Weekly Newsletter from Christian Vegetarian Association CVA - April 19, 2021
From Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

  1. Problems with Cancel Part 3: The Scapegoating Process
  2. All-Creatures.org Ministry

1. Problems with Cancel Part 3: The Scapegoating Process

As discussed extensively in prior essays, as well as my book Guided by the Faith of Christ, the scapegoating process involves expelling (by ostracism, banishment, or murder) one or more individuals deemed responsible for communal crises. The collective consensus that eradicating the supposed source of crisis, as well as the sense of camaraderie that accompanies punishment of the evildoer(s), engenders peace. Superficially, “cancel culture” resembles the scapegoating process. The mob identifies and punishes the supposed evildoer. If the scapegoating process were to succeed in restoring peace, then identifying and banishing those deemed racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. should bring a sense of communal harmony and well-being. The scapegoating process is unjust and the peace it brings is always temporary, but it is often effective at relieving acute communal crises.

It looks like scapegoating when professors, public officials, and others are defenestrated for violating taboos against using certain words (or using words that vaguely resemble taboo words) or advocating policies deemed racist, sexist, or otherwise oppressive. However, punishing infractions deemed racist, sexist, etc. has not, as best I can tell, resulted in communal accord. There might be a superficial appearance of consensus on racial, gender, and other issues because taboo words and ideas are not spoken, but deep divisions remain.

A major reason for this, I think, can be found by looking at critical race, gender, and other studies through the lens of the scapegoating process. Critical race, gender, and other studies generally hold that the biases that cause injustice are structural and systemic. America’s racist past, the long legacy of dominating paternalism, etc. result in biases that infect every institution and every mind of the dominating “race,” sex, etc. Punishing individuals who intentionally or unintentionally violate contemporary taboos regarding word use or policy positions might please those who enjoy seeing “privileged” individuals taken down a few notches, but it does not modify whatever structural and systemic biases exist.

Convinced that structural and systemic biases persist, people believe that evil remains in their midst. Consequently, punishing a particular “evildoer” does not engender a sense of reconciliation and communal harmony. There is a nearly transparent façade of peace in the workplace, schools, social media, and other social settings. Those who have experienced biased treatment or feel oppressed for other reasons continue to feel oppressed and resentful. Those who have been intimiApril 19, 2021d from publicly articulating taboo ideas continue to read about, discuss privately, and hold those views. Will not people in general remain resentful? Will not many people find themselves attracted to demagogues who promise vengeance? If people are convinced that the problems are systemic and ingrained into the fabric of our society, will this not lead to pessimism about the prospects for justice and leave people with only the hope for viscerally satisfying retribution?

I do think structural and systemic biases exist, with pernicious effects. Perhaps we might generate a more just society by listening to people’s stories. If racism, sexism, etc. are structural problems, then focusing on individual events that might or might not be manifestations of the structural problems does not seem to be the answer. Perhaps if we heard from people who repeatedly experienced unfair treatment because of their skin color, sex, or other attributes, we might seek institutional changes to neutralize bias as well as become more mindful of our own biases. A problem is that the Internet allows people to exist in their own information and ideology bubbles, making it hard to disseminate stories that demonstrate the injustices and harm that people experience as a consequence of bias and discrimination. I welcome readers’ thoughts on how to address this problem.

I wonder whether we have an analogous situation in the animal protection movement. With society seeming hopelessly speciesist, it seems that animal advocates tend to focus on internecine conflicts. In particular, there are bitter disputes between “abolitionists,” who oppose any policy or law that permits harmful exploitation of nonhumans, and “welfarists,” who believe that meaningful change is more likely to come through gradual reforms.

Next week, I will start to explore systemic and structural speciesism and what I think an appropriate Christian response should be.

Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

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