The Blame Game


In the words of John Burroughs, “A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else”. We live in a world where everyone has to have someone to blame, it is an intrinsic part of our nature. We have even grafted it into the core of our religions; imperfection, malice and evil are said to be alien, a virus spread by some serpent or devil, rather than a part of our human nature. From early childhood, the stories we read follow the scheme of a disturbance brought to a happy world by some villain or fiend. In adult life, we tend to have the same narrow viewpoint, the politicians are blamed for the recession, not the electorate who gleefully returned them to office. Similarly, bankers and property developers are vindicated while not an eyelid is batted at the consumers who upholstered their reckless behavior.

The problem runs deeper than just stories and basic political economics. From the earliest times, the powerful have used blame as a weapon against their enemies. The use of fear-mongering, blaming foreign governments for a nation’s woes, was instrumental in propagating militant nationalism akin to beliefs such as racism and xenophobia. To take the contemporary paradigm: The national socialists in Germany blamed democracy, socialism, the Jews, the ‘November criminals’ and the allied powers for the economic hardships that the Weimar Republic endured in the 20th Century. Similarly though, we have all been raised to blame the Nazis for the atrocities of WWII, and while there is no doubt that the Führer and his Reich were responsible for unparalleled abominations, Hitler was only able to rise to power in a country desecrated financially and morally by the Allied countries following the Treaty of Versailles.

One familiar manifestation of blame is the ‘Kick the Dog’ scenario where whoever is on the top of any given hierarchal structure, blames his immediate subordinate for something that has gone awry, the subordinate in turn blames his protege. Ultimately, power is consolidated and the peon gets the hardest kicking.

Blame is used to make sense out of the chaos that governs our lives, part of our primitive instinct of wanting the world to be a familiar place. It is also there to make scapegoats out of other people, whether they are responsible for, partly responsible for or completely disconnected from whatever disastrous event has transpired. It allows us to exact revenge, vent our furies, enhance our own image, make retribution and get on with our lives.

Despite the evidence I have thus far provided, not laying blame on others is not necessarily a pragmatic policy, look at the UK Labour party where various MPs decided to accept responsibility for the banking crisis, the party burdened itself with so much blame that they promptly became the laughing-stock of UK politics, namely the right-wing Tories.

I hope that the intelligent reader will read this column and use it to become more acutely aware of the blame game going on around them and to remember, as David Brinkley tells us, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks other have thrown at him.”



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