The culture of the scapegoat

How do we choose who we blame? And why?

In our own experience we know there are complicated reasons why bad things happen. It’s rarely one thing or one person. But yet when we blame others, we’re very happy to dump all the responsibility on a single person and rarely take time to investigate if they deserve it, which they almost never do. We pick an easy, defenseless target, and all the responsibility collapses on them. The rest of the story fades from memory.

I recently watched a fantastic documentary called Catching Hell: The Steve Bateman story.  It’s the story of the Chicago Cubs fan who interfered with a foul ball in the the 2003 playoffs.

And it’s fantastic.

It explores the story of both Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman. In both cases there were many mistakes made by their respective teams on the infamous nights that they lost, yet only these two small events, and two individuals, have had the entire responsibility for what went wrong dumped on them.

Even if you are not a sports fan, it’s a fascinating investigation into our how our culture, history, and memory work (or don’t work).

You can watch it on youtube (in ten parts). Or as one experience on Netflix Streaming. It was made as part of EPSN’s fantastic 30 for 30 series.

4 Responses to “The culture of the scapegoat”

  1. Sean Crawford

    Hi Scott,
    Scapegoating is bad, sure. And sure, it’s from a lack of individuals taking responsibility for the group they are in, such as being on a team that, say, hasn’t practised the fundamentals, or hasn’t worked through the psychology of not choking.

    I like a line David Gerrold’s book “A Rage for Revenge” where a group trainer tells a man not to be smug that he is blameless when 10 percent of his fellows broke their word: “That’s your integrity at the level of the group.” i can’t imagine that trainer ever scapegoating.

    I am reminded of all those big post-accident reports that show a cascading of failures before the key failure. Better to have a culture of safety and responsibility for excellence. My own anti-scapegoat reflex is to instantly ask “What could I have done differently?”


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