In times of universal deceit, telling
the truth is a revolutionary act.
         - George Orwell

Napoleon once observed that "history" is a set of lies agreed upon. In an era of ubiquitous fake news and information warfare, this has never been more true. The very concept of objective truth in history is fading out of our world. Pure propaganda and outright lies are passing into our history textbooks as unquestioned truth, condemning future generations to false views about historical reality. But the task of sifting through the lies and propaganda is overwhelming, limited by the ambition and time constraints of most observors. Only those who have dedicated their lives to sorting reality from falsehood are qualified to rewrite "consensus" history as a duty to humanity. The contributors to this site endeavor to do just that.

(Read More)

Friday, April 14, 2017

On Scandals and Scapegoats - The REAL Easter Message

Our prayers are always answered - even if that means that, sometimes, God says 'no' to our wishes or gives us what we truly need.  People often turn to God when their foundations are shaking, only to discover that it's God who's shaking them.  The conscious mind cannot always foresee what is for our highest good.  Faith involves a basic trust in the universe - that everything is for our highest good.
     Is this true?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  But when we choose to believe it, and act accordingly, life flows better.  You then don't feel like a victim of circumstance.  Your attitude stays stronger and more positive.  Difficulties are perceived as a chance to engage in 'spiritual weight lifting', a challenge to strengthen the spirit.  Problems are a gift, even if they are not appreciated at the time.  Pain and suffering is a way of shaking us up, of getting our attention.  But that doesn't make pain and suffering the desired path for self-improvement.  It is more like a last resort, a harsh message, when the gentler ones - your dreams and intuitions - have been ignored.  This is the message of an excellent and transformative novel, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman.  As Millman writes, "It's not the way TO the peaceful warrior, it's the way OF the peaceful warrior.  The journey itself creates the warrior."

To become a peaceful warrior in this life is not easy - just ask Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or Jesus.  The Bible is unique in world literature in that its heroes - such as Job or Jesus - often take the role of victims.  Each invites us to move away from the mob-psychology scapegoating propensities of the crowd towards an imitation of Christ.  Mimesis, or the mimicking of role models, is the desire that lives through imitation.  Mimetic desire, or coveting, is not a human instinct, bur rather taught and learned.  We compete with one another to become better imitators of our role models, wanting what they want - be it sex, new shoes, a haircut or a fancy car.  In a world of scarcity and limited resources, this form of primal desire almost always leads to conflict, and this conflict to violence.  This is the understanding promoted by French theologian Rene Girard in his ground-breaking work, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning   (Ottawa: Novalis, 2009).

The history of the world might be traced back to this all-telling word, mimesis.  Men's fame and fortune have always been prey to scandal, notes Girard.  "Scandal" translates words from both Greek and Hebrew that mean "stumbling block", "trap" or "snare."  It is a situation in which people feel blocked or obstructed from the thing they desire, such as power, prestige, sex or property.  Scandals can accumulate in a social environment when enough people are frustrated in their desire to get what they want, such that those involved must "let off steam" or else the social fabric will burst.  Then all those involved in this tangle of rivalry turn their frustrated desire against a victim, someone who is blamed, who is identified as a offender causing the scandal.  The whole process is an unconscious one.  The identification and lynching of a victim can be called the "single victim mechanism", whereby a community converges upon a single person to blame for its troubles.

The Bible identifies this whole process as the work of "Satan."  The name 'Satan' itself derives from, and is interchangeable with 'the accuser', and in the book of Job he is nothing short of a chief prosecuting magistrate, the prosecutor in a case at court.  Depersonalized, Satan is the human process of finger-pointing and assigning blame.  Satan has no independent 'being' outside of the parasitic social phenomena of blaming others, projecting our own evils (or frustrated desires) onto others. When we point fingers and blame someone for social tensions, we become Satan(ic).  The person selected to be blamed is usually weak and unable to defend themself.  The community unconsciously identifies the victim as someone that can be eliminated without fear of reprisal.  By assigning blame, we create victims - scapegoats.

The term 'scapegoat' derives from the ancient Judaic practice of the priesthood placing the sins of the people on an innocent animal, which is then sent out into the desert and sacrificed.  The practice is described in Leviticus 16, and served to 'cleanse' the social order of tensions by killing an innocent victim.  Sacrificing victims to calm tensions between the members of society probably has even more ancient roots that involved human sacrifice before animals began to be substituted.  In either case, the practice became the basic human method of dealing with scandal as the stress of conflict and violence and frustrated desires gained an outlet and relief.

 The whole process became entwined with the origins of human culture itself worldwide, found time and again in global mythology under different guises.  Peace, solidarity, and even euphoria were experienced by societies that succeeded in eliminating someone as a victim - a scapegoat.  The transference of collective sins and scandals onto an individual which is then driven out became the preferred social "pressure valve" to prevent mass violence and preserve social cohesion at minimal cost to society.  Of course, there WAS a cost, and that is the sacrifice of an innocent victim.

                                              Those in bondage, those in power,
                                              All men of all times agree
                                              That creation's highest flower is man's personality.

                                              That no life deserves man's scorning
                                              If he, what he is, remains,
                                             That no loss is worth mourning, if his self he but retains.

                                           - Goethe (translated by Heinz Norden)

We can see this process at work most clearly with US foreign policy.  At any given time, there is always a bogey-man broadcast on the hate-screen worthy of our scorn and derision, someone to concentrate the pent-up energies of native frustration and focus them outwards.  It's one of the oldest tricks in the book:  leaders will unify their controlled populations by rallying around a common enemy.  And nothing does this better than having a war, justified because that enemy "hit us first."  Hitler did it to invade Poland, just as the United States did it to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now they are using the same trick against Syria and North Korea.

All the ancient methods and customs of eliminating an individual to satisfy and appease the collective frustrations of the social organism are on display with the myth of Jesus.  The Gospel story very much relates how the pressures of living under Roman occupation, with factions competing for social and political control, ended up with the selection of a scapegoat - Jesus, not Barabas - and his elimination. But unlike all other mythologies which glorify the collective actions of the crowd and reaffirm the guilt and worthy elimination of the victim, the Christian story deviates from the normal sense of divine justice having been served and instead sides with the victim.

        The mythic power of the victim mechanism is subverted in principle, and in its stead the concern for victims becomes the absolute value in society.  God stands on the side of all those who are oppressed and who are unjustly accused of crimes, and instead plans to establish a universal order where love, joy, and forgiveness - "the kingdom of God" - reigns supreme.  Individuals no longer need to be sacrificed in order to allow the community to go on jockeying for power, prestige, sex and possessions; the objects of desire are themselves called into question and subjugated to the higher desire of a world of absolute love.  A new set of values has been interjected into human history, and a 'democracy of souls' introduced whereby everyone, sinners and innocent alike, are equal before God.

At the heart of Christianity's gift to humanity is the recognition that the defense of victims is both a moral imperative and the source of our increasing power to demystify scapegoating.  We don't have to drive unwanted members of society out or stone them to death; we can forgive them and move on peacefully.  Jesus is a cultural hero - "God incarnate" - not by the false unanimity that puts only a temporary relief valve on social tension, but rather because he was unsuccessfully scapegoated by demonstrating a heroic willingness to die for the truth that will ultimately expose the unconscious sources of violence.  The entire cycle of satanic (accusational) violence is made visible by his standing up for all victims everywhere even as he himself was being victimized to the point of death.  As every Christian will testify, "the kingdom of Satan" will only give way to "the kingdom of God" when we learn to stop blaming and love another.

This ethos has taken two thousand years to permeate western society and become (ostensibly, at least) the aspired-to morality in the face of ceaseless wars and scarcity.  It was even secularized in the stated ethical formulas of Marxism and liberal democracy alike two centuries ago.  But unfortunately, the pendulum has swung too far, with concern for "victims" taking on a mantle of self-righteousness that has allowed for new types of victimization, both dubious and sadistic.

 The dubious type is the one which sees people claiming victim status as a way of gaining social advantage.  We see this all the time in the social democracies of the West, where people will claim that they have been victimized in order to win a liability case in court or secure themselves a steady welfare cheque from the government.  The sadistic type comes in the form of overstating victimization in order to justify criminal prosecution, creating yet more victims within the criminal justice system.  Two wrongs don't make a right, and the ongoing social-judicial trend of harsher sentences for convicted criminal exacerbates the problem of expanding the range and scope of victimization in society to include the justice system itself as perpetrators.

 Whatever one thinks of the Catholic Church, we can agree with the late Pope John Paul II when he said:  The worst prison is a closed heart.  We must recognize our humanity, our sinfulness and frailty, and learn to forgive one another.  We need to extend understanding and compassion to all people, whether black or white, young or old, male or female, incarcerated or free.  We need to wake each other up to the reality of our being and the injustices of this world, because we owe it to ourselves and our grandchildren.  Only by being the change we want to see in the world can we begin to heal the ancient wounds which still scar our culture and make us hide from the truth.  For,

                                 Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.
                                                     - John 8:32

No comments:

Post a Comment