In ancient Jewish society, the scapegoat was a normal goat that was ceremonially loaded with all the sins of the community, and then driven from town in to the wilderness, as part of the ceremonies around the Day or Atonement. The goat would almost certainly die in the desert, and with it would die the sins of the community. The term has passed in to general usage, as we all know, to refer to someone who gets to carry the can when the crap hits the fan.
Earlier today I blogged on the topic of Philip Laing, the student in trouble here in Sheffield, and was reminded of a comment made by my better half about whether the venom being expended towards this fellow was actually a form of scapegoating. We’ve had over two years of miscellaneous nonsense here in the UK – the banking crisis, MP’s expenses, the Recession, the War in Afghanistan and Iraq – the list goes on. Then conveniently along comes someone who we can all have a go at, who isn’t rich and powerful and who’s actually done something that is pretty damn stupid and manages to annoy vast numbers of people.
In fact, the perfect scapegoat!
Here’s a quick guide for you to help you play ‘Spot the Scapegoat’ – a useful parlour game for this winter preceding a general election when we can expect the Government and Media to try and blame anyone and everyone – except the genuine culprits – for the wrongs of the world.
A scapegoat must be plausible. there’s little point in picking on someone totally innocuous. You need someone or a group of people who’ve been bad, been caught out, and for whose behaviour there can be little excuse. Little old ladies caught exceeding the speed limit by 5 miles per hour don’t really meet the requirement.
An ideal scapegoat would be suitably powerless. After all, we don’t want them coming back at us, do we? Really powerful people will rarely become scapegoats unless they’ve upset some even more powerful people. The media don’t want to upset someone with muscle who could make the media look like horse’s bottoms.
Having found a plausible, powerless person to act as scapegoat, their bad behaviour has to be ‘scalable’. Scalability is a technical term for the ability of a system to cope with heavier loads than expected without needing a lot of work. So, if we want a good scapegoat on which we can unload a pile of public anger, the scapegoat’s behaviour must be something that can be ‘worked up’ in some way. So, Mr Laing’s offence can easily be used to indicate that it’s the start of the end of Western Civilisation as we know it as respect for all that is good in society declines, etc.
If you want a good scapegoat, they have to be public figures or elevated in to the rank of public notoriety by the media or the Internet. If you can get a good gossipy campaign going, apparently driven by the general public, you’re in clover.
Your perfect scapegoat should ideally be photographed with a black cloak and a Victorian moustache, eating babies and shouting that they are sorry for nothing. If this ideal scenario can’t be achieved, then a lack of apology will do. If the scapegoat attempts a half-arsed apology, all the better. But if they go for the genuine apology, their value as a scapegoat is diminished.
Have something ready to sneak out
Apart from deflecting blame from the real culprits, the exposure and persecution of a good scapegoat can offer the Government and other people of power and influence the opportunity to sweep other things under the carpet. If you have a scapegoat, never waste the opportunity to get a few bad-news stories out at the same time.