole purpose of demeaning another human being? How does that not demean oneself?
    I quite agree. The trick will be convincing the other members of your species that demeaning others is demeaning in itself.

    You will also need to find enough of them who use enough of their frontal lobe on such matters.

    This stuff is endless reinforced, like you say, by experience and also by experimental evidence. Look what happens if you set up an experimental prison and put one "tribe" as the guards and one as the prisoners. The scapegoating happens very quickly, and even with everyone knowing that it is pretend, it quickly gets out of hand.

    We seem hardwired for this.

    -Geoff

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    Quote Originally Posted by toonia View Post
    What is especially fascinating to me is the evolution of the individual to respond to this peer pressure and 'become' the witch or the village idiot. It is a sort of degradation of the individual. When the society you belong to finds you funny, intelligent, quiet, outgoing, whatever, it is a powerful subconscious motivator to live up/down to the expectation. I have seen it a thousand times and have experienced it.
    I don't find that part very surprising:

    1. It takes a very strong and self-confident (and experienced) person to believe in their own beliefs, when everyone else is telling them they are wrong and/or are attempting to cast them in a certain role. Remember that this is not just a direct thing ("you are such-and-such"), but every interaction with that individual assumes and tacitly pushes them into that role, and they would have to actually reject the framework of ANY interaction with others. This is nearly impossible if they are too young to have experienced the ability to see multiple frameworks and step from one to another.

    2. Whether or not the attention is positive, it is still attention, and a previously ignored/unappreciated person at least finds purpose and meaning in the role of the scapegoat. They have people's attention. And a "witch" (as opposed to a pure scapegoat) is even more likely to feel powerful; they are set apart, they are given respect, they have CONTROL that they would have not otherwise had, a mystique. The role of the witch is actually a powerful one in those communities; they're alternate pathways to power.

    3. The same thing goes hand-in-hand with #1, that the person -- even if their role is positive -- is still being given purpose, definition, and a role in the society. They have inherent purpose and meaning, as a scapegoat.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

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    Lallygag Moderator Geoff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer View Post
    I don't find that part very surprising:

    1. It takes a very strong and self-confident (and experienced) person to believe in their own beliefs, when everyone else is telling them they are wrong and/or are attempting to cast them in a certain role. Remember that this is not just a direct thing ("you are such-and-such"), but every interaction with that individual assumes and tacitly pushes them into that role, and they would have to actually reject the framework of ANY interaction with others. This is nearly impossible if they are too young to have experienced the ability to see multiple frameworks and step from one to another.

    2. Whether or not the attention is positive, it is still attention, and a previously ignored/unappreciated person at least finds purpose and meaning in the role of the scapegoat. They have people's attention. And a "witch" (as opposed to a pure scapegoat) is even more likely to feel powerful; they are set apart, they are given respect, they have CONTROL that they would have not otherwise had, a mystique. The role of the witch is actually a powerful one in those communities; they're alternate pathways to power.

    3. The same thing goes hand-in-hand with #1, that the person -- even if their role is positive -- is still being given purpose, definition, and a role in the society. They have inherent purpose and meaning, as a scapegoat.
    What you are talking about is a "positive" enhancement of the individual as the scapegoat.. the power and attention, the control, the purpose.

    This is quite different from toonia's line.. that the scapegoat is depreciated and disrespected. I accept her version, I am not sure I've ever seen yours. The closest would be that I have seen the scapegoat get increasingly noisy and disaffected, but I don't think they gain power as a result.

    Agree? Disagree?

    -Geoff

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    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff View Post
    What you are talking about is a "positive" enhancement of the individual as the scapegoat.. the power and attention, the control, the purpose.

    This is quite different from toonia's line.. that the scapegoat is depreciated and disrespected. I accept her version, I am not sure I've ever seen yours. The closest would be that I have seen the scapegoat get increasingly noisy and disaffected, but I don't think they gain power as a result.
    I think it's the same thing as "negative attention" -- we see the pattern in kids who, if they cannot get positive attention, will settle for negative. Attention is still attention.

    And, depending on the sort of "punishment" reserved for the scapegoat (which could be anywhere from death at one extreme to a less-odious "notoriety" at the other, some people who have no other options to them or could not fit in in another way will find whatever positivity they can in their position.

    Perhaps I was thinking more of the "witches" in this sense, but you still see it happen. And there's obviously a psychological component where a person who feels inadequate and mocked/rejected will offer to be the pure sacrifice for their community (whether literal sacrifice or figurative) and thus invent meaning for their lives.

    Or maybe I read too much dramatic literature.

    In any case, it depends on the scenario and the culture.

    heck, even Jesus was the equivalent of the "scapegoat" for his culture at the time -- or, rather, the "scapegoat" in old Judaism was a precursor for him.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

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    Lallygag Moderator Geoff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer View Post
    I think it's the same thing as "negative attention" -- we see the pattern in kids who, if they cannot get positive attention, will settle for negative. Attention is still attention.

    And, depending on the sort of "punishment" reserved for the scapegoat (which could be anywhere from death at one extreme to a less-odious "notoriety" at the other, some people who have no other options to them or could not fit in in another way will find whatever positivity they can in their position.

    Perhaps I was thinking more of the "witches" in this sense, but you still see it happen. And there's obviously a psychological component where a person who feels inadequate and mocked/rejected will offer to be the pure sacrifice for their community (whether literal sacrifice or figurative) and thus invent meaning for their lives.

    Or maybe I read too much dramatic literature.

    In any case, it depends on the scenario and the culture.
    Right! Actually... on further reflection, stockholm syndrome may have a place here in the dynamic. The scapegoat accepts the role, and the attention is one they crave, despite it being torture of the person's self worth/being/soul.

    -Geoff

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