Showing posts with label scapegoats. Show all posts
Showing posts with label scapegoats. Show all posts

11 Aug 2017

The Wisdom of Solomon 1: On Sincerity, Authenticity, Black Sheep and Scapegoats

Simon Solomon (aka Dr Simon Thomas)
Dublin-based poet, critic and translator, Simon Solomon, has been kind enough to leave several lengthy comments on recent posts and I would like here to respond to some of his points, hopefully demonstrating the same intelligence, humour, and breadth of reading as this rather shadowy figure ...

I: Sincerity and Authenticity [See: Comes Over One an Absolute Necessity to Move ...]

I think, Simon, we might trace Lawrence's insistence on honesty to a rather old-fashioned form of moral sincerity, born of his nonconformist Protestant background, rather than the more modern, post-Romantic "cult of authenticity" to which you ascribe it.

In other words, he wants to say what he means and mean what he says, more than he cares about being true to some kind of ideal model of self. However, let's not get all Lionel Trilling about this and drive ourselves crazy trying to precisely define and differentiate each term.

Besides, either way, you're absolutely right that Wilde ironically mocks both ideals and exposes the ambiguities and contradictions to which they inevitably give rise. Sincerity or authenticity, authenticity or sincerity - let's call the whole thing off and pull up a couple of deckchairs in Eastbourne.

PS: As for honesty always being described in terms of brutality, this is probably just a cliché - unless, of course, we imagine the truth as something terrible (as, arguably, Lawrence himself imagines it; thus his insistence that when one speaks sincerely, one does so with the voice of a demon).

II: Baa, Baa, Black Sheep etc. [See: Separating the Black Sheep from the Scapegoats]

Despite the language drawn from analytic psychology, which, as you know, is anathema to me, I liked your reading of the black sheep as one who exists "in a state of ambivalent internal exile within the family constellation".

That's kind of how I feel: and, I suspect, kind of how you feel too. Indeed, this is probably a common feeling amongst all those who envy orphans and know that the most beautiful words in the world are those spoken by Meursault: Aujourd'hui, maman est morte.        

You're absolutely right to remind us of the scapegoat as a pharmakon (or, more accurately, a pharmakós); i.e., the unfortunate individual (often a slave, a cripple, or a criminal) either driven into exile, or ritualistically sacrificed in order to redeem the community and save it from disaster (be it plague, famine, or invasion).

I was interested, also, to read your take on René Girard's work on mimetic desire and his development of the so-called scapegoat mechanism. Your brilliant description of him "dragging the ancient Jewish scapegoat bleating and whimpering out of Leviticus into a libidinally saturated post-psychological age", made me smile and wish that I could write sentences like that.

And yes, as you rightly conclude, whether its Jews, queers, witches, or communists, history demonstrates that the scapegoat mechanism "is gloomily indispensable and only the targets change".

PS: I'm not entirely sure I understood the part about Christ and the redemption of desire, but, I suppose the story of Jesus is the ne plus ultra when it comes to scapegoat mythology. His attempt to universalise the idea and redeem all of humanity via his sacrifice could only ever fail. And his resurrection surely defeats the whole point, exposing the fraudulence not only of the scapegoat mechanism, but also lying at the heart of Christianity. If he died for our sins, then the Nazarene should at least have had the decency to stay dead.

Note: readers interested in part two of this post - On the Grain of the Voice and Further Remarks on Lunacy - should click here.

4 Aug 2017

Separating the Black Sheep from the Scapegoats

Chapter 25 of Matthew's Gospel famously closes with the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: 

"When the Son of Man comes in triumph, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." [25: 31-2] 

This distinguishing between two types of creature - be it farmyard beast or human being - is something that Christians, as obsessive moral dichotomists, love to do. But it's made a little trickier to divide into the good and the evil when dealing with black sheep and scapegoats.

For which of these deserves to be saved on the Day of Judgement and which is worthy of damnation; the one who (allegedly) brings shame upon his family, or the one who is burdened with sin by the family in order to take it away?

Some amongst the faithful will doubtless insist there is very little (if any) real difference between these two things - that they are effectively synonymous. Thus we should probably just kill 'em all and let God worry about the finer details: Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius, as Arnaud Amalric famously put it. 

Indeed, even some psychologists - who should know better - argue that the black sheep and scapegoat are one and the same animal (or at any rate two sides of the same archetypal coin). But I don't think so. For whilst many individuals who bring disgrace and cause disharmony within a group due to their wilful and sometimes perverse deviation from the accepted norms and values of that group are often scapegoated, not all scapegoats have dark wool.

And, further, as I indicate above, the scapegoat performs a crucial role within the group. For by accepting the blame for all wrongdoing as their own, they absolve the others of guilt and allow them to unite in innocence. That's not so true of the black sheep who often seeks to expose collective hypocrisy and make others feel bad about themselves as group members.

That said, in the long term groups also need their rebellious, decadent, and stand-out individuals who challenge perceived ideas and conventions; otherwise they really do become subject to flock behaviour - which is fine for real sheep, but not so desirable for men and women.

D. H. Lawrence, for example, describes the human flock in which oppressive conformity and insulated completeness is the rule, as the enemy and the abomination. It is, he says, not the leopard or brightly burning tiger - and not the black sheep or overweening individual - whom we should fear, but the masses of fluffy white sheep who bully and compel in the name of Love and Oneness.   

See: D. H. Lawrence, 'The Reality of Peace', in Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert, (Cambridge University Press, 1988).