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.