Goat Busters

Vaughan Pratt

Dan Aykroyd is everyone's favorite ghost buster. But ghosts are for frightening kids, you can't frighten an adult with a ghost these days. For that you need need not ghosts but goats! Scapegoats, that is.

Four things in life are certain: death, taxes, problems, and haters. We eventually die, the government takes its cut, things go wrong, and some people are born to hate. When you pair up death and taxes you get the estate tax, for many a much bigger chunk of change than their annual income tax. And when you pair up problems and haters you get scapegoats.

Scapegoats work as follow. A hater with a sufficiently strong dislike of some group (the goat) finds a plausible problem to blame on them and fabricates two piles of evidence: that the problem is far more serious than we'd realized, and that the group is the cause of this dreadful problem. Armed with these two stories the hater goes into business as: the goat buster! Who you gonna call?

The best goat busters are those skilled in the art of story telling. Weave a sufficiently compelling story about the problem and its cause and a good goat buster can inflame the passions of millions.

Goat busting has been practiced for thousands of years. Some instances have had consequences so horrific, for example Hitler and the Jews, that it has become tactless to make comparisons with them. Recent examples that can be decently compared with each other include the following. The most famous comparison is of course between the first two, but the goat busters' modus operandi is the same in all cases.

Date Goat buster The goat The bust
1692-1693             Cotton Mather Witches in Salem The Salem witch trials
1956-1962 Senator Joe McCarthy             Communists in America McCarthyism
1991-2001 Slobodan Milosevic             Muslims in Serbia The Yugoslav wars
2003-now George W. BushTerrorists in Iraq The Iraq war
2004-now Lou Dobbs Illegal immigrants in America             Lou Dobbs Tonight
2008 Vladimir Putin Georgians             Russian invasion of Georgia

In all of these cases many succumbed to the goat buster's stories at first, but as time went by more and more came to realize that their panic button was being pushed with fabricated stories.

  • The Salem girls accused anyone that contradicted them of being witches, who were subsequently put to death on the strength of the girls' testimony that they could see supernatural signs in those they accused.

  • Senator McCarthy destroyed the careers of hundreds of educators and entertainers with purported evidence that they were "un-American," the modern counterpart of which is the more easily applied flag lapel pin test.

  • General Milosevic blamed Serbia's economic woes on the country's large Muslim population as justification for his infamous "ethnic cleansing" program.

  • The White House destroyed Valerie Plame's career as retribution for her husband's objections to its manufactured evidence that Iraq was a hotbed of terrorism, the basis for a war which has now cost many billions of dollars and thousands of US soldiers' lives while plunging Iraq into civil chaos, and likely the US into economic chaos if the present rate of spending continues unabated.

  • Lou Dobbs has dedicated upwards of 70% of his air time on CNN to inflating the magnitude of the illegal immigration problem and blaming a host of problems on it.

  • Vladimir Putin accused Georgia of genocide as a pretext to install so-called "peacekeepers" and sabotage Georgia's infrastructure. Only the Russians themselves have been taken in by Putin's story, and their national pride will make it much harder for them to accept that they have been manipulated.
  • Sometimes goat busting has unintended consequences. Salem ended up with more "witches" after the trials than before, while Iraq now has vastly more terrorists than when Saddam Hussein was in charge. In ten years time people may look back and finger Lou Dobbs as the boy who cried wolf thereby becoming the single biggest cause in this century of increased illegal immigration in America, by so inflaming our fears as to exhaust them and make us drop our guard. It remains to be seen what damage if any Russia's invasion of Georgia will do to its international standing as a world superpower.

    Every threat is plausible for a while, but eventually loses its hold on our imagination and the goat busters have to find a new one to frighten, entertain, or annoy us according to our gullibility.

    Goat busting has been a popular pastime for many centuries. Expect many more centuries of the same. There will always be new threats when the old ones wear out, and new suckers to be taken in by them as the old ones wise up to the goat busters' tricks.