Exporting the blame

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at the Communication Workers of America (CWA) office in Washington December 17, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Hey Bernie,
The top export from Vermont isn’t cheese. It’s blame.

You know blame, Bernie. You know it well. We watched your speech. You’re becoming the champion of the angry blamers.

But even children know that those who rush to attack others, those who blame early and often, and loudly, are masking their own inner faults.

You have heard of “It takes one to know one,” haven’t you? Back in third grade.

It’s a truism. And it still fits.

We at Heysayer have actually created a poster, the kind that were popular back in the 80’s. It’s got a cat with its claws out standing behind a microphone. Its eyes are red, its cheeks are red and his hair is disheveled.

We added some adages, because it’s an inspirational poster. Coincidentally we used your favorite negative trait—greed.

▪ The first to accuse of greed is the greedy one.
▪ The angrier the accusations of greed, the greedier is the accuser.

It’s an ugly poster. But blame is an ugly practice.

This phenomenon is as close to a universal law of human nature as one can get. In psychological terms it’s called projection, or blame shifting.

We Heysayers get nostalgic sometimes and harken back to our childhoods. We dubbed the phenomenon the You Did It, You Did It, You Did It, or YDIYDIYDI, (pronounced iddy-iddy-iddy) Syndrome.

As ugly as the YDIYDIYDI Syndrome is, it is even more contagious.

We’ve seen it at work. We have seen it in the media. We’ve seen the responses to your speeches.

It’s also been scientifically verified.

This contagion phenomenon was explained in a study conducted by Nathanael Fast and Larissa Tiedens and published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. It’s appropriate title is Blame contagion: The automatic transmission of self-serving attributions.

In one of the four studies recipients were exposed to what is generally considered a political failure. One group was exposed to the politician blaming the failure on others. The second group was exposed to the politician taking full responsibility for the failure. (As rare as a flying wombat.) Afterwards, with subterfuge, the participants were asked to assess the reasons for one of their own personal failures.

In this study, as well as in the subsequent studies listed in the paper, those exposed to blame had a higher propensity to blame others than those who weren’t exposed to blame.

In sum, participants who observed an actor make a blame attribution for a failure were more likely to make blame attributions for their own, unrelated, failures. Importantly, the contagion effects that we observed were not the result of a rational persuasion process (i.e., persuaded to make a specific attribution for a specific failure), as the two failures were different and unrelated.

The sad part isn’t that your followers will regurgitate your blames against Wall Street and corporations and those more successful—they will do that whole heartedly and with gusto.

The saddest result is that they will cast the blame around for all sorts of things.

For their failed algebra tests.
For their cars breaking down.
For slipping on sidewalks.

It’s always someone else’s fault.

So what you’re doing, Bernie, is spreading your YDIYDIYDI Syndrome throughout the country, helping make us a society of blamers, accusers and name-callers.

Nice, Bernie. Thanks for the hate. You’re helping us regress.

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