Guilt de­flected in the blame game

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Si­mon Cater­son

‘ IN the be­gin­ning there was blame. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the Ser­pent, and we’ve been hard at it ever since.’’ Ac­cord­ing to Char­lie Camp­bell, a London-based for­mer lit­er­ary mag­a­zine ed­i­tor, gen­uine ac­count­abil­ity re­mains elu­sive: ‘‘ When it comes to tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for things go­ing wrong, the hu­man per­son­al­ity has al­ways been the same.’’

From a very early age, hu­mans have a ten­dency to blame oth­ers for our own er­rors and mis­for­tune. More sin­is­terly, through­out his­tory hu­mans have shown a will­ing­ness to vic­timise cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als, groups and, yes, an­i­mals so as to vent their rage and feel bet­ter about them­selves. In daily life we see it in the way some politi­cians, bankers and foot­ball coaches be­come ob­jects of hate, as though any in­di­vid­ual had the power to fully con­trol events and make things bet­ter all the time. It is much eas­ier to sin­gle out some­one we don’t like for blame rather than take a good look at the flawed sys­tem that pro­moted them in the first place.

As the term scape­goat, which de­rives from the Old Tes­ta­ment, sug­gests, an­i­mals have long been made to suf­fer for the sins of hu­mans. Even inan­i­mate ob­jects are known to have been put on trial.

One of the more lu­di­crous ex­am­ples of a scape­goat cited in this fas­ci­nat­ing and

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