Oh the games we play in response to the terrible things that happen in the world! While some people play the despair game (“why can’t we all just get along?”) and others play the equalize game (seeking to draw moral equivalences to ‘even up’ an asymmetric conflict), the most dangerous game of all is the blame game.

For me, the headline in The Saturday Paper story on Australians fighting in Syria was like a red rag to a bull: “Does silencing dissent at home serve to encourage Muslim Australians to embrace jihad?” it asked provocatively. Huh? By drawing a dubious cause-and-effect trail, it suggests that while Muslim Australians choose to embrace jihad and fight in Syria, their actions are actually a consequence of the silencing of dissent. This looks like illogical blame-shifting of the highest order.

Consider the Israel-Hamas conflict now playing out. It’s a war, and people have died – civilians in Gaza have died. For some reason, the question the media feels must be answered most urgently is: What is the ‘root cause’ of these deaths? And therefore: who can we blame?

  •  Is it Israel whose weapons and soldiers are actually the ones directly causing these deaths? But they are doing this in the course of defending citizens against the Hamas rockets being fired by the hundreds at random?
  • Perhaps then it is Hamas, for their rocket attacks and for embedding rocket launchers and military command centres in schools, homes and hospitals? While this was initially denied (or disbelieved), it has been confirm in reports by France 24 and India’s NDTV.
  • Some are blaming Egypt, who in this conflict have sided with Saudi Arabia and against the Qatar/Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas alliance, and who have enforced the siege on their border with Gaza and destroyed smuggling tunnels.
  • Perhaps we ought to blame the USA, whose peace efforts failed and then left a vacuum?  Or who weren’t strong enough in pushing the parties to kiss and make up?
  • When all else fails, we could blame ‘the occupation’, which ‘forces’ the Palestinians to do terrible things and ‘radicalises’ otherwise regular people.

For a fair-minded thinker such as me, bizarre cause-and-effect speculation like this makes my blood boil. Almost as much as the authors seem to seek high and low for a ‘root cause’ to blame, I seek to understand and dissect the logic that brings them to these conclusions. But there is no logic. It’s more likely a complex mix of emotion, prejudice, and cognitive dissonance.

We live in a complex world full of complex causal relationships, and the law of unintended consequences seems to rule above all. When confronted with a hypothesis as to the real reason for something, we should challenge strongly rather than accept blindly. It’s easy to start playing the blame game, but very hard to know where to end. Perhaps we should avoid this blame game entirely.