The Blame Game

At the risk of what George Will calls “committing sociology,” let me offer the following: The world is drifting farther and farther away from self-accountability. Our culture has become obsessed with removing all blame from everyone everywhere.*

Of course, passing blame is nothing new. Adam blamed Eve, who blamed the serpent, who (poor bastard) had no one else to blame. Yet it seems to me that blame-avoidance has morphed during my lifetime from an unattractive tendency to an overpowering ethos.

Every bad habit has become a disease. The alcoholic drinks, not because he/she made bad decisions that led to dependency, but because of sickness. (For the record, I don’t much care how people get off alcohol as long as they do. If calling it a disease helps, so be it.) A question arises, though, as to what we are accountable for. Does calling every bad habit a disease really help people get a grip on themselves? Does life primarily do things to us or are we actors in a world of choices?

When Hillary Clinton some years after the Lewinsky (ahem) incident, stated that Bill Clinton had a “sex addiction,” I just about spewed my coffee on the floor. Please. We used to say that husbands cheated. Now they are addicts, which implies on some level that they can’t help it. Forgive me, but I am dubious. Throngs of incandescent sex kittens follow me everywhere, and I don’t cheat. (Being an academic is not as easy as it looks.)

If I ever did cheat, somehow I don’t think I would have the audacity to blame someone else for my lack of zipper control. Nor would I be inclined to tell a friend who had cheated that it wasn’t his/her fault. Doing good starts with accepting the bad. We don’t teach our children honesty by denying that they stole a cookie. We don’t send adults out into the world when we pass college kids just so they can graduate.

Maybe that is the problem. We live in a largely grownup-free world. We have become so fearful of offending that we speak in circles instead of confronting squarely. We allow the politically correct to intimidate us into administering a placebo rather than the medicine of truth. In our attempts to be understanding, we have instead become enablers–people who recreate the nursery and the playground for our fellow humans.

One can run from oneself for only as long as the rest of the world is willing to pick up the tab. From the chronically-late friend for whom we wait yet one more time to the smoker whose habit we blame on the tobacco company, we encourage others to keep up the charade. In the end, we go broke never really having helped anyone at all.


*With the possible exception of businesspeople, who catch flack for everything from global warming to dandruff.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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1 Response to The Blame Game

  1. Joseph Goodman says:

    A favorite passage of mine:

    “…we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilzation needs is more ‘drive’, or dyanism…In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” From: The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis (p. 26)


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