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Post No.: 0772credit


Furrywisepuppy says:


Often when things go wrong, there’s no one to blame, at least individually or as a sole group. Some things are just unfortunate and couldn’t have been reasonably foreseen. Even sensible decisions can occasionally lead to undesirable results.


For example, it’d be rational to agree to a bet where you have a 99% chance of winning a million dog chews and a 1% chance of losing a million dog chews. But 1% chance events do happen. (If everyone had a chance to make such a bet each though, they’d be astute to form a syndicate and split the aggregate wins and losses together. At a national level, this would be considered a form of socialism.)


Yet we have a tendency to automatically look for a scapegoat, who will be someone other than ourselves.


Over-simplistically blaming someone sometimes stops and distracts us from looking for the true answers and therefore the true solution(s) because we think we’ve already found the answer. Pointing the finger at someone when something has already been done also doesn’t itself help us to prevent the same thing from happening again. The causes and answers to most persistent or recurring problems in reality are complex, involving multiple contributing and interacting variables rather than just one or two – hence when looking for culprits and solutions, we must look more holistically at the system level (e.g. the culture, the institutions, the markets, the laws, the environmental antecedents) and beyond guilty individuals, if we want to make meaningful progress on them.


Contexts and situational factors usually matter more than individual idiosyncrasies i.e. lots of people probably would’ve done the same thing if they were unfortunate enough to be in the same situation. Hence we must look at preventing the situation or opportunity from arising again, more than targeting individuals.


Whenever there’s supply and demand, like sellers and buyers of drugs, or candidates looking for votes and an electorate – we cannot just solely blame one side or the other because both supply and demand influence each other. It’s a false dichotomy to inculpate only the suppliers or only the buyers – and so when looking for solutions, we must at least consider both sides of the equation. Logically, one side would collapse without the other, so arguably both supply and demand sides should be equally accountable if there are any problems. If the fact is that ‘if side A didn’t (neglect to) do something then a problem wouldn’t have occurred’ and ‘if side B didn’t (neglect to) do something then that problem wouldn’t have occurred’ then both sides had the power and thus responsibility to have prevented that problem from happening.


In many cases therefore, both/all sides are equally responsible (like ‘splitting the pie’ equally in negotiations, or in these cases ‘apportioning the responsibility’). Guns and people kill. Junk food advertising and consumers contribute to obesity. Perpetrators and inadequate policing are both accountable whenever there’s a crime. A liar and the easily duped are both to criticise if there’s a deceit. A cheat and a terrible refereeing system are both responsible if cheating goes unpunished… There are countless examples where one side accuses a side and another side accuses another but in nearly all cases both sides should hold at least some responsibility, if not equal responsibility, for something (like in negotiations again – if there’ll be no pie unless both parties come together then that pie should be split equally between them if they come together, regardless of the size of one party over the other).


The problem with all this understanding though is that it explains why passing the buck is so easy! But the proper understanding should be that the buck stops with everyone rather than just one. (Even leaders depend on those who put them in that position.) All sides constantly passing the buck onto another will mean nothing will ultimately get solved. And we witness this in many contexts. Any side that can improve the situation should attempt to improve it.


For instance, there’s no point expanding the infrastructure for electric-only cars until more people own electric-only cars. But more people won’t buy them until the infrastructure is expanded. Hence it’s worth it for the government to intervene to try to urge the shift – perhaps by banning the sale of all petrol and diesel cars by a certain date.


It’s the same when over-simplistically crediting individuals or single causes when things go right. Reality is more complicated than this. No one is an island – no one ever makes or breaks something on their own. That’s not how the laws of nature work – energy is only ever transferred to and from one place and another. Therefore the energy/mass you currently possess came from elsewhere and will go to elsewhere in an unbroken chain i.e. everyone’s actions fundamentally affect everyone else’s. Everyone makes a society, not select individuals. To truly change the world, we thus need to understand this complexity that is reality, and stop looking for simple reductionist causes like crediting or blaming particular individuals or groups.


A heroic solider must thank the taxpayers; anyone who invented, made and maintained his/her equipment; anyone who trained him/her (and anyone who trained this trainer and so forth); anyone who fed him/her (and anyone who was ever involved in the lives of these cooks); of course his/her teammates (and anyone who was ever involved in these people’s lives); the invisible support crew (and anyone who was ever involved in these people’s lives); and on and on until one realises that everyone is ultimately interconnected with each other and everyone affects each other’s good and bad outcomes, not only at classical and quantum physical levels, but at a very human level too. And this means those in history too as well as those who are alive today. Fluffystealthkitten and I love emphasising this point.


It’s similar with villains – their behaviours and outcomes depend on the behaviours and outcomes of others too (e.g. how they were raised, the collective society and environment they live in), as well as events outside of their or anyone else’s reasonable control. This is how the universe works. An individualist view, for both successes and mistakes, is fundamentally myopic. A pragmatic view may indeed identify individuals to credit or incriminate, but if you credit or incriminate someone then you should realise that you are in effect crediting or incriminating every single person and event that was ever directly and indirectly involved in these people’s lives, plus every single person and event that was ever directly and indirectly involved in those people’s lives, and so forth… until you reach the birth of this universe itself, and possibly beyond. Woof!


Everyone, from cleaners, electricians, plumbers, sewage workers, accountants, police officers, civil servants, cooks, health workers, product designers of machines like kettles and washing machines, and countless others, have made your day possible. From the first moment you switch on an electrical lamp and light comes out, or turn on the taps and clean water comes out, we should praise the hidden people in our lives who made these things happen and whenever anything goes well. But instead we tend to take these kinds of good things for granted and consider them uninteresting to pay our attentions to, just like a news article that would say ‘Ms x got home from work okay’.


So stop giving individuals (especially yourself!) too much credit; or individuals (especially others!) too much blame – we collectively affect each other’s lives. Everybody is interconnected in a web of interrelated causes and effects that make up civilisation; or the lack of it. These interactions are extraordinarily complex but a future supercomputer could perhaps one day usefully accurately model them like the weather.


Nobody ultimately makes what they earn on their own. Numerous publicly-paid-for services contributed to your education, health, security and thus ability to do your work. In musical bands, we tend to focus on the front person but the entire band should get equal or near-equal credit. The reporter in front of the camera normally gets all the credit even though the person carrying the heavy camera itself, and who was obviously at the scene at the same time too, remains nameless and faceless. Like the ‘identifiable victim effect’ – there seems to also be an ‘identifiable hero effect’ and ‘identifiable villain effect’ (those made the scapegoats) too.


Stories of legendary or mythical heroes (or inventors, discoverers, sportspeople, etc.) and villains seem to likewise favour single identifiable characters too, even when the historical fact was that something was more of a (international) teamwork or these single characters are as a result of an amalgamation of various historical individuals rolled into one. (Some extra exaggeration of the apparent feat will inevitably be thrown in too.) We seem to like to focus on a single identifiable victim, hero or villain to pin things onto when in reality there are usually many others involved whom we neglect to think about, credit or criticise. (Even businesses have learnt that it helps to have a ‘hero product’ – that one product that represents and defines the brand, even though they might have many other equally good products too.)


We tend to think of heroes as being individuals whom we can name and build a statue for, but the vast majority of heroism in reality is collective. ‘Everyday heroism’ is when we do small, good things every day that collectively add up to greater things – usually far greater things than any single person could ever achieve. We’ve been more aware of such collective heroism during COVID-19 – more than being able to name specific individuals to credit, we recognise that collective groups of people contribute to heroism (e.g. healthcare workers, delivery drivers). We may even have to thank yet-born taxpayers because of the national or government debts that have been accrued! Well even identifiable and celebrated leaders tend to only be the visible faces or voices of the groups they represent, for which without these other brave or active people they’d just appear like lone nutcase preachers(!) So even when a person motivates a group towards a cause or to make charitable donations, they obviously couldn’t have done it without that group or those donors. (See Post No.: 0379 for how to be more heroic.)


Often leaders aren’t as influential or powerful as we think, to either take the blame or credit for things. Bad things can happen without anyone intending them to. Well we could all otherwise be blamed for failing to prevent (someone doing) something bad whenever anything bad happens then?! But unless you foresaw the problem and you clearly pushed for the preventative measure and calculated its practicality, costs, opportunity costs, etc. and ensured that it could be realistically implemented and in time, then this would be an unreasonable assertion without this benefit of hindsight. And what’s happened in the past cannot now be undone anyway and we should learn from this lesson – what should we do now to prevent the same thing from happening again?


The same with good things happening – sometimes desirable things would’ve happened anyway without intervention; albeit it can be hard to know for sure without observing a parallel universe to compare with. A leader in these cases might however still egotistically try to claim the credit for not intervening in something that turned out to be a success (they may have prevented an obstruction from another source perhaps) – but if so, everyone could claim credit for everything they’ve left alone too(!) Yet maybe we can because everything we do and don’t do affects everyone else in direct and/or indirect ways in this fundamentally interconnected world.


Woof. There doesn’t have to be a dichotomy between them when it comes to finding or implementing solutions, but please share what you think about crediting or blaming systems or societal structures versus individuals or sole groups, via the Twitter comment button below, if you’d like.


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