Scapegoats, Blamecasting, and Excuses

Scapegoating, as you may already know, is the act of selecting a single person and putting the blame for some ignominious action on their head. Typically, it is done to spare a larger group of people who are actually guilty of the bad deed. The term comes from the Bible (according to Wikipedia), and refers to the practice of a village placing the sins of their people on a goat and sending it into the desert/wilderness to die (and their sins die along with it).

Blamecasting is something similar to scapegoating, but slightly different. Blamecasting needs two parties who are trying to reconcile an issue. A mediator will then coerce the party that is not complying with the proposed solution to the problem by threatening to blame them for the entire issue. This is called “leverage.”

We all know what excuses are. They’re the reasons we make up so we don’t have to do things.

These tendencies (really all one tendency – the tendency to cast blame) reveal a strange aspect of human thought and behavior. Namely, that we (the human animal/individual) are somehow separate from ourselves or our environment – be it a kingdom (as in, human beings are somehow not a part of the animal kingdom), a community/village, an ecosystem, a corporation, a national banking system, a global economy, or anything else.

Not only that, but blame also assumes that, by blaming something outside ourselves (separate from us), we can escape our own part in the thing that has been done.

This type of behavior has been commonly used among public figures in the past fifty years. I don’t want to enumerate all of the instances I can think of, because you’ll get even more bored than you are now, but here are a couple that come to mind. Enron – blamed on the CEO’s. Who was really to blame? FERC, and everyone working at Enron who didn’t blow the whistle. What about the recent banking crisis? Well, the SEC surely should have been paying closer attention, but are they to blame? And anyone working at Madoff’s firm, and any of the people who knew what was happening at the large investment houses, surely must have known.  But are they really to blame?  You can blame sub-prime mortgages, but that’s just a “thing,” it doesn’t “do” anything on its own.

The problem with the banking crisis is that we’re suddenly confronted with this tendency. We’re confronted with the fact that every individual is in no way “separate” from the rest of the world.

It seems strange to have to say it, and even stranger because of how difficult it is to say.

Have you ever heard that “you are your environment?” This goes down to something as fundamental as the ability to move. You cannot develop the ability to move without an environment. In a vacuum, you’d never move. And the environment you’re in will dictate the type of movement you actually do, once you do start moving. I’m talking strictly about the physical environment, not the psychological environment, which is equally large an influence.  You will develop different styles and patterns of movement depending on what your environment is like – you’ll move differently if you live in a jungle than you would if you lived in a desert.

Your psychological environment will also dictate how you move. People who feel threatened will naturally assume a “defensive posture” – which means that their normal posture will tend toward the fetal position. Have you ever seen someone who is depressed? Their head falls forward, their shoulders slumped, their belly and chest sunken. If they sat down, they’d curl up into a ball. How do you think that affects the way you walk? How do you think that posture affects the function of your internal organs? How does it affect the types and quantities of hormones that are released into your body?  Their psychological state, due to their environment (because, again, most of us don’t “make up” our psychological states, they’re a result of our daily interactions with our environments and ourselves), is leaving these people crippled.

What about your relationship with yourself? Excuse-making is no different than scapegoating. Frequently, our excuses use ourselves as the scapegoat – “I’m not good enough,” “I’m too out of shape to work out,” “I’ve never been good at [insert thing you've never even tried to do before].”  Here, “I” am the blamer and the blame-e.  Some close friends of mine used to always say “Oh, we’re all fat in this house.”  It was a way to escape their own responsibility for their physical state.  By saying it out loud, the blame had been cast.  There was no need to do anything to resolve the underlying problem anymore.  The goat had been sent out into the desert.

Scapegoating, blamecasting, and excuse-making, I argue, should not be seen as the fundamental problem we face. Instead, we should recognize that it is a dissociation between us and ourselves/environment – and I do mean the entire world when I say “environment,” not just the living room or office you might currently sit in – that is at the root of the problems we face as individuals and as a society.

You and your actions are not in any way separate from the giant pool of floating plastic that is suffocating the ocean. You are not in any way separate from the betting taking place on Wall St. (as some of us found out the hard way) – whether you take part in it or not! You are not separate from starvation in Rwanda, oppression in Tibet. Similarly, you are not separate from the good things happening all around you. You are not apart from the beautiful trees and plants growing in your area. The elements they exhale are the ones you inhale. You are intimately connected with everything in the world, at every moment.

Television, mass media, marketing/advertising, are huge distractions from you feeling, understanding, and believing in yourself and your own capabilities. They are the ghettos of the mind. They are “the Man,” keeping you in a state of self-doubt and subservience. Shy away from their messages.

What does this have to do with exercise? You tell me. I’d say it has everything to do with it.

Fortunately, we have the tools to explore, understand, and deepen our connections with our world. Unfortunately, in our culture (which is the dominant culture), this idea must first be seen as being profitable, before it will be shared and accepted on as broad a scale as “Judge Judy,” “Dr. Phil,” or “LOST.”

I need to end this rant, so let me do it by saying this – Watch out for blame, in yourself, your surroundings, and in the world. When you see it happening, uncover the source. Most often, it will be used as a way to keep two things appearing as if they’re somehow separate, when they aren’t.

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