Saturday, February 6, 2010

Scapegoats and sinners

One of the less talked about symbols in the Bible is that of the 'scapegoat' (cf. Leviticus 16). In the Bible, the chief priest would symbolically lay the sins of the people onto a goat and then drive the goat off into the wilderness, where it would most probably be found and killed by wild animals. I'm just briefly going to use this idea, not in its theological context, but in the context of social interactions, because it exposes some of the fundamental problems in human nature. 

In societies, people don't generally deal with their sins properly. Guilt is ignored, or justified. The wrongs we do are easily explained or explained away by circumstance or some other weak deflection of responsibility. Psychologists may blame our pasts, and psychiatrists may blame our physiologies. But, either way, the evil in us – in people – is not widely dealt with in a very constructive way. It is repressed and denied.

And because of this, we can never get rid of the darkness inside us. Subconsciously, we know we need a scapegoat to send our sins away with. But we aren't always aware of the problem in any constructive way. What often happens, then, is that someone in the group gets picked on. Someone gets chosen as the scapegoat; as the one who has to bear the brunt of the failings of the group.

This person can be anyone, perhaps the slightly socially awkward kid or quiet guy in the corner who minds his own business. It could be a poet, a clown. It's usually someone who is as innocent as that goat; someone who hasn't got a bone to pick with anyone – a peacemaker, meek and friendly. I've seen this a lot recently in the groups that I've spent time in – groups of lovely, good-natured, well-meaning people, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways will find someone to be the brunt of their jokes. In other ways, they will be nice to their scapegoat, but in the way that counts – in their understanding and consideration of him or her – they will be utterly short-sighted. It is, however, not just the crowd's fault. Literal scapegoats don't have a choice, but human scapegoats do. Everyone is to some extent responsible for how they let others treat them. 

If you find yourself in the position of being a scapegoat, get out of there before you get weighed down by the hurts and the disappointments of others. If it means leaving a party early, fine. If it means not spending too long with a certain group of friends, fine. Everyone needs to have the freedom and the space to not have to deal with the weight of the sins of those closest to them. Everyone needs to have the freedom and the space to make sure that they become neither the perpetrators nor the victims of what seems to me to be one of this, one of the most alarming facts of social interaction. 

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