Violence, high unemployment and malaise pervade the atmosphere.  Things fall apart; the center will not hold.  It’s time for witch trials and a scapegoat carved out of sexual hysteria and the fear of pandemics.

The discarded outcast is destroyed (or destroys him/herself) for the sake of the community. She serves a vital purpose, to draw the ire and inchoate hatreds of the group upon herself. She exists to be the outsider and functions to enhance the well-being of those within.  The only action to be taken to appease the community in the face of this loathsome creature is to institute a form of social control.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Social control used in this way covers a multitude of sins.  Snarking self-satisfaction and superiority, the members of the community only wish her to be banished from their sight.

This dynamic is seen starkly in the short story, “The Lottery”, by Shirley Jackson, which depicts a wholesome farming town that depends on the community to gather together for the harvest day ritual.  Just ordinary people trying to guarantee their survival against the prospect of famine.  Spoiler alert: human sacrifice.  It can happen here.  It can happen to you.

The fear that spread like a virus through the country tore apart lives but helped put notches on the belt of Roy Cohn and Richard Nixon, who later became President. In the late 17th century in Salem, Massachusetts, accusations of witchcraft ended the lives of several women. The sexual hysteria whipped up serves several functions: bind the group against a common enemy and project internal hostility and rage upon an outsider.

Unfortunately, it is probably difficult to actually be the outsider, the target on whose destruction the group depends. There are many methods utilized against the target: threats, attempts to discredit, or even driving her to the brink of sanity. On a continuous basis, day in and day out, the perpetrator cannot help but succeed, particularly if the group does not step in for fear of becoming tainted themselves.