Traditionally, a scapegoat was a goat that was led away in the wilderness, for the Day of Atonement in Judaism, Yom Kippur. That rite was described in the Bible. Christian theology is a symbolic prefiguration of the sacrifice of Jesus who offered his own life to take the sin of the world on his head, dying on a cross. Today, a scapegoat is a person or a group of people, indicated by a group to endorse a social behaviour that the group wants to get rid of. Thus, the scapegoat is excluded from the group (figurative or literal sense), and may be punished or condemned (jail or death penalties). If you analyse clearly the process of making someone a scapegoat, you can notice the following steps:
-A leader or a majority group defines the good and the evil, what may be socially done and what may not. Population believe in those values.
-When population considers that there is a problem in social order, a process will look for a responsible. The scapegoat will be a person or a group that may behave against "good values".
-The scapegoat will be excluded, or "sacrificed" publicly, for the population to see the evil leaving the social scene.
[...] At that time, the scapegoat mechanism remained hidden. The debate about his guiltiness wasn't physically violent. The majority was persuaded of his guiltiness. Dreyfus said he was innocent but couldn't prove it publicly. He was part of the society, and also marginal. Perfect. THE IMPACT OF THE SACRIFICE 1 ON THE GROUP -If the sacrifice is publicly shown, the whole group will feel liberated of its violence by the death or punishment of the scapegoat. Like in the Fable de La Fontaine, the pest would disappear. [...]
[...] That's why it's important not to choose the scapegoat randomly. -The group must be persuaded of the guiltiness of the scapegoat. -The scapegoat must believe in his culpability. At least, the scapegoat must lack of self esteem, and need recognition of the group. His scapegoat's role may give him this recognition. The scapegoat has to be separated enough of the population, for the population not to feel affected by the fight against the scapegoat. But in the same time the scapegoat must be integrated enough to the society to be able to canalize and attire the mimetic violence of the population. [...]
[...] And the other, a hermeneutic one (in christianism), demystifies violence of the sacrifice (scapegoat randomly chosen), and symbolize violence of the population with the cross for population to renounce to its own violence. In the mythic mode violence and sacrifice are due to Satan or God, external causes, and the sacrifice of the scapegoat is a solution to answer those external threats. Being sacrificed, the victim becomes sacralized, enter a new dimension, out of the human world. That is the case of ritual sacrifices, in tribes. The victim is assimilated to totems and taboos (cf J.G.Frazer). In the hermeneutic mode, the [...]
[...] In a general violence context, the social body remember its grounds, and tries to reaffirm it. Either the society is steady enough to affirm its constitutive values and eliminate social threats (with a scapegoat or not), or a leader does it in the name of the society. If he's legitimated enough, he cans chose his own values, and enforce it to the society or the group. In the same time, he condemns disturbers. The greatest example is Germany in the 1930's. [...]
[...] But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, [and] to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness (Leviticus 16: 7-10) -According James Georges Frazer in Bouc émissaire, étude comparée des religions, the scapegoat is the result of a set of expiation rites used by a community. Thus, the of the scapegoat is based on cultural and historical data. A collective unconscious leads to the identification of a member of the group as cause of the crisis. [...]
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