Scapegoating—blaming an entire group of people for the acts of a few of the members in the group. Muslims and Mexicans have been recently used as scapegoats. Two problems in the US are acts of terrorism and weakness in the economy. It’s convenient to blame the problems on Muslims and Mexicans.
There is no doubt that a small numbers in the groups have contributed to problems. It’s also true the overwhelming bulk of both groups have not caused the problems.
With respect to terrorism, a recent study (Cato Institute) looked at the risks of immigration and terrorism. It concluded that the odds of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist entering the US are many hundreds of times less frequent than by cars or guns.
Simplify beyond Reality
What’s wrong with trying to solve problems by scapegoating? Part of the answer is scapegoating simplifies problems too much, ignoring other causes. Many acts of terrorism are performed by non-Muslims. Scapegoating does nothing about that. Also, there are numerous factors causing poor economic performance, beyond those involving Mexico and Mexicans.
From psychology, we know that children who grew up as the scapegoat in a family are likely to develop trust issues, resentment, and low self-esteem. It doesn’t take much to see the same breakdown occurring in national relationships.
Advantages to the User
By focusing public attention on the scapegoats, the manipulator gains certain advantages.
- It simplifies a problem such that a bumper sticker slogan can solve it.
- It deflects attention from other activities the user doesn’t want looked into.
- If a bad event occurs, the user can blame the scapegoat rather than examine its own policies.
- Scapegoating works equally well if a bad act occurs or does not.
- If it does, then the scapegoating was not broad enough and must broadened to include more.
- If it does not, that proves the scapegoating was needed.
Disadvantages to the Public
United States citizens lose in several ways.
- The innocents (the majority of the scapegoated group) suffer.
- A wedge is driven into the trust needed between groups. Society requires trust to work smoothly.
- Scapegoats teaches us to view actions through glasses that do not reflect reality. It’s an attempt to bend reality and interpretation to a stereotyped, prejudiced point of view.
- We learn to fear “the other,” a significant degradation of civil society.
- You may be in the next scapegoat group.
If someone uses scapegoats, you can be sure that someone is trying to manipulate your feelings so that your behavior can be directed by them for their advantage.