Return to Home Page

Fatalism, Selfishness and the Culture of Blame

'The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.'

Galatians 5, 22-23

It is now commonplace in Western countries to hear the phrase 'the compensation culture'. Those in authority commonly hear the threat: 'I'll sue you' from members of the public. And in the same way those who have cancer because they smoked, now sue tobacco companies for billions of dollars, the obese threaten fast food companies with the courts, the indebted blame banks for lending them money, hospital patients whose operations have gone wrong for whatever reason sue hospitals, those who have tripped up on pavements take local councils to court for the injuries sustained, even burglars have taken their victims to court because they have been hit by the householder while carrying out their burglary, while another individual with a nut allergy sued a peanut company for its failure to mention on its packets that their contents were dangerous to those with a nut allergy. Some have made a lot of money from such compensation claims. We live in a culture of blame. What lies behind this?

A recent, very extensive study by a researcher, Dr Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, about to be published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, asserts: 'In the 1950s, it was fashionable to believe that anyone could make it if they tried hard enough'. And: 'From 1960 to 2002, college students increasingly believed that their lives were controlled by outside forces rather than their own efforts'. She asserts that the same is true for children aged between nine and fourteen. She adds that the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s argued that this was a myth. We should not overlook that these conclusions come from personality tests carried out on over 18,000 American college students and over 6,000 children aged nine to fourteen between 1960 and 2002.

Firstly, of course, we know that the naive, socialistic and Marxian fashion of the 60s and 70s was indeed to say that 'society is to blame'. Reform society and all problems will vanish. No doubt in Western Europe at least, the mentality which discourages personal responsibility was also encouraged by the existence of the socialistic welfare State. 'It doesn't matter, I'll go on benefit. The State will pay'. However, since the 1980s, other changes have appeared to intensify the responsibility-shirking mentality.

Thus, secondly, in the 1980s and early 1990s the capitalistic fashion was for everyone to look out selfishly for themselves, in an individualistic, money-grasping, anti-Community culture: 'looking after No 1', as it was called. In the United Kingdom this mentality was reflected in the Thatcherite revolution. That revolution was continued after the Major interregnum, into the late 1990s and 2000s by the Blairites, who have simply continued Thatcherism and extended it. However, we are not now participating in the blame culture by 'blaming' politicians. What the politicians have done is only what the electorate has demanded. The politicians were and are merely carrying out and reflecting the popular will. This self-centredness is in fact merely what Mr Blair calls 'modernization'.

By decreasing State regulations on money-making activities (business, 'the enterprise culture'), the politicians have encouraged more individuals to become 'successful'. i.e. rich. The result has been low unemployment and greater material prosperity. While not saying that this is a bad thing in itself, we would say that over the last twenty-five years this process has been accompanied by increasing State and international centralization, with, for example, huge amounts of information being kept on individuals by State and international organizations. The present attempts by the anti-freedom Blair regime to introduce compulsory identity cards and put anyone whom the Home Secretary wishes under house arrest (despite the Magna Carta of nearly 800 years ago) typify this trend. The result of such centralization and State control leads to further alienation, disaffection and cynicism among those who already feel that they have little control over their own lives, and who feel even more strongly that 'the government is to blame'. Their lives, they believe, are wholly controlled by outside forces and not their own efforts.

However, all through this period there has been a third reason for the rise of the blame culture, which goes beyond the political fads of socialism and capitalism. The mentality of refusing personal responsibility has been deepened by the pseudo-psychological fashion of the victim mentality. 'I am a victim, therefore I am innocent. I was abused in childhood, therefore you cannot send me to prison for abusing others'. As Dr Twenge has also written: 'In recent court cases, defense attorneys sometimes explained that their client (sic) was abused as a child, which was why he or she turned to crime. Such arguments were rarely, if ever, used before the 1970s'. Today it is indeed common, under the influence of old-fashioned Freudian determinism, to blame everything on an unhappy childhood. This trend has been intensified by the epidemic of divorce in Western countries, which itself is both a cause and a symptom of the blame culture. 'It wasn't my fault, my partner is to blame for the divorce'.

In general, many are increasingly refusing to accept that any blame of any sort might lie with themselves, despite the fact that governments are voted in by electorates, or else allowed in by disaffected and apathetic electorates. Young people especially tend to trot out phrases like: 'It wasn't me', or 'I didn't do it on purpose', or 'I'm not to blame'. It is always parents, schools, governments or simply 'bad luck' (whatever that is) which is to blame. Thus, in schools, the politically correct mafia of the Department of Education now trains its teachers to believe that all problems can be attributed to external and uncontrollable sources - 'television', 'computer games', 'a short attention span', 'attention deficit disorder', 'learning difficulties', 'dyslexia', or this or that newly-discovered 'syndrome'.

Consequently, today we live in a culture where none can fail. Such phrases are inherently anti-Christian, for in Christianity we never blame others and we never justify ourselves: we blame ourselves because, spiritually, we are all failures. That is the basis of our equality. It is not humanistic 'human dignity' and 'human rights' which give us equality, it is our human sinfulness. We are all sinners in the eyes of God. Christ the Saviour Himself took the faults of the world on Himself, even though He was personally faultless - and indeed the Only One in all of human history who was and is and ever will be personally faultless. He did not call down from the Cross, shouting His innocence and blaming others. And yet He was the Only One Who could literally have done this and been justified. In other words, redemption only happens when we take our own faults and those of others on ourselves. This is exactly the opposite of the modern mentality. It does, however, resemble the still more or less Christian post-1950s mentality, where 'anybody could make it if they tried hard enough'.

Christian culture affirms personality responsibility and that our destiny is in our own hands. Christianity has always been opposed to fatalism and personal determinism. The explosion in interest in astrology and horoscopes is only another symptom of this fatalistic post-Christian blame culture. 'It wasn't me, it was in my stars'. When asked for one's 'sign', the only correct Christian response is: 'The Sign of the Cross'. Essentially, this modern mentality is self-centred. This also explains the rise of 'the therapy culture'. For the self-centred inevitably end up in anxiety and depression. 'I can't help it, it is beyond my control'.

The 'excuse culture' is used to justify all manner of abuse from violence, crime and pedophilia, drug and alcohol dependency (and the mental illnesses that follow) to teenage pregnancy and falling standards to be found everywhere even in the unfailable exams in modern schools and universities. If we are unable to escape from the prison of our unredeemed and, for the Non-Christian, irredeemable selves, because we blame others for our failings, we become subject to all the quirks of personality which we all possess, multiplied ten times over. And yet redemption cannot begin until we assume our shortcomings and repentance begins. As St John Chrysostom wrote sixteen hundred years ago: Salvation is in our neighbour. Yes, salvation - not blame.

Fr Andrew

to top of page