Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Parsing Blame

From my recent post, Damned:

Whatever opinion one has of the Greek people, the truth is that this entire mess was caused by their politicians and by the bailing-out of European banks. 

Eliciting this comment from βιβλία July 6, 2015 at 9:14 AM:

A point of order: "This entire mess was caused by their politicians” and the politicians were chosen by the Greek people, or some of them, and tolerated by most, or all, of the Greek people. So the Greek people are not entirely innocent.

And my reply:

Perhaps "entire" was too strong a word. I will come down to 98%, as those who stand to make billions are quite effective at manipulating those who are in it for hundreds.

Not to excuse those who are manipulated, only to recognize the tremendously effective toolkit developed by and available to those doing the manipulating.

Who is to be blamed?  The actors, or those who give (or allow) the actors to have power and authority?

I will assume you are familiar with the argument by Étienne de La Boétie, to summarize: "Every tyranny must necessarily be grounded upon general popular acceptance."

The people, more or less, get what they want; hearts filled with envy demand action by their political leaders.  There is much truth to this position.

Setting aside the examples where the politicians and bureaucrats act in direct contradiction to the vocal will of the majority of the people (and setting aside the desires of each individual in the minority), is this the balance of the issue?  The people vote (or acquiesce) and therefore the people are to be blamed – to some meaningful degree, at least?

If individual responsibility for action is to mean anything, it seems to me that the direct actors bear the vast majority of the blame: “He made me do it” doesn’t seem an appropriate way to allocate guilt among adults, especially when the “made” does not come with the threat of force behind it.  “I was just following orders” is not the strongest defense.

As already suggested, “entire” was too strong, and “98%” might also be too high.  Let’s try this:

Whatever opinion one has of the Greek people, the truth is that the overwhelming preponderance of this mess was caused by their politicians and by the bailing-out of European banks. 


  1. This has always been a struggle for me, whether talking about the guilt of Greece, or even the United States, or any country under the sun. To what extent should the population be responsible for the actions of their government? I speak out of ignorance as to how Greece chooses their leaders.

    In a situation where voting isn't an option, and a population doesn't have the means to overthrow their government, then it's easy to blame a dictator.

    In a situation where voting is an option, and voting tends to lead to more and worse of the same, who do you blame? I personally blame voters, as voting takes a consent to play by the "Rules of the Game". Rules of the game states that you know your vote may not make a difference, you know there's a chance your vote can put someone in office, and that said elected official likely can and will do whatever he wants in any situation.

    I'm sorry, at some point you have to hold voters responsible for the mess that results from voting. I stand firm that non voters are innocent, as they've made a decision that voting isn't worth their time or effort for a number of reasons, and made a choice not to partake. In the case of the United States at the very least, one can make a good case for the theory that voting makes no difference. One can plead a better case that voters are responsible for the mess. Politicians just jump at an opportunity to deliver.

    If it weren't for voter belief that voting and government as a mechanism cured all woes in all places, a lot of destructive results could have likely been avoided throughout the history of voting.

    1. The choice is between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Are the people then to be blamed for voting wrong? The game is rigged. Perhaps they should be blamed for voting at all.

      The implication of Boetie's observation is that all people of all countries get the government they want. For us to blame Greeks is the pot calling the kettle black. The only time it's not true is the rare case when the people wake up and eject their rulers. It happens, but rarely. All governments are structured to prevent it happening, and to facilitate parasites fastening on the necks of the people.

  2. One can put together a thought experiment. Imagine two countries, identical except for one thing: In country A, the people are lazy bastards and enjoy being on the dole. In country B, the people are all virtuous and hard working - but still believe in government, as in country A. What results?

    Well, country A gets a result like Greece. Country B on the other hand, has a government with more luck extracting wealth (because more is being created) from the peasants. So more is spent by the government on "bridges to nowhere" and on foreign adventures. It's a question whether there will be more debt or less, because even with productive peasants the spending will always outstrip the income.

    If you believe government does more harm than good, then it may be that country A is better off, because the government will have, if anything, less money to piss away on evil and stupid projects. But in general the outcomes of the two countries are not much different.

    To me it appears that obedience, and belief in the government religion, are the real problems. In that respect, Greeks don't look so bad. After all, they do everything they can to avoid paying taxes. If only Americans did the same.

    To avoid this regularly reoccurring crash, it seems you need a virtuous people who do NOT obey and who do NOT believe in the government religion.

    1. Paul, you raise a good point: the Greek voters stood tall. Yet does anyone believe that the bureaucrats and technocrats (including many in the Greek government) are idly standing by in respect of this vote? So, who should be blamed?

      I write this fully understanding the issue about voting vs. non-voting (and therefore creating legitimacy).

      A second good point - the Greeks live in a culture that not paying taxes is acceptable (contributing to this situation). We (anarcho / libertarians) somehow should blame the people for this? Others should have such a culture!

  3. Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.

    H. L. Mencken

    It seems to me the people engaging in the auction carry quite a bit of responsibility.