I submitted this piece under "Positive News" because I believe that understanding the process known as "scapegoating" can free us from this pernicious pattern, reduce suffering, and liberate us to flourish as a species, capable of true community. In the final analysis, if we are to survive as a species we need to re-own and re-claim our individual and group shadows, rather than project them onto others.
We are both individuals and part of many groups - work-groups, families, schools, communities and nations. As we've recently seen in the January 6th debacle at the Senate and House of Representatives, groups can sometimes become dangerous mobs. The Inquisition and Nazi Holocaust are other examples of destructive collective behavior.
We need to understand how group psychology can drag us toward the lowest common denominator of human functioning.
World-renowned founder of Analytical (or "depth") Psychology, Carl Jung, was known for his study of archetypes, which can be defined as universal, primal symbols and images that derive from the collective unconscious. They are the psychic counterpart of instincts and are described as innate knowledge derived from the total of human history. They prefigure and direct conscious behavior. Two of the archetypes to which he gave much attention were that of the "scapegoat" and the "shadow."
When mediated through the group experience, the archetype of the scapegoat is one of the most powerful motivators of human experience.
Before discussing the universal relevance of this archetype, we need to briefly consider the human unconscious. What makes this task particularly challenging is that, as a dimension of awareness, whatever lies "in the shadows" can be compared to the dark side of the moon: forever facing away from us and impervious to our "straight-ahead" vision.
One of the most problematic aspects involved in grasping this how this process works is the fact that the shadow areas of our consciousness are literally created by the felt-need to avoid what is true. This is usually accomplished by way of three cognitive mechanisms - all of which are quite commonplace, but function to distort the processes of perception and thought.
Denial means - "we don't notice the fact that we don't notice." Splitting arises when we have difficulty accepting valid insights - often because they are threatening to our self-image. When this is occurs, we may unconsciously cordon off areas of our awareness, making some of them taboo or "bad, while other areas are regarded as acceptable or "good."
But as Shakespeare wrote: "The truth will out." The third process: as soon as we have accomplished this feat, the very qualities we have been unable to accept within ourselves, appear - as if by magic - in the outside world. Through the psychological mechanism called projection - we see "others" possessing these traits. We then often feel justified in acting out our aggression toward those upon whom we have projected our shadow.
The capacity to be aware of our experience - moment to moment - becomes even more challenging in the mix of shadow and light that comprises group-life. As Dan Goleman observes:
"Points of view or versions of reality that don't fit into the consensual view can be dismissed as eccentricity or aberration. In the politics of experience, the ease with which [we] can dismiss deviant views - in fact, bury them - suggests that the mechanisms of defense for doing so is the aggregate weight of [our] shared lacunas. We do not see what we prefer not to, and do not see that we do not see."
When this mechanism of disaffiliating threatening material is expressed at the group level, it can become a particularly serious concern. Although an entire group of people may at some level sense that something is amiss, they can partition these feelings into a separate "compartment" and are enabled to comfortably carry on in their chosen victimizing direction, unencumbered by sorrow, guilt or shame.
In the extreme we encounter the phenomenon of scapegoating, where a group in the grip of the collective shadow can be mesmerized, through a kind of "participation mystique," often justifying the most extreme atrocities.
The process of individual growth and integration requires that we re-own our individual shadow. This is an integral dimension of what Jung called individuation - integrating the diverse part of the psyche and truly becoming one's own person, while staying connected to others.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).