Don’t Blame Me!

We have assuredly become a nation of victims. The latest in the long list of people who refuse to lie in the beds of their own making is a group of convicts in an Idaho prison. This comes under the heading of “seriously weird” as a story in HuffPost tells us”

Five inmates at the Idaho State Correctional Institution are suing national beer and wine companies for $1 billion, claiming that alcohol was responsible for their crimes, the Associated Press reports. The civil suit alleges that they were not sufficiently warned about alcohol’s addictive properties.

One must stifle a laugh as the attempt to sue the alcohol industry is almost as absurd as the amount requested in the suit. But the story is indicative of a flaw in our cultural character — if you will allow the notion. In a society where all are victims, none are victims. We have become a nation unwilling to accept responsibility for our actions. As my former colleague and prolific author, Joe Amato, has said about what he calls “viictimology”:

The word “victim,” once a religious term and until very recently used primarily to describe individuals or groups abused by nature or government, has come to form in our world the standard language of hypercomplaint. The dialect of victimology is increasingly utilized not only to express real and significant injustices but to level charges for unachieved expectations and unrealized imagined potentials.”

A bit wordy, I admit, but on the mark. We have stolen the word “victim” from religion and use it recklessly; we like to feel sorry for ourselves. And the notion that a group of individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes can seriously consider passing the buck to the alcohol industry that “made them” commit their crimes must give us pause. If it’s not intended as a joke, or simply to draw attention to the five men, it suggests that these men see themselves as victims of an industry that should have warned them ahead of time that drinking can be addictive. Seriously?

The lawsuit is absurd on its face, of course, but it points to the salient fact that as a culture we have forgotten that right actions follow from sound character. Aristotle taught us long ago that the heart and soul of ethical behavior is good character and that good character is formed early on — Freud later insisted that it occurred before the child is five years of age. It requires correction and even the act of “judging” others — namely our own children — in an attempt to correct aberrant behavior.

But we have been in the hands of the pop-psychologists for many years now and we have been taught not to be “judgmental” and that we shouldn’t spank our children — or even attempt to correct their behavior in any way because it will traumatize them and thwart their potential and their creativity. We fail to realize that when we forget how to judge our conscience, which lies at the heart of the faculty of judgment, becomes dormant.

Our grandparents must be looking on in disbelief wondering how we could have swallowed this pile of crap. We look the other way and ignore our kids when they misbehave, refusing in our bewilderment to suggest that perhaps they should do the right thing. Indeed, the notion of “the right thing” has become circumspect in a culture that reduces all facts to opinions, ethics to common practice,” and morality to morés which, like table manners, can be changed at will.

We are not all victims. We need to acknowledge our mistakes and try to learn from them. We pride ourselves on our honesty as a culture, but we are dishonest when we insist that behavior should never be corrected and parents and teachers should not dictate what behavior is acceptable for children. Indeed we shirk our own responsibility as adults, as Hannah Arendt insisted years ago. In the end it is all about accepting responsibility for our actions — and our lack of action.


10 thoughts on “Don’t Blame Me!

  1. You are so right, Hugh. In the news series on child welfare in Colorado a few weeks ago, the story had a quote from a woman was in pridon for burning her children. She was saying that the human services folks should have done more. Which may be true, but her abdication of responsibility was astounding. I hadn’t heard of this lawsuit. Unbelievable.

  2. When I used to supervise people who could be doing better, I would try to list a series of examples where for them to learn from. Hopefully, we had touched on these throughout the year. When people denied culpability, my answer was some variation of “the only constant in all of these equations is you.” Responsibility and accountability are in lesser quantity, yet that is precisely what being an adult should be built upon. Thanks for sharing the latest exhibit in a long list of exhibits.

    • Yes. I served on an appeal committee for years at my university and heard every possible excuse for why the students were failing. It was never their fault!


  3. How about another take on this, which goes to your regular comments about higher education. I agree these frivolous lawsuits, and the “Its not my fault” mentality is ridiculous. But…there is also a lawyer or lawyers out there who are taking on these silly suits, knowing full well they likely haven’t a chance of prevailing, but they do so anyway. I question the quality of lawyers out there who are graduating, and more importantly, are we graduating way too many lawyers, the majority of which are scrambling around trying to make a living???

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