Saturday, October 1, 2011

Scapegoats Are People Too

Ours is a society that loves to beat the snot out of someone.  We have become Scapegoat Nation, mainly because we have more to worry about, and thus more of a need to blame things on someone.

When you think about it, the amount of information that we in western culture have literally at our fingertips is monumentally massive compared to that of similar people living just thirty years ago.  Information that would have taken years to gather back then can be pulled up in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.  Who won the first Cricket World Cup? The West Indies.  You think I knew that 30 seconds ago?  Nope.  Now think about what I would have had to go through to find that tidbit out in, say 1984.  It would have required a trip downtown to the library at the very least.

I think back to when I was a kid, spending vacations with my grandparents in the country.  My grandmother spent years and years researching basic family history for her family and that of my grandfather, using what she knew personally as a starting point.  She wrote letters.  She made phone calls.  She dug around old records in courthouses and libraries. I yawned a lot and asked when we would go get ice cream.  By the time I was a teenager, after years of work, she had fleshed out her family tree and my grandfather’s to the point from when their great-grandparents came over from Ireland.  She wrote most of it down in a notebook, but kept a lot more of it in her head.  She died in 1995.  The notebook has been lost and what was in her head remains with her.  I am kicking myself that I didn’t take more of an interest and do something to save that information.  I’ve been able to reconstruct some of it, but a great deal of knowledge was lost forever when she died.

Nowadays, I could do some of the research that took my grandmother many years in a fraction of the time.  Though I doubt I could ever do it with the dedication and love that she had.

But I digress.

My point is, we just know more stuff now.  The quality of that stuff varies a whole lot, mind you.  One of the upsides of the pre-Information Age was that a lot of crap was filtered out before it got before the masses.  If you don’t believe me, just think back to what was on prime-time TV in the mid-70s and then look at it today.

There have always been pretty, brainless heiresses like Paris Hilton.  We just haven’t been able to know as much about them as we do now.  There have always been idiot politicians acting more in their own interest than ours.  We just didn’t get as much of the lowdown.  There have always been horrific accidents and terrible crimes, probably more so then than now, but the only ones we heard about were those in our general vicinity.  Some psycho shooting up a daycare center in Asia would not have likely made headlines back in the 1950s, for example.  Today, it would be global news.

You can discuss amongst yourselves whether this is good or bad.  I personally don’t think it is one or the other, but a mix of both.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the stuff.  Murders, rapes, gangs, dog attacks, corruption…it seems like it’s everywhere.  Our world is falling apart.  What happened to the good old days?  Right?


The same things were happening back in the good old days, only we didn’t hear about them as often.  They probably occurred even more frequently, since the degree of public scrutiny was much less, so getting away with them was easier.

In response to this, however, I feel like we have become a scapegoat society.  We want someone to pay the price for the bad things that happen out there. The origin of “scapegoat” goes back to biblical times, when a goat, symbolically laden with the sins of the people, was left to wander in barren lands (presumably to starve or be eaten by predators).   Often now, it is one person that is symbolic of the problem of whom we want the figurative blood.  Sarcasm alert!: Music stinks these days?  Blame Lady Gaga, because I don’t like her.  Professional athletes are lazy and overpaid?  Blame Alex Rodriguez, because he seems kind of arrogant anyhow.  People do stupid things?  Blame the local school superintendent.  He's supposed to be able to fix stupid, isn't he? End sarcasm.

There are countless examples I could give, but I’ll use the one that is most accessible to the majority of us is the presidency.  No matter WHO is in the Oval Office, whether it is a Republican or a Democrat, that person carries the weight for all of the ups and downs of our country.  (Who in their right mind would want that job?)  I can’t remember a single president in our lifetime who was not treated with disdain over things that he simply does not control.  After all, our leader is a president, not a dictator.  He (or someday she) cannot simply decree that there be good jobs or less crime.  The constitution lays out certain powers, and he has to stick to them.  But, because he is a single individual, with his own personality and opinions, the president becomes a lightning rod, rightly or wrongly.  Our current economic woes are not the fault of Barack Obama.  Nor are they the fault of George W. Bush.  They are the result of a myriad of factors, not the action or inaction of any one person.

And it runs in reverse as well, where a single person’s plight results in arguably inordinate action.  One pretty blonde teenage girl from an upper middle-class family (whose pictures look good on news reports) is kidnapped and killed, which is a true and genuine tragedy, and a law in her name gets passed to help prevent such a thing from happening again.  Maybe that law was indeed needed, but I can’t help but wonder about the families of the many others who may have met the same fate.  Why wasn’t a law passed when their loved ones were taken from them?  Weren’t they just as important as the more photogenic person who came from the “right side” of the tracks?

Most things today are complicated, shades-of-gray kinds of things.  They always have been.  There is nothing new here at all.  But we are faced with more knowledge of bad things, and it’s just easier to wrap our minds around things that are black and white.  It’s simpler to blame a person (or a group, like religious zealots, opposing political parties, or Justin Beiber fans), instead of trying to address the array of things that led to the problem in the first place.

I have to admit, this post was not inspired by some great philosophical problem of our times, but by the dismissal of the manager of my favorite baseball team due in large part to the apathy of his players, in spite of his best efforts.  What can I say?  I am deep as a paper plate at times.

I am not going to change a whole society’s way of thinking with a single blog post.  (It may take at least two.)  But hopefully, at least a few of us can start to look a little more carefully at all sides of a situation before we hang someone out to dry.


  1. Hello! I'm Jane. I'm just leaving you a comment to let you know that I've been reading your blog for a couple of months now; I found you through Chris over at Letter From Joshua, and I find your posts insightful and also entertaining. You've been in my RSS feed since the one about finding wet spots in your sock feet. :)

    Anyway, that was all I had to say. You are welcome to also read my blog - though I have no expectations, especially as I update fairly infrequently these days. I just thought it was about time I said hello.

  2. Nice job! You have to see "Catching Hell" about the Steve Bartman "catch" that knocked the wheels off the Cubs ride to the World Series for another look at the birth of a scapegoat