And now the blame game!

The road to wisdom?
well, it’s plain and simple to express
Err and err and err again
but less and less and less
(Piet Hein, A Danish scientist/mathematician and a poet))

How simple to understand this and yet how difficult to carry out in practice? These were my thoughts as I saw the reactions of BJP leaders after the Bihar debacle. One would think that now that the elections results are out, it’s time for some genuine introspection among their leaders. Unfortunately, that did not happen. It turns out to be the time for scapegoating. As they say, victory has several fathers while a defeat is an orphan. No one wants the blame to lie at his door step, so the blame keeps travelling. As it became clear that senior leaders were to blame for the debacle, a convenient scapegoat was invented to keep everyone happy. The scapegoat turned out to be wrong arithmetic calculations on the part of BJP. What a clever ploy! This at once exonerates everyone who matters in the party hierarchy.

I’m told the expression scapegoat has biblical roots. Jesus was said to be the sacrificial lamb whose sacrifice at the cross washed away the sins of the mankind. Old testament refers to an interesting story which reveals the origin of a scapegoat. In a ceremony called the day of atonement, two goats are paraded to the place of sacrifice. one of them is sacrificed while the other one is allowed to escape with its life. This is the ‘escape goat’. This goat, then, receives all the blame and subjected to all kinds of transgressions by people. Finally it’s sent to a solitary land of wilderness, symbolically a spiritual wilderness.This was how people freed themselves of evil.

I was under the impression that scapegoating is peculiar to humans until I read a story about monkeys. Monkeys have a well established hierarchy and whenever a trouble arose, there is tension in the air and the leader has to find a release. This is usually done by choosing the weakest guy in the group and tearing him apart. In fact, the scapegoat would know it before it happens and would go into hiding the moment he senses tension around. Apart from releasing tensions, it also safeguards the interests of the strong. It’s always less risky to fight with weaklings. The strong can then celebrate the mauling of a weakling which helps to release tension.

While humans may not do it so blatantly as the monkeys, they do it in several subtle ways. When a guy faces a problem in the office, for instance, its usual for him to let off steam by throwing tantrums at home. Even a child knows by instinct when he can or cannot take liberties with his or her parents.

History has innumerable examples of scapegoats. Saddam Hussein was the scapegoat for Bush after the 9/11 tragedy. The US was a wounded tiger after the tragedy and badly needed to release its tension. Saddam became a convenient target and paid the penalty with his life. At the end of it all, when it came to light that Iraq did not possess the weapons of mass destruction, Bush promptly blamed CIA for providing misleading intelligence reports!

In the US, immigrants end up as the whipping boys whenever there is an unemployment problem.

In India, it’s very common for governments to blame the ubiquitous foreign hand for all that goes wrong. Talking of foreign hand, people of foreign origin often faced persecution historically. Marie Antoinette’s lavish spending was blamed for the country’s financial crisis in France in 1790s. That she was of Austrian origin made her an easy target during the French revolution.

In the middle ages, witch hunting – the search for people labelled as witches – was an example of scapegoating. Of course, the most horrific story on scapegoating in history, without doubt, is that of Holocaust involving genocide of six million jews.

Scapegoating as a way of releasing tension is often seen in sports too. Vandalism by cricket or foot ball fans to vent out their frustration and anger is well-known when their favourite teams lose.

Are there any examples from our scriptures? Yes, an episode from Ramayana comes to my mind. When Rama was asked go to go to forest by Dasaratha, Mandara was the fist scapegoat. When it did not help anyone, Kaikeyi was blamed. When that too did not stick, Dasaratha was blamed for surrendering meekly to Kaikeyi. Finally, Lakshmana blamed Rama himself for his inaction – for not acting against injustice. Rama, on his part, defended his action to go to forest saying that things happen in life according to one’s destiny. He accepted it without blaming anyone.

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Published in: on November 15, 2015 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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