Friday, November 9, 2012

Blame in the aftermath

In the aftermath of the US election, I am fascinated in understanding why we appear hard wired to assign blame to perceived failure (in this case the Republican Party campaign) rather than imagine what success might look like and work back from that to what factors would have brought it about and then, and only then, look at the things that would have needed to be in place (or taken out of the way) to achieve the given result (even then, in this case, knowing that the final result is not in your control).

We imagine we move from problem to solution but this movement is usually circular - we remain circulating around in the problem. Most problems are resolved by imagining a different, non-problematic state from which we move backwards into the conditions that need to be brought about to make it so.

This, however, seems hard to do. We are more comfortable with known habits (individual or organisational or societal) even when they are painful than imagining possibility. This latter requires a level of comfort with uncertainty (and complexity) that many find difficult. Finding ways of constructing narratives of change that are comfortably recognisable (and indeed exciting) must be a key that unlocks significant movements towards it.

What a winning Republican party might look like is a significantly more interesting question than why it (in the now past) failed?

Equally, I was reminded of the observation of an American friend ahead of the election that he was surprised that people imagined that the 'outcome' radically hinged on who was elected, that the world would somehow be fundamentally different as a result. This failed to see that more held the candidates together (both are, whatever one imagines, centre-right politicians) than separates them and that their power of action is, in fact, limited, even though they are 'the President'!

This fantasy leads to some very odd post electoral commentary; thus, I saw one Facebook comment welcoming Obama's re-election as now an end could be brought to detention without trial and drone attacks as if it were not Mr Obama who has acquiesced in detention without trial and positively stepped up drone attacks (for want of any other meaningful policy option).

Listening to this kind of thing gives me a sense that never before has our 'rhetoric' been divorced from our realities. The rectification of government, opined Confucius, begins with the rectification of names. It has never been more true.


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