Logically Delicious is part of a continuing series within Thinking About Thinking. I’m hunting bad takes in The Wild, and exposing the logical fallacies that fester within.
FALLACY DIAGNOSIS: The Scapegoat
Scapegoating happens when a person, institution, group, or other entity is blamed for something which has gone wrong, despite having little to no role in the thing which went wrong.
Scapegoats are commonly conjured by people who are actually responsible for things going wrong, in order to avoid accountability. If you’ve ever been thrown under the bus for another person’s mistake – perhaps a boss blaming you to avoid having to suffer consequences from their superiors – congratulations, you have been a scapegoat.
WHY IT’S WRONG
Creating a proper solution to a given problem is dependent on correctly analyzing the causes of the problem.
Sometimes, those causes can be incredibly complex and multifaceted. But that’s exactly what makes the scapegoat so appealing!
If a simple cause can be blamed for a complex problem, then the solution also becomes simple, which means a lot less work for everyone involved in solving the problem.
In its least harmful iteration, this can lead to an improperly completed, duct-tape sort of solution to a problem that will soon recur because the root causes weren’t addressed. At its most harmful, it can lead to …
At the risk of committing another fallacy — stay tuned for that! — I’m going to use as my example perhaps the most infamous instance of scapegoating in modern history.
That’s right, I’m talking about … the Holocaust.
Germany’s economy in the aftermath of World War I was in shambles. There are myriad causes to their problems, but most of them can be traced to the punitive terms in the Treaty of Versailles.
But, with people hurting and hungry, the Nazi party was effectively able to blame all of Germany’s economic woes on Jewish bankers. This was then expanded to communists, trade unionists and socialists, all of whom were framed as ‘Jewish’ philosophies.
Several other groups were folded in to the Nazi idea of cultural ‘degeneracy.’ But their rhetoric always kept Jews at the center.
With persistent blame, the party was able to scapegoat the Jewish population for all of Germany’s woes, and we all know the tragic results of such an approach.
HOW TO CONFRONT
The best way to confront scapegoating is vigilance. If it seems like everything is being blamed on a single factor with a defined fall group, there is most likely some scapegoating going on.
This is not always the case – sometimes cause and effect really is very simple! But one should naturally be suspicious of any ‘simple solution’ that pins all the blame on a single, definable entity.
Insist, both from yourself and from others, on an analysis that addresses the issue from multiple angles and considers multiple possible actors. If at the end of this process, you find that a single entity really is to blame, and you can support that notion with credible evidence, fine!
But if not, simply throwing someone under the bus will not do.
(Image credit: Painting by William Holman Hunt)
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