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  • Dan Connors

Scapegoats- Convenient vessels for our sins and problems?

“A group of Nazis surrounded an elderly Berlin Jew and demanded of him, ‘Tell us, Jew, who caused the war?’

The little Jew was no fool. ‘The Jews,’ he said, then added, ‘and the bicycle riders.’

The Nazis were puzzled. ‘Why the bicycle riders?’

‘Why the Jews?’ answered the little old man.”

Nathan Ausubel, A Treasury of Jewish Folklore

What do Taiwan, Ukraine, Indian Muslims, LGBT citizens, Jews, and Immigrants all have in common? They are useful scapegoats for powerful elites to draw attention away from other problems. Scapegoating has been going on for centuries, and today it's become the most popular way for people to assign blame in a confusing and complex world.

The term "scapegoat" originated in the bible to describe a practice of ancient Hebrews to sacrifice a goat that has been designated to carry all of the community's sins. Some goats were killed and some were released into the wilderness, but the idea was to purify society by somehow isolating "badness" and removing it. It's sadly ironic that the Jewish people have become the ultimate scapegoats of history, blamed for all sorts of maladies and unjustly punished and slaughtered.

Things in China aren't going so well. There was a pandemic that crippled their economy, and now they are struggling with youth unemployment, low birth rates, and a sluggish economy. The Chinese government is using the power of the scapegoat to turn the nation's attention on tiny little Taiwan. This is the distraction that Beijing is hoping will unite China while everything else fails to improve.

Russia isn't in much better shape. Before their invasion of Ukraine, they were suffering from a sluggish economy that was too dependent on fossil fuels. Birth rates are some of the lowest on earth, and substance abuse has been rampant. Vladimir Putin has been sitting atop this unhappy country for decades, and he tried to use the power of scapegoating on Ukraine, starting a war as a distraction. Wars have been powerful distractions throughout history, claiming an existential threat from outside to unite everybody inside, even if the threat isn't real.

India is booming in a sense, but there remains serious poverty and corruption that is causing widespread unrest. Enormous power remains in the hand of a very small elite, and the leader of the country, Modi, is an authoritarian. Modi rose to power by scapegoating India's minority Muslim population, and violence against them has risen under his rule.

Some African nations are scapegoating LGBT citizens, and European nations are seeing a rise in populist anger against refugees who are arriving from Africa and Asia. Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Iran are scapegoating and oppressing women, and in Myanmar nearly a million Rohynga Muslims have been persecuted by the majority Buddhists. (Not sure Buddha would have approved.)

So it's no surprise that in the United States, there are no shortage of scapegoats. Racial minorities have been the convenient one for decades, and now the new target is a nebulous one- "wokeness". Being woke, or considering the consequences of the powerful on the weak, is the cause of much of the evil in this country according to some. The term applies to LGBT rights, minority rights, protecting the environment, and compassion for the vulnerable in general. Anti-woke crusaders believe that wokeness weakens us as a society and makes people less tough and resilient. It's an interesting umbrella term that incorporates minority, women's, and LGBT rights under one banner along with climate change and socialism. The US has become extremely polarized, and politics there has shifted from a debate to a blame game.

The Covid-19 epidemic exposed the need for scapegoats in the face of confusion and misery. It also hit economies hard, making the need for someone to blame even more urgent. This unique virus that killed millions of people worldwide seemed to be too disruptive and too deadly to be just a random thing. We needed someone to blame it on, and the conspiracy marketplace exploded against China, where it was first detected, and against scientists, leaders, and public health officials, who tried to deal with it. Here are some popular scapegoats for Covid, according to Alliance for Science:

- 5G towers caused Covid

- Nothing caused Covid- it was an exaggeration and never happened.

- Bill Gates invented it as a way to implant chips in everybody through vaccines.

-The Chinese deliberately developed it as a bioweapon and it escaped.

-Genetically modified crops (GMOs) are to blame somehow.

- It was a deep state plot with Anthony Fauci to undermine Trump's re-election bid.

- Big Pharma started it all as a way to increase profits worldwide. They deliberately hid cheaper cures like hydroxychloriquine to maximize their powers.

Here is the truth about Covid:

- Covid was caused by a unique virus that evolved naturally to infect humans and other animals. It was a senseless tragedy that killed millions, sickened millions more, and had a devastating effect on the global economy. There was never any conspiracy, just a lot of people in the dark trying the best that they could to deal with it.

There are two things that humans never want to hear about- problems that are out of their control, and problems that they themselves caused. Understandably, we all want to feel somewhat in control of our lives, and the existence of things like pandemics, climate change, economic instability, and opioid epidemics threaten our abilities to get things done. And the mere thought that we could be the cause of a bad situation is too much for our fragile egos to handle. So we look for scapegoats.

Today there are a lot of problems. Thus there is a need for some powerful scapegoat conspiracy theories. Thinking that a mysterious cabal is behind our troubles is more digestible than not knowing where they are coming from. Every time something bad happens these days you can see an explosion of blame looking for someone to pin it on.

Newsflash- there is no evil conspiracy behind most of our problems. Most of them are of our own making. There are some bad actors out there, and they need to be dealt with. We are stuck with our problems, some of which seem frustratingly unsolvable. We can either turn our backs on them or get to work and at least try to address them.

There are two tragic losers in the scapegoat game. The recipients of the blame often don't deserve it, and they are demonized, ostracized, and punished unfairly, robbing the world of a valuable resource and contributor. But the other loser is the blamer. By offloading all of their problems onto someone else in order to feel better, they lose out on a chance to truly understand and improve their world.

We can't keep sending death threats to people who deliver bad news. We can't bury our heads in the sand when huge problems like climate change threaten. All we can do is take in the bad news, digest it, and look for ideas on how to deal with it constructively. We've wasted way too much of history thinking that violence and tribalism will protect us from evil.

The only way forward is through compromise and cooperation, and that requires us all to share the blame and the journey.

"When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back to you." Unknown

"Don't focus on the speck in your brother's eye while ignoring the log in your own eye." Jesus

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