The Space between Revenge and Forgiveness

We all bore witness to forgiveness  at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in  Charleston. The congregation members who lost love ones showed the power of that  sentiment. They helped all of us learn how forgiveness may support victims and scapegoats by  calming  grief and  empowering  prayers and so much more.

We know there are many other emotions felt but left unspoken. The fact that this  community accepts the legal framework of punishment  makes it easier to forgive. It projects the all too human feeling of anger and revenge–in this case well represented collectively by  incarceration and possible  death penalty–into the hands of an anonymous judicial system that, if trusted,  frees each  individudal’s heart and mind to dwell on  emotions of mourning.

But if the shooter was not now in the hands of the society but still roaming free , forgiveness would surely be on hold.  It is a painful truth that wherever killers are not apprehended and dealt with severely, victims who have the power to take ‘justice’ into their own hands, usually  do . The rest of us remember.

Forgiveness? Not until we settle the score with him/her/them.

Dr. Scapegoat is not feeling cynical about the extraordinary outpouring of grace and graciousness by this group . But we all need to feel  both heart and  muscle at times of tragic loss. Turning the other cheek is the heart in action. Protesting, airing grievances on th social media,  hiring a  a lawyer (or a paid assassin) to punish  killers and exact reparations is the muscle of anger and revenge in action.

In this case the community was buoyed by its immediate ability to display their faith in forgiveness, a shared sacred creed of their religion. It provided solidarity and group comfort and put off living alone with the horror of personal, lonely loss. How long will it take until the feelings of anger, unfairness, revenge and the desperate need for action take over?  Social activism and other mechanisms for progress in human affairs, rely on seed energy from these ‘negative’ feelings and sublimates them  in  working  toward transforming the future and remaking it  into a fairer place. It is one of the ways  we mourn without destroying ourselves or others.

In tragedies such as this one,  forgiveness is a first step or  perhaps a last one. But the place between forgiveness and revenge is the place  we must  struggle to find, the place where we create the new reality, where we heal by demanding and insuring justice .

Longevites as Complicitors


The effects of group and system behavior are long term, often beyond the scope and time line of what individuals care most about or even know and remember. This has profound effect on scapegoating, always a group process, and on complicitors, an active and necessary element in the scapegoating process.

Many of my friends are in the generation of Longevites. (I’m including a reference to a paper Pilar Montero and I have written about this increasingly large demographic group.) One of the favorite subjects of discussion within this group, especially if one gets past complaining about physical ailments, begins with the phrase “if I can only live long enough not to…”

The frequent statement: “If only I can live long enough not  be effected by global warming” interest me here both because of the importance of the subject and how it symbolizes complicitor behavior in well-meaning groups.  The discussion continues; “Nothing that bad is going to happen in fifteen to twenty years and then I’ll be dead. So why should I care? Why should I sacrifice my last years to… (fill in the blank)?” After a considered silence, someone, usually the youngest in the group, is likely to say something like. “Well, what about our kids and the future generations? What about the animals? What about our planet?” Heads nod wisely for a while and then the comment is summarily dismissed and replace by variants of “you don’t quite get it, do you?” meaning you haven’t gotten far enough into longevitic psychology to understand that the surety of death, the continuing lust for experience, and the counterpoise of dependence and security, are the giant, overbearing items that longevites care about. The future is now and just a little bit more, thank you, and god bless.

That is not what this group would say to their younger friends and relatives. Many are deeply committed to ecological causes and concern sand have donated money or even volunteered or directed their careers to Earth Day and Save the Planet movements. They have not given up on these ideologies. But what they say to their in-group Longevite peers is far more immediate and there is usually general agreement with these self-centered sentiments. A water guzzling green lawn matters to their enjoyment of daily life at home.  So does a last trip to Europe or a first to India in a gas guzzling polluting jet, or an un-mortgaged house to live in the rest of one’s days. If they can just get that last thrill, that last bit of ecstasy, that last pat on the back, three more months of life with the latest wonder drug, they will mostly forgo what they continue to define as being devoted, generous, and altruistic.

So many well meaning longevites are active complicitors in scapegoating the environment and with it, the younger generations who will live there. They are knowing purveyors of local and global sin. The generation that might seem to have the least to lose is hardly a beacon for others and for good reason. It is their last hurrah!

Of course longevites are powerfully effected by the current cultural context of selfishness. Their children and grandchildren are, in general, even less concerned with the long term; lip service to conservation, yes, but little action.  They can rationalize and blame others including their forebears. That helps justify their fierce consumption and its negative consequences.  That goes with the psychological territory of youth and inexperience.  But unlike most of the longevites it is   probable that the boomers, millennial’s, generation X’s etc. will be the ones directly affected by the negative impacts of climate change. That is their fate   even if the eldest generation contributed mightily. Perhaps the longevites should help more and sometimes they do. But, as I have suggested, that group has its own powerfully opposing concerns.

All this does not mean the end of hope. We need thoughtful and practical action on a small and large scale and most of all we need creativity in how we approach our future. But the archetypal Dr. Scapegoat has watched humans sacrifice other humans—usually our children (and other species as well as our cosmic home) — for as long as humans has been a dominating force. This Dr. Scapegoat, chastened by experience and more committed to truth then optimism, would know that altering a planet to become less suitable for the sustenance and development of humans is very bad idea  and requires selfless, dramatic changes in current species behavior of which there are few signs.

(Check out The New Longevity, by Arthur Colman and Pilar Montero at




Dr. Scapegoat believes complicitor is a noun whose time has come!


It’s derived from the adjective complicit, which Merriam-Webster defines as “having to commit a crime or do wrong in some way.” That definition doesn’t capture much about the word for me and there are no synonyms which are worth their salt. I use the term scapegoaters to talk about individuals or groups who create scapegoats and that comes close except its way too conscious and directed. Complicitors hide in the shadows and twilight, hang back in groups and allow leaders, idea people and scapegoats to do the work they need.


Sometimes I think complicitors run the world. Here’s what I mean. We have lots of synonyms for scapegoats: black sheep, prodigal son, messiahs, victims, fall guys. But scapegoating theory tells us that scapegoats are created by groups; they  act ‘in our place’ and takes the heat. (In my South African TEDX talk available on this website I present a pictogram and a discussion detailing how that happens.) Scapegoaters are conscious of finding and creating victim and they do that either to harm the person or idea or to make something happen that they themselves don’t want to take responsibility for. Complicitors are simpler and more unconscious; they are ancient and ubiquitous, silent and invisible, frightened and cowardly, unknown even to themselves. ‘All we like sheep’ defines them  if one understands, as the bible does, that these ‘sheep’ are far from harmless.


The ‘Good German” who went along with the Nazi’s are complicitors.  So are the managers of companies who maintain racist/sexist hiring policies. They are the congressman who stay safe to keep their place, the politician who let others take the difficult stands on issues. They are the scientists who deny controversial data, the elders who don’t speak out on when they know all too well it is needed.     Find a scapegoat and you will find a thousand complicitors.


Complicitors are focused on their own self-interest. They rationalize that they are doing the best thing for everyone. They don’t rock the boat. They talk about loving values too much. They do not act preemptively and with courage when dangerous situations arise, hoping it will pass them by.  And it often does so they continue. They are good parents if everything is going well. But they are the last to speak out when there is trouble. They don’t blow the whistle on sexual abuse, on destructive pairings, on  bad choices.


Perhaps by giving them a name, complicitors will become more recognizable.  Perhaps by giving them a name, we will recognize the complicitor in ourselves.


Facing 2015: Some old and new ideas



Dr. Scapegoat feels obliged to reiterate what we all know. Scapegoating is alive and well as never before. There are so many areas of the world, so many nations and corporations, so many political and family system, where this well understood process holds sway.  As 2014 draws to a close, there is little evidence of a concerted effort to face up to the small and large catastrophes we all create by overtly participating in creating victims or just looking away. All of us.

Scapegoating is a human species addiction. It began in our very earliest moments and was certainly handed to us by our primate ancestors. We’re very good at it: seeking out useful scapegoats/blaming others/ “passing the buck.” As I’ve discussed in posts through the years, there are advantages to many members of the group who scapegoat. We gain resources, power, and prestige at the expense of those that we expel and weaken. We gain group homogeneity which helps us feel competent in many group tasks though rarely the most creative ones. And, paradoxically, the scapegoat, we, may gain as well, that is if we survive and are not crippled by becoming victims. We may feel free of constrains, more able to create our own life and even a new world around us. But the dangers and trauma of both roles, scapegoat and scapegoater, always overweigh any of these gains. Eventually.

Recent knowledge about scapegoating dynamics may help though combating scapegoating requires moving insight into action and sacrifice, a rare commodity in a world captivated by individualism. Social media may be a help as well. It alerts us to Ferguson, to honor killings, to ‘legalized torture’, and a variety of other classic scapegoating maneuvers. It certainly helps us to organize on line, and more rarely, in the field. But it also allows us to feel better about what we don’t actually do. An email or a tweet helps us believe we have done something important so we can go about our lives as if we have acted more meaningfully.

There needs to be new reflection leading to action, and strategy to go with the new knowledge and communication technology.   Three ideas (of many) for 2015.

1) We all need to take our ‘ interconnectedness’ much more seriously. We don’t really believe it. Climate is a good model for our denial and inaction. We behave as if we won’t be effected. We also act as if our actions help, the ones that make us feel better but do little to effect the problem  We can’t continue to act like Colonials, living off others pollution because we all are victims as well as perpetrators.

Interconnected means that every decision we make goes into a collective hopper with negative consequences, many unintended. I think this is because we dont carry our  analysis far enough. Why? Mostly  because we see that  it leads toward us! So we need to create  larger-than-comfortable decision trees and algorithms in all our decisions and actions.

Decisions usually are made in remarkably small systems. A scapegoating analysis of a larger system, such as climate change or war, must be complemented by intense analysis in the very small groups that move these behemoths. And these little systems–work groups, families, friendships et al  are the hardest place to make changes because we need them so much. It’s where we recognize how fragile and imperfect we are, but also how we enact our personal and collective shadows onto the world.

2) With more than seven billion people we have to re balance individual and collective thinking.  Human’s motivation and action is infinitely complex, rarely follows what we hope for ourselves, and require  infinite compassion for self and other. We are capable of  empathy in small doses but carrying that over to group and collectives is far more difficult. Group processes can seem seperated from individual behavior.  Scapegoating defines that denial. We rarely accept our complicity as self-serving individuals. It is because we so rarely sacrifice ourselves as individuals, even a little, that we end up being a part of the negative scapegoating dynamics of larger system.

3)  Lets reconsider our defenses against this complicity. for example we increasingly use  poetry and poetic language as comfort food to counter our pain and guilt around how we do scapegoat others. Verse about love and forgiveness (and truth, kindness and world peace) are great things but they must not become musak for our conscience.  Passionate closing benedictions can become selfie apologies devoid of real feeling or insight. We would all do better to keep these loving feelings and values in our hearts and minds rather than  using them as veils for the shadows we create around us.

Best wishes for the new year.

Dr. Scapegoat

Miasma in Leadership

For a long time, I’ve been intrigued by the way leadership style trickles down in all beauracracies. The style of the leader, let’s say the president or CEO, is emulated, copied, mimicked… all ways of limiting  one’s own special personal style and often one’s training. Its so clear in armies. Checkout the concordance of the leadership style of colonels,captains, sergeants, and be amazed. Sometime these similarities are even institutionalized into rules and regulations to reinforce leadership imitation–at least until the next colonel comes along. From my experience there is no difference in corporations or for that matter in many families systems. It’s not a bad thing. It reinforces cohesion and interchangeability of roles and relationships.

President Obama is an intelligent, careful, and in his later years of office,  reticent and risk-averse man. He considers carefully and so limits mistakes. We’ve seen it work well but partly in response to his passivity,  other leaders have been more aggressive and less careful. eg. Putin, ISIS, Assad. Care is a valuable quality but late responsiveness increases   risk compared to prevention.

Dr. Scapegoat is a physician. He watches the CDC head man, Tom Frieden, with growing anger. Epidemics are difficult to contain and we all know that prevention and early steps are the best way.  Trying to work against a ongoing hot epidemic is so much more difficult. I mean why do most of us take Flu shots? Well, ever get a flu. The energy to treat a flu, to live with it, not to mention the morbidity and  mortality is huge compared to the deltoid pinprick and fear of a sore arm for a few hours.

Frieden’s pacificity of response to Ebola breaks so many of the rules for treating and containing epidemics even though a more agressive response might not have been necessary. The risk of emphasizing  prevention early  is political, not medical, and he is our top government doc not a senator hoping to get elected in a few weeks.

Dr. Scapegoat, is deeply pained by the errors so far, and also  for the number of casualties in West Africa and now elsewhere.  Panic and group madness, including scapegoating,  is always  part of every epidemic especially once it gains a foothold. Leaders like Frieden are candidates for scapegoating but they also must risk stepping up to the task at hand.

Of theoretical interest, is the way our government’s  chain of leadership may effect style.  Does Obama even know how he is effecting his team?


The Gods of Empire

Empires rise and fall and it is historically exciting to predict their beginnings and endings. The forces of instability that led to the so-called Arab uprising is linked to the first mention of a Caliphate, a fancy name for another empire in the making. It has  the beginning necessities: a leader with a religious ideology, a nascent army with lots of potential recruits, and a bit of empty yet valuable territory. Empires and their builders have begun with less!

Naturally the current dominating  empire, America, and its hesitantly loyal allies have risen up under the reluctant leadership of President Obama to degrade and destroy the new force. More than 200 years ago, upstart America took on the all-powerful British Empire and made it withdraw, which led to its destruction and the new hegemony of an American empire. The Soviet Empire tried to create a wedge in the American Empire and lost badly, despite its latest urges in that direction. It’s an old story complicated by our  interconnected world and its all-seeing media.

But the Middle East has always been a problem for empires. Rome, Greece, and Christianity stumbled there even before oil became important. America may, too. The complicated reasons are better left to academic experts, but scapegoating has played an important role. Assuming stability and a relative balance of power among the many, many tribes and states that inhabit that region has been one of the common pitfalls.

In the last 75 years, the two-pronged cover story of a united Islam and the imminent destruction of Israel has helped maintain the illusion of stability. The incredible divisions that are present in Islam was held in check by dictatorship by minority groups, e.g. Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and by the common enemy, Israel, land of the Jews, the universal scapegoat.

America’s invasions turned Iraq’s Shiite/Sunni religious and class truce into chaos. Still, there was Israel to unite warring, disparate elements. Hitler worked that one well, but then the Jews were a helpless, if influential, group. Recently, Israel’s military might and economic power has made it a less useful scapegoat, as does its military alliance with the U.S. The havoc reeked on Gaza, the presence of nuclear arms coupled with a survivalist mentality of “never again,” made believable through a leader who holds revenge for his brother firmly in mind, makes scapegoating increasingly unwieldy. An empire holds together by its own inner and outer force; it doesn’t need to rely on scapegoats.

Someone had to try to ditch the illusion of false alliances and apply the glue of scapegoating and the use of fear and power to unite this fragmented part of the world. The Islamic State is trying to do just that. It is a long shot, but my guess is that it’s just the beginning.

Leadership and Scapegoating

What can a leader of a group do about scapegoating in his or her own group? It’s too easy to say that it is one of leaderships most important jobs even though successful leaders must protect talent, creativity, differences and fair demography from being undermined by the scapegoating process. But how to do it without oneself becoming a casualty? After all leaders are the most common scapegoats in any group, particularly if they are not backed up by absolute institutional authority which often includes the threat of force. Leaders in the United States, say the President, are routinely scapegoated if not assassinated!

Recently I participated in  a group in which the familiar and difficult problem of the abuse of women became prominent. The leader was accused of personally  perpetuating the abuse of women. It was hard to know whether that was true or not because little thought or discussion  time was given to facts as the anger from woman and sympathetic men took over and the scapegoating of the leader gained steam.

The leader said that other more pressing and difficult  problems in the group were being set aside by this  attack. But all such comments were seen as defensiveness and excuse. When would he apologize, became the cry!

I think the leader knew he could apologize and possibly change the direction of the group. But apologies are not often useful when they are manipulations and not emotionally felt, as was apparently true in this case. In fact, either forced or insincere apologies  fuel the very problems that leads to scapegoating. In this case the leader allowed the attack to proceed while carefully suggesting, when he was allowed to speak,  that it would be valuable to understand more about what was happening in the group including what was being hidden by the  attack. Eventually this approach was successful in that it led to a careful consideration of what apologies did and did not achieve, including the differences between apologies, reconciliation and forgiveness. Nevertheless considerable personal  damage was done to both the leader and some of the  members who were caught representing abuse for the group.

One of the problems in this example is  that the women’s  sub group identified as abused were not willing to break ranks with their “sisters.” Emails from women in the group to the leader as well as post group discussions documented this phenomena with much private  talk of soul searching about the negative  consequences of supporting the leader rather than the women claiming abuse. And yet, in practice only woman could have stopped the “get the leader” dynamic. All  men were labelled abusers and therefore their comments were not considered relevant.

Unfortunately this is all a very common occurrence in scapegoating groups. Members who stubbornly holding to politically correct views rather than supporting reflection and exploration about  a given situation are complicit in keeping scapegoating alive and well. Of course, victims do need support even when they are perpetuating their own sacrificial roles and creating the scapegoat role for others.  One woman told the leader that a sacrifice was needed and the leader was strong enough to bear that. Perhaps she was right. My own sense ws there must be another way.

The Dynamics of War



No surprisingly,  since my last post in June, given the current events, Dr. Scapegoat has recieved several emails from Africa and the Middle East about the definition of Scapegoating in politics and warfare.  More specifically, how do we understand the continuation of  mutually destructive points of view, backed up by rhetoric,  kidnaping and war,  in terms of scapegoating dynamics? Does it help in any way to do that ?

Great questions prompted, I think, by frustration and agony.

I will take a try at answering. As I keep reiterating, scapegoating is a group and collective process. By scapegoating a  person, subgroup or even an idea, the group keeps a homogeneity which allows identity, comfort and the status quo. If you look at my South African  Scapegoating TedX talk  on You Tube, or dip into the book  Up from Scapegoating  you’ll find descriptions and diagrams about how scapegoats are constructed and then expelled by the  group. One of the pre-scapegoating dynamics is “jockeying for position”, basically politicking for power and alliances that will allow for  dominance,  at the least expelling some one beside oneself from the group.

Part of the this jockeying process results in many different pairs, alliances, and oppositions being formed,  all prelimiary  to  collective decision about who gets scapegoated. But if the group gets stuck in  oppositional pairing, and there is no third or fourth position, or some compromise  within the group or intervention from the outside, the aggressive pairing just goes on and on. Eventually the group loses any sense of purpose except managing this opposition and   adds revenge dynamics which as we know can last a very long time indeed.

This may seem overly complicated but we see the process in almost every group with major issues at stake. As implied above there is almost always the need in these situations for a special person or force, from within or outside the collective involved,  representing a bridge between the two positions to help move the group forward. People who take up this challenge have to be very skillful; often they help by themselves becoming the group scapegoat.

Unfortunatelywhen  scapegoating occurs in political venues and in particular in and between nation state groups, these oppositional pairings may  play out as wars. One point of view literally attempts to eject and  destroy  the other.  the loser often moves  into the revenge dynamic as Germany and Hitler did between World War One and Two.

Scapegoating Our Children: An Ancient Epidemic

Why are high school and college students on a rampage against their peers? Eliot Rodgers’ horrifying mayhem in Santa Barbara is so well documented by therapists, friends, police and parents that we have a personal narrative which explains a great deal. But what is the collective issue that supported his murderous rage? Contagion for sure. Throughout history, adolescents always strengthen shaky identities through fads and epidemics: physical symptoms like purging, anorexia, obesity; a variety of malicious pranks often associated with intoxicants and sex; or temporary adherence to radical political and religious movements, all of which may stretch into adulthood as careers, ideologies and belief systems. In our own day the workhorses of political terrorism are, as usual, mostly   innocents: adolescents and young adults, scapegoats of a system, the young ones who haven’t yet forged their own firm beliefs and act out the desires of others.

The line between causation, individual struggles such as is apparent in Eliot Rodgers, and the collective “support” so evident in suicide bombing is a difficult one to parse, but they coalesce around action. In the case of suicide bombing and radical political movements, the leaders and those who inspire such actions — potential scapegoaters all — are the adults involved. There’s nothing new about that. Parents, teachers, mentors, leaders have always sent children, theirs or others’, off to do battle for one cause or another. I was drafted into the Vietnam War by my elders, not my peers. I’ve always thought that if senators, congressmen and presidents had to leave their ordinary lives as I did and go through basic training, then enter the  killing fields (or in my case, treat the victims), most wars would never be fought.

In another generation Eliot Rodgers might have taken a different path. Perhaps self-immolation (like the Buddhist monks) without hurting others. Or five-day-a-week psychoanalysis! Without YouTube to talk to, perhaps he would have managed to turn his feelings of humiliation and rage into a life of service, as the last comment to this website suggested.

Mental health services weren’t enough for Rodgers. Perhaps his affliction was just too deep for healing. But society has a role, too, by providing the means and the mode for his actions. The scapegoaters of the world will always be with us. They are us.  Healing our collective selves is sometimes easier than healing one person.

Hazing: A Quick and Dirty Fix

Hazing. It’s an activity I particularly dislike.   Pain, humiliation and shaming are invoked to “make men and women” out of boys and girls. Think of it like whipping our kids–or slaves, when slaves abounded in the United States. Think of it as a kissing cousin to sexual abuse of children. Hazing, a virulent form of scapegoating behavior, uses physical and psychological violence to enforce roles and relationships which please and profit the ones who hold the whips. It pleasures sadists and creates victims among the powerless. Hazing engenders more hazing. It perpetuates itself from generation to generation.

Whipping and slavery is outlawed in most part of the world, though not all. Hazing should be too, universally.

The sort of extreme work and discipline that is required to competently learn a difficult role, such as we find in medical school or basic training in the Marines, is not hazing, although it can become that with leaders who are inadequately trained or do not understand the goal of the training. As a medical student, I am my classmates worked long hours to learn our discipline. Not scapegoating.  But we also were forced into frequent all-nighter and 72 hour weekend which served no learning task but did provide skilled labor at cheap wages. Yes, scapegoating. I remember asking my teachers over bleary early morning rounds what the purpose of these ordeals were. The answers were much the same as provided by fraternity leaders in justifying hazings: to solidify identity, to bind with our colleagues, to promote group cohesion etc. It did nothing of the kind.  What it consistently achieved was perpetuation of a very bad system. Hazing like all sadistic behavior is an infection which transmits its poison. See one, do one, teach one is an elegant teaching model for bad as well as good ideas behaviors.

Six recent student death’s in Portugal apparently caused by hazing in universities were recently reported in the New York Times.  Jose Miguel Caldas  de Almeida, a professor of psychiatry and a former dean of the medical faculty at Nova University in that country provided a fascinating analysis. He said that until two decades ago “hazing in Lisbon simply didn’t exist.” But, he went on, with declining quality in higher education, “many of our universities, especially private ones, are of bad quality, so people are desperately trying to recreate the feeling that studying there is something special.” He added that what he witnessed as a university dean “was more violent than the hazing that I saw in the Army in Africa while serving there as a military doctor during the Portugal’s colonial wars.”

Just as individuals who have little self-esteem turn to scapegoating to further enhance their identity, so groups struggling with their own inferiority  turn to scapegoating to find a special and exciting distinctiveness.Hazing in tottering system isa quick and dirty fix and a lot easier and more destructive than working positively to achieve excellence.