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Sabotage: Part 2 - The Blameless People
If you want to avoid any cost, you have to become blameless people. Here’s how blamelessness works.
Note: this essay was originally published on Revue on July 26, 2022.
Where were we?
Ah, right. We’re talking about sabotage of repair.
It’s been a couple weeks. Let’s recap.
The idea is that a wide array of broken things in our society are not getting fixed, even though most of us want to fix them, because the process of repair has been sabotaged by people who don’t want to pay the cost of repair when they could profit from the ongoing brokenness.
There was an Introduction. Then came a Part 1.
Predictably enough, this is Part 2.
Good enough? Let’s begin.
Where to begin?
Let’s begin with the couple and their sign. Maybe you saw them, celebrating the death of bodily autonomy. The sign said WE WILL ADOPT YOUR BABY. The couple are Neydy Casillas and Sebastián Schuff, and they are lawyers who have spent much their time and energy making sure that our laws reflect “Christian values,” which is a phrase that usually includes things like making sure that people who are gay or trans or otherwise nonconforming to assigned sexual and gender roles are not recognized under the law or protected by it, and that people who don’t want to carry babies are forced to do so anyway. It’s certainly what it means in this case, because that’s the sort of thing Casillas and Schuff have been working on. Their sign represents a very popular sentiment among religious-minded conservative Christian people, particularly popular now that the Supreme Court, which has been captured by them to represent them and only them, has struck down a great many fundamental rights and protections, including the right to abortion.
The sentiment is: you didn’t want a baby, but fear not! Now that you will be forced by law to carry it, we will care for it when it is born.
A lot of people had a lot of feelings about this: a couple performatively giving a self-aggrandizing “solution” to a situation they deliberately worked to create; and meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of children in this country, who Neydy Casillas and Sebastián Schuff did not adopt, live in a foster care system that has been largely defunded down to a shoestring, mainly through the efforts of people like Neydy Casillas and Sebastián Schuff. And of course it wasn’t lost on many people that conservative Christians in this country have a history of forcibly raising other people’s children as their own, in order to assimilate them away from their parents’ values and toward their own. It’s a recognized form of genocide, which for many people lends the couple’s sign at least the appearance of a threat.
There are no laws forcing anyone to have an abortion, or to be gay, and there never have been. Casillas and Schuff were not being compelled by law to live against their beliefs. That wasn’t good enough for Casillas and Schuff, or millions of like-minded people. No, they needed laws forcing other people to follow their beliefs, or to suffer if they refuse. And they went out and worked hard until they got them. And now they want to be considered good.
For most people, then, that sign says this: we will force you to live according to the demands of our consciences, not because we are controlling, but because we are loving—and we want credit for our claim that we intend to address the consequences we have enforced upon you, even though it is plain to see that we only intend to address them on our own terms, and in a way convenient to us, and that in most cases we do not intend to address them at all.
But we were talking about sabotage of the process of repair.
Maybe I should talk about the article. You know the one: it was earlier this month. The one that informed us that it’s become so hard to be a conservative Christian right now, because people say such awful things about them, calling them “fascist” because of their beliefs, and this is (or so the article claims) the reason conservative Christians have become so entrenched and reactionary and fascist.
The simple idea is that conservative Christians in America are just following their consciences, and they resent the way people blame them for so many awful things that result, which carries the implicit suggestion that it is precisely this unfair assignment of blame that might cause conservative Christians to want to do even more awful things in the future, if it isn’t stopped.
You might think of it as less a suggestion and more a threat.
It’s not enough for them to be allowed to live according to their consciences.
It’s not even enough to pass laws forcing the rest of us to do so, too.
They demand to be thought of as blameless while doing so.
And, they suggest, if we don’t comply and think of them as blameless, this will justify more suffering. So, if we suffer, it is implied, it is only because we haven’t taken a deferential enough posture toward them and their declared intentions.
If you missed the article last week, don’t worry. Another one will be along soon. They come every few days, like waves, like the tide, absolving the people causing suffering for all the suffering they’ve caused, forgiving themselves on behalf of the grieving and the injured and the frightened and the dead, scolding the rest of us for not joining them in declaring themselves righteous and blameless and good.
And we might wonder why they seem to need to be held blameless, if they truly are being guided by their consciences.
But we were talking about sabotage and repair.
Let’s talk about repair.
If something is broken, it needs repair.
If it’s something that belongs to me, it is my responsibility to decide whether to fix it, or not.
If it’s something I broke, it is my responsibility to fix it, too.
Repair always carries a cost: money and effort and inconvenience.
If I don’t want to pay that cost, I might choose not to repair.
But if I don’t pay the cost, then the broken thing will stay broken.
All of that is simple enough, and innocent enough—though we might all think about the degree to which we find it easier to treat things in our lives as disposable. I certainly think about how I behave this way in my life, and the way society is shaped to encourage me toward this behavior.
Let’s up the ante.
Let’s say I don’t make calculations about cost to discern whether or not to fix things. Let’s say my main goal is to avoid paying cost. Let’s say I even structure my religion around the idea of an ultimate cost, that others will have to pay, but I will not.
Especially at a societal level, if the broken thing is vital to human thriving, then brokenness carries a higher cost than repair: poverty, ignorance, degradation, sickness, debt, danger. A much higher cost, and compounding higher and higher over time as more and more things break and nothing is fixed.
And if I am somebody whose main goal is to avoid paying any cost, then I am not going to want to pay my share of the cost of any repair, or even the cost of maintenance (which is the lower but ongoing cost of repair prior to brokenness), but I definitely won’t want to have to pay the higher cost of brokenness.
I will have to seize enough power and resources to structure society in such a way that I am held to own the choice of whether to repair or not, so I can fix only the things that affect me, and so other people are made to pay all the cost of ongoing brokenness. (This means that, at a fundamental level, I will need to establish the existence of other people. We’ll get to that.)
Because I will have arranged matters so that I pay as little of the cost of the brokenness as possible, I will inevitably profit from brokenness—money, yes, but also influence and reputation and a power alignment that gives me preference and position of place, a supremacy of consideration in any decisions.
As I profit from brokenness, which affords me many freedoms and virtues, I will begin to conflate my supremacy with freedom and virtue.
If I profit from the brokenness, then I will start to see repair itself as a cost.
If I profit from brokenness, then breaking things will become an opportunity for more profit.
Repair and maintenance will begin to seem like theft to me, particularly if any of the cost of repair falls to me.
And so I might align myself with brokenness: not only refusing to repair, but refusing to allow others to do so, either. Not only that, but breaking more things, to further profit from the brokenness.
Let’s up the ante.
If I am deliberately breaking things to profit from them, then the responsibility to pay the cost of repair isn’t shared, as is natural for most things in society; it’s mine.
If other people notice that the supremacy I claim for myself affords me the power and resources to repair broken things, yet I refuse to do so, they might start to understand me as somebody aligned with brokenness, who bears outsized responsibility for reparation.
And if they notice that I helped break it, they might start to blame me for the brokenness. And, if enough people become aware of this truth, they might revoke my supremacy and begin the process of reparation.
If they do that, I might have to pay my share of the cost of repair—a cost I have made as high as possible.
And so blame becomes another cost—the highest cost imaginable.
If my main goal is to avoid cost, I must therefore become blameless.
I will need somebody else to pay the cost of blame for what I am doing.
For this, as before, I will need other people.
I will need to punish them for causing the brokenness I see.
Not because I love punishment, but because they have earned punishment.
Not to harm them. To redeem them.
Because I am blameless, so I am not controlling.
I am loving.
Let’s talk about redemption.
Redemption is an ongoing process. It has sequential steps.
Before redemption comes reparation.
Before reparation, repentance.
Before repentance, confession.
Before confession, acknowledgement.
Before acknowledgement, awareness.
These are how I would define the steps of redemption—and not just me. My religious background is Evangelical Christian, and these words are not unknown in those circles to help define the ongoing sequential process of redemption.
But never mind. We were talking about repair, and sabotage of repair.
Let’s get back to talking about repair.
Repair, perhaps coincidentally, is also an ongoing process, with sequential steps.
It starts with awareness that something is broken and therefore needs fixing.
Awareness of brokenness carries a moral imperative of responsibility for it—you might say a conviction.
Conviction carries a moral imperative to announce the need for repair—you might say to confess it.
Confession carries a moral imperative to align one’s own beliefs and actions toward repair—you might say to repent of any alignment toward brokenness.
Repentance carries a moral imperative to actually do the repair, and pay the costs: money, effort, inconvenience, disruption, uncertainty. And, where the brokenness was deliberate, accountability.
It’s a process. It all begins with awareness.
And so, among people who wish to avoid any cost, who presently benefit from supremacy and brokenness, there grows a powerful desire to not know.
In a society aligned against cost, then, you’ll find many people who have decided not to know about their own supremacy, or about brokenness, or their own responsibility for repair.
You will find blameless people.
Let’s pretend for a moment, just as a thought experiment, that you and I are among these blameless people, opposed to cost, aligned against repair, comfortable in a supremacy we refuse to acknowledge. We wish to benefit from brokenness while considering ourselves blameless. Some of us may truly not know; may have truly internalized our beliefs, so that while many people who suffer from our ignorance can see we are not blameless, we sincerely believe we are blameless, and we maintain this ignorance simply by having learned all the places not to look—a self-aggrandizing logical monkeybars, a worldview that supports only itself and leads back only to itself, but complex enough that we can climb around it with great skill, and convince ourselves that we make sense. Others among us will realize exactly what we are doing, and will be working very hard and very deliberately to avoid all cost of repair in order to enrich ourselves and only ourselves.
In this thought experiment, let’s pretend we’re in the latter group: the fully aware and activated members of the blameless tribe. Deliberate supremacists.
It will become imperative for us to use our supremacy to create systems that impart to us the benefits of brokenness while hiding the knowledge of brokenness—from ourselves most of all. We need to fashion ignorant systems, which will do the abusive work of brokenness without telling of it. In fact it’s essential they don’t tell us, even if deep down we know. To keep as many of us as far as possible from any redemptive process that might lead to the cost of blame, we need as many people crawling around our logical monkeybars as possible.
For us to keep our blamelessness, the system must be held to be perfect. The best ever created. Exceptional from its inception. Perhaps you’ve heard of such an exceptional system. Perhaps you’ve been told you live in one.
An exceptionally perfect system will be, by definition, incapable of improvement. Therefore, any suggested improvement of the system must be held to be an attack on the system. Any actual improvement to the system must be held to have been a mistake requiring remediation, a betrayal of principal requiring redress, a loss of greatness to be restored.
And so: more and more of our effort and energy, our time and resources, will be expended on defending the perfection of our system from the attack of improvement. And so: the concept of improvement must be held as an enemy, every cost of improvement or even maintenance of the system that does not benefit us directly must be framed as theft.
And so, if we blameless people have our way, our perfect system, unimprovable and unmaintainable, will never be improved, and will never be maintained.
Which means that our society will fall into disrepair, a disrepair made inevitable by our blamelessness.
This leaves us with the problem of increasing brokenness. We might be able to hide our accountability for brokenness—from ourselves anyway—but it can’t be denied forever that brokenness exists.
If our system is blameless of brokenness, then something must be to blame.
This is where other people come in again.
Other people are already paying the main costs of brokenness—aided by our supremacy, we’ve made sure of it. Using our supremacy, they will be made to pay the cost of blame.
The problem of brokenness can’t be systemic, because our system is perfect. The cause of brokenness, therefore, must be the people who suffer brokenness.
The solution isn’t to fix our system, because the system isn’t the problem. The solution is to fix the people.
To use our supremacy to organize our society in such a way that people are forced under threat of suffering to live the way we live, according to the strictures of our consciousness, even if we don’t actually live that way but only claim that we live that way.
Because we are blameless, we’ll claim to do this because we want them to live the best possible way—our way. As proof that our way is the best possible way to live, we’ll offer as evidence the fact that we don’t seem to suffer any of the costs of the brokenness of the things we refuse to repair. As evidence that their way is worse, we’ll offer as evidence the fact that they do seem to suffer so much brokenness.
They want to fix our perfect system? No. We’ll fix them.
And then we’ll expect to be thanked.
We’ll do it, not because we are controlling, but because we are loving. We’ll claim that we will raise the children we force them to have, even though everyone can see that we don’t want those children, either, even though it’s clearly observable that the moment they are born they will become to us one of the other people, even though it is clearly observable that we start to blame them for the crime of brokenness the moment they first draw breath.
And if they resist, they will suffer. We’ll make sure of the suffering, and use their suffering as proof that they deserve to suffer, and use the fact that they deserve to suffer to justify making them suffer.
And if anyone tries to fix the brokenness, we’ll make sure they fail. We’ll make sure of the failure, and use the failure as proof that repair will always fail.
And I’d call that sabotage.
It’s all done to avoid the cost of repair.
Let’s talk about repair.
There are five progressive steps to repair, available to any of us. If you enter into the spirit of any of them, you’ll quickly discover that they are under constant attack from blameless people.
For example, there might be some who become aware of how shockingly unjust our unimproved system is, awakened into awareness of truths previously unknown. We blameless people (remember we are pretending, just for a moment, that we too are part of the blameless society) will attack this awareness, knowing that awareness leads to conviction.
But some, newly aware, may become convicted by this truth, and start to expect things to improve. They might begin to listen to those harmed by our brokenness, who have been forced to pay the cost of it, in order to better understand how our “perfect” system might be improved. We blameless people will attack this acknowledgement, knowing it leads to confession.
Still, some, convicted, might start to confess their awareness and conviction: to change their vocabulary, to use pronouns, to take greater care, to make occasionally awkward signifiers pointing toward improvements to our perfect system. We blameless people attack confession, knowing it leads to repentance.
Even so, some, seeing this confession, might begin to repent: to actually change more than their words and modify their behaviors, to alter what sorts of behavior they are willing to accept, to alter their spending, lifestyle, beliefs. We blameless people furiously attack repentance, knowing it leads to reparation.
Even so, some, beginning the long road of repentance, might try to begin to actually repair our “perfect” system. We blameless people will go to war over reparation, knowing it will cost them more than money. It will cost their blamelessness.
We will quite literally go to war to avoid the loss of our blamelessness.
Will? Have. It’s happened before.
Have? Are. It’s happening now.
In time, we blameless people will expend all our energy, all our time, all our effort, all our money, fighting to defend our own perfection.
To never awake.
Never know things already known.
Never improve, which admits imperfection.
Never apologize, which admits blame.
In time, we’ll repudiate even the systems we once claimed to love, as the idea of our perfected blamelessness becomes ever more and more abstracted and recursive.
We’ll ally with enemies and align ourselves with overthrow.
We’ll speak in contradiction.
We’ll harm even ourselves, even (for example) refuse cures to diseases—not because we want diseases but because we resent improvements.
We’ll pay any price to avoid paying costs.
We’ll believe any liar to avoid knowing truths.
Our blamelessness will never improve—it cannot.
It will never apologize.
It will refuse knowledge.
It will hate justice.
It will fall into disrepair.
It will fail.
Unsustainable systems, by definition, don’t sustain. Systemic failure is the ultimate cost—a cost we blameless people finally won’t be able to lie our way out of.
Even if we want to avoid costs, then, we’d better start to align with repair.
Here’s a good question: how?
I don’t know. I’m just a fool like anybody else.
But I think I am starting to get some ideas of the shape of it. I think it has to do with refusing to enable sabotage of our awareness, our conviction, our confession, our repentance, and to fight against those who would wage war against repair.
And I think that in order to do that, it is going to be absolutely crucial for us to reject our own sense of blamelessness.
Here’s the shape I see.
I see five steps to repair, and five main supremacist sabotages of repair, five main enablements of this sabotaging supremacy, and five main tools we can employ against both supremacist sabotage and the enablements that accommodate it.
That’s next time.
A.R. Moxon is the author of the novel The Revisionaries, available in most of the usual places and some of the unusual places, and co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media. Give him some wood and he’ll build you a cabinet.