The Blame Game

29 03 2009

“Whoever is dissatisfied with himself is continually ready for revenge.” -Nietzsche

I’m getting a little tired of how merciless everyone is being with some of our important public figures these days.  Everyone who is working on fixing the economic crisis, for example.  As a psychology student I figured I would do my part and try to illuminate our current affairs in the light of scapegoating theory (or something like that) so that we might be able to lighten up on the people who are trying to help us.

The following is right out of my social psychology textbook, “…pain and frustration evoke hostility. When the cause of our frustration is intimidating or vague, we often redirect our hostility.”  So we end up directing our frustration towards someone or something that probably doesn’t deserve it.  And it satisfies us.  I’m pretty sure most of us can relate to that.  But I’m also pretty sure that most of us can see why that’s not a good thing.

witchHistorically, scapegoats have included witches, blacks, jews or any other “outgroup”.  Most “modern” people cringe at the treatment that those groups have received at the hands of people who were angry but who didn’t really know what they were doing or where to direct their anger.  And yet we all do essentially the same thing on a daily basis, albeit typically in a less extreme manner.

The economic crisis is a good example of frustration that leads to scapegoating.  For most of us the ultimate causes of the crisis are beyond our comprehension.  So we quickly latch on to the names that the media provides us and begin blaming.  We blame people like Bernie Madoff, Tim Geithner, and President Obama.  Poor people get mad at rich people.  Rich people get mad at poor people.  We blame people who aren’t like us.  The truth is, many of the people we insist on blaming for our economic troubles are the ones actually trying to fix it, while the real perpetrators have escaped the public eye.

A guy like Bernie Madoff is a good candidate for a scapegoat because he’s a criminal and nobody likes him.  But blaming him for the economic crisis is like blaming all crime on one particularly proficient car thief.

And then guys like Obama are, when they accept the office of president, essentially volunteering to be a scapegoat for the American people.  As unfair as it is to blame the innocent (degree of innocence is open to debate, I suppose) it is still satisfying and perhaps calming for the people to do so.  And the president is a convenient and safe person to blame for their woes.

But generally speaking, I think it’s totally unfair and immature to cast blame indiscriminately on those who do not deserve it.  Even if it feels good.  So let’s use our common sense and common history to re-evaluate our behavior towards the people or things that we think are causing all our problems.  We need to give credit where credit is due and lighten up a little.  If we constantly look for who’s doing the wrong thing it will be harder to see when they’re doing the right thing.

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2 responses

29 03 2009
pochp

Right. It’s better to look at the sunshine than at the storm.

29 03 2009
Dan Harker

Couldn’t agree with you more. Nice touch with the Spanish inquisition.

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