Archives for May 2016

Scapegoats:Innocent and Guilty

DRSCAPEGOAT  was a created effigy ,  a serving simulacrum  inspired by what doctors should do best, that is provide help for people who suffer. Dr. S opened   theory and practice of scapegoating to the internet wilderness and promised to answer questions and provide advice for   wanderers in that dry and scratchy desert as well as providing space to struggle with others in similar situations.

Many people have contacted Dr. Scapegoat for help; few shared with fellow sufferers.  The people who experienced scapegoating, among the most traumatic experiences humans encounter, are generally loathe to share with peers in venues where there was little protection. The tales require trust. The doctor role, even if virtual, gave that. Dr. S received emails, phone calls and asked for and received personal interviews.  Hopefully the help and advice given was useful.   

The problems and suffering presented to Dr. Scapegoat were intensely personal and private.  The groups that was presumed to be scapegoaters, in almost all cases identified as the family, was usually mentioned.  Scapegoating groups   did not come forward when that was suggested. All was left to   individuals caught and victimized in the group and collective dynamic. The scapegoat stayed in role as the guilt eater..

As the creator of Dr. S, I have mentioned from time to time that Scapegoating is a professional concern.  As a psychiatrist and advisor I have worked hard with individuals, groups, organizations, even countries to ameliorate its negative effects and supports its salutatory ones. Lately I have personally felt its negative power in my own life   which has led to an even deeper consideration of its mechanisms, its ultimate dependence on the human need for revenge and sacrifice.

Revenge is not an easy subjects for any of us to be direct about but it has everything to do with scapegoating.  This month I spent a week in New York indulging my passion for opera (my nonfiction writing extends to Britten and Shostakovich as scapegoats—see www.arthurcolman.com). The best of the four operas I saw was Richard Strauss’s Electra, based on one of the great revenge stories of all time. Electra obsessively plans to kill her mother (Queen Clytemnestra) and step father (Aegisthus) who together murdered her father, the famed Agamemnon. The need for revenge is so straight forward and yet so difficult to carry out. The conflict between love and hate, passivity and action, eventually drives Electra quite mad. Her brother Orestes is able to do the deed but not her. Both siblings suffer for their actions.

Despite conflicting desires, the characters’ are   understandable in some mythic fated way. Even Clytemnestra, one of the ostensible villains, has good reason for killing her husband   Agamemnon, for he was father of their daughter Iphigenia   killed her, a sacrifice to the gods to allow his war fleet to make war on the Trojans.

During the opera I thought of the many emails I received wondering about why they were being scapegoated. Unlike the Electra of Sophocles and Hofmannsthal, Strauss’s librettist, most felt innocent; they could not understand or even rationalize why their lives were being so traumatized by   family members and others. I believed most, questioned others. But the opera made me wonder about a basic division in the ubiquitous world of scapegoating: there are those of us like Clytemnestra who knowingly propagate physical and psychic violence e.g. brutalizing fathers, molesting mothers, violent siblings, and evil dictators.  Who then, taking responsibility or not for their actions, are ostracized and hunted and maligned. And there are others who just don’t understand. Like Job. Like a certain kind of patriarch. Like professional victims. Like the truly innocent.

I’ll go on with this theme in my next essay. But in the meantime I wonder if any of you out there, scapegoaters and scapegoats, innocents or guilt ridden, have some thoughts on this? Scapegoats are archetypal and mythic, bigger than the personal. In that context, does it really matter if we are conscious of our sins? Does it matter if we are scapegoated for reasons we know? And iss innocence the same as not knowing?