The Corner

Beware the Dangers of Scapegoating

Scapegoating is a very old, perhaps even an inherently human impulse; when the community is threatened, people will in many instances lay the blame on a “polluted” one who, though not in any rational sense responsible for the crisis, is believed to have some occult or magical connection to it. The impulse is the origin of the pharmakos in old Greece and the subject of Conrad’s novel about the Narcissus, in which the old sailor, Singleton, and others make James Wait the scapegoat for the troubles the Narcissus encounters. (“The chap was nothing but trouble . . . from the moment he came aboard”).

The same impulse can be observed in attempts to lay the sins of yesterday’s shootings in Arizona on Sarah Palin. It is no more rationally justifiable to blame her for inciting political violence (on the basis of the Facebook election map) than it is to arraign President Obama on the same charge (on the basis of the Univision interview in which he urged voters to “punish” their “enemies”).

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