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Each issue in Thoughts For The Soul we explore the more serious side of the Universe. We discuss, question and ponder a particular facet of life, and then present our Thought For The Soul. In the early days of Critical Miss, this thought was a profound quote. But since then we've got sidetracked, and now usually present some mad theory that the editor (that's me) has come up with. These theories have varied, but have generally been related to the ongoing theme of why - when we were teenagers - we had such a shit time at school.

With that tradition in mind, this issues Thought For The Soul presents "Scapegoat Theory".

What Is Scapegoat Theory?

Man is a social animal. We are not like cats, who hunt alone. We are instead like dogs, who hunt as a pack. It is generally accepted that human beings are stronger when they band together. As the old quote goes:

"United we stand, divided we fall."

Clearly, if you take thirty cave-people, they would not fare well if they organised themselves as thirty separate groups of one.

But I believe that most people fall into the trap of assuming that the most efficient mode of organisation for them is the exact opposite - a single group of thirty people.

This I believe is incorrect.

I believe that the most efficient way for them to be organised is a group of twenty-nine cave people, with the thirtieth person kept isolated and ostracised. Not totally separate. you understand, otherwise he would starve or be killed and they would be back where they started. But distinct. He will be allowed to partially belong to the tribe. He will be fed, after a fashion. But socially, he will be treated as a semi-despised outsider.

Why Do We Scapegoat?

Imagine my hypothetical tribe of thirty cave-people, all working together. This ideal - them all working as a happy harmonious group - is actually quite hard to achieve. People bicker. Frustrations flare into rows. People fail to identify with the group.

Which is where the scapegoat comes in. If one of the tribe is selected to be the scapegoat (if you're not understanding this, just thing of him as the loser who they all bully and take the piss out of) the other twenty-nine will get several benefits:

They will have someone to take out their frustrations out on, safely, without affecting the overall cohesion of the tribe.

They will have a common belief to unify them (i.e. that so-in-so is a complete tosser).

They will all feel happy and secure in the knowledge that there is someone further down the social pecking order than them, which reduces the incidence of socially damaging attempts to increase status.

It is true that the scapegoat will be able to contribute little to the workings of the tribe. In fact, keeping him as a scapegoat effectively precludes his helping out. For example, he would not be allowed to go hunting with the menfolk, because that would give him a status within the tribe (scapegoating usually requires that the person concerned be treated as having little or no social value).

Basically he (or she) is the tribe's safety valve.

But the crucial fact is this:

Twenty-nine happy, harmonious cave-people will be stronger and more effective than thirty, disunited, bickering cave-people.

Which makes the scapegoat worth feeding.

Summary Of Scapegoat Theory

So, to summarise, scapegoat theory is this:

"Whenever several human beings form a social grouping, one of them is likely to be chosen as the scapegoat, and therefore be socially ostracised. The larger the grouping, the more likely this is to happen. A scapegoat can cause him or herself to be the chosen one by behaving inappropriately. Alternatively, if no obvious candidate presents themself, one will be chosen by group consensus, usually by picking a person who differs in a particular way from the other members of the group (higher social class, lower social class, different race, wears glasses, has spots etc.)."

Or:

"United bar one we stand, united we divide and fall."

How Does Scapegoating Happen Now?

On An Individual Level

Scapegoating explains the tendency of children (and adults) to bully individuals.

In any grouping of schoolchildren, you will generally find one individual who is the butt of all the jokes and false rumours, and the obvious target for anyone who fancies slapping someone around a bit. In my class at secondary school, for example, it was me.

(Not that I'm in any way bitter or twisted about it. Bastards.)

You will often see similar behaviour among adults, at workplaces. This is usually a bit more subtle (you can generally visit the toilets without being afraid of having your head flushed down the loo) but you will often find that there is one employee in the company who is the butt of all the jokes.

In case you're wondering, this has never, thankfully, been me. (When I got into the workplace, I found that being academically gifted had suddenly been transformed into a POSITIVE social attribute. Which was nice.)

On A Larger Group Level

As human beings organised themselves into larger social groupings, the scapegoats came to be groups themselves. Many countries used (in less enlightened times) to ostracise sections of communities, sometimes a caste, sometimes a backwards region. (Think of all the "stupid people from region X" jokes that you get all around the world).

Actually, now that I come to think of it, many countries still do this.

Do I Really Believe This?

Actually, yes. I think it's a pretty horrifying theory. But I do honestly believe that it has elements of truth in it.

But remember one thing. Just because evolution has programmed us to do something doesn't mean we have to do it. In no way am I saying that the justifies picking on people, even if they are total losers.


What do you think of this article?

It ascended to heaven and walked with the gods.
It was very good.
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It was okay.
It was a bit bad.
It was very bad.
It sucked, really, really badly.