Scapegoat Theory Of American Democracy
The two largest elections in the world are trashy soap opera circuses, replete with pantomime villains, figureheads for the flavor of the season sin, religious bigotry, racism, capitalist greed, corruption, xenophobia, pandering. Everything society hates about itself gets primetime coverage, focused into puppets who are deemed personifications of our objectified entropy. We assume that a democratic candidate is a personification of those traits, goals, and ideals that society values. But what if he’s actually a personification of everything we despise about ourselves. What if a democratic election is necessarily fought between two versions of the Antichrist. This serves the same purpose as sacrificial animals, minorities, and Jesus Christ, a Girardian scapegoat that allows accumulated stress in society to be safely disposed through a victim of regretable injustice, in order to prevent a much larger injustice that comes from the breakdown of social order. For the length of the election year, we hurl slippers, eggs, and clever nicknames at these scapegoats, externalizing onto them everything we’ve been subconsciously getting worked up about for the longest time. We tar and feather these symbols of evil the same way devils are ritually abused in countless tribal cultures, collectively letting off steam each time. By the time the elections have ended, nobody even cares who has won, because all the steam, aggression, anger, and psychic energy has been fully released and we have achieved total catharsis of the soul, enough to last us another 4 years in the US and 5 in India.
There is an almost touching sense of egalitarianism in this process. All through history, the powerful could easily pick on the powerless as the symbols of evil and the targets for a morally-justified utilitarian persecution. In a society without convenient minorities to pick on, we moved onto holding public executions where everybody could show up and vent their collective pent-up anger on judicially sanctified anti-christs. Murderers. Rapists. People who pour the milk first and the cereal afters. In modern enlightened times however, it appears it is all of us, the great unwashed masses, who turn on the most ambitious, powerful, and dominant members of society, those who would deign to lead us, the political class. It is a curiously rational equilibrium of an economic society that recognizes the need for certain actions that have large negative externalities, like the need for occasional violence. The benefits outweigh the costs because there are small benefits enjoyed by a large number of people, with huge costs incurred by a small number of people. Therefore the correct Coasean solution for this is to go ahead with the transaction but compensate those who would bear the cost. If we net out these costs, we still come out on top. What is this compensation? What would a rational human being, with the same sort of drives and Maslow hierarchy of needs accept as reasonable recompense for a year, decade, or lifetime of hatred, abuse, and villainization? Absolute power and nothing less. This renders certain inefficiencies of democracy irrelevant:
- Skewed Incentives: Political parties function from one election to the next, with no incentive to actually govern competently. Elections are massively expensive and resource-hungry exercises, during which time governance becomes even more pointless for politicians. None of these incentives seem to be aligned with the stated aims of a democracy. But if the election is the whole point of the democracy, a circus show and pressure valve and dam sluice, then none of these grouses have any merit.
- Terrible Choices: I don’t vote. I’ve never admired a political figure, and I refuse to be forced to choose between a rotten apple and a rotten potato by people with totally arbitrary and virulent loyalties to apples or potatoes. But why do elections invariably present 2 really bad choices where we’re asked to decide who is worse? Surely in a meritocracy, it is the cream that rises to the top such that we’re deciding which specific brand of competence suits the current need of the hour? However, if the point is to tar and feather the anti-christ, then it doesn’t matter who shows up, they’re going to draw our ire, because that’s why we’ve agreed to participate in this farcical ritual.
- Stupid Voters: A favorite pet-peeve of self-styled intellectuals is that the vote of a moron counts just as much as the vote of a genius. This is why we got Brexit, Trump, Modi, and 5 new Star Wars movies. Is it unfair that an imbecile who thinks Brexit is a brand of laundry detergent (made by illegal immigrants) gets to cancel out my well-researched position on a complicated, sensitive, and muti-faceted issue spanning economics, society, and Eurovision? If elections are scapegoat circuses, then no it’s not unfair. Everybody gets a ticket to the circus, and you can derive as much catharsis from the event as is necessary. Those who have accumulated more stress and psychic energy will also release more. Those of us with chill lives instead get to totally misunderstand the point of the entire thing and waste time doing superficial ‘research’, impressing friends and colleagues with our sophisticated take on the ‘real issues’, and convincing ourselves that our say actually matters.
Why has this broken down now? Surely the Trump-Clinton campaign was the most hate-filled vitriolic election in recent history, with two comically literal anti-christ figures. If there was ever a successful execution of a scapegoat circus ritual, it was 2016, the source of such matter-antimatter annihilation that the catharsis would be felt all across the world, not just the voting polity. The past 4 years has shown that this wasn’t true. Hot on the heels of mass catharsis and psychic exhaustion came 4 of the most tumultuous years of psychological and social unrest. Has the scapegoat mechanism broken down, the mechanism for the ironically true hyperbole ‘democracy is broken’? Why?
- Media and Social Networks: They didn’t let us exhale peacefully and carry on with our regular lives, lives that have absolutely nothing to do with the White House.
- The bigger Anti-christ won: This shouldn’t matter, because my theory is that the victor is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is society releases all the built-up steam such that there is no stress left over. The fact that Trump’s entire presidency was stressful means that catharsis was incomplete for some reason and people had residual psychic energy that they shouldn’t have had
- Selective Catharsis: An upshot of the Stupid-Voter paradox is that it is these ‘stupid voters’ who understand the nature of democracy best, and therefore derive the utility for which it was designed, ie catharsis. Then when the cows finally go home they can have a stress-free farm orgy. On the other hand, the intellectual class and anybody who’s bought into the idea of democracy as some Platonic ideal rather than primal ritual, suffers. They derive no pleasure from the process and stick every single cathartic egg into a basket they call the ballot box, all the while taking meditation retreats and posting Instagram messages that say enjoy the journey not the destination.
- Selective Stress: Not all of society experiences the same sort of stress. Not all of society experiences stress at the same time. As our communities become more diverse and stratified, so do our bubbles of stress. It is no longer a straightforward linear growth of stress with a sudden release beyond some threshold. Instead it grows in pockets, and is released in pockets. This seems to explain why elections neatly alternate between political parties, with the catharsis aimed at those with the most stress accumulated over the previous period of order.
- Incompetent Scapegoats: The scapegoat has one job, and it does not involve being president. His job is to be the focal point for the catharsis of a stressed society. Towards that end, caricature villains like Trump make for excellent scapegoats, provoking people to release stress that they didn’t even know they had. But a real politician understands this scapegoat nature of the game, and knows that elections aren’t about voting leaders. A real politician knows its all an act, and that their job as president is actually finished on election day. Outsiders like Trump didn’t get this memo. Acting on provocative mandates after election-day is just bad-faith behavior among a political class that exists not for policy-making, governance, or leadership, but for sewage disposal.
The problem with this breakdown is that it is arguably irreversible. We are becoming increasingly rational as a society, which means we will neither treat democratic elections as primal ritual nor will we accept the undeniable benefits of such ritualistic behavior. Social media is here to stay, a positive feedback loop on our bubbles of social unrest. Our communities will continue to develop more and more independent bubbles of unrest as it becomes more heterogeneous. Politicians will continue to co-evolve like parasites against an immune system, developing ways and means to extract the Coasean compensation of power without providing the Coasean service of scapegoat catharsis. Where the scapegoat must say ‘hate me so you may not hate yourselves’, the evolved parasite politician understands that they can get us to hate ourselves so that we may not hate the parasites. In this case, hating the playa is the game.