Headlong race to finding fault demeans us all

finding fault

The issue of finding fault has become a major pivot point for our society as more and more discourse resorts to this approach.

We are exposed more now than ever to arguments, claims and accusations of fault.

More, even, than the issue at hand is the question of who’s at fault.

No-one is immune.

No matter what the extenuating circumstances may have been; no matter how irresponsible the complainant may have been; no matter how little real proof has been offered — the race to apportion fault is almost universal.

In the most tawdry of social media posts, in the only slightly less tawdry tabloids and the weeklies, in television and certainly in radio, the newspapers and even well-regarded industry magazines it seems that apportioning fault is key.

It appears that so long as we can identify someone who is at fault then justice is seen to be done, and so the matter will be addressed.

Fault can be attached to individuals, classes of individuals, nations, races, genders, clubs, companies and families.

So long as someone is to blame, we seem to feel better about it.

I notice two outcomes of this assumption in general society.

Firstly, the “public square” has become even more empty than it was before.

Simply no-one, even corporates, wants to put their heads above the parapet in order to comment on something even remotely controversial.

The viciousness of the fault-finders is just too intimidating for the public to use the public square.

As G. K. Chesterton once said “We do not need a censorship of the press. We have a censorship by the press.”

Secondly, the quality of public debate has diminished markedly.

Short of pointing the finger at the next sorry victim who must shoulder the blame, we seldom see a debate rise to the level of a gracious exchange of views, where different perspectives are given the dignity of having equal merit.

Debate has gone.

What we engage in is a shouting match from the outset.

Frankly, we are better than this and unless we move to change the nature of our public discourse, we will find ourselves not just less able to conduct ourselves intelligently but also far more open to believing the very worst view simply because it has been repeated most and with the greatest tone of complaint.

Hate speech laws will, I believe, only make this worse because they will provide a greater target for complaint against anyone whose views are not widely accepted in society.

This is very dangerous ground.

Jesus had a number of things to say about our speech which bring light to this issue.

The first is that by our words we build our world. Continue reading

  • Richard Dawson is the Presbyterian minister at Leith Valley Church in the north end of Dunedin. He has been Moderator of the Presbyterian Church and at present leads the Combined Dunedin Churches Pastor’s Community.
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