Mimetic theory’s understanding of the scapegoating mechanism is a vitally important contribution to peace making. René Girard discovered that the biggest obstacle to peace is not our enemies but our inability to recognize our own scapegoats. On this page you will find a quick introduction to the scapegoating mechanism and the way in which we can overcome our blindness in order to build sustainable and inclusive peaceful communities.
To achieve peace we must understand how scapegoating has been used to justify violence as a means to restore harmony and achieve peace since the beginning of civilization. The problem with scapegoating is not the result – peace is a good thing – but with the violent method used to achieve it. The costs of that method are measured in endless cycles of human suffering.
The Hidden Costs of Scapegoating
Scapegoating works by hiding the victim’s suffering so that scapegoaters never realize just how awful a deed they have done. With the suffering hidden, scapegoaters can continue to do harm while never doubting their own goodness or their victim’s guilt.
Someone to Blame
How is the suffering hidden? For scapegoating to occur, a community must agree on a target who can be blamed for anything that goes wrong. Sometimes a community just needs someone to BE wrong all the time, so they can know they are right. It really doesn’t matter if the person is actually guilty or wrong, as long as everyone agrees on it. That agreement allows the community to act against the scapegoat and feel justified. They can hate, abuse, ridicule, neglect, expel, wound or kill the scapegoat and actually experience feelings of joy and well-being afterward. Because the scapegoaters believe in the guilt of their scapegoat so completely, they are blind to the scapegoat’s suffering.
If You Have a Scapegoat, You Don’t Know It
No one wants to be a scapegoater. It’s an awful thing and we all know that. But the tricky thing about scapegoating is that if you are doing it, you are absolutely blind to it. What you think you are doing is being good by standing up against injustice or evil. You absolutely believe that you are right and the one whom you are scapegoating is no innocent victim at all, but someone who deserves to be hated. So how do you know if you are really standing up to injustice or just torturing some innocent victim?
- Cliques of popularity maintain the peace within their communities by focusing all their resentment outward against the unpopular. The clique never doubts their own goodness and never acknowledges the pain they have caused.
- An office staff may achieve harmony by blaming an unlucky team member for everything that goes wrong. The staff feels good and noble and remains completely unaware that they are being cruel and unfair.
- Individuals can do this, too. I can feel good about myself by hating a celebrity or politician or next door neighbor, feeling at peace with myself at the expense of an unfair attitude toward another.
Signs of Scapegoating
Here are some signs that you are scapegoating:
- You are absolutely convinced of someone’s guilt.
- You think that his version of things is filled with lies and distortions.
- You celebrate wounding, “killing off”, or killing another.
- If someone did to you what you are justifying in the name of goodness, their actions would be undeniable proof of their wickedness.
The Courage to End Scapegoating
To be sure you are not scapegoating, you must find the courage to honestly listen to the story of those whom you are convinced are guilty or evil. Seeing the suffering that they endure because of your persecution will destroy your ability to scapegoat them. The courage to end scapegoating requires the courage to admit you were wrong.