Have you ever done something wrong–known that you have done something wrong–yet blame another person for your mistake? For example, think about a man or a woman cheating on their spouse. They are discovered, with all the heartbreak and anger individual circumstances inspire. But the adulterer tries to defend themselves, no doubt humiliated at being found out, and likely ashamed before their one-time true love. They say something like: “It’s your fault because you never fuck me anymore,” or, more specific and intimate, sometimes, “It’s your fault because all of those stupid fantasies of yours made me want something else.” Instead of talking about it, sometimes we act on our immediate desires, corrupted in the moment, and then left in a state of paranoid regret.
Accepting blame is difficult because we all want to believe ourselves better than we are. All throughout childhood we were blamed for nearly everything, only most of it our fault. This has allowed us to believe that lying about something might be the best way to get out of trouble. Even if it was obvious–even if there were witnesses, we have still planted a seed of doubt. Even if your consequence is now greater because you have been caught in a lie, someone is bound to take your side. They might even believe you. “They’re wrong. I know you didn’t do it,” the perhaps guilty party says, having your back.
Let’s take this farther down the rabbit hole: We get caught lying all the time. Most of us aren’t very good at it. Yet we persist, knowing that no one believes us other than ourselves. And we hammer on, we approach rage because no one will believe your lies. What is wrong with these people? It must be their fault for not being deceived.
I have noticed a gender difference in lying. The male, predominately, lies in either panicked or outraged tones (panic is probably the best indication to discern if they are at fault, because outrage tends to arise out of perceived discrimination). Lies are almost exclusively about protecting the self–I didn’t do it! It wasn’t me! I never said that! You have the wrong guy!
Females are different. There is a far greater sense of personal indignation in their lies. And while most lies are still predominantly about self-preservation, there is often a far more malicious twist. They will name names. They will invent stories just to cause another person trouble. They will say that s/he did this or this or that with no just cause, not even to avoid responsibility themselves. They do it just to be mean, just to watch the outcome of their perversion of the truth.
Anyway, when we get caught lying, we have only two options: We can admit it and face the consequences, or double down. “I’m not lying!” or even “I never said that!” This confusing swirl of ideas shatters the very concept of the truth. Lying about lying. And then one must collect their lies in a proper order if they wish to maintain the illusion of all the false things they have ever said.
No one wants to accept blame for mistakes we have made. There are only some willing to do so. “I fucked up,” is not usually the sort of thing people say when they realize they are at fault. “I fucked up,” is really an attempt to laugh something off, another way to avoid deserved blame, turning the whole thing into a bumbling comedy routine, mocking your own clumsiness and incompetence. This can even be followed, cheerfully, with “Shit, I didn’t mean to do that. It’s your fault anyway. What made you think I could ever do that?”
And yet, for all this deception (and self-deception), there is an even darker consequence for our refusal to take the lumps for the mistakes we have made. The whole world becomes an increasingly mistrustful place. No one knows who might place the blame, and where. It is a terrifying world suddenly–an actual witch hunt, everywhere–where we target our enemies, while they target us. We point our fingers away from ourselves, eventually even convincing ourselves that we have no part in the chaos. “That’s not my fault.”
This is especially true in the political realm, in this world of “Not my President” declarations. “I didn’t vote for him. The world is broken, but don’t blame me.” This is an absurd statement, because the opposition is always every bit as responsible as those misguided in their support for whoever is in power.
The French political philosopher Joseph de Maistre made this prophetic statement after the French Revolution: “In Democracy people get the leaders they deserve.” And, as we can see, if society devolves into a finger-pointing, name-calling, petty tyranny of opinions and lies, we can no longer sustain the truth of our convictions, or even our reality. We are simply too busy not taking the blame.
So my point here, in part four of this study of excuses, is that we do not really know ourselves, and that people have trouble taking responsibility for their own lives. And when talking about the United States, my home and, in numerous, but tragic ways, my one true love, we exist within such contradiction. Maybe the words of an outsider when our nation was young could best summarize what I wish to say. In Democracy in America (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780060915223&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used) Alexis de Tocqueville had these points to make:
I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.
In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.
The whole life of an American is passed like a game of chance, a revolutionary crisis, or a battle.
In the United States a man builds a house to spend his latter years in it and he sells it before the roof is on. He plants a garden and lets it just as the trees are coming into bearing. He brings a field into tillage and leaves other men to gather the crops. He embraces a profession and gives it up. He settles in a place which he soon afterward leaves to carry his changeable longings elsewhere. If his private affairs leave him any leisure he instantly plunges into the vortex of politics and if at the end of a year of unremitting labor he finds he has a few days’ vacation, his eager curiosity whirls him over the vast extent of the United States, and he will travel fifteen hundred miles in a few days to shake off his happiness.
These quotes are more about the character of the nation than, necessarily, with our refusal to accept blame. But it does state rather profoundly the social terrors involved in the idea of liberty. Being free–being completely honest with yourselves and with others is more trouble than it is worth, and this is why we lie. This is why we blame others for our mistakes. This is how our disappointments and failures become someone else’s problem. It is how we convince ourselves that it wasn’t me, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t me . . .