Scapegoating in Society

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The targeting of a scapegoated individual or group as the constructed enemy plays out in the political and social arena, often reflecting real social, political, ideological, cultural, or economic power struggles.~46

Hannah Arendt, in discussing the rise of antisemitism, suggested that "an ideology which has to persuade and mobilize people cannot choose its victim arbitrarily." Arendt argued against the idea of the scapegoat in mass society as wholly unconnected to the historic political, social, and economic context in which they became "the victim of modern terror;" even though scapegoats are clearly "chosen regardless of what they may or may not have done." It is therefore imperative to study what is happening in a society when scapegoating's patent falsehoods and forgeries are believed by large numbers of people.~47 "Persecution of powerless or power-losing groups may not be a very pleasant spectacle, but it does not spring from human meanness alone," wrote Arendt. "Only wealth without power or aloofness without a policy are felt to be parasitical, useless, revolting...."~48

An example of structural and contextual influences on scapegoating is revealed when different ethnic groups move into a similar social and economic role where they often experience similar types of scapegoating. Shopkeepers who run small stores in impoverished communities are scapegoated as parasites whether they are Jews, Arabs, Asians or any ethnicity other than that of the majority in the neighborhood. Shopkeepers appear to be absorbing wealth while they have little actual power. Shopkeepers do not control the economic decisions that resulted in the high unemployment and lack of resources in the neighborhood, but they are literally "in the face" of the local residents who can directly express their anger at the store owner--the relatively weak yet (incrementally) wealthier next rung up on the economic ladder.~49 Henry Louis Gates, Jr. described this as "the familiar pattern of clientelistic hostility toward the neighborhood vendor or landlord," noting that such hostility was a worldwide experience, directed for instance at "the Indians of East Africa and the Chinese of Southeast Asia." ~50

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