Monday, March 6, 2000

Week of 03/06/2000

Blaming The Thing
- by David Matthews 2

There was a scene in the movie "Stripes" where John Larroqutte’s character gets out of his car and is distracted by something passing by, and as he’s distracted, he runs into a pole. He immediately turns to his aide and says "Have that removed!"

Sometimes I think the world is just full of these kind of bumbling idiots.

Case in point, our obsession with foisting blame of human events onto inanimate objects.

Think about it. Something bad happens. Let’s say a car accident. People are hurt or killed. Someone pulls a whisky bottle out of the remains of the car, and instantly the cries come out for tougher liquor laws, as if THAT would somehow avenge the lives of those lost.

Passing the blame, of course, goes back a long way. In the book of Genesis, when God was angry at Adam and Eve for eating the fruit, Adam blamed Eve for telling him to eat it. Eve, then, blamed the snake for suggesting she eat it. No doubt if the snake said anything, it would’ve blamed the tree itself for producing the fruit. Or maybe not. After all, passing the blame is part of our somewhat complicated human psyche.

And for whatever reason, we always end up trying to foist blame on inanimate objects. Let’s look at some of the common scapegoats.

Alcohol - Once upon a time, intoxication used to be an excuse for anything under the sun. Even today, when intoxication is not considered to be a legal defense in court, people are ever quick to blame their situation on being drunk.

End up in a strange bed? Don’t blame yourself, blame the booze. Beat your spouse? Don’t blame yourself, blame the booze. Start a fight? Don’t blame yourself, blame the booze. Crash your car? Don’t blame yourself, blame the booze.

Most recently, alcohol was the reason given for local lawmakers in the Buckhead section of Atlanta to urge nightclubs to close at 2am instead of 4. What really sparked the movement, however, had little - if anything - to do with alcohol, and more to do with the killing of two men at the Cobalt nightclub, which Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Lewis is accused of participating in.

Pornography - The scapegoat of sex offenders and moralists everywhere! Moralists always look towards what they piously deem as "smut" as the causes of the most sickest of crimes.

Convicted murderer Ted Bundy is perhaps the most infamous man to use the excuse of "porn made me do it" as a way to get a last laugh on the world. Just days before his execution, he taped an interview for the Christian Science Monitor, in which he blamed hardcore pornography as the reason behind his abducting, raping, and killing of dozens of women across America. Never mind, of course, that Ted Bundy was a manipulative liar who would say anything to get out of Florida’s electric chair. No doubt, somewhere in the deepest bowls of Hell, Bundy is laughing his head off over that last joke.

Music - Rock music has often been considered the catalyst for young people to do stupid things. From "Elvis the Pelvis" to Marilyn Manson, people are quick to blame rock music for the failings of their children.

Granted, some of the music is dark and depressing and violent, but in some cases it reflected the mood of the group, or the mood of the audience it was trying to reach. Not to mention rock music does not have an exclusive on depressing lyrics… just look at some of the lyrics in country music for further proof.

Books and Comic Books - From the horror series of the 1950’s to today’s Magna comics from Japan, comic books have been considered to be the scapegoat of child behavior experts and moralists. But comic books are just the illustrated version of the whole genre of literature that have entertained, informed, and inspired others.

But they have also expressed ideas that some people don’t like, and divulged information that some people would use for wrong purposes, and because of that, some people want to hold the publishers of those books just as responsible as the perpetrators. The publishers of the "Poor Man’s James Bond" series, for instance, were sued by a family of one who was killed from a bomb featured in one of those books.

However, if people wish to hold authors and publishers responsible for publishing the ideas that inspire others to act, they are hypocritically silent when it comes to the one book that has been the inspiration of much violence and persecution - the Holy Bible. Where are all the blame-shifters then?

Television - It should be no surprise that people use television as yet another scapegoat. From the crime shows to professional wrestling to soap operas to "Bevis and Butthead", television had everything people wanted to see, and thus everything for people to blame.

Your three-year old set fire to your home? Don’t blame yourself for leaving matches available, blame MTV for running "Bevis and Butthead" in the afternoon. Your kids fighting too often? Don’t blame yourself, blame Jerry Springer.

Of course, if parents didn’t use television as an artificial babysitter, and took greater control over what their kids watched on the TV, they probably wouldn’t have to blame television for their failings. Even when they’re given easy-to-understand ratings to guide their choices, they refuse to heed them.

The Internet - The newest scapegoat for parents and lawyers. Get caught sending threatening e-mails? Don’t blame yourself, blame all of the time you spend on the Internet! Cheating on your spouse? Don’t blame yourself, blame the Internet for letting you have cyber-affairs. Go broke gambling? Don’t blame yourself, blame your service provider for "letting" you gamble.

You know the Internet has reached the level of "scapegoat" when lawyers create something called "Internet Fatigue Syndrome" as an excuse for someone who sends death threats online. Please!

Guns - The most recent scapegoat for the evils that men do. The old saying by the National Rifle Association that "guns don’t kill people, people do" may be true, but that does not stop the plethora of whines and moans from those who think every single gun should be confiscated and destroyed.

Guns do make killing faster and easier. However, rather than concentrating on WHO is pulling the trigger, gun control advocates rather put the blame on the weapon itself, and are quick to use every gun-related tragedy as a rallying cry against guns. To them, all guns are evil.

Using guns as a scapegoat for society is made even worse when the person pulling the trigger is not an adult. With adults, there is at least that fragment of personal responsibility. There is none where the killer is but a child.

The most recent tragedy involved a seven-year old boy, who got the gun from a flophouse where he lived. To make things worse, the gun was stolen. So in that case, no law on the book could have stopped that tragedy from happening. But that doesn’t stop the gun control advocates from blaming that inanimate object on the death of a six-year old girl.

No matter what the scapegoat is, however, the argument is always the same: human beings with functional brains are somehow not responsible for their actions, but rather become the "tool" of an inanimate object.

Now let’s get brutally honest here. There is perhaps no more asinine an excuse for human behavior than to blame a tragedy of human action over an inanimate object.

A gun does not pull the trigger all by itself. A bottle of whisky does not seize control of a car and crash it into a family of six. Neither television nor comic books force a child on top of a roof and shove him off so he could try to fly like Superman. The Internet does not compel people to break relationships nor does it compel them to gamble their life savings away or to commit rape. All of these things require human action.

So why do we want to blame inanimate objects?

Partly because we refuse to foist blame on human beings.

Christianity teaches us to hate the sin, but love the sinner. We are asked to forgive the perpetrator when he or she asks for forgiveness. But there is still that urge to foist blame on something, to give some kind of meaning to what happened. So instead of a person, we blame an inanimate object.

Plus blaming an inanimate object is pretty much guilt-free. There is no case of mistaken identity when you blame a thing. An inanimate object doesn’t show up on CNN with its lawyer and therapist claiming it was misunderstood, or the victim of prejudice. It can’t plead temporary insanity or enter into a plea bargain. It simply exists to be used, one way or another.

That’s also why politicians are eager to exploit asset forfeiture laws, and try to expand them into as many crimes as possible. After all, it’s easy to seize property. Property has no rights to be concerned with. Using these blatantly anti-American laws, police can seize property without a court order or even a trial, essentially declaring an inanimate object guilty until proven innocent. Police, prosecutors, and politicians can then parade their ill-gotten goods around as signs that they are doing their jobs. Clearly a far more visible public relations tool than arrest and conviction statistics.

While we’re blaming inanimate objects and watching them be confiscated and paraded about, we are slowly losing track of personal responsibility, of holding a person responsible for his or her actions. Consequentially, we are also losing track of what it means to take charge of one’s own life. If a person’s actions can be so dictated by the possession of an inanimate object, what does that say about a person being in charge of their own life? Of making choices? If we say that a person is not responsible for the choices they make, how can we expect them to be the innovators and inventors of tomorrow?

The inanimate object is simply a tool, being used first by the person responsible, and then again by others who refuse to adhere to holding a person responsible for their actions. If we truly value free will and the right of people to make choices and live their lives as they see fit, we must stop trying to blame the inanimate object, and start blaming the person for using the object.

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