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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

HOW TO SCAPEGOAT THE LEADER: A Refresher Course (for those who do not need it)

My purpose in this presentation is to introduce the work of Rene Girard to those in this audience who may not be familiar with it. His 'mimetic theory' provides new insight into the way primitive communities sought to avoid violence and dissension by choosing a random victim as a scapegoat and by branding that one as the Other. Girard prefers to call the scapegoating mechanism a fact rather than a theory. James G. Williams, a leading proponent of Girard's work and translator of several of his books, proposes to call it an 'explanatory model.' (Williams, 1991, p. 260, n. 12) In the course of time the cycle of chaotic violence, followed by the, scapegoating of an individual or small group and the return to relative tranquility resulted in the establishment of the prohibitions, hierarchies, rituals and institutions that constitute what we call culture (Girard, 1987, p. 93. All references are to the English versions of Girard's works). Modern cultures are far removed from the founding violence, and have had other events that have mitigated the violent upheavals that wracked primitive cultures, but we still have the heritage of that mimetic mechanism. From time to time we see it reoccur as in, for example, East Timor, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Rwanda, Northern Ireland. In considerably more benign form it may be found in corporations, sporting teams, families and organizations. A case study of in a university will provide a current example of the working of the scapegoating mechanism. With such a heritage we hardly need a refresher course in how to scapegoat.