Help us sharing our research, consultation and experiences

Donate Now

The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The Transfer of Evil

The term scapegoat is currently surrounded and complicated by ideas like blame, visual difference, intense dislike or even uncompromising hatred and contempt. We may be unequivocally opposed to it's more recognisable manifestations in racism and bullying. But disapproval is not enough. Questions arise. Is there an aspect of human behaviour that is universal and manifests itself in attempts to diminish or alleviate guilt and fear of punishment by some form of transfer of responsibility onto someone or something else? Is there some basic need in human beings to ward off responsibility, to transfer badness and evil to others? Someone has to take the blame to allow the rest of us to continue our normal functions, nominally at least free of guilt or responsibility for events past. I first examined this in terms of individual destructive narcissism as manifest in the Gothic novel, (Gold 1985).However, the scapegoat is an external victim and no one has any hesitation re it's meaning. It indicates both the innocence of the victim and collective polarisation of opposition to him/her and the inevitable result of that polarisation. Because everyone uses it to some degree, there is a reluctance to explore the meaning and history of it. To be as clear as I can, I believe it is possible and necessary to dissect the concept into three interlocking components. Magical thought and the myths that surround it linked to belief in a God or Gods. Unconscious process linked to primitive thinking mostly of a persecutory nature, linked to large group dynamics. And third, conscious manipulation for gain or protection leading to victimisation of the scapegoat and reward for the persecutor. All have the need to survive at their base. I believe it may be useful to see them all as biologically determined, in the sense of the instinct for survival linked to the inevitability of aggression. They are psychologically understandable and organisationally necessary to preserve the viability of the enterprise. They become individually inevitable if we are to survive, and are therefore culturally enforced. The process involves boundaries, internal between the rational, (Conscious),and irrational, (Unconscious), and are projected externally and based on difference and the fear of difference. It is initiated by the threat of change and the possibility of individual responsibility and guilt for misfortune or tragedy, and replaces components of the work group mentality with paranoid perceptions of the environment characterised in group terms by basic assumption fight/flight.