Thursday, 24 November 2011

Review of 'Scapegoat: A history of blaming other people' by Charlie Campbell

We see scapegoating every day, in the media or in our daily lives.  Our self-esteem is maintained through an over-estimating of our abilities and therefore we need to blame others for our mistakes, or blame others for natural disasters.  This excellent book shows that scapegoating has been with humanity for most of our existence, and that it has tended to be the case that the same groups get blamed: Always minorities, often women, nearly always Jews.

I remember one place where I worked where a poisonous climate pervaded throughout all departments.  Mistakes were made at various levels.  A culture of continual whining about the management, the other departments and people within ones own department existed.  Even the volunteers (a group of over a hundred people) would come to me to complain about various enemy-figures.  I don't remember hearing anyone saying that maybe they have done something bad; strange, when harmful things were happening but no-one appeared to be doing them!  The culture of blaming sucked away energy and motivation and was counter-productive to good work and relations.

Campbell says that the book could have been called 'A history of stupidity'.  That would be apt. He shows how people have been picked on for all manner of stupid reasons.

Scapegoats in history: The origins

The Babylonian, Greek and Roman Empires had a scapegoat system that maintained order, whereby humans, largely criminals, disabled people or the ugliest man they could find were beaten and/or killed to appease the gods for the sins for the people and/or the leaders.  This took place within a ritualistic framework.  I would add that René Girard has done a lot of work about this, showing that scapegoats were needed to solve tension caused by people wanting the same or similar things ('mimetic desire') and that many myths we have are attempts to hide the violence within that system, which Walter Wink called the system of 'Redemptive violence'.  Wink takes it further, saying that religions were influenced by this system by the use of sacrifices and also the understanding of why Jesus died (Wink postulates that Jesus played that scapegoat role and therefore destroyed the sacrificial system).

Over time Campbell it was Christians who were to be the scapegoats in the Roman Empire.  Over time, though, Christians themselves were to use the scapegoat system.

Things like the disappearance of children, the Black Death and various other natural disasters were blamed on the Jews.  They were also accused of poisoning water or food supplies and therefore found themselves being expelled or worse, brutally murdered (such as here in Wrocław in 1453 on what is now Plac Solny).  Of course the 20th century has shown us the continuation of the scapegoating of Jewish people.  (I would argue that Israel now also plays for the role for some who wish to make them responsible for all bad things in the Middle East/the world.)

Campbell rightfully gives a lot of room to the treatment of women in history.  He shows how misogyny against women is ancient, within Greek mythology and philosophy and Christian religion.  Tertullian wrote:
You are the devils gateway; you are the unsealer of the forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of Divine Law.  You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.
(Campbell rightfully shows that the figure of Adam was also culpable in the 'sinful act', but blamed Eve, who blamed the snake.  Thus, says Campbell entered blame into human behaviour.)

This led to the 'witch'-scare era.  80% of accused witches were women.  Strangely enough, this isn't a black and white men versus women thing.  About 30-40% of accusers were women.  Those who accused were more likely to be someone known, middle-aged women, men in their twenties and early thirties and teenage girls.  It is likely that 40,000 - 50,000 people were killed.

A memorial to burned 'witches' in Bernau, by Berlin.

As well as Jews and women, the book gives a detailed look at scapegoats being made from foreigners, children, football managers, generals, politicians, God, Satan, priests, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Whipping Boys and animals (especially goats).  While reading through the book one is struck at just how stupid people behaved, but also, how this stupidity continues in our time.

It is at this point that I shall take issue with Charlie Campbell.  He seems to be suggesting that the desire for an inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster is a desire to look for scapegoats.  In actual fact, Liverpool fans themselves were scapegoated and the Hillsborough Justice Campaign looks to address this fact.

It is with Liverpool fans however that we can see modern-day scapegoats.  I would add some more:

Direct victims of crimes

Rape Victims.  How many times have you heard about a woman being held partly responsible for her rape?  Like women are supposed to walk around covered head to toe, never drink alcohol and meet with men they don't know.  (In fact, most rapes take place by people they know).

Male victims of domestic violence by women.  Such men are told by other men to 'man-up'.  I once read a woman say that a male victim is to blame because as a man he is responsible for the system of violence.

Poor people.  They chose their lifestyle.  They are the 'undeserving poor'.

Muslims, especially since September 11th 2001.

In each of these cases we see people who are to blame for their own problems, or contribute to problems that we have.

Indirect victims of crimes

Paedophiles and rapists.  While they are people who have been convicted of a crime and hold responsibility for their crimes, the scapegoat mechanism is such that people give them an important role (witness the focus given to them in right-wing newspapers).  People are happy to tolerate having violent fantasies about them, whereby it is often said that the state or other prisoners should meet up terrible attacks on them; in other words, while not carrying out such violence themselves they are happy for it to be done in their name.  How this sets them above the paedophiles and rapists, or those who assented to the killing of Jews and women, I don't know.

 For the story behind this photo see here.

It's as if that people are projecting their unconscious onto them, their ability to do harm, to hurt and more difficult to say, their desire to sexually abuse or rape.  I am not saying that everyone (male or female) wants to rape, but I wonder whether part of the over-exaggerated reaction (I mean, it is manageable things like access to affordable food, water, accommodation and pollution that is more likely to harm us) is part of a projection mechanism.  Of course, part of the reaction is undoubtedly the disgust at such a crime, but I do wonder whether those who do such a crime become the figure of all that is bad in our lives.

Conspiracy theories

As we have seen with Jews and women, it is alleged that there are groups that conspire to harm us.  Certainly, there are some.  However, I believe that some on the left get too bogged down in possible conspiracy theories (the 'Illuminati', for example) to miss focussing our attentions on how it is not just a few powerful people who can do things to harm, us, rather also those who elect them, those who buy products they create; in other words, you and me. 


Just for Poland!  As I may have mentioned, Germans were blamed for the violence on 11/11/11 in Warsaw this year, despite the fact that it was they who were attacked.....  

An advertisement!  Yes, indeed.  Now, as you have probably worked out by now, I am not a nine-to-five sitting in an office type of person.  My choice is to do other stuff that I find more important.  One thing that that means is my workshops (indeed, that's why I started this bloody blog).  All I offer with my articles is free (indeed it is partly for my own needs that I write) in my anti-decommodification stance.  However, perhaps you feel that, in return for my excellent analysis/mad opinionated ramblings you may wish to help me in some way.  Well, you could book a workshop with me (check out the ones I offer on the top right.  I'm bigging up my singing workshops at the moment), or pass this blog on to someone (I've had plenty compliments about this blog, but can do with some promotion.) Sounds alright, eh?


No comments:

Post a Comment