Saturday, February 19, 2011

Herding the Sheeple

There are some stories so small they can be held in the palm of your hand, yet so powerful they have changed the world. I speak of the Gospels.

I am not, however, speaking of them in a religious sense. I speak of them as the most vivid expressions of the political psychology of the Mob, the Leaders, the Exaggerated Threat, the Scapegoat, and the Human Sacrifice that I have encountered.

Those five archetypes exist in every society that believes itself to be under threat. All are "hidden" in the Gospels, yet easily found if you look for them. And as far as I know, the Gospels are the first time in literature that kind of psychology and politics was shown to the world.

The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck made the comment that "scapegoating is the genesis of human evil." He's right, but he didn't go far enough. Scapegoating is the middle of the equation. There are things before and after it. What comes after scapegoating, what is always leads to, is human sacrifice.

Scapegoating is defined as when we take the "badness" in ourselves and project it on others. It sounds too simple to be profound, but it explains the vast majority of evil in the world.

Scapegoating is what both the Nazis and socialists did during the 20th Century. The death toll might be up to 200 million people. The Nazis did it not only to Jews but to Christians. They planned to eradicate both groups. The socialists did it to "capitalists," the proletariat, and whatever group they considered a threat. Each said, "Once we get rid of these people, our problems will cease." Each scapegoated other humans and sacrificed them.

That same psychology of scapegoating to human sacrifice exists among serial killers, who are microcosms of what societies do at large. They blame their problem on others, then sacrifice them, hoping the murders solve their problems. What they do doesn't work for them, or for societies. It never has, and never will, although both futilely keep trying over and over.

In order for scapegoating to lead to human sacrifice, the threat, if it exists at all, has to be exaggerated. The threat has to be considered mortal. It has to be made into a threat that can conquer or destroy. Who would take seriously a threat if it could not damage you?

Here we come to the Mob and the Leaders. Unfortunately, the Mob is Mass Man, and can usually be led around by his collective nose by the Leaders. If the Mob considers itself under threat or is attacked, it will unite. It doesn't matter if the Mob is a tribe or a nation. Then, the Leaders can herd them as so many sheep.

Hermann Goering put it this way:

"Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood.

"But it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along to fight a war...voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy.

"All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Goering was right. If the leaders tell the mob they are being attacked, the mob will unite. The mob, which has no sense, cannot tell if the threat is real or exaggerated. Both the leaders and the mob have to make the threat mortal. Then, once the threat is identified, it has to be scapegoated and destroyed.

The above story exists in the Gospels. The leaders exaggerated the threat of Jesus to the mob, which united and called for his death. He was then scapegoated and sacrificed.

A Mob is always a monstrous self writ large.

These are the elements involved in his death: the Mob, the Leaders, the Exaggerated Danger, the Scapegoat and the Human Sacrifice. None of this is exclusive to his death; it appears in all societies that believe they are under attack.

The Gospels tell us that the leaders of Jesus' time saw him as a threat, one who would bring the Romans to destroy their nation. They incited and united the mob against him by exaggerating his danger to them. He was then turned into a scapegoat and sacrificed.

Actually, there is a sixth archetype involved: the Hero. Ortega y Gasset divided people into two groups: Mass Man, who are essentially self-satisfied sheep, and the Hero, who are the creative minority who advance society. The mythologist Joseph Campbell also wrote often of the Hero, and indeed his most famous book is “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.”

Jesus fit the archetype of the Hero. Unfortunately, the Hero often gets scapegoated and sacrificed, as Prometheus did.

What does all this mean? Heroes are always opposed to the Leaders, as Jesus was opposed to the religious and religious leaders of his time. Heroes cannot trust the Mob, the sheeple. If the Hero does not watch it, he will end up being an Exaggerated Threat, a Scapegoat and a Human Sacrifice, at the hands of the Leaders, to placate the Mob.

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