Blame "Them"

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright February 2015


Facing a difficult social problem? Here is the quick and comfortable solution: Blame "Them".

As I read up on Venezuela, Russia, and the Middle East I see a common theme: In all of the above cases, the view from the Venezuelan, Russian or Middle Eastern side is, "Our problems are not our fault. They are caused by our external enemies." In other words: Blame "Them".

In the cases of Middle East and Venezuela, the enemies are using sneaky tactics. They are sabotaging the good intentions of the government giveaway programs. In the case of Russia the enemies are portrayed as more overt. Putin is reviving Cold War thinking in Russia -- taking the position that the US and its NATO allies in Western Europe are seeking to extend their hegemony over Russia and the former Soviet Republics.

In all three cases blaming "them" is the government answer to the economic difficulties it currently faces. In these cases the sneaky menace is personified as the CIA and the overt menace as The Pentagon.

These are far from the only cases of blaming them. Another place it happens often in the US is in labor relations. One example theme is, "Those low paid foreigners in East Asia are taking away our high paying jobs here in the US." Unions use this as a theme routinely -- if things aren't going well for the workers they represent, someone else is always at fault. The only choice necessary in using this theme is picking who the sinister outsider is.

The fifty year decline of Midwest inner cities is another example -- according to those who chose to stay, someone else is always the cause of the problem.

The alternative, the useful one, is to feel, "Ah well, this round of good times is ending. It's time to do the painful research and retraining it's going to take to discover and exploit the next gravy train." This thinking style is useful because that is how the problem is solved. The solution comes when the person, or people of the community, bite the bullet and go through the discovering and retraining hell it takes to master providing the next big thing that society is now demanding.

Keep in mind that the solution to the problem doesn't have to happen: It is not inevitable that a community solves its economic problems. There are many, many communities around the world that were once booming and are now backwaters, and are going to remain backwaters for a long time to come.

The moral: "Blaming them" is comfortable thinking, but it is not problem solving thinking.


Update: This 26 Aug 15 WSJ article, Venezuela’s Food Shortages Trigger Long Lines, Hunger and Looting Violent clashes flare in pockets around the country as citizens wait for hours for basics like milk and rice, by Maolis Castro and Kejal Vyas describes how the Blame Them is progressing as this crisis deepens.

From the article, "The smugglers targeted by the government crackdown are called bachaqueros, named after a leaf-cutter ant that can carry many times its weight. The word, first used here in the northwestern state of Zulia, has become part of daily national parlance as a label for Venezuelans who buy price-controlled goods and resell them for profit on the black market.

While the government blames the shortages on bachaqueros, economists say they are the consequence of price controls and a broken economic model that has left average Venezuelans with diminishing employment options."

Update: This 14 Feb 15 Economist article, The revolution at bay Mismanagement, corruption and the oil slump are fraying Hugo Chávez’s regime, goes into great detail about the current crisis, including its "blame them" elements.

From the article, "Mr Rondón’s rambling remarks over the next 45 minutes belie that claim. Saying Venezuela is faced with an “economic war”, he calls on his audience to check food queues for outsiders, who might be profiteers or troublemakers, and to draw up a census of the district to identify opposition activists and government supporters. “We must impose harsh controls,” he warns. “This will be a year of struggle”."

Also from this same issue of the Economist, From cold war to hot war Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is part of a broader, and more dangerous, confrontation with the West, which talks about the current Ukraine confrontation. In it are also descriptions of the "blame them" thinking happening in Russia.

From the article, "Russia feels threatened not by any individual European state, but by the European Union and NATO, which it regards as expansionist. It sees them as “occupied” by America, which seeks to exploit Western values to gain influence over the rest of the world. America “wants to freeze the order established after the Soviet collapse and remain an absolute leader, thinking it can do whatever it likes, while others can do only what is in that leader’s interests,” Mr Putin said recently. “Maybe some want to live in a semi-occupied state, but we do not.”"

Update: This 01 Mar 15 Xinhua article, Venezuela to sanction U.S officials, limit diplomatic personnel, require visas for Americans, indicates the "them blaming" is getting even stronger in Venezuela. From the article, "Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced Saturday that his government will deny visas to a number of United States officials whom he called "terrorists", including former president George W. Bush and senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez."

My analysis: The blame them is strong in this one, crisis time is at hand.

Update: This 23 May 16 Fortune article, 3 Keys to Successful Long-Term Leadership by Geoff Colvin, is about Short-Termism, which is an example of a Blame Them thinking style that is strong in corproation business circles.


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