This is a theme that’s been floating about the Zeitgeist. I’ve been speaking to a few people about it. I’ve been witnessing it in myself, and also witnessing it being directed at me (the two go together, the world being a self-reflecting beast ‘n’ all).
My thinking is this. Life is getting bigger and faster and scarier in many ways. And when we’re challenged and don’t have a wise, adult and responsible distance from the source of such a challenge, we resist and…blame.
I was watching a documentary on ABC’s Four Corners, The Age of Consequences, the other night about the global security threat that climate change presents. The point was made that the world spent gazillions on fighting the threat of nuclear war from the Cold War era to now, which was high destruction but low probability. And yet climate change, with a much higher level of known destruction and a much higher level of probability, has been largely ignored.
Governments in the US and in Australia prefer to deny human-created climate change is happening, or requires crisis-level attention.
Could it be that with the Cold War nuclear war threat there is a discernible baddie we can blame? An “Other”? And that with climate change the baddie is…us?
As I was about to post this my writing crush David Brooks attacked the same topic and suggested that the potent combination of increased guilt and a disintegration of moral guidance sees us persist with blame.
“Mainstream culture has no clear path upward from guilt, either for individuals or groups. So you get a buildup of scapegoating, shaming and Manichaean condemnation. This is surely a moral crisis in the making.”
I highly recommend reading the full article.
Here’s another oddity about blame.
A friend told me about a magistrate presiding over a custody battle in which the wife had cheated on the husband, a bunch of terrible stuff unfolded from this, and now the wife was unleashing on the husband, trying to deny custody and creating dramas geared at exposing the husband’s faults. The magistrate took the husband aside, who was baffled by the palaver, and said she saw this happen all the time. The party who commits the discernible wrong comes face to face with their ugliness; this is confronting, and so they…blame. They blame the person who is making them feel guilty, the aggrieved party.
We blame when we don’t want to face our own limitations. And we lash out at the mirror.
As I say, I’m seeing a lot of this about right now. I guess there is so much to face, so much to confront and so many mirrors. The shame of it, though, is that when you’re brave enough to declare mia culpa, the whole world softens in relief and forgiveness.
Do you see what I mean?