The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

The Economist on the ‘Idealism of the Lynch Mob’

Posted by rantingkraut on November 24, 2008

… it is not always the worst or most culpable people who are targeted for blame or offered up to appease it; it is sometimes the weakest and most expendable instead. And too often the blamers are cynically opportunistic. The Baby P case has instantly been adduced as “proof” that the welfare state, or local councils, or unorthodox family arrangements, are hopelessly delinquent. (Oddly, some of those now crying out for the government to engineer families and emasculate councils have, in the past, demanded that the government be less intrusive and nannying, and that Whitehall give more power away.) For inveterate enemies of the BBC, the radio scandal was a happy if irrelevant pretext for reviving the debate over how the corporation is funded. Despite his previous successes—or perhaps partly because of them—there are bits of the Tory party who have never loved Mr Osborne and are eager for a chance to humble him.

Moreover, by fixing blame on individuals, complex failures and hard decisions can be missed or evaded. More unsettling explanations and wider culpability can be ignored. By blaming Mr Osborne for their poll dip, restive Tories can dodge the possibility that a collective lack of coherence or plausibility may lie behind their plight. Conversely, it may be comforting to claim that the incipient recession, and all its nasty consequences, are solely the fault of Gordon Brown—and not, say, of those thousands of homeowners who took out foolish mortgages that they are unable to service. So long as it’s someone else’s fault—the government or the schools or, increasingly, your genes—it isn’t your own.

As well as vengeful and primitive, the kind of blame swirling around Britain is also, in its way, naively optimistic. It contains a fairy-tale idea of the future: if the guilty are identified and punished, it (whatever it is) will never happen again. Delicate judgments about risk—such as the risks of taking a child into care versus the risk of leaving him with his parents—will never again be miscalibrated; emergencies will never yield mistakes; criminals will never outwit the authorities; the tastes of editors will never lapse. There will be no accidents and no human error. (In a way, blame is an inverted form of deference: it implies a faith that the authorities and experts and leaders could be impeccable.) ” (Source)


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