With all the rampant corruption and financial ineptitude now on display, our propensity for blame is getting a thorough workout. What are we up to when we blame others for what has gone wrong?

An obvious explanation is that blame is a form of scapegoating. We single merely out one of the many contributors to a misfortune, and we place the blame squarely there. That allows us to go scott free ourselves, were we in danger of sharing the blame, and it lets many many others off the hook as well. Since most things that happen have multiple causes, we can target carefully just the one we want to punish. And, in so doing, we can allow others to escape.

A recent conversation on the ISPSO listserv added some other reflections on blame, pointing out how it is tied in to our litigious society, and how it fosters an avoidance of reflection on the system as a whole which produced the unfortunate incident, guaranteeing that such incidents are all too likely to recur. (If you want to check out ISPSO, an organization devoted to exploring the psychoanalytic underpinnings of organizational life, go to

But I have another thought about blame. Finding the right person to blame makes our world whole again. The danger, the flaw, the hurt, the problem has been abolished. The rent in the fabric of reality has been fixed, the abyss filled in and paved over. We can go back to life as it was before.

This is the aim of blame. It seeks the goal of restoring the status quo ante.

I recall sitting on the dining room floor with my young daughter who had just banged her head on the corner of the table. As I held her in my arms, we hit the table again and again: “bad table.” She was distracted and appeased, while the pain gradually subsided. But I don’t think that she was really convinced it was the table’s fault.

And so it is with those of us who succeed in temporarily finding an object of blame. It consoles us and restores us to the world before — but we don’t really believe it. We have to do it again and again.