Scape Goats Are Existential Analgesics


2015-02-09 – I can’t believe it, sometimes, how unpleasant pain is. This was brought home to me very vividly today when I was out walking Lefty. The walks are very slippery today and I . . . slipped.

Pain hurts!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why people like to inflict pain on other people. We see it in the news all the time. I was being very intellectual about my thinking. I personally don’t have any beef against anyone that would make me want to hurt their entire race. So I didn’t really understand the impulse.

But then I slipped.

Lefty had nothing to do with my slipping, but I suddenly had this all-consuming urge to yank his leash—to inflict a little pain on an innocent creature. (Innocent this time! But really, he gets away with a lot!)

Suddenly I realized that the urge to inflict pain has nothing to do with justice. It’s not tit-for-tat at all. It’s just a desire to inflict pain. It’s almost better if the target is innocent. No! It’s not “almost better.” It is exquisitely better if you can inflict pain for no reason. After all—you suffer pain without a reason. (Not saying I acted upon this rage. I was still on the ice myself, remember. I’m just saying I felt it.)

Once upon a time, the religions of the world ritualized this impulse through the sacrifice of animals (and even humans). One of these rituals involved the sacrifice of a scape goat, which was an actual goat selected by a casting of lots to be sent into the desert to die.

We don’t do that anymore. Our worship is centered on the source of all that is good and pretty much ignores the source of all that is painful. In our enlightenment, we no longer take our blind anger out on an innocent goat.

Instead we choose human forms of scape goat as our existential analgesics.

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