Trump and the who-to-blame game

November 9, 2016

Trump is elected. He was not my preferred candidate. And at times like this, I find that I, like most human beings, want SOMEONE TO BLAME. We humans prefer narrative explanations of events – a plot, involving characters – and of course every good narrative needs an arch-villain. It’s all THEIR fault, we want to say – me included. We want someone to boo and hiss at.


When it comes to the election of Trump, it can be very tempting to point a finger at, for example: racist rednecks, the Republican Party, Fox News and Murdoch, the MSM more generally, the Washington Establishment, the peddlers of neo-liberal economics, the abstaining Millenials, the Democrats that scuppered Bernie, etc. Where we point our finger of blame will be largely determined by the political views we already hold – we’ll choose the villain that fits, that best makes sense on, our pre-established narrative.


Of course, the last place we’ll point the finger of blame is at ourselves, for we are always the heroes of our own narrative. So what’s your preferred story and villain?


While the narrative/villain who-to-blame model comes naturally to most of us when it comes to explaining catastrophes, is it the best model to adopt if we want to make things better and to avoid such outcomes in future?


Not necessarily, I think. Sometimes the most causally salient factor to focus on, if you want to act to prevent similar outcomes in future, is not the individual or individuals who are most culpable. Rather than looking for reasons to find someone blameworthy, we might do better to focus on what we might most effectively change to ensure such things don’t happen again.


So, for example, while it might be evil Peter that’s really to blame for seducing and tricking the largely innocent Paul into to doing some bad thing, putting our efforts into ensuring that the Pauls of this world are more resistant to the wiles of manipulators like Peter – rather than putting our efforts into locking- or shutting-up the very hard-to-control Peters – may be a much more effective strategy if we want to avoid such bad outcomes in future.


Moreover, not only does the narrative/villain who-to-blame model often get us to focus on the wrong thing if we want to avoid such bad outcomes in future, it also encourages us to be exclusivist – to say, not just that it’s THEIR fault, but that it’s ALL their fault. Not only must someone blameworthy be found, we must identify the arch-villain – the true pantomime bad guy – at the heart of it all. In reality – to the extent that there is any blame-worthiness at all (and, perhaps if we lack free-will, there never is) – that blameworthiness is often much more spread about. Some of it may be much closer to home than we would like to believe.

(Revised 12th Nov ’16)
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