How the Goat is Scaped

In ancient Greece, the scapegoat was selected each year via ostracism. The men of the polis would assemble, and each would write the name of his least favorite fellow on a potsherd – an ostracon. The ostraca would be collected, and the man most generally resented would be the chosen victim, banished forthwith.

Where execution of the scapegoat was wanted, it too sometimes proceeded by way of ostraca. The victim was flayed and then dismembered with their sharp edges – the death of a thousand cuts.

We’ve replaced ostraca with tweets, blog posts, and journalism, and we’ve broadened the class of people who can tender their votes on the scapegoat. We have also increased the frequency of ostracism from annual to semiseptimanal. Aside from that, the process is much the same as in ancient Greece. No good reason for banishment need be adduced; any reason will do, no matter how fatuous, petty, or absurd. None of it needs to make any sense. A scapegoat is required, so someone must be chosen to be the victim; better then to choose the least liked person – the odd man out, the black sheep, the obstreperous, the eccentric, the autistic, the disabled or deformed, the rude, the mad, the disagreeable prophet, the creative genius, the criminal – the heterodox.

Execution has not among us yet, thank Heaven, been deemed quite needful. But that day may soon come.

Death by tweet: it is a sobering thought.

Conservatives are wont to notice that liberalism is philosophically and practically incoherent. So it is. But this is no defect in it when we consider that it is not intended to be, nor does it operate as, a rational system of political order, but rather only as a routine for ostracizing scapegoats. As such, it does not need to make sense. In fact, it is perhaps better (from its own perspective) that it make no sense, that it be crazed and insane, a lapse of rationality. The scaping of the goat, or as needs be his scraping, probably *must* be a moment of collective insanity, if it is to perform its cathartic function.

What we have with post-modern liberalism is all catharsis, all the time. As insanity and irreality more and more pervade the culture, the tensions and resentments generated in daily life by the dissonance between reality and culture can only grow, and with them the demand for catharsis in ritual sacrifice of scapegoats. It’s a classic positive feedback circuit. In the limit, social order threatens to dissolve altogether into riot, and you get daily sacrifices on an Aztec scale. At that point, the whole system is teetering at the verge of complete collapse into chaos. Massive daily bloodletting at the temples of the state religion is the only way to sop up the terrific ambient anxiety – and kill potential revolutionaries among the malcontents – and thus prevent free lance ad libitum internecine warfare such as we now see incipient in our urban hells.

And then, you get Hernán Cortés. He did not beat Moctezuma with his own paltry force, despite the overwhelming Spanish advantage in lethality per warrior. He did it with the help of enraged surrounding tribes who had supplied their young as meat to the Aztecs for a generation.

16 thoughts on “How the Goat is Scaped

  1. Pingback: How the Goat is Scaped | Neoreactive

  2. Spontaneous executions occur all the time. Liberals call them, taking the side of the persecutors, “being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” or something (fill in the blank) “gone wrong.”

    • Yes: “it was a random attack.” I.e., no good reason need be adduced for the selection of the victim. So, none should be sought. Nothing to see here; move along.

      Interesting also that the perpetrators in such cases are emptied of all their moral agency – and thus of all guilt – by the discourse of the press. They were themselves victims of racism, thus incapable of independent moral action or ratiocination. The victims “were killed.” Note the passive voice. It is as if the perpetrators were a force of nature. The only time this does not happen is when a perp is a white male.

      • Yes – and we must understand these events as tacitly sanctioned by the establishment; the doers of the fell deeds are proxies for the priesthood. The euphemism for the activity is “community organizing.” It took Christianity two thousand years to wean the West from its origins in “community organizing,” as instantiated, for example, by the pharmakos ritual in Athens, but in forty or fifty years that magnificent achievement, the only real progress that has ever occurred, has been largely annulled.

  3. One phase of sacrifice, which Kristor has touched on in his post concerning immolation and comestibility, is the sparagmos, the rendering, so to speak, of the ritual victim, as in Eighteenth-Century drawing-and-quartering, or the Classical Greek hecatomb. The community carves up the slaughtered victim for consumption, one way or another. (A hungry man might gnaw on a bone; a sated man might contemplate the bone and invent the flute – see the myth of Pan and Syrinx.) We know that abortion is a sacrament of the Liberal State. Nothing is more sacred. The run of women will tell you so. We now also know that representatives of Planned Parenthood, North America’s most prominent abortion “provider,” carve up the fetuses that they collect to sell the parts to the highest bidders. It is the sparagmos. (See the myths of Zagreus and The Titans and Baby Dionysus.) It is no better morally than the daily sweet-meat sacrifice atop the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan.

    Mr. Prescott, the American Protestant who wrote the first English-language history of the Conquistadors in Mexico, concluded his two-volume study with the judgment that, as awful as the Inquisition was in Mexico, it was morally less abhorrent than the Aztec polity.

    • scapegoat (n.), “goat sent into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement, symbolic bearer of the sins of the people,” coined by Tyndale from scape (n.1) + goat to translate Latin caper emissarius, itself a translation in Vulgate of Hebrew ‘azazel (Lev. xvi:8,10,26), which was read as ‘ez ozel “goat that departs,” but which others hold to be the proper name of a devil or demon in Jewish mythology (sometimes identified with Canaanite deity Aziz).

      scape (n.1) “scenery view,” 1773, abstracted from landscape.

      scape (v.) late 13c., shortened form of escape; frequent in prose till late 17c. Related: Scaped (sometimes 15c.-16c. with strong past tense scope); scaping. As a noun from c. 1300.

  4. The words are related.

    The scapegoat, as such, is driven out; that is, the community expels him but permits him to escape its ire with his life. Hence scapegoat, the first element of which is related to the French echaper (v) and escapade (n), both of which contain the word for goat (Latin caper). The term is functionally precise.

    That the Anglo-Saxon word scape, as in landscape, resembles the Latinate escape (short-form: scape) is a coincidence which should not be allowed to confuse the issue. The Anglo-Saxon scape is simply a variant or precursor of shape.

    • That the Anglo-Saxon word scape, as in landscape, resembles the Latinate escape (short-form: scape) is a coincidence which should not be allowed to confuse the issue.

      Correct, although Tyndale – no slouch when it came to philology – must it seems have enjoyed the frisson that arose from that coincidence when he coined “scapegoat.” The scapegoat was driven out of the city *and into the scape of the Judean desert.*

      • Notice that the scapegoating ritual is already an ethical refinement. In the Dionysiac orgeia, the persecutors kill and devour the goat; and the commentators almost unanimously assume that even there the goat “stood in” for a previous human victim. Now if Burkert and Gans were right, the full sequence would be: original animal victim; human victim; with rising embarrassment, an animal victim again – the scapegoat. Even so, the seeming expulsion-without-a-killing camouflages what must be, in primitive society, the eventual fatality of having been driven out into the wilderness. So it is, sneakily, a killing, after all. (And suddenly I think of “the Voice crying in the wilderness.”)

        In Greek goat is tragos. Ode being a song, a tragedy is literally a goat-song. And not incidentally, again on Aristotle’s authority, drama derives from a Dorian verb, dran, meaning “to carry out a rite punctiliously.”

      • Nifty.

        The basic dramatic arc of all tragedy being, of course, the perpetration and then discovery of some radical affront to the socio-cosmic order – howsoever innocently inflicted – and its restoration by means of the demolition of the perpetrator (albeit not, always, only of him, but sometimes also of his whole house).

        I still though think that something important has been missed in overlooking the crucial difference between the scapegoat and the spotless lamb slain at the altar, so clearly set forth in the rite of the Day of Atonement. The goat all spotted with sin is driven out of the city into the desert. He is fed to the demons of the wastes, who live there. The spotless lamb is slain in consecration to El.

  5. These images trade on what people understood, but we should not let their familiarity disguise their radical character. The scapegoat, whether he is Oedipus or the actual scapegoat, appears guilty; the myth reports him as guilty. The lamb is precisely innocent. The Myth of Oedipus is ninety-nine per cent identical with the Story of Christ. The tiny, but enormous, difference is that the Myth declares Oedipus guilty – indeed, Oedipus joins his persecutors and declares himself guilty – but the story (not the people in the story, but the story itself) declares Jesus innocent.

    • Brilliant. The Judeans of the Passion story understood Jesus as guilty, as ritually unclean (thanks to his apparently blasphemous testimony that he is YHWH) and thus a fitting scapegoat – fitter by far than Barabbas the Zealot bandit, who after all had not blasphemed, but only murdered. The Galilean disciples of Jesus present in Jerusalem understood that he was innocent, because they knew he had spoken truly when he said he was YHWH. Eventually, they realized that his innocence had made him a fitting sacrificial lamb.

      The Galileans ended up telling the story that declared Jesus innocent, and that told of how the people had thought him unclean and made of him a scapegoat.

      • Barabbas, whose name means “Son of the Father.” Just as in the Oedipus-Myth (Oedipus/Creon) there is a mythic doubling in the Passion, which the mob can only understand as a competition, part of the sacrificial ritual in which they are engaging.

        I know that some Orthosphereans think I am hallucinating when I say that Pagan morality is hardly any different from Christian morality and that the real difference dividing them is epistemological. Stories are vessels of knowledge, one way or the other, depending on how they are told. Changing a tiny detail changes everything. I am not being relativistic, in case anyone feels motivated to suggest it. Some stories approach truth – such as the anthropological truth – more closely than others, and in this matter we can actually discern something that might be called “progress” without abusing the term.

  6. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/08/02) | The Reactivity Place

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