4 Problems We Need To Stop Blaming Regular People For
You know what's great? Assigning blame. Go ahead, try blaming us for whatever's been bothering you. It feels awesome, right? But while it's one thing to pin your problems at school or work on the guy who's clearly bringing the group project down -- Yes, Gary, we mean you -- applying the same strategy to social problems is how we end up with a society of jerks. So even though we all have a crappy Gary in our lives, try to keep in mind that ...
It's Not Weird That People Can't Handle Extreme Weather
When an ice storm left millions of Texans without power, the only bright side was that they couldn't go online to see the digital storm of terrible opinions. Some, like Fox News falsely blaming the outage on the state's wind turbines, were predictable. If Fox News had been around during Watergate, they would have blamed the liberals in the hotel industry.
But it got dumber, somehow. There was a general mockery of Texans not knowing how to handle winter weather, and then there were declarations that the storm was a fitting collective punishment. Here's Counselor Troi's hot take.
Here's one of those dumbass "Resistance" types mocking people who were freezing to death because nothing wins people over like showing less empathy than a Disney villain.
Even Stephen King took a break from working on his latest novel, Psychic Car Detective, to join the "fun."
That response, sadly, was also predictable. When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017, a University of Tampa professor called it "karma" for the election because when your only knowledge of a place is vague memories of King of the Hill, you begin to think the population is literally cartoonish. Often these comments will be from people whose profiles brag about living somewhere that "believes in science," then lists their Enneagram type.
There are two factors at play here. First, we're not good at remembering how different life elsewhere can be. As someone who spends half the year ensconced in the kind of cold that Soviet dissidents used to be exiled to, I'll admit to gawking at news of Texans washing away snow with water. But I melt like the Wicked Witch of the West in the slightest humidity, and God help me if there's an earthquake. If an elephant escapes the zoo and destroys your neighbor's house, you don't mock him for lacking elephant insurance, and yet whenever a city lacks the infrastructure for tackling a rare problem, it's suddenly open season.
But while that may explain snide comments about car crashes, it doesn't account for rampant "Well, maybe that 11-year-old who froze to death would have grown up to be Republican" jackassery. Blue state and red state terminology seem to make people think that states are all either entire hippie communes or white supremacy compounds and that their voting record thus invites widespread human suffering. (Fun Fact: More people in red Texas voted for Joe Biden than in any state other than California and Florida.)
So, what actually happened in Texas? Well, the story begins in 1970, with the founding of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and carries on for decades of infrastructure mismanagement and obsessive deregulation, much of which is important but frankly very boring. But when over 35 people die and everyone else is melting snow in their toilet bowls, we want an explanation that conveniently grafts onto our worldview, not one that begins before many of the people affected were even born. A simple story is one we can get mad at, one where we can assume that if everyone shared our opinions, there never would have been a problem at all. Which is a nice dream right up until it leads to angry people on the internet telling strangers that they deserve to freeze to death.
Debt Is Common, But It's Still America's Greatest Source Of Shame
In 2019, Chase Bank tweeted an ostensible joke about how your bank balance would be larger if you could only stop buying coffee and hopping in a cab to cover three blocks, a totally relatable thing that everyone definitely does.
Chase was promptly eviscerated for putting Patrick Bateman in charge of humanizing a giant financial institution and, notably, "get a $25,000,000,000 government bailout to salvage overpaid executive ineptitude" wasn't among their #MondayMotivation tips. But the idea that cutting back on the lattes (it's always lattes) is a financial silver bullet is everywhere.
Finance guru Suze Orman argues that we could all be millionaires if we'd skip Starbucks (it's always Starbucks), Shark Tank bozo Kevin O'Leary thinks you're a fool if you don't invest your coffee money, and motivational speaker David Bach's book on "secrets to financial freedom" is literally called The Latte Factor. Maybe the actual secret is to write a book that shames people for enjoying life's modest pleasures.
Yes, trivial discretionary spending can add up. But resist all the lattes you want; it won't change the fact that housing, healthcare, and education costs are rapidly outpacing wages. Childcare costs alone have shot up 2,000% over the last 40 years, but it's easier to shame individuals than it is to address vast systemic issues, and no one wants to read a book about how your ability to retire might ultimately be out of your control.
And so shame dominates money talk. When a divorced mom with credit card and student debt appeared on Suze Orman's advice show, she was told that Christmas gifts for her three children were an unnecessary sublimation of divorce guilt, that her 16-year-old had better get a job pronto, and that it had been foolish of her to go to medical school, because surely if there's one thing society needs less of it's doctors.
Financial advisor Ramit Sethi has declared people with financial problems "lazy" and "crybabies." Reddit abounds with stories of friends and family shaming users over debt. People write angry letters to magazines declaring that because they "worked like a dog" to get through college, other people need to suffer too. People are more willing to discuss sexual impotence than financial woe. Gee, I wonder why.
Only 39% of Americans can cover a $1,000 emergency, and yet the repeated message is that your debt is a unique source of failure that you should be embarrassed about. Shame, incidentally, is demonstrably ineffective, yet we keep using it anyway. Meanwhile, predatory credit card companies are let off the hook, like they're just a natural part of the environment, and it's your own fault if you get caught.
It's bizarre to see fearmongering about minimum wage hikes, often accompanied by the rhetoric that people who want more money should improve themselves, exist alongside the shaming of student debt, as though improving oneself should be an excruciating gauntlet lest we become one of them commie countries. But as long as simpering financial advice revolves around draining the ocean with a teaspoon, the only change we're going to see is more financial advisors taking lattes to the face.
Random People Aren’t Personally Responsible For Climate Change
Climate change is scary but also ludicrously complicated. To learn about it, you have to read, like, books, which is exhausting and stupid. And so until climate change's nuances can be communicated via a Doom-esque game, many of our arguments will revolve around dumbed-down proxies.
If you're a grizzled veteran of America's idiotic culture wars, you may remember that conservative media spent months treating straw bans like the next 9/11. But as we argued about whether America had turned into North Korea because Diet Coke was slightly more inconvenient, the actual environmental impact was negligible, like trimming your toenails to lose weight. That it got us thinking about climate change was good, but that it turned into "hysterical liberals want to take away your freedom to blow straw wrappers at your friends" versus "conservatives can only achieve sexual arousal by suffocating sea turtles" was ... less good.
There's been a similar push to shame people for excess air travel. But again, shame is ineffective and puts the burden of fixing this on the people who are the smallest part of the problem; if you have the time and money for leisurely travel alternatives, you're probably consuming more stuff than most people. This can also lead to indulging in the kind of lazy "gotcha" hypocrisies that fuel misinformation; "If flying is so bad for the environment, why are these climate scientists still flying to conferences?" is a sentiment expressed by angry uncles everywhere, often in the comments of an unrelated news article.
All of this is framed as personal responsibility, as though you and you alone are responsible for preventing the planet's slide into a Mad Max-ian hellscape. But America's top 15 food and beverage companies -- Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Campbell Soup, and their ilk -- produce more greenhouse gasses than Australia. Procter and Gamble's pulp paper division alone (tissues, baby wipes, and other products you rub on your face and junk) produces the equivalent C02 of about 3.8 million cars. Oil and gas need to halve their emissions by 2050. Picking the eco-friendly meal option on your sleeper train visit to your parents isn't going to save the planet; vast systemic change is.
None of this means we're saying "Eh, screw it" and launching our long-discussed Hummer Jousting League. Personal responsibility has its place, both in signaling that you're ready for larger change and in preparing for the adjustments that will come with it. But those adjustments include massive government commitments, like Nordic states committing to the development of electric planes for domestic travel. Modern overconsumption can be halted by regulation, not guilting people for buying a product that doesn't have a leaf on the box. Every little bit helps, but remember that when we inevitably have a huge argument about cheeseburger ethics, it will be like having a screaming match about what to call the aliens who are invading us.
Jesus Christ, Don’t Blame People For Getting COVID (Or Any Disease)
At the risk of alienating our audience, Cracked believes that COVID is bad. And while this bold opinion can make those who won't take even the simplest precautions look obnoxious, that doesn't justify mocking them for getting the disease as though we're pleased that a vengeful god has struck them down for their hubris.
Back when the pandemic was young, an Ohio man named Richard Rose took to Facebook to declare that he wouldn't wear a mask, a sentiment repeated by countless people whose profile pictures are of themselves wearing sunglasses in their cars. But Rose was unique in that just over two months later, he was dead of COVID. Naturally, this was a sobering reminder of the need to fight mask misinformation so that another tragedy like this wouldn't ... oh, people just rushed to make fun of him.
Rose's social media accounts were bombarded with mockery by strangers who, for the sake of my own sanity, I'll choose to believe would have held off had the viral story about Rose focused on his grieving mother instead of the "hilarious" irony. I get the impulse here, the drive to revel in what feels like the laser-guided comeuppance of someone unwilling to make the same sacrifices as the rest of us. But Facebook comments can't be read by corpses, only friends and family some of whom probably wanted him to wear a mask to begin with.
It's also a terrible way to fight COVID. People have been lying to contact tracers and holding off on getting tested, and not because they watched a video that said COVID was invented by Big Mask. Instead, there's a fear that they'll be shamed and judged, that one small slip-up or whim of fate will forever lump them in with the crazies who are licking each other in front of City Hall to prove that centuries of medical science is a myth perpetuated by Democrats.
Even worse, it's easy to descend from getting mad at obvious assholes to getting mad at ambiguous situations. Social media arguments longer and nastier than some wars have been fought over whether people are correctly following ever-shifting guidelines, and all it does is discourage everyone. Yes, we're over a year into this crap, and we all want to kick the penis off that guy at the grocery store who can't wear his mask properly, but assuming ineptitude before malice and being polite instead of furious is one of the keys to beating this thing. Having to be the bigger person could end up being the most exhausting part of the pandemic. Still, it's better than ending up like Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore, casually calling for mass death because of one person's decision.
Why is this so common? Well, it's a good way to reassure ourselves that we'll be fine because we're following the rules. Diseases are scary and categorizing their victims as deserving bozos keeps you from wondering if you'll get sick too. And while COVID has made this behavior more obvious, we've been stigmatizing disease (and crime!) victims forever. Cancer patients often find themselves bombarded by questions of whether they smoke, or drank, or exercised enough because if their illness can be given a clear cause, the universe will seem less cruel and random and capable of coming for the questioner next. So the takeaway here is ... you could get cancer at any time? Shit, sorry.
Top image: Halfpoint, JC Stock/Shutterstock