Dear old Wikipedia says that QUOTE “Blame is the act of censuring, holding responsible, making negative statements about an individual or group that their action or actions are socially or morally irresponsible, the opposite of praise.” UNQUOTE. The writer notes that the concept need not be ethically relevant as in blaming the weather.
The definition is not great but it will do quite nicely for my purposes in this essay. After all the term is quite basic to the language and in such common usage that no one should need to have it defined for them. I use the definition here to show that the term is involved in several ways of relating to the behavior of others. One can censure, one can hold responsible, and one can accuse.
I am also interested in how we react to persons being blamed.
Blaming is a quite human thing to do. One would almost consider a person to be inhuman if that person did not blame others from time to time. So there’s no point my in telling other people to not blame others. I might as well tell my wife’s little dog to not bark at dogs being walked by in the street in front of my house. He’s going to bark unless I stand over him threateningly. He was bred to behave that way and he has no real choice. So, as much as I dislike his barking, I can’t really blame the dog for doing what he was bred to do. Well, I do blame the dog… but that blaming does me no good at all. It’s just frustrating. I could blame my wife for adopting the little mutt (he’s not a pure bred dog) except that I kind of talked her into getting this particular dog. (He’s probably a lot better pet than the one she was going to choose instead.)
People blame for many reasons. If I can blame someone else then I must be superior to them, right? So blaming other individuals makes me feel better about myself. Of course, just because there are others who are inferior to me does not make me a good person or “smarter than the average bear.” It just “lowers the bar” that I have to get over to avoid being the worst of people: Small consolation, indeed. But if I can blame a large group of people – say whole categories of human beings – then I will be able to feel superior to far more folks. If you are familiar with the term “ethnocentrism” you will have a good appreciation of how easy it is to find groups one can blame. The term literally means centered in one’s culture. That is, one is firmly convinced that one’s own culture is superior to all other cultures and therefore, one is superior to every person living in or following the norms of any other culture. All those disparaging terms for various ethnic groups are expressions of such ethnocentrism. If you grew up in a neighborhood that had a number of ethnic groups you are probably quite familiar with several disparaging terms to refer to members of those other ethnic groups. I, personally, was a boy from the North with a Midwestern accent growing up in the South so I was called several names on occasion, one of which was “Yankee.” Somehow, though, I could never root for the New York Yankees since, in my family, we were all fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Another reason people employ blame is for propaganda purposes. In these cases the person doing the blaming will attempt to vilify some group, usually by applying some label which has strong emotional associations. In the South one might say that some group was “carpetbaggers.” (I chose that label since it is well-known but currently out of fashion.) Such a label would make people distrust the labeled group, feel that they were a threat, and induce contempt for them. This is called fear mongering. Nazi propagandists used such labeling on the people of Poland just before the German invasion of Poland in order to justify that invasion – in the public mind. Such labeling for propaganda purposes also tends to dehumanize the labeled persons. This makes it much easier to take aggressive and harmful action against them. Soldiers will typically have such disparaging labels for their enemies. This makes it easier to kill them and to kill their women and children. Of course this doesn’t always work very well. The high suicide rate among soldiers after combat is one indication. Those labeled people are real, flesh-and-blood human beings. They are almost always innocent of any harm to the soldiers who kill them. But if they wear the uniform, if they live in the city, if they speak the language, if they wear the clothes, if they look like the wrong side looks, they must die. World War II provides numerous sickening examples by the militaries of most of the participating nations. This too, is human nature.
Propaganda blame for political purposes is also very common. What’s the easiest way to get money for building weapons? Blame some other nation or organization for something. Then we must arm ourselves in order to defend all that is good against such an evil threat. You can easily fill in the names of nations or groups that threaten us and the sins for which we can blame them. We can use all sorts of ways of distinguishing them from us whoever we are and whoever they are. I believe it was Gulliver’s Travels which included a war between those who broke their eggs at the small end versus those who broke their eggs at the large end. You can see what a threat those people were who broke the wrong end of the egg. Now it’s only eggs, but it’s only a short step to stirring their tea with a counter-clockwise motion and then who knows what, perhaps incest or murdering babies in their cribs. Yes, it’s just that silly but we still do it. It was common in 1725 when Swift was writing Gulliver’s Travels and it’s still a common propaganda move today.
Governments can be depended upon to blame those who oppose their actions. If you publicly oppose whatever the governmental unit is doing you should expect to soon be labeled in an unflattering way.
Ad hominem attacks often use blame. After all, if you can accuse the opponent of being a bad person you don’t have to actually address the issues your opponent is discussing. I would be astonished if most of my lectures have not drawn the ire of some who would accuse me of all sorts of things. I can take no credit for that because almost any speaker on almost any subject would produce similar responses. I find that true of me as well. One of my most common responses to hearing a speaker (or reading a writer) is to think “he’s stupid” even though the person whom I so condemn in my mind may well be smarter than I am and may know far more than I do about the subject matter. All I have to do is find one poorly-worded phrase which is not quite correct, and I can dismiss all the rest of what he says that I disagree with. I successfully avoid thinking about the ways my conclusions may be wrong and maintain my self-confidence. I know the temptation and the seductive allure of blame as I must admit that I do it myself. I’m just not proud of that tendency of mine.
Next we come to self-blame. In this instance a person is a victim of some event or situation from getting struck by lightning to being raped. The two main types of self-blame are labeled “behavioral” and “characterological.” In the former case, a victim thinks about what could have been done instead to have avoided being a victim. “If only I had skipped the back nine that lightning bolt would not have struck me down because I would have been in the bar rather than on the 14th fairway.” Or more commonly, “if only I had not married that jerk.” I think almost everyone has experienced behavioral self-blame. “If only I had…” applies to so many unfortunate situations. This type of self-blame can even have good consequences when it represents a desire to improve or to avoid foolish behavior. Characterological self-blame is much worse and, I hope, far less common. That is much more likely to be a problem brought about by an abusive relationship as between parent and child when the parent tells the child in so many ways that they deserve to be harmed or punished. This can exist whenever there is a great power discrepancy between two parties.
Self-blame is especially harmful when it is a result of a culture of discrimination. Rape victims (sex slaves included), victims of hate crimes, and politically motivated government oppression victims are some of the worst examples.
One oddity of blame is that persons injured or harmed in some way by other persons are often blamed for their condition. “You should not have gone into that bad neighborhood.” “You should have had your seat belt fastened.” “You should never have married that jerk.” “That’s what you get when you smoke cigarettes.” In fact, to confess that one has been victimized is to make one’s self vulnerable to being thought a fool, a weakling, or gullible. But if one does not want to help a victim or does not want to feel vulnerable oneself, blaming the victim is a quick and easy psychological out. After all, if I am smart, strong, and skeptical I will be safe. If it’s the victim’s fault then I don’t need to identify with the victim and feel their pain vicariously. I have an excuse for doing nothing if I can blame the victim. Of course, with some victims, it’s hard to blame them directly so we have to resort to indirect blame. It’s hard to blame a baby for being hungry or being neglected so we do the next best thing and blame the parent, typically the mother, for being poor or addicted to drugs or whatever. In fact, we often think of victims as being immoral, unethical, and lacking in good moral fiber conveniently forgetting that bad things can happen to good people.
Moving on to organizations, we can deal with “passing the buck.” This popular activity directs blame away from ourselves and dumps it on others either above or below ourselves in the organization. It has been reported that in organizations which are hierarchical – that is with a few powerful people at the top and many powerless people on the bottom with various grades of power in between – in such organizations, if the blame flows upward to the top as with President Harry Truman’s sign “The Buck Stops Here,” that organization will tend to be effective. If blame flows downward to the powerless who are blamed for the organization’s problems, then the organization will tend to be inefficient, ineffective, and impotent. After all, the guys at the top have the power to fix things. So if they are blamed by the organization they can do something to remedy the organization’s flaws. On the other hand, the folks at the bottom have no power to change things and if the guys on top think of themselves as doing just fine they don’t change anything.
Since it is human nature to avoid blame, we find far more organizations that force blame downward than we find having blame rise to the top.
Now this is supposed to be a lecture series about the nature of money and the consequences of that nature. Where does money enter into all this? That’s a rhetorical question since I don’t think most of my audience actually had noticed that I have not been mentioning money. But I need some transition device to swing the topic back to money and that will do as well as any.
Psychological motives for assigning blame really exist regardless of money. I would suppose that in hunting-and-gathering societies operating with no money at all there was plenty of blame when the hunt failed or the deer ate all the nuts and berries or someone allowed the fire to go out. In other words, whenever something goes wrong people will tend to assign blame. That’s because human beings are sensitive to causation. That is, we tend to see the world in terms of cause-and-effect even when the supposed connection between two events is remote at best. That’s why people have superstitions in sports like always wearing the same pair of socks or not stepping on the foul line or licking one’s fingers before taking the snap. So since we find causation whether it’s there or not we are likely to see other persons as doing things that bring about problems or make them worse. Thus we blame them.
Well the nature of our money, of physical object money, POM as we call it, the nature of POM is such that it generates or makes worse a whole host of problems and that gives us lots of misfortune to blame on somebody or anybody. Some of those problems involve other people actively working against us. “Yes, I’m paranoid. But am I paranoid enough?” Remember that other people can take our POM against our will in a variety of ways. Remember that POM is amoral so it can be used for evil purposes. Remember that POM transactions falsely simulate a zero-sum game relationship which makes people treat each other as opponents. Remember that POM interaction is two-party interaction, which makes the interaction unstable: thus those who have more money tend to acquire a still larger share of POM as time goes by… so all these aspects of the nature of POM create problems which encourage us to blame others. “He took my money against my will.” “He swindled me.” “He’s trying to run me out of business.” “He can hire a better lawyer than I can.” So when we look at our situation as defined by – and shaped by – POM we can easily see that there are very good reasons to think that other persons’ actions have produced problems for us. “You did this to me!”
Of course there are specific kinds of blame that are more directly related to our POM. Those political propaganda messages are bought and paid for by POM. POM is the means by which blame is assigned. And when it comes to buck-passing, the power at the top of the organization is based largely on the control of POM in that organization. That power to control POM can coerce persons in the organization to blame those they manage rather than passing the blame up the organizational ladder. So people get promoted or fired based on how much they flatter the boss rather than for telling the boss that his plan misfired and caused a mess. But though these effects are significant, they are relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things with regard to blame.
To see how POM creates much larger problems related to blame, and how non-POM reduces those problems, we need to briefly get back to definitions. Please note that there is a major and significant difference between assigning blame and explaining or understanding why something happened. In other words it’s easy to assign blame and we do it whether the blame is deserved or not. (Yes, I do it, too.) But just because I blame some person or group for a problem does not explain how that problem came about. Just because I blame some person or group for a problem does not help me understand how that problem can be solved. Blame may make me feel somewhat better but it doesn’t make the situation any better. If one of the baseball players I coach takes a called third strike I can blame that player for my losing the baseball game but that doesn’t prevent any of my players from taking called third strikes in the next game. It doesn’t solve the problem. Understanding why the player did not swing is important and gives one a chance to solve the problem. So if I stop with blame and never strive to understand or to explain then I do not improve.
POM does not encourage explanation and understanding. POM gives us a false impression of the situation. With POM, that other guy did that terrible thing to harm me and to get my money. That’s the assumption POM forces us to make. And it’s a reasonable assumption because we know that the other guy has a money motive to take advantage of us if he possibly can. Of course most people are too honest and honorable to yield to that temptation, at least most of the time. But some people will inevitably fall victim to their temptations and try to cheat or steal from us. Does it make sense to blame them?
It does make sense in some ways, but it makes sense in the same way that blaming my dog for barking at everything makes sense. Sure I can blame the swindler that takes advantage of my trusting nature. That swindler did take my money by fraud. He really is a scoundrel. He really has done something immoral. Perhaps there are ethical systems which would say that he deserved to be punished. So what? Will he stop swindling people because I blame him? Will my reporting the fraud to the police get him arrested? Will his going to jail get my money back or reduce my tax load? How will assigning blame to that individual solve the problem of my vulnerability to fraud? Sure, I learned a lesson on this fraud. But does that make me proof against all other frauds? I don’t think so. We have been blaming swindlers for thousands of years yet swindlers carry on. We put swindlers in jail occasionally but the supply seems endless. P. T. Barnum is quoted as saying “There’s a sucker born every minute and none of them ever die.” Well, I suggest that there’s a swindler born every minute to take advantage of that sucker.
Do we really understand the root of the problem of swindlers? It would appear that we don’t. Every nation has fraud, and every nation suffers from fraud, and this has been true for as long as nations (or kingdoms) have existed. But as we have shown in other lectures in this series, fraud requires that money be taken from someone against that someone’s will. If POM could not be taken from you against your will you could not be a victim of fraud. This simple fact which is totally obvious when you actually stop to think about it explains why fraud exists and suggests the appropriate path to take to solve the problem. Understanding why fraud is possible and why people are tempted to defraud others is the key to eliminating fraud. Note that it does not require that we blame anyone.
I will pause at this point to further note that non-POM cannot be taken from its owner against that owner’s will.
I can use the same arguments for most property crimes such as robbery, theft, and burglary. Just substitute the appropriate crime words for the “swindler” and “fraud.” So non-POM will eliminate the need to blame for such things by eliminating those crimes. You can’t steal non-POM. But this is relatively minor. What about blame in organizations?
With POM one has a money motive to avoid being blamed for problems the organization faces. Everyone has a money motive to use blame to give up as little money as possible. POM makes people feel like enemies via that false simulation of a zero-sum game relationship. It’s easy to blame those with little power. It’s dangerous to blame those with a lot of power. Therefore POM economies will almost always blame the poorest and weakest. In the U.S. one has only to think of the poorest and weakest categories of people and note what they are blamed for. In a non-POM economy when things go wrong, many people lose possible future income. When people come to harm, other people earn less money. What is that like for the people who suffer harm? Do they blame anyone in a non-POM economy? Well if you know of someone who loves you, perhaps a parent or child or spouse, consider whether you would blame them if they accidentally hurt you …stepping on your toes when they backed up, for example. They didn’t do it on purpose. They feel bad about having hurt you. They regret what they did and will try to avoid doing that in the future. They will try to make your toes feel better. They may do something especially nice for you to make you feel better. That’s the kind of thing people do when they love you. You will find that in a non-POM economy that is exactly what happens when you suffer harm. The people (there may be thousands of them) who played a part in bringing about that harm didn’t do it on purpose. They did not want you to suffer any kind of injury whether physical, mental, or material. They feel badly about your suffering. They regret having played a part in your suffering and will try to find some way to avoid doing that in the future. Some of them will try to reduce or eliminate that harm. Others may do something especially nice for you to make you feel better. All of them will act this way because they have a non-POM money motive, in that doing so increases their income.
So would you blame anyone in a non-POM economy if you suffer harm any more than you would blame that person who loves you for their accidentally harming you? Perhaps you would. But it would not be like blaming that swindler or that thief, would it? Your emotion would be quite different.
But back to that organization in a non-POM economy rather than what we have in a POM economy. Non-POM organizations are composed of people working together voluntarily. They are not dependent on that organization. See the lecture on dependence for a fuller understanding of that feature of non-POM organizations. The point is that a non-POM organization is not hierarchical: Blame cannot be forced upon anyone. In other words, when one works with others there is no blame avoidance just an attempt to do better and solve problems. Unlike the POM relationship of working for others who have the power to punish those who are dependent, with a non-POM economy everyone is self-employed –even if there are several thousand people cooperating to produce some beneficial product. You can’t be fired. No one has to punish you if you harm others, because doing harm to others will reduce your future income. Non-POM emphasizes understanding problems to prevent them rather than finding some way to avoid taking responsibility for those problems.
Next we come to the use of blame in propaganda, particularly in political situations. As we have pointed out, blame does not help solve problems. In fact, it tends to prevent the solving of problems because we human beings tend to stop thinking about solutions once we have assigned blame. If the swindler is caught and you get your money back you tend to stop trying to think of ways to stop swindling. But political blame is done for profit with POM. With non-POM there is no profit in propaganda. In fact, since propaganda is inherently deceptive even if only in the sense that it generates false emotional intensities, it would cost you future income to produce or disseminate propaganda. Everyone who helps support those who generate public misunderstanding or inappropriate behavior loses future income. For example, sparking fear of a very rare disease which is hardly contagious at all, to the exclusion of concern for much more dangerous health risks, is to cause harm. This recent use of propaganda to blame individuals concerning ebola was done for purely political purposes and caused considerable harm. Such actions with non-POM would cost those who participated in such propaganda considerable future income. In our POM economy it was profitable to some and the politicians did not suffer at all.
Propaganda against categories of people such as immigrants, minority group members, the poor and so forth, does considerable harm. It wastes resources and reduces the productivity of those victimized groups. In a non-POM economy such actions would be resisted by the media and those who attempted to spread such lies would lose considerable income and have serious bad marks against them in their work reputations. Fear-mongering, demonization, and other blaming behaviors would simply not be available since stopping such activities would earn non-POM and people working in the media would be very careful about spreading incorrect information.
What about self-blame? This will be reduced by non-POM, though not eliminated with respect to behavioral self-blame. Therapy for such conditions will earn non-POM and the concern and attention in such cases will be on how to prevent others from suffering the same bad consequences that the self-blaming person suffered. This approach by others will tend to help the victim see the harm as being a consequence of poor design or bad luck or some other failing by the system rather than their own fault.
With respect to characterological self-blame, the problem will be strongly addressed by anyone who works with such a victim. People who believe they deserve blame due to some inherent flaw cannot be very productive. Therefore helping them overcome such a misconception will generate a continuing income for many years. Thus everyone has a motive with non-POM to help.
The whole area of victim blaming will be virtually eliminated not just because such blaming will cost the accusers money but because victims are an opportunity to earn non-POM. If you can help someone who is suffering you can earn non-POM by doing so. Thus one might well thank those who are victims for providing an opportunity to gain money. No one is threatened by such victims. No one has to fear that those victims will be costing them money. No one will think of such victims as a burden and as generating more annoying work.
So to summarize, blame is a largely dysfunctional behavior which solves no problems and creates still more difficulties. Blame permeates politics in particular. Blame prevents efforts to solve problems. Blame at the individual psychological level will always be with us to some degree. But blame at the macro level, at the corporate level, at the level of major social groups, this level of blame is fostered and magnified by the nature of our physical object money or POM. Non-POM would completely eliminate many of these problems, especially at that macro or large-scale level. And it would help make the individual psychological type of blame less damaging as well.
Even if you perversely enjoy playing the “blame game” please consider supporting non-POM anyway. Your hatred and fear of those whom you blame, whether they be the rich and powerful or the poor and weak, is only harming you and preserving the very problems you suffer. Non-POM can probably, well, almost certainly will eliminate or greatly reduce the problems that are most important to you – the ones which directly affect you. Your suffering is probably unnecessary. If all else fails, remember these words from the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.” That actually works. I don’t think any of us is qualified to cast the first stone, we really need to try something that actually works.
Non-POM, as a system, will forgive. Non-POM does not try to make anyone feel guilty. Think about it. If you were in their place would you act any differently? Are you immune to the temptations of POM and the evils it allows and perpetuates? If so, you are a saint: but there are few who are so saintly. We need non-POM to help the rest of us by eliminating all that unnecessary temptation to blame.
But I won’t blame you if you find non-POM too good to believe.