L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 306, February 13, 2005
Don't Blame Me!
Special to TLE
It seems that everybody's looking for somebody to blame these days. In things large and small; all encompassing and personal; important and, well, laughable; the greatest effort is spent laying the problem at someone else's doorstep rather than actually figuring out how it is there's a problem in the first place. And then once fault has been set to somebody's satisfaction, somebody else will get sued instead of anybody bothering to see what it might take to actually fix the problem. It's important, of course, in this process that a few facts don't get in the way of any predetermination of blame, and that the whole story not be publicized when half of the story is more incendiary.
Consider, for example, a billboard campaign in Florida prior to the 2004 presidential election. In that campaign, a series of Florida billboards blamed President Bush for the devastating hurricanes that made landfall there that fall (I'm personally inclined to consider that the blowhards behind MoveOn.org, the political action group that paid for the campaign, contributed far more hot air to the region than did the president). The point of the billboards was, of course, that because the Bush administration has "ignored the threat of global warming" (in other words, refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol mandating a reduction of greenhouse gases), Floridians can expect still more nasty hurricanes in the future.
It's entirely true that there is now something of a scientific consensus on climate change (as published in the December 3, 2004 online edition of Science Magazine). According to that report, some 75% of almost a thousand papers published on the subject indicated a conclusion that human activity did influence climate. Because the United States is a relatively large contributor of so-called greenhouse gases, the rest of the civilized world (okay, Europe) likes to lay the blame almost solely at the feet of greedy Americans whose president won't sign onto the Kyoto Protocol.
Forget that the Protocol is a UN effort, and that any UN effort is almost certainly an affront to national sovereignty and a lean towards global government and socialism. Take note instead of the fact that scientists are more convinced of climate change than of the Kyoto Protocol's ability to change anything. One Dutch scientist is on the outs with Europeans for having the effrontery to say that the Kyoto Protocol won't work and that it may actually harm efforts to control global warming (to his credit, he's also outlined what he believes to be a better idea).
The willingness of many to disregard the complexity of the science or reality, and to ignore almost entirely the naïveté of the proposed solution, is common in more local matters as well. Let's go back to Florida for a moment (What is it with Floridians, anyway? Have those hurricanes sent by the president robbed them of their common sense along with their roofs?) to take a look at an infamous shooting that occurred there.
You doubtless recall the many news stories about the teacher who was shot and killed by a young student after he told that student to go home (the boy did; he came back with a gun). The teacher's widow filed a lawsuit against not just the owner of the firearm, but the school board and the gun's manufacturer as well. A jury found the gun's owner and the school board to be 95% responsible, but despite agreeing that the manufacturer had made a gun that performed as advertised and hadn't had any direct role in the crime, ordered the manufacturer to pay over a million dollars in damages. That verdict was overturned, and then appealed, with attorneys continuing to argue that the manufacturer should have taken on the responsibility to make its guns safer.
Although the boywho went to a family friend's house, searched for and found the gun, and returned to the school where he brandished the firearm and shot the teacherhas been jailed, that wasn't enough for a woman who apparently didn't think that enough blame had been spread around to assuage her pain. Was the family friend to blame for having a loaded gun in a drawer? Not any more so than you or I would be to blame if our cars were stolen with a full gas tank and later involved in a fatal hit and run. Was the school board at fault? No school administration could possibly be expected to conduct business under constant lockdown conditions unless we want our kids to go to school in the equivalent of maximum security penetentiaries (which, by the way, also see drugs and weapons smuggled in). Was the gun manufacturer to blame? Not unless you think that Budweiser bears direct responsibility for the fool who drinks a 12-pack and then does something harmful or deadly in his drunken stupor.
I can understand Pam Grunow lashing out at anyone and everyone in the aftermath of her husband's killing. But I neither understand nor excuse a jury that placed so much blame in so many places it didn't really belong. Meanwhile, a New Jersey woman has apparently decided that the teenager who shot and killed her husband had nothing to do with the killing. Instead, she was quoted as saying, "That gun destroyed my entire life." Really? Wouldn't it have been the kid with that gun that changed everything? (Later on, she did say she thought the kid should have received the death penalty which shows she's at least somewhat further ahead of the intellectual curve than the woman in Florida. To be fair, though, New Jersey hasn't been hit with a really good hurricane in some time.)
The blame game is at its most entertaining when it's approached from opposite sides of the spectrum, in this case almost simultaneously. Remember Oliver Stone's supposedly epic movie, Alexander? Neither, apparently, do a lot of people, and Oliver Stone isn't happy. He publicly stated that his movie didn't do well because "raging fundamentalists" in America didn't like that the movie made clear that Alexander happened to be bisexual. (Actually, lots of very liberal movies do quite well in America. His box office receipts weren't low because of Christian backlash; they were low because the movie wasn't very good.) Meanwhile, some Christian groups that actually did have something to say about the movies this year are mad that The Passion of the Christ didn't receive any major Oscar™ nominations. They say that's because Hollywood is anti-Christian. (In reality, it's because The Passion of the Christ didn't deserve any major Oscar™ nominations.)
If more people spent more time actually learning about the realities of the situations they find upsetting; if they'd focus on the direct causes and circumstances instead of the most peripheral matters; and if they'd buck up and accept that sometimes bad things just happen, we'd all be happier in the long run. We'd also see more immediate and effective solutions to many of our problems.
Too fat? Go on a diet and go for a walk instead of blaming MacDonald's. Your kid break an arm after he climbed on top of the jungle gym and jumped? Tell your kid that's what he gets for behaving like an idiot and trust he's learned something instead of suing the playground equipment manufacturer. Lose a loved one due to the malice or carelessness of another? If it were me, I wouldn't stop until the person at fault was punished, and punished severely, but I wouldn't blame a knife manufacturer or a liquor store for that person's irresponsibility, and neither should anyone else.
Most importantly of all, we have got to realize that just because something isn't necessarily our own fault (and we should own up to it when it is!) doesn't mean it's everybody else's fault! Personally, I blame the lawyers. Here's hoping they're all on vacation in Florida during next year's hurricane season which, with Bush back in the White House and another Bush in the Florida state capital as governor there, ought to be a doozy!
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