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Scapegoat: A History of Blaming Other People…

Scapegoat: A History of Blaming Other People

by Charlie Campbell

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Scapegoats have been a part of society likely from its inception. Scapegoats serve a very important purpose, particularly to those who hold the most power. Most leaders do not admit culpability, and a scapegoat is a handy tool of deflection. Of course, kings can also become scapegoats, and the line between them is murky and tenuous.

Throughout history, you can find that scapegoats abound. Some that Campbell discusses include Christ, Tlazolteotl, Shira, Buddha, Jews, women, witches, animals, corpses, inanimate objects, demons, and Communists. Even in religion, the devil functions as a scapegoat, placing evil within him rather than within ourselves or with God. I love that this book did not try to say every possible thing about scapegoats or go into excruciating detail about each scapegoat he highlights. It is a short treatise that makes its points succinctly, efficiently, and directly.

I have never thought about scapegoats much, but after reading Campbell’s book I see that I gave them short shrift. Scapegoats have a lot to say about society and individuals. When something goes wrong, being able to dehumanize and blame someone else makes us feel better. Scapegoating also solves our internal cognitive dissonance when we cannot reconcile our own dual natures. It doesn’t solve any real problems, of course; it just covers them up. “The scapegoat is the symbol for the part of us that we most wish to remove and that society fears most at the same time” (p. 187).
  Carlie | Jun 10, 2013 |
The book Scapegoat by Charlie Campbell takes a look at the role scapegoats have played in human society throughout recorded history. He strives to find an answer – in jargon-free, readable English – to why we have always had a built-in wish to cast blame. Campbell starts by investigating first the word, then some of the earliest known instances of scapegoating. He also examines different aspects of the phenomenon (different kinds of scapegoats), and slowly makes his way to modern times. Witch burnings understandably occupy a major chunk in the book, but Campbell finds also many rarer examples. This small (200 pages) and concise work serves as an excellent introduction into the topic. Endnotes and a bibliography help those who want to read more.
EJ 05/2012
  PeskyLibrary | May 16, 2012 |
Scapegoat: A History of Blaming Other People, by Charlie Campbell, is a slight volume that chronicles the human tendency to assign blame for things that go wrong, from blaming animals (the infamous goat, for example) to religious groups (Jews, especially) to entire genders (women, obviously) and also to blame individual people such as Alfred Dreyfus in 1880s France. Although the book tries to develop a common theme about the need to find causes for unexplained negative phenomenon, it's really a compendium of loosely related anecdotes that the author uses to explicate his theme; as such it is quite entertaining, for example in the chapter, "The Literal Scapegoat," which cites various cases in the Middle Ages in which weevils or locusts or other insects are accused, put on trial and, in some cases, excommunicated for destroying crops. There are some serious discussions of the results of the need to blame, for example the section concerning witchcraft and the treatment of women in various societies, but for the most part the tone of the book is quite humourous. One feature that I like in this book is that there are footnotes, something I expect in non-fiction, but these footnotes are of the sort involving snippets of trivia that don't otherwise fit into the main narrative but which are too entertaining to leave out. If you want a serious discussion of the psychology of blaming others, this is not that book; but for a short, breezy trip through various creatures that have served the purpose, it's quite an enjoyable read. ( )
  thefirstalicat | Mar 27, 2012 |
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Traces the history of blaming others, exposes the anger and irrationality of it, and reveals man's capacity to cast blame.

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