17 April 2011
Mass Communication Specialist Senior Chief Kevin Elliott
When is a whistleblower not a whistleblower? When he's a scapegoat.
Bradley Manning is an unfortunate -
and challenging - case in point, and to understand why, we need to see his
situation in context.
In traditional corporations with publicly traded exposure, not only are employees required to follow a similar chain of command, but shareholders invest capacity into the entity without being legally accountable for any misdeeds it carries out in the course of its activities.
The equivalent of "Inc." in German, "GmbH," stands for "group with limited responsibility."
But we lose something of ourselves, something essentially human, when we give away responsibility for our own actions - or think we can. In our case, we now have a bizarre situation in which corporations are considered "legal persons" while actual persons are deprived of their humanity by an established fiction!
The possibilities for abuse are endless.
I am not saying that this is all that
corporations, or even, I suppose, the military, do, but they do enough of it
to constitute dangers that we have to address, and the fiction of
transferred responsibility prevents us from addressing them. If these two
institutions cannot operate without this legal fiction and all the violence
that fiction enables, we may have to find entirely different ways of doing
business and defense.
It is like the phenomenon that psychologist Rachel MacNair calls perpetration-induced traumatic stress, the phenomenon that is tormenting so many troops who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan only to commit suicide at home.
As David Swanson recently wrote in "War is a Lie," those,
But neither that remorse nor the legal fiction that they were not responsible for what they did can, by themselves, save the soldiers or the society they serve.
We have to learn the lesson of that remorse and
that need to dissemble. We have to realize that they are telling us to find
alternatives to the abusive systems that caused them - alternatives like
nonviolent defense, needs-based rather than consumption-oriented economies
and so forth.
It may seem absurd to us that the sins of a community could be loaded onto a goat and driven out into the wilderness, but the Israelites needed to believe it, and so they did.
No doubt the idea that a close subordinate can
be designated to "take the heat" or be "thrown under the bus" whenever a
president is caught doing certain types of misdeeds (the particular types
that matter can vary erratically - this is how
Bill Clinton was hung for
doing something that had been passed over in silence since the beginning of
the republic) will be just as absurd to future, hopefully more enlightened,
He notes that in Jewish law, for example, if a person is accused by everyone in the community he must be set free.
This counterintuitive prescription was
introduced because "unanimous violence" is a telltale sign that what's going
on is scapegoating, and it is better to let a few guilty ones go free than
give rein to a system that destroys so many innocents - to so little good.
If Girard's historical reconstruction and interpretation of Judeo-Christian experiences is correct, it has been time for two thousand years.
The reason modern examples of scapegoating have been so violently destructive on such a huge scale (think of the Holocaust) is precisely that they belong to a bygone era and should have been outgrown long before.
(The very term "holocaust" comes from the ancient Greek word
for the kind of sacrifice in which the victim is completely consumed by fire
- if you believe it, dedicated to the gods.)
Scapegoat literature never allows the victim to speak, unless it puts convenient confessions of guilt into their mouth, as in the case of Sophocles' Oedipus, who not only admits that he is guilty of incest but punishes and expels himself so that the community is spared the trouble - and the pollution that can accrue to sacrificers.
You could not ask for a "better" victim. Job, on the other hand, introduces a new moral era. When he refuses, in the text we now have, to admit that he is guilty because he in fact isn't, he breaks the cycle, and God responds entirely differently than the pagan consumer-gods who "accept" the sacrifice.
Manning's attorney David E. Coombs, writing in The Washington Post on January 21, said,
There is such a thing as moral progress.
That is why the suicide rate among combatants has steadily increased with Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan - because the moral awareness that war is a very wrong thing to do is increasing.
As the social evangelist Kirby Page said in the simplest terms at the beginning of the last century,
Our refusal to come to use that awareness
becomes steadily more problematic, throwing us back onto progressively more
outmoded forms of coping. War is becoming an outdated institution. So is
scapegoating. The more outdated, the more destructive they become.
But if, as a society, we scapegoat them, we are
only trying to shift our own burden of guilt onto their shoulders, and to
think we can get away with that for very long is a dangerous delusion.