“Who is the blame?”
That question has been aired a lot this year. After the shock results of the EU referendum in Britain and the election of Mr. Trump to the office of President of the United States, people opposed to these results have been desperate to find someone to blame. Whether it’s the Guardian, The Spectator or the Huffington Post, newspapers representing the mainstream view or – dare I say it – the ‘liberal elite’ have been pointedly listing those who they see as to blame for the results.
Neither has it been just the mainstream media; I remember the moaning and mourning expressed by my friends on social media after each of these events, the Brexit result in particular. Those who voted to Leave were seen as have done a serious wrong; criminals, guilty of a crime. Nonsense such as ‘the older generations should be banned from voting’ was thrown around. Whenever I suggested that they might wish to restrain from voicing such aggressive talk, I was digitally ‘shouted down’, attacked myself, despite the fact that I personally opposed withdrawing from the European Union. Eventually, tempers cooled, but the belief that someone was to blame persisted.
This blame culture somewhat irritates and worries me. It appears to be rather pervasive in society in general – indeed, I understand it is a problem commonly identified in business – but especially so in public life. Every time something goes wrong, the public look for somebody to blame – usually our elected officials. Indeed, in my more-flippant moods, I can sometimes be heard to say that “politicians are paid to be scapegoats”. While I am never entirely serious when I say this, I do truly believe there is a grain of truth in that statement.
We all seem to love to blame the government for our woes – I am certainly no exception. This is quite understandable and not unjustified – they are the government after all. However, there often seems to be a tacit suggestion that the government is not working for us out of malicious intent or utter stupidity. In our haste to blame them for their failings, I think that we often forget that the most likely reason for government failure is the sheer monumental challenge they face – a challenge that we all face as members of the same society. Blaming the government in this way subtly shifts responsibility from us as citizens of that democratic society entirely onto the shoulders of a few heavily-scrutinised individuals.
Please don’t take this as disregarding accountability. Certainly, accountability is a vital element in today’s society, and those who have done wrong should be held accountable. However, it appears that this accountability has been shifted onto members of the voting public, who are to be blamed for casting their ballots in the way they did. Despite this, in the context of the two votes I have mentioned, no crime or legal malpractice has been committed. People voted in a certain way, and to ‘blame’ them for voting that way is to ignore the deeper issues in society that led to those votes.
This is my main issue with blame – the fact that blaming somebody for a problem tacitly puts all the burden of responsibility onto them. The blamers can then metaphorically wipe their hands clean of the mess, and self-righteously sniff a smug “I told you so” if anything goes wrong. While I don’t wish to bang on about Brexit, many of my fellow Remainers seem almost-pleased when they hear forecasts of economic uncertainty and possible decline for Britain due to its future withdrawal from the EU. I won’t lie, in my more-pessimistic moods I sometimes feel the same. However, this is undeniably the wrong attitude to take. The Remainers lost the vote, and as good citizens we should now hope that we were wrong and the result was the right one to take, no matter how it sticks in our throat. This is not to say we should not fight for the best result possible – far from it. But to sit back and gleefully watch for each piece of bad news so that we can feel smugly superior as everything metaphorically comes crashing down is an example of poor citizenship, as far as I am concerned.
In any case, blaming the Brexiteers or – as also found in the States – an abstract categorised group like the ‘white working class’ is to ignore our own responsibility as members of a shared society. We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, complicit in the hundreds of complicated factors – societal, economic, cultural, etc. – that led to these outcomes. To think that in today’s complex society that one or two isolated groups are solely responsible for such momentous results is ludicrous.
Furthermore, blame gets us nowhere, except giving us a short-lived sense of catharsis and smug superiority. So, you have determined what you see as the ‘culprits’ in a problem. What next? Where does that lead you? Nowhere, as far as I can see. If you are focusing on blame, you are not focusing on change. This is especially true in the political contexts I have described, which I see as stemming largely from fundamental lack of empathy and understanding between different sections of society. Blame just leads to building up even-higher walls between these societal groups, cemented in demonisation and further separation. We need to come together as a society, break down those menacing walls and start to understand and empathise with each other’s differences. Resorting to blame, I fear, will lead us further down the dark spiral towards a hopelessly divided, broken and sullen civilisation. Let’s look to the future and go about fixing the problem, rather than assigning blame and tacitly refusing to accept collective responsibility as a society.