Professor Wood’s observation of environmental refugees that existed in Switzerland was a striking term to me. In my lifetime, I have only witnessed refugees primarily due to civil unrest. I never thought of refugees do to the environment. When Hurricane Katrina hit, many had to leave their homes, but they were never called refugees. Environmental refugees is not a leading concern today because we have the resources to prevent the result of refugees do to the environment. Organizations such as the Red Cross and government action prevent this from being an issue. Tambora caused a worldwide epidemic, but there were no organizations or strong governments to intervene. Random kind strangers seemed to be the only resource. It became a very individual society in order to survive that seems to have influenced many of our policies today. Professor Wood used the Baroness as an example of one of those kind strangers. She was the only salvation for many in Switzerland at that time. At a time of desperation and famine, the Baroness would have been one of few who helped others. However, she was targeted by her community.
The treatment of the Baroness for helping others reminded me of Rene Girard’s theory of scapegoating. Girard studied and proposed theories on the origins of sacrifice. Part of his conclusion is the use of a scapegoat to place all the blame on. According to Girard, sacrifice was needed as an outlet to suppress violence within the community. A scapegoat was chosen by the community, who was ultimately sacrificed. There did not need to be reason or justification for why one was chosen as the scapegoat. The Baroness was that scapegoat in her community. At a time of great confusion and most probably attempted to try to understand the traumatic events through religion, subconsciously scapegoating is not a surprising occurrence. Switzerland at the time would have been predominantly Christian. Sacrifice in general, but especially scapegoating is at the core of Christianity. Even though sacrifice was not in practice anymore, the foundations of sacrifice were still unintentionally instilled through the religion. The Baroness was not explicitly sacrificed, but she was driven from her home, which could be seen as a symbolic sacrifice.
Religion in general would have been heavily relied upon since there was no ordinary explanation for the devastation. Traditionally, religion has been used and a community’s relationship with their god to explain misfortunes. When Israelites were in exile, they believed it to be punishment for breaking their covenant with Yahweh. The people in Switzerland probably sought redemption thinking it would bring an end to the famine. Placing blame on a scapegoat would have also been a path of redemption. It’s as if you are removing your misdoings and giving them all to one thing, then punishing that thing in order to appease god. Scapegoating is a dangerous route to suppress violence in a community, but it has shown psychologically to be effective. Using the Baroness as a scapegoat would have psychologically helped people handle the epidemic following the eruption of Tambora.