The idea of the scapegoat goes back centuries, as has societies’ need for them. Far from dying out, the scapegoat is still gainfully employed today, as evidenced most recently by the conspiracies peddled over social media during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In times of tragedy, disaster, or severe hardship, it seems that we have an innate human and societal need to point a finger and apportion blame, something rulers with a strong sense of self-preservation have long known.
The person or thing to which we point is the scapegoat. How we — and authors — identify them is among the subjects of discussion in a new book by Italian authors Gabrio Forte, Claudia Mazzucato, Alessandro Provera, and Arianna Visconti.
‘The Shadow of the Column of Shame: Literature and the Fallacy of the Scapegoat,’ published by Vita e Pensiero in Italy, explores the concept of prejudice and the conditions needed to choose a sacrifice from among the innocents.
A scapegoat’s long history
The search for, and selection of, a scapegoat — upon which or whom to attach blame — has been considered by many of literature’s greats, including John Steinbeck, Albert Camus, George Orwell, and Johan Huizinga.
To understand how a society or community scapegoats is, in part, to understand its myths, superstitions, fears, and practices.
As many of these authors would attest, scapegoating often involves a presumed ‘public enemy’ or ‘delinquent’ who poses a threat to society, one of literature’s eternal themes that seems to stretch through time and era.