Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

3 Poor Excuses

From talk shows to courtrooms, from pulpits to press conferences, its all the rage lately to blame someone, anyone for the things we’re doing wrong. Gone are the days of personal responsibility - we are awash in the days of cause and effect. Depressed? Maybe it’s your job, maybe it’s your diet, maybe it was your parents’ fault. Low on funds? Maybe it’s taxes, maybe it’s Wall Street, maybe it’s those illegal immigrants. Blame has become our national pastime, and its own cottage industry. After all, the talking heads on cable “news” networks aren’t drawing in millions upon millions of viewers with straight talk or advocacy of just “sucking it up” and moving on. No, the most powerful tool of these fear-mongers isn’t terror, it’s redirecting culpability to those unable or unwilling to avoid it. These days we blame with the same reckless abandon we spent with to start the decade - and look where that got us. And just like that spending, most of this blaming is baseless, stupid and unnecessary. Here are few big targets we aim the most at, and aren’t at fault for any of it - three blameless bull’s-eyes.

1. Doctor, Doctor. There was once a time when medical doctors were a type of intellectual royalty; extraordinary men and women who dedicated themselves and their exceptional cognitive abilities to the lifetime of study that would be required to understand and ultimately heal the human body. We looked to them to explain the maladies which took our loved ones before their time, rendered them infirm shells of their past selves, and cast our own continued existence into doubt. Medicine pushed back the dark edges of the forest of life, and kept more of us around the rest of us for longer than we could hope for otherwise. But these days medicine is looked to for dramatically different reasons. Modern medical practice now provides us with the most widely varied set of scapegoats the world has ever known. Every personal weakness and failure, no matter how purposeful or avoidable, has become a disease, addiction or cognitive impairment. Our behavior is no longer our responsibility - we are slaves to ailments and afflictions which can explain our shortcomings, help identify commiserators and (in most cases) offer a chemical solution. As the medical community continues to provide more and more excuses, we seem to have forgotten to be wary of being peddled problems by people who are selling solutions. Love/sex addiction to explain our infidelity; depression induced insanity to explain our violence, food addiction to explain our obesity. I hope that the strongest minds amongst still know, deep down, that all of this is hooey - simply a panacea. Because, if not, I may fall victim to an intellectual-frustration induced stupor during which I may just start slapping people with staplers.

2. The Other Color. It is the most basic of tribal human instincts to look to those who appear differently from us when things begin to seem bleak. Civil wars nearly always divide along racial lines, no matter how subtle. And "race" is not simply about the color of our skin. There are real differences between the tribes that have come together to create the proverbial “melting pot” that we are today. But as times turns towards the less prosperous, we have begun to isolate, congregate and incriminate along those same lines we had fought so hard to erode. Rather than blame irresponsible lending practices, consumer spending, or labor regulation - we xenophobically turn to immigrants to explain unemployment and recession. Rather than blame inconsistent foreign policy, global instability or even the responsible radicals, we lay responsibility for global terrorism as the feet of the world’s most widely accepted religion - because it differs from our own preferred house of worship. Despite having the whole of civilization’s knowledge at our immediate disposal, we prefer to languish in ignorance and trust our fear of the unknown and misunderstood rather than endure even the most basic of educations. It doesn’t make any sense for the potatoes to blame the carrots when wondering how they got into the stew. The fact is, all of the colors are in this together, and the sooner we realize that - the better shot we’ll have at finding out who’s really to blame.

3. The "Man". It always surprises me the number of people who believe the government to be incapable of even the simplest of bureaucratic processes, and who will then ascribe impossibly vast and complex conspiracy theories to that very same entity. On one hand, we decry our professional leaders as disconnected autocrats who couldn’t accurately represent us if we were handcuffed to them, and on the other, we believe them capable of perpetrating massive long-term frauds against us without anyone finding out. We ignore Occam’s Razor with a vigor previously reserved for action movies, Tom Clancy novels and the guy down the street with the tin-foil hat. The truth is that the government is neither as capable or as incapable as we might sometimes like to believe. And as much as we hate to admit it, the government is an accurate reflection of who we are - we simply don’t like what we see. Blaming the government for our social shortcomings is like blaming the mirror for our blemishes. There is just as likely to be a secret “star chamber” where the fate of the world’s governments, markets and peoples are decided by shadowy anonymous characters as there are to be aliens or UFOs hiding in rural New Mexico. Of course, you’re free to believe in both, if you like - just not one or the other.

* * *

Blame is an easy thing to get addicted to. Taking responsibility isn’t pleasant, fun or popular - and despite what you see in the movies, it’s most often completely thankless. What’s more, blame becomes much more seductive when it’s done collectively. Mobs don’t turn on a diverse set of responsible actors when attempting redress against misfeasance - they turn on the simplest, least defensible and most convenient targets. And just because you’re not out in an Egyptian square or Tunisian street chanting slogans or waving signs doesn’t mean you’re not part of a mob. In our hyper-connected world, mobs of millions can be formed with no one leaving their couch or chair - which makes them even more dangerous than the ones in the Middle East and Northern Africa, because they’re even easier to join. But our "blame mobs" are far from the revolutionary uprisings that are changing the face of third world government overseas. No, our derisive and mindless flock gathers to be a part of the one thing a mob will never direct any blame at: itself.


Kristina said...

Oh yes #1, and they won't stop TALKING about it either! I like! Once someone was talking about victims of a crime as if they could never, ever be productive members of society with the emotional problems these victims faced due to the crime. I was surprised, as I am a member of said victim group. I did not realize I was a victim. And looking at my degrees on my wall, my children and my house, I don't think I've done all the badly! I guess I forgot I had a scapegoat to blame all my failures in life on!

David R Snodgrass said...

I never thought of the government being a reflection of who we are. Good point.

OZ101 said...

I suffer from the slapping people with staplers syndrome, better known as staptapellaitus, this is no laughing matter. And it's your fault.

Nick said...
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