The Mass Conspiracy of Blame Avoidance


If you can ever get far enough from the status quo, one of the most shocking sights you’ll see is the mass conspiracy of blame avoidance. This phenomenon is so pervasive  that most people go their entire lives without taking serious notice of it. It simply is, and the possibility of another way has never occurred to them.

People do see this from time to time of course, but only as it intrudes on them personally. And even then, they generally wander away from the conflict and slide back into the conspiracy, wondering what just happened.

I call this a mass conspiracy because it’s something all of us enforce upon each other. I’m sure there must be a few people who’ve been immune to it since birth, but I can’t really point to anyone. And while I was less prone to this than others by a good piece, I’ve enforced it upon others myself. (Though not in some time, I’m pleased to report.)

“Okay. So, What Is It?”

Let me start with the part of this most of us have run into:

Have you noticed that staying in lock-step with authority absolves you of blame?

And have you noticed that new things – things not acknowledged by authority – are held to the opposite standard: that even one flaw excludes them from consideration?

Let’s take “social services” as an example.

Everyone knows that these operations consistently fail the children they’re supposed to save and that a shocking number of these children are ignored, abused, and even killed. The operators of the system, though, are never seriously held to account (certainly not personally), and their funding increases year after year.

Let someone propose a different way of handling the same “social” problems, however, and criticism jumps to the highest possible level. “What if” questions are not so much asked as launched at the new idea, and unless all of them are deflected, the new idea is instantly rejected.

A reasonable approach would be to count the failures under the current version, project the number of failures under the proposed version, and compare. But that doesn’t happen. Instead, the failures of the accepted version are flatly ignored, and a single imagined failure of the new way disqualifies it.

That is simply illogical and unreasonable. In fact, it’s cult-like.

And yet, nearly all of us have done this at one time or another. Some of us have done it many times.

The Payoff

If millions of us are doing this, you’d guess that there has to be some kind of payoff from it. And there is. The payoff is psychological comfort, and it works like this:

When we attack the new idea (social services-related or otherwise), we’re not defending children from risks, we’re defending our previous choices and the hedge that stands between us and blame.

Most people feel overmatched by the world. This begins in childhood and is nurtured in government schools, where years of an obscure but persistent curriculum teach us to obey without question and never to place our judgment above authority.

Because of this and other factors, we retain the sick feeling of being overmatched all our lives.

On top of that, we live in a guilt-ridden culture… and guilt feels bad.

And so we find refuge in a dimly recognized conspiracy:

We’ll support authority – and will ridicule anyone who strays from it – so long as authority protects its adherents from blame.

You can see this in the way people deal with the edicts they are given by authority: They hide behind them.

Rules provided by authority stand as the responsible party instead of us. No matter that we actually performed a harmful action, if we did it under authority, we can hold ourselves blameless, to which other members of the conspiracy will attest.

And that’s why we trash anything new and unauthorized, because if authority can be ignored, our protection from blame can be ignored too.

Are We Really That Fragile?

This conspiracy presumes that we’re far too fragile to handle blame. It roots in our childhood vulnerabilities and calls up the intimidations of enforced schooling. Regardless that we’re no longer fragile seven-year-olds, we feel that way… because the conspiracy was forged in us when we were weak seven-year-olds and rests upon those feelings.

The conspiracy, then, is cruel to us. We are no longer children, and we shouldn’t still be suffering childhood fears. We no longer need parents. If anything, we need to be parents.

This conspiracy of blame avoidance further keeps us from appreciating ourselves. Because if we started taking blame for our faults, we’d also start accepting credit for our virtues and successes. And those are far more numerous.

I hope I’ve given you a glimpse of this mass conspiracy, because it’s a sneaky and seductive destroyer.

We really have outgrown childhood and its fears. We’ll do far better by leaving them and the conspiracy behind.

* * * * *

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* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

4 thoughts on “The Mass Conspiracy of Blame Avoidance”

  1. Here is another example from my work (medicine related), where the administration of my hospital recently imposed a rule that should make patient care more safe.
    Who can disagree with something like that?
    3 problems
    – the rule is invented by people (in power) who have never seen patients
    – whether the rule works has never been tested
    – the rule was specifically made to avoid legal consequences (for the hospital) when something wents wrong in patient care, and not really to make patient care better.
    Which are 3 reasons why I am kind of reluctant to learn the rule (meaning: to pass a test)
    I did however volunteer (to the administration) to test whether the rule works, i.e. whether it leads to better patient care, exactly in the way that Paul proposed: I.e. count the failures under the previous version (before the rule was imposed), count the number of failures under the current version (after the rule was imposed), and compare.
    The administration laughed at my plan first. When I insisted on this plan, and explained how my plan could work: they said my plan was not possible to test. When I explained that with my plan it was possible to test whether the rule had worked, they said it wasn’t important, because whatever the outcome of my research, it would not change anything.
    I just have to learn the rule, and pass the test, is all I heard from administration. So I have to…
    Although I did ask the administration one final question before I left, that is what they think what would happen if al Medicine related work would be like that: making up rules (like drug treatment, surgery procedures, etc) just because someone in power thinks that these rules make patient care better?
    This question was answered with silence….

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