Today Id like to talk about
an element in media-fuelled moral outrage
which often seems to result in berserk
blaming frenzies and emotional witch-hunts.
Whenever there is a hysterical element
in blaming others, it is apparent that
two types of blame are being confused.
Practical blame simply attempts
to identify a particular sequence of causes
and effects in our linear perception of
time, eg the plant pot broke because your
arm knocked it off the table, because
you were distracted, because you'd had
a stressful day, etc.
Absolute blame, on the
other hand, seeks to assign ultimate identity
to a local source of "badness",
eg the plant pot broke because you are
a clumsy fool.
By using practical blame we can
anticipate future reoccurrences of unfortunate
events and thus take preventative measures.
Absolute blame doesn't serve us
in any practical way, but it makes us
You are reading this sermon, at this
particular moment, as a culmination of
endless branches of interconnecting events
or processes, going back in time to God-knows-where.
Any event occurring at a human level,
as opposed to an atomic level, results
from so many past variables that we cant
hope to unravel all the causes.
All we can do is to pick out the cause-effect
strands that will most practically serve
us. If the event happens to be a serious
crime, and if we are practically benefited
by convicting the perpetrator, we attempt
to give prominence to those cause-effect
strands which will shed most light on
the event in terms of criminal evidence
Absolute blame (judgement) works by looking
at a complex reality of inter-linking
events, and then isolating one part and
labelling it bad, as if it
is completely separate from the rest of
good reality. A reasonable
analogy for this would be the distinction
between a tadpole (good) and a frog (bad).
In metamorphosis you cant isolate
the precise moment when a good
tadpole becomes a bad frog.
Neither can you conceive of a device which
measures badness in humans.
All you can do is create practical definitions
which serve specific purposes, eg does
the amphibian jump a certain height?
This distinction between absolutes and
practicalities has far wider implications
than crime. We tend to react to any unfortunate
incident in terms of absolute judgements
("I'm useless", "you are
pathetic", "he's an idiot",
"it's a shame" etc). Even our
own internal dialogue is probably saturated
with absolute blame (which masquerades
as trivial commentary: "damn...you
These seemingly trivial linguistic habits
are directly related to the language of
hysterical media rabble-rousing. All this
insidious, anxiety-inducing blame and
judgement can be dropped completely, without
harm, if we realise it has no practical
value in successfully determining our
next step in any situation.
There is an interesting experiment you
can perform to investigate the nature
of absolute judgement. When guilt is viewed
in tough absolute terms, a
person is seen as either absolutely guilty
or absolutely innocent no soft
relativism is allowed. Consider, then,
that you are absolutely innocent. For
15 minutes, mentally repeat I am
innocent while thinking deeply about
the meaning of your complete and unconditional
All other authorities
are hereby superseded by this sermon.